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The ReBirth Brass Band
It's less than a week before Fat Tuesday, and Phil Frazier finds himself in a good place: watching a parade in his beloved New Orleans. He can't resist putting his phone on speaker and holding it toward the marchers' music, so the guy interviewing him (me) can hear what has him so jazzed.
Frazier, a tuba player, loves parades, and he loves his hometown. The feeling, in both cases, is mutual. In 1983, Frazier cofounded the ReBirth Brass Band. These nine horn players, drummers, and singers play a powerhouse mix of funkified covers, electrifying jams, and originals, most often inspired by the jubilant shouts and chants of fellow paraders and fired-up fans.
"It's important to our culture, to our heritage, to be back in New Orleans," Frazier says, when the subject of Hurricane Katrina inevitably comes up. "We're all right," he continues, adding that only one member (his brother, bass drummer Keith Frazier) remains evacuated. "We lost houses and stuff, but we were lucky because we're a touring band." That means the members have friends all over the nation, friends who provided instruments and other aid when ReBirth hit the road on a tour that had been set up before the storm.
Less than three weeks after Katrina, the band was back in action, playing a gig in Minneapolis before a crowd that included twenty hurricane victims. Among the selections to receive RBB's updated, balls-out treatment: TLC's "Waterfalls" and the Rolling Stones' "It's All Over Now." The troupe's laughter in the face of the natural (and man-made) disaster is matched by its determination to return home something a vast number of New Orleans musicians haven't done, some vowing they never will.
"Music is what will bring the other people back," Frazier says. "And playing for evacuees out on tour there's usually someone from New Orleans in the audience can give them hope. That's a real blessing for us." Frazier often wears a T-shirt emblazoned with the words, "Music Rising," the name of an organization that provides instruments and other support for displaced players who've returned to New Orleans. But you don't need to be a New Orleans resident, or even a booster, to enjoy the RBB's scintillating mix.