Ringing out the old and ringing in the new…
2nd January 2013 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
“I got tired of watching it on TV from New York,” says Winston Turner of what first motivated him to head to Jackson Square for the annual New Year’s Eve celebration. “I got myself a daiquiri and went out there with everybody else,” remembers the trombonist who, as a member of the Brass-A-Holics band, kicked off “A NOLA New Year’s Eve 2012” at the square. The group got things going at 9 p.m. for a strong program that included vocalist/guitarist Mia Borders and the trombone-heavy Bonerama.
“Oh, I loved it,” Turner exclaims. “It had a Mardi Gras type of feel.”
The Brass-A-Holics, an eight-piece New Orleans ensemble which was formed in 2010, combines this city’s hot brass band style with the rhythmic influences of Washington D.C.’s go-go. It’s a genre of funkified music that blossomed in the 1970s and gained greater recognition from the work of the late great guitarist, vocalist and Godfather of go-go Chuck Brown.“Go-go is a form of music in which the beat never stops; the groove never stops,” Turner explains. “So whatever you want to hear can be played over the same groove, over the same rhythm. It keeps going and going. There’s a lot of crowd interaction in it,” he adds, comparing the participation by audiences to that found here among followers of brass band-led second lines.
The group prides itself on its versatility made possible by its instrumentation – the horns plus keyboard and guitar – and the varied musical backgrounds of its members. Some, like Turner come out of the brass band scene. He along with trumpeter Tannon Williams and sousaphonist Jason “Slick” Slack were members of the Soul Rebels. Guitarist Matt Clark was a rocker while keyboardist Keiko Komaki boasts classical, gospel and R&B experience. As a member of the Neville family, drummer Ricky Caesar has funk in his blood. Robin Clabby transitioned from playing piano and guitar to saxophone and percussionist Dwayne Muhammad is an educator who teaches in the school system.
“I wanted to be able to play straight ahead jazz, I wanted to be able to play funk, I wanted to be able to play ballads,” says Turner of the Brass-A-Holic’s stylistic concept. I wanted to get a group of people together that just wanted to play different types of music and enjoy it.”
The group aims to please its audience that, on New Year’s Eve on Decatur Street, was undoubtedly a mixed bag of folks.
“What we’re going to bring to the show is something that we try to bring to every show. We try to bring exactly what we think you want at that moment. We try to capture what’s already available and try to grow on it,” Turner offered in anticipation of the event. “If that night they feel like they want a brassy sound, we’ll supply that. Maybe they want a more rock-ish sound, we’ll supply that. Or maybe they want a little more of an old-school sound, we can supply that. Within the first 10 minutes of our show, we can tell where you want to be.
“They say that most good quarterbacks are judged on how well they can read a defense. I’m trying passionately to judge a crowd. Is it a young crowd? Is it an older crowd? Is it a New Orleans type crowd? Is it an out of town crowd? What do they want and do we have the repertoire and the artillery to give it to them?”
Turner considers 2012 to have been an awesome year for the Brass-A-Holics. The band spent time honing its chops and recorded its soon-to-be-released debut album. It had several opportunities to go out to Washington, D.C. and perform with some of go-go’s pioneers. “We had his (Chuck Brown’s) entire rhythm section. You’re talking about really playing it the way it goes,” says Turner. “It was such an experience. We keep the go-go going.”
Gig-wise, the Brass-A-Holics have long held down Wednesday nights at the 12 Bar, a spot on Fulton Street that the group considers home. Turner says it’s deemed a “big event” when the band plays the Maison on Frenchmen Street because the group’s appearance always draws a big crowd of loyal followers. The Brass-A-Holics might seem an unlikely offering at midnight on Saturdays at Irvin Mayfield’s Jazz Playhouse but Turner says they make it work.
“We change the (recorded) music while the other band is breaking down. You can feel the vibe starting to change from jazz music to maybe Michael Jackson or Marvin Gaye. It’s like, ‘Hey, that’s what’s going to happen?’ We set the mood. Instead of people sitting down just waiting for something to happen, they’re actually up dancing waiting for you to start.”
Heading to Jackson Square for New Year’s Eve offered the possibility of a plethora of experiences. Starting with the Brass-A-Holics at the free concert should got the festivities off in the right spirit. Those looking for a break could have traveled to the Palm Court Jazz Cafe which is nearby with trumpeter/vocalist Lionel Ferbos, now celebrating his 101st year, leading a traditional jazz band with likes of veteran bassist Chuck Badie onboard. An easy stroll got revelers right back to Jackson Square for Mia Borders and Bonerama or, in the opposite direction, Frenchmen Street tempted with even more music.
“We’re a group of guys and a girl who really try hard to help each other out in more than just a musical way,” Turner offers. “We try to keep it really like a family. We appreciate each other from the management team to the percussionist.
Turner expresses his wishes for the Brass-A-Holics in 2013 saying, “I hope I can keep the same band together and have a Grammy party.”
This article was originally published in the December 31, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper