Fat Tuesday

Today’s  the day we call in England  Shrove Tuesday. We’re apparently all supposed to get shriven by doing a pennance before Lent . Another name for the occasion is Pancake Day, although I’m not sure what sort of pennance it is to be forced to eat pancakes.

Further afield the name for this day is a bit more glamorous. Mardi Gras, which I translated for the title using my schoolboy French, doesn’t make me think of pancakes but of carnivals. And being brought up in a house surrounded by Jazz, it makes me think of New Orleans and the wonderful marching bands that played not just during the Mardi Gras parades but at  just about every occasion for which they could find an excuse, including funerals.

The Mardi Gras parades gave rise to many of the great tunes of New Orleans Jazz, many of them named after the streets through which the parade would travel, mainly in  the famous French Quarter. Basin Street, South Rampart Street, and Bourbon Street are among the names redolent with history for Jazz fans and musicians around the world. I also remember a record by Humphrey Lyttelton‘s 1950s band called Fat Tuesday.

The New Orleans Mardi Gras has on recent occasions sometimes got a bit out of hand, and you probably wouldn’t want to take kids into the French Quarter for fear they would see things they shouldn’t. Personally, though, I’d love the chance to savour the atmosphere and watch the parades.

The  clip I’ve chosen is of Bourbon Street Parade. The one and only time I went to New Orleans I felt a real thrill walking along this street, just because I’ve heard the tune so many times on old records.  I didn’t go in Mardi Gras time, however, but in the middle of summer. The heat was sweltering and the humidity almost unbearable, but the air was filled with music as well as moisture. It was impossible to sleep in the heat, so I stayed up moving from bar to bar, drinking and listening to music until I was completely exhausted.

The tune was written by the late Paul Barbarin, who died in 1969 during a street parade in New Orleans. What a way to go. He also plays on the clip I included here.

I picked this particular clip because it features a much underrated British musician, Sammy Rimmington (although the notes on Youtube have muddled it up; he plays saxophone on this, not clarinet). My dad once played with Sammy Rimmington and I remember the unqualified admiration with which he (my dad) spoke of his (Sammy’s) playing.

10 Responses to “Fat Tuesday”

  1. Chris Crowe Says:

    Very interesting Peter,

    I would love to visit New Orleans someday, if only to visit the smokey bars, sip whiskey, and enjoy a laid back afternoon with some jazz……



  2. Edward Gomez Says:

    I didn’t realise you lived in England. Is your house like a foreign embassy?

  3. telescoper Says:

    It’s a little corner of a foreign field that is forever…

    Do they call it Shrove Tuesday in Wales too?

  4. Bryn Jones Says:

    No, in Wales you call it Dydd Mawrth Ynyd.

  5. Anton Garrett Says:

    I thought Shrove Tuesday was a last booze-up before Lent, although I don’t know how pancakes got involved, and I don’t do Lent even though I’m a Christian, because my scriptures tell me to fast when there is a spiritual need, not in the 40 days preceding the anniversary of Jesus’ crucifixion.

    I took a few days holiday in New Orleans, flying there after a Maximum Entropy (probability in physics) conference held in the USA about 15 years ago. It was high summer and I’d only visited one place equally hot and sticky – Singapore, right on the equator and the ocean. The jazz clubs were great (I love trad), and I stayed at a period hotel in the French Quarter called the Cornstalk, which as a private residence was where Harriet Beecher Stowe was inspired to write the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin a decade before the American Civil War. Half the price of the downtown hotel chains and far more characterful. A websearch has just confirmed that it survived Hurrican Katrina.

    Do you recall the New Orleans jazz funeral in a Bond film, I think Live and Let Die?


  6. telescoper Says:


    I am told that traditionally it was forbidden to eat eggs during lent so the pancakes were eaten to use them all up. Not sure it’s true though.

    The thing I remember best about New Orleans was just the streets with bar after bar with open doors from which lovely music was pouring out into the air. Sometimes it was just a piano, sometimes dixieland jazz, sometimes Cajun music. But walking along Bourbon street it was like the music filled the air itself rather than actually coming from anywhere.

    But then, you see, I was very, very drunk.

    I vaguely recall the Bond excerpt. The New Orleans style funeral (and I’ve been to a few over the years, as various of my dad’s friends popped their clogs) consists of slow laments (Closer Walk, Old Rugged Cross) before the burial or cremation. In New Orleans itself the coffin would be carried to the accompaniment of a marching band playing a slow dirge. After the burial, the thing turns into a celebration and the band and mourners parade home again to the sound of happy up-tempo numbers like Didn’t He Ramble.

    As funerals go, this is definitely the best way to do it!


  7. Anton Garrett Says:

    Plenty to be had by putting “New Orleans jazz funeral” into YouTube.

  8. telescoper Says:

    Yes, you can even find the funeral of Paul Barbarin (mentioned in my blog item) on Youtube.

  9. Anton Garrett Says:

    Peter: I share your scepticism that the church forbade eggs in Lent. That’s not in the Bible (nor are many things the church has done), but: our ancestors did not waste food, hens would (presumably?) be lay at this time of year, and they don’t keep for 40 days without a fridge, even in Britain in spring.


  10. […] year at this time I blogged a bit about Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans, the home of Jazz and that came to mind again when I […]

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