BOB ABERNETHY: Now, the jazz funerals of New Orleans. They go back to the beginning of the 20th century, and dozens of them are still held every year. In most cases, they are the funerals of musicians, or members of what are called social and pleasure clubs. New Orleans is known as "The Big Easy," but -- as Jason Berry reports -- its jazz funerals are powerful spiritual celebrations of both life and death.
JASON BERRY: When a musician dies, the community gathers to say farewell, a cutting loose of the soul from earthly ties. The ceremony begins at the wake, inside the funeral home.
Jazz funerals are a heartbeat of New Orleans. The origins [of this] tradition lie in the colonial era, as French brass bands played in large processions honoring generals and politicians. At the same time, in a public park called Congo Square, African slaves gathered in large concentric circles, ring dances, honoring ancestral spirits. Gradually the two traditions came together -- the line and the ring -- creating a new form of burial ceremony, and with it, a new music called jazz.
MICHAEL WHITE (Musician): People come to jazz funerals in New Orleans because it's part of the spiritual celebration. We celebrate and laugh at life. We celebrate and laugh at death. We dance at the occasion. We're happy because you're going to a better reward. We're sad because you're not here anymore. We're sad because we're going to miss you. We're happy because you're going to a better place, permanently.