MusicIn one of those wondrous reincarnations of the city post-Katrina, I found myself on a cool night in early fall inside Sound Café at 2700 Chartres Street in Bywater, where a brass band jam session soon heated things up.

The café is attached to a well-stocked used bookstore fronting Port Street. New Orleans Center for Creative Arts is one block down on Chartres and in the afternoons, students, faculty and neighborhood folk keep the coffee machines humming as they hunch over laptops, scan newspapers, read and talk.

Wednesday nights feature literary readings and more. A floating assemblage of players from the Hot 8, Tremé and New Birth brass bands have gravitated to the place as a kind of hub for exchanges of musical ideas.

The music began at half-past seven within an ambience of what Preservation Hall must have been like in the early days, when the Quarter had more bohemians than realtors. Glenn Andrews – the lanky trombonist and leader of the musicians – circulated before the set, introducing his two little boys to grownups. Of the 70 people there, about a fourth were musicians and an easy dozen were kids ranging from babes in arms to those who had just learned to drive. Visiting gentry from Uptown and Metairie rubbed shoulders with a Japanese guy in cutoffs, a guy speaking Spanish into a cell phone, Jacques Morial, John Boutté (in the role of fan, not performer) and writer Katy Reckdahl – all beneath the wide smile of proprietress Baty Landis, who teaches music at Tulane and chooses the fiction sold in the classy little bookstore out back.

Landis takes the spontaneous combustion that led to the weekly jazz night as “a sign of Bywater coming back.

“People were so down in the months after the hurricane,” she says, “but nobody around here wants to give up on the city.”

The music was sparked by Landis and her boyfriend Lee Arnold, who approached the esteemed clarinetist Michael White, asking if he would open a dialogue with musicians from the The Hot 8 – one of New Orleans’ younger brass bands, who played a mock jazz funeral in Spike Lee’s film When the Levees Broke. In fact, Hot 8 drummer Harry “Swamp Thing” Cook was one of the more moving interviewees in the film, brooding on the devastation of the Lower Ninth Ward. Led by trumpeter Benny Pete, the band’s stylistic signature extends the 1990s style of section-riffing, repetitive phrasings played in a wailing march – the sound forged by ReBirth Brass Band in the 1980s – a rolling sound not particularly concerned with melodic finesse.

As downtown musicians began regrouping after Katrina, the Hot 8 players were on the ground, early and often. Traditional jazz, with the time-honored dirges of the funerals, was a great part of the pull of the city; music they knew as part of the oxygen supply, but not the kind of music that formed a groove for young, pop-influenced players.

White’s sessions with the Hot 8 are meant to sharpen the group’s grasp of New Orleans style, the traditional music played as it was: an immersion in melodic improvisation, a regrounding of sorts in the traditional repertoire.

So there they were, arrayed across the width of the coffee house, nearly 20 guys spanning many generations – from older drummers Benny Jones and the venerable Uncle Lionel Battiste of the Tremé Brass Band down to a six-year-old holding a trumpet, all but swallowed next to Cory Henry on trombone.

“We’re gonna play one of our standards,” announced the towering Glenn Andrews, shouting without a microphone. “This is one you hear in funerals and second lines going all the way back.”

Then came “Just A Little While to Stay Here” a simple spiritual melody enlivened across the years by the peel of trumpets and booming tuba lines that parade bands invest in the melody, the instrumental voices behind the swirling clarinet subbing for the singers in the church choir. Thus does the music move and sway, pulling from the timeworn seats in chapels and churches into improvisational designs for marching in the streets.

People were putting green bills in a jar as the jazzmen sat, standing to take solo turns, reenacting the ritual essence of the music, a melding from the streets and sacred spaces. In the middle of the song a one-year-old boy with curly hair and cherubic chocolate cheeks slid off his momma’s lap, crossed the space of seven feet to where Glenn Andrews was sitting and inserted himself at the side of the trombone player’s knee, demanding attention. Andrews lay the instrument aside and put the boy on his lap. You could have earned a good chunk selling the expression on that kid’s face to Life or Time or Newsweek.