In New Orleans, it is common to see a funeral precession of jazz instruments and music. This has been a practice in the city for nearly two hundred years. While today these jazz funerals are seen more as a celebration of life, they did not begin that way. Their original intent was to confuse the spirits of the deceased and protect the living.
During the eighteenth century, yellow fever wreaked havoc on the city of New Orleans. This deadly disease infected thousands during its time in the city. During these times, it was believed that the spirits of the deceased could spread the sickness just as easily as the living. Because of this belief, the citizens of New Orleans began to attempt to confuse the spirits.
Confusing Spirits During Funerals
Once a beloved relative or friend passed away from yellow fever, their body would be placed in a coffin as usual. However, it would then be carried down a random, sometimes complex, path toward their eventual gravesite. All the while, the precession would be followed by people with noisemakers and instruments. These loud noises were meant to drive the infectious spirits away and keep the living safe from the fever.
Over the course of the following decades, the tradition of confusing the spirits evolved into jazz funerals. Now, when a jazz funeral is held, the music is a celebration of the deceased’s life rather than an attempt to scare spirits away. As is common in New Orleans, they have a rich history and beautiful traditions that make everything they do truly original, including their funerals!