Books, Wikipedia and documentaries, are all okay means to access historical knowledge. But a better way to truly understand the emotional and cultural history of, oh, say, New Orleans, is the twenty-plus albums released over the course of 30 years, either by or featuring that city's legendary Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Its anthology of bright brass jazz and grimy jive records provides intangible insight into everything from the rowdy lifestyle of the city's Treme neighborhood in the 60s and 70s to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Formed by The Big Easy's Benny Jones in 1977, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band was and is—as they would put it—a veritable gumbo of bee-bop, traditional New Orleans brass, and up-tempo jazz music. In 1984, the band released its debut album, My Feet Can't Fail Me Now, which delineated the evolution of NOLA marching band jazz fusion that was taking place in sweaty, cramped night clubs and on humid street corners.
By 2006, their dark—and I mean dark—track-by-track reimagining of Marvin Gaye's What's Going On record provided a provocative response to the government's failures post-Katrina.
Yes, the seven current and eight past artists of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band—who, technically, have never actually had 12 concurrent members—have seen it all.
Somewhere in between those bookended perspectives, however, were also 28 years of good times at New Orleans social clubs, world tours and opportunities to work with stellar acts like Elvis Costello and Widespread Panic. And at its core has always been a desire to make people dance.
"We came out with Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and our own originals," recalled founding member and saxophonist Kevin Harris in a 2009 interview. "It took off. What I think caught the jazz community was the be-bop and the avant-garde tunes. We put the beat to them so that everybody could dance."
With the release of its first studio album since Katrina, 2012's Twenty Dozen, the band—which now contains a few younger members—is keeping that jovial and raw New Orleans spirit alive. (Proof: a cover of Rihanna's "Don't Stop the Music.") As is New Orleans, it appears the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is revitalized.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
9:30 pm Friday, Feb. 14
Mt. Bachelor Main stage at WinterFest
Free with WinterFest pass.
$10 day-of for full WinterFest weekend pass, $6 advance entry passes available at OnPoint Community Credit Union.