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American Routes Shortcuts: Wendell Brunious

Wendell Brunious
Wendell Brunious

This is American Routes Live, I’m Nick Spitzer. We’ve got jazz trumpeter from Preservation Hall, Wendell Brunious with his New Orleans All Stars.Wendell Brunious is from a famed New Orleans Creole jazz family. He is the son of Nazimova Santiago and John Brunious, Sr., a trumpeter who played with Onward Brass and Young Tuxedo Brass Bands, and Paul Barbarin. Wendell Brunious’ brother was the late John Brunious, Jr., also a trumpeter who lead the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Over the years, Wendell Brunious sang with Chief John and the Mahogany Hall Stompers in the 1960s. He studied at Southern University, worked with Danny Barker in the ‘70s, and later played on Bourbon Street and with Kid Thomas Valentine, Eureka Brass, Lionel Hampton, Linda Hopkins, Sammy Rimington and Louis Nelson. Right now it’s Wendell Brunious and band on American Routes Live.

“Whoopin’ Blues” Wendell Brunious and the New Orleans All Stars
American Routes original recording

Nick Spitzer: All right. Wendell Brunious and the New Orleans All Stars, making themselves welcome, and we'll welcome you here to the Jazz Museum. Tell us a little bit about your own family, Wendell, I mean, I know it goes back in time generations, but the Creole family, New Orleans traditional jazz musicians from the get-go.

Wendell Brunious: Oh yeah, we are all honored to be from the families we're from. We all kind of learned from our families. I picked that first song because it's a song called “The Whoopin’ Blues,” and it was written by a great clarinetist named John Casimir. When I was about three years old, Atlantic Records came to our house and recorded the original Tuxedo Brass Band with my daddy playing trumpet. It's one of my first memories, musical memories, because like I said, I was about three and a half. And if you ever see the record, it's called Jazz Begins, and you open it up–

NS: Oh, it's a great one, yeah.

WB: And there are two kids watching the band, and the little boy is me. And the girl is my sister Lorraine, so I think maybe that day I got converted to wanting to be a musician, you know, saying, “Wow, man.”

NS: That's John Sr. you're speaking of, and of course, he encouraged everyone to play. He was a trumpet player.

WB: Yep, he played the trumpet, and he went to Julliard. He wrote a lot of the music for like Cab Calloway, Billy Eckstine, Jay McShann.

NS: But he came back to be in New Orleans.

WB: Yeah. He developed arthritis, and he couldn't walk for two years, so he had to actually leave the road. You know, I mean, we wound up with eight children in that family, so the road was not that appealing after that, even though he had seen some great times.

NS: Well, I think I read somewhere that at some point seven of the eight were playing trumpets.

WB: Oh yeah. Well...

NS: At the same time?

WB: You either had to play trumpet or leave, you know. So we opted to play the trumpet, and my dad would write out some stuff on Sundays and have all kinds of crazy chords, man. He’d say, “You hit that note, you hit that note,” and, you know, “Wahhh!” Boy, it would be some crazy stuff going on in there, but it was all ear training and stuff like that. We didn't realize it at the time.

NS: And how about your mother's side of the family? That's an old New Orleans family as well.

WB: Yeah, that's another old musical family, the Santiago family, or Santiago, however you want to pronounce it, but her brothers were the great Burnell Santiago, and my uncle Lester, they were two of the greatest piano players, but her uncle was Willie Santiago, one of the first guitar and banjo players of what we call traditional jazz.

NS: What’s next? What do you think you all are going to do together?

WB: One of the tunes we grew up with, one of the early songs was from James Brown and the J.B.’s. It’s a song called “The Chicken.” We're going to give you our rendition of it right now while we're still young enough to remember it, you know.

“The Chicken” Wendell Brunious and the New Orleans All Stars
American Routes original recording

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