The crowd at Joe's Cozy Corner was hollering; his bandmates were trading hot solos. Then Corey Henry saw his father -- longtime parade grand marshal Oswald "Boe Monkey" Jones -- with his legs in the air. It was a definite stamp of approval for his new funk band, the Young Fellas. "When my dad hits a cartwheel for you, you know you're doing something," says Henry.
As the trombone player for Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers and the leader of his own Lil Rascals brass band, 28-year-old Henry has traveled the world, from New York to Tokyo to Paris to Helsinki. But his most frequent voyage is the one between his house and Joe's. "I probably come through here every single day -- we all stop through on the way wherever," he says, sitting outside the bar on the corner of Robertson and Ursulines streets.
If Henry is out with his girlfriend, photographer and schoolteacher Briana Burgau, they stop. If one of his bands has a gig, this is where the members rendezvous beforehand.
In a way, it's a family tradition. "Corey had a beautiful grandmother and he's got a beautiful mama and beautiful uncles," says proprietor "Papa" Joe Glasper. One of those uncles is Treme Brass Band leader Benny Jones. Henry's grandfather was Preservation Hall drummer Chester Jones, and cousins include Rebirth trumpeter Derrick "Kabuki" Shezbie. Even Mama Ruth, who ran this place as Ruth's Cozy Corner before Papa Joe, was kin to Henry.
His mother, Sharlene Henry toted a young Corey to second-line parades, where he became fascinated with brass band music. Today, his own son and daughter -- Corey, 9, and Jazz, 8 -- are playing the drum, which he also started out on. But Henry dreamed of something else. "I had a real passion for that slide trombone," he says. "I think it was the tone -- it gives off that mellow tone."
When he was about 13, his dad came home with a trombone. Soon, his uncle was bringing him onstage with some of the town's top-flight horn players. "The Treme Brass Band is like the Sixth Ward's university," he says. "Uncle Benny gives all the young musicians a chance to learn."
During the late 1980s, Henry and friends practiced down the block from the house where Ruffins hung with the other, older guys from Rebirth. "A whole lot of musicians piled up on that spot every day," says Henry, recalling how they got their name from Shezbie's mother, who had told them: "You should call yourselves the Lil Rascals, because y'all sound bad and you make a lot of noise."
About eight years ago, Henry started sitting in at Barbecue Swingers' gigs. "Corey sounded more relaxed than the rest of the cats," Ruffins recalls. "He plays what we in New Orleans call 'tailgate style' -- laidback and swinging out." Henry and Ruffins became next-door neighbors, then tight friends, bandmates and godfathers to each other's daughters. Ruffins depends on Henry, he says, the way Louis Armstrong relied on trombone players like Jack Teagarden.
The Young Fellas -- horns with electric guitar, electric bass and percussion -- began last fall with gigs at Cafe Brasil. The next step was clear -- "I gotta bring it back to the neighborhood," says Henry. The band debuted late last year at Joe's.
For every small success, Henry says, he's grateful to a long list of musicians who taught him licks and the teachers and band directors who kept him on track. "It's a wild world out there, and you can get in trouble," he says quietly, talking about the funerals he's played in recent years for a little brother and three band members -- trumpeter Ezall "Money" Quinn, snare drummer Eldridge Andrews, and saxophonist Charles "Dia" Taylor. He raps about this in "Next Life (Keep the Spirit)," a heart-wrenching number on the Rascals' CD Buck It Like a Horse. "There's not a day that goes by that I don't think of them," he says.
On this corner, he doesn't have to explain that. "Hey, Miss Rose," he says politely, as an older woman walks by. A young girl walks by with a young guy in an oversized jersey. Henry nods and gives some dap -- "What's up little mama; how you doing, cousin."
"This is home," Henry says -- as if anyone in Treme will let him forget that. "People here always tell me, 'I been knowing you since you couldn't play.' I guess they'll always tell me that."
During Jazz Fest, Corey Henry can also be heard at 6 p.m. Saturdays with the Young Fellas and 6 p.m. Sundays with Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers at Joe's Cozy Corner (1532 Ursulines St., 581-4676).
- Scott Saltzman
- "He plays what we in New Orleans call tailgate style,' -- laidback and swinging out," says Kermit Ruffins of Lil Rascals and Young Fellas bandleader Corey Henry.