Wednesday, May 12, 2010

R.I.P. Brandon Franklin

Posted By on Wed, May 12, 2010 at 1:48 AM

Since moving to New Orleans, I've had the pleasure and honor to become close with a few members of the vast and far-reaching community of brass band musicians. Upon hearing the news that Brandon Franklin, the saxophone player for the To Be Continued Brass Band, was shot and killed Sunday night, I'm sorry to say that he was not one of them.

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click to enlarge RIP Brandon

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Photograph by Jonathan Bachman

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I had met Brandon in passing several times, first during an interview last year at the band's CD release and several times after when talking to the band about setting interview dates for the brass band documentary we've been working on. We've had to keep putting off dates because of conflicting schedules and other events and I figured, "no big deal, they're young and I can always find them on Bourbon and Canal." I look back on those words with with confusion and anger, hoping they won't hang over me for too long.

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And this coming from someone who hardly knew him. All I knew were the vitals: his name, that he's just three years my junior, and that he could cut a lick on a saxophone with some of the best. I know that he loved the music and the music - not to mention his friends and family - loved him back. I know that the greater community of musicians and, by extension, nearly the whole city of New Orleans mourns his passing. And I know the tragedy of the circumstances surrounding his death are haunting.

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Getting kids into music at a young age is supposed to steer them away from violence, but what if the violence is unavoidable no matter what you do? After the Saints detente, violence has seemingly spiked in this city. Seven people one night on Canal St., 14 people during a festival weekend, a few more at a second line; how can anyone protect themselves if the cultural and civic centers of this city, the very places where we are meant to feel the safest, are a backstop to such grizzly violence?

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Ever since I've moved to New Orleans, I've spent much of my time praising it to anyone who'll listen. This city has the deepest, richest culture in the country, if not the world. The food is great, the music is better and people are one of a kind. "But is it safe?" People always ask and I have yet to come up with a response that doesn't just dismiss the question outright. I try to convince people - and myself - that culture shields us from violence. Hang out with musicians and you'll avoid the violence, I always thought. I'm still holding out hope.

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Jazz funerals can be a strange sight to people who've never been to New Orleans or know about its culture. It's easy to mistake the partying as some sort of dismissal of death, as if it's not a time to mourn. Anyone down here will be quick to point out that funerals here are a celebration of life. But when those lives are so short and the deaths are so many, at what point are those celebrations ignoring the violence that rots at the city's core?

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This city deserves better. We can do better. We can either join together and stop the violence, or let this city waste away from the inside out. Doesn't seem like a hard decision.

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