A friend told me about a recent funeral she attended. The grieving family hired a young newly-formed brass band from the streets of the French Quarter to perform at the funeral procession. Problem was the young musicians didn’t know how to play any of the jazz funeral standards such as ‘Just a Closer Walk With Thee’ or ‘I’ll Fly Away’. And so when the procession began, the band struck up a tune they were most used to playing for the crowds: ‘Pop That P*ssy’. My friend deadpanned ‘If that’s not prime example of why you need to know the traditionals when starting a brass band, I don’t know what is.”
The ability to play traditional standards as well as second line favorites and contemporary R&B songs, well...not all New Orleans brass bands are capable. Seasoned musicians acknowledge this as being what separates the wheat from the chaff. But the Young PinStripe Brass Band is up for the task, thanks to the foundation laid by their predecessors, The Original Pin Stripe.
Founded in the early 1970’s, the OGPS is best known for penning one of the most popular traditional brass band numbers ‘(I Ate Up The) Apple Tree’. Two years ago, Herbert McCarver IV, a fourth generation musician, OGPS member, and son of the band’s founder Herbert III, decided it was time to branch out. “Being around my dad and other bandleaders, it was always the vision to have my own band. In 2009, I sat down and talked to him, asked him if it was okay to start a new PinStripe.”
With his father’s blessing, McCarver then set about gathering musicians who were serious about wanting their own band. Some of the YPS musicians were recruited off of Bourbon Street and some came out of the Original Pin Stripe. The Young PinStripe, whose nine members range in age between 19-34 years old, consists of: Sousaphonist Herbert McCarver IV, trumpeter Noel Freeman and trombonist Terence Green on trombone, all of whom played with the OGPS; Samuel Venable on trombone; Gregory Warner on trumpet; Errol Marchand on snare; Jay Galle on base drum; Jeremy Cole on trumpet; Johnny Darby on sax.
McCarver is also the assistant band director at Langston Hughes Middle School, working alongside bandmate Johnny Darby. As a result of being surrounded constantly with young musical upstarts, McCarver is often tasked with giving pointers on how to start a band. “I help them out, let them know its gonna be rough cause you’re competing with a lot of brass bands. I tell them its important to learn the traditionals because you never know what type of people you’re around and they’ll request a song.”
Musicians around town readily commend the YPS for their musical chops. Edward ‘Juicy’ Jackson, trombonist for both TBC and The Hot 8 Brass Bands acknowledges, “I’ve played with them. They hire me a lot when I’m here. They’re some of the best and only young dudes that play the traditionals.”
But more than just knowing traditionals, McCarver says they get a lot of gigs because people like what they see as well as what they hear. “They like to see a band that comes on time in their (black and white) uniform. In Metairie Hall, the guy won’t let you come in unless you’re in uniform. You’ll get turned around if you’re in jeans and t-shirts.”
McCarver adds, “The most important thing is to be on time. My father taught me that. A lotta people have problems with bands coming late. I’ve been on gigs - not my band but other bands I’ve played with - I’ve been on time and the rest were late and it looks bad. People don’t want to hire you anymore. (Also) don’t come on the gig drunk or loaded. And don’t cuss at all because you never know who you’re playing with.”
As a result of their solid foundation, the YPS often work with and get referrals by heavy hitters in the local music scene. They open shows regularly for Wild Magnolia’s Bo Dollis and Rebirth Brass Band will pass along to them gigs they're unable to take. “Phil Frazier and my dad are my mentors,” acknowledges McCarver.
Yet even with the sound groundwork laid by their elders, the YPF still deals with some of the same struggles many young bands face trying to stay together. Trumpeter Noel Freeman, who arranges most of the band’s music, acknowledges the challenges of keeping the band going. “It’s a lot of men you’re dealing with. Everyone has their own problems. You’re trying to get them on the same accord every week. Sometimes its hard to get people to see your vision, how you want the music to be projected. I tell them ‘practice practice practice’. Cause if I hear anything (wrong) I’m gonna let you know.”
But ultimately its dedication to the mission of spreading New Orleans music that keeps the band unified, grounded and moving forward. McCarver sums it up. “We’re a young upcoming band with a great sound, keeping the traditional music alive. We’re not just doing it to get paid. This is what we love.”
You can catch the Young Pin Stripe Brass Band Sundays at the Hi Ho Lounge 2239 Saint Claude Ave at 10pm or via the band’s Facebook page