Hot 8 Brass Band's Bennie Pete Talks Feel-Good Music, Jazz Funerals, and New Orleans

Whether two-steppin' toward a birthday party, second line parade, or jazz funeral, New Orleans's Hot 8 Brass Band always keeps it big, bad, and brassy.

But over the years, the Hot 8's battled through plenty of tough times. Three members -- Jacob Johnson, Joseph "Shotgun Joe" Williams, and Dinerral Shavers -- have died on Nola's streets. And like so many of the Crescent City's citizens, this band struggled through the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Still, there's nothing that can stop the music. And tonight, the Hot 8 Brass Band hits The Stage as part of the fourth monthly edition of Crossfade music series.

We spoke with Hot 8 founder and tuba player Big Bennie Pete to talk about feel-good music, jazz funerals, and New Orleans.

Crossfade: Where does the Hot 8 sit on the spectrum of music from jazz to funk to hip-hop? How do you see the band?

Bennie Pete: It ain't about one thing. It's almost like the city, like a gumbo. There's ingredients like jazz and funk. It's got all those and others mixed in. We just like to call it sampler music 'cause you get a little bit of everything.

It's definitely feel-good music. But what kind of situation is a Hot 8 song made for?

All occasions. You know, in New Orleans, we go from birthday parties to wedding recceptions to jazz funerals. So you can use feel-good music for your birth and your death. It's a memorial of your life. We have all those experiences in the city.

We're talking about music that help you celebrate the good times and then save you from the bad times.

Yeah. Explaining how a jazz funeral works, we would play some dirges as the body comes out of the funeral home. But once they put the deceased into the host, it's all up tempo, regala-style music, so you can also remember the fun times that you had with that person as friends or relatives or whatever it may be.

Even into a bad situation where you've lost a loved one, the music is still bringing you to a place where you're given hope that a better day will be coming.

Of course, the Hot 8's gone through a lot of turmoil, including Hurricane Katrina and the death of so many band members. As a band, how do you manage to stay focused on making music in the face of tragedy?

It's really the response from the fans, our family and loved ones, and all the people who love the band, along with the dedication and promises that we as band members have to our deceased friends who were once with us.

You know, we all still share the dream and the vision of being one of the best bands in New Orleans, expressing our land and music throughout other cities. We've lost a few band members. But we still share a goal with that lost man. And we can't just abandon our whole vision because of tragedy. We have to take that energy to fuel us to go farther and go bigger.

Still, it's hard doing the music. Sometimes you cry because you're missing that guy who used to be next to you.

Hot 8 Brass Band as part of Crossfade Presents The Local at The Stage. Thursday, September 29. The Stage, 170 NE 38th St., Miami. Call 305-576-9577 or visit thestagemiami.com.

Follow Crossfade on Facebook and Twitter @Crossfade_SFL.

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