New Orleans is a city famous for its food, mix of cultural influences and of course, its music. The city known as the Big Easy is the birthplace of several styles of popular American music including jazz and ragtime. New Orleans has a long history of combining musical art forms to create something different and fun.
The band Bonerama is both. The New Orleans-based group brings together funk, rock, blues and jazz, creating a gumbo for the ears. Bonerama has horns like many local bands. But, unlike most groups, the trombone players lead this band.
Craig Klein and Mark Mullins are the founders of Bonerama and two of its three trombone players. Both Mr. Klein and Mr. Mullins performed as part of the brass section for another New Orleans musician, Harry Connick, Jr.
Craig Klein says he was inspired to start the band that would become Bonerama while traveling and playing music for Harry Connick, Jr.
“Well, Mark and I were on tour with Harry Connick, Jr. We started playing with him in 1990. And we were in New York, and I went and saw this Cuban band that had five trombones, and I just had an idea, ‘Let’s put together, let’s make a New Orleans band that features the trombone.’”
The group formed in 1998. Mark Mullins says he knew from the start that the sound of Bonerama was different.
“The sound of the unit from the very beginning, it was obvious: it connected with people for some reason, and I think people heard a sound when bringing these instruments together that they hadn’t really heard before. In New Orleans you hear a lot of different things. You’ll hear funk bands, rock bands, and of course, brass bands. But a band of all trombones with a sousaphone and a conventional funk band rhythm section was kind of different.”
One special quality is that Mark Mullins sometimes makes his trombone sound like an electric guitar. He creates this effect using a guitar pedal that he connects to a microphone on his trombone. He can lift the pedal up and down to make different kinds of sounds, just like a guitar player. He says audiences enjoy hearing guitar sounds coming from a trombone. He adds that he is able to express musical ideas with the guitar pedal that may not be possible with trombone alone.
“It’s definitely fun; it’s like driving a different car, speaking a little different language for a second there because you can ‘say’ things that you might get away with ‘saying’. Gives you a little different vocabulary there for a minute, it’s neat. But the rock stuff is fun, it transfers real well. And I think if you pick the right songs, and just have fun with it and be honest with it, I think people kind of connect with that. They know if you’re having fun, they know if it’s kind of honest. The sound, for the audience perspective apparently, it seems like they get a kick out of hearing Hendrix or Led Zeppelin through the voice of sousaphone and trombones. It’s fun…fun for everybody!”
Bonerama’s latest album is called “Shake It Baby.” It is the band’s 6th album. But Craig Klein says the horn section has recorded music for at least 10 other musicians or groups including REM and OK Go.
“We were on REM’s record, Sierra Leone (All Stars), we played a record with some of the OK GO guys. Cowboy Mouth, Radiators…Wonderlick, Marc Stone…I guess we’ve probably been on, as a horn section, probably about 10 different records or more.”
Bonerama recently performed at The Hamilton in Washington, D.C. This reporter got to not only attend the performance but to take the stage and play trombone with the band. It was an unforgettable experience, both as an audience member and a performer.
I’m Jonathan Evans.
Words in This Story
section – n. a part of a band or orchestra that has one kind of instruments
gumbo – n. a thick soup made in the southern U.S. with meat or seafood and usually okra
inspire – v. to make (someone) want to do something: to give (someone) an idea about what to do or create
conventional – adj. of a kind that has been around for a long time and is considered to be usual or typical
microphone – n. a device into which people speak or sing in order to record their voices or to make them sound louder
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