American Routes Shortcuts: Original Pinettes Brass Band

Jun 12, 2020

Original Pinettes Brass Band
Credit American Routes

This sounds like a typical Sunday afternoon in the Crescent City, before sheltering at home, with the sound of a brass band setting the tempo in Armstrong Park. But on this day, there’s a difference. It’s the Original Pinettes Brass Band, New Orleans’ only female brass band. The Pinettes have been around for well over twenty five years, blazing a hard fought musical trail to put women musicians front and center in a tradition once lead only by men. About five years ago the Pinettes proved they were the real deal by making history under the Claiborne bridge soundscape winning the Red Bull Street Kings Brass Band Competition, beating out three male bands and forcing the sponsors to change the winning title to Street Queens. There are rewards and challenges being the first at anything. And there are stories to tell. I spoke with four of the members of the Pinettes Brass Band.

Natasha Harris: This is Natasha Harris, and I’m the saxophone player.

Christie Jourdain: My name is Christie Jourdain, and I play the snare drum, also the leader.

Veronique Dorsey: I’m Veronique Dorsey, and I play trumpet.

Dion Harrison: Dion Harrison, trombone.

Nick Spitzer: Alright. Now maybe I should ask you Christie since you have this special executive role, tell me how did the Pinettes come together? How long has the band been together, and how did it get started?

CJ: The Pinettes was formed in 1991, from St. Mary’s Academy High School out in New Orleans East. Most of us come from marching band, and the band director at the time, Jeffrey Herbert, got some, maybe like sixteen members together to form the Pinettes. I don’t think he thought that it would go as long as it did, but it did and here it is like twenty-something years later and we’re still doing it.

NS: What is a Pinette?

CJ: Mr. Herbert was with Pinstripe Brass Band. Then they had Junior Pinstripe Brass Band. So they all got–the Pinettes at that time, all the ladies got together and were like, “Let’s pick a name.” And they came up with the Pinettes.

NS: In some clubs that sounds like the ladies’ auxiliary, you know, but you guys are central, you’re not like, on the side.

CJ: Yeah I guess it’s great being “the only,” but we’re not trying to be the only. I mean we want other females to try to do this, you know, and I would like to be called maybe the first. But we don’t want it to stop, you know, just with the Original Pinettes you see here. We would love for some more females to come in, you know, start doing it. Everyone was pretty much thrown in here, and everybody pretty much taught themselves, besides some of the guys that came in and out to help us, but we basically taught ourselves the basic brass band music because it’s not easy. That’s something that you have to have in your heart. You can’t just pick up a book and say, “Let me learn ‘Feel Like Funkin’ It Up’ from Rebirth Brass Band.”

NS: Are there any tunes that are special to the Pinettes, either ones you composed yourselves or the way you play them is different and marks it as a Pinettes song?

NH: This is Natasha speaking. One of our first originals, “Get a Life,” was something that was very special to us, and it had a lot of meaning at the time it was written.

NS: Would you care to elaborate on the meaning that “Get a Life” had?

VD: Oh yeah there were people that didn’t like us. This is Veronique speaking. There were people that didn’t like us so we just said, we’re gonna write a song about it so those people should get a life and stop worrying about us.

NS: Why would anybody not like the Pinettes?

VD: Oh man, so many reasons.

VD: I think another song that everybody likes now is “Ain’t No City,” a new original we have. It was funny, I went to a restaurant, and this man was like, “Hey what’s that song y’all have? ‘My town, my town’?”’ I was like, “What? ‘Ain’t No City’?’ He was like, “Yeah, yeah, that’s it!” It’s an homage to the city. It’s all about the city of New Orleans.

NS: Yeah? Tell me a couple of the lyrics from it.

VD: Rap it Christie, get it!

CJ: We get the audience in there to say “Ain’t no city like the one I’m from,” and we get the audience to repeat it, and we say “From food to drinks, partying and fun, ain’t no city like the one I’m from.” “Second lines and DJs, them Indians.”

All: “Ain’t no city like the one I’m from.”

CJ: “New Orleans Saints are champions.”

To hear the full program, tune in Saturdays at 5 and Sundays at 6 on WWNO, or listen at americanroutes.org.