When people die in New Orleans, we like to fill the streets with music – a celebration of the person’s life as much as a mourning of his or her death.
A typical jazz funeral begins at a church or funeral home and leads the way to the cemetery. Mourners are joined by a brass band that plays music that starts off heavy and sad but soon turns celebratory. Everybody dances.
In The Music of Black American, Eileen Southern describes the ceremony: “On the way to the cemetery it was customary to play very slowly and mournfully a dirge, or an old Negro spiritual such as 'Nearer My God to Thee,' but on the return from the cemetery, the band would strike up a rousing, 'When the Saints Go Marching In,' or a ragtime song such as 'Didn't He Ramble.'
”When the deceased is laid to rest – or they “cut the body loose”– the mourners “cut loose” as well. Although the majority of jazz funerals are for musicians, anyone can request one. And, as long as you’re respectful, passersby are encouraged to join in and help celebrate.
Sidney Bechet, the renowned New Orleans jazzman, once said, "Music here is as much a part of death as it is of life."