” …the collective is always stronger than the individual. That’s what music is all about-many people working together,
sharing a common creative goal. It’s deep and it’s ancient.”
He sits at the piano composing and creating. He’s working. Matt Lemmler is a quiet talent; he doesn’t like to bother his neighbors with his music. But they love it. Who wouldn’t love to live next to the beautiful sounds of a New Orleans jazz pianist.
Born in a family home of musicians in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans, where jazz fills the streets, he was destined to be in this musical space and time. And now he has his newest CD, UBUNTU, releasing this upcoming weekend. It is a collection of music that follows his passion, which is evident in his explanations of his song choices for this CD…UBUNTU is a spiritual, soulful and meaningful journey. Matt tells us Ubuntu, “was a concept first that I had come to find and try to live by, through scriptures, sermons and the truth that is inside all of us. I read a book by Quincy Jones, my musical mentor since I was a boy, and he shared the views of Ubuntu and that he had received the info, concept and philosophy from Nelson Mandela and Reverend Tutu. All the Ubuntu quotes, to me, basically, say the same thing: love thy neighbor and help others first, share passions and build relationships based on equality, love and peace.”
For those in New Orleans this weekend, please come out to Matt Lemmler’s New Orleans Jazz Revival Band’s CD release concert of UBUNTU on Friday August 24th at Cafe Istanbul 8pm & 10pm, 2372 St. Claude Ave. and Sunday August 26th at Snug Harbor, 626 Frenchmen 8pm & 10pm. I will definitely be there!
Now, please join me as Matt Lemmler explains the meanings of his chosen songs for Ubuntu. It’s like looking into the soul of this jazz musician:
Wade in the Water
A very primitive and chanting take on a classic spiritual. I was very much inspired by the music of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” in orchestrating this and the music of Charles Mingus, Ellington, but also, the history and past of New Orleans’ Congo Square and the African influences in our music and culture and special inspiration from Harold Batiste and Dr John. Makes that spiritual music dig right down deep into our bones. Makes our spirit come alive and just express ourselves the way we are. Just the way we are to praise our existence. Our maker and our bodies. Mind, body and spirit all expressing itself through music and art.
The use of the choir chanting ‘the water’ throughout brings comfort and solace to my soul. The use of the ‘animal sounds’ as a choir and as another type of chant was influenced by the Gulf Oil Spill disaster that brought my attention to all the living beings in and out of the water, everything from microscopic creatures to dolphins, sharks, whales, and humans, all part of everything that makes this garden we live and wade in. It seems to me that their voice and spirit is sometimes ignored by our greed and selfishness. We are all part of this world, even the one’s that don’t have a way to stand up and communicate. This was the first hymn arrangement performed at my Baptism celebration at Williams Trace Church and Wading in that water changed my heart and soul. It grew 1000 times larger and was strengthened by God’s Holy Spirit. So blessed to have found my way back to the Light. The water is great!! I owe one of my 1970’s fears of the water to ‘jaws’ and to my all-time favorite composer John Williams, but also to the movie magic of a live orchestra and composed by one of the world’s greatest living composers, John Williams.
Sheep May Safely Graze
Inspired by Bach’s passion of music, but also of having the chance to work with my dear brother in music, Kirk Whalum. I was blessed to be able to help produce and perform atTrinity Church’s Jazz Festival and Jazz Mass and also invite Kirk as a special guest artist. His loving spirit and friendship inspired both Sheep May Safely Graze, but also most of Music of Ubuntu including Be Thou Amy Vision, Movin on Up, These hymns, spirituals and pop songs were arranged for Trinity’s Weekly jazz services, but also put into a Mass format and premiered in 2010 as a Tribute to the Music of New Orleans. It was my last performance as music director for Trinity, before I moved back to my hometown, New Orleans.
Ode to Joy
I was blessed to have been asked by my dear friend, Jennifer Davis, to orchestrate and perform this piece and others for her funeral. I had travelled and toured with Jenn and her family in the early 90’s with Phantom of the Opera and remained in touch for many years after that tour. During our evacuation from Katrina, Jenn and Paul Edwards helped my family with housing, love and fellowship for many months after Katrina’s aftermath.
Having to witness Jenn’s illness was an extremely painful and beautiful experience to go through, but afterwards, her death and her belief in God’s love, music and her love of her family inspired my heart to understand and feel God’s presence by seeing someone so filled with peace and nobility in their illness and death. Being asked to program and write the music for her funeral brought me to understand my passion of music as a blessing. It led me to create Ubuntu and follow this path towards music as a way to heal, both my soul/spirit and to allow music to heal others in need of spiritual uplifting. This passage in life and witnessing Jennifer’s strength in her Faith and in her illness, was a gift and lesson in my life journey. Her funeral was a celebration of life as her partner, Paul Edwards, expressed in his testimony of love.It was my first experience to sing and worship, while grieving a loss of a loved one, and still having my family by my side, even after divorce. God’s love is amazing to witness.
Be Thou My Vision
Originally inspired by and performed with Kirk Whalum at Trinity’s Jazz Festival. A hymn that always brings comfort to me. It’s so ancient and seems like it’s been part of our existence for many years. This track was one of the pieces that just came together in the studio on just the first take. I remember all of us going back into the control room after tracking and there we were all listening. Afterwards, there was an amazing energy of love and fellowship. It was just perfect and comforting to record, but also to say to ourselves, this came from a more powerful energy than ourselves.
A beautiful piece composed by my dear friend, Michael Hurdle. Michael asked me to arrange his piece to feature a men’s gospel quartet. Immediately after starting work on Michael’s Love Foundation, I fell in love with its message and it started to bring me comfort and understanding in salvation and it’s blessing of love. This piece along with all the hymns and spirituals on Ubuntu, brought me comfort and peace within my healing heart. To understand God’s light and love and be blessed to experience that within my passion of music was a gift.
I’ll never forget coming home one night and seeing Michael’s gift of leaving me a bible on my doorstep. His love and friendship started my journey to where I am today. I was so touched by this generosity and thoughtfulness.
Colour My World
~Originally arranged for Offertory at Trinity Jazz Mass
This was inspired by the feeling of gratitude for God blessing men with loving women in this world, and vice versa. To finally truly understand that love that bonds men and women and becomes one. It is a beautiful way and I’m so blessed to have had these loving angels and bonds around me.
Inspired by the music of Chicago, Paul Simon, Herbie Hancock and my first jazz influence, Chuck Mangione. These artists/bands influenced my arranging passion. I used to listen to Mangione’s music when I was a teenager and was always inspired by his orchestrations and his beautiful flugelhorn horn playing. ‘feels so good’ was a number one hit in the 70’s, and was probably the last time an instrumental/jazz/rock piece ever earned a number one slot on the pop charts. The 70’s was a great time for live horn bands, rock tinged, but heavily jazz influenced. Those were the good old days for me in hearing all these wonderful horn/jazz bands be on radio and in concert halls. Those were the days that arrangers/orchestrators still were still in strong demand.
For the Bread
Originally arranged for Communion at Trinity Jazz Mass. One of my favorite pieces on Ubuntu for its improv and dialogue between the horns and the rhythm section and its beautiful message of Gratitude. A smaller instrumentation but so full of depth and a special communion between the musicians.
Movin On Up
Another song inspired by Kirk Whalum’s visit to Houston, but also from the 70’s TV show, “The Jeffersons”, jazz pianist Roger Kelloway’s, “All in the Family” and always the spirit of one of my musical/life heroes, Quincy Jones.
Savior, Like a Shepherd
Originally performed with Kirk Whalum at Trinity Jazz Fest, but also dedicated to my dear friend, Randy Bigbee. Another painful and beautiful lesson was to witness Randy’s loss of his son and to experience and watching how his family’s Faith in God softened their pain/loss and how music can be a healing gift. I still feel pain when I think of this life’s tragedy, but I feel Love and blessings to have Randy as my friend and brother. Thank you, Randy, for showing me the way and also leading me to my first revival!!
While I was in the process of arranging the music for Trinity’s jazz mass/Fest, I was also making the transition to move back to New Orleans after living and working in Houston,TX for 5 years. One day, while I was composing upstairs in my studio in New Orleans, my neighbors downstairs, Ellie and Richard, were having some health issues. I remember not knowing what to say or how to make them feel better. I realized that music is what I could offer in hopes of bringing them comfort. Ellie suggested I play/ sing Tumbalalaika. I found the music and fell in love with its tone and vibe. Tumbalalaika made a great verse to Fiddler on the Roof’s, Sunrise/Sunset. It was awakening to me to offer music whenever I couldn’t help in any other way. To give my passion fully to help others and have Faith that music does heal.
The broadway musical, “Annie” was the first NYC musical I witnessed as a teenager. I remember the experience of performing trumpet with Holy Cross marching band and being invited to NYC to march in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. What an amazing experience to goto NYC for the first time, march in the parade, but also tour the city. We all went to see this musical and I remember being enchanted by the live musicians performing in that orchestra. Hearing those world-class musicians and being in NYC as a child, will always be an inspiration. Having live musicians perform with orchestras is a spiritual experience and I pray that our children get to witness these performances more than ever, as more live music is being cut due to ‘financial’ cuts. Music and the arts should always be made a priority!
Another great hymn that was performed For Trinity Church’s Jazz Mass. I was inspired by Ray Charles, Quincy Jones, Henry Mancini and Neal Hefti’s “Odd Couple”. The 70’s was a great time to experience all these great tv shows and movies using great jazz inspired scores with outstanding arrangers and studio musicians.One of my mission statements is to keep the art of arranging for live bands alive. A tradition that seems to be a dying art in today’s world of computer and synthesized instruments, yet such a powerful art to bring horns and strings together. To combine various live instruments in order to create a specific sound. To write for specific musicians to creat a specific sound. This is one of the hopes I’d like to share with the music of Ubuntu. A collection of spiritual pieces performed and recorded in a live studio setting. No overdubs, no studio tricks. Just talented, live studio musicians creating music with original arrangements custom-made for the recording. I hope you enjoy this music and support it by having the New Orleans Jazz Revival Band come perform for you.