Copyright ©2007 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

The first week of the new year has not been a good one in New Orleans. In a wave of unrelated crimes, at least eight people were killed. Yesterday's headline in the Times-Picayune newspaper put it bluntly: Killings Bring City to Its Bloodied Knees.

The police chief and mayor promise a response and say imposing a curfew is likely to be part of the plan. Today, musicians from the city's popular Hot 8 Brass Band said a final good-bye to their drummer who was murdered last week.

Matt Sakakeeny reports.

MATT SAKAKEENY: When Spike Lee featured the Hot 8 Brass Band in his documentary "When the Levees Broke" a new legion of fans caught onto the band's mix of traditional marching music, hip-hop and R&B.

(Soundbite of music)

SAKAKEENY: In New Orleans, the Hot 8 also provides music for traditional jazz funerals, leading a procession through the streets to the grave.

(Soundbite of music)

SAKAKEENY: This weekend, the band faced the difficult task of performing a funeral for their own drummer, Dinerral Shavers. Band leader Bennie Pete described playing the dirge, or mournful hymn, that marks the beginning of the procession.

Mr. BENNIE PETE (Band leader, Hot 8 Brass Band): You know we feel in that dirge, we express in that dirge to the dead. We feel in our mind he could see this some kind of way, but if he can't, we don't know. But if he could, he going to see that I brung my best for him on this morning, this day.

SAKAKEENY: This isn't the first time the Hot 8 has played a jazz funeral for one of its own. In 10 years, three members have been killed. Seventeen-year-old trumpeter Jacob Johnson was shot execution style in his own home. Twenty-three-year-old trombonist Joseph Williams was shot multiple times by New Orleans police officers.

And a week and a half ago, police say 25-year-old Dinerral Shavers took a bullet intended for his 15-year-old stepson. According to trombonist Jerome Jones, the Hot 8 personifies the difficulties the city and its residents face. Local economy depends on tourism and tourism depends on New Orleans musicians.

Mr. JEROME JONES (Trombone, Hot 8 Brass Band): The small picture with Dinerral's situation is that a boy killed him. But the big picture is the situation that go on everyday. That's the big picture.

SAKAKEENY: Last year there were 161 murders in New Orleans, a rate several times higher than the national average. Just this week, there were six murders in a single day.

Fred Johnson, an outreach specialist at the neighborhood development foundation, says violence on the street can't be separated from the failure of government leaders to provide opportunities for black youth.

Mr. FRED JOHNSON (Outreach Specialist): Poverty itself, is violence. When you fail to educate people and you fail to put them in a position whereby they have a meaningful job with meaningful benefits, you are now adding another recipe into the pot of poverty which spills over into violence.

SAKAKEENY: Johnson says brass band musicians are positive role models for young people in New Orleans. In songs like "Get Up," Shavers called for an end to the violence that would claim his own life.

(Soundbite of Hot 8 Brass Band's "Get Up")

HOT 8 Brass Band: Because somebody might get hurt (unintelligible) shirt. Be right, be right, all night. Everybody in sight get down. Shake that out of the drum. Come on, come on, come on. Get up.

SAKAKEENY: After long nights playing with the Hot 8, Shavers woke up early to teach French and lead the marching band at Rabouin High School. Rabouin band members Desmond Bell and Quincy Bridges struggle to understand how their teacher could be struck down by one of their peers.

Mr. DESMOND BELL (Student): They say when we out there in that world, then you live by a gun, you die by a gun - but this person ain't lived by the gun.

Mr. QUINCY BRIDGES (Student): So he shouldn't have died by the gun since he didn't live by it.

(Soundbite of music)

SAKAKEENY: As he prepared to bury yet another band member, Bennie Pete asked city leaders, who rely on musicians to project positive images of New Orleans, to place more value in their lives and livelihoods.

Mr. PETE: We supposed to be the Hot 8. We represented this city on a big old documentary with Spike Lee. We represent this city every time we go to France, Germany and wherever we go.

SAKAKEENY: In a jazz funeral, the mournful dirge is followed by an upbeat spiritual, signifying the joy the dead brought to the living and the will to persevere without them.

(Soundbite of music)

SAKAKEENY: Hot 8 trombonist Jerome Jones.

Mr. JONES: We a band that pray. We're a band that stick together. We're a band of brotherhood. What we try to do is enjoy the time we do have together. Do we sound like a bunch of thugs?

SAKAKEENY: Members of the Hot 8 say their committed to New Orleans but are frustrated with what they're seeing at home, and are even discussing a temporary move-away.

For NPR News, I'm Matt Sakakeeny in New Orleans.

(Soundbite of Hot 8 Brass Band)

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.