I’m still in touch with a number of friends back in Indiana. Last week I heard some sad news from one of these friends: His mother had passed away. She was advanced in years, but it was still rather sudden and unexpected. Yet what he asked the next day brought a smile to my face. He wondered what it would take, at a bare minimum, to put together a New Orleans-style jazz funeral in a small town in Indiana.
Here’s how I advised him, more or less. I said he needed a brass band. What would be the minimal instrumentation? I’m guessing a trumpet or trombone, a tuba and drum. The players should know at least one slow sad song and one fast upbeat number. You play the dirges on the way to the cemetery and the happy songs on the way back home.
A mutual friend, who is a musician, hooked him up with some players from Indianapolis who were available at a reasonable rate. Two on percussion, one banjo, tuba, trombone and trumpet. Plus a clarinet. He described them as “a smaller, if slightly less cinematic, version of what you’ve seen on Treme.”
And what do you know? It all came together very nicely, or so I gather. The musicians arrived on time, dressed in black and looking good. I don’t know the whole playlist, but the music was reverent and mournful on the way in, and joyous and celebratory on the way out.
But of all the details my friend reported, this one stands out to me as extraordinary.
The funeral director said it was like nothing he’d ever seen and he was going to let his family know that he wants this when he dies.
Says it all.
I kept thinking of a song that I remember as Kermit Ruffins. When I Die Y’all Better Second Line.
Having grown up in Indiana and now living in NOLA, I can say that even if I’m buried back north, I’d still like a jazz funeral like that. Requiems and prayers for your friend’s mother but that’s a heck of a way to be sent off…especially in Greenfield.
I’m from Detroit and have never seen a jazz funeral in person. This morning, have no idea why, I was thinking about seeing one for the first time in The Cincinnati Kid. I was mesmerized and immediately fell in love with New Orleans. Can’t think of a better way to be sent off. So glad your friend was able to do this for his mother.