By David Perry
Seth Bailin’s love for New Orleans runs deep.
Bailin ’11,’15, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sound recording technology and master’s in community music, first visited the Crescent City in 2012. His experience there sparked the idea for the Party Band, the UML alumni-packed brass and drum band that has become a staple at events around the city of Lowell.
Bailin, his sax in tow, moved to New Orleans three years ago and quickly established himself in the city’s music scene. He landed gigs with a variety of bands — the Kumasi Afrobeat Orchestra, the Jimmy Maxwell Orchestra party band, the six-piece Funk Griot — and founded his own band, Krewe Underground. He also got a job as assistant marching band director at a New Orleans public school.
When the coronavirus shut down New Orleans, its musicians were left scrambling. Bars and restaurants went dark, tourism ground to a halt and street buskers were silenced. With the shutdown coinciding with the peak time of year for the city’s music scene, it was financially devastating for musicians.
“May is typically the busiest time of year with festivals and weddings in full swing, and that income usually provides a buffer for the slower summer months, so we are taking a real hit,” Bailin says.
With the same community spirit that he embodied at UMass Lowell, Bailin stepped up and established a fundraising campaign to help musicians in need. He and his girlfriend, who has experience working with disaster response and cash assistance programs, partnered with the Save Our Brass Band Culture Foundation to raise and administer money.
They set up a GoFundMe page, the New Orleans Brass Band Musicians Relief Fund, with the funds earmarked for natives of New Orleans.
Most of the musicians applying for grants from the fund usually earn their income from brass band gigs and sidewalk busking, says Bailin.
With a regular job, Bailin says he is managing to stay afloat. However, he believes he suffered from COVID-19 in March. Toward the end of the “very intense” Mardi Gras season, he was playing as many as three gigs a day, in addition to teaching and marching in parades. He spent a week in California with his brother, then returned to playing and teaching.
“I played my last gig March 13,” he says. “The next two days I was laid out in bed with COVID-19 symptoms. I felt progressively better over the next two weeks, though the symptoms seemed slow to go away. I completely lost my sense of smell for a week.”
By March 30, he was well enough to launch the GoFundMe page, with a goal of raising $100,000 to help New Orleans musicians.
“I realize the economy is tough for everyone right now, so it's extra hard to be asking for money at this time,” he says.
In the meantime, brass band members are trying to come up with new ways to support themselves.
“The go-to move is to get together with the band in someone’s yard and livestream a couple sets with donation links posted,” Bailin says. “It's working for a lot of artists, especially well-known bands who have toured and built up a following. But for bands who usually just rely on tourism through New Orleans, or who don't have a good social media presence, they are really struggling.”
Bailin says he found his niche in the city by joining the community of musicians who busk on the streets. “I knew if I played on the street and met people that way, gigs would come,” the Wellesley native says.
He met swing musicians when he played outside Café du Monde, He moved over to Jackson Square to get to know the veterans steeped in traditional New Orleans jazz. Young Fellaz, a brass band of hot newcomers who didn’t have a sax player, found Bailin when he showed up on Frenchmen Street nightly.
“Once I got in with them I felt very welcomed in the brass band community,” Bailin says. “My years studying New Orleans music in the Party Band helped me prepare for life down here.”