Story by J Hunter
My first Second Line happened in 1996 at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, known forevermore and worldwide as “Jazzfest.” The band that led the way was a local outfit whose name escapes me, but they’re actually not important. What was important was the Second Line, which is essentially ongoing musical permission for anyone to join the band in the street (or the aisle, or – in the case of Jazzfest – the race track) and march, dance, laugh and generally make a full-on public spectacle of themselves. One Second Line and I was hooked; every time I’ve had the chance to take part in one, I’ve jumped on it, whether it was at SPAC with the venerable Preservation Hall Jazz Band or at Lake George Jazz Weekend with Jazz2K monsters John Ellis & Double-Wide.
But here’s the thing: All my opportunities have only come when a New Orleans band has ventured into Greater Nippertown. As far as the Empire State is concerned, a Second Line is a foreign thing, because nobody in this neck of the woods practiced this form of cathartic celebration. Thanks to trombonist Joe Scatassa and the Outer Borough Brass Band, that situation is changing. Scatassa is an alumnus of Loyola University in New Orleans, a former member of the NOLA party outfit Bonerama, and he also plays guitar in several NYC bands. But a couple of years ago, he realized there was a void in his musical life.
“After a random visit to New Orleans in 2010,” Scatassa explained via email, “I was inspired to put a brass band together in New York to play that music more regularly. I knew plenty of horn players in New York but didn’t know a single Sousaphonist, so I picked one up with the intent of getting a project going. Saxophonist Scott Bourgeois and I put an initial lineup together and booked our first show on Mardi Gras Day, 2011. Soon after, we were fortunate to pick up some opening slots for some New Orleans acts on their way through town, including the Rebirth Brass Band, the Stooges Brass Band, Glen David Andrews and the Joe Krown Trio.”
It’s kind of cool that Outer Borough was able to work with the Rebirth Brass Band, because there’s a lot of Rebirth in OBBB’s sound, and a pretty big chunk of Dirty Dozen Brass Band, as well. If you saw Dirty Dozen rock Massry Center earlier this year, you know what I’m talking about. As to the Rebirth connection, check out some of Outer Borough’s videos on YouTube, and then hunt for a little nugget of indie-label joy called Rebirth Kickin’ It Live. Trust me, you’ll see the parallel. Scatassa says he didn’t have any particular group in mind as OBBB was shaped, but “it’s hard not to be influenced by the two groups that helped define the modern New Orleans brass band sound.”
When it comes to the Outer Borough Brass Band sound, Scatassa’s got some pretty righteous people helping him out this Friday night: Keyboardist/vocalist Allison Leyton-Brown’s talents are so off the chain, Scatassa and Bourgeois formed the OBBB small-unit side project, Smith & 9th Ward, to take advantage of those gifts; trombonist Rafi Malkiel has worked with Arturo O’Farrill and the Jason Lindner Big Band, and his own Rafi Malkiel Ensemble makes its own mix of jazz and Afro-Cuban music; trumpeter Ivan Rosenberg’s dad played guitar with Ornette Coleman, and Ivan had already played with Jimmy Heath and Stefon Harris before Ivan had even enrolled in Manhattan School of Music or formed his own killer bands; and while most of bass drum player Moses Patrou’s “15 minutes” comes from his vocals on a Coca-Cola commercial that played during the 2007 Super Bowl, Patrou’s also studied with Chuco Valdes’ percussionist Roberto Viscaino, has worked with super-cool singer/songwriter Ben Sidran and cut a pretty funky solo disc of his own a few years ago.
Don’t expect “the usual thing” from Outer Borough, either. Sure, they may play “Big Chief” and “Down by the Riverside,” but they’ve also covered material as varied as Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” and the theme from the classic ’70s cop-sitcom “Barney Miller.” “We play a mix of my original tunes and arrangements, and songs from the traditional New Orleans repertoire,” Scatassa told me. “It’s always fun to find songs from different genres that translate well to the brass band style.”
Proctors’ Party Horns NYC concert series has brought some seriously heavy groups to Greater Nippertown, each of them bringing its own sense of style and focus to one or more areas of jazz. From all indications, the Outer Borough Brass Band will focus on one aspect of jazz that (in my opinion) is seriously underserved: Fun! And if there’s a Second Line involved, that fun will be interactive.