Almost year-round in New Orleans, large brass band ensembles featuring trombones, saxophones, trumpets and drums can be heard throughout the city, filling the streets with joyous, upbeat tempos like an infinite parade. The rich brass band tradition in New Orleans — modeled after military bands — has been a part of the city’s lifeblood since the 19th and 20th centuries, and was born in part out of a resistance to Jim Crow-era laws and treatment. Brass band music offered local musicians, in particular black musicians, with a means to organize as a community and to earn a living. Brass bands quickly sprouted and their lasting legacy soon became paramount to New Orleans culture. Summer camps were set in the late ’70s as a way for budding young musicians to meet and learn with some of the city’s best brass band musicians. And that lineage and its significance in present-day culture have been recorded in a recently released book “Talk that Music Talk: Passing on Brass Band Music in New Orleans the Traditional Way.”

The book was co-edited by Bruce Sunpie Barnes, principal photographer, and Rachel Bruenlin, co-director for the Neighborhood Story Project, who came together to help document the Music for All Ages program Barnes was running at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. It begins with the history of the Black Men of Labor (BMOL) Social Aid and Pleasure Club, which was formed after seminal New Orleans jazz musician Danny Barker’s brass band funeral in 1994, with roots in the civil rights movement. One of the chief missions of BMOL is to preserve the legacy of brass band music through an adherence to traditional songs, and by pairing younger musicians with legendary brass and jazz musicians around the city. As well-known for their bold sound as they are, the band is also known for its bold style of dress. Band members are adorned in Afro-centric blazers custom-made from imported fabric. Eric Waters, who served as the official photographer for BMOL, has been documenting the group since its inception and has amassed a powerful archive of photographs. A large portion of which — nearly 10 years’ worth of images — was lost in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

“I consider brass band to be the heartbeat and soul of New Orleans. It’s the rhythm of life of the people,” Waters tells In Sight.

Inspired by the concept of photographing BMOL musicians against a backdrop of rich textiles in the same style of famed Malian photographer Seydou Keita, jazz photographer and co-creator of “Talk That Music Talk” Bruce Barnes collaborated with Neighborhood Story Project to photograph present-day jazz musicians in the same style.

“One of the things I wanted to show with the photography was the movement of musicians around the city — be it a brass band funeral, a group of musicians playing at Jackson Square for tips, or a concert in a formal setting,” Barnes explains in the book. “Photography is very much like music in that you must learn to improvise.”

Black Men of Labor Social Aid and Pleasure Club will celebrate the publication of “Talk that Music Talk” with an open-to-the-public concert at Sweet Lorraine’s in New Orleans on March 6, 2015.

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They stood on sidewalks Sunday afternoon and spilled into the streets of Treme to see the Black Men of Labor, clad in maroon hats and pants and brightly colored vests, as they strutted and danced to the music of the Treme Brass Band to celebrate the second-lining organization’s 20th anniversary.

They started their march about 2:30 at Sweet Loraine’s Jazz Club on St. Claude Avenue and embarked on a route that took them eight stops, including Little People’s Place, Candle Light Lounge, Herbert Jones Fruit Stand and Seal’s Class Act.

At the biggest stop of the second line, Kermit’s Treme Speakeasy at Basin and North Robertson streets, hundreds of people lined the streets with barbecue and make-shift bars, pouring drinks, socializing, eating and dancing as the colorfully clad marchers approached.

Bruce Thomas, a chairman of the Krewe of Zulu, said he has attended the second line for the past 15 years. And while he likes the music, he said the most important thing about this parade is the dress.

“My favorite part is waiting to see their uniforms,” he said. “From the hats on their head to the alligator leather shoes on their feet they do it right every year.”

Todd Dominique Higgins, a member of the Black Men of Labor, said this year’s uniforms were specially made with fabric ordered from Ghana.

“We ordered 800 yards of fabric in January from the motherland to make our uniforms for the 20th anniversary,” Higgins said. “We’ve had a great day . . . with beautiful weather. It’s all about keeping the traditions of jazz music alive in this city, and this has been an unbelievable turnout. We are so impressed.”

Ellis Joseph, a bass drummer who leads the Free Agents Brass Band, joined to play with the Treme Brass Band for their anniversary celebration.

“I’ve played with Treme Brass Band off and on for the past few years,” Joseph said. “I wouldn’t miss this for anything. To see the reaction we get from the people when we play the traditional jazz music, it’s what we feed off. It’s the best feeling. It’s what it’s all about”

With its roots in Treme, America’s oldest registered historic African-American neighborhood, and members ranging in age from 25 to 80, the Black Men of Labor was founded in 1993 by Fred J. Johnson Jr., Benny Jones Sr. and Gregory Stafford. The group’s mission is to pay tribute to the contributions of African-American men in the work place and to preserve the traditional jazz music of New Orleans, all while dressed in impeccable style.

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Start: Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club, 1931 St. Claude Ave. Up St. Claude to N. Rampart. Continue on N. Rampart. U-Turn at St. Ann St. Back down N. Rampart.

Stop: Donna’s Bar & Grill (former). Down N. Rampart to Barracks St. Left on Barracks. Continue on Barracks.

Stop: Little People’s Place. Down Barracks to Treme St. Right on Treme. Down Treme to Esplanade Avenue. Left on Esplanade. Down Esplanade to N. Robertson St. Left on N. Robertson St.

Stop: Treme Music Hall (former). Continue on N. Robertson.

Stop: Candle Light Lounge. Continue on N. Robertson to Basin St. Right on Basin St. to N. Claiborne Avenue. Left on St. Bernard. Continue on St. Bernard and veer off to A.P. Tureaud. Continue on A.P. Tureaud to Aubry St.

Stop: Seal’s Class Act. Out N. Miro to Lapeyrouse and then left on N. Galvez. Continue on N. Galvez to St. Bernard Ave. Right on St. Bernard. Down St. Bernard Avenue to N. Rampart. Left on Rampart continuing to St. Claude.

Disband: Sweet Lorraine’s

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BMOL Parade 2013

The 20th annual Black Men of Labor parade Sunday, October 20, 2013. The group celebrated improvisation through the streets, creating formations and dancing in syncopation to New Orleans Traditional Jazz Music. The BMOL is dedicated to empowering its community with the resources and support necessary to provide access to the arts for all of the people. The group made several stops along their Traditional Treme route that started at and ended at Sweet Loraine’s on St. Claude Ave. in New Orleans. (David Grunfeld, NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune)

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