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Dirty Dozen Brass Band

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Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Dirty Dozen Brass Band in 2018
Dirty Dozen Brass Band in 2018
Background information
OriginNew Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
GenresJazz, New Orleans R&B, Jazz fusion, Second Line, Funk, Soul, Jam Band
Years active1977–present
LabelsConcord Jazz, Rounder, Columbia, Mammoth, Ropeadope, Shout! Factory
MembersGregory Davis – trumpet, vocals
Roger Lewis – baritone, soprano sax, Vocals
Kevin Harris – Tenor saxophone, vocals
Kirk Joseph – Sousaphone
TJ Norris – Trombone, vocals
Julian Addison – Drums, Vocals
Takeshi Shimmura – Guitar
Past membersCharles Joseph – Trombone
Benny Jones – Bass drum
Lionel Batiste – Bass drum
Jenell Marshall – Snare drum
Keith Anderson – Trombone
Richard Knox – Keyboard
Big SamTrombone
Jamie McLean – Guitar
Julius McKee – Sousaphone
Revert Andrews – Trombone
Terence Higgins – Drums
Jermal Watson – Drums
Kyle RousselKeyboard
Jake Eckert – Guitar
Efrem Towns – Trumpet, flugelhorn

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is an American brass band based in New Orleans, Louisiana.[1] The ensemble was established in 1977, by Benny Jones and members of the Tornado Brass Band. The Dirty Dozen incorporated funk and bebop into the traditional New Orleans jazz style, and has since been a major influence on local music. They won the Grammy Award for Best American Roots Performance in 2023.[2]


The Dirty Dozen Brass Band grew out of the youth music program established by Danny Barker at New Orleans' Fairview Baptist Church. In 1972, Barker started the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band to provide young people with a positive outlet for their energies. The band achieved considerable local popularity and transformed itself into a professional outfit led by trumpet player Leroy Jones and known as the Hurricane Brass Band. By 1976, however, opportunities for brass bands were drying up; Jones left the group to play mainstream jazz and, after a brief period as the Tornado Brass Band, the group fell apart.

A few of the musicians from the Tornado band—trumpeter Gregory Davis, sousaphone player Kirk Joseph, trombone player Charles Joseph, and saxophone player Kevin Harris–continued to rehearse together into 1977, and they were joined by Efrem Towns (trumpet player/lead singer) and Roger Lewis on saxophone and Benny Jones and Jenell Marshall on drums. By this point the popularity of brass band music in New Orleans was at a low ebb, and paying gigs were rare, a circumstance which influenced the early development of the band. As Davis describes it:

In the beginning, there was a lot of rehearsal going on, ... [and] we started to develop a repertoire. ... We were just rehearsing, and we were interested in learning the chord progressions and the melodies. ... We were all free to bring in whatever we wanted to rehearsal. We weren't thinking about getting gigs.

This sense of freedom allowed the band to incorporate bebop tunes and jazz standards into their repertoire, as well as lighthearted pieces like The Flintstones theme song.

When Benny Jones, who was active in the social and pleasure club scene, was asked to get a band together for a parade, he would draw from this rehearsal group; before long, Gregory Davis assumed leadership of the band. "I thought it would be better to use the same people as often as I could," he explains. "That helped to keep it tight." The band initially called themselves the Original Sixth Ward Dirty Dozen, a name created to show their strong connection to the Tremé neighborhood and the local social club scene, as represented by the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club.

The band began playing regular Thursday night gigs at a Seventh Ward club called Daryl's, and later added a regular spot at the Glasshouse, a neighborhood bar in a black neighborhood of Uptown New Orleans, which lasted "about seven or eight years". The performances at Daryl's caught the attention of Jerry Brock, a radio broadcaster and co-founder of new local radio station WWOZ. Brock describes his initial reaction to the band:

I'll never forget the first time I walked in there. ... The people were so exuberant—the floor was covered with people, rolling on the floor! ... This is what the Fairview band and the Hurricane Brass Band had been leading up to—the Dirty Dozen had renewed this music to the New Orleans community. The people were going wild. Going to Daryl's became the weekly ritual.


In 1980, Jerry Brock made the first professional recording of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, which he played frequently on WWOZ. He also prepared a press kit for the group and, in his words, "helped them to present themselves professionally".

Back in 1982, Brock had arranged a concert for the band at the well-known local music venue Tipitina's, which was the first time they had played at a "white club" in New Orleans. It was a double bill with Danny Barker. Barker and The Dozen were both apprehensive about the match-up: Barker about being blown off the stage and The Dozen out of respect and knowledge of Barker's deep roots and knowledge. The Dozen were recognized as the new energy and force that they were and Mr. Barker held his own as the elder statesman giving his blessing to the generations to come. Afterwards the band had one of its first international appearances, when Kidd Jordan recommended the band to the organizers of Swingin' Groningen in the Netherlands.

The band's popularity began to take off in 1984. Promoter George Wein booked them on a tour of southern Europe, and when they returned to the United States they secured engagements at two clubs in New York: Tramp's and The Village Gate, where their original short bookings were extended to six weeks. After a week at home in New Orleans the band travelled to California for four weeks, and before the year was out they made three more trips to Europe. 1984 also saw the recording and release of the band's first album, My Feet Can't Fail Me Now, on the Concord Jazz label. Gregory Davis assesses the band's popularity at the time:

Outside Louisiana, support was in pockets. It was okay in California, but our widest support was in Europe. ... There were many more festivals and clubs that featured jazz, and a high level of enthusiasm. We got the same sort of reception in Japan.

In 1986, the band's set at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Montreux, Switzerland, was recorded and released as Mardi Gras at Montreux on Rounder Records. The album and the band's touring successes attracted major-label attention, and in 1987 the band signed a contract with Columbia. Their Columbia debut, 1989's Voodoo, featured guest appearances by Dr. John, Dizzy Gillespie, and Branford Marsalis. Later recordings saw them joined by a variety of special guests including Elvis Costello, DJ Logic, Norah Jones, and the man who started it all, Danny Barker. The group has also toured and recorded with jam band Widespread Panic, as well as spending almost all of 1995 as the opening act for The Black Crowes 'Amorica Or Bust' US Tour.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band in 2008

In 1998, after a five-year hiatus from recording, the band switched labels to release Ears to the Wall on Mammoth Records. They followed it up in 1999 with Buck Jump which was produced by John Medeski of Medeski Martin & Wood. (Medeski also played Hammond B3 on the album.) Their next album, 2002's Medicated Magic, appeared on Ropeadope Records, as did their subsequent studio release, Funeral for a Friend, which appeared in 2004. Funeral for a Friend represents something of a return to the band's roots: it is a documentation of a New Orleans "funeral with music", the original environment of the brass band form. They appear on the 2005 benefit album A Celebration of New Orleans Music to Benefit MusiCares Hurricane Relief 2005, with the song "Mardi Gras In New Orleans". They were also featured on two tracks on Modest Mouse's album Good News for People Who Love Bad News: "Horn Intro" and "This Devil's Workday." On August 29, 2006, the Dozen released What's Going On, their version of the entire 1971 Marvin Gaye landmark disc What's Going On as a response to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina that struck New Orleans exactly one year earlier.

The band appears in performance footage and bandleader Davis is interviewed on screen in the 2005 documentary film Make It Funky!, which presents a history of New Orleans music and its influence on rhythm and blues, rock and roll, funk and jazz.[3] In the film, the band performs "My Feet Can't Fail Me Now" with guests Irvin Mayfield and Troy Andrews.[4]


From the beginning, the music of the Dirty Dozen was a departure from the traditional New Orleans brass band sound, and as the band's popularity increased, the distance between them and more traditional groups only grew. When Kirk and Charles Joseph suddenly left the band in 1991, citing the pressures of the group's demanding touring schedule, Davis was forced to replace Kirk Joseph not with another sousaphonist but with an electric bass player. Similarly, in 1994 drummers Lionel Batiste (who had replaced Benny Jones on bass drum some years earlier) and Jenell Marshall left the group; Davis was unable to find a pair of drummers who met his expectations, and instead hired a single musician to play the drum kit. The subsequent addition of a keyboard player and guitarist removed the band still further from its street-band roots. Finally, throughout the band's history they relied on written arrangements to a far greater extent than do most other New Orleans brass bands.

Despite the Dirty Dozen's uniqueness, however, the band's success inspired a resurgence of New Orleans' brass band music, both in the city and nationwide. The band was most influential in the 1980s, when they demonstrated by example that brass band music could be successful by moving beyond a type of music that risked stagnation as nothing more than a tourist attraction. Before the Dirty Dozen band was formed the Olympia Brass Band was already mixing R&B and jazz influences in with traditional tunes; the Dirty Dozen took this farther, and gave the trend worldwide visibility. Bands which followed in their wake did not all follow their more jazz-oriented stage-band approach—only the Soul Rebels have gone in that direction—but a wide variety of bands, from the Rebirth Brass Band to Wisconsin's Youngblood Brass Band, have been influenced by them in other ways. Rebirth has the most direct connection with the Dirty Dozen: they got their start playing at Daryl's when the Dirty Dozen was on the road.

Awards and honors[edit]

Grammy Awards[edit]

Year Category Work nominated Result Ref.
2023 Best American Roots Performance "Stompin' Ground" (with Aaron Neville) Won [5]

OffBeat's Best of The Beat Awards[edit]

Year Category Work nominated Result Ref.
2002 Best Brass Band Won [6]
Best Brass Band Album Medicated Magic Won [6]
2004 Best Brass Band Won [6]
Best Brass Band Album Funeral for a Friend Won [6]
2006 Best Brass Band Album What's Going On Won [6]
2020 Lifetime Achievement in Music Won [6]


The Dirty Dozen Brass Band appears on:

  • 1986 – Phil Alvin: Un "Sung" Stories (Slash)
  • 1989 – The Neville Brothers: Yellow Moon (A&M Records)
  • 1989 – Elvis Costello: Spike (Warner) Songs – "Deep, Dark, Truthful Mirror", "Chewing Gum", "Stalin Malone"
  • 1999 – Joe Henry: Fuse (Mammoth)
  • 2000 – Widespread Panic: Another Joyous Occasion
  • 2003 – Dave Matthews: Some Devil
  • 2004 – Widespread Panic: Night of Joy
  • 2004 – Modest Mouse: Good News for People Who Love Bad News
  • 2007 – Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino (Vanguard), performing "Every Night About This Time" with Buddy Guy and Joss Stone
  • 2009 – Modest Mouse: No One's First and You're Next
  • 2023 – Johnny King and Friends: Call It Confusion "Recensie: Johnny King and Friends – Call it confusion". bluesmagazine (in Dutch). 2023-05-23. Retrieved 2024-01-16.


  1. ^ Colin Larkin, ed. (1992). The Guinness Who's Who of Jazz (First ed.). Guinness Publishing. p. 121. ISBN 0-85112-580-8.
  2. ^ "Artist: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band". Grammy.com. Recording Academy. 2023. Retrieved February 8, 2023.
  3. ^ "IAJE What's Going On". Jazz Education Journal. 37 (5). Manhattan, Kansas: International Association of Jazz Educators: 87. April 2005. ISSN 1540-2886. ProQuest 1370090.
  4. ^ Make It Funky! (DVD). Culver City, California: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment. 2005. ISBN 9781404991583. OCLC 61207781. 11952.
  5. ^ "The Dirty Dozen Brass Band". Grammy Awards. Archived from the original on 2023-11-11. Retrieved 2024-03-02.
  6. ^ a b c d e f "Best of the Beat Award Winners: Complete List". OffBeat Magazine. 2011-09-08. Retrieved 2024-03-02.
  7. ^ Schultz, Barbara (1 September 2006). "Dirty Dozen: What's Going On? REINVENTION OF MARVIN GAYE'S MASTERPIECE". Mix Online. Archived from the original on 6 September 2015. Retrieved 6 September 2015.

Further reading[edit]

  • Burns, Mick. Keeping the Beat On the Street: The New Orleans Brass Band Renaissance. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-8071-3048-6

External links[edit]