Original Pinettes play brass with the big boys

Christie Jourdain remembers a time when the Original Pinettes Brass Band couldn’t catch a break in the male-dominated New Orleans brass band scene.

“We would have gigs and the guys wouldn’t even come,” said Jourdain, band leader and snare drummer for the world’s only all-female brass band. “They wouldn’t even talk to us!”

Times have changed for the Pinettes, who play the Satchmo Summerfest’s Ford Cornet Chop Suey Stage Saturday at 8 p.m.

“Now they all want to play at our gigs,” Jourdain said.

Jourdain recited a who’s-who of leading New Orleans bands and said the respect now shown to the Pinettes “gives me the chills just thinking about it.”

“Now we have guys from the Youngfellows, Rebirth, TBC, Stooges — they all come to us, wanting to sit in. We love it! Of course they can,” she said with a laugh.

The original incarnation of the Pinettes came together in 1991 when St. Mary’s Academy music teacher Jeffrey Hebert gathered 16 student musicians for a band conceived as a spinoff to his Original Pinstripe Brass Band. Hebert is now band director at St. Augustine Academy.

The Pinettes have been through many incarnations since 1991 –- none of the original full-time members remain with the band. While in high school, Jourdain was an alternate member, but didn’t fully join until she was an adult.

Turnover is part of the band’s mission to bring young women into the fold.

“We’re always talking with students,” Jourdain said, “We try to push it on the females that one day they may be in the band.”

At 38, Jourdain is the not-so-elder stateswoman of a band whose members also include 17-year-old Jazz Henry, the trumpet-playing daughter of Galactic’s Corey Henry.

And, while she said the band is proud of its status as a leading light of what might be dubbed the “griot-grrrl” scene, she’s also proud to list among her teachers prominent male players, including Rebirth Brass Band sousaphonist-captain Phil Frazier, Grammy winner Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, and Big Chief Bo Dollis Jr. of the Wild Magnolias.

“Phil showed me the business, Trombone Shorty taught me to play, and Bo — he looked out for us,” Jourdain said. “Troy is extremely busy these days but when I do see him he’ll say things like, ‘Oh, I see you’ve been practicing.’ They give me the good and the bad and I can appreciate that.”

Frazier has mentored Jourdain as she pursues a music-business degree at Delgado. The rest of the band is equally ambitious in their pursuits outside of the Pinettes.

“I’m a full-time student, another member is a full-time student. Jazz is in high school, and other than that, everybody works, has a family, or both.”

They are a busy group of 10 women with impressive pedigrees peppered among them:

Trombonist Dionne Harrison is a married-with-children dental assistant, “a full time parent who works a full time job,” Jourdain said.

Trumpet player Vernonique Dorsey graduated with an English degree from Xavier University and teaches at the Ashe Cultural School, Jourdain said.

Tubist Janine Waters is getting a master’s degree after graduating from Delgado.

Trombonist Nicole Elwood is a full-time student who has a family in New Orleans but works on the north shore. “She is a mother of three kids, she comes to the city to makes sure her kids are straight and then goes to school, our practices, and our gigs,” Jourdain said. “She’s one of the smartest ones in the band.”

Jourdain said the band helps the women unwind and find support for family and work pressures they face — but with a touch of tough-love when it comes the band’s priorities.

“If I can make it to practice after a hard day of work or school, then so can you,” Jourdain said.

The reward is a community spirit that holds the women together in a common bond of musicianship and every-day struggle.

“I’ll tell you what, this has its good days and its bad days,” Jourdain said. “It’s a male-dominated world and we’re taking the type of music that was born and raised in New Orleans and we’re the only ones that are doing exactly what the men do. The promoters, they don’t treat us any differently. We are competing for gigs just like those other bands – we stand right next to them.”