It is our good fortune that, in 1970, Reverend Andrew Darby and Danny Barker decided to form a brass band to help kids in their neighborhood stay out of trouble. Barker, a renowned jazz musician, lived around the corner from Darby’s Fairview Baptist Church. Brass band parades like the ones Barker grew up with in the 1910s and 20s were on the wane, and he saw an opportunity to seed a revival.
Barker’s first recruit was Leroy Jones, a 12-year-old who lived in a house on this lot, shouting distance from the church on the corner of Buchanan Street. He was already practicing his trumpet for four or five hours every day after school in his family’s garage. Barker recognized his drive and appointed him leader of the Fairview Baptist Church Christian Marching Band (Barker and Charles Barbarin, Sr. would chaperone).
Barker arranged for the band to learn the way he had: on the job. Their first paying gig was at the 1971 Jazz and Heritage Festival. Social aid and pleasure clubs started hiring the Fairview band for their parades. Before long, Jones’ garage was brimming with young people from across the city. By 1973, with a pool of nearly 30 young musicians, Barker and Barbarin booked jobs for up to three different groups at once.
Fairview band members learned a traditional brass band repertoire, and professional protocol like what to wear and how to behave on a gig. Barker, a jazz historian as well as a musician, instilled a sense of pride in his charges: they were stewards of a venerable tradition.
In 1974, some members of the local musicians’ union objected to Barker steering so many gigs to the youngsters. He stepped back, and a remarkable number of his students prospered as professionals. Leroy Jones formed the Hurricane Brass Band with Fairview alumni, alto saxophonist Darryl Adams spun off the Tornado Brass Band the next year, and Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen led his own group, the Chosen Few Brass Band.
Clarinetist Michael White (now Dr. Michael White) and trumpeter Gregg Stafford each led more traditional groups, the Original Liberty Jazz Band and the Young Tuxedo Brass Band. Herlin Riley and Shannon Powell became two of New Orleans’ finest drummers. Though they weren’t part of the core group, Branford and Wynton Marsalis carried their experience playing with the Fairview band with them on their way to national stardom.
Fairview alumni also followed Barker’s example as an educator and documentarian. Clarinetist Joe Torregano, Stafford, and White taught in classrooms; Tuba Fats apprenticed young musicians in Jackson Square, where they played for tips. White published scholarly writing on jazz history and Riley co-authored a book about second line drumming.
Torregano told author Mick Burns that the Fairview band “saved jazz for a generation in New Orleans.” That might be underselling it. Fairview alumni have now been standard bearers for traditional jazz for over forty years, mentoring countless younger musicians. At the same time, some of their brass bands pointed toward a modern style—dressing casually, adapting R&B songs, playing heavy, danceable tuba riffs—that inspired a second line renaissance in the 1980s and 90s. Today the city is full of kids who follow parades nearly every Sunday like Barker did, and need no intervention to form bands of their own.
About Music Education in New Orleans
Jazz patriarch Ellis Marsalis’ famous observation that New Orleans culture “bubbles up from the streets” is sometimes invoked to suggest he city’s music is naturally occurring, like an underground spring just waiting to be tapped. In fact, Marsalis was differentiating New Orleans from places where culture is imposed “from on high.” He knew better than anyone that music doesn’t just happen—he raised a family of musicians, trained generations of performers and teachers, and established jazz studies programs at multiple schools and universities. His career as an educator is a testament to the work required to keep the culture bubbling.
Historically, institutional support for this effort has been hard to come by. Jazz was prohibited in New Orleans schools for most of a century after its birth, on racist and classist grounds. A few early jazz musicians taught themselves, but often, like Danny Barker, they learned from relatives or neighbors, or in private lessons with professionals. In addition, the density of bandstands in the city made it easy for musicians to listen to and learn from their peers.
Some jazz pioneers like Jelly Roll Morton studied music formally, while others learned by ear. A typical early jazz artist grew up surrounded by music: at home, in church, in parks, in barrooms, and, sure enough, from the streets, in parades and funeral processions, from buskers and bands advertising themselves on flatbeds of passing trucks. Music performed various functions in everyday life in New Orleans, and musicians often trained to be versatile enough to find employment in different settings.
As for classroom instruction, the city maintained two segregated school systems well into the 1960s, with Black students often crowded into run-down facilities. Some of their music teachers, like the venerable Yvonne Busch, let a little jazz into their lessons, official policy notwithstanding (she also encouraged students interested in playing rhythm and blues outside of school). Generally, though, school music programs for both Black and white students were taught conventional curricula, of the kind found across the country.
Some Black musicians found opportunities for education through the military—rhythm and blues architect Dave Bartholomew honed his music writing and arranging skills in the 196th Army Ground Forces Band during World War II. Others, including members of the legendary house band at J&M Studio, used the G.I. bill to enroll in private music schools in New Orleans. A Korean War veteran, the producer and arranger Wardell Quezergue, tapped his formal training to compose elegant songs in popular genres like R&B and funk, leading Allen Toussaint to dub him the “Creole Beethoven.”
The face of music education in New Orleans changed in the late 1960s and early 1970s, when, after more than a decade of resistance, the city’s school system desegregated in earnest. The ensuing departure of white students meant public school bands became predominantly Black cultural institutions. Marching bands in particular gained city-wide prominence through their performances in Mardi Gras parades. Though the schools were chronically under-funded, devoted band directors and boosters helped make these programs points of pride. They also produced the rank-and-file musicians for the brass band revival touched off by Barker (several after-school programs and summer camps contributed on that front, too).
Marsalis helped inaugurate the first formal jazz program in New Orleans’ public schools at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) in 1973. It cultivated students’ awareness of music history and business savvy along with their instrumental chops, and launched a slew of nationally influential artists, including Donald Harrison, Jr., Harry Connick, Jr., Nicholas Payton, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah, and Jon Batiste (as well as Marsalis’ sons, Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo, and Jason).
Marsalis also founded the jazz studies program at the University of New Orleans in 1988, tapping the great Harold Battiste, an old bandmate, as a professor. Other world-class teaching artists anchored university programs in the area, including Alvin Batiste at Southern University in Baton Rouge, Edward “Kidd” Jordan at Southern University in New Orleans, Dr. Michael White at Xavier University, Maynard Chatters at Dillard University, and Terence Blanchard (another NOCCA alumnus) at the University of New Orleans and the Monk Institute at Loyola University.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the city laid off public school teachers en masse and thousands, including veteran band directors, were never rehired. The post-Katrina displacement of roughly 100,000 Black residents from New Orleans also did heavy damage to community-based music instruction in churches and homes, where many students lost contact with elder artists.
In the absence of systemic public support, privately funded non-profits sought to fill in some of the gaps. Since 2008, one of the most successful has been the Roots of Music, an after-school marching band for middle-schoolers, the brainchild of Rebirth Brass Band snare drummer Derrick Tabb. Growing up in Treme in the 80s, Tabb learned to play by following the second lines that went by his house, practicing with his neighbors, and being drilled by career band directors at his nearby middle and high schools. With opportunities like these limited for students today, the pressure is on to cultivate the next generation of New Orleans musicians.