Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
From the late 1970s until the middle 1990s, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band revitalized the New Orleans brass band sound. They mixed it with the contemporary styles of rhythm and blues and bebop to give it a different, more modern sound. Although they faced quite a bit of criticism from traditional brass band purists, they received universal praise from their audiences. After a three-year hiatus in the 1990s, the group shortened its name to the Dirty Dozen, as they had changed their style and instrumentation beyond the brass band format. “People come up to me sometimes, and they say, ‘You’re not playing real New Orleans music, ’” said trumpet player and bandleader Gregory Davis in an interview with Musician’s Ben Sandmel. “And I tell them, ‘l’m glad you noticed!’”
Throughout their career, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band recorded and performed as guest performers with a number of artists, spanning a wide range of musical genres including Elvis Costello, Buckwheat Zydeco, the Neville Brothers, the Black Crowes, the Grateful Dead, and David Byrne. Their influence spread throughout New Orleans, inspiring a new school of dancing known as “buckjumping,” a triple-time dance done in large, all-male groups. They also performed at some of the most prestigious festivals around the world, such as the Montreux Jazz Festival and the Northsea Jazz Festival.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band began playing around New Orleans in 1975, while most of the members had either just graduated or were still attending high school. They got the idea for their name from the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club in New Orleans. They continued to play in local clubs, parades, and funeral marches around town through the early 1980s. In 1984, the group released their debut album, My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now, on Concord Jazz Records. It included recordings of the band’s live performances of tunes such as Thelonius Monk’s “Blue Monk,” and Dave “Fat Man” Wilson’s “I Ate Up the Apple Tree.” At the time, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band was made up of eight members: Gregory Davis, trumpet; Roger Lewis, baritone and soprano saxophones Kirk Joseph, sousaphone; Jennell Marshall, snare drums; Benny Jones, bass drum; Charles Joseph, trombone; Efrem Towns, trumpet; and Kevin Harris, tenor saxophone.
The following year, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band released another live album called Live: Mardi Gras Montreux on Rounder Records. In July of 1985, Benny Jones left the group, and was replaced by Lionel Batiste on bass drums. The band continued to perform live and increase their visibility, which would eventually lead to a contract with Columbia Records. Their major label debut, 1987’s Voodoo —featuring guest appearances by such greats as Dizzy Gillespie on trumpet and vocals, Dr. John on piano and vocals, and Branford Marsalis on tenor saxophone. The album grabbed the attention of fans and the press, opening the door to future success.
“Once a staid, traditional style of music played by weathered old men at political rallies and shopping-mall openings, brass-band music has been radically modernized by the Dirty Dozen,” Jeff Hannusch wrote in Rolling Stone. Hank Bardowitz wrote in his High Fidelity review, “They show expertise in everything from hard bop and free blowing to big band ensemble work, and even in their most up-to-date moments, there’s just no room for such modern jazz appurtenances as guitar and piano.”
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band expanded their fan base even more in 1989 when they performed on rock singer Elvis Costello’s LP Spike. Costello reciprocated later in the year with a guest appearance on “That’s How You Got Killed Before” on the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s next release The New Orleans Album. The album also included collaborations with pianist Eddie Bo, and Danny Barker, who sang and played guitar on the song “Don’t You Feel My Leg.”
Again, the group received positive feedback from the press and their fans. “The [Dirty Dozen Brass Band] is undeniably fun listening, churning out those infectious good-time grooves with a sense of humor and laid-back nonchalance that is endemic to the Nawlins experience,”
Members included Keith Anderson, sousaphone/trombone; Revert Andrews (joined 1993), trombone; Lionel Batiste (1985-1996), bass drums; Gregory Davis, trumpet/vocals; Kevin Harris, tenor saxophone Terence Higgins, drums; Benny Jones (1975-1985), bass drums; Charles Joseph (1975-93); Kirk Joseph (1975-93); Richard Knox, keyboards; Roger Lewis, soprano and baritone saxophones Jenell Marshall (1975-1996), snare drums; Julius McKee (joined 1993), sousaphone; Efrem Towns, trumpet.
Band formed as the Dirty Dozen Brass band in New Orleans, 1975; released debut My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now, 1984, Concord Jazz, singed with Colimbia Records, 1986; released major label debut, Voodoo, 1987; The New Orleans Album, 1989; Open Up (Watcha gonna do for the Rest of Your Life?), 1991; Jelly, 1991; changed name to Dirty Dozen, signed to Mammoth Records, and released Ears to the Wall, 1996; released This is Jazz, 1997, Sony Music.
Addresses: Record company —Mammoth Records, 101 B Street, Carrboro, NC 27510.
Bill Milkowski wrote in Down Beat. They continued to expand and diversify their repertoire in their live shows, too, as Jeff Hannusch wrote in a performance review in Billboard, “Who else but the Dozen could get away with paying the Rolling Stones classic ’It’s All Over Now’ and Thelonius Monk’s ‘Blue Monk’ during the same show?”
Two years later, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band returned with another Columbia release Open Up (Whatcha Gonna Do for the Rest of Your Life?), featuring guest drummer Raymond Webber, and it continued to reflect the band’s theme of fun and spirited music. “In a funny way, this may presently be the most ‘radical’ popular group around,” Joseph Woodard wrote in his Down Beat review. “With the [Dirty Dozen Brass Band], there’s camaraderie, safety—and also danger—in numbers.” Al Pryor wrote in Audio, “Whatcha Gonna Do for the Rest of Your Life is another excellent contribution from an ensemble that has managed to instill a sense of joy and revelry into their music.”
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band embarked on another tour before returning to the studio. Before the release of their next album, Charles Joseph was replaced by Revert Andrews on trombone and Kirk Joseph left the band, as well. In 1993, their next album Jelly arrived in stores. Its name reflected its content—an album of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s interpretation of songs by Jelly Roll Morton. Kenyatta Simon and Big Chief Smiley played percussion on the LP, and Barker and George French contributed vocals.
After Jelly, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band took a three-year break, and underwent several changes. First, they changed their lineup along with their instrumentation. Julius McKee stepped in to replace Kirk Joseph on sousaphone. Terence Higgins took over as the single trap-set drummer after the departure of both Lionel Batiste and Jennell Marshall, and Richard Knox was added to the group on keyboards. Although they continued to use the sousaphone, they occasionally replaced it with electric or acoustic bass guitar on some of their new material. As they began writing and recording, the band decided to change their name to the Dirty Dozen, since their direction no longer fit into the basic brass band format.
The newly formed Dirty Dozen also signed a new record contract with Mammoth Records and released Ears to the Wall in 1996 to mixed reviews. “The Dozen has drifted in the direction of generic, crossover soul-jazz, a move that makes a lot of commercial, but very little musical, sense,” Geoffrey Himes wrote in the Washington Post. The album included a rearranged and rerecorded version of their early song “My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now,” which appeared on the album and in the film Sgt. Bilko. Sony Music also released a compilation of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s earlier material in 1997 called This Is Jazz.
Despite the group’s new name and new direction, their influence on New Orleans brass band music was undeniable. “A lot of people couldn’t adjust at first, and they disapproved of us,” Kirk Joseph had told Sandmel in Down Beat at the height of their popularity. “They thought we were abolishing our heritage. But then they got into it. And someone else will come behind us, and expand it even more.”
My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now, Concord Jazz, 1984.
Live: Mardi Gras Montreux, Rounder Records, 1985.
Voodoo, Columbia Records, 1987.
The New Orleans Album, Columbia Records, 1989.
Open Up (Whatcha Gonna Do for the Rest of Your Life?), Columbia Records, 1991.
Jelly, Columbia Records, 1993.
Ears to the Wall, Mammoth Records, 1996.
This Is Jazz, Sony Music, 1997.
Cook, Richard and Morton, Brian, Guide to Jazz on CD, Third Edition, Penguin Books, New York, 1996.
Wynn, Ron, editor, All Music Guide to Jazz, Miller Freeman Books, San Francisco, 1994.
Audio, July 1987, August 1992.
Billboard, April 28, 1990.
Down Beat, June 1984, July 1989, July 1990, April 1992.
Essence, March 1985.
High Fidelity, February 1987, June 1989.
Maclean’s, March 6, 1989.
Musician, August 1989.
New Yorker, July 23, 1984; July 22, 1985; April 24, 1989.
People, December 10, 1984; April 24, 1989; July 23, 1990.
Rolling Stone, April 20, 1989.
Stereo Review, February 1985, July 1992, August 1993.
Washington Post, August 16, 1996.
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