Dirty Dozen Brass Band cofounder on 35-year legacy and returning to Sarasota: interview

wtatangelo@bradenton.comOctober 11, 2012 

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band first brought its rich, wild New Orleans sound to the Ringling Museum of Art on Oct. 13, 1984.

Twenty-eight years to the day, the ensemble returns to the circus king's old estate to headline the Closing Night Party of the fourth annual Ringling International Arts Festival.

And maybe see if they can get fitted again for some clown outfits.

"There still might be pictures of some of the circus costumes we tried on," said trumpeter/cofounder Gregory Davis, reached by phone at his New Orleans home. "We probably weren't supposed to be messing with the stuff, props and things."

He laughed and added, "But we had a great time."

Although DDBB had been performing around the Seventh Ward and Uptown New Orleans since 1977, the group's Sarasota show in 1984 coincided with the release of its landmark debut album, "My Feet Can't Fail Me Now."

A fun, adroitly executed amalgamation of bebop, traditional jazz, funk, rock and R&B, it set the standard for records by contemporary brass bands.

DDBB has gone on to release a strong disc every few years while averaging about 200 shows annually around the globe. Meanwhile, members of Dirty Dozen still gig in their hometown, influencing numerous high-profile musicians including Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, the Crescent City's most popular, critically acclaimed young act and the star performer at the 2010 Sarasota Blues Festival.

"I've personally known Troy probably since when he was 5, 6 years old and have had the pleasure of watching him grow up and mature as a musician and young man," Davis said. "He was one of the younger ones brought into the atmosphere of Dirty Dozen, and I imagine some of it rubbed off on him.

"But he created his own thing."

Former DDBB member Sammie "Big Sam" Williams, who now leads his own Funky Nation, as well as Soul Rebels Brass Band, Rebirth Brass Band, The New Birth Brass Band and others are descendants of the Dirty Dozen.

"I'm 55 years old, and to be able to look back and see we have had an influence on a generation or more of musicians who have come after us is very gratifying," Davis said. "At the time we started, we didn't know we were influencing anyone, or if anyone even cared."

On Saturday, the courtyard of the Ringling Museum will be filled with NOLA-inspired cuisine like po' boys, muffulettas, jambalaya, chocolate bourbon pecan pie and sweet bread pudding with whiskey sauce.

The evening's specialty cocktail, the Hurricane, is the dangerously sweet signature drink of the Big Easy. There will also be a mighty fireworks display, but it's the Dirty Dozen Brass Band that makes this a must-attend event for discerning party people.

"We'll get 'em," Davis said. "For 35 years of the Dirty Dozen, our best and most challenging crowd is playing in front of folks in New Orleans, they just expect more. By the time we get to various cities around the world, it's not hard."

Details: 6:30 to 11 p.m. Oct. 13, Ringling Museum of Art, 5401 Bay Shore Road, Sarasota. Tickets: $85/$75 (museum members). Information: 941-360-7399 or www.ringlingartsfestival.org.

Wade Tatangelo, features writer, can be reached at 941-745-7057. Follow Twitter.com/wtatangelo.

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