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Oct. 28, 2004



Photo of Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Headline -- Evolving Southern heritage

FORMED IN 1977 IN THE BIRTHPLACE OF jazz, New Orleans, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band [photo above] traces its history back to traditions from years earlier. Trumpet player Efrem Towns explained that prior to '77, the band was part of an organization called the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club.

"It was a community thing. It was like a lot of social and pleasure clubs in New Orleans in poor areas of the city. It was for those who could not afford insurance, people who weren't even offered insurance. Basically, you would join the social club, and in time of crisis and need, you would get help," said Towns in a call from the Midwest, where the Dirty Dozen were on tour.

The social and pleasure clubs typically employed musicians for club functions. One particular area where the clubs and the bands came into play was when there was a death in the family. "When one of the members died they'd give them a funeral -- a jazz funeral -- a second line parade when they passed away," said Towns.

With Funeral for a Friend, the band's latest album for Rope a Dope Records, the Dirty Dozen pay their respects to the jazz funeral tradition while honoring their friend and former bandmate Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen.

"He passed on in February," said Towns. "He had a huge funeral, the whole city put on a funeral. He was one of the legends in New Orleans, everybody knew Tuba Fats."

The band offers a collection of traditional hymns and jazz tunes from "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" to "Down by the Riverside," all played with a Dirty Dozen twist.

"You could hear any hymn at a jazz funeral," said Towns, "but over the last 25 years everything changed. The whole culture was revised as the younger generation got involved in the music -- of course, the younger generation is going to bring their musical influences in there.

"When jazz was instituted, in its early inception it was a new form -- now 125 years later, some look at it as a museum piece. I have nothing against playing traditional music, but it has to evolve. We try to keep it to the reality we live in today, but with a respect for where the music came from.

"We make it funky, but we also can get subtle. No matter what song we play, you know, that's the Dirty Dozen. There's no mistaking the sound we create. When you come to one of our shows, you get a little bit of everything."

The band's current cross-country tour puts them in the middle of a showcase of Southern heritage music that includes an opening set of pre-jazz by the Rising Star Drum and Fife Band. Closing the show, the North Mississippi Allstars, a country blues jam trio featuring brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson, sons of noted music producer Jim Dickinson.

"With this tour, you get a perspective on the whole history of this music," said Towns. "You'll get a little southern adventure through the course of the night. You might hear anything -- the rudiments that started it all, you'll hear spirituals, hear what's happening today. Of course, no matter how far you think you've progressed, some things never change."

The Dirty Dozen have appeared locally a number of times. The North Mississippi Allstars were here a couple of years back with The Word, a gospel/blues outfit assembled for a Rope a Dope disc that also included John Medeski (from MMW) and pedal steel player Robert Randolph.

Towns says he's having "a blast" on the joint tour in progress. "We've been having a great time together. We've been doing a lot of interacting with each other -- they come play on our set, we'll play on theirs. A lot of creative stuff has been happening. You tell the people out there, we'll all have a helluva good time when we come there," he concluded.

HSU's AS Presents a Halloween concert with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the North Mississippi Allstars and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band on Sunday, Oct. 31, at 8 p.m. in HSU's Kate Buchanan Room. Tickets are $25/$20 in advance, or for HSU students $20/$15 in advance. Call 826-3928 for further details.


Bob Doran


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