The Second Line: A (Re)Conceptualization of the New Orleans Brass Band Tradition
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The Second Line: A (Re)Conceptualization of the New Orleans Brass Band Tradition

  • Advisor(s): Keyes, Cheryl L.
  • et al.

In New Orleans, Louisiana, nearly every occasion is marked with a celebratory parade, most famously the Mardi Gras processions that seemingly take over the city during Carnival Time. But throughout the year, there are jazz funerals and parades known as "second lines" that fill the Backatown neighborhoods of New Orleans, with the jubilant sounds of brass band music. These peripatetic parades and their accompanying brass bands have become symbolic of New Orleans and its association with social norm-breaking and hedonistic behavior. The second line constitutes cultural practice and group identification for practitioners serving as a site for spiritual practice and renewal. In Los Angeles, California, practitioners are transposing the second line, out of which comes new modes of expression, identities, meanings, and theology. Drawing from nearly seven years of ethnomusicological fieldwork and archival research in two vastly different urban landscapes, this dissertation explores the brass band milieu and its central ritual, the second line, through an examination of the communities that sustain them in New Orleans and Los Angeles. This dissertation argues that the second line is a deeply rooted, multi-faceted, and community-based tradition, from which practitioners gain strength, healing, and spiritual renewal that transcends the mundane and crosses the boundaries of time, space, culture, and domain. The brass band is largely lacking in jazz scholarship. This dissertation represents a critique of the existing literature that perpetuates European hegemony, obfuscates the presence and importance of non-Europeans within jazz, discounts the collective beliefs of New Orleans community members in favor of data-driven research, and fails to recognize brass band as a living, continuing jazz tradition. Because the brass band is so firmly rooted in the visual, sonic, and narrative stereotypes of amateurism, essentialized notions, and poverty, I utilize filmmaking throughout my dissertation as an integral component and sensorial mode of inquiry as a means to construct new visual and sensory ways of knowing second line culture.

Supplemental Files:

1. My Brother's Keeper

My Brother's Keeper is a short film that conveys how culture is lived by those who live it. In My Brother's Keeper, I explore the embodied practices of group dynamics and behavior within the ritual of the second line and how musicians build meaningful relationships through the social practices of musicking in New Orleans.

2. Can't Take Our Spirit

Can't Take Our Spirit is a short film study that reveals the embodied practices of brass band musicians and members of voluntary associations in LA that provide the settings for social interactions through ritual and music for Southern Louisiana migrant and affinity communities.

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