Pat Green loves jazz so much that, at age 91, she moved to New Orleans to be closer to the source.
Such is her passion for music that she couldn’t bear the thought of missing her own jazz funeral.
So she won’t.
Weather permitting, Green will ride — sitting upright — in a rolling pink casket through the French Quarter on Saturday afternoon. New Orleans jazz trumpeter Leroy Jones, a close friend, and his Original Hurricane Brass Band will lead the celebratory procession.
The parade is scheduled to depart from Spanish Plaza at 3:30 p.m. and proceed along Convention Center Boulevard to Canal Street, then North Peters Street. After turning left at St. Peter Street, it will take another left on Royal Street, then head back down Canal to Spanish Plaza.
After the second-line parade — or in lieu of it, depending on Tropical Storm Nate — the Little Gem Saloon at 445 S. Rampart St. will host an after-party/repast starting around 5 p.m.
Family members and friends who have traveled to New Orleans from across the country hope the celebration of a remarkable, still vital life is not curtailed by Nate.
Ultimately, Green, who turns 94 this week, may prove to be the greater force of nature.
A recent afternoon found Green holding court in her apartment at an Uptown retirement community. Her small living room is decorated with New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival posters, a rubboard and other music mementos.
"I'm 93,” she noted, “so I've been collecting for a while."
She shared a couch with “Deacon” John Moore, the bandleader and president of the local musicians union.
"I don't have as much of a history as you have," the 76-year-old Moore told her.
"I think it's a toss-up," Green replied, laughing.
She wanted her funeral to benefit musicians, so she plans to collect donations along the route for the union's "altruist fund." She asked Moore if he planned to attend her parade.
"I wouldn't miss it for the world. I want to be in that number," he said.
In that case, Green said, "I want you to have something to put the money in.”
"I'll bring a wheelbarrow," Moore replied.
He was pulled into Green’s orbit a few months ago. She has, during the quarter-century she visited New Orleans and the two years she has lived here full-time, befriended scores of musicians.
She collects their autographs on the bright yellow fisherman’s smocks she often wears to concerts or festivals. Recent signatories include blues guitarist Keb’Mo’, whose Orpheum Theater concert she attended in September.
Her indomitable spirit draws people to her. Justin Bayer was about to board his float in this year's Druids parade when he noticed Green, in one of her smocks, sitting on Jefferson Avenue anticipating her first Mardi Gras parade. His face hidden behind a gold mask, he went over and introduced himself.
When she clasped his hand, "there was a connection," Bayer recalled. Since then, "she's become part of our family."
He filmed her for an installment of his "Magic Hour" video series on inspirational individuals. He escorts her a couple of times a month to Superior Seafood, where she settles in at the oyster bar to chat with her shucker buddy Jay.
"She attracts life," Bayer said. "She radiates an energy that for a 93-year-old is unheard of. Every time I'm with her, she brings people together. I've made so many friends through her. People are attracted to her enthusiasm for life."
Discovering New Orleans
Born in New Jersey in 1923, Green grew up in Arlington, Virginia. She was still in junior high when she met her future husband, Stan Green.
She attended Texas Tech University, studying architecture, but left to marry Stan before he shipped out to France with the Air Force during World War II. She later enlisted in the Marines, but the war ended before she served.
She and Stan settled in Northern Virginia and had three children. She became one of the most successful agents in the real estate company her mother founded. She also got her pilot’s license, flew gliders, went scuba diving and took her young kids to hear live jazz.
Stan worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency, clandestinely procuring military hardware from the nation's adversaries. After he retired, the couple spent considerable time in England, where Green first hit upon the idea of using autographed smocks to keep track of all her new acquaintances.
Stan Green died in 1984. His widow sprinkled his ashes at his favorite places around the world, dropping some into a Hawaiian volcano from a helicopter.
She and Stan had bought a retirement home in Key West, Florida. The colorful island suited her. After the Florida Keys “seceded” from the United States, she was appointed Key West’s ambassador to the Hawaiian islands.
Her faithful companion was a huge standard poodle, Tallulah, whose fur was dyed pink. She and Tallulah drove thousands of miles in a hand-painted RV, dubbed the Roving Palace. "Her head was higher than mine in the front seat," Green said.
After Stan’s death, she finally visited New Orleans for the first time. From the moment she arrived, she said, "I was in love. I couldn't help it, all this good stuff I heard. It was too much."
She and Tallulah would rent an apartment on Barracks Street every spring during festival season. At the end of Jazz Fest, she'd throw a party for musicians so they could unwind and relax. She befriended George and Nina Buck, proprietors of the Palm Court Jazz Café, and Danny Barker, the jazz banjoist and raconteur, among many others.
She made the rounds, smiling, dancing, making friends. Trumpeter Wendell Brunious has serenaded her at Preservation Hall. When Leroy Jones married trombonist Katja Toivola, Green was an honored guest at the wedding.
About 10 years ago, Green moved from Key West to Charleston, South Carolina, to be near her sister Pru. Pat had front-row season tickets to the Charleston Jazz Orchestra.
Health issues forced her to skip her annual New Orleans pilgrimage for several years. She finally returned to celebrate her 90th birthday. She reunited with musician friends at the Palm Court, Preservation Hall and Snug Harbor, where Charmaine Neville sang “Happy Birthday” to her.
"Every single place we went, it was, 'Pat, is that you?' " recalled her son, Bruce Green. "My kids were amazed. They thought their grandma was a rock star."
'A helluva life'
The upper crowns of oak trees sway outside her apartment’s windows. “When storms come, it’s beautiful,” she said. "I'm in love with your trees. I'm actually in love. It's not a joke. They're so beautiful."
Her kids tried to talk her into moving near one of them. After visiting retirement homes in Florida, Charleston and Northern Virginia, Bruce Green recalled, "she looked me in the eye and said, 'I've made my decision. I'm going to New Orleans.' "
Her two years of full-time residency in the Big Easy haven’t fully lived up to her expectations. “I don't get downtown enough," she said.
She’s not impressed with the nocturnal habits of some fellow members of her seniors community: "They've lived here all their lives and they don't know what Frenchmen Street is."
Bayer took her to see trombonist Glen David Andrews at d.b.a. on Frenchmen Street recently. Andrews came offstage to sing with her. "This was at midnight," Bayer said. "I can't hang with Pat when it comes to music. She can go until 3 a.m."
He dropped her off at Jackson Square during this year’s French Quarter Festival; she made her way to the front of the stage. When Bayer isn't available, she'll sometimes summon an Uber driver.
Her walker slows her down some. It was no fun to steer in the mud of this year's rainy Satchmo Summerfest. "I never got so wet in my life,” Green said. “I had a cold for a week and a half. Satchmo shouldn't have done that to me."
Bad weather, then, is no deterrent when she wants to hear music. Thus, she and her family and friends plan to proceed with Saturday’s jazz funeral. It may be the city’s last hurrah before a 7 p.m. curfew takes effect.
"Why wait?" she said of her pre-emptive funeral. "I thought it would be a neat idea. I had no idea how much it would cost."
"Well,” Moore said, “you won't be here to do it twice."
True enough: Green doesn't want an encore jazz funeral. She'll likely donate her body to science.
But she still has several items on her bucket list. She wants to take piano lessons, visit Costa Rica and take a trip to California "because the jazz festivals out there are fantastic."
But first up is her funeral, coordinated by the Rev. Tony Talavera of the French Quarter Wedding Chapel. The pink casket, decorated with musical notes, will ride atop a cart outfitted with wheelchair wheels. There will be commemorative parasols and a rolling bar.
Years ago, Green regularly wore flowers in her hair. Her daughter, Holly Cruz, suggested she revive the tradition for the jazz funeral.
"We'll get a lily," Cruz said.
Moore shook his head: "No, not that. That's for people who are dead."
Does the prospect of attending her own funeral give her chills?
"No,” she said. “It's joy. I'm going to the right place, I hope. I’ve had a helluva life. Why not enjoy my funeral myself?”