It’s Mardi Gras time again. Put on your dancing shoes and grab your umbrella. This year, Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) falls on February 13. The date of Mardi Gras changes every year, because it is connected to Easter, ending 47 days before Easter when Lent starts. Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurs on or after March 21 (the vernal equinox), so it can happen anytime between March 22 and April 25.
If you are attending an event that features traditional jazz, chances are good that when songs such as “When the Saints Come Marching In,” “Bourbon Street Parade” or anything with a marching-type beat starts playing, someone in the audience will grab an umbrella and start a parasol parade. There are always parades in New Orleans, and Mardi Gras is no exception.
Second line parades started as part of funeral traditions in New Orleans but now happen almost spontaneously throughout the city. The first line of the parade is the hosts (in the case of a funeral, family members of the deceased) or a featured band. The “second line” is composed of all the people who join in along the parade route.
Many Louisiana residents carried umbrellas to protect themselves from the scorching sun and frequent rain storms and became a fashion statement in the 1840s. After the Civil War, newly-freed slaves formed marching bands and were asked to perform at jazz funerals. The jazz funerals followed the early African slave religious practice of celebrating the life of the deceased. From the church to the cemetery, the band would play a “dirge,” slow, sad funeral hymns. On the way back from the cemetery, the music vibrated with happy tunes to celebrate the release of the soul to heaven. There was often a competition to see who got sent off in the grandest style.
The “second line” carried umbrellas or waved handkerchiefs, and that practice evolved into a current Mardi Gras tradition. Blacks were prohibited from parading on the main streets of New Orleans until the 1960s, so most Whites were unfamiliar with the second line parades before that time.
The Arizona Classic Jazz Society will celebrate Mardi Gras-style on Sunday, February 18, at the Crowne Plaza San Marcos Golf Resort in Chandler from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Three bands will be performing: Cheryl Thurston’s Mardi Gras Jazz Band, Dan Reed’s Dixieland Hotshots and the Sun City Stomperz. Cost is $30.00 per person. For more information, contact Helen Daley at 480-620-3941 or www.azclassicjazz.org.