Up here in the mountains, you may not be familiar with the tradition of the New Orleans jazz funeral, the second line, and you’re probably wondering why I’m reviewing a brass band in this column.
I was fortunate enough, not only to spend four years in college in New Orleans, but to work at a jazz club that enabled me to become friendly with many local jazz musicians, including Gregory Davis, trumpet player and founding member of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. The brass band is one of the best subsets of New Orleans jazz music, often seen in Mardi Gras parades and during other events worthy of a celebration–in New Orleans, that means almost everything, including a funeral. The jazz funeral is similar to an Irish Catholic wake, a tradition of sending the dead off in style and celebration rather than mourning. It starts with a traditional church service, and then a parade follows, taking the deceased to the cemetery and gradually moving from solemn hymns to songs of celebration. Mourners become dancers, traditionally waving parasols as they follow the brass band to the gravesite. These followers form what is called the ‘second line.’
Short history of New Orleans jazz aside, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band have turned out a jazz funeral on CD for all of you who haven’t experienced one firsthand. This CD is dedicated to Anthony “Tuba Fats” Lacen, who died of a heart attack shortly after the album was recorded. Tuba Fats was a staple of the community, a founder of the Dirty Dozen, and a man almost universally loved. The Dirty Dozen could have given him no better send-off than this album.
You may not think that a funereally-titled record of spirituals can lift your spirits, but listen to it and try not to dance. This album features a back-to-basics approach for the Dirty Dozen, who have recorded with artists such as the Black Crowes and Modest Mouse, returning to a traditional lineup of trumpets, saxophones, sousaphone, drums, and guitar, and featuring the Davell Crawford singers. The songs vary from “Amazing Grace” to tunes only familiar in the Ninth Ward in New Orleans, but you’ll be surprised to catch yourself dancing even to traditional ‘church songs.’
Put “Funeral for a Friend” on the stereo, invite over some friends, have a beer for Tuba Fats, and have your own second-line around the room.