It was unseasonably cold for YLC’s Wednesday at the Square featuring the legendary Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Even in my knit cap and many layers, I envied the people who thought to wear gloves. Louisiana Spice was onstage playing fun covers of popular radio tunes when I arrived but the first thing I noticed was the new jumbo-screen broadcasting images to the furthest corners of Lafayette Square.
I perused the fest food offerings including Grand Isle Restaurant 1/2 Dozen Raw Oysters ($5) and the mostly-ignored Plum Street Snoballs before deciding on Squeal Bar-B-Q‘s Pulled Pork over Grits ($6). The crowd danced “The Wobble” as I joined in, still eating. Even the Saintsations got into the act and helped children get the steps.
The Dirty Dozen was formed in 1977, picking up where Professor Longhair, James Booker and Fats Domino left off in revolutionizing jazz. I often find that people who’ve never been here think “Jazz” means the scat-sounding music our parents’ parents listened to, the jazz still popular in New York. In New Orleans, jazz continued to evolve, adding elements of funk, rock, bebop, pop, hip hop, go go and more. The Dirty Dozen’s funky sound has influenced everyone after – from 2012 Grammy winners Rebirth Brass Band to the many bands rising through the ranks on corners and in clubs throughout town.
In 1972, musician Danny Barker formed a youth program at New Orleans’ Fairview Baptist Church and from that, the Hurricane Brass Band was born. Some of the founding members went on to form the Original Sixth Ward Dirty Dozen and eventually, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. Throughout the years, the band has been home to “Uncle Lionel” Batiste on bass drum, Big Sam on Trombone and several others. Baritone sax player Roger Lewis, tenor sax Kevin Harris, sousaphonist Kirk Joseph (without a doubt the funkiest tuba-man I’ve seen) and trumpeters Efrem Towns and Gregory Davis have been there from the start. Drummer Terence Higgins and 20-something NOCCA graduate Kyle Roussel on keyboards help keep the funk fresh.
Wednesdays at the Square are always fun with great music, yummy local cuisine, Abita beer, people dancing, kids playing and mostly beautiful weather. But I consider it a special privilege to see Dirty Dozen play live, kinda like watching Run DMC, godfathers of rap/hip hop or James Brown, godfather of soul. The Dirty Dozen took Professor Longhair’s revolutionary new jazz rhythms to a new level, adding some funk and bebop, and laid the groundwork for everything I love about today’s music in New Orleans. In fact, Rebirth Brass Band not only felt their influence, they got their first break when they took over at a local club after the Dirty Dozen left to tour.
All food and beverage proceeds for the free concert series benefit the Young Leadership Council and their community-enhancing projects. There are artisan booths for photos, ties, t-shirts and more as well as booths for local non-profits. I spotted songstress Margie Perez promoting Mardi Gras bead recycling at ARC of Greater New Orleans and committed to another day of sorting beads.
Next week, Robin Barnes opens for singer/musician/storyteller Marcia Ball.