Subscribe today to support our mission and contributors. A color reproduction of a photograph by Syndey Byrd of a second line parade. N ew Orleans is a city of parades, most famously the Mardi Gras processions that roll down the wide boulevards of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street during Carnival season, but in all the seasons and in every neighborhood there are jazz funerals and parades known as second lines that fill the backstreets with a joyful noise. On Sunday afternoons from September through May, African American forms of music, dance, and dress are put on display in parades that have become symbolic of New Orleans and its association with festivity and pleasure. The upbeat tone of second line parades originates in the distinctive local tradition of jazz funerals. Though funerals would seem an unlikely source for such a festive tradition, the jazz funeral celebrates life at the moment of death—a concept common among many cultures until the twentieth century. In , architect Benjamin Latrobe witnessed a continuance of this tradition at a black funeral in New Orleans.
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A jazz funeral is a funeral procession accompanied by a brass band, in the tradition of New Orleans , Louisiana. The term "jazz funeral" was long in use by observers from elsewhere, but was generally disdained as inappropriate by most New Orleans musicians and practitioners of the tradition. The preferred description was "funeral with music"; while jazz was part of the music played, it was not the primary focus of the ceremony. The tradition blends strong European and African cultural influences. Louisiana's colonial past gave it a tradition of military style brass bands which were called on for many occasions, including playing funeral processions. Jazz funerals are also heavily influenced by early twentieth century African American Protestant and Catholic churches, black brass bands, and the idea of celebrating after death in order to please the spirits who protect the dead.