Roll With It

Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans

Roll With It

Refiguring American Music

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Book Pages: 248 Illustrations: 25 photographs Published: October 2013

Author: Sakakeeny, Matt

Contributor: Willie Birch

African American Studies and Black Diaspora, Anthropology > Cultural Anthropology, Music > Popular Music

Roll With It is a firsthand account of the precarious lives of musicians in the Rebirth, Soul Rebels, and Hot 8 brass bands of New Orleans. These young men are celebrated as cultural icons for upholding the proud traditions of the jazz funeral and the second line parade, yet they remain subject to the perils of poverty, racial marginalization, and urban violence that characterize life for many black Americans. Some achieve a degree of social mobility while many more encounter aggressive policing, exploitative economies, and a political infrastructure that creates insecurities in healthcare, housing, education, and criminal justice. The gripping narrative moves with the band members from back street to backstage, before and after Hurricane Katrina, always in step with the tap of the snare drum, the thud of the bass drum, and the boom of the tuba.


Roll With It, which includes striking black-and-white illustrations by New Orleans artist Willie Birch, is at once celebratory and saddening: a book of personal stories and a highly researched academic work.” — Geraldine Wyckoff, Offbeat

“Fascinating. . . . The musicians' personal stories are interwoven with historical information, academic reflection, and personal experience, combining to form a highly original work that creates a vivid portrait both of this musical format and the noble but beleaguered city of New Orleans.” — Florence Wetzel, All About Jazz

“As Sakakeeny makes clear, the story of the city’s brass bands is far more complex than music alone. Beyond its entertainment value, music serves as the ‘site where competing social, political, and economic vectors intersect.’ In many ways, these vectors serve as a microcosm for the problems within the city at large.”
Kirkus Reviews

“A notable work in that it’s the first critical project to chronicle New Orleans’ bombastic contemporary brass-band scene, the generation of musicians that grew up with century-old hymns in one ear and hip-hop in the other; also, and importantly, it’s a keen, social-justice-minded examination of the turbulent mix of race, economics, culture and tradition in which brass band culture is located.” — Alison Fensterstock, Times-Picayune

“Sakakeeny offers detailed accounts of parades and the inner workings of the bands. The book offers a full picture of their lives and how the city’s cultural economy works on the factory end. Sakakeeny observes the way the city celebrates its culture and especially its musicians, but the book also exposes the way many of them survive on the same earnings as low-rung service industry workers. It’s an engaging look street-level look at the bands that so often are used to represent and symbolize the city.” — Will Coviello, Gambit

"Roll With It is informative on many levels, detailing song structures, jazz history, neighborhood developments, and weaving information together through anecdote and research. It also poses a bigger question: If our city has economically benefitted from selling culture as a post-Katrina resource, are musicians getting what they deserve? Roll With It explores the answer.” — Samuel Nelson, Where Y'at?

"Sakakeeny’s approach to the tensions between continuity in change in Roll With It: Brass Bands in the Streets of New Orleans, searches past academic theories, tapping many interviews and his own experiences with musicians. . . . Roll With It deserves a wide readership in the post-Katrina boom."     — Jason Berry, New Orleans Magazine

“In addition to chronicling groups including the Rebirth Brass Brand, Sakakeeny provides a revealing look at the daily lives of musicians. . . . Detailed profiles of individual musicians make for a captivating narrative, and the book is beautifully illustrated with artwork by New Orleans native Willie Birch.” — Scott Barretta, Clarion-Ledger

“Fascinating. . . . The musicians' personal stories are interwoven with historical information, academic reflection, and personal experience, combining to form a highly original work that creates a vivid portrait both of this musical format and the noble but beleaguered city of New Orleans.”  — Florence Wetzel, All About Jazz

Roll With It adds a contemporary perspective to studies of New Orleans culture and music. What emerges from Sakakeeny’s book is a portrait of a city that, with all its challenges, still manages to support a vibrant musical culture.”  — John Paul Meyers, Jazz Perspectives

"Roll With It is an important study, and the insight it provides on the local pathways of urban social survival and change, intersected with and mobilized through community-based musical expression, is both timely and valuable. The book will be of great interest and use for scholars and both introductory and advanced students, in anthropology, ethnomusicology, and related fields. The book will also appeal to the many others, across disciplines and both in and out of the academy, who are interested in the urban history, cultural traditions, and creative social movements that shape the past, present, and future of New Orleans.” — Rebecca Louise Carter, North American Dialogue

Roll With It is a welcome contribution to our understanding of New Orleans, cultural production, and the politics of place. Sakakeeny does a remarkable job capturing the movement of brass bands as they continue to weave through the varied powers of the city, reshaping traditions as New Orleans remakes itself. By following the production of brass music, second lines, and jazz funerals, Sakakeeny offers a necessary glimpse into broader contestations and negotiations over New Orleans's past, present, and possible futures.” — Lydia Pelot-Hobbs, Southern Spaces

"Sakakeeny’s rendition of the voyage of personal discovery that accompanied his fieldwork is especially noteworthy and engaging, generated partly by the inevitable catharsis that Katrina entailed for anyone who cares about New Orleans, but even more profoundly grounded in the lessons learned from interaction with his informants as they struggled to regain their individual and collective identities through the act of making music." — Bruce Raeburn, American Studies

“The book marks an important contribution to ongoing discussions of musical innovation and preservation in and around New Orleans. … Sakakeeny’s creative approach to ethnography showcases the talents, insights, and skills of an equally multifaceted anthropologist, ethnomusicologist, musician, journalist, and curator of New Orleans music." — Sarah Suhadolnik, Bulletin of the Society for American Music

“This is a volume in which rich ethnographic detail fails to obscure the broader framework of academic theory and personal concern for both the musicians and the music. Roll With It belongs on the reading lists of all those teaching ethnomusicology or ethnography in the modern world, those whose teaching engages with popular music, race, performance, tourism and economy, and those who are concerned about the relationship between their research (or the academic world in general) and the sociopolitical (and economic and racial) realities of the worlds in which we all live.” — Gregory Booth, Journal of Popular Music Studies

"[T]hose interested in a holistic consideration of musical products and cultural processes will find Sakakeeny’s study to be highly engaging and viscerally affecting as it exposes the oppositional forces inherent in a highly venerated—but highly volatile—performance tradition." — David Kammerer, Ethnomusicology

“Damn, now that’s musicology. . . . Among the book’s other accomplishments, it’s a model of how to write an academic text that can engage a real-world reader."
— Ned Sublett

"A new essential in the post-Katrina history of New Orleans, Roll With It is, perhaps, the most astute and clear-headed assessment of how the musical essence of New Orleans is ingrained in the personal and political lives of those who live in that extraordinary city. The brass-band culture detailed lovingly here by Matt Sakakeeny is no mere entertainment to those who understand it, nor is it there as tourist-bait or as a museum piece of quaint tradition. This is New Orleans itself, arguing for itself, and using culture as language and currency. To the extent thus far possible, what has saved New Orleans–more than government fiat, or grand economic imperatives, or any hint of functional leaderships–is in the street, damn near every Sunday afternoon." — David Simon, creator of the television series The Wire and Treme

"Matt Sakakeeny tells the story of a vibrant, living culture in prose so vivid and moving, it is matched only by the music about which he writes. His illuminating examination of the contemporary New Orleans brass band culture reveals what it means to create great art, to continually mold and revise a tradition, and to try to make a living under an often dehumanizing racial regime—a complex urban world where making music can be a matter of life and death. Roll With It not only opens our ears to the music and its urban echoes, but it opens our eyes, enabling us to finally see the people who make the second line move." — Robin Kelley, author of Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Matt Sakakeeny is an ethnomusicologist and journalist, New Orleans resident and musician. An Assistant Professor of Music at Tulane University, he initially moved to New Orleans to work as a co-producer of the public radio program American Routes. Sakakeeny has written for publications including The Oxford American, Mojo, and Wax Poetics. He plays guitar in the band Los Po-Boy-Citos.

Willie Birch is an international artist who lives in New Orleans, where he was born in 1942. Birch received his BA from Southern University New Orleans in 1969 and his MFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in 1973. He is the recipient of many awards and honors, including the State of Louisiana Governor's award and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation. His works are part of the permanent collections of the New Orleans Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

Table of Contents Back to Top
List of Artwork vii

Prologue. Crossing the Threshold ix

Introduction. Forward Motion 1

1. Onward and Upward 13

2. Constraints 69

3. Progressions 109

4. Voices 143

Conclusion. Engagements 179

Afterword. Image and Music in the Art of Willie Burch / Willie Burch and Matt Sakakeeny 187

Acknowledgments 195

Appendix. List of Interviews and Public Events 199

Notes 201

Bibliography 213

Index 227
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-5567-0 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-5552-6
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