For the Yoruba in Nigeria, funerals are week-long affairs, intended as a celebratory send- off as the deceased transition from one form of existence to another. The fourth day is a “day of play” called Irenoku, meaning literally “playing on the deceased’s behalf,” and is preceded and followed by various other forms of celebration, from feasting to dancing. That tradition is one of several influences behind the “jazz funerals” of New Orleans, a city made famous in part by its inhabitants’ unparalleled ability to throw a good party. A typical jazz funeral begins with a march by family, friends, and a brass band, and typically starts with a somber tone. Once the burial is complete and final goodbyes are said, however, the music hits a different note. Hymns are replaced with upbeat tunes and popular hits, and participants are invited to dance their hearts out, in an act that’s part-cathartic and part-chance to celebrate the life of the deceased.
When was the last time you lost yourself to music?
I’ve been playing music since I was a little kid. I started singing into a turkey baster when I could barely walk, and then moved to the piano at around seven years old. Music has been with me ever since, and has culminated in the completion of my first EP. Every song, guitar string, and saxophone blow has been as result of my mom’s dedication.
My mom wasn’t exactly a musical connoisseur, and I barely remember her ever introducing me to good music, but that didn’t stop her from encouraging me to pursue my passion. She bought
me my first piano and saxophone, and made sure I stuck with my practice. At every recital, audition, and performance, she was right in front doing what moms do— embarrassing me mostly, but cheering me on nonetheless.
When my mom met my stepdad, he jumped on the Kevin music wagon just as intensely as my mother did. So many great nights were spent at home, me strumming on my guitar and my stepdad clogging away. He was Irish after all, and I guess the music spoke to him, even if I was playing rock music and not an Irish jingle.
When I lost my mom and stepdad in a plane crash, I immediately flew back to North Carolina. I brought a quickly packed bag, and a slowly packed guitar case. I knew all I needed were the clothes on my back and my six-string. I wrote a song the day before their memorial service, played it before a huge crowd of friends and family, and recorded it for my EP. It’s called “Denny’s Song,” and you can listen to it on my website, kevindanielmiller.com. When I need to remind myself how proud my parents were of me, or just feel that connection to their spirit, I pick up my guitar, and start singing.
RECIPE: Eggplant Creole