Creativity lifts Nelson Charter band in Class Got Brass _lowres

Advocate staff photo by JOHN McCUSKER -- DaeQuan Coleman, a sousaphone player in the St. Augustine Marching Band, practices at City Park. The sousaphone is a type of tuba and takes its name from 19th century American brass band leader John Phillip Sousa popularized the instrument.

Medard H. Nelson Charter School, an elementary and middle school, was the surprise winner in the fifth annual Class Got Brass contest March 20, beating several high schools to take the top prize of $10,000 in the musical competition sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

“I knew we had to think outside the box,” said Nelson Charter band director Johnnie Van Buren II, whose middle school brass band members bested two previous winners of the contest — Landry-Walker High School and St. Augustine High School — to take top honors and the grand prize.

“I knew that Landry-Walker and St. Augustine would sound good, so I told my kids that we needed to have a presentation with more entertainment,” Van Buren said. “That’s when I came up with the casket idea.”

In a nod to New Orleans’ tradition of jazz funerals, the Nelson Charter brass band performed accompanied by a faux coffin — a prop that was a first for the Class Got Brass contest and apparently made a good impression on the judges.

A total of 14 school brass bands competed in the 2016 Class Got Brass, a program of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation that supports music education in the schools while also promoting New Orleans’ cultural traditions.

The contest took place in Armstrong Park as part of the ninth annual Congo Square Rhythms Festival, one of four free festivals produced by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation.

The top prize in the advanced category is $10,000. The top prize for the beginners is $5,000. Every school that competes gets a $750 gift certificate.

The complete results of the 2016 Class Got Brass competition are:

  • ADVANCED FIRST PLACE: Medard H. Nelson Charter School, $10,000 (band director: Johnnie Van Buren II)
  • SECOND PLACE: Landry-Walker High School, $7,000 (band director: Wilbert Rawlins)
  • THIRD PLACE: St. Augustine High School, $5,000 (band director: Eddie Williams)
  • FOURTH PLACE: Edna Karr High School, $750 (band director: Chris Herrero)
  • FIFTH PLACE: McKinley Senior High School, $750 (band director: Frank Williams).
  • BEGINNERS FIRST PLACE: Park Forest Middle School, $5,000 (band director: Doretha Williams)
  • SECOND PLACE: KIPP McDonogh 15 Middle School, $4,000 (band director: Kelvin Harrison)
  • THIRD PLACE: KIPP Central City Academy, $3,000 (band director: Joshua Speight)
  • FOURTH PLACE: Lincoln School for the Arts, $750 (band director: Carlyn Glenn)
  • FIFTH PLACE: Langston Hughes Academy, $750 (band director: Samuel Venable Jr.)
  • SIXTH PLACE: Dolores T. Aaron Academy, $750 (band director: Andrew Bower)
  • SEVENTH PLACE: Lafayette Academy, $750 (band director: Charles Jackson)
  • EIGHTH PLACE: Eisenhower Elementary School, $750 (band director: Brandon Kelley)
  • NINTH PLACE: Moton Charter School, $750 (band director: Edwin F. Harrison Jr.).