This week, Musician’s Spotlight features an audience with some of the Crescent City’s funkiest musical kings. In 2010, John Floridis spoke with drummer Stanton Moore and sax and harmonica player Ben Ellman of Galactic, the jam band that’s been “holding uptown down with that funky sound” since 1994. In 2011, vocalist and baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band told John how the legendary group - which began in 1977 as the house band for the Dirty Dozen Social Aid and Pleasure Club - has injected r&b and modern jazz into the brass band heritage of New Orleans.
Galactic lends their "funk pop ‘n roll" groove to a wide stylistic range of touring partners and collaborators: Chali 2na, Macy Gray, Allen Toussaint, The Roots, Toots and the Maytals, Mannie Fresh, Mavis Staples and JJ Grey and Mofro, among others. Layered drums, electronic loops and distortion pedals merged with their house-shaking framework on the 2010 recording, Ya Ka May, which included a virtual parade of fellow New Orleans musicians.
In 2018, the band deepened their commitment to The Big Easy’s music scene when members purchased Tipitina’s, one of the city’s best-known nightclubs. “We’re so incredibly honored to be tasked as the current caretakers of such a historic venue,” says Ben Ellman. “My connection with the club started way before I was lucky enough to take the stage. My first job in New Orleans was at Tipitina’s as a cook in the (now defunct) kitchen. The importance of respecting what Tip’s means for musicians and the city of New Orleans is not lost on us. We’re excited for the future of the club and look forward to all the amazing music and good times ahead.”
In the mid-1970s - even though demand for New Orleans brass bands had ebbed - the Original Sixth Ward Dirty Dozen still managed to find regular weekly gigs, including one in Uptown where WWOZ co-founder Jerry Brock was knocked out by the effect of their funk and bebop-infused jazz: “I'll never forget the first time I walked in there. ... The people were so exuberant — the floor was covered with people, rolling on the floor! ... The people were going wild.”
The Dirty Dozen’s promoter began booking shows in Europe, the band’s growing prominence earned them a major label deal, and soon they were joined onstage and in the studio by Dr. John, Branford Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie, Danny Barker, Norah Jones, Elvis Costello and Widespread Panic. For over forty years, Dirty Dozen’s “abundance of euphoria” has inspired a nationwide resurgence of New Orleans-style brass band music.