By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
By Karli Evans
By Jose D. Duran
By Pablo Chacon Alvarez
The members of the successful, tour-happy New Orleans group the Dirty Dozen Brass Band could have long ago acknowledged the sousaphone's presence in the band's three-decade history, and, with a solemn nod, replaced the fifty-pound mega-tuba with the more practical electric bass guitar. They could have still called themselves a "brass band," given all the trumpets and trombones. But the sousaphone remains because DDBB doesn't play that game.
Instead the sousaphone remains a staple of the group's patented blend of hot and bothered jazz, rhythm and blues, and gospel soul. Naturally with DDBB's smart arrangements, it's virtually impossible to tell where one style begins and another ends. Once the traditional New Orleans "four on the floor" beat kicks in, the labels will hardly matter.
The troupe's repertoire is astutely chosen from a vast landscape of American song. Jelly Roll Morton, jazz's pioneering pianist from the Big Easy neighborhood of Fauborg Marigny, gets a full album's worth of covers from DDBB. Same for Marvin Gaye: The album What's Going On revisits the songs of America's tragic soul treasure and includes an unexpected guest appearance from Chuck D. Norah Jones got in on the action in 2002, providing sultry singing on DDBB's version of Allen Toussaint's "Ruler of My Heart."
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band celebrates the music of the booze rooms, the bayou, the boudoir, the funeral procession, and the circus all at once. In spirit it's the little cousin of the Charles Mingus Big Band. The soprano, tenor, and baritone saxes may provide the slinky songlines, but it's DDBB's Julius McKee, sousaphone player, who brings the joyful noise. Andrés Solar