THE DIRTY DOZEN BRASS BAND
Massry Center for the Arts
February 9, 2012
by Jeff Waggoner
Once again, The College of St. Rose skillfully paired a local act with an out-of-town headliner.
On February 9 – just a few days before Fat Tuesday -- it was the local Chronicles that warmed up the crowd at the Massry Center for the Arts for the New Orleans-based Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The headliners had a hard act to follow.
The Chronicles are six gifted musicians, not a weak link in the bunch, schooled in most all popular genres – ranging from New Orleans group improvisation to hip hop.
Cast-iron jazz fans can love it, as the Chronicles are a Trojan horse for the music. The chassis is jazz, built on the excellent chops of saxophonist Jeff Nania and trombonist Bryan Brundidge. The rest of the band, including bassist Daniel Lawson, keyboardist Tyrone Hartzog, drummer Andrae Surgick and guitarist Justin Hendricks, adds generous dollops of gospel, soul, rock, R&B and hip hop.
This variety pack can make just about anyone happy, from bouncing babies to gray beards, as it gleans what’s engaging from popular trends while slipping in nutritious licks.
Its finale, a brilliant original titled “Tapioca,”-- something Jelly Roll Morton might have described as “Latin tinged” – had the audience bouncing out of its seats.
Then came the Dirty Dozen, which showed up on stage as a baker’s half dozen – a septet.
The Dozen’s lineage reaches back to the birth of jazz in New Orleans. Established in 1977, it was a refurbishing project. The band was built from some of the parts of the Tornado Brass Band which, in turn, came from pieces of the Hurricane Jazz Band, and before that was the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band, whose members included the youngsters Wynton and Branford Marsalis.
Fairview was a creation of Danny Barker, who had been a rhythm guitarist in the 1930s for Lucky Millander and Cab Calloway. Earlier still, Barker toured Mississippi with the great barrelhouse blues pianist Little Brother Montgomery who made his name playing the lumber and turpentine camps of the deep south. Barker also played with Bunk Johnson, onetime band mate of Buddy Bolden.
So, there it is. Fewer than six degrees of separation from the Dirty Dozen back to Jelly Roll and Buddy Bolden.
But the Dirty Dozen is a genetically modified organism, having gone through multiple mutations. While it can look like a traditional New Orleans brass band – instrumentation for the St. Rose concert included sousaphone (Kirk Joseph), cornet (Gregory Davis) and trombone (David Harris), along with trap set (Alvin Ford Jr.), keyboards (Kyle Roussel) and both tenor(Kevin Harris) and baritone saxophone (Roger Lewis). Its music is deeply infused with funk and bebop, both of which arrived long after the death of King Bolden.
Yet, those looking for straight up New Orleans didn’t leave disappointed. They played the timeless funeral march “When the Saints Go Marching In,” and the concert wound up with two founding members of the Dirty Dozen – cornetist Davis and baritone saxophonist Lewis -- playing a duo version of St. James Infirmary, a song recorded as early as 1928 by Louis Armstrong.
Leader Davis worked the whole night to involve the audience in the music, instigating call and response, and inviting three people on stage to dance, or join a mock Mardi Gras march around the stage.
The concert was marred somewhat by a finicky sound system that refused to assist the horns, frustrating both Davis (who made jokes comparing the problem to the lighting issues at the Super Bowl) and the others in the Dirty Dozen front line, while leaving the Center’s sound technicians scratching their heads. The fine acoustics at Massry Center, though, minimized that problem.
Jeff Waggoner has written book, CD and concert reviews for publications such as Down Beat, Jazz Times, Blues Access and The New York Times.