Many of us – my family and yours – are confined to our homes, the most familiar places in the world to us, yet together we occupy strange new terrain. It is hard to keep fear at bay, easy to slump. And in my grief over what has been lost – compounded in the US by a corrupt and feckless administration – I’ve been thinking about jazz funerals, the New Orleans tradition of sending off the beloved. Brass bands play alongside mourners, marching slowly through the streets until the rolling solemnity of a dirge – a goodbye of great dignity – curls like a wave and breaks. A new song begins: spirited, rousing, joyful. The music swings, the people dance. A whole community joins the afflicted to celebrate life.
One of my own losses this year is Jazzfest, the New Orleans festival I’ve gone to nearly every year of my life, and so I’m recreating some of my favorite lineups at home. Today’s playlist:
Get You A Healin’ with Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas, and Tommy Malone
Big Sam’s Funky Nation playing Who’s Gonna Help Brother Get Further
Do Whatcha Wanna by Rebirth Brass Band
Hey Pocky Way from The Meters
Hey Hey by the Wild Tchoupitoulas
Davell Crawford singing Gather By The River
Trombone Shorty’s cover of On Your Way Back Down
Dr John’s Good Night, Irene
Lowell George singing What Do You Want the Girl To Do
When the Mardi Gras is Over by Marcia Ball
Brother John / Iko Iko by the Neville Brothers
When the Saints Go Marchin’ In by Preservation Hall Jazz Band
Fortunate Son by the New Orleans Social Club, a super-group featuring Henry Butler, George Porter Jr, Leo Nocentelli, Raymond Weber, and Ivan Neville
Irma Thomas’s gospel treasure, Hold to God’s Unchanging Hand
We Are the People by Allen Toussaint
Going Back to Louisiana by Davell Crawford and Dr John
Every one of these songs seems to mean something more in this moment. There are the voices of those we have lost – Allen Toussaint, Charles Neville, Art Neville, Henry Butler, Lowell George, and Dr John – still able to sustain us. There is the searing anger in Ivan Neville’s cover of Fortunate Son about what the poor suffer in times of crisis. There is the reminder of what distancing might mean for those who make a living playing to audiences. There is the joy of collaboration, the call for healing, the momentum of music that gets people moving, urging us forward too.
And what a beautiful hope, to gather by a river. May it come true for all my friends in New Orleans, whose culture of community and open-hearted welcome have put their people at risk… May it come true for us all.
Nalini Jones is the author of What You Call Winter.
Read the other articles in the Art of Solitude series here.