The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is back
|The Dirty Dozen Brass
For most people, New Orleans means great music and big
parties. This Friday, Dec.12, a special party is coming
to Durango’s Abbey Theatre when the Dirty Dozen
Brass Band goes onstage.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is one of those legendary
bands that’s been recording and touring for more
than a quarter of a century. The band’s sound is
so universally appealing that it has collaborated with
artists from across the musical spectrum. Miles Davis,
Al Green, Wynton Marsalis, The Grateful Dead, Bonnie Raitt,
Herbie Hancock, Los Lobos, 2 Live Crew, the Neville Brothers,
Dave Matthews, Norah Jones, Widespread Panic, Buckwheat
Zydeco, Elvis Costello, Dr. John and the Black Crowes
are just a sampling.
like the sound of the horns so they want to be a part
of that,” says Roger Lewis, original band member
who plays baritone and soprano sax. And in keeping with
the band’s reputation for collaboration, he added
that the band would be recording with Stanton Moore of
Galactic after the interview.
Chris Aaland, publicist for the Durango Society of Cultural
and Performing Arts, which booked the band, says he is
excited about the show.
“They bring something different to the DSCPA, and
that’s a complete and total dance party,”
Aaland says. “We try to bring a lot of different
types of music to town. This band succeeds in doing this
by itself because it blends so many sounds.
“When you read the band’s history, it’s
a history of American music,” he adds.
The band started in ’75 or ’76, Lewis says,
when it became the house band for the Dirty Dozen Social
and Pleasure Club in New Orleans. Social and pleasure
clubs began in the 19th century when many blacks couldn’t
buy life insurance, and the clubs provided funeral arrangements,
which included employing brass bands for funerals. The
bands would play somber music in the funeral processions
(the “first line”) to the church and burial
site, but once the family of the deceased had gone away
to mourn privately, the bands would play upbeat music
for a street parade for the rest of the onlookers (the
“They started calling us the Dirty Dozen Brass
Band, even though we never had 12 members,” Lewis
The band was “discovered” by a man named
George Ween, of Festival Productions, which created the
New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Ween also promoted
other international festivals.
“He was fascinated by the sound of our band,”
Lewis says. “He started putting us in festivals
all over the world with famous musicians.”
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band has continued to play the
New Orleans Jazz fest nearly every year since 1979. The
band has recorded a dozen albums in that time and guest
appeared on numerous others. Its latest album, a traditional
gospel album finished just days ago (still unnamed as
of press time), should be released “by Jazz Fest
time,” Lewis says.
These days, the touring band consists of Lewis; Sammie
Williams (trombone); Terence Higgins (drums); Kevin Harris
(tenor sax); Jamie McLean (guitar); Efrem Towns (trumpet);
and Julius McKee (sousaphone). Lewis says the band’s
love of music contributes to its chemistry. The band combines
traditional jazz with other genres like funk, bebop, R&B
and pop to keep things dynamic.
“What keeps the band fresh is we keep reinventing
ourselves,” Lewis says. “We’ve got a
dish we call gumbo in New Orleans. It’s like a soup
but with all these ingredients – shrimp, oysters,
chicken...all that good stuff. You put them together and
season it well, pour it over a bed of rice and it tastes
so good. That’s what we do with our music: mix everything
in there, and it leaves you with a good taste in your
And Lewis, who has played with the band in Durango before,
says he encourages all comers – whether veteran
fans or not – to get a taste of what the band is
“Come on out and get baptized in this Dirty Dozen
music,” Lewis says gleefully. “We love Durango.
Everybody come and say ‘Hello Roger!’ That’d
make my day!”