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William Edgar

Rebellious Joy

The life and legacy of Louis Armstrong.

Around three in the afternoon somewhere deep in the Crescent City the club orchestras gather, five or six of them. Someone sets a slow beat, and they start to play, "Just a Little While to Stay Here," mournfully, poignantly. They begin a slow march to the funeral music. The air in New Orleans is thick, combining scents from the gulf, plant life, products from the open-air markets, and people, many people. The bands march behind a smaller group carrying a casket, all moving solemnly toward a nearby church. A host of surviving members, all dressed in black, follow the procession. They arrive at the house of worship. There's a pause. The bands wait while a service takes place inside and the club members pay their last respects. Many friends and musicians remain outside. After a good hour the grand marshal signals with a whistle. The procession starts up again, solemnly. The casket is lifted onto a hearse. The snares punctuate the rhythm, and they all march north, toward the cemetery. Now the band plays the hymn, "Flee as a Bird," still in slow time. At the gravesite everyone gathers in silence. A few sobs can be heard. The bands pause, and then start to play, in unison, still in dirge-like time, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus." They sway gently from side to side, watching the hearse arrive at the grave. Everyone is choked up. The body is laid to rest.

And then! And then, the drums roll and set a lively pace, and the bands start playing, "O Didn't He Ramble":

His feet was in the market place . . his head was in the street
Lady pass him by, said . . look at the market meat
He grabbed her pocket book . . and said I wish you well
She pulled out a forty-five . . said I'm head of personnel.
Didn't he ramble … I said he rambled
Rambled all around … in and out of town
Didn't he ramble … oh didn't he ramble
He rambled till the butcher shot him down.

Not exactly words you ...

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