Trumpeter John Brunious, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band's leader and the senior member of the New Orleans ensemble, died Tuesday after an apparent heart attack in Orlando, Fla., where he had been living since Hurricane Katrina. He was 67.
A native of New Orleans who had a striking physical presence with a full head of white hair and a white mustache, Brunious began his career at the famous French Quarter music spot in 1987.
"His was one of the old musical New Orleans families," said Michael White, a music historian and professor at Xavier University. "They went back to early days of jazz. He carried on that kind of tradition."
Dressed in the traditional white shirt and black pants of old-school New Orleans jazz bands, Brunious carried on the heritage of jazz funerals. He played the slow, somber music that marks the march to the cemetery and the high-spirited, upbeat tunes that symbolize the cutting loose of the spirit of the deceased.
Born in 1940, he learned traditional jazz as a child from his father, John Brunious Sr., a trumpet and piano player who arranged music for Count Basie, Cab Calloway and others.
From traditional jazz, Brunious then focused on bebop and rhythm and blues as a young man.
"He was one of a generation of musicians that saw and participated in many different styles of music," White said. "He grew up in an era when it was still in style to learn traditional jazz, but he went on from there. At one point he was the band leader with Little Richard."
Katrina flooded Brunious' apartment to the ceiling in August 2005.
He was rescued by a passing boat but was among the thousands stranded without food or water at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. He stayed there for five days before being evacuated.
Brunious lost all six of his trumpets to the flood but resumed touring with the Preservation Hall band.
In May 2006, the Tipitina's Foundation, which promotes preservation of traditional New Orleans music, gave Brunious a new silver-plated Conn trumpet.
He is survived by his wife, Terri; a son, John; two stepdaughters; three brothers; four sisters; and a granddaughter.
A memorial service is planned for Feb. 23 at Preservation Hall.