Jan 6, 2011

Treme Brass Band at Saint Louis Cemetery

(New Orleans, LA) My wife and I decided to walk from the French Quarter to the historic Saint Louis Cemetery this afternoon. While we were soaking up some of the history in the graveyard, a funeral procession entered the cemetery, complete with music provided by the Treme Brass Band.

I was familiar with the concept of a jazz funeral prior to my visit to Saint Louis, but of course I never witnessed such a sight in northern climes like Toledo and Detroit. The musicians and marchers snaked their way in between the above-ground tombs to their final destination, and I tried not to be the typical annoying tourist by interfering with the ceremony.

I was struck by the differences between the somber funeral processions to which I am accustomed and the celebratory joy of a jazz funeral. Certainly the late Drextal Brumfield's family grieved the loss of this young man, but I found the musical homage to be much more uplifting than the funerary dirges I am used to hearing.

While I hope to live many more decades, I hope that my own mourners would remember the happier times, and I would have no problem being serenaded by a jazz band on my way to the Pearly Gates.


Mad Jack said...

Louis Armstrong talked about playing funerals in New Orleans in his autobiography. Louis, like most musicians, earned a good deal of his income from funerals. Louis's father, Black Benny, would play the bass drum and hold a cloth over it to muffle the sound as the coffin was being lowered into the ground. Louis specified that they played "Nearer My God to Thee" while the dear departed was being buried, and then would change to a much livelier song on the march out of the graveyard to the wake - such as "When The Saints Go Marching In". The idea was to celebrate life.

I'll get a band together for you, Mike.

Bring on your rubber tiered surrey
Bring on your rubber tiered hack
There's thirteen gamblers headed for the graveyard
But twelve are coming back

We'll have to think up a suitable epitaph for your tombstone...
Pardon me for not getting up.
or maybe I told you I was slick
and then there's He was looking for gold and found lead instead

We'll have to bury you deep so the dogs don't dig you up.

::MadJack Ducks::

Anonymous said...

I believe the happy groove on the way out is known as a "Second Line" groove. The Manhattan Transfer version of "Don't Let Go" uses a sort of second line, New Orleans-type groove. Great tune. Play that one at my send-off.

Tim Higgins said...


While I have managed a few visits to New Orleans, my daughter and son-in-law lived in The Big Easy until Katrina. He has subsequently gone back to do some documentary work down there and fills me in on the music scene down there.

You can follow some of this through a special facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Treme-Life/169325451195