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ReBirth of brass taking hold

Stewart Oksenhorn

For 17 years now, Phil “Tuba Love” Frazier has been a significant player in bringing about a rebirth in the New Orleans brass band tradition.

Frazier, just 33 years of age despite his long history making music, is the tuba player, bandleader and oldest member of the ReBirth Brass band. From the point of view of an Aspen music fan, New Orleans brass bands may seem to be in endless supply. Two weeks ago, the Soul Rebels shook the house at the Howling Wolf. The Dirty Dozen, reigning kings of the tradition, are regular visitors to the Double Diamond. And ReBirth Brass Band opens a two-night stand at the Wolf with shows tonight and tomorrow. But when Frazier put together ReBirth in 1982, brass bands were something of a dying breed, even in his native New Orleans.

“It was kind of on a limb then,” said Frazier, who is joined in the rhythm section of the eight-piece ReBirth Brass Band by his brother, drummer Keith “Shorty” Frazier. “Dirty Dozen and one other were the only young brass bands out there.

“We took music off the radio and started writing our own music, and we started playing these social functions that most brass bands wouldn’t play,” said Frazier. “People were seeing it and a lot of the younger generation started digging it and thinking, `Hey, they’re doing it. We could do it.’ Next thing you know, there was a whole fleet of brass bands again.”

As a youngster, growing up in New Orleans, Frazier had no trouble getting musical inspiration from a close-up perspective. Music was most everywhere, even for a child. Frazier grew up seeing music all over, becoming a fan of early rap bands like the Sugar Hill Gang. At age 10, when his family moved to the Tremaine neighborhood just outside the French Quarter, Frazier got turned onto the older generation of traditional brass bands – the Olympic Brass Band, the Chosen Few, the Dirty Dozen – that would play at street parades, social affairs and, of course, Mardi Gras parades.

“It’s easy to pick up music in New Orleans,” said Frazier who, like his brother, graduated from Joseph S. Clark High School, a school notorious for its music program, in New Orleans’ 6th Ward. “Even just walking in your community, you’d see the music. You’d see the musicians just hanging out in your neighborhood.”

Frazier hopes to have a similarly positive influence, musical or otherwise, on the youngsters in his community. He and other members of ReBirth are known for volunteering time and talent to various anti-drug and children’s charities. And the band’s music, as gritty and dirty and party-oriented as it gets, is meant to uplift listeners with a positive message.

“We try not to be negative at all,” said Frazier, whose most recent release with ReBirth, “We Come to Party,” includes a joyous version of the classic spiritual “Jesus On the Mainline.” “Even at our most intense shows, we try to send only a positive vibration.”

ReBirth has been making a massive vibration in Colorado of late. The band is in the middle of a series of shows in Colorado and, despite the havoc the altitude wreaks on a brass band, Frazier is having his eyes opened by the welcome Colorado has given them.

“You gasp a little,” said Frazier of the thin air. “But Colorado is so much fun. We just realized we got a real big fan base in Colorado. It’s like a Jazzfest atmosphere all through Colorado.”

At 33, the man they call “Tuba Love” has spent over half his life holding down the low end and holding up the brass band tradition. And he doesn’t see himself changing course much in the future.

“The fans, the people who love brass bands, won’t let me,” he said.


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