Getting down with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band
For 35 years the Dirty Dozen Brass Band has been entertaining music lovers around the world with its high-energy blend of New Orleans jazz, avant-garde be-bop and even some soul and pop.
When the band opens the St. Regis Big Stars Bright Nights concert series at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater on Friday, July 13, people better be ready to dance, said baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis.
"Music is supposed to be fun and when people come to see us, they’re supposed to have a good time," Lewis said during a jovial phone interview from New Orleans, La. "We do play some serious stuff, but we also play some music that makes you want get up and shake your butt. So, if you leave a Dirty Dozen Brass Band and haven’t been fulfilled, then there is something wrong with you."
Adding some flavor the set, the band will dip into its 35-year catalog, including some songs from its new CD, "Twenty Dozen."
The CD’s title, when written numerically is, of course, "2012."
The 11-song track list includes traditional brass band works such as "When the Saints Go Marching In" to a cover of Rhianna’s "Don’t Stop the Music."
"I wanted to do something a little more up-to-date," Lewis said. "It was me that wanted to play ‘Don’t Stop the Music.’ My daughter who is 13 listens to that stuff and I thought it would be fun."
It also features some original songs, "Tomorrow," "Jook," "Best of All, "Git Up," "We Gon’ Roll" and "Trippin’ Inside a Bubble" that were written by band members.
"’Trippin’ Inside a Bubble’ is a Roger Lewis original," Lewis said with a laugh. "It was put together during a rehearsal and there was a lot of things happening in my life. I felt like I was trippin’ inside a bubble. I thought that was title that would catch someone’s attention."
Although Lewis has been playing saxophone throughout the past 35 years in the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, it wasn’t his first instrument.
"My mother had me take piano when I was eight," he said. "But I really wanted to play saxophone. I used to take a newspaper and shape it the form of a saxophone and used to act like I was playing it. I made all the different shapes of the different saxophones."
Then one day his cousin Leonard Bailey got a real saxophone.
"Our other cousin, Alvin Bailey, was a musician and he played music with a guy named Roy Brown who was famous in the 1940," Lewis said. "You know there are always cousins who favor other cousins and Alvin gave a sax to Leonard.
"Leonard and I were always competing with each other, you know, we had that kind of relationship, so, I also had to get a horn and started playing tenor saxophone when I was nine."
Lewis played all through junior high and high school and took private lessons.
"In the neighborhood, a couple of us got together and formed a little band," he said. "We played a talent show and won it.
"Well, one thing led to another and I got together with some other musicians in town and as time went by, we formed the Ivories, which was changed to Deacon John and the Ivories," he said. "We were the number one band in the city and backed up Marvin Gaye, the Impressions and Big Joe Turner who were popular in New Orleans at that time."
As time went on, Lewis found himself in California and heard Imra Thomas, the Soul Queen of New Orleans, was playing in a club down the street from where he lived.
"So, I showed up to see her and she asked me where my horn was," Lewis said with a laugh. "I ended up playing with her for a whole year and she paid me."
From Thomas’ band, Lewis jumped ship to join Fats Domino and returned to New Orleans.
"My involvement with the Dirty Dozen came about when Fats decided to take a break," Lewis said. "It was his second break in his career and I hooked up with guy named Darryl Adams and he was doing some brass band stuff. He asked me to come and play a parade."
Through that gig, Lewis met bass drummer Benny Jones, who started the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
"The band was a pick-up band, and trumpet player Gregory Davis, trombonist Charles Joseph and I would always play with Benny," Lewis explained. "After awhile, we decided that since we played together all the time we should get a real band organized."
Although the band played all the traditional music of New Orleans, it also started playing tunes by Thelonius Monk, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Horace Silver and Ray Charles.
"The die-hard, traditional music guys thought our sound had a lot of static and said we weren’t keeping with tradition, but when we took the music to the street, the people loved it," Lewis said with a laugh. "Then we made it faster. It was so fast, and depending on how hard we played the night before, you needed a jogging suit to keep up with us."
After catching the ear of producer George Wein, things skyrocketed for Lewis and the boys.
"He booked us on these jazz concerts all over the world and the music community embraced us," Lewis said.
Throughout the years, the band has experienced many line-up changes that included bass drummer Lionel Batiste, trombonist Big Sam, guitarist Jaime McLean, sousaphonist Julie McKee and trombonist Revert Andrews.
The line up today features Lewis, Davis, tenor saxophonist Kevin Harris, drummer Terence Higgins, guitarist Jake Eckert, trumpeter Efrem Towns and sousaphonist Kirk Joseph.
"Thirty -five years later, we’re still the Dirty Dozen and feel the love from a lot of different musicians," Lewis said. "Bands like the Manhattan Transfer, Widespread Panic, the Neville Brothers, Buckwheat Zydeco and Modest Mouse and others, all want to record with us and that’s great for us."
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band will open for Aaron Neville during the kick-off concert for the St. Regis Big Starts Bright Night concert series at the Snow Park Amphitheater at Deer Valley on Friday, July 13, at 7 p.m. Tickets range from $35 to $65 and available by calling (435) 655-3114 or visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org.
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