Tag Archives: New Orleans funeral



In New Orleans, traditionally, the band plays a mournful hymn on the way to the cemetery, FLEE AS A BIRD TO THE MOUNTAIN, and once the dear departed is buried, the band swings out OH, DIDN’T HE RAMBLE — because the troubles of this life are over.

We will miss Sir Charles Thompson, who died on June 16, but rather than write more mournful words, as I did here about twelve hours ago, I present an alternative.

I think of one of my favorite pieces of literature, William Maxwell’s “The old man at the railroad crossing,” which is also the title of his collection of improvisations — this one about that same friendly but cryptic figure, who says just one word to each person he meets.  That word is my title for this post.

One way of rejoicing is to celebrate the person who has moved our of our temporal realm by evoking him in the art that (s)he did so beautifully.  No finer example than this:

Ray Skjelbred, piano; Marc Caparone, cornet; Beau Sample, string bass; Hal Smith, drums — recorded at the San Diego Jazz Fest on November 28, 2014. These four musicians deeply understand who Sir Charles is and what he did so generously for decades — lifting our hearts.

To me, it sometimes seems that we have only two choices in life: weeping or swinging.  I leave it to you.

May your happiness increase!

MARTY NAPOLEON (1921-2015)

Pianist, singer, composer Marty Napoleon “made the transition” from this earthly world to another one on Monday night, April 27.  His dear friend Geri Goldman Reichgut told me that on his last night on the planet he ate some dessert and listened to music: the signs of what my Irish friends call “a beautiful death.”

I can’t find it in my heart to be too mournful about Marty’s moving out of this earthly realm.  It seems to me that the New Orleanians have the right idea: cry a little at the birth, because that spirit taking corporeal form might have some bumps in this life, and rejoice at the death, because the spirit is free — to ramble the cosmos in the company of other spirits.

I was in conversation with the wonderful pianist Mike Lipskin last night — we sat on a bench in Greenwich Village and lamented that fewer people are playing particular kinds of the music we both love . . . and we both envisioned a future where it might not even be performed.  But I said fervently, “The MUSIC will always be here,” and I believe that.

It is true in Marty’s case as well.  And as a tribute to the man and his spirit, I offer some tangible immortal evidence here and here.

And a closing story.  One of my heroes is the writer William Maxwell, also no longer around in his earthly shape.  Late in his life, he began taking piano lessons and working his way through some simple classical pieces.  I think this gave him great pleasure but was also frustrating — in the way making music is even more difficult for those who have spent their lives appreciating the superb performances of others.  In his final year, a dear friend said to him, “Bill, in the life to come you will be able to play the piano with ease, won’t you?”  And he replied, “In the next life I will not be making music.  I will be music.”

And he is.  As is Marty.

May your happiness increase.


Somewhere I read that the same facial muscles are used when we laugh and when we weep.  Both sets of muscles got a workout while I listened to the debut CD of the Stockholm Stompers, CEASE FROM YOUR SORROW AND CRYING.

Stockholm Stompers

Here’s what I mean:

As you can instantly see and hear, the Stompers approach different kinds of musical material with deep feeling and energy. Their uptempo romps are raucous but expert (it takes great accuracy to appear so unrestrained and not fall over the edge into musical chaos). They bring to mind the small hot groups of 1936 on Fifty-Second Street, the Washboard Rhythm Kings, as well as an occasional echo of Spike Jones’ hot outchoruses. The listener never misses a cornet or a piano because the Stompers’ sound is both original and full. (And for those of you who take first impressions seriously or too seriously, please don’t be put off by the period attire or that some of the repertoire has been played a great deal: the Stompers are anything but formulaic. They really know the music.)

I knew about the Stompers because I’ve had the good fortune to meet and hear the brilliant guitarist / banjoist Jacob Ullberger both on disc and in person at the Whitley Bay Classic Jazz Party, and he is responsible for a beautiful tenor guitar solo on Kärleksvals — a sweet musing interlude. Equally intriguing is the trio of soprano saxophone, guitar, and string bass on Watching Dreams Go By (Solitariness) — a delightful easily-swinging small classic. But my favorite performance on this disc opens and closes it — a somber, mournful offering of FLEE AS A BIRD (from whence the disc takes its title) — the first half of the traditional New Orleans funeral ritual. You’ll have to hear it in full to get its deep emotional impact, but it is very moving music.

Visit here to buy the CD or to find out more about the band. And their YouTube channel is here if you’d like to see other videos of them performing live.

The songs are: Flee as a Bird / The Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me / When I Get Low I Get High / The Call of the Freaks / There’ll Be Some Changes Made / Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? / Limehouse Blues / New Orleans Bump / I Lost My Gal from Memphis / Watching Dreams Go By (Solitariness) / Billy Goat Stomp / I’m a Long Gone Daddy / Old Man Mose Is Dead / Kärleksvals / Who Stole the Lock on the Hen House Door? / Makin’ Whoopee / Lover, Come Back to Me / Postludium (Flee as a Bird).

And the participants: Ulf Dreber – soprano saxophone, vocal; Nikolas Viisanen – trombone; Jacob Ullberger – guitar, tenor banjo, tenor guitar, six-string banjo, clarinet, vocal; Alf Sjöblom — bass, tuba; Martin Ljungberg – washboard, bass drum, vocal, tenor horn, tenor banjo.

Candid music: hot, occasionally wild, and deeply felt.

May your happiness increase!