It's 1977. It's New Orleans. Specifically, the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club, a joint that's harbored the renaissance of two Crescent City traditions.
More than a hundred years ago, social and pleasure clubs provided proper funerals for black southerners who couldn't afford them. Brass bands-a taproot of jazz featuring only brass instruments and drums-would follow the funeral processions, playing dirges to the dearly departed. Once the family of the deceased left the premises, the brass bands would start rockin' and a party would ensue (for an example of what jazz did with the style, check out Jelly Roll Morton's "Dead Man Blues"). But by the '70s, most of the social and pleasure clubs had died out, and with them went the brass bands.
The opening of the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club (which was really just a good bar) in the late '70s revived house brass bands. In the wake of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band came a dozen imitators, but none as funky, fresh and hardcore as the ReBirth Brass Band.
"To be honest, you couldn't help but want to be in a brass band if you grew up in New Orleans," recalls founding member, tuba player and resident man-in-charge Philip Frazier. "You see them everywhere you go, and if you played in the high school band like we did, well, it's just what you want to eventually do."
What makes this antiquated style such a modern success is ReBirth's ability to take traditional music and infuse it with everything-blues, funk, R&B, gospel, bop, even rock. In the hands of ReBirth, even a tune like Michael Jackson's "Liberian Girl" can be a foot-stomping, jug-dancing, let's-stay-for-another-drink event (and just wait 'til Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon").
"People love it because it's unique music, it's soulful music," says Frazier. "When people come down to New Orleans they embrace it. They love it like it was music by the Beatles."
While ReBirth has recorded half a dozen albums, recordings aren't where the band shines. The group is a live act first and foremost, having honed its chops over years in smoky, drunk and happy New Orleans bars. So now, when ReBirth tours, the band brings the party with them.
"When you come in, all you're going to see up on stage is some horns, drums and a tuba," he says. "But when it starts, whoa, you're going to think you were reborn again. We've got no synthesizers or guitars or anything like that. Just come out. You'll be amazed."
ReBirth Brass Band plays with Agua Dulce and Alfred Howard & the K23 Orchestra at 'Canes, 8 p.m. on July 28. $12. 858-488-1780.