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LowDown Brass Band Strives Toward Transformative Art

Written by on August 9, 2021

LowDown Brass Band has jazz coursing through its veins.

With an iconic blend of brassy horns and sentimental lyrics, Chicago’s LowDown Brass Band is an ever-changing ensemble for the ages. Rotating members and a regularly transforming repertoire of stylistic elements make the group’s sound dynamic and fresh, constantly incorporating the depth of new lessons and experiences. Their latest, remotely-recorded project, The Reel Sessions, served as a means for the group to address sociopolitical issues in the U.S. and beyond.

The Reel Sessions‘ final track, “Glorious,” stresses the importance of self-worth and was featured as one of Bekoe’s Top 5 July Poised to Break Through picks. We had the chance to speak with the group about their active sonic evolution, growing closer through overcoming obstacles, recording The Reel Sessions and more.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

“We use the term “free brass” as a way to give ourselves permission to venture into new territory by setting aside the rules of traditional brass band music.”

Explain to us LowDown Brass’ origin story.

LowDown Brass Band has been a band in Chicago for some time now, but the group has had several incarnations. This current lineup has been going strong for the past five or six years, touring North America and creating content along the way. We have been making music since day one, but the music has definitely evolved over time, taking the lessons we learn on the road and adding that to the creative process.

How would you describe your sound?

The term we came up with to describe our sound is “free brass.” Playing off the term “free jazz,” we use the term “free brass” as a way to give ourselves permission to venture into new territory by setting aside the rules of traditional brass band music.

Which artists have been most integral to your musical styles today?

Early on in the band’s history, we were inspired by groups like Rebirth Brass Band and Dirty Dozen Brass Band. As we evolved, our influences began to expand outside the Brass Band genre to include Afrobeat, reggae, soul and hip-hop. We understand that inspiration can come from anywhere, and being open-minded is the key to fully experiencing what music-making has to offer.

Do you prefer making music solo or with an ensemble?

We make music both ways because there are benefits to making music solo and as an ensemble. A song can be brought to the band as a fully realized idea, where someone in the group has composed a song from start to finish and the band brings the idea to life. Sometimes you have to let an artist fully form an idea before outside influences disrupt the process. A song can also start out as just a melody and individuals add pieces to the idea until it’s a full song. There’s no right way to do it — it’s about what’s right for the music. 

What’s your favorite aspect of working together?

The best aspect of working together is the brotherhood that we’ve forged from overcoming tough situations together. The obstacles we overcome together teach us how to trust and believe in each other. Everything we accomplish together is a chance for us to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to grow as human beings. Our growth as human beings is the fuel that propels the group forward.

Photo courtesy of the artist.

How has the city of Chicago influenced your work, if at all?

Chicago is a city of people who are very authentic to who they are, and that authenticity influences our music by not being afraid to make music that is true to who we are. We don’t shy away from mixing genres because we are students of all music and understand the importance of representing our influences to make an authentic contribution to the world. 

What is your biggest hope for the future of the Chicago music scene?

Our biggest hope for the Chicago music scene is that it will continue to produce great talent and recover from the pandemic. We know there will be a new normal, but hopefully the scene can thrive within it. Things have begun to pick up as of late, but there’s still more to go. We salute Situation Chicago and the coalition of independent venues — Hideout, Lincoln Hall, Schubas, Sub-T, Empty Bottle and more — we love you, we stand with you. We’d also like to give a shoutout to Audiotree for hosting incredible livestream productions before and during the pandemic. 

Where’s the best place to catch live jazz in the city?

The best place to experience live jazz in Chicago is Andy’s Jazz Club. It’s our home away from home and we’re proud to call them family. 

There were too many important issues going on in the world to be silent …  we felt “The Reel Sessions” was the perfect vehicle to address [them].

Tell us a little bit about your creative process during your project The Reel Sessions.

We had to work remotely throughout the recording of The Reel Sessions. We never recorded together as a full band throughout the whole process. There were a lot of emails and Google Drive folders being sent back and forth. Text threads and email chains were a mile long. Plenty of disagreements and small victories adding up to the finished product we call The Reel Sessions, and we’re grateful for every minute. 

What inspired The Reel Sessions

When we first came up with the idea for The Reel Sessions, we thought it was a good way for the band to stay active through the pandemic. We also saw The Reel Sessions as a way to express our ideas and opinions on the times we live in. There were too many important issues going on in the world to be silent — the election, the economy, social issues, you name it — and we felt The Reel Sessions was the perfect vehicle to address these matters. 

What was the biggest thing you all took away from this project? 

Looking back at the experience, we realized the most important thing that occurred was growth. Our growth as artists and human beings, but also our growth collectively. We became stronger and more focused through the journey of creating and releasing one new song and a music video for that song every two weeks. It was no easy task. It pushed us to the limits creatively and personally. When deadlines were staring us square in the eye, we had no choice but to deliver or go back on our word. The Reel Sessions are a testament to the transformative power of art and its importance to our development as human beings.

Is there anything you want to promote? Anything that’s coming up on the horizon for you that listeners should know about?

First, we’d like to thank Vocalo for the opportunity to share our music and message with your audience. We just released The Reel Sessions in early July, you can stream it on all platforms right now. Vinyl for The Reel Sessions will be available in October because of delays from the pandemic. You can preorder the vinyl now on LowDown’s BandCamp page. Our next big Chicago show will be Saturday, Nov. 13 at Chop Shop. Also, we’ll be releasing a full-length album at the beginning of 2022 called LowDown Nights, it’s already mixed and mastered. Thanks to all those who continue to show love and support. Thank You!

Photo courtesy of the artist.

Follow Lowdown Brass Band on Instagram and Twitter, and make sure to stream The Reel Sessions on Spotify below.

Edited for length and clarity by Genevieve Kyle

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