This story is a part of our For the Soul series: a collaboration between the Nashville Scene and local culture website Urbaanite that uncovers local gems in Nashville.
Talking with members of the eight-piece brass band about where they’re from and where they’re going.
The men of Brassville have a brotherhood like no other. Each member’s amazing talents are succinctly intertwined to create a rich sound that automatically pulls you in. You start grooving, hands raised, claps immediate, and “Y’all better do it” instantly comes out of your mouth. Experiencing a Brassville performance is a whole vibe — one traditionally reserved for New Orleans or New York — that we can now confidently say graces our Nashville streets.
Brassville is made up of Jonathan Neal, Larry Jenkins, Nate McDowell, Derrick Green, Marcus Chandler, MarVelous Brown, Adrian Pollard, and Rashad Sylvester. Some say it can be hard to bring eight people together for a common cause, but the men of Brassville make it look so easy. As Green so thoughtfully shares, “We collectively bring ideas to the table. When you take the horns and drums away, we are each Black men coming together to make a difference.” And the impact they are making in Nashville is going to put this city on the brass-band map. Trust me.
Started From a Text and Now They Here
“Man, there is money to be made out here,” says Neal, reflecting back on his initial conversation with Jenkins about starting a brass band in Nashville. McDowell would later send a similar text to Jenkins, which would be the catalyst for Brassville’s creation — the name was also courtesy of McDowell. From that group chain, they would not just sit back and think about it. They were all about just doing it and would test out their concept for the first time during the 2016 NFL Draft weekend in Nashville.
“We ended up meeting up at TSU after my text to Larry,” McDowell recalls, “ran a couple of songs, then just went out on Broadway to play and see what happens.” As they say, the rest is history.
History, TSU + Brass
Brass bands have their roots in early 19th-century European military marching bands. In the mid-1900s, some British employers actually financed their employees’ musical endeavors, allowing them to practice during work hours and stage competitions, probably to decrease their political activity during the time of the Industrial Revolution. Brass bands would later be adopted into so many musical environments, including taking center stage in historically Black college and university marching bands. “[Tennessee State University] is definitely like a linchpin,” says McDowell. “Everybody went to TSU for either undergrad or grad.”
Neal adds, “I was in a program, the 105 HBCU Voices and Jazz Orchestra at Tennessee State University. I experienced so much working with James Sexton, one of their band directors, that I knew I had to get my second degree there.” All eight members of Brassville were also featured in Spencer Glover’s short film “Message Read,” which was featured on digital streaming network FOX Soul and took home awards at the D.C. Shorts International Film Festival and others.
It’s Bigger Than Us
They are on a mission to turn Nashville into Brassville. “So many people take pride in this city and love being a part of the local community,” says McDowell. “We want Brassville to be in this mix.” The band has had a chance to work with both local and national artists and musicians, and they are not planning to slow down any time soon. From collaborating with Ski Beatz on a Smack Pack to J. Jackson and many others, Jenkins says they’ve “had a chance to produce original music and loops that are in producer packs around the world. It has really been amazing.” He also drops a hint about a secret upcoming project that will have Brassville creating new history-making sounds.
With live music being back in the ’Ville, you will be able to hear Brassville live this summer, starting this weekend with their Juneteenth performances at the Nashville Jazz Workshop’s day-long celebration (noon-5 p.m. Saturday, July 19, at 1012 Buchanan St.) and Acme Feed & Seed (8 p.m. Saturday, July 19, at 101 Broadway). It’s definitely going to be a day to remember.
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