Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, the seemingly ageless New Orleans institution known as the Dirty Dozen Brass Band comes to Rockport for its Shalin Liu Performance Center debut. The pioneering septet reignited and reimagined the Crescent City’s brass band tradition in the late 70’s and went on to become an iconic cultural ambassador for New Orleans all over the world.
No other group is more responsible for New Orleans’ brass band renaissance than the Dirty Dozen. Before they formed in 1977, the brass band tradition (which started in the late 19th century) was petering out, with interest and enthusiasm waning. The Dirty Dozen changed all that, bringing new blood, different sounds and a fresh attitude to the music. Unlike most New Orleans brass outfits, the Dirty Dozen incorporated bebop, R&B and funk into the well-worn standards of the tradition, and the response was powerful. Soon, they were selling out clubs and playing summer festivals and even touring Europe. Their debut, My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now came out on the respected Concord Jazz label in 1984, beginning a long run of recorded greatness that introduced the wider world to New Orleans brass band music. As if a dam had been breached, the brass band floodgates had been opened and other beloved bands emerged including Rebirth Brass Band, the Soul Rebels, the Hot 8 among many others. All thanks to Dirty Dozen leading the way.
The band, who still retain 5 of their original 7 members, have continued to evolve throughout the years, veering from tradition by adding a guitar (and occasionally keyboard) to their sound. They’ve released 14 records, several being on major labels and have collaborated on recordings with everyone from Branford Marsalis to Elvis Costello to Dr. John to Widespread Panic. Through it all, they have remained as forward-thinking and funky as they were in their debut, all while expertly representing their beloved city of New Orleans.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band plays the Shalin Liu Performance Center on Thursday, Aug. 24. Showtime 8 PM. Tickets $39, $35, $29.