BrassGrass! …Who Knew?

by Susan Marquez

New Orleans native Chris Jones grew up with parents who loved music. “We always had the best music playing in our house,” he says. “My mom and dad played a lot of Three Dog Night and The Who.” But it was the beginning of a musical journey when a bar girl suggested he listen to the Neville Brothers. “That was when I realized I lived somewhere special.”

chris jones bluebrass bluegrass standardChris says he was always into percussion and loved to play the congas. “Mike Ward was my teacher in both conga and all things New Orleans. I used to carry his drums to Jazz Fest gigs. I was introduced to a lot of New Orleans musicians and I began to understand how to run a band.” Chris studied music at Delgado College in New Orleans, where he performed in the school’s jazz band. But worried that music may not always pay the bills, he also trained as a chef at the Culinary Institute of America. “I opened New Orleans-style restaurants in New York, Chicago and Vail for other owners before opening my own restaurant in Asheville, North Carolina.”

It was in Asheville that Chris was introduced to bluegrass music.

“I have always loved live music, so in my off time I went to festivals around North Carolina and gained a real appreciation for bluegrass music.” It was during that time that a convergence of two musical styles came together.

Between 1997 and 1999, Chris brought bluegrass artists from North Carolina to New Orleans to open for the Rebirth Brass Band. He began studying how music migrated from Africa up through Ireland, then down through New Orleans. “If you listen to the brass jazz version of Little Liza Jane, it’s different from the bluegrass version, although there are many similarities. The styles just come from how the music migrated to a certain area.”

chris jonesChris always tried to include kids in whatever music project he was involved with. “We decided to take some kids from the Tipitina Foundation in New Orleans to the mountains of western North Carolina for a musical mash-up. Most of those kids had never been out of New Orleans, much less seen mountains.” The New Orleans kids played a brass band jazz concert for the North Carolina kids, and the North Carolina kids played a bluegrass string concert for the New Orleans kids. Then they were divided into groups with each group having kids from both North Carolina and New Orleans. “We just sat back and watched what would happen organically and the results were amazing,” Chris says.

“They learned very quickly that they were more alike than not, and there was a fusion of musical styles that had never been heard before.”

That became the “junior varsity” for the BlueBrass Project. Chris, a percussionist, bandleader, and producer, became the mastermind between the meeting of bluegrass and brass band instruments. He called upon Appalachian guitarist Woody Wood, who became his musical partner in the project. “Woody’s dad, Al Wood, played with Bill Monroe,” says Chris. That collaboration resulted in a group of New Orleans musicians and musicians from North Carolina coming together in 2004 to record an album. The Same Pocket, Vol. 1: Bluegrass Meets the Big Easy featured Trombone Shorty, Woody Wood and members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Rebirth Brass Band, Acoustic Syndicate and more.

Sadly, Volume 2 of the project was destroyed in Katrina,

but Chris wasn’t deterred. The Same Pocket, Vol. 3: The Maple Leaf Sessions was recorded in 2013, and in December of last year, Volume 1 was re-released during a grand celebration at the Maple Leaf Bar in New Orleans. What began with an album has developed into a semi-regular musical series dubbed the Crescent City Mountain Summit. Chris gathered over 25 musicians from both New Orléans and North Carolina for the celebration, including longtime North Carolina new grass icons Acoustic Syndicate as well as New Orleans’ own SOUL Brass Band and musicians from the BlueBrass Project’s debut recording. Both nights featured a late-night “ClusterPluck,” an improvised jam session featuring musicians from all three bands as well as a few special guests.

 

 

 

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