For the second year running, Three Rivers Arts Festival pays tribute to the cultural Mecca that is New Orleans by bringing to Pittsburgh another exciting musical act from the land of Mardi Gras, the birthplace of jazz. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue represented the Paris of the South last year, and in 2010 the Dirty Dozen Brass Band will proudly carry the torch.
Indelible images of New Orleans: the extra-large procession of mourners moving solemnly toward the cemetery behind the horse-drawn carriage, the coffin in the carriage’s back, the brass band marching at the front, setting the pace and keeping the time. Each lonely trombone bleat, the sad moan from the trumpet, the tubas’ profound hiccups of bass – this is a dirge. But the New Orleans jazz funeral is a double-sided coin, life amidst death; once the body is cut loose, buried, the music becomes jubilant, a cathartic celebration of a life lived. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, by now a New Orleans institution, arises from this tradition. And just as the music of a jazz funeral transforms, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band has allowed their sound to evolve over their 30-plus-years existence.
Formed in 1977 as the house band for the Dirty Dozen Social and Pleasure Club, the DDBB came together to explore the limits of the brass band sound. At this point in time, the popularity of traditional brass band fare had hit a low point, and knowing this, the DDBB expanded their sound with bebop and other progressive styles of jazz. In the ensuing years, and on each of their acclaimed albums, the DDBB explored funk, R&B, and even hip-hop. They’ve worked with such disparate artists as Dr. John, Modest Mouse, Widespread Panic, and Norah Jones, resulting in a reputation for being as rich and diverse as they the city they represent.
Their two most recent albums are steeped in New Orleans. 2004’s Funeral for a Friend, dedicated to founding member Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lucen who died shortly after the album’s completion, is a reenactment of a jazz funeral. Instantly acknowledged as a class recording, Funeral for a Friend is both a moving musical experience and an important historical document preserving a unique New Orleans tradition.
In 2006, the DDBB undertook a rather ambitious project: recording a song-for-song cover of Marvin Gaye’s seminal What’s Going On. When Gaye released the landmark album the year was 1971. The frustrations and tragedies borne of the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War guided Gaye’s songwriting and infused his voice with an unparalleled desperateness. Similarly, the apocalyptic effects of Hurricane Katrina could not go unremarked upon by the DDBB, thus the recreation of What’s Going On. Both an effective tribute to Gaye and a searing indictment of the ineptitude that let Katrina loose such havoc, What’s Going On is just as important as Gaye’s original.
The ugly specter of Katrina still lingers over New Orleans and, in some ways, the entire country. But as with all disasters, there is a choice: to either succumb or rise above. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the continued presence of New Orleans in Pittsburgh through Three Rivers Arts Festival is a clear indication that no one is giving up in the Big Easy.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
6:00pm, Sunday, June 6
Dollar Bank Stage at Point State Park