New Orleans Jazz Funeral Tradition remodelled using Serialism

George Berry after returning home during the Second World War, seen here after the Desert Campaign before going to the Normandy beaches.
George Berry after returning home during the Second World War, seen here after the Desert Campaign before going to the Normandy beaches.

It was not long after my father died and the box of his ashes lay in the upstairs room at mother’s house, I discovered a vinyl with a collection New Orleans funeral and parade music. At the time I was playing in trombone in the horn section combo called the Hard Cash Horns. My dad was a lover of jazz and big band music, I thought about making my own fitting discordant tribute for such a sombre occasion so started work on writing a saxophone and brass quartet using the serial technique.

The Hard Cash Horns - George Platts, Dave Smith, Vic Berry
The Hard Cash Horns – (Left to Right) George Platts, Dave Smith, Vic Berry

I finished the score in 1983 and persuaded the Hard Cash Horns to give it a run through which was a big ask since some of the horn plays were musicians that played by ear and not confident at sight reading the dots. It was a brave attempt at serial music that is invariably difficult to play have lots of accidentals to contend with. This was the only time the music was ever attempted until now.

Photo of the original notebooks and manuscripts showing the serial note rows used
Original notebooks and manuscripts showing the serial note rows used

A series of coincidences have happened recently; I discovered my old manuscripts and notebooks that travelled around with me during the time I was composing the funeral pieces. I had rediscovered the pleasure of playing trombone once again and started to get my embouchure back in shape. The first grandchild was born, and I had reached the same age as my father when he died. I was thankful that I had the opportunity see my children become adults and hold the granddaughter in my arms. This is something my father did not get to enjoy himself.

I have arranged the third movement of the collection of funeral pieces for 4 trombones recording the individual parts myself and put them together for the first time since the 1980s.The third movement is a choral being the most sombre of collection intend for the lowering of the coffin in the grave.

Procession 1983, Movement III, by Vic Berry. Arranged for trombones and performed and recorded by Vic Berry 2021.

Today in 2021 it is truly wonderful to have easy access to digital recording facilities and be able to using simple free applications to produce reasonable results so quickly with just a desktop computer and a decent microphone.

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