The Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band fills its performance schedule with out-of-town gigs. But amidst the many festival, theater and club engagements throughout the country, Rebirth holds a special spot for its weekly residency at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans.
Tuesday has been Rebirth Brass Band night at the Maple Leaf for nearly 25 years.
“It keeps us in touch with the locals, it keeps us grounded,” Rebirth co-founder and bass drummer Keith Frazier said shortly after the band’s return from a show in New York City.
“No matter how big you are, you realize where you come from, remember the people who supported you when you were just starting. That’s real important for us.”
Besides the loyalty that exists between Rebirth and its hometown audience, the band has practical reasons for keeping the Maple Leaf booked. Performing every Tuesday helps the group keep its chops up. And playing for people who love and understand Rebirth inspires the group.
“The people here in New Orleans give us the energy and impetus to keep producing new songs,” Frazier said. “A lot of times when we’re in the Maple Leaf, we create right there on the spot. And we’ll just try it on the audience. If they don’t like it, it probably won’t fly anywhere.”
A mix of locals and out-of-towners typically congregate Tuesdays at the Maple Leaf.
“A lot of tourists who come to the conventions,” Frazier said. “It’s like, ‘Where should I go on a Tuesday night?’ They go to the Maple Leaf. They don’t know anything about our band, but they come and see the locals dancing. It’s like, ‘OK, this music is to dance to.’ Before we know it, we have a whole new audience.”
Traveling as much as the Rebirth Brass Band does, to places such as Richmond and Arlington, Virginia; and Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the group may need to do some orientation for audiences who aren’t familiar with its celebratory New Orleans sound.
“Yeah, we have explain to them what the music’s all about,” Frazier said. “And then they’re like, ‘OK. This is not sit-down music or music to analyze. This is dance music.’ It doesn’t take us very long to do that. Once they hear the music, they’re going to move.”
It’s apropos that the new Rebirth album is called “Move Your Body.” Recorded in February at Esplanade Studios and The Music Shed, the album’s guest stars include Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Glen David Andrews and singer Erica Falls.
The often-touring Troy Andrews has two family members in Rebirth. In town on a weekend when the band was recording, he happily accepted an invitation to play the trombone solo for “On My Way.”
Glen David Andrews sings for “Lord, Lord, Lord, You’ve Sure Been Good To Me.”
“It was like, ‘Who better to do a gospel song than Glen David Andrews?’ ” Frazier recalled. “He was so open and responsive. Like, ‘Why not? I wanna be on it.’ ”
Falls joined the band for two songs, “Rebirth Makes You Dance” and “HBNS.” The band got the idea for recording with Falls after it backed her for a New Orleans Saints commercial.
“We were like, ‘Man, Erica sounds really good singing with a brass band!’ ” Frazier said. “So I wrote some lyrics for ‘Rebirth Makes You Dance.’ She came in, she nailed it.”
“Move Your Body” follows Rebirth’s Grammy-winning 2011 album, “Rebirth of New Orleans.” The band traveled to Los Angeles to attend the Grammy Awards ceremony.
“We were involved in the part that wasn’t televised, which, I think, is better than the televised part,” Frazier said. “The televised part is real orchestrated. They tell where to sit, when to clap. The untelevised part is impromptu. All the stars let their hair down. We got a chance to meet Paul McCartney and some other big stars.”
Winning a Grammy was the shock of a lifetime.
“You don’t know until they call your name,” Frazier said. “For just a brief moment, everything just froze in time. We were like, ‘What? We really won?’ To this day, we still say, ‘Man, we really won. Wow. We really won a Grammy.”
Frazier also finds it difficult to believe that the Rebirth Brass Band is in its 31st year.
“We look back at where we came from, off the streets of the French Quarter,” he said. “We were playing on Bourbon Street. At the time we just wanted to make some change. Here we are 30 years later.”