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Brassville seeks to restore the richness of Nashville's music history, one stage at a time.

In the Instagram footage of Brassville's first performance in 2019, four founding members can be seen taking a unique sonic strategy to the streets.

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Brassville seeks to restore the richness of Nashville's music history, one stage at a time.

They decided to set up their tent on an evening they knew would be popular because of the NFL draft festivities.

A nearby outdoor PA played the rocking country music you would expect. Brassville's brass players launched into jazz tunes that they were familiar with. They made sure to put their new moniker on a sign, as they had already chosen a name for the city that would accommodate a new, brassy musical association.

Although the band was busking in downtown Nashville, the Brassville men didn't care if anyone gave them money. They came to see how a brass band would do in a place that isn't used to it, and especially from performers who had identified it as their lineage to expand.

Nate McDowell, who was accompanied by his sousaphone that night, says "We wanted to find out what the palate was for something similar." "There isn't a lot brass-band action here in Nashville so we knew that this would hinder people. We were like, "We just need to make ourselves visible." People will ask us to do things if they see and feel the same thing we do. That's exactly what happened.

Brassville received many invitations to perform in the months that followed. He also added members such as Derrick Green, Jonathon Neal, Larry Jenkins, and drummer Derrick Green. The final lineup consisted of McDowell, MarVelous and Marcus Chandler, respectively, and keyboardist Rashad Sylvester, bassist Adrian Pollard, and trombone player MarVelous.

One of them had connections to Tennessee State University's Aristocrat of Bands. This was one of the most prestigious programs among historically Black marching bands. Even though HBCU bands are well-known by Black southerners, it takes a moment to pop crossover like Beyonce’s Coachella concert film Homecoming to inform white audiences about their excellence. The AOB is a regular at Atlanta's elite annual invitationals and was awarded a spot in the 2022 Rose Parade. Brassville's majority of the participants were undergrads. Its instructors are Jenkins and Neal.

Neal says that "the band culture teaches discipline" and "that is the greatest thing we could take from the Aristocrat of Bands."

They also know that TSU's music program has a long history of preparing Black musicians to perform professionally in the same city they studied. Jenkins says that Jenkins hears some of the stories coming from former members of our band. Jenkins adds, "So we are also part of a long tradition of great musicianship."

Apart from the extravagant exhibitin mid-2000s many authoritative accounts of Nashville's history of music have focused on institutions like the Grand Ole Opry or Music Row's concentrations of song-, record and deal-making areas, as well as the industry infrastructure that grew out of them. However, this focus overlooks the world of activity that took place in the historically Black area of the town where TSU is situated between the 1930s to the '60s.

Lorenzo Washington, a person who experienced it, refers to Jefferson Street as a central corridor that hosted a variety of hot R&B and big-band jazz. The "original Music Row."

Washington says, "You must know where you have been before you can decide where you are going." "And where we as Black folk have been in this music is really at the top." Otis Redding and Jimi Hendrix, artists like Ray Charles, were all international artists who left their mark right here in North Nashville on Jefferson Street.

Washington cites other notable names such as Miles Davis, Duke Ellington and James Brown who toured through Tennessee over the years. He emphasizes that "when those guys would come through Nashville they would do so with the intent to grab one of the Tennessee state musicians." Everyone knew that Tennessee State had some of the worst and best musicians in the country.

It was a vibrant scene indeed. Charles snatched up Hank Crawford as a saxophonist, and Marion James, a blueswoman and R&B singer Jackie Shane launched their careers. Hendrix performed at one club, while Etta James recorded her first live album at another. But, all activity ceased after the city cut through the district with an interstate.

Washington realized that many of the older people who had been part of that era feared that they would be forgotten by Nashville in the early 2010s. He recalls, "I used inviting some of the musicians to just sit down and talk, to tell some of their stories regarding Jefferson Street." "It started with hanging their pictures in my living room. Then I had other people bring artifacts and after about a year they began to tell me that I was the curator of Jefferson Street."

He was inspired to transform his personal collection, including oral histories and mementos from his home, into the Jefferson Street Sound Museum. He was able to make the importance of his stories even more clear when the National Museum of African American Music opened its doors in Nashville.

Jefferson Street was a popular place for Black musicians to grow up. Brassville embraces the goals of the more recent generations, including the wealth of local rap talent and contemporary R&B talent as well as the increasing number of Black artists who specialize in country and roots music and have worked hard to make inroads at venues dominated by white faces.

Brassville is able to adapt to various musical situations. Brass bands are known for their syncopated jazz struts of New Orleans' second lines. However, Brassville's musicians have departed from this template in their repertoire and instrumentation.

Pollard explains how the unusual bass-and-tuba combination works by saying, "Because Nate & I marched together. We have that relationship." "I know his style so I can piggyback on it. Not more so to step on one another's toes but more so to blend together."

McDowell says it like this: "We are the evolution of what brass bands can be."

They are able to connect jazzy, live-band elasticity with hip-hop neosoul, soul, funk. Their repertoire includes frisky originals as well as new versions of popular tunes by Big K.R.I.T., Kendrick Lamar, Silk Sonic and Big K.R.I.T. They usually work out Jenkins' and Neal’s arrangements in rehearsal rooms of Tennessee State. Then they gather around the piano to sing their parts until everyone is in sync. Neal says, "We are here for each other to complement one another." "So we chose music we knew this group could arrange and flip."

It's also possible for them to support a variety of artists who don’t often have horns behind, such as Brian Brown, a Nashville trap standard-bearer Starlito and DK, the Drummer, and Tiera. One of few Black women in country pop with a label deal.

Brassville has proven that they are interested in and capable to move between scenes. McDowell said that they get asked to do many things around town. "We look at it from a cultural perspective. Do we have a desire to make a difference? Is there a great idea? Does it benefit the legacy of Nashville, Black Music, Black Band Music, or any other thing that we find valuable. "

Brassville was busiest year yet. They performed at TSU's Homecoming. This 150-year anniversary celebration featured the Fisk Jubilee Singers. A world-renowned acapella group from Nashville, HBCU. There were also a variety of notable events that showcased Black musical achievement in North Nashville. They also performed a show on Lower Broadway in Juneteenth, where tourists-focused honky-tonks rule.

Jenkins says, "I believe we hold a solid place as ambassadors to the city and the sound of Nashville. The new sound of Nashville." Jenkins adds, "because what you bring to the table was not necessarily here."

Brassville's main goal is to please the crowds. But the members do so in a way that recognizes Nashville's lost sounds, shows solidarity with Black music-makers, and encourages future generations to join them. They are always learning.

Neal says that a couple of his students formed a band here. "That kind of influence really came from Brassville."



 

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