(Though I hadn’t planned to post things so casually written as the e-mail below, I think it may make up in feeling for whatever it lacks in craftsmanship)
Greeting from New Orleans (the night before I head home).
So before I left my B&B this morning, one of my hosts told me to “have a good funeral.”
No, he wasn’t trading in ghoulish humour. He was just wishing me the best as I went off to join in at a jazz funeral in the Treme, now of television fame, and the home of one of the United States’ oldest African-American communities. Jazz funerals are a tradition here, in which the departed is sent off to the cemetery with a brass band procession. I’ve been told this celebratory note is to mark the fact that music is a part of death as well as life, and that in grief, there should be celebration that the person passing on has made it to a place where they have at long last been relieved of their burdens.
Though I’d already been assured by people from the community that it would not be an intrusion for a tourist like myself to join the procession, it was clear the moment I arrived – the only white person standing among dozens of black residents outside the church where the service was being held – that I was an outsider.
I asked one of the musicians, a big and hard-looking bass drum player if it would be okay. “Ain’t no intruding. This here’s the real New Orleans,” he said. “Everything is free. Once that music starts, you can do anything you want. You can roll in the streets. You can dance till you wear out the soles of your shoes.” I did neither, but as the funeral ended and the white hearse drove off and we followed, I did bop my head in time to the music (at least I think it was in time). You’ll see from the video I have linked below that it was a party, to be sure. A man dancing with his crutches, a trumpet player blowing his horn from his wheelchair, people dressed up and people dressed down, lots of people with gold teeth, and, once the procession started in earnest, a few Caucasian types like myself joining in. It occurred to me shortly after it began that I didn’t even know who it was who had died. When all was said and done, I asked one of the other participants. “I don’t know,” he said. “I’m just from around here.” That’s the way it is with jazz funerals. It’s a community event for anyone who wants to step in.
So here are a few short videos from my last, especially musical, day on this visit.
The jazz funeral in the Treme…
A young swing band and young swing dancers in the French Quarter’s Royal Street…
And John Boutte at d.b.a on Frenchmen Street, singing the theme song from the Treme television series…
As they like to say here…
And for those interested in knowing a little more about jazz funerals – http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/multicultural/multiculturaltraditions/jazzfuneral.html