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2015 Class Got Brass Winners

2015 Class Got Brass Winners

Landry-Walker High School Wins Top Prize at 2015 Class Got Brass

The Landry-Walker High School Brass Band took top honors and a prize of $10,000 at the fourth annual Class Got Brass competition Sunday (March 22, 2015) at Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans.

Landry-Walker was one of 16 competitors in the event, which was sponsored by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation and coincided with the foundation’s Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival.

It was Landry-Walker’s second appearance among the top winners. The school took second place in 2014. And it was the fourth time band director Wilbert Rawlins had a group claim some of the top prize money. (Rawlins previously was at O. Perry Walker High School, which won second place in the inaugural Class Got Brass in 2012, and first place in 2013).

St. Augustine High School won second place and $6,000, while Edna Karr High School won third place and $4,000.

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation created the Class Got Brass contest in 2012 to promote music education in the school system along with New Orleans’ cultural traditions.

While many schools had marching bands – which often provide early training for brass band musicians – very few offered traditional New Orleans-style brass bands.

“New Orleans is one of the only places on Earth where teen-agers love brass band music,” said Jazz & Heritage Foundation Executive Director Don Marshall. “So we thought it was time to encourage the schools to give the kids what they want.”

With Class Got Brass, the incentive for schools to create brass bands isn’t just bragging rights. It’s also more than $30,000 worth of instruments for the participating schools’ music programs.

In the contest, middle schools and high schools across Louisiana were invited to create brass bands and to perform according to guidelines that reflect the tradition. All bands were required to perform a traditional dirge and to dress in the classic style of white shirts and dark pants. Extra credit was available for those that wore the iconic five-pointed caps or brought dancers to accompany the musicians.

The bands performed in a succession that resembles a New Orleans second-line parade. Judging the performances are respected New Orleans musicians who rate performances on a range of criteria – from adherence to tradition and tightness to originality and improvisation.

Performers were divided into two categories: beginners and advanced.

In addition to prizes for first, second and third place in both categories, the Jazz & Heritage Foundation also provides stipends of $750 for each of the schools that participate.

All of the prizes are in the form of gift certificates that the band directors may redeem for instruments, instrument repair or other supplies for their music programs.

This year, the contestants were helped by new resources provided by the Preservation Hall Foundation, which set up a web site containing sheet music for band directors to use while coaching their students. And several schools accepted offers to have the Preservation Hall Jazz Band conduct free clinics in proper brass band technique and style.

On Sunday, several hundred enthusiastic audience members cheered for all 18 bands that performed, encouraging the tentative notes of beginners and the exuberant improvisation of the more accomplished players.

The students swayed to the slow, stately dirges and rocked to the up-tempo traditional and contemporary numbers that were required parts of their programs. Several of the groups were led by umbrella-waving Grand Marshals. A few included dancers dressed as Mardi Gras Indians.

While the judges’ scores were tallied and winners determined, the Hot 8 Brass Band entertained the audience. Glee reigned during the award presentations of ceremonial checks representing the top prizes.

Particularly thrilled was Edna Karr High School and band director Chris Herrero. His students have performed in all four years of the Class Got Brass contest, showing steady improvement. This was their first time getting one of the top prizes. Herrero, a New Orleans native and Karr alumnus, has been profiled National Public Radio for his dedication to his students.

After the winners were announced, several of the student bands engaged in a joyous impromptu jam session. Video.

After the first Class Got Brass in 2012, that year’s winner – KIPP McDonogh 15 Middle School – had a high-quality video posted online within hours of its performance. In a sign of the times, nearly every competing school in this year’s competition had their performances documented with YouTube videos.

Landry-Walker High School:

St. Augustine High School:

Edna Karr:

Medard H. Nelson Charter School:

Martin Behrman Charter Academy

Park Forest Middle:

The complete results are:

First Place: Medard H. Nelson Charter School, $4,000 (Band Director: Johnnie VanBuren)
Second Place: Martin Behrman Charter Academy, $3,000 (Band Director: Birdell Mitchell)
Third Place: Park Forest Middle School, $2,000 (Band Director: Doretha Williams)

First Place: Landry-Walker High School, $10,000 (Band Director: Wilber Rawlins)
Second Place: At. Augustine High School, $6,000 (Band Director: Eddie Williams)
Edna Karr High School, $4,000 (Band Director: Chris Herrero)

The other participating schools were:

Eisenhower Academy of Global Studies (Band Director: Edwin F. Harrison, Jr.)
Fannie C. Williams Charter School (Band Director: Dedrick Jones)
Ridgewood Prep (Band Director: Shari Meyer)
St. Mary’s Dominican High School (Band Director: Brenda Castillo)
Worley Middle School (Band Director: Kalen Mitchell)

KIPP McDonogh 15 Middle School (Band Director: Kelvin Harrison)
McDonogh 35 High School (Band Director: Lawrence Rawlins)
McKinley Senior High School (Band Director: Frank Williams)
New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (Band Director: Michael Pellera)
St. Paul’s School (Band Director: Andrew Moran)

The 2015 Class Got Brass judges were:
Ben Jaffe, Preservation Hall
Brice Miller, musician
Christie Jourdain, Pinettes Brass Band
Gerard Howard,
Gregg Stafford, musician
Gregory Davis, Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Kerry Brown, musician
Mark Braud, Preservation Hall
Shamarr Allen, musician

Congratulations to all of the participating schools, band directors and musicians.

Photos by Eric E. Simon

The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation, Inc.