Friday, June 13, 2008

2007 New Orleans brass band funeral for Kerwin James

Below is some YouTube footage of a New Orleans brass band funeral for musician Kerwin James, who played for the New Birth Brass Band:

"Noted tuba player Kerwin James, member of the New Birth Brass Band and younger brother to Philip and Keith Frazier of the Rebirth Brass Band, died Friday in a Houston hospital. James, 35, had been in a coma since the summer of 2006, when he suffered a stroke during a performance.

James, a native of the Treme neighborhood in New Orleans, was known for his dedication and devotion to the city after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. Considered by bandleader Joe Torregano as “the heir to the throne of the late, great Anthony ‘Tuba Fats’ Lacen,” James was also known for his impressive performances at local events such as the French Quarter Festival.

Yet after a show last year, James suffered a stroke that left him paralyzed and, on Friday, caused complications that led to his death. A parade in James’ honor was spontaneously held on St. Phillip Street in New Orleans when the community heard of his death, but authorities broke up the event and two musicians, snare drummer Derrick Tabb and trombonist/singer Glen David Andrews, were arrested for disturbing the peace."

Typically the early music at a jazz funeral consists of slow dirges before later switching to up-tempo jazz. Here, though, instead of a dirge there is a soulful 6/8 lilt to the band's version of the hymn "Just a Closer Walk with Thee," a staple of the jazz funeral repertoire (though often played as a dirge). The band is huge and wailing for one of their own. It's the most powerful version of this hymn I have ever heard. Near the end, they move the coffin around in time so the deceased can step with the band one last time. Beautiful. Bless him and bless New Orleans.

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