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In Memoriam: Jazz Elegies

May 25, 2014 (WFIU-FM)

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Get Up With It cover Black Market cover Upon Reflection cover Wynton Marsalis leads a group of musicians through upper Manhattan's Riverside Church for the New Orleans-style funeral of vibraphonist Lionel Hampton in 2002.

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New Orleans may be the nominal birthplace of jazz, though it's also where a jazz tradition associated with death began: The jazz funeral, in which mourners taking a casket to the cemetery are accompanied by a band playing spirituals, hymns and dirges.

In the post-1945 era, that tradition manifested in a more modern form of jazz elegy. Jazz artists recorded instrumental tributes (with lyrics sometimes added later) for musical friends and colleagues who had died and had served as figures of inspiration. Many of these tributes were composed shortly after their subjects' deaths, such as Lennie Tristano's "Requiem," a blues written for Charlie Parker in 1955. Whatever the case, dozens of these musical memorials appear in jazz discography of the past 70 years. Just last year, George Cables remembered fellow pianist Mulgrew Miller on his Icons and Influences album with a piece called "Farewell Mulgrew."

In time for Memorial Day, here are five jazz elegies.

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