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Brass in the Grass
Extra Crispy Brass Band's trumpet player talks about big band's festival friendly sound

Photo by Joe Hill

We first became acquainted with Extra Crispy Brass Band last week, when we mentioned them in our summer festival guide. Well, sort of mentioned them. We mistakenly called them “Extra Crispy Jazz Band” in our first draft. The next morning, Extra Crispy Brass Band trombone player and lead vocalist Gregory Cramer emailed to tell us of our error. The mistake turned out to be a fortunate one, as it inspired us to take a listen to the horn-laden, rump-shaking sound of the city’s premier New Orleans-inspired big band. In accordance with the festival fixture’s forthcoming appearances at Jazz In The Park and Locust Street Festival, Music Notes got in touch with Cramer to talk about Extra Crispy BRASS Band’s origin, its sound and exactly what makes it such a great component of Milwaukee’s summer festivals.

Tell us about Extra Crispy Brass Band.
We play brass band music in the tradition of New Orleans brass bands, a tradition that stretches from at least as far back as the 1890s until today. We draw from the whole spectrum, from gospel standards to traditional tunes like Royal Garden Blues and Saint James Infirmary to modern brass band street funk in the manner of the Rebirth, New Birth, Hot 8 and Dirty Dozen brass bands. 

Where does the band’s New Orleans influence come from? Does anyone in the band have roots there?
I lived in NOLA for most of the 1990s. I played music – drums, guitar, and bass – in the underground scene while becoming an avid follower of brass bands. I really missed it when I moved up here. Down there, you could see brass band music seven days a week, like even at 5 p.m. on a Sunday, you could see the Treme Brass Band – which was just starting then – at Donna's Bar and Grill and get some killer BBQ to boot. I just really missed that vibe. When I saw Mama Digdown's Brass Band, probably the best brass band outside of NOLA, from Madison, they really inspired me to get my chops together. And I had to get my chops together. I literally had to learn trombone to get this project going, and I'm still learning, and learning, and learning.

What about ECBB makes the band such a festival fixture?
I think because we play fun, danceable music that's very bluesy and jazzy and rooted in tradition with great, improvised horn solos. In fact, that we're so danceable has brought out the ladies to our shows. Is that bad?  

Beyond summer festivals and the like, what else does the immediate future hold for the band? Recording? Any big gigs lined up?
We have some great shows lined up: Bastille Days, State Fair, Chill on the Hill, Skyline Music Series, Firkin Fest. I'm thrilled with all of them. In fact, I thought we'd still be rehearsing in my basement at this time. We're going into the studio in the fall to record our debut.  

Do you know of any other Milwaukee bands with a sousaphone player?
Yes! The Squeezettes and the Chubby Stubbz Brass Band.

I've never been to Jazz In The Park. Explain to people like me the appeal of the summer series and why it's worth checking out.
You've never been to Jazz in the Park? Well... great atmosphere, summer in Milwaukee, good food and drinks. It's kind of like the place to be on Thursday nights in the summer. The best part is it is a very diverse crowd of people.  

Anything else you'd like to add?
We'll be starting our regular gig back up at the Uptowner the first Thursday of September. Please visit our Facebook page, where we keep our most up to date info.

Extra Crisp Brass Band plays the first installment of Jazz In The Park at Cathedral Park starting 6 p.m. Thursday. On Sunday, ECBB kicks off Locust Street Festival, playing the Wisconsin Veteran’s Stage from 10:30 a.m. to 12:45 p.m.

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