New Orleans Park Has Ear For Jazz

Many national parks have myths, legends and tall tales. At the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park, the true legends are the musicians. Drummer Benny Jones, leader of the Treme Brass Band, and park ranger Bruce Barnes tell the story of the music.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Men and women who work throughout the park system consider it their mission to protect all kinds of national resources. And some of those treasures aren't found in the wilderness. On a busy street in New Orleans tucked between some tourist shops, you'll find ranger Bruce Barnes of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park.

Mr. BRUCE BARNES (Ranger, New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park): People come and they ask, well, where is the park? They want to know where the expansive land is, they want to see the arrowhead and the buffalo and things like that. But the music is from the city - Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Benny Jones, the most important people in this city. There's nothing really that gets in large (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BENNY JONES SR. (Leader, Treme Brass Band): My name is Benny Jones Sr. I'm the leader of the Treme Brass Band, founder of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and I also perform with (unintelligible) Brass Brand. I was…

Mr. BARNES: Benny Jones is one of the great traditional musicians here, snare drummer. He's one of my mentors also. Just the hundreds of jazz funerals that he has played, he's one of the people - with his band, the Treme Brass Band - that has kept the tradition alive.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BARNES: We, also, are both members of the Social Aid and Pleasure Club called the Black Men of Labor; he's one of the founding members. One of many things that we do is we afford traditional New Orleans jazz funerals.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JONES: In a jazz funeral, you're putting hymns and (unintelligible), all of your (unintelligible) hymns and (unintelligible) there.

Mr. BARNES: They might take the casket, raise it in the air, and they'll salute it to the four directions, they'll start rolling down the street. Now, after they say the final words, what they call cutting the body loose, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and they slide that casket into the tomb.

Mr. JONES: Then, you (unintelligible) and then you do a little single line back to your (unintelligible). When you saw that, that was (unintelligible) Jackson Square.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BARNES: This jolts you into reality and makes you quickly realize that you're still here, that life is to be loved and enjoyed while you can because you…

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BARNES: One of the most beautiful things you can ever see is to see people come out and dance and celebrate life. From the time when a child is born he's (unintelligible) to go out, you know, that's what it's all about.

(Soundbite of song "When The Saints Go Marching In")

Mr. JONES: People are always going, always dying, and people always have a jazz funeral - always.

Mr. BARNES: But common sense will tell you that if you don't pass it on and if you don't create opportunities to have it passed on, then it's going to die.

(Soundbite cheers and applause)

NORRIS: Bruce Barnes is a ranger at the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. Benny Jones is the leader of the Treme Brass Band. The story was produced by NPR's Amy Walters.

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