The jazz funeral has recognizable African and European cultural influences. African spiritual practices, particularly those of the the Dahomeans of Benin and the Yoruba tribe of West Africa, were a foundation. These tribes guaranteed a proper burial for all its members.
When slaves were brought to America, the idea of providing a proper burial to your fellow brother or sister remained strong. Additionally, a fondness for military style brass bands in the early days of the Louisiana territory precipitated their performance at a variety of events – funerals included.
The familiar New Orleans jazz funeral of the early 20th century was also influenced by African-American Catholic and Protestant churches, black marching bands, and a Haitian tradition that one could charm the spirits who protect the dead.
The general attributes of the contemporary jazz funeral includes the march, which is usually led by family and friends, while a brass band brings follow behind. Those who follow the band just to enjoy the music are called the second line.
Most often, the band begins with funeral hymns, solemn dirges and other slow devotional music. After the burial service and members of the procession pay their final respects, the music becomes more lively, beginning with an upbeat, swinging spiritual tune and moving on to more jazzy, popular riffs.
More jubilant music and improvisational dancing follows as family, friends and onlookers converge to celebrate the life of the deceased. Twirling parasols or handkerchiefs is often a tradition at these events, and this custom is is referred to as second lining.
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