10 Questions for Dirty Dozen Brass Band
by Bob Putignano
Goldmine Magazine September 2005
For almost 30 years, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band has forged the traditions of New Orleans jazz with the modern influences of bebop, funk, R&B and pop, creating a new standard by which all other brass bands are measured. Their relentless touring has taken the band to every corner of the planet, making their classic "Second Line" sound synonymous with New Orleans itself.
New Olreans based Offbeat magazine states: "The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is arguably the most influential ensemble to emerge in New Orleans."
The Dirty Dozen have successfully mixed together R&B with the instrumentation of a New Orleans brass band. Uniquely utilizing the sousaphone with the sound of an electric bassist, the Dozen have reinvented the brass band tradition, and have opened up their repertoire inspiring younger groups (brass bands and other roots groups.) In their live performances the Dozen usually features four horns (trumpet, a trombone, and a pair of sax’s) along with the sousaphone, either guitar or keyboards, and a drummer. The DDBB has always and still is a very innovative in their own unique way, they have made fine recordings for Rounder, Columbia, the George Wein Collection (the latter released through Concord records), Rope-a-dope, and recently with a fine compilation on the Shout Factory label, (see review.) They have recorded with a wide genre mix of guest artists: Dr. John, Dizzy Gillespie, Norah Jones, Dave Bartholemew, Dave Mathews, David Bowie, Eddie Bo, Zachary Richard, The Manhattan Transfer, Widespread Panic, Robert Randolph, Elvis Costello, Wardell Quezergue, David Byrne, Dave Bartholemew, Dave Mathews, David Bowie, Eddie Bo, Zachary Richard, The Manhattan Transfer, Widespread Panic, Danny Barker, just to name a few. The Dozen utilize sharp R&B horn charts (often amazingly improvised during their live performances) with a driving rhythm section. The DDBB released Buck Jump in 1999 with John Medeski as its producer and then returned in 2002 with yet another outstanding album, Medicated Magic. Two years later, the band made their Artemis label debut with Funeral ForA Friend.
Perhaps one on my all time favorite bands stopped by my radio program the “Sounds of Blue” for an interview and helped with our annual fund drive as they were passing through the NY area. A majority of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s founding members were present: Roger Lewis, Kevin Harris and Efrem Towns.
BobP: Has it really been 30 years that you guys have been together?
DDBB: Just about 30 years, we started in 1977 when brass bands were a dying tradition in New Orleans, and Bourbon Street was all disco and country & western. Our first gig was at a soft ball game where we got paid $5 each.(laughs.)
BobP: You’ve come a long way since those days as you have played with an amazing amount of well known musicians.
Roger, Efrem and Kevin: Elvis Costello, Wardell Quezergue, Dr. John, Dizzy Gillespie, Norah Jones, David Bryne, Dave Bartholemew, Dave Mathews, David Bowie, Eddie Bo, Zachary Richard, The Manhattan Transfer, Widespread Panic, Robert Randolph, Dave Bartholemew, Dave Mathews, David Bowie, Eddie Bo, Zachary Richard, The Manhattan Transfer, Widespread Panic ………………
BobP: Okay, okay, that’s a wide spectrum of players from all genres. Roger you spent time with Fats Domino, right?
Roger Lewis: Antoine and I go way back, and anytime he is playing in New Orleans and I’m in town- I always look forward to playing with Fat’s.
BobP: A lot of the New Orleans musicians from back in the day still live in town, don’t they?
Kevin Harris: Oh yeah, some of them still live in the same neighborhoods they grew up in, like Fats Domino, Art Neville, Eddie Bo, Allen Toussaint, Deacon John, Kermit Ruffins, just to name a few, it’s a hard city to leave especially with all the great musicians there, the jam sessions, and all the good food and partying.
BobP: So what is next for you guys?
Roger Lewis: We are doing the NBC/Conan O’Brien show next week, a Fat Tuesday/Mardi Gras show at BB Kings in NYC, then off to Japan and Guam for 2 weeks. We are also doing a reunion show of our own at the Fair Grounds during Jazz Fest, so you all come on down! Our new Shout Factory CD will be out in April, (just in time for Jazz Fest) which is a best of compilation titled: “This is the Dirty Dozen Brass Band Collection.” See you at Jazz Fest Bob- Where we will party!
BobP: Hey Efrem, remember when we first met by chance at the Meridien Hotel in New Orleans, where we had this three hour conversation about all of your influences, especially trumpet players, and we certainly bored your wife and my girlfriend?
Efrem Towns: I remember, we ate and drank good too. You guys booked us right after that through the NY Blues & Jazz Society, what a party that was.
BobP: Correct- at Tribeca Blues in downtown Manhattan, you guys were incredible that night, dancing with everyone in the crowd, and getting the ladies to dance on stage with you. But you guys are always fascinating, and never are two shows alike in song selections nor the various styles you incorporate.
Efrem Towns: First off Bob, every night is ladies night (laughs.) And yeah, we also try to mix it up, keeps us from getting bored, and we also try to feel the mood of the crowd and get in the groove with them.
BobP: You always talk about one of my favorite trumpet players- Lee Morgan, and tell me that from time to time the band performs Lee’s “The Sidewinder” yet in all the times (30-40 shows) I have seen you, I have never seen you perform that tune?
Efrem: Lee is still one of my favorites, amongst many other fine trumpet players like Miles, Dizzy, Armstrong, oh man I can start talking for another three hours about this. But if you want to see us do “The Sidewinder” you just have to come out to see us more often!(laughs)
BobP: Okay, okay, twist my arm, you know I rarely miss you guys perform anytime you are in NYC or in NOLA, and neither should the listeners.
DDBB: (All together) That’s right, that’s right!
Radio Host WFDU’s “Sounds of Blue”
President of the NY Blues and Jazz Society