Fat Tuesday had come and gone, but The Rebirth Brass Band's 2013 performance at Carrboro's The Artscenter turned into a makeshift Mardi Gras celebration nevertheless. The attendees wore masks and heaved beads at fellow revelers. During a holiday show in New Orleans in 2010, fire marshals halted the start of the band's second set. Without hesitation, Rebirth launched into "Fire."
"That happens quite a bit," says Rebirth bass drum controller Keith Frazier, referring to their long-standing, very-full Tuesday night gigs at the Maple Leaf Bar. Whether Rebirth is playing their hometown of New Orleans or taking the city's sound on tour, listeners sometimes see their sets as little more than a wild party.
But Frazier, who co-founded Rebirth more than 30 years ago, thinks the music offers an instructive journey through jazz's past. While a group like the Carolina Chocolate Drops sprinkles sets with miniature history lessons on repertoire and tradition, Rebirth lets the sounds do the explaining.
"Sometimes we'll start the set by doing some jazz standards—something by Thelonious Monk or Wynton Marsalis—and then we'll take it a little further and do something more traditional and play a funeral dirge," Frazier explains. "[The crowd] can hear the elements and see where the music has come from and where it's going to. This instrumentation is adaptable to every form that you've probably heard in your life."
At the Southern Folklife Collection's quarter-century symposium, Rebirth will pause to offer some insight, joining a discussion with Tulane professor Matt Sakakeeny. The talk is a continuation of the Southern Folklife Collection's previous events concerning the banjo, fiddle and steel guitar and their impact on American music.
"People can recognize that a lot of what we do comes from the marching band tradition of the south," Frazier says. "You put that with elements of traditional jazz that started in the streets of New Orleans, and they can understand how it all fits in."
To demonstrate, Rebirth will even lead a parade from Wilson Library, the site of the talk, to Memorial Hall, the site of the night's show. It's something they rarely do outside of New Orleans, but Frazier relishes the chance: "No matter where you go, people love a parade. If it's a parade that they can be a part of, they'll jump right in."
Steve Weiss, curator of the Southern Folklife Collection, sees the parade as a living link between the organization's academic drive and the excitement of the sounds that inspire it.
"I love the symbolism of the parade going from the library to the concert hall," he says. "To me that is a big part of what the SFC is about."