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May 25, 2014 / robinswood

In Memoriam | Jazz Elegies

I’ve been thinking and reading a good deal about funerals lately; something of an “occupational hazard” for a parish priest. Thing is this reading has been rather life giving, as it has been based in the writings of the poet and undertaker Thomas Lynch. First up was Lynch’s collection of essays, The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade, and then the more recent The Good Funeral which he co-authored with the theologian Thomas Long.

Mingus_Ah_Um_-_Charles_MingusAnd then just today notice arrived in my email that David Brent Johnson had put together a really nice NPR jazz post called In Memoriam: Jazz ElegiesJohnson offers his list of five great musical elegies composed in memory of jazz people who had died. Included in his list is a piece that ranks as one of my favourite jazz compositions of all time, Charles Mingus’s “Good Bye Pork Pie Hat,” offered in memory of Lester Young. It is a piece that expresses a remarkable kind of melancholy, that is at once mournful and lovely. You just can’t do any better than this.

Johnson’s list also includes “I Remember Clifford” by Dizzy Gillespie, “He Loved Him Madly” by Miles Davis, “Cannon Ball” by Weather Report, and “The Summary” by Hank Jones, respectively composed in memory of Clifford Brown, Duke Ellington, Cannonball Adderley, and Louis Armstrong. You can listen to all five songs in a streaming format on Johnson’s post.


Were I to add one more to this list, it would have to be “Funeral Dirge” from Terence Blanchard’s extraordinary record A Tale of God’s Will. Composed as an elegy for New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, “Funeral Dirge” sends shivers up my spine every time I listen to it. That has much to do with the context in which I first listened to the Blanchard record, which is detailed in a piece published several years back in the Anglican Journal.



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