While working at Legacy.com for the past 12 years, I’ve learned more about memorialization and funerals than I ever thought I’d know. Some of my friends think it’s a morbid topic, but as I told them when I got the job 12 years ago – and still believe today – I think it’s fascinating. I love learning about the various ways we celebrate the lives of our loved ones. And one of the funeral customs that best emphasizes “celebration” is the jazz funeral.
Jazz funerals are not solely celebrations, though the image we’re familiar with may be simply a huge group of people happily dancing and playing their way down a street. There’s an element of that, but it doesn’t come first.
The band is a part of things from the beginning, but the first music they play is a solemn dirge or hymn. Band and mourners march from the funeral service location – home, church, or funeral home – to the cemetery. There’s no partying during this march – it’s as somber as the funeral service was.
After the deceased is buried, though, the tone of the ceremony changes. A loved one has been sent to the afterlife, and now family and friends celebrate what they loved about the deceased. The music becomes upbeat and the band begins to march again. Folks follow, singing, dancing, and twirling handkerchiefs or parasols. They remember happy times with their loved one – a crucial part of the grieving process.
Jazz funerals are often held for people who were musicians in life, but they’re not exclusively reserved for the musically inclined. A search of our database showed me that jazz funerals are common for folks from all walks of life. We most often see them mentioned in obituaries for people from New Orleans, but they crop up in other locations as well.
As contemporary funerals become more diverse and more unusual – we each strive to find the perfect, unique way to remember our loved one – I think it’s time for the jazz funeral’s popularity to grow. I would love to know that my friends and family mourned me and then marched down the street while happy music played, singing, dancing, twirling… and remembering me.