Nearly three years after Hurricane Katrina made landfall and 37 years after Marvin Gaye released his landmark album, New Orleans act the Dirty Dozen Brass Band is still asking What's Going On?
In 2006, the band covered Gaye's soulful political manifesto, recasting it in the light of Katrina and finding new ways to pay tribute to the old songs. Still a significant part of the Dirty Dozen act, those songs will undoubtedly be amongst the innovative jazz, funk, soul and gospel numbers unleashed Saturday at the band's show at Sky City, 1157 Broad St.
"We talked about doing this years ago," founding member Roger Lewis said in a phone interview from his home in New Orleans. "Then we found out that the record company also wanted to do a CD celebrating 35 years of this record. So, the idea really came from that, even though we had talked about it."
The Dirty Dozen Brass band began in 1977, during a period when the traditional New Orleans horn ensemble was in a downturn. The original members came together to preserve traditional New Orleans music and to experiment with the sounds and style most commonly associated with brass bands.
From its earliest days, the Dirty Dozen was an act that was comfortable making unlikely choices (such as a Marvin Gaye record) work for a horn-heavy group.
"When I go back to the very beginning, to where we started this band, the idea always was to play what you wanted to play," Mr. Lewis said. "It was to give people the opportunity to play the songs you might not get to play in another group."
Although the band garnered a fervent fan base and managed to maintain an active touring schedule, Mr. Lewis said success with Dirty Dozen often comes from doing things the hard way. Although admired, the band rarely finds itself on radio play lists and must depend on word-of-mouth reports of its raucous live shows.
"We haven't sold that many records," Mr. Lewis said with a small laugh. "What we do is not mainstream, and people determining what goes on the radio aren't looking for us. I mean, we have gone all over the world and played for thousands and thousands of people. Why won't somebody let this music out of the chute?"
Mr. Lewis said it was on one of the band's many tours that he first became aware that the Dirty Dozen message, airplay or not, was reaching people. He said he recalled being in Europe somewhere and hearing one of the band's compositions and feeling like something was a little off.
"It just sounded a little different," he said. "Then it came to my solo, and I realized it wasn't us, but someone playing our stuff. That was great. It's amazing to hear something like that, to hear that you are having some sort of influence."
Since then, several brass bands have emerged from the New Orleans music scene. He said that while each approaches the music in different ways, all New Orleans music shares a common bond.
"The difference with New Orleans music is that it's spiritual and syncopated," he said. "It has its own feeling. You can play a lot of different kinds of music in New Orleans, but it will always come out sanctified."
Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
WHAT: The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
WHEN: 9 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Sky City, 1157 Broad St.
COST: $10 advance, $15 day of show
FOR MORE: www.skycityaugusta.com