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Published: 2008/02/09
by Brian Ferdman

Never a Dull Moment: 20 Years of the Rebirth Brass Band

Mojotooth Productions

Told through a series of interesting and amusing interviews interspersed with clips from excellent live performances, including their May 2003 20th anniversary show at Tipitina’s, director Charlie Brown’s Never a Dull Moment: 20 Years of the Rebirth Brass Band illustrates the exciting and fascinating history of a unit, who has become largely responsible for the renewed interest in brass band music among young people in New Orleans. Indeed, now nearly 25 years into their career, Rebirth has sowed the seed for over 50 young brass bands, who are keeping an old tradition flourishing.

Beginning at Clark High School, band captain Phillip Frazier was asked to assemble a smaller group of musicians for a party. He chose the best of his classmates, including brother Keith and trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, and since the band was underage, they played their set and then left when the alcohol was served. It was still early, so they decided to head down to the French Quarter to play for tips. When the money started to flow, the Rebirth Brass Band was born. Nurtured in the musical hotbed of their beloved Treme neighborhood, the band made the right connections, being brought under the wing of some key individuals who were impressed and hopeful that these young kids could preserve the brass band tradition. Widespread success would come soon enough, and within a few years, the band would be touring the world.

Through interviews with a colorful cast of characters and musical luminaries, we learn all about the influence of the Treme, Rebirth’s infusion of the Mardi Gras Indian sounds, the disputes and disagreements that arose from some of their recording sessions, the unique creation of their hit “Do Whatcha Wanna,” the infusion of hip-hop into the band’s sound, and the eventual departure of some musicians, including Ruffins, who left on good terms and would soon establish an impressive career for himself. By and large, these interviews are cleverly edited together, creating an often humorous conversation that is filled with contradictions.

Shot on a low budget, the film still looks and sounds quite good. What it lacks in production values, it makes up for in insight and heart. Of course, it would be nice if the bonus features would include some uncut performances of the songs, but we do see the final interview with and performance at Tipitina’s by saxophonist James Durant, who would pass away two weeks after this conversation. Most importantly, the film does an excellent job documenting the vital importance of the second-line tradition in New Orleans. When watching the crowd go berserk during the band’s many second-lines, it’s obvious that the music of Rebirth has had a tremendous effect on the people of the Crescent City. The kinship that the band has established with their neighbors is quite evident, and their success has served as an example of admiration for an entire generation of young musicians, who now realize that they too can have a career in the modern world of brass band music.

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