A brass band is a musical group generally consisting entirely of brass instruments, most often with a percussion section. Ensembles that include brass and woodwind instruments can in certain traditions also be termed brass bands (particularly in the context of New Orleans-style brass bands), but are usually more correctly termed military bands, concert bands, wind bands or wind ensembles.
A British brass band marching
A brass band in the British tradition with a full complement of 28 players (plus percussion) consists of:
- 1 Soprano Cornet in E♭
- 8-10 Cornets in B♭ (in separate parts for 'Solo', 'Repiano', 2nd and 3rd cornets; there may be 4/5 players to the 'Solo' part, one 'Repiano', two 2nd, and two or one 3rd)
- 1 Flugelhorn in B♭ (often notated on the same part as the 'Repiano')
- 3 Horns in E♭ (called Solo, 1st and 2nd)
- 2 Baritones in B♭
- 2 Tenor Trombones (notated in B♭, sounding a major ninth below written) (usually playing separate parts)
- 1 Bass Trombone (the only instrument in the band notated as it sounds)
- 2 Euphoniums in B♭
- 4 Tubas (2 in E♭ and 2 in B♭; often called Basses)
- 2 or 3 percussion players (with 2 or more timpani, glockenspiel, snare drum, triangle, cymbals, a drum kit and more)
With the exception of the trombones, all of the brass are conical-bore instruments, which gives the British-style brass band its distinctive bright, mellow sound (as opposed to a dark symphonic sound).
Brass bands have a long tradition of competition between bands, often based around local industry and communities. In the 1930s brass bands thrived most with around 20,000 brass bands in the U.K. British-style brass bands are widespread throughout Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Norway and continental Europe and are also found in North America. Annual competitions are held in these countries to select champion bands at various levels of musical competence.
The Salvation Army, part of the Christian church, has deployed brass bands since 1878 and they continue to be an integral part of that organisation. The most well-known Salvation Army brass band is The International Staff Band which is based in London. Salvation Army bands vary considerably in size and complement as they are based on the local personnel available, some being as small as 6-8 members. The cornet section of a Salvation Army band does not include a 'Repiano' and instead of 2nd & 3rd cornets there are 1st & 2nd cornets. A Salvation Army band may have 3-6 tenor horns, 2-4 baritones and 2-6 tenor trombones. Salvation Army bands have a local tradition of training children in brass playing from an early age (starting at 7–8 years old). In larger Salvation Army churches there will often be a Junior Band for children (7–18 years old) as well as a Senior Band for adults.
The tradition of brass bands in New Orleans, Louisiana dates to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Traditionally, New Orleans brass bands could feature various instrumentations, often including trumpets, trombones, saxophones, sousaphones and percussion. The music played by these groups was often a fusion between European-styled military band music and African folk music brought to the Americas by west African slaves and the idiom played a significant role in the development of traditional Jazz. Early brass bands include the Eureka Brass Band, the Onward Brass Band, the Excelsior Brass Band, the Tuxedo Brass Band, the Young Tuxedo Brass Band, the Camelia Brass Band, and the Olympia Brass Band.
A well-known use of these bands is for the New Orleans jazz funeral.
In the 1970s and 1980s, the New Orleans brass band tradition experienced a renaissance, with bands breaking away from traditional stylings and adding elements of funk, hip hop, and bop to their repertoires. Some notable exponents of this style of brass band include the Rebirth Brass Band, the Soul Rebels Brass Band, Youngblood Brass Band and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, though a number of groups outside the United States have begun playing this style of music.
The style has moved beyond New Orleans and can now be found in such places as Japan with the Black Bottom Brass Band; the Netherlands with the Happy Feet and the Hurricane brass bands; Boston, Massachusetts with the Hot Tamale Brass Band; Minnesota with the Jack Brass Band; Missouri with the Funky Butt Brass Band; Georgia with the Half Dozen Brass Band; and Madison, Wisconsin with the Mama Digdown's and Youngblood brass bands.
Founded in 1836 by King Kamehameha III, the Royal Hawaiian Band is the second oldest and only full-time municipal band in the United States. In recent generations, unique brass band traditions have also developed in Tonga, Samoa, and other parts of Polynesia, as well as among the Māori of New Zealand. Some recordings are now available and these styles are beginning to be researched and promoted abroad through band tours.
Festivals around the world
One festival featuring brass bands is the Tarragona international dixieland festival, in Catalonia, Spain. The organisation programs not only dixieland brass bands but also ethnic or world music brass bands from over the world, including the Dirty Dozen Brass Band from the USA, Boban Marković Orkestar from Serbia, the Jaipur Kawa Brass Band from India and Taraf Goulamas from Occitania France.
In the United States the Great American Brass Band Festival has been held annually in Danville, Kentucky for the past 18 years. This event, held in early June, attracts brass band lovers from the U.S., Canada, and Europe.
The North American Brass Band Association sponsors an annual convention that provides member bands with the opportunity to compete in a contest format similar to those conducted in the United Kingdom and Europe.
In Boston, and Seattle a series of festivals called HONK! bring together Street Brass Bands (and other related ensembles) from the United States and Canada, and some bands from other parts of the world. The groups presented include Balkan Brass Band, New Orleans Brass, Political Action Bands, Klezmer, and "DIY" Alternative / Radical Community Bands.
Brass band composers
Brass band publishers
- Studio Music
- Gramercy Music
- Wright & Round
- Faber Music
- Prima Vista Musikk
- Salvationist Publishing and Supplies
- Band Press VOF
- SJS Music
- Kirklees Music
- Devilish Publishing