Have I Ever Seen A Jazz Funeral?

Have I Ever Seen A Jazz Funeral? A month or so ago I was in Natchez, Mississippi for work. In the Natchez cemetery there is a statue of an angel on one of the graves. Not so rare. But this one is a little different. As you drive past this angel it seems to turn and watch as you go by. It sounds weird but it’s like one of those paintings were the eyes follow you no matter where in the room you move.

Once a year they have a cemetery tour at night called “Angels on the Bluff.” So I scalped a ticket and got on the freezing bus $20 lighter and wished I had used the bathroom before I began. The actors tell the history of the town through a series of reenactments a various graves. It’s very interesting and informative. I would recommend taking it once if you are there but I don’t know if I would travel to see it. During the tour I found out that there are actually three angels in a row up on the cemetery bluff. But that’s not what this story is about.

It’s about jazz funerals or as they like to say in New Orleans funerals with music. The last stop of the cemetery tour was a New Orleans style funeral. This set me to thinking. Had I ever seen a jazz funeral. I had a couple of conversations with my wife about this and was reminded of one of my earliest trips to New Orleans. In those days when a kid was sick working parents through the kid into the car and went to work. My mothers work, possibly tied to the Dixie Mafia (but that is another story) required her to go to New Orleans to pick up a load of mop heads, shop towels, and rugs in her old Ford station wagon. That is how I found myself traveling south in my paisley pajamas and a fever over 100 degrees.


I would have to say yes, yes I have.


WLS Music Radio in Chicago

I’m not from Chicago and in fact have never been to Chicago. But the radio station had a profound effect on my early life and on the lives of many others as well. I grew up in a small town in Mississippi just north of New Orleans, Louisiana. The train ran regularly through our town. The last bare knuckle heavyweight fight took place just outside of our town because it was the first place a train leaving New Orleans could stop so the fight could be legally held.

What it took me years to understand was that that track connected the jazz in New Orleans with the urban blues of Chicago. Of course it took a long journey through the Mississippi delta to get there.

So here is where I change direction a bit. In the early 70’s when I was growing up radio stations were local AM. They had long range but cracked with static. Radio stations had yet to figure out how to use the much shorter range but clearer FM channels.

A older neighbor that had recently moved from the mid-west told me I might like the sound of WLS. The trick was getting the signal. First it had to be late at night and cold weather was better. That always meant staying up late and sleeping in school. You could fine tune the signal like one of radio operators in a WW II movie. This has been lost by digital tune. Now you get it or you don’t. Before there was art and magic involved.

When I would get the station tuned in it was great listening to the music but I don’t really remember the songs. What I remember is the raspy voiced female jockey talking about it being a warm 19 degrees and wondering about the world before I had a chance to see it.

This was my own special thing and I never though to much about it. I was a fair ZZ Top fan and had heard the song Jesus Just Left Chicago many time. The blues references were clear but the meaning behind the song was never clear. The one day I was flipping through the channels and say ZZ Top being interviewed. They began talking about the song and how they had each had an experience listening to WLS late at night and that shared experience was the basis for the song. It started me wondering how many other sat in the dark tuning their AM radios and looking for something more of the world..

Jesus just left Chicago and he’s bound for New Orleans.

“Longtime ZZ publicist Bob Merlis states “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” which is ZZ’s tribute to the blues.” http://www.rockandrollplanet.com/classicalbumreviews.html