Darkness, Sweat and Fears

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting,
dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.
~ Edgar Allan Poe

My only light during the hurricane.

The past week has been long. Too long for a supposed minor hurricane. With all the preparing we do it still turns our lives upside down.

4 full days without power in the Louisiana heat. To me this is living primal…I got to live like a cavewoman for 4 days. Even though I had a few modern necessities like texting (although I had to charge the phone in the car) and a flushing toilet, I took my Paleo lifestyle to a new level.

I prepared my Paleo survival food and cooked like mad before the storm came…it was coming a half day earlier than expected. Burgers, beef jerky, cut up vegetables, bacon, Paleo pancakes  sweet potatoes, pork roast and lots of water. Got the food cold knowing power would go off. I guess our hunter gatherer ancestors would have prepared what they could or consumed what food they could knowing they would be without for a few days.

Survival mode sets in. The hurricane came by overnight. Howling winds shaking the house. Up all night I tried to see the rain and watch the streets. Watching for flood…calling our tugboats on the Mississippi River to see how much it’s rising. It’s a little unnerving. Katrina didn’t hit us direct so what would Isaac do? He stalled and moved North. Thankfully.  On Tuesday evening, when the wind barely started, the power went out. Flashlight broke so I lit a few candles. Total darkness and I mean the scary boogeyman type of darkness. Alone with the dogs and cats in the dark.  One time at night I sat in the car charging the phone and getting some air with the dogs and a knock at the window by a neighbor, drunk and scaring the shit out of me.  I felt very alone.  Note for next time: Get a gun.

Rain and wind continued until the next day then it stopped. Then no breeze and the sun came out. Then the heat set in. Topping 100 degrees and extreme humidity. It was too hot to even go upstairs in the house.  I can barley function. I tried to exercise in the house but too hot. Walking the dogs was all I could do other than picking up debris and tree branches outside.  This is just what you do.  Ice was melting quick; so I stand in long lines to get ice. Throw out food going back and eat what I could. I still had to work…Grace had power, she took us in to her nice cool home to work for a few hours, then Ken did the same. I worried about the dogs and cats in the heat, and I would rush back to my hot home.  It’s still home so I don’t want to be away long.

And sleep, boy did I sleep. I slept as soon as the sun went down. Too dark and hot to stay awake. It was a little scary. I wait for a comforting voice to call. And after I would sleep more.

By Saturday with the sun and heat, although unbearable, it almost seemed normal and hoping this new “normal” would end.  Sweat is just pouring down me; standing under a cool shower feels wonderful.

And just as the sun is setting and the Michigan football game begins, the power comes on!  Glorious air conditioning…close the windows and make it cold!  Sprawl out on the couch and celebrate.  Just in time.

Out of cavewoman mode to recovery mode.  Work, clean, work.  The stress experienced after almost makes you want a little of that primal life…just without the scary parts.


The Second Line Rolls

As we wait for the storm…This is no Katrina…she couldn’t even stop us.  New Orleans survived.

Nothing will take down this City.

The horns will keep blowing

The drums will keep beating

The Indians will keep dancing

The parades will keep rolling

The Saints will keep marching in

Hurricane Isaac…Prepare…Ride Out the Storm.

Tweet via DJ Soul Sister of WWOZ in New Orleans @djsoulsister

I see there is a hurricane water in effect for NOLA.  Not this again. 

The only Isaac I wanna hear from has the last name of Hayes.

As the direction of Hurricane Isaac creeps closer to us there is that instant unsettled feeling of turning your life upside down for a few days or as in Hurricane Katrina for weeks to months and for some people for years.  And Isaac is to come on that very same day, the 7th anniversary of Katrina.  The reminder is hitting us in the face.  When a hurricane is in the gulf all bets are off for anyone along the coast.  Almost half the coast is affected in some way.  And we are now under a hurricane warning.

Anxiety…knots in the stomach.  The storm has made its turn and making its decision of where exactly to go.  Make a list.  Crap no one has water left…glad I have that Brita pitcher.  Clear the gutter.  Fill anything with water.  Make ice because no one has ice…good thing I don’t eat bread because they are out already.  Geez no one is prepared?  Make food, enforce the plan.  Gas tomorrow…there are long lines now so maybe 0600 before work will be better.  Need an oil change…scratch.  Got plenty of dog and cat food.  I think…how long were we without during Katrina.  Crap, no alcohol…must save what little money I do have.  Charge phones, iPad, laptop, camera…charge everything.  Where is that boom box I never used…batteries, need batteries, what kind?  Do I even own a flashlight?  Throw out anything in freezer not needed.  Remember that horrible stink of fridges after Katrina.  Move the flying objects from outside tomorrow or tie it down…could be a category 1, 2 or 3 we don’t know.  Geez when is that next update.  Can it make a turn elsewhere please!  Relax…it will all be okay.  Accept the process and know you are safe.  Safe.

I am not evacuating this time at least not yet.  With 2 dogs and 3 cats it’s very difficult to evacuate.  But I am a survivor…I will be prepared.  I live 2 blocks from the levee which is the highest point in New Orleans and I have an upstairs in a 100-year-old home. Also I work in the marine industry.  Surely among 60 boats I can find safe harbor if needed.  Also, I have friends riding it out also in New Orleans and my old boss Louie at Matassa’s…he won’t leave.  And my dear friend, Erin, she will make sure I am safe…her door is always open on the Northshore.

I feel pretty secure.  Anxious, but secure.

I will be cooking today…cooking Paleo/primal seems fitting for this.  Burgers, beef jerky, banana pancakes, pork roast.  I will have plenty of water, ice, pet food…the essentials.   I worked out today, feeling good and feeling strong.  Instinct takes over.

Be safe Louisiana and the Gulf Coast.

UBUNTU ~ Matt Lemmler CD Release

” …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.”

 Quincy Jones

Matt Lemmler

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
~ J.S.Bach
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.

Love Foundation
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!!

Tumbalalaika/Sunrise, Sunset
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.
Matt Lemmler

Red Dress Run…Summer Fun in New Orleans

It’s hot here and it’s been raining for what seems to be several weeks.  This does not stop New Orleans from having fun.  Thankfully the rain ended early today for one of the most fun times here…the Red Dress Run.  One week after the Satchmo Fest and tonight we have Dirty Linen Night on Royal Street.  And Red will mix with the dirty whites of the gallery seekers tonight.

I worked today, but this does not stop me or anyone else witnessing the effects of Red Dress Run.  I watch my neighbors stumbling in their houses all adorned in their red dresses.  Even my neighbors, who I always think of as very straight-laced came house a little wobbly, slurring words shouting of a great time and that I need to come next year!  As the sun sets they are still lingering in the neighborhoods.

The “race” is downtown starting and ending in the French Quarter…not sure how many of the 8000 or so ever make it to the end with the bar hopping in between!  When I lived in the Quarter, if I didn’t participate, it sure was fun to walk around and take in the red dress sightings.  Nothing like a straight hairy beer-bellied guy in a too tight red dress he borrowed from his wife!  Very funny!

For 18 years this run has been going on and proceeds go to various charities and non-profits and it’s just plain ole a hell of a lot of fun.  So if you’re not from here check it out and put in on your calendar and don’t be afraid of a little Louisiana heat.  Check out Red Dress Run on Facebook or the Hash House Harriers who are the self-proclaimed group the “drinking club with a running problem”.  So mark your calendars…I don’t want to miss this again next year!

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Note: some of the pics are from local photographer and cookbook author Roy Guste who has some amazing photos of New Orleans!  You can also find him on Facebook.

Not Just Another Friday the 13th in New Orleans

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From the time Drew Brees signed the first contract and became a Saint in 2006, he stood in the hearts of over a million people around Louisiana (and many displaced still at the time) whose souls, thus far, felt crushed after Hurricane Katrina.  He brought such a positive feeling to this city that he absolutely turned us right side up again! We wait for his motivational chant before every game and shout “Who Dat” as a hello greeting to those we meet on the street. We cried with joy the first game in the re-opening of the Dome in 2006.  Stunned, we cried again with joy when the Saints won the NFC Championship… “Pigs have flown, hell has frozen over” Jim Henderson exclaimed.  And we sobbed with such happiness and gratefulness  after the Superbowl win, watching our hero as he held his child up in the falling confetti of the celebration.  Then we cheered as a city and team when Drew broke the all-time passing record this past season.  Today again, people are celebrating in the streets of New Orleans…Black and Gold day once again! That euphoric feeling once again.  That feeling of hope again.

If you live in New Orleans you already know Drew Brees, our local hero, finally signed the contract.  He gives so much to our city that we know a big chunk of that money will come around to us.  From his charitable donations, opening businesses, supporting programs for the city, he and his wife living and raising their children in New Orleans, he is dedicating his life to New Orleans.  And we know it.  He is our neighbor and our hero.

Twitter and Facebook exploded! People are pulling out their Drew Brees jerseys…t-shirts around New Orleans will read “Team Drew”, “Praise Breesus”, “I’m Feeling a Cool Brees”and “Drew n ‘Em”.  We are ready for football.  We are ready for our leader of our team and our city to bring our spirits to another high.  We have faith. Finish Strong.

Because of Drew, we all want to be in that number When the Saints Go Marching In…again.

Who Dat!

I Hear a Bass Drum Up There

The bass drum of a New Orleans brass band is the heartbeat of our city.  Today we lost a Legend of the Treme Brass Band, Uncle Lionel Batiste, and I will miss him.  You see, I always looked forward to seeing him either playing at a festival or randomly with the band at a bar or down a street in the Quarter.  And if he wasn’t playing, he was always well dressed, drinking a beer and dancing with the women.  I had my chance to dance with him at the Satchmo Festival a couple years ago and the last time I had a beer with him was my birthday this year at the Chart Room on Chartres.  He had a gig the next night at d.b.a. he asked me to bring my friends.  I couldn’t go because of work and I wish I had.  And after he was released from the hospital a few weeks ago and all were invited to see him on Frenchmen Street…again I couldn’t go and wish I had.  You couldn’t help but smile when you saw him…you just wanted to dance with that sweet old musician.  He had fun in his 81 years and New Orleans will miss his music and his dancing in the street.  Will a second line be the same without Uncle Lionel?

Note: Uncle Lionel is with the Treme Brass Band in this Jazz Funeral video I found.  We will be second lining for him soon.

Walking with the Dead

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I needed some inspiration today, so after a thunderstorm I decided to go for a walk through Lafayette Cemetery #1.  Strange thing to do you say?  Well around here it’s a tourist attraction…well, daily tours are held at most of our cemeteries.  Due to the location of New Orleans, mostly below sea level and built on a swamp, the cemeteries are built above ground and without a doubt historic, beautiful and haunting.  This particular one was once a plantation and designated as a burial ground in 1833.  This is also the place you seen in quite a few movies. You can get there by car or the St. Charles Streetcar stopping at Washington Avenue and Prytania.  The neighborhood is the Garden District with some of the most magnificent homes ever; houses so big you can’t fit them in the viewfinder of your camera!  The cemetery is also located across from Commander’s Palace, one of the most famous restaurants in New Orleans.

After the storm the air was sultry, almost hard to breathe it in, but armed with my iPhone camera I headed to the Garden District to the cemetery to walk among the dead.  Besides being a free thing to do in New Orleans (unless you choose a guided tour), it gives you a feeling of relaxation, I think, simply due to how quiet it is.  And it is one of the places I draw inspiration for my artwork.  It is a visual wonder with the textures, colors, depth and feelings it creates.  I weaved in and out taking about 50 or more photos, finding one tomb more eye-catching than the other.  Some are elaborate, some sad and uncared for, falling apart with a doom such as the families that occupied them.  Memories of war and yellow fever are amongst many of the tombs; some noted as babies a few days old or almost an entire family dying close to the same time.  It brings to mind that death is a deep loss that affects everyone now and the beginning of time.  But, thankfully in this city, with sadness brings a second line, a celebration…just to remind you that everything is good in our hearts and our world.

Ok, I’m off to drink my Kombucha and start painting.

Strolling Around Uptown…

I live Uptown and for those of you who haven’t been to New Orleans or only have seen the French Quarter, I am a streetcar ride away from the Quarter between Magazine and Tchoupitoulas (yeah that’s a tough one if you aren’t from here but just say “Chop” and you sound cool).  Today is my day off after a fun 75 hour week being on call.  The first thing I enjoy doing on every day off is taking the dogs for a walk through my neighborhood,  with the charming homes to the live oak tree and antebellum home lined St. Charles Avenue where I always love to see old streetcars go past, then through Audubon Park.  It’s a slow walk with Bandit and Mama Bear (stopping to sniff everything), but thats what I enjoy. I feel very lucky to live in New Orleans everytime I go on these walks.  You see, I don’t need all the touristy nightlife to enjoy the city I love…just a stroll through her neighborhoods is all the appreciation I need.