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Last Updated: Friday, 31 August 2007, 08:14 GMT 09:14 UK
And the band plays on...
By Caroline Briggs
BBC News, New Orleans

Narvin Kimball
Kimball died in March 2006
When banjo player Narvin Kimball died in the months following Hurricane Katrina it was the passing of a New Orleans legend.

The 97-year-old died in Charleston, South Carolina, hundreds of miles from the home he and his wife had been forced to leave when the storm hit.

Kimball was a renowned jazzman in his home city, and was also known as a true gentleman, with a dapper style.

His status meant his passing would warrant a true jazz funeral - an honour bestowed on the city's most respected musicians.

But the flooding that followed Hurricane Katrina had scattered his fellow musicians far and wide.

"Normally it would have been a city-wide event," explained Ben Jaffe, director of Preservation Hall, one of the French Quarter's most revered venues.

Second line parade in New Orleans
Jazz funerals are both sorrowful and upbeat

"People would have come from all over the world to be a part of this person's funeral - he was the last living original member of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

"But we had a difficult time putting together just one band of six people to perform.

"We just marched from the church to his ruined house, and we sat down to play a dirge.

"It was very, very sad - in addition to the sadness of the funeral - to witness that and to think, 'Wow, this tradition is on the brink of disappearing.'"

The origins of jazz funerals are rooted in the colonial era, when French brass bands played in large processions to honour local dignitaries.

Around the same time African slaves gathered in Congo Square - now part of the city's Louis Armstrong Park - to dance, sing and play music.

Slowly the two traditions fused together, creating a new form of funeral ceremony.

Sombre dirges

"The brass band funerals stretch back historically - well before the birth of jazz," explained jazz historian and author Jason Berry.

SOCIAL PLEASURE CLUBS
Social Pleasure Clubs are the organisers of the "second line" parades New Orleans is famous for.
They were originally benevolent societies, which were formed in the late 1800s to help members who got into financial hardships, or needed money to pay healthcare or funeral costs.
The clubs also helped create a sense of community, hosted social events, and performed charitable works

"In the period when the music first flourished, in 1900 or thereabouts, the music of the churches began flowing into the dirges, and the dances of street folk began to converge around the linear movement of the bands.

"It's really a coming together of two traditions - the African tradition of ring dances, circular dances - and the linear marches of the brass bands."

Traditionally, a jazz funeral begins with a march to the cemetery by the family and friends of the deceased - known as the "first line" - to the sombre strains of a brass band playing dirges and traditional hymns, like Just A Closer Walk With Thee.

After the burial, when mourners have said their final goodbyes - or "cut the body loose" - the music becomes more upbeat, and turns into a celebration of the dead person's life.

Starting with a swinging hymn, the band bursts into popular "hot" tunes - anything from regional hits to P-Funk or R&B.

Onlookers who spontaneously join in to celebrate the life of the deceased - making a "second line" - strut and snake through the streets, "shakin' their butt", twirling pretty parasols, and waving handkerchiefs to the joyful music.

Ben Jaffe
"It is so important for us to support our cultural traditions, because that is how we all learned how to play music
Ben Jaffe, Preservation Hall

"Every funeral is a mirror on the life of the person who has passed, and the culture out of which that person departs," explained Berry.

"The funerals for the more notable musicians and people tend to be elaborate, ceremonial, almost quite stately pageants.

"Musicians who turn out for the funerals of 'ordinary folk' tend to be paid.

"Those funerals tend to be rowdier, less organised, a little more chaotic, sometimes even earthy. Sometimes you'll see people spewing beer on the casket!"

In the days following Katrina, the exodus of trumpet players, drummers, and trombonists from brass bands like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Hot 8, or Rebirth, meant there were initially few people to strike up a band.

"A lot of people left, but a lot of people came back," said Phil Frazier - or Tuba Phil - leader of the Rebirth Brass Band, who was brought up in the city's Treme area.

"A lot of the Social Pleasure clubs came back, and lot of the brass bands they came back home, so it didn't die, it was just put on hold for a while."

Block party

Today, the "second line" street parades are not just confined to jazz funerals.

Throughout the season - from September's Labor Day to Mardi Gras, which takes place in February or March - parades wind their way through the streets of New Orleans almost every weekend, celebrating all aspects of life.

"It's a moving block party out on the street," explained Frazier.

"The Social Pleasure dress in pretty clothes, with streamers and fans, and the band will play for four hours for them as they parade.

Brass Band
Many jazz bands work with children to pass on the musical traditions
"Just imagine everyone moving the same, dancing and having a good time. Black, white, red, yellow, it's like music is the melting pot of it all. That's one big party you don't want to miss.

"The second lines keep the city alive. The second lines are New Orleans."

But it is the long-term survival of those second lines, and other New Orleans cultural traditions, that worries Jaffe.

Renew Our Music, the grassroots organisation he co-founded, is trying to preserve New Orleans' cultural traditions by helping those individuals who can pass them on to new generations.

"It is so important for us to support our cultural traditions, like jazz funerals, like Mardi Gras parades, and churches, because that is how we all learned how to play music," he explained.

"The first time I was reminded of the magic of New Orleans after Katrina was at a parade that took place in November 2005.

"I just remember being there with my friends, and musicians I had grown up with, and in a neighbourhood that I had been visiting my whole life, and we just had a parade.

"And it was so spontaneous and so beautiful that I knew this doesn't happen anywhere else in the world. It can only happen in New Orleans."


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