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Like blues poet Willie Dixon famously proclaimed, you can't judge a book by its cover. Based on its oversize frame, you'd be excused for thinking Talk That Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way was a photo-heavy coffee table topper for casual browsing. While it collects arresting black-and-white images, it's instead a dense ethnography and oral history of Crescent City brass bands past, present, and future.


A collaboration between musician Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes and Rachel Breunlin, anthropology professor and co-director of the Neighborhood Story Project, the book roughly divides into two parts. The first half uses interviews with musicians and community leaders to tell a broader story about life in the Big Easy, from civil rights activism and the desegregation of public schools to Mardi Gras Indian tribes and jazz funerals.


Born of a desire to keep the traditional form and rich history of brass bands alive, that history culminates with the formation of the Black Men of Labor Social Aid & Pleasure club in the mid-Nineties. Members, who hail from brass bands including Dirty Dozen, Young Fellaz, Stooges, Rebirth, and more, diligently pass these traditions on to future generations, so the latter half of Talk dedicates itself to conversations between young musicians and their mentors.


As Woody Penouilh of the Storyville Stompers notes, "At its best, musicians in New Orleans won't look at each other as competition. They look at it as just friends joining together to make a good sound. Everybody shares their knowledge."

— Thomas Fawcett, The Austin Chronicle.


Learning to play by ear is a unique part of becoming a musician in New Orleans. This life history and photography project explores the traditional methods of teaching brass band music in the city that gave birth to jazz. Through in-depth interviews, the bands, social and pleasure clubs, schools, churches, and other neighborhood institutions that have supported the music, and the spirit embodied in it, come to life.

Follow the music and the people involved in the book, follow the Talk That Music Talk Facebook site.

In the early 1900s, jazz was created in New Orleans. Soon afterwards the fear’s moving away, it’s going to die out, it needs to be preserved. Yet each generation has put time and energy into making sure the roots of the music stay strong in the city. This book is about the history of that kind of organizing work, and what happened when the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park brought together a new group of young people to learn traditional brass band music from older musicians and the Black Men of Labor Social Aid & Pleasure Club.


Watch the Talk That Music Talk Video Series by Ebony Dumas:

Joe Torregano

One of the greatest New Orleans jazz clarinetists passed away in October of 2015. Joseph Torregano came from a long line of clarinet players from the city that created jazz. From Alphonse Picou to Willie Humphrey to Pete Fountain, he had an incredible breadth of knowledge for the music. Watch the video to hear Joe speak about his experiences with jazz in the city, and listen to his funeral with music with photographs by Bruce Sunpie Barnes. To get an incredible history on the lineages of New Orleans music, read his chapter in the Neighborhood Story Project's Talk That Music Talk: Passing On Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way, a collaborative ethnography by Bruce Sunpie Barnes and Rachel Breunlin. Video created by Ebony Dumas.

Roger Lewis

Roger Lewis is a saxophone player with a background in R&B and traditional jazz. He is a member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, one of the most traveled bands in the world. When Roger is at home in New Orleans, he loves to play with Benny Jones, Sr and the Tremé Brass Band.​


Jerome Smith is a co-founder of the New Orleans chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality, a nonviolent direct action civil rights organization that helped dismantle Jim Crow segregation in the American South. He took the principles of civil rights organizing into Tambourine and Fan, a community-based organization in the Sixth and Seventh Wards of New Orleans.

Through Tambourine and Fan, Jerome helped to create the Bucketman Social Aid and Pleasure Club and an annual parade called Super Sunday that brought young people into the street with brass bands and Mardi Gras Indians.

Jerome Smith

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