Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Gert Town Surprise













(pictured: Wildman John of the Wild Tchoupitoulas 
Indian Gang) 

Gert Town Surprise
by Stuart McNair 

This past Sunday evening here in New Orleans, 
I went to visit a friend, a Mardi Gras Indian, up in 
Gert Town, an African-American neighborhood 
famous for producing great musicians like Allen 
Toussaint and Ellis Marsalis. My friend and I 
were sitting on his porch, and there was a 
birthday party going on next door.

All of the sudden, a group of guys (late teens)
came down the street carrying horns and drums. 
They got organized a block from the party, 
and ripped into a groove. The big bass drum 
was thundering through the neighborhood, 
and people started exploding out of doorways. 
They shimmeyed across their front porches, 
down their stoops, and into the street. Soon 
there were umbrellas in the air, children rolling 
up on little bikes, and moms and dads 
pushing strollers.

The young band marched in and set up shop on a 
grassy spot between the two houses, and friends 
and family surrounded them, taking turns in the 
dancing spotlight. One man was dressed to the 
nines in a suit with a handkerchief that he held in 
one hand as he danced with extreme grace and skill. 
The trumpets and trombone traded solos, while the 
tuba, snare, and bass drum raged onward. 

My friend went inside and put on a giant Indian 
Head Dress that he had created for a past 
Mardi Gras, and he leapt off of his porch and 
danced in the street. Then he went and danced 
with the children in the grass. He did two costume 
changes, for a total of three full length Head Dresses. 
I learned some new Second Line dance moves by 
watching one lady gettin' down in the street. 

I made a conscious decision to not pull out my 
camera, trading a pic for a pure memory, and a 
less intrusive presence. And another little story about 
living in the moment in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Music Theory Tips - Augmented

Stu's Music Theory Tip of the Day.
Today's Topic - Augmented Chords:
"What!?" and "Why!?" 
WHAT!? - An Augmented Chord is
a Triad in which the 5 note is raised
a half-step. Awkward, right? The rest of
the chord is normal, though. In the key of C,
it consists of C, E, and G#. This is the
"Caug", or "C#5" chord. The G# is the
"augmented" aspect of the chord. You'll
see these chords with a 7 and stuff, too,
but we'll get back to that. 
WHY!? - The purpose of the Augmented
Chord, also known as the #5 chord, is
movement. This chord is not cozy. It makes
you want to get on to the next chord!
The augmentation of the 5 creates a tension
which propels the chord UP A FOURTH.
Just like Minor Seven chords, and 9, and 11,
and 13 chords, Augmented chords create
a tension which propels chords upward
by a fourth. 
Augmentation is usually done to Major chords,
and most commonly on the V chord back to
the I. It's not usually done on the I to the IV,
but of course there are exceptions to that.
It can be used on a 6 to the 2, if the 6 is
major, and 2 to 5, if the 2 is Major. 
So in the Key of C, when your chord
progression brings you around to your G,
and it's almost time to go back to the top,
back to the C...the Augmentation of the
G gives more tension drawing us home,
back to the One. That sounded a bit,
spiritual, didn't it? 
In the above situation, the Gaug might
also include a 7, or a 9 (so...1,3,#5,7,9),
etc...these all work together to propel us
upward by a fourth. G7#5, is G7Aug,
which consists of G, B, D#, and F,
which propels us upward by a fourth,
which means going back to the One, C. 
In the Song "Ophelia", by The Band,
it's the Augmented 5, the G7#5, that
gives it that crazy tension over the
"I'd die for you" part. And you know in
"Moondance", how the three hits on
the 5 Chord sound so tense? That's
at Augmented chord. And it's everywhere
in Jazz, Blues, American Songbook, etc. 
So, as in Ophelia, in C, the #5 of the
5 Chord, the D#, draws the ear from the
D to the E, the 3 of the One Chord.
Did you catch that? So you can do a
5 chord, 5aug, then 1, and the #5 creates
a bridge between the 5 of the 5 and
the 3 of the 1. Sometimes you'll just
skip the proper 5, through, and go
straight for the 5aug. When you do
that, the ear can hear the tension,
and naturally wants to go home to the 1. 
In a 1 6 2 5 progression where the 6 is
Major and the 2 is Minor, you could use
the Aug on the 6 back to the 2, and then on
the 5 back to the 1. 
Since the #5 is typically used on Major
chords, in the above example, you
wouldn't use it on the Minor ii going to
the V. In that case, you would use the
opposite approach, the Flat 5, which
serves the same purpose for propelling
Minor chords upwards by a fourth. 
But in Major chords, the Augment is a
strrrreeeetttcchhiiinnnggg of the chord...
itching to shed it's skin
it's not a comfy chord
not a soothing sound
it begs to be resolved
begs to swim ashore
be pulled up the ladder
it says look at me
i can see ahead
four steps
i'm ready
to jump!

Monday, September 21, 2015

poem - a thousand rainbows

sometimes the human
beauty of New Orleans 
just overwhelms, in an 
unphotographable, 
unshareable kind of way. 
it makes the heart explode
right out of one's chest
into a thousand rainbows.

Wild Tchoupitoulas

(originally posted Aug, 30, 2015, to Facebook)

Today, on the ten year anniversary of the Flood, 
I'm honoring the departed by drumming with 
the Wild Tchoupitoulas Indian Gang.

Queen Mercy

Hanging with Queen Mercy, oldest living Indian Queen 
and oldest living Baby Doll in New Orleans. Stu's a lucky man.

poem - water flower

water flower (2015)

the water flower
leaps upward endlessly,
its rainbow petals
pillowing out with soft curls,
each millisecond a tiny masterpiece,
like a snapshot of buoyant laughter,
head thrown back in wild ecstasy.

It's saved my life many times.
Like an old faithful fountain
that never even stops for sleep,
the waters, and their mysterious source,
are forever with us as we dance and skip
through paradise, twirling and whirling
through the garden of our dreams.

Music Theory Tip - the Diminished

Stu's Music Theory Tip o' the Day: 
(disclaimer: this is wordy) 
Flat Five Chords (diminished). 
Why would you ever do something so
odd as to flat, or diminish, or lower, the
the fifth of any chord? Well, most of
the time, a flat five is used on the minor
two chord, on its way to the Five chord,
back to the One. It adds a little tension,
or motion, or depth, to the minor two,
and typically includes the 7, which
adds tension also. 
So, in the key of C: If your chord
progression is C Am7 Dm7 G7
you can flat the five of the Dm7 (the minor
two chord) for extra tension.
If your chord progression
is G Em7 Am7 D7, then you can flat the five
of the Am7, the two chord in G. 
Yes, you can also flat the five of the
other minor chords in the above examples,
which are the "minor six" chords in each
progression. 
Why? Because, basically flatting the
five adds momentum to the movement
UP a FOURTH. It leads the minor chord
even more feverishly toward its jump. 
Flatting the five of Em7 makes it
really eager to go to A. Cmflat5
wants to go to F REALLY bad!
Up that fourth! 
The 7 does the same thing...propels
all chords up a fourth, so you'll see
the flat5 and the 7 together. Maybe
the 9 too, or the 11, or 13, but fear not! 
A 9 or 11 or 13 chord is is just a
seven chord with more energy, more
momentum pulling it up that fourth.
(A 9 Chord inlcudes the 7.
An 11 Chord includes the 9 and 7.
13 Chord includes the 11, 9, and 7)
Now, add the flat five to that family
of chords, the ones that pull you up
that fourth. It's just typically used
on the minor two and six chords
of a progression. (other uses include
using it in a modulation to another key,
but again on a minor chord headed up
a fourth). 
Now, before you ask. Moving from
the One to Four. Major chords.
That's a jump up a fourth. Why not
use it there? Nah. And the Five to the One.
Major chords. Here you can use the
7,9,11,13, but you want to AUGMENT
your five here. 
That's what we'll reveal next time:
that the augmented chord is typically
appropriate, according to the mathematical
laws of our galaxy, as an extra weight
for major chords moving up a fourth,
most commonly the Five back to the One.

the observer

Sometimes when playing these solo piano gigs, 
from the corner of my eye I'll sense someone 
really paying attention...just enthralled, 
hanging on every note. It's often a curvy woman, 
just staring intently. I'll start performing just for 
that person in my mind, and I'll kick it up a notch. 
And they keep on paying attention! Eventually, 
I'll summon some boldness and turn and 
look right at the figure! That's when I realize that 
what I thought was a person is actually a potted plant,
or a vase, or a column, or water pitchers on a table. 
It happens all the time. Been meaning to tell you.

Busker's Rights

So today I attended a reception for the new NOLA Patrol, 
a group of new police officers who will patrol the 
Quarter on foot. There were various types of police 
present, plus community and business leaders, 
as well as street performers and musicians. I spoke 
about the hopes that the NOLA Patrol will be sensitive 
to street performers, protecting them and viewing them 
as a cultural treasure, and not as panhandlers. 

The Commander spoke at length about my comments, 
assuring everyone that these officers have no intention 
of stopping street performance or violating anyone's 
rights to free speech. That's one thing that New Orleans' 
messed up government gets right: it recognizes street 
performance as a constitutional right, unlike many 
American cities that have outlawed it or require 
complicated permits (I'm looking at you, CHARLESTON). 

Afterward I met many of the officers, and they were 
exceedingly friendly. Upon walking out, I saw this young man 
playing buckets outside. I see him a lot and he's got skills. 
This kid right here...this is why I said what I said.

Vieux Carre by Tennessee Williams

As a longtime Tennessee Williams fan, I finally read 
Vieux Carre, which is based on his time living in the 
French Quarter in the 30's. This is perhaps his most 
relentlessly dark and disturbing play, and is alarmingly 
bereft of the fleeting moments of sublime beauty that 
make his other plays emotionally survivable. For the 
history buff, this is a gritty peek into the deep, 
dark Quarter of old.

take off the beads

So last night at about 3am I was headed 
home via bike, and at an intersection 
I was approached by a lone European tourist 
who was hopelessly lost and had just been 
robbed and beaten up. His hands were all bloody 
and he was in tears. He had no money and 
no phone, and was headed in the wrong direction. 
"Just take it easy. I'm going to help you," I said. 
"First step: take OFF the Mardi Gras beads." 
So he did. Then I walked him, tears flowing, 
all the way down Bourbon Street until I found a cabbie 
willing to take him to his hotel for twenty bucks.

photo with Keb' Mo' and Ashley Feller

That moment when you show up for a happy hour 
slot and find out you're opening for Keb' Mo'...

poem - blue flower

blue flower  
i put a little piece of that
blue flower in my mouth,
and i came up the stem
of your skirt with a rhyme.

a thousand nights i've
walked out under the moss,
framing the moon between
the branches, sighing for you.

and if you were here,
you'd be not so much lilly white,
but more a crunchy orange,
weathered like a tree.

baby you are the one
for me, and you know it's true.
i'll put on a song for you,
and dream about our time.
Photo: Scotland, Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, 2012Photo: Scotland, Edinburgh Botanical Gardens, 2012

Dodwell House, New Orleans

There's a massive project underway to turn this wondrous, 
mysterious, but decaying marvel of Creole architecture 
called the Dodwell House into a K-4 Music and Art school 
complete with gardens and all sorts of things. I'll be playing 
some music for Dodfest on June 20, a fundraiser with 
multiple bands, artists, and kid's activities.

fun facts - Mardi Gras History

Fun Facts: New Orleans, LA, and Mobile, AL, are 
actually sister cities, having been founded by the 
same group of Frenchmen, led by brothers Bienville 
and Iberville LeMoyne. The original French Quarters 
of both cities have the street names Bienville, Iberville, 
Royal, Dauphine, Conti, Toulouse, etc. Mobile was 
founded in 1703, and New Orleans followed in 1711 
as things started moving West. So the often repeated 
claim that Mobile had the first Mardi Gras comes 
not only from her being the older sister, but also 
from the fact that Mobile was quicker to bring it 
back after the Civil War ended in 1865 (led by Joe Cain 
and the Mystic Cowbellions). Both New Orleans and 
Mobile spent a lot of time ruled by Spain, too, and 
Spanish architecture abounds in the pre-American 
districts of both cities, since fires destroyed most 
of the original French stuff.

poem - walls and doors

sometimes it looks like 
a door, but it's a wall. 
sometimes it looks like 
a wall, but it's a door.

poem - firemaker

firemaker

i was born able to make fire,
as few were then in those parts.
to me it was just fun, so i skipped 

around the neighborhood showing off. 
little did i know, i was making the 
townspeople afraid, scaring them
half to death of great conflagrations, 

exploding and spooking the cattle, 
sending the women and children
into the streets, and bringing damnation 

upon the whole lot of them, like the 
darkness inside a felled tree
split to ribbons by a tornado,
writhing and kicking like a rabid convict 

in a blood-soaked straightjacket. 

so they came at me 
with snarls and growls, and 
chased me through the streets 
with rakes and hoes, trying to trap me 
in a blind alley and snuff me out
then and there, with shit-soaked boots.

but they didn't corner me.
i made my way to the park, which
i knew by heart. my nimble legs wove 

a dizzying pattern. past playground and 
fountain, i found open ground and ran. 
road led to highway, and once out
of the city limits, the people turned back.


then i thought about the story
you told me way back when,
about the town tucked away in the
hills, wrapped like a blanket in blue mist, 

filled with fire makers. your stories about 
how they danced, and made music, and 
little girls wore butterfly wings of paper mache, 
and on sunday they all drifted lazily down 
a river of raging sunlight, where plants grew 
along the banks that when eaten, could 
attune a heartbeat to the main rhythm of
the milky way, then the entire universe, and 
brought visions and dreams with colors 
unknown to the human eye.

so i made my way there, and i found you.

you welcomed me, and brought me to 
new friends. One night, when we were all 
sitting on the floor, tuning, i said something 
about fire, and there was laughter, and love. 
then, in spontaneous combustion,
i burst into flames that rose and licked the 
ceiling like heaving tongues, curved pedals 
composed of millions of tiny flowers of 
yellow, purple, and pink, that expanded and 
foamed into every corner like laughing lungs.

you all breathed it in, and began levitating, 

changing eye color and making each other 
giggle by pantomiming swimming strokes,
and dances from the 50's, and operating lawn 

equipment and motorized vehicles, and archery,
and there was breakdancing, and then we all 

floated through the windows, and were taken high
into the air, as the flowery foam formed itself 

into a mighty peacock tail of green and gold, 
swaying into the heavens like the fanning flora 
of a tropical coral reef, dancing with the sun. 

poem - crank it

dear great Father/Mother,
you have allowed me to see
that the universe is made of love,
and that it's essence is more loving,
intelligent, and funky, than any
human mind can hope to grasp.
you have allowed me to see that
every person lives in a cocoon of love,
forever resting in a bosom of protection,
and that "bad things" only get through
because they teach lessons that
must be learned for the greater good.
that's all there is to it!
so, Father/Mother, i'm asking you now to allow
me to know the most love and magic
possible in what is left of this lifetime.
i want the maximum voltage that can
come through this line. i want full tilt
funkiness from the other side.
oh, my Beloved, now that you have let
me know you, i want all that i can stand.
Beloved, i've removed the blockages,
and i'm ready. i can handle it.
turn up the amp to 11. crank it.
open the flood gates, 'cause i'm not afraid.
as John Fogerty once sang,
"put me in, coach. i'm ready to play".

Dottie

So last night in New Orleans, I was wandering around 
the Marigny, over East of the Quarter, waiting for the 
doors to open at the Healing Arts Center, where I would 
later see my friends in Rising Appalachia, and jam a little 
with them on Trumpet. 

I decided to pick a corner dive bar and find me a spot to 
have a pre-show cocktail, and take a minute to collect myself. 
I chose a gay/hipster/anything goes kind of place called 
"Big Daddy's" (not to be confused with the strip club by that 
name over on Bourbon St.). I chose it because I heard a 
piano player from the street. 

Inside, there were a few crusty locals at the bar, one old blind 
lady on piano with her husband playing ghostly electric guitar, 
and one little square table with four very enthusiastic women 
just eating up everything the little blind lady did. This was not 
a tourist bar, and it was obvious that the four women, each in 
their mid-forties, were from out of town. The blind lady was 
playing a host of New Orleans classics between requests for 
songs like "Brown-Eyed Girl" from the four ladies. 

All was well and my cocktail was going down smooth, when 
Dottie entered the bar. Dottie was blonde, and holding on to 
her forties for dear life. She wore her existence as a flamboyant 
life-loving New Orleanian proudly in every little wrinkle on her face. 
Her figure was still really nice, though. She might not have been in 
mint condition, but she could still turn a head or two when need be. 
She and her city had that in common. 

Well Dottie just lit the place up. She danced around, called the 
barkeep and regulars by name, and kissed the blind piano player 
on the cheek. Then she grabbed those four tourists up, and before 
you knew it all five girls were spinning and clicking and clacking all 
over the dingy concrete floor. Soon they were all in ecstasy, heads 
thrown back in laughter, bodies twirling and whirling. Dottie went 
outside and came back dancing with a decorated party umbrella, 
a New Orleans thing that I know she did for the benefit 
of those four gals. 

So then Dottie took a breather, and sat at the bar. She called over 
to the four, and for the benefit of the entire room, she said "say, 
where y'all from?"

"Nevada!", said one of the ladies. 
"Indiana!", said another. 
"Idaho!", said the third.
"New Hampshire!", answered the fourth. 
"Well", said Dottie, "welcome to the real world!"

If You're Gonna Lie

"If you're gonna lie, lie to save
someone's feelings. If you're gonna
cheat, cheat death. If you're gonna
steal, steal someone's heart." 
(This was said to me this past weekend
at a festival I played in Georgia by
a man called "Drew Bear")

New Strings

So I was at a gas station, and as I walked out this
unwashed kid in his early twenties, with a guitar 
case, asked me for a dollar. I said "what, you 
a musician?". He then explained that he was a 
beginner with a broken string. His name was Ronnie. 
He was trying to get some food and water and 
dental floss, then eventually a new string. He had 
been riding freight cars across the US for 
three straight years. 

So I went into my bag and got a whole brand 

new set of nice acoustic strings, and strung his 
guitar and tuned it up and gave him some 
pointers, right there by the gas pump. 
Maybe he'll write a great song out 
there on those strings.

The Universe is Godding

Food for thought...
"The Universe is Godding" is a famous line
said by Micky Dolenz of The Monkees in the
late sixties movie "Head", and it's basically 
randomly inserted without context. 
Here is his remark on that, from his autobiography...
"I believe, as did Buckminster Fuller, that God is a verb. 
A verb that not only describes the sum total of all
natural physical processes but also the workings
in the metaphysical worlds of ideas, values, and truth.
[Much like Plato’s ideal world of mathematical concepts.] 
We make contact with these worlds of action via
the intellect and perceive of them by the exercise of
reason, insight, and revelation. In my humble opinion,
God did not create the universe, the universe is Godding."

Christmas With a Twist - Surviving Mobile's Holiday Tornados

Christmas With a Twist - Surviving Mobile's Holiday Tornados
by Stuart McNair



It’s a good thing Santa was long 
gone by then, because he 
wouldn’t have stood a chance 
against the freakishly gnarly, 
disruptively rude, unanimously 
uninvited guest that had some 
folks in Mobile, AL, doing the 
Peppermint Twist on 
Christmas Day, 2012.


The McNair family in Mobile survived a direct hit from a tornado on 
Christmas Day, and the storm did surreal damage to the family home 
and vehicles, and the historic neighborhood as a whole. I grew up in 
midtown Mobile near Murphy High School, and the tornado cut a path 
right through my old stomping grounds, getting a little personal as it went.

Some examples: it brought catastrophic damage to Murphy High School,
particularly the Band Room and historic Auditorium, which were at the
center of my world for my four years there as a marching band, music,
and theater performer. Some heroic band parents actually ran into the
damaged Band Room and saved the woodwinds and percussion instruments
from the rain after the roof was torn off, even as the police forbade them to do so.

This storm had power: The 2,000 pound Murphy Football scoreboard
landed in someone’s yard blocks away. Also, word is that historic
Trinity Episcopal Church, where some of my family attended Christmas Eve 
service, will require extreme measures to be saved. The church had just spent 
millions on renovations. The twister also blew out the windows of Mobile 
Infirmary, shattering glass throughout the hospital where my sister was born.

But dig this: nobody was hurt in any 
of this. Many of these buildings and 
houses were empty at the time. Our family 
happened to be barely out of harm’s way, 
because twenty minutes before the storm 
hit, we had walked five houses down to 
my Grandparents’ house. That’s when we 
heard that famous “freight train” 
sound, and saw the tornado through 
the living room window.

When we emerged from crouching in the 
hallway, the street looked like Berlin after 
WW2. It took a while to even grasp the 
damage, because of the sheets of rain, howling 
winds, and piles of trees, power lines, and rubble between us and my parents’ house. 
It was a mess, for sure! Neighbors all around got a special souvenir: 
pieces of the McNair’s roof!

Christmas night was spent rescuing pets, dodging gas leaks and 
electrocution, climbing over and under wet trees, wading through 
glass and protruding nails, and attempting to salvage unopened 
Christmas presents, all in total darkness with pandemonium all around. 
It was frantic and emotional scene, for sure. So without going into further 
detail, we lost a lot of trees, stuff, and worthless junk with intense 
sentimental value, and went through a fairly traumatic experience
together. My parents, who have handled the whole thing beautifully, 
won’t be able to spend a night at home for months as the now 
boarded-up house is renovated.

Even though my personal losses include damages to my touring vehicle and cancellations of my New Year’s Performances, my greatest sorrow is the loss of the family’s trees. The yard had a small forest in it, with Oaks, Pines, and two glorious Magnolias, plus a host of Azaleas, none of
which could be saved. These Magnolias had the deep green leaves and the lovely white flowers, and I’ve loved, admired, and taken comfort in these trees for many years. I thought that those trees would always be a part of our family.

But let me get to the point. For me, I can’t ponder the fact that no one was hurt without thinking about the Higher Power. I just can’t. And I would challenge any person on the face of this planet to have been there and NOT admit that the occurrence had a supernatural element. It had a purpose, and it wasn’t to kill or maim, obviously.

I think all of my friends and family here in Mobile
feel very blessed. It’s made it easy for everyone to feel fortunate
to be able to take another breath, eat another meal, and share time
with precious people. It makes the rain and the dreary
weather beautiful. The air feels good. The full moon is wild.

It’s an accelerated class for the soul. Every person affected can
say that this storm, whatever it cost them, didn’t cost them anyone
that they love. They can all see with new eyes what matters, and how
fleeting and fragile this life is.

Things aren’t really in our control, you know. Reality is so often
out of our hands that we can only thank heavens that we’ve made
it this far, and that we get to have one more laugh. One more laugh
together with the ones who share this journey with us, strange
and painful as it all is.

I think everyone has begun to look 
across the table at dinner, and see 
a little fresh beauty in the ones 
sitting there. In this vast universe of 
jillions of galaxies, there are people 
who have chosen to walk with us through 
this sacred experience. And those people
are it. Animals too. The souls that have 
agreed to walk with us are the secret of life.

There’s nothing like a tragedy to take your 
mind off of depression. Nothing like a tragedy 
to change the focus, and make it possible to 
see that life is in fact a miracle. Everything is,
in fact, a miracle.

Nothing like a tragedy to make a person see the beauty all around,
and that this universe is in fact made of beauty. “Truth is beauty,
and beauty truth” isn’t too far from “God is Love”.  Both express this
point: we are inside an experience so magnificent that our puny
pea-sized brains can’t even begin to grasp it, and it’s all a really,
really good thing. We can’t comprehend it all, but we can glimpse
a little of it, though. And just a glimpse of the Creator’s love is
enough. In fact, it’s an overflowing feast.

Life is short and time is priceless. 
Family bonds are for better
or for worse. Friends are our treasure. 
We are inside the great miracle. 
We get to see it from our angle for only 
a universal nanosecond, then it’s over.

A life is like a spark sailing up from a 
great bonfire. What a joy it is to be a 
part of the Creator’s Masterpiece for a 
shining moment. What a joy to be a part 
of the Creator. What a joy to know so
many others, each a spark of the 
precious, priceless, beloved One that 
pervades it all.

This is my prayer: Heavenly Father/Mother, I fall to my 
knees and thank you with every fiber of my being for allowing 
me to take part in this, your perfect creation. I am truly not worthy 
to be a part of a plan so intelligent, loving, and wild with joy. 
All I ask, Lord, is that you grant me the ability to see, hear, and 
feel your presence in Nature and Living Beings for the rest of my days.