The route sheet for the Original Jolly Bunch's second-line parade this Sunday, Sept. 16, announces: "Out of the Past and Into the Present (We're Still Step-n')." It's a heartening message for loyal followers of the ever-popular social and pleasure club, which originated in 1941 at Percy Roussell's Third Ward barroom called the Nickel Club but hasn't paraded since 1997.
Joe "Papa Joe" Glasper, the well-known owner of Treme's notorious Joe's Cozy Corner, always looked forward to the Jolly Bunch's annual procession. Held each September, the event helped kick off the second-line parade season that runs from late August through mid-June. Glasper's godfather took him to the group's events as a young boy, and he clearly remembers his first parade. "I finally made the day," says Glasper exultantly, as if it were just last week. He describes his gray and sky-blue outfit worn with "red butterfly shoes" and a blue-and-white ruffled -- not plumed -- fan. That day in 1959 formed a deep bond.
"To me that's a tradition," says Glasper, who recently reestablished the club and acts as its president. After meeting throughout the past year at Joe's Cozy Corner, the club returns to the streets on Sunday. Because Glasper was unable to locate the person who holds the organization's state-issued charter, he was forced to alter its name to the Original Jolly Bunch. Nonetheless, the 35-member club intends to carry on its true spirit, and boasts 10 past members of the Jolly Bunch.
"Everything is just like the old club -- the young men have to see what the old men used to do," says Glasper, adding that most of the Original Jolly Bunch's members are in their 60s. "We weren't 'buckers,' we were 'steppers' then," he explains, describing the dance style from the past that they'll bring to Sunday's parade. "We could dance to any tune they (the brass bands) would play without getting all sweaty. They've got two kinds of dancing. The buckers want to jump high as the sky and wallow on the ground. The steppers stay on the ground and stand up straight."
As the slogan on the route sheet suggests, the Original Jolly Bunch remembers the past while embracing newer traditions. In the old days, men on horses led off the event; it's a tradition Glasper hopes to incorporate someday. While this year's parade includes a men's and a women's marching division, Glasper remembers when gowned females were restricted to cars. "Ladies didn't walk the streets," he says. "They were ladies then."
Perhaps the biggest difference between the Jolly Bunch's parade of today and those of the past is the music. The Li'l Rascals (fronting the men's unit) and the ReBirth (playing for the women) will provide the hot brass band style. Decades ago, groups like the Olympia and Tuxedo brass bands dressed in black-and-white uniforms and hats and played in the more stately traditional style for the Jolly Bunch. Then along came the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to revolutionize the club's second-line parades. Dress codes loosened up along with the music, as hatless brass band musicians wearing more comfortable T-shirts and shorts dug into modern modes like pop and rap along with some revamped New Orleans standards.
In explaining the Jolly Bunch's decision in choosing hot rather than traditional bands for its parade, Glasper points to the Cozy Corner's jukebox while it blasts a ReBirth tune. "There ain't nothin' on that box that's a traditional band," says Glasper, who remembers when classic jazz filled barrooms across the city. "All those bands had records out. Now what catches on are bands like the Li'l Rascals, ReBirth and New Birth. This is what's popular."
For Glasper, the parade is a chance to reconnect with his youth. "You get to meet so many people that you knew when you were young -- that's the main part," says Glasper. "That's joyful. It takes all your troubles away, puts your mind at ease. Heaven is right here on earth, you just got to know how to use it."
Henry Youngblood of "I Got a Big Fat Woman" fame acts as grand marshall for the Original Jolly Bunch's anniversary parade, which kicks off at 1 p.m. from Tee Dees (2537 Gravier St.) and ends four hours later at Joe's Cozy Corner (1532 Ursulines Ave.). The party continues at the club with the ReBirth and Li'l Rascals kicking off at 6 p.m.
"People who've never seen the Jolly Bunch, come and see them now," invites Glasper with a grin. "We'll bring the old eras back with the new."
- Donn Young
- Joe's Cozy Corner owner Joe 'Papa Joe' Glasper says the resurrection of the Original Jolly Bunch will remember the past while embracing newer traditions.