New Orleans, Part I: A Jazz Funeral Procession

January 11, 2011

As I have been re-plunging into the amazing music of N’awlins following my trip there in December, the next bunch of posts will be NOLA themed. Call it a lead up to Mardi Gras if you like.

We went to Sylvester Francis’ Backstreet Cultural Museum in the Tremé and were given a warm welcome and an excellent tour of the place by his son. The museum is devoted to the Mardi Gras Indians (on whom there will be a separate upcoming post), the famous social clubs of New Orleans, and jazz funerals, the latter of which we’d expressed great interest in seeing.
Francis (junior) had mentioned that if we showed up to the corner of Esplanade and Rampart Streets 45 minutes later, we’d catch the funeral of a gentleman who had died of a stroke…during a previous jazz funeral!
To a tee, they appeared at that intersection just as he had said, rippling up Esplanade next to the large underpass that cuts through the Tremé.
As I watched the friends and family of the deceased dressed to the nines dancing away, and the second line sending off with a bang the dead man in a hearse that trailed behind flanked by police escort, I felt a tidal wave of emotion flow through me. If there is ever a way to cope with the passing of a close one, to release the crippling pain and to move on, this is it. Thanks to the exultation produced by entrancing, rhythmic, upbeat music, thanks to a community around you that sustains and nourishes this cultural practice, I could see how the great unknown might seem far less depressingly somber and far more deeply and promisingly spiritual.
I think it was also the understanding that I was watching something of historical significance unfold in front of me that was actually genuine, not some ersatz replication of a poorly interpreted cultural trend celebrated long ago for a host of different reasons. From my Rest of America viewpoint, the jazz funeral was always a sliver of culture interwoven into the myth of New Orleans. And now here it was, real, current, dynamic, alive and breathing and embraced by every generation involved.
It was seriously a breath of fresh air to visit New Orleans, if only to see this!

I jacked up the volume on the following recordings, but I’d still recommend listening to them either on headphones or on a nice set of speakers, as otherwise all you will here are the drums and the background din. Admittedly they are a little rough here and there, you get pieces of ours and others’ conversation, the din of the highway, sirens, car horns, and the mic moves around a fair amount, but in a way they accurately capture the vibe!


Jazz Funeral I – New Orleans, December 18, 2010

Perhaps the cleanest of the recordings…the car horn in the beginning is like a half-step off – I almost thought it was a trombone!

JazzFuneral II – New Orleans, December 18, 2010

Listen carefully and you’ll hear the singing…

JazzFuneral III – New Orleans, December 18, 2010

The beginnings of a dirge…

JazzFuneral IV – New Orleans, December 18, 2010

If you’re interested in learning more about jazz funerals and hearing the music (and can’t get to New Orleans just yet!), I’d recommend Authentic New Orleans Jazz Funeral.

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One Response to “New Orleans, Part I: A Jazz Funeral Procession”

  1. Liz Schelper Says:

    Something about the spirit of this music, just really haunts (pun inadvertant); after listening on the headphones as recommended, it felt like one was on the street the witness the funeral of this musician. Sweet!!!


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