When we arrived in the 3200 block of Burgundy Street, right in the heart of the Bywater neighborhood that was so loved by the influential musician Hart McNee, we were immediately handed buttons that read, â€œI (heart) Hart.â€ They could have read â€œI Hart (heart),â€ since the feelings and sentiments that surrounded the people who had gathered to pay tribute to the deceased musician were all about love. Friends and family, some in costume, turned out, some with babies in tow, including photographer Jenny Bagert. Her 6-week old sonâ€™s middle name is Hart.
White boy second lines, as I affectionately call these gatherings, can be dubious on both musical and spiritual levels. While clearly emulating the age-old traditions of black New Orleans, they often go awry losing focus on the deceased or ignoring the rituals. So it was fitting that the parade featured two bands- the Storyville Stompers in all of their traditional glory- and the Bywater Brass Band, a musically less staid ensemble loaded with McNeeâ€™s musical compatriots from the tight knit downtown scene.
Alex McMurray, Davis Rogan and Dave Sobel, McNeeâ€™s collaborator on record, wielded bass drums. Sousaphonist Matt Perrine directed the band with his usual effervescent panache- signaling changes and directly solos.Â Carlo Nuccio played snare drum along with Hart’s son, Felix. Â The music was solid, frenetic and bordering at times on cacophony- but this was no amateur band just blowing because they could. Some of the instrumentalists included saxophonists Robert Wagner, Martin Krusche, and Dan Oestreicher. Rick Trolsen played trombone and Ian Smith and A.J. Pittman were on trumpets.Â Janna Sanslaw had her tiny picolo flute. Washboard Chaz sported his eponymous instrument. Matt Rhody, better known as the violinist with the Hot Club of New Orleans and other bands, played a trumpet. The whole ensemble played Hartâ€™s style of music- heartfelt, pardon the pun, with rhythmic intensity.
The Bywater Brass Band played in the street before the procession got under way. Then the Storyville Stompers took over playing the hymns and dirges that are the traditional sounds associated with jazz funerals. A couple of giant photos of McNee led the way along with Grand Marshall Henry â€œRedâ€ Griffin. A gap opened between the two bands and the parade followers gracefully moved between the two divisions as the spirit and music moved them.
At one point, a true New Orleans musical moment culminated the early part of the parade. The Bywater band fell silent, the two distinct ensembles connected by the spirit of the moment. The followers crowded around the traditional jazz musicians as they formed a semi-circle in the street and the sweet clarinet of Bruce Brachman led the group though the saddest and most spiritual of all the dirges- â€œJust a Closer Walk With Thee.â€ A lone bearded and shirtless man watched from his dilapidated balcony with concentrated reverence. Then it was time to jump- the sadness dissipating into the joy of the parade and the camaraderie of friends and family.
By the time the parade reached Frenchmen Street, euphoria ruled the atmosphere. The bands merged as musicians fell in and out of the procession. Parasols twirled, dancers spun and more than one person buck jumped with all the intensity they could muster. Then, everyone that could crowded into D.B.A. for a coda that could only happen on the streets of New Orleans.