Archive for Thursday, January 22, 1998

THE DIRTY DOZEN GOES BEYOND BRASS

January 22, 1998

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The tireless touring of The Dirty Dozen leaves audiences dancing.

Donna Summer and the Bee Gees were at the top of the charts when a group of New Orleans musicians got together in the late 1970s, but these guys weren't into the disco sound.

They wanted to create music that their audiences could dance to, but with more of a brass sound, something meatier than pop.

Thus, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band was born. The band is still together but has lopped off part of the name and is now known simply as The Dirty Dozen.

"At that time there weren't many places for us to play," vocalist and trumpeter Gregory Davis said. "We never had formal rehearsals; we just knew we wanted to come together and play. Now, there are a lot more options for us here and in a lot of other places."

Davis and the Dirty Dozen's seven other members have played around the world, but still rank New Orleans as their favorite stomping grounds.

"I'd be here every day, at home, if I could," Davis said.

The Dirty Dozen's success doesn't allow for such luxury, but then again the road gigs have added to the band's musical journey and kept it together for more than 20 years.

The musicians have played with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Elvis Costello and the Neville Brothers and last year went on a three-month tour with the Black Crowes.

"For us, that tour was an opportunity to get up in front of another audience," Davis said. "The first night we played, we were in Milwaukee. We got up and we knew by the time we played the second song, we had 'em."

The eclectic mix of the two bands continued to work well throughout the tour.

"Once we got together on the road, we became friends," he said. "You know, you hear all those stories of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll with those guys, and it wasn't like that."

The Dirty Dozen is on the road again, this time on its own. The band is bringing its six-horn lineup and electric licks to club audiences.

Part of their show is a highlight of the band's 1996 release, "Ears to the Wall," part new material to be released on a forthcoming album and part funk, R&B; and dance. More than anything, the band wants the music to inspire audiences enough to get them on the dance floor.

"We're able to play so many kinds of music," Davis said. "The new material is an extension of our previous (work). It's probably more experimental, musically."

Although The Dirty Dozen's fervor to stir up audiences remains constant, the band has grown from small-label status to bigger projects. It started out on the Concord Jazz label in 1984, before moving to Rounder and Columbia. The Dirty Dozen now records on Mammoth, a change that came with the release of "Ears to the Wall."

"Columbia was good and they did a lot for us, but it's like a relationship sometimes," Davis said. "It was the end of the road. It was time to move on. With Mammoth it was like, let's try this pair of shoes and walk awhile. It's been good. ..."

Good enough that The Dirty Dozen played 171 shows last year and expects to equal that this year. And although the musicians still play weddings and funerals in their native New Orleans, most of their time is spent onstage in clubs.

"We've been fortunate," Davis said. "I've been able to support myself and my family by playing music. I think success is not 'What do you have?' but 'What did you do with what you had? What did you accomplish?' I think we've done well."

--JL Watson's phone message number is 832-7145. Her e-mail address is watson@ljworld.com.

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