‘A Tremendous Time’

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band brings hometown music to Chandler

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s Roger Lewis is sure “Take Me to the River—New Orleans Live! Celebrating the Music of the Crescent City” is a good time. So much so, he unleashes a long list of adjectives and phrases to describe it.

“It’s a good time,” says Lewis, who plays baritone sax and sings. “It’s a wonderful time. It’s a great time. It’s a marvelous time. It’s a fantastic time. It’s a tremendous time.”

Following the successful 2017 tour celebrating the music of Memphis, “Take Me to the River—New Orleans Live!” gathers the most influential figures of modern New Orleans funk, R&B, soul and jazz together on the same stage. Featuring both individual and collaborative performances, “Take Me to the River” has three generations of legendary Crescent City talent.

When the show comes to the Chandler Center for the Arts on Wednesday, October 9, Lewis is bringing his band, Ivan Neville, Ian Neville, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, the Mardi Gras Indians with “Big Chief” Monk Boudreaux of The Golden Eagles and “Big Chief” Romeo of the Ninth Ward Hunters.

“I think you guys are going to be in for quite a treat,” he says. “We’ve got music for your mind, body and your soul. We’re coming at you from all ends. You’re going to be complete.”

Lewis says the tour does well because New Orleans music is appreciated all around the world.

“It’s the spirit of the music,” Lewis adds. “The music makes you feel good. It makes your body feel good. It relaxes your mine and everything in it to make you feel good whatever your taste in music is.”

He doesn’t understand why, though, it isn’t celebrated more.

“I don’t know why it’s not at the forefront of all music,” he says. “Whoever’s pushing the buttons or turning the knobs, this music should be appreciated by everybody—from the young to the old. The best music is being left out.

“I’ve ever been anywhere in the world where this music wasn’t appreciated. I’ve been on a lot of jazz concerts, Carnegie Hall, ‘The Tonight Show,’ people just love New Orleans music. But we should be up there with Beyoncé. It’s too good.”

Lewis has wanted to be a musician since he was 8, when he saw his saxophone-playing cousin was traveling the world.

“Back then, in every household, there were encyclopedias,” he says “As a kid, I would flip the pages and look at these exotic places in the world. One picture I saw was of Big Ben. Later, I was in London, looking out the window, and I realized I was looking at Big Ben in the exact same way as the photo in the encyclopedia.

“I’m living my dream. I have no complaints whatsoever. My job is to make people feel good and bring some joy and happiness to everyone’s lives. That’s what I do. That’s what I have to contribute to humanity. The music is my god-gifted talent.”

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band has long been credited with changing the face of brass music. The band took its name from New Orelans’ The Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club, which joined two antiquated traditions: social and pleasure clubs. They dated back over a century to a time when black southerners could rarely afford life insurance, and the clubs would provide proper funeral arrangements.

Brass bands, early predecessors of jazz would often follow the funeral procession playing somber dirges, then once the family of the deceased was out of earshot, burst into jubilant dance tunes as casual onlookers danced in the streets. By the late ’70s, few of either existed. The Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club decided to assemble this group as a house band, and over the course of these early gigs, the seven-member ensemble adopted the venue’s name.

Lewis says he never considered the band influential.

“I was just playing some music I didn’t have the opportunity to play in other bands,” he says.

“The music is coming out of the gumbo pots. I didn’t think, at the time, we were changing the history of New Orleans music. There was Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and various other artists. Then you have The Dirty Dozen Brass Band to go along with it. We took that music to the streets and brought up the beat a little bit.”