The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is quietly celebrating its 35th anniversary — a landmark that crept up on the group, which still includes five original members.
“It’s amazing that time went by like that, that fast,” saxophonist Roger Lewis, one of the septet’s five remaining original players, tells Billboard. “I remember the very beginning, and I just can’t believe we’ve been together this long…’cause usually bands don’t last like that. I think a lot of it’s got to do with the guys and the chemistry that’s involved in this. It’s like family, even though we have differences from time to time. But it’s the music, the people who are playing the music, the spirit. It’s all of that.”
The Dirty Dozen has new music to play this year thanks to “Twenty Dozen,” its first release since 2007’s “Goin’ Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino.” The set includes band originals as well as covers of Rihanna‘s “Don’t Stop the Music” and the Rolling Stones‘ “Paint It Black.”
“I wanted to do something kind of current, like what kids are listening to, so I suggested the (Rihanna) song, and the other one came from our manager,” Lewis says, adding that their writing process for original material has changed over the years as well. “Sometimes people will have an idea of what they want to present [and] bring it in and then somebody else comes in and hears something and adds it to the song. Back in the day we used to just get in a room and basically start playing and see what happened and make it into a song. Now we come in with a little more stuff already prepared.”
At 70, Lewis says eyeballing a next 35 years for the Dirty Dozen, or at least with him in it, may be unrealistic. But he still has some creative goals he’d like to accomplish in the near future.
“I always wanted to do a project with classical music, country music — all different styles of music from different parts of the world, man,” Lewis says. “That’s how you keep it fresh. That’s how you keep reinventing yourself. We’ve experimented with so many different styles over the years, from gospel to rhythm & blues to jazz, fusion, avant-garde…but there’s so much out there. We’re definitely still hungry when it comes to that, so we’re not stopping any time soon.”