New Breed of Tulane musician


Junior Aurélien Barnes performs as the youngest member of New Breed Brass Band for the group’s weekly gig at Blue Nile on Frenchmen Street. 

Raphael Helfand, Contributing Reporter

Junior Aurélien Barnes wasn’t heralded into this world to the sound of a second line, but he might as well have been. Son of New Orleans zydeco legend Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes, Aurélien heard various types of music before he uttered his first words.

“I didn’t really have a choice but to be around music,” Barnes said. “Some people might not like that … but music just happens to be my thing.”

He showed talent early, banging on anything with a surface — from the miniature drum set in his garage to the tables at sushi restaurants — with surprising rhythm for a toddler.

“I had an imaginary band called Aurélien and the Louisiana Jukebox,” Barnes said. “I would be in the garage like ‘we play jazz, we play blues, we play zydeco,’ all the type of stuff I was exposed to.”

Growing up around music and showing a passion for it, Barnes began playing at an early age, getting his first trumpet at the age of seven.

“I messed around with it, but I didn’t really have a way of learning,” Barnes said. “It’s a difficult instrument to learn on your own.”

Barnes attended Lusher High School, located just blocks from Tulane, where he met Caleb Windsay. At the time, Windsay was a member of the Baby Boys Brass Band, which broke up around Barnes’ senior year.

“There was Jenard, Coppa, Caleb, Douane and Desmond, who were all in the Baby Boys,” Barnes said. “They needed a trumpet player and they were like ‘Man, I don’t know. We don’t really have time to get a trumpet player and like train him up to where we want him to be … and [then] he called me.”

Barnes was soon ushered in as the youngest member of the New Breed Brass Band. Since then, he’s performed all over the country and internationally, including a show in Switzerland. Some of his favorite moments include playing on stage with Trombone Shorty on New Year’s Eve 2014, putting on a show for an enthusiastic crowd at Exhibit Be and appearing at Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival last summer.

Much of this has been made possible by New Orleans legend Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, who co-manages the band.

“He saw potential in us from the beginning,” Barnes said. “He realized that the brass band scene in New Orleans has become stagnant. People are pretty much all cover bands of Rebirth.”

To describe what makes New Breed different, Barnes referred to the Brazilian concept of cultural cannibalism, “which is like taking bits and pieces of other cultures or musics and fusing them with what we already have.”

He sees the band’s tightness, combined with its signature behind-the-beat New Orleans style as another distinguishing factor.

“We still have those moments of freeness that give us part of our identity, but we work a lot on making that freeness organized,” Barnes said.

Aside from his time-consuming schedule with New Breed and his double major in international relations and Portuguese, Barnes is also a member of the Aaron Cohen Band. The all-Tulane outfit has a sound that “combines singer-songwriter with southern rock, blues and Motown,” lead singer and guitarist Aaron Cohen said.

“[Barnes] takes the music places I never envisioned,” Cohen said. “He adds an irreplaceable energy to our set. But his influence goes beyond the sound itself.  He’s an incredible musical mind. What sets him apart … is his ability to communicate musical ideas within the band setting.”

Cohen greatly admires Barnes’ modesty. He isn’t outspoken about his accomplishments or his connections within the New Orleans music scene, as many would be in his position. Behind this humility, though, Barnes is incredibly driven.

“I know he’s not satisfied — not even close,” Cohen said. “He’s only going up.”

You can find Barnes playing with New Breed Brass Band at 11 p.m. Wednesdays at the Blue Nile, or in the Aaron Cohen Band’s upcoming show at 8 p.m. April 2 at the Howlin’ Wolf.

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