Meet Benny Jones, the patriarch of the New Orleans brass band scene

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NEW ORLEANS -- The traditional brass band is unique to our city, and passing down these traditions are a group of long-time musicians.

One of those musicians is the patriarch of the whole brass band scene.

The sight of the Treme Brass Band in Harrah's is a weekly ritual of welcoming visitors to our town, and at the helm of the big bass drum leading this parade is none other than Benny Jones.

Jones has been following the music all of his life, even as far back as elementary school.

"They'd always have a jazz funeral or something passing on St. Phillip Street," Jones said. "One day they had a jazz funeral passing and everybody went to the window. I went to the window for a minute, and I snuck out and told the teacher I was going to the bathroom. I went downstairs and I started following the band. Before I knew it, school was closed. I said. 'Aw, Lord, I know I'm in trouble.'"

Jones survived that bout with his angry teacher and went on to play an important role in the formation of many seminal bands, like the Dirty Dozen, the Chosen Few and the Treme Brass Band, which he founded with his Uncle Lionel Batiste.

"He was very important in this band," Jones said. "He could sing, and he was an entertainer. With Uncle Lionel on the bandstand, he knew all the tunes, he knew the words to the songs, Creole songs. Any kinds of songs you could name, he knew."

Among his other passions is the Black Men of Labor Social and Pleasure Club, which began after a conversation with co-founder Fred Johnson as a tribute to the blue-collar men in the community.

"I told Fred, 'We out to start a club doing a Labor Day Parade.' He didn't know about it, but years ago the longshoreman used to parade with overalls and representing working people," Jones said.

One staple of the Black Men of Labor parade is the strict use of traditional music on the streets, but according to Jones, there's room for all strains of brass band sounds.

"They've got more younger people following the parades than older people today," Jones said. "They're doing the uptempo music, and that's what kind of music the people want."

You can catch the Treme Brass Band on Fridays and Saturdays at Harrah's Casino. The Black Men of Labor Second Line Parade will happen in October.

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