Central to the musical traditions of New Orleans are the African American brass bands that play for traditional funerals and street parades. Among the most beloved is the Tremé Brass Band from the venerable and storied Tremé neighborhood. Scattered to farflung locations by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, local fans raised money to bring the group home to New Orleans. In 2006, the Tremé Brass Band was awarded a National Heritage Fellowship, the nation’s highest honor for traditional artists.
Drummer Benny Jones, Sr. has been parading nearly 60 years. Jones was a founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and formed the Tremé Brass Band a quarter century ago. Today “The Treme” are known internationally through their recordings and tours, as well as their role in Spike Lee’s Katrina documentary When the Levee Breaks. Despite this fame, the band remains firmly rooted in the New Orleans community, playing regularly for Social Aid and Pleasure Club parades, Mardi Gras Indian gatherings, jazz funerals, and packed houses at local institutions like the Candlelight Lounge.
Whatever the setting, the constant is Tremé’s desire to keep the music alive. We “still need somebody to do the traditional music so we can pass that to the younger generation,” says Jones, “Somebody got to hold that spot down.”