This is an open-ended blog ranging from news about my latest gigs and publications
to ruminations about politics, world affairs, culture and whatever piques my interest—or ire.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


We said farewell to drummer Bunchy Johnson this morning, New Orleans style. The place was Trinity Episcopal Church in Jackson Avenue--traditionally the church of the city's old-line, Garden District establishment. Having grown up in this church, I can safely say it has never seen a service quite like this one. The congregation—African-American in its majority, but including Bunchy's friends, admirers and fellow musicians across the board—was on its feet much of the time, clapping their hands, singing along with the hymns, and applauding the music provided by such local legends as Deacon John, Dave Bartholomew, the Dixie Cups and Joe Saulsbury, and Wendell Brunious.

Family members took turns reading some of Bunchy's favorite passages, a delegation from Saint Augustine High School, Bunchy's alma mater, shared some reminiscences of him and presented his family with a commemorative plaque. Trinity's assistant rector pronounced a heartfelt eulogy.

But the emotional highlight came when Bunchy's elderly father, Charles E. Johnson, Sr., stepped up to the pulpit in his black suit and yellow tie to thank the large crowd that had turned out to say farewell to Bunchy. "I can see my son looking down at us smiling," he said, "giving me that high-five, saying, 'Everything's goin' fine,' and I say, 'Son, back at you! Everything's going good.'" Johnson's voice trembled over the last words as he raised his hand in a high-five gesture, and the crowd burst into applause. Bunchy would have been proud of his dad. (A few months ago, he begged off a gig I offered him saying, "It's my dad's birthday, and I gotta be there for him. He's gettin' up there and I don't know how many more he's going to have." Thing is, none of us ever know.)

Once the flower-covered casket was carried down the steps and placed into the hearse, the Tremé brass band, dressed in their proud black uniforms, played "What a Friend We Have in Jesus," followed by "Just A Little While to Stay Here." The band marched ahead of the slowly advancing hearse for two blocks, until it turned on Prytania and headed on to the cemetery. Once the body was "cut loose," as we say here, the band played raucous versions of "Fly Away" and "The Saints." Here on the edge of the Garden District, the second line was not exactly the get-down crowd you get in the back-o-town neighborhoods, but three grand marshals in full regalia danced and writhed enough to get everybody's spirits moving.

Having just seen advance review DVDs of the first three episodes of the upcoming HBO series, "Tremé," I could not help thinking that this was the real thing that the TV version was mimicking in fictional form, down to and including the dirges performed by the Tremé Brass Band. The main difference was the ironic fact that Bunchy Johnson was playing in the brass band in the opening episode's funeral sequence. Today, Bunchy was in the casket.

This is for Bunchy:

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