The Jazz Crawl for Charity is a memorable experience for the whole family, but it is also a history lesson in disguise.
Do you know what a New Orleans Second Line is? This is the first question I ask someone when I’m explaining the Jazz Crawl for the first time. Most adults in America have probably been exposed to the New Orleans brass parades festively dancing in the streets with parasols and handkerchiefs waving, but it seems as if no one outside the gulf region knows what it’s called or what it signifies. That is where the Jazz Crawl for Charity comes in. In addition to being an epic party and charity donation, the Jazz Crawl is a cultural exchange event. Local artists engage in performances and presentations alongside New Orleans artists to present the evolution of the Second Line tradition, and the history of how the first styles of American music and dance were created in New Orleans. You’ll learn about Congo Square’s impact on the evolution of American music, the tradition and history behind the Jazz Funeral, and how the Second Line culture and sound is continuing to evolve through social aid and pleasure clubs and high school music programs.
The history of Congo Square is presented at the Jazz Crawl through African drums and a demonstration of Mardi Gras Indian chanting and dancing.
The roots of American music can be traced back to the late 18th Century with the tribal like gatherings that took place at Congo Square in Spanish-controlled New Orleans. What separated New Orleans from the British colonies was the more laid-back attitude of the French and Spanish in terms of how slaves were treated. The Spanish and Catholics didn’t concern themselves with the ‘African’ aspects of slave life and culture that their slaves kept, whereas the Protestant British settlers forbid African-based music, song, and dance and forced their slaves to practice Christianity. Respecting Sunday as “a day of rest”, the Spanish gave their slaves the day off and allowed them to socialize at a gathering point called Congo Square. They would bring drums, bells, and other instruments to entertain themselves with tribal music, songs, and dance. Once a week they could be Africans again through their celebrations at Congo Square. Mardi Gras Indian tribes of today still honor this tradition through their individual ‘Second Line Sunday’ parades and the annual ‘Super Sunday’ parade that brings all the tribes together for the biggest Second Line celebration of the year. Music historians regularly argue the significance of Congo Square’s role in the evolution of Jazz, but there is no denying that it kept African music, rhythm, and dance alive in New Orleans.
To reflect the Second Line roots as part of a Jazz Funeral, a Gospel Choir sings a dirge in remembrance of those that were honored with the tribute of memorial donations.
The earliest form of a New Orleans Second Line took place as a celebration of life in a Jazz Funeral. Following the church service a brass band leads everyone from the chapel to the cemetery with horns blowing and drums beating. The band, the casket, and family members of the deceased make up what is called the ‘first line’, whereas everyone else that follows in respect is referred to as the ‘second line’. At first the music is slow and somber to pay respect and mourn the loss of life, but then it picks up with an energetic spirit that allows people to put their grief and sadness aside for a moment to celebrate the life that was lived with a parade of singing and dancing. The slow part in the beginning of a Jazz Funeral Second Line is known as the ‘dirge’. It is more specifically defined as a somber song expressing mourning or grief, typically associated with a funeral or memorial rites. Without traditions like a Jazz Funeral it can be hard to joyfully celebrate the life of someone when the pain of losing them is so fresh. This is the inspiration behind the ‘Memorial Donations’ that we offer. sung by a gospel choir at the event. The Memorial Donation options give people the opportunity to honor the name and memory of loved ones through the Jazz Crawl for Charity, as a memorial dirge is sung by a gospel choir to recognize the names and memories of those that were honored with a tribute. Some of the donation options carry on the tribute to our loved ones past the Jazz Crawl by having their names engraved on one of the instruments we donate to well deserving music students.
SOCIAL AID & PLEASURE CLUB
The modern era of Second Lining is highlighted by the fancy footwork of the Grand Marshal and the decorated suits, parasols, feathered fans, and banners that lead the parade.
The sea level of New Orleans makes it difficult and expensive to bury the dead, especially 300 years ago. Organizations known as “benevolent societies” made it possible for people in the neighborhood to have proper funerals. Families would pay monthly dues, and once someone died the benevolent societies would organize the band and burial for a proper Jazz Funeral service. Over time, and in response to the rise of insurance companies, benevolent societies evolved into “Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs” that didn’t limit their parades to funerals. These clubs fostered a sense of unity in the African-American communities through charity works and festive social events. They would schedule Second Line parades for club members to show off their best clothes and dance moves as they follow the brass band from block to block in the neighborhood. Today, the S&P Clubs carry the torch in preserving the festive traditions of New Orleans Second Line culture. The vibrantly hand crafted and matching suits, parasols, and feathered fans, and the fancy footwork that you see from the Grand Marshals and members of the club leading the parade all represent the purest form of modern ‘second lining’. With the help of sponsors, we hope to start showcasing talented local dancers and dancers from the S&P clubs from New Orleans to lead the parade as dual Grand Marshals.
HIGH SCHOOL BRASS BANDS
The most impactful cultural exchange element of the Jazz Crawl is the sponsorship of a local high school brass band and a New Orleans high school brass band to lead the parade together.
A primary mission of the NOLA Kid at Heart Foundation and the Jazz Crawl is to preserve the tradition of the Second Line and put instruments in the hands of aspiring young musicians. In the late 1960s the style of traditional New Orleans brass music was sort of dying off. At that time, it was completely influenced by the hymns and songs of traditional Jazz Funerals so it wasn’t grabbing any interest from young people in New Orleans. That all changed when Danny Barker started the Fairview Baptist Church Marching Band in 1970. The Fairview Baptist Brass Band unconventionally included young children as members. Exposing the kids of New Orleans to brass music with a chance to play at such a young age is what spawned the type of New Orleans brass music you hear today. Fairview paved the way for bands like the ‘Dirty Dozen Brass Band’ and ‘Rebirth Brass Band’ to evolve brass music by interjecting revitalizing modern sounds into the traditional structure of music they learned at a young age. To follow the lead of Danny Barker we are working with educators and organizations in New Orleans to implement a New Orleans brass and second line curriculum in local music schools. With the help of sponsors these kids will be outfitted to lead the Jazz Crawl parade along with the pros. We are also looking for travel and hospitality sponsors to help us include young brass bands from New Orleans to soak up the limelight in a new city to complete the cultural exchange for the youths involved.