When trombonist Kay Meade first joined the Bethany Beach Jazz Funeral, she was initially too shy to play. But when someone recognized her as a trombonist, another musician immediately offered his own horn.
“That trombone player held his trombone out to me and didn’t even know me,” Meade said. That gave her the confidence to play her own trombone for the next eight years at Bethany’s swingingest annual end-of-summer event.
The Jazz Funeral is a “tongue-in-cheek affair” held each Labor Day, a fond farewell to the busy summer season, said Chairperson Paul Jankovic.
Three Dixieland jazz bands will lead spectators along the boardwalk in a funeral procession on the evening of Monday, Sept. 2. The mourners carry a mannequin in a casket, an effigy of “Summer of 2013,” to her final resting place at the Bethany Beach bandstand.
“There is a dramatic departure of the summer visitor population after Labor Day weekend,” when families leave to prepare for school, said Co-Assistant Chairperson Carolyn Bacon. “This … is our time to thank all those who have visited with us during the summer of 2013 and encourage them to return again in 2014.”
This year’s 28th annual Jazz Funeral begins about 5:30 p.m. on Labor Day, at the north end of the boardwalk. The music and procession are both loose and lighthearted, led by the Dixie Cats, the Jazz Funeral Irregulars and the Downtown Dixieland Band (featuring Meade).
“It’s jazz like it was born to be — just off-the-cuff, just straight out of the horn,” said Meade. “I think it’s the greatest thing ever. … It’s unlike everything else, because everybody else plays by ear.”
The procession starts out more somber than celebratory, but gets livelier as it reaches the bandstand. People sing along and often dress in the New Orleans jazz funeral style — as nuns, priests, mourners — with Mardi Gras beads, of course.
“It’s organized to be unstructured and to be fun,” Jankovic said. “We don’t take ourselves too seriously. The big message is to have fun and rejoice over the end of summer. Everybody’s invited!”
A few short speeches are presented at the bandstand, including a recap of the summer, from weather to politics, by “Sister Marie” (Wright’s alter ego), who serves as “deity of the day.”
New local resident and former NPR broadcaster Liane Hansen will help honor the memories of three significant contributors to the Jazz Funeral’s history: Art Antal, Debbie Reilly and Paul Widitz.
Antal was a business owner who portrayed the comedic “Yellow Pope” in many past Jazz Funerals; Reilly provided financial assistance and was involved with Town Council and Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce; and Widitz was an original member of the Jazz Funeral Irregulars who once handed his trombone to a shy musician.
The Jazz Funeral will honor these three departed souls with “Amazing Grace,” sung by soloist/guitarist Molly Krause.
“We are really fortunate to have such great musicians playing with us,” said Jankovic.
The Jazz Funeral also aims to support the community, with a silent auction on Friday, Aug. 30, at 2:30 p.m. at Bethany Blues.
All money coming from the auction goes directly to Sussex County Habitat for Humanity, and people can win gifts large and small, from dinners at a local restaurant to a 10-day Caribbean cruise that leaves from the Port of Baltimore, worth $2,100.
“We’re very fortunate at having some really wonderful people that work on the committee, and they work very hard to make it a success,” Jankovic said.
Anyone interested in helping out with the Jazz Funeral and silent auction can contact the Jazz Funeral at P.O. Box 505; Bethany Beach, DE 19930, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave a message at (302) 537-1585. More information can be found at www.jazzfuneral.net.
“It is one last chance to celebrate the final moments of the summer season with an event that is marked by music, humor and good fellowship,” Bacon said.
“Absolutely come,” Meade advised. “Everybody should come at least once.”