Jawaney “NouNou” Ramsey and Jeremey Jeanjacques playing in a Black Men of Labor (BMOL) parade. (Eric Waters/Courtesy BMOL archive)

Spasm band in New Orleans, circa 1910. (Dan Leyrer/Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive)

Almost year-round in New Orleans, large brass band ensembles featuring trombones, saxophones, trumpets and drums can be heard throughout the city, filling the streets with joyous, upbeat tempos like an infinite parade. The rich brass band tradition in New Orleans — modeled after military bands — has been a part of the city’s lifeblood since the 19th and 20th centuries, and was born in part out of a resistance to Jim Crow-era laws and treatment. Brass band music offered local musicians, in particular black musicians, with a means to organize as a community and to earn a living. Brass bands quickly sprouted and their lasting legacy soon became paramount to New Orleans culture. Summer camps were set in the late ’70s as a way for budding young musicians to meet and learn with some of the city’s best brass band musicians. And that lineage and its significance in present-day culture have been recorded in a recently released book “Talk that Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way.”


Spasm band in New Orleans, circa 1910. (Dan Leyrer/Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive)

Photograph of Benny Jones Sr.’s father, Chester Jones (left). (Ralston Crawford/Courtesy the Hogan Jazz Archive)

The book was co-edited by Bruce Sunpie Barnes, principal photographer, and Rachel Bruenlin, co-director for the Neighborhood Story Project, who came together to help document the Music for All Ages program Barnes was running at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. It begins with the history of the Black Men of Labor (BMOL) Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which was formed after seminal New Orleans jazz musician Danny Barker’s brass band funeral in 1994, with roots in the civil rights movement. One of the chief missions of BMOL is to preserve the legacy of brass band music through an adherence to traditional songs, and by pairing younger musicians with legendary brass and jazz musicians around the city. As well-known for their bold sound as they are, the band is also known for its bold style of dress. Band members are adorned in Afro-centric blazers custom-made from imported fabric. Eric Waters, who served as the official photographer for BMOL, has been documenting the group since its inception and has amassed a powerful archive of photographs. A large portion of which — nearly 10 years’ worth of images — was lost in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I consider brass band to be the heartbeat and soul of New Orleans. It’s the rhythm of life of the people,” Waters tells In Sight.

Inspired by the concept of photographing BMOL musicians against a backdrop of rich textiles in the same style of famed Malian photographer Seydou Keita, jazz photographer and co-creator of “Talk That Music Talk” Bruce Barnes collaborated with Neighborhood Story Project to photograph present-day jazz musicians in the same style.

“One of the things I wanted to show with the photography was the movement of musicians around the city — be it a brass band funeral, a group of musicians playing at Jackson Square for tips, or a concert in a formal setting,” Barnes explains in the book. “Photography is very much like music in that you must learn to improvise.”

Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club will celebrate the publication of “Talk that Music Talk” with an open-to-the-public concert at Sweet Lorraine’s in New Orleans on March 6, 2015.


Before their parade in 2013, BMOL members stand in front of a photograph of the previous parade year and a portrait of Danny Barker. (Eric Waters)

Portraits from Seydou Keita’s Bomoko, Mali,, studio. (Courtesy New Orleans Museum of Art)

The rich layering of fabrics and textiles in portrait photography can be found on both sides of the Atlantic. Benny Jones Sr. poses before a BMOL parade. (Eric Waters/Courtesy BMOL archive)

Benny’s snare drum resting on top of his Cadillac in 2012. (Bruce Sunpie Barnes)

Oliver “Squirt Man” Hunger at Uncle Lionel Batiste’s jazz funeral on July 23, 2012, in New Orleans. (Bruce Sunpie Barnes)

Jazz musicians parade at the funeral of seminal jazz musician Uncle Lionel despite the rain at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for Performing Arts in Louis Armstrong Park, New Orleans, in 2012. (Bruce Sunpie Barnes)

A signature part of the brass band is the second line parade. (Bruce Sunpie Barnes)

Kenneth Terry plays a cornet and trumpet in front of 1240 Frenchmen Street. Located adjacent to Treme, this section of the Seventh Ward has been another important neighborhood in the development of Jazz. (Bruce Sunpie Barnes)

The co-founders of BMOL: Benny Jones Sr., Fred Johnson Jr. and Gregg Stafford. (Eric Waters/Courtesy BMOL archive)

The New Orleans Young Traditional Band sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park at a Black Men of Labor second line parade. (Eric Waters)

Contemporary jazz trumpeter Aurelien Barnes. (Bruce Sunpie Barnes)

Trumpet player Kenneth Terry, former member of the Bucketmen Brass Band, plays alongside young jazz musician John Michael Bradford against a patterned backdrop. (Bruce Sunpie Barnes)

Jazz drummer Johnny Vidacovic, right, sits with his mentee and jazz drummer Jose Bravo Besselman. Jose, who was born with cleft palates and was adopted by a family in New Orleans, has become one of the most sought-after jazz drummers in the city. (Bruce Sunpie Barnes)

Sousaphone player and leader of the Storyville Stompers brass band Woody Penouilh in front of the New Orleans Free School at 3601 Camp Street in Uptown New Orleans. (Bruce Sunpie Barnes)

Trumpeter John Michael with Jasen Weaver (bass) and Miles Labat (drums).