The One Where a White Guy Talks About Hip Hop and Jazz

This week, because I enjoy being both efficient and lazy, a large portion of this blog post is going to be the abstract to my master’s thesis. My thesis is due next fall so the final abstract will surely look a bit different than what you are about to see here. This is simply a preliminary abstract that I have to submit tomorrow to the honorable Dr. Dave Schroeder (director of jazz studies at NYU) so he can make sure that i’m not going to do anything terribly misguided or unrelated to jazz in my research. Unfortunately I fear I may be doing something terribly misguided and unrelated to jazz. You be the judge…

“Back in the days when i was a teenager,

before i had status and before i had a pager,

you could find the Abstract listening to hip hop.

My pops used to say, it reminded him of bebop”

-Q-Tip (Excursions)

The purpose of this research is to examine the connection between hip hop and jazz. Certainly there have been a number of jazz artists to utilize hip hop beats in their songs (notably Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, and Branford Marsalis), as well as a number of hip-hop artists to utilize jazz samples in their songs (notably A Tribe Called Quest, Digable Planets, and De La Soul). Yet the connection between jazz and hip hop is deeper than mere examples of cross-pollination. Herbie Hancock himself has acknowledged the relationship between beboppers composing new melodies over Tin Pan Alley chord changes and hip hop MCs composing new lyrics over funk grooves from the ‘60s and ‘70s, while the journalist Harry Allen proclaimed outright that “hip hop is the new jazz” (Tate, 388).

There are many similarities between jazz and hip hop. Both hip hop and jazz were created and developed by working class African Americans. Each genre served, and often still serves, as dance music (although jazz has in many cases evolved beyond a danceable rhythm, it is interesting to note that Dizzy Gillespie said in his autobiography: “Jazz was invented for people to dance. So when you play jazz and don’t feel like dancing or moving your feet, you’re getting away from the idea of the music”). Jazz and hip hop also share musical priorities such as an “obsession with syncopation and timbral exaggeration” (Tate, 388).

The above are just a few general connections between hip hop and jazz. Yet during the course of this research, I will attempt to discern the exact degree to which hip hop is jazz. I will do this by comparing and contrasting each genre’s creation, and social function, and aesthetic trends. Finally, I will do rhythmic transcriptions and formal musical analysis of verses by notable rap artists in an attempt to discover the musical similarities between dexterous rappers and jazz virtuosos.

What’s up nerds! It’s me Lucas, back from formal research writing land and back in the cozy casual world of blog writing. Seriously, anything goes here! Watch.

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See!

Ok, anyway let me soften the blow of my previous accusation. I don’t think that my research will be misguided or unrelated to jazz. I see clear social and aesthetic connections between jazz and hip hop. Yet I do realize that there is potentially a big problem with me exploring this topic: I’m white. Yes, I’m white. I don’t know if you all realized this from the fact that I look, sound, and act really white, but it’s true, I am white. And yet a foundation of this research is the fact that both hip hop and jazz were created by poor and working class African-Americans. I obviously have no idea what it is like to be black or tan. I’ve never known anything other than easy living on Caucasian lane.

If I were to at all try to explain the subjective experience of the creators of jazz and hip hop, I would be speaking about something I know nothing about. Sure, I have black friends, yes I play jazz and hip hop— this gives me the authority to talk about the African American experience right? Nope. Not even a little bit. White musicologists have a rich history of overstepping the domain of their knowledge and experience when analyzing African American music. Early 20th century accounts of blues, jazz, and African American folk songs are full of simplistic and racist portrayals of black people. I hope to avoid this trend at all costs.

Luckily, my research is redeemed by the fact that this is formal academic writing (i.e. the most boring, soulless, lame-ass writing in all the land). In this paper, there will be no room for subjective commentary, simply objective description. I’ve chosen to write about the connection between jazz and hip hop not because either is part of my cultural tradition, but simply because I really love to listen to and play both. And if you have to write a long-ass boring research paper, it might as well be about something you love right?

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Holly Jolly

World's Smallest Studio
World’s Smallest Studio

Before arriving in New York City I was excited about the prospect of turning over a new leaf in such a lively place. I was convinced that I was going to work harder than I ever had before— I would write, record, play gigs, excel in school and promote myself ceaselessly. For I knew that if I did these things that I would grow musically, enhance my career, meet some incredible people, and learn countless lessons that I would carry with me for the rest of my life. Yet as anyone who has ever set a new year’s resolution knows, it feels great to dream up a grand new life, and it feels bad when you inevitably fall short of your goals. Thus, I was feeling blue last week because (in addition to America electing it’s first cartoon super-villain president) I felt like I was falling short of my musical and personal goals for my time in NYC. Sure, I’ve been going to school, doing my work, and paying my bills— there’s no reason for anyone else to be upset with my behavior here, and yet I am disappointed in myself because I know in my heart that if I truly want to succeed in music here or anywhere else, there is much more that I could be doing. So I did what I always do when I’m feeling down on myself: I made a list of things that I could do to make myself feel better.

1. Seek out gigs. Why? Because performing has been such a large and positive part of my life for the past nine years and I’m sad to say that I haven’t played a single gig since I’ve been here. I yearn to perform, and I absolutely have to if I want to become a part of the New York City musical community.

2. Talk to David Schroeder, the director of the NYU jazz studies department. Why? Because I’ve had something on my chest since I enrolled in school here—namely that I do not think that I am a “jazz musician.” I absolutely love learning from the many jazz masters who teach at NYU, but I needed to bring it to light that I am interested in playing a great many other genres and that it is likely that I am not going to make my millions (or thousands, or dozens) strictly playing jazz.

3. Play music with someone. Why? Because I’ve been spending far too much time cooped up in a small room practicing music, and not enough time actually making music with other people. As I’ve written before, playing music alone and never doing it with others is merely masturbation.

4. Call the producer of a short film that I am scoring. Why? Because I wanted to clarify some of our goals and deadlines, and it is better for me to be proactive than to passively wait on her guidance.

5. Go play pickup basketball. Why? Because I love pickup basketball. It’s fun, therapeutic, social, and there’s no better sound than a crisp swish.

I am very proud to say that in addition to fulfilling my usual school duties, I achieved all five of these goals this week. I booked a couple of gigs for mid-December, I had a wonderful heart to heart with David Schroeder, I played music with a couple of classmates, I got in touch with the producer, and I played pickup basketball. Each achievement momentarily infused me with joy and confidence and yet, on Friday after I had accomplished all of them, overall I still felt low. The good news is that I’ve lived long enough to learn that sometimes my sadness is not a result of outer circumstances, but just part of the natural ebb and flow of my spirit. You cannot have happiness without experiencing sadness, and I’m likely experiencing a natural low after the incredibly exciting high of being a New York City newcomer. I’m oddly at peace with my sadness, for I know it will pass and give way to joy again. Such is life.

So Friday night I was feeling sleepy and sad as I was taking the Subway home—I got off of the A train in order to transfer to the C, when I was suddenly face to face with a vivacious young subway performer wearing a red tie prancing around singing Holly Jolly Christmas along to a backing track. Now I’m generally uninspired by the song Holly Jolly Christmas (especially before Thanksgiving), but there was just something so enjoyable about watching this little dude sing it. He followed up Holly Jolly with his final number of the evening: a highly dramatic dance routine to a high-energy club song. It is comical for me to write this, but I sincerely mean it— that little guy’s sparkling dance routine brought me back to life. I felt intense joy at watching him so freely and spontaneously express himself. Coincidentally, if you go to his instagram page (@masterblasterg) you can actually see video of this exact moment. Scroll down to the video titled “Dance because you can” and you’ll see me in the background, first languidly looking at whatever distraction I have pulled up on my phone, and then by the end, flashing a huge grin.

As he was packing up his gear I went over to slip him a tip and talk to him. His name is Gabriel Angelo and he is 17 years, and he had the same effervescent personality in conversation that he does while performing. I asked him what his musical goals are, and he told me (with a dramatic wave of his hands) that he wants to do more shows than anyone ever has in the world, and to heal people with his music. You’ll have to suspend your cynicism to read this (as I have to suspend mine to write it) but he did heal me that night. I cannot describe it any other way than to say that in watching him sing and dance, he transmitted his pure joy directly to my heart and soul. As if that gift was not enough, he reminded me that I did not fall in love with music for any practical purposes. I fell in love with music because of it’s mystic ability to transmit feelings beyond words. Certainly it is good to set goals for myself and achieve them, but I should remember that practical goals may have very little to do with love, happiness, and music.

Heart, Brain, Butt

In the immortal words of Q-Tip, “Question: what is it that everybody has, and some pirates and thieves try to take? … Da Booty.” The booty is a natural place to start if we want to talk about music, because one basic function of music is to make you move your ass. It’s liberating to shake your ass after all. Go ahead and try. No one is watching (and if they are, even better). Stand up and shake your butt right now.

Few of you did. I understand, it’s a little embarrassing if people are watching, and if there’s no music playing then you’d probably feel a little bit crazy. It’s much more natural to shake your groove thing if you have a funky beat on hand— for me it even feels unnatural to stay stationary if there is an infectious groove within earshot. This is indeed one great power of music. It compels us to do something incredibly enjoyable that in silence feels awkward and forced. If you haven’t yet let music move your backside, I implore you, the next time you’re alone, put on some James Brown and shake that thing. You’ll be a better person afterwards.

I love music that makes me want to physically move, and a lot of music is written solely for that purpose. Most dance songs (whether disco, funk, electronic, or anything else) are basically telling us to turn off our brains and turn on our butts (the body’s natural center of dance). Yet in studying Jazz here at NYU, I’ve basically had to park my butt in a chair and turn on my brain. For at this point, the only way I can fathom something like playing an altered dominant scale in a 5/4 time signature is to think about it. I’ve got to use my brain for something like that because if I asked my butt how to do it she would just say “man, why not just play in 4/4? That way you can clap on beats two and four! And a what scale? Just play a C chord for a while and then maybe go to that A minor chord… come on it’ll be fun!”

Jazz, more than most other genres, has offered a haven for people who wish to take a cerebral approach to music. I’m not ready to say that this is the only way to approach Jazz, but the very fact that you can get a PhD in jazz studies indicates that there is great intellectual depth to the music, and that using your brain to wrestle with that depth is a worthwhile endeavor for the student of jazz. “Wrestling” is indeed a good way to describe my interaction with the music at the moment. For the past month I’ve been consistently exposed to some of the best musicians I’ve ever heard, making me realize more than ever how little I know. It is a challenge, but I know that the only way that I can begin to climb the ever growing mountain of musical knowledge that I see before me is to use my head. My butt is not going to get me up that mountain— instead I have to use my brain to do the hard work of analyzing tunes, memorizing melodies, experimenting with new harmonies, perfecting difficult rhythms, and much more.

Yet between the brain and the butt, there is another part of the body that has something important to say about music: the heart. The philosopher Herbert Spencer once said that “music is the language of emotion,” and lately I’ve been directly interacting with this idea in my film scoring class. Certainly there are many functions of music in film— in class we came up with a list of about 25— but one of the most basic functions is to convey the emotional tone of the moment in order to make the story being told much more vivid. What, for instance, is the movie The Graduate (one of my all time favorite films) without the brooding sense of aimlessness evoked by Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence?— probably still a good movie, but not the memorable masterpiece we know it to be.Great film music tells the story alongside the action onscreen, pinpointing the mood of the scene and communicating it directly to the heart of the viewer. Thus, learning (or struggling might be more accurate)to write film music has been for me a lesson in understanding music’s emotional power.

Last Saturday I went to Smalls Jazz Club (it is indeed, very small) to see the group Jean Michel Pilc and Total Madness (Pilc on piano, Ari Hoenig on drums, Joel Frahm on Tenor Sax, Chet Doxas also on Tenor, and Francois Moutin on bass), and I don’t think I have ever seen a group so expertly capable of expressing music in the three ways that I’ve mentioned above. Throughout the night they were intellectually stimulating, combining advanced harmonies with rare time signatures at blistering speeds. They were also incredibly emotive in their playing— you could feel the emotional weight of their notes instead of abstractly admiring the fact that they were playing them. And perhaps most remarkably, they sometimes made you want to dance— despite the fact that they were often playing in time signatures that my brain could not immediately follow, they played with such rhythmic accuracy and a sense of the groove that if I were a braver and slightly more obnoxious man, I would have busted a move in that tiny jazz club.

Not every musician will reach the height of Jean Michel Pilc and total madness. It is a fine achievement to just write really good dance music, or intellectually challenging music, or emotionally expressive music. But know that music does not serve a single master. Music is a multiplicity that can speak to your brain, your heart, or your butt, and I aspire to let it speak to all of me.

Backstreet Boys vs. Milli Vanilli


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Watching the presidential debate last Monday was similar to what it would be like to watch the mighty German national soccer team play a match against the tiny nation of Belize* if all the Belizean players were drunk and high on cocaine. Imagine: Germany is far and away the better team, relentlessly and smugly scoring goal after goal after goal on Belize, yet the intoxicated Belizean players refuse to recognize any of the goals scored on them. Belize stubbornly pretends they’re tied and that its an even match. They celebrate furiously every-time they administer a violent slide tackle or use their hands and try to throw the ball in the goal. Also the referee is Lester Holt, and he obviously has no control over this shit-show of a match.

Now I’m not suggesting that Hillary is as precision perfect at debating as Germany is at soccer, nor am I suggesting that Donald Trump debates like he’s drunk and high (although he was sniffling a lot, rambling on and on, yelling… you know what, maybe I am suggesting that). I’m pointing out the vast difference between Hillary and Trump that was exposed by putting the two candidates on stage with each other. One came across as being competent and substantial, and the other came across as being as competent and substantial (and aesthetically pleasing) as a chicken McNugget.

And yet, Trump still has his supporters. No matter what ridiculous, inaccurate, or offensive thing he says, a lot of people are still going to vote for him. The logistical and ethical holes in his policy plans do not deter Trump supporters. They just like the way he talks: simple superlative adjectives delivered in a coarse, firm tone and a healthy dose of xenophobia. That or they just hate Hillary— probably continuing in the ages old trend of hating or distrusting women, what with their vaginas and everything. Hillary can present all of the well-researched, plausible policy plans in the world, she can continue to not say racist or offensive things in public, and she can tout all of her experience in both the white house and senate, but she will not sway some people.

I’m not going out on a limb by saying that Hillary is objectively more qualified to be president than Trump— yet that’s not what matters to people. Do you like Hillary? Or do you like Trump? That’s the question. To use a musical example (this is a music blog after all), let’s address an old question: Beatles or Rolling Stones? Sure you can like both (I do), but everyone likes one a little more than the other. Some people are going to fight me on this, but I’m also not going out on a limb by saying that The Beatles were the more musically advanced group. The Rolling Stones never wrote music in odd time signatures, they never utilized a Bach-influenced piano solo, or borrowed from Indian Classical music— The Beatles did (Here Comes the Sun, In My Life, and Within you, Without You, respectively). Yet I am not going to try to convince you that you should like the Beatles more than the Rolling Stones just because they are more musically intricate. If you like the Rolling Stones more than the Beatles (or vice versa), you do so because you just like the way they sound, and that’s fine. Unfortunately political decisions are a lot like this as well— I contest that they aren’t always (or even often) informed intellectual decisions about who would make the best political leader. Most likely, if you support Trump, you just like his Trumpiness, and if you support Hillary, you just like her Clintinivity (and the truly inspiring fact that she could be the first woman president).

I suppose I was comparing Donald Trump to the Rolling Stones in that last paragraph, and for that reason I would like to sincerely apologize to the Rolling Stones. I also don’t want Hillary to start thinking she’s the Beatles of politics (whenever she reads this blog post). These two candidates are not the Beatles and Stones— we’re dealing with two of the most hated candidates of all time. If I’m searching for comparable musical acts, I’d say this election is closer to The Backstreet Boys (Hillary) vs. Milli Vanilli (Donald Trump). If you don’t remember Milli Vanilli, they were the German R&B duo popular in the late 80’s who were eventually outed for not actually having sung any of the vocals on their album and for lip-syncing at all their concerts. They were just models posing as singers (perhaps not unlike many singers today). Similarly, Donald Trump is just a super rich guy posing as a politician (perhaps not unlike many politicians today). The longer he sticks around, the more likely it is that he will be exposed as the phony that he is— I only hope we don’t have to elect him president for him to be fully exposed.

For as much as I clearly detest the man, I also feel sorry for him. It must be hard to so often stand up in front of people and not know what the hell you’re talking about— Lester Holt’s asking you questions about creating jobs, and you just want to go watch the Bachelor. I admit that I sometimes feel a little bit Trumpy in my NYU jazz studies master’s program. Compared to some of my other classmates, I don’t sight read very well, I don’t know as many tunes, and I’m not as familiar with the Jazz language, and yet when it is my time to take a solo, I have to come up with something to say just like the rest of them. Between trying to simultaneously navigate the song form, the guitar fretboard, and the sound of the band at large, I sometimes get lost and basically don’t know what the hell I’m playing or what I should be playing. I end up just rambling on incoherently.

The difference between me and Trump (well, hopefully not the only difference) is that I am not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. When I suck (and I suck often), I want to do it freely and openly in front of my teachers and classmates, beckoning them to help me. The repeated embarrassment of this experience will motivate me to practice my craft and elevate my level, and (if nothing else) the fact that I’m paying many thousands of dollars for this education will hopefully motivate my teachers to show me the way forward.

Playing jazz, running for president, and challenging Germany in soccer are all enormously difficult tasks. No one is born ready for these endeavors. Sure, you can pretend you are— you can also pretend your sloppy spray-tan looks really cool. The better idea would be to resign yourself to the difficulty of your goal (whatever it may be), embrace a life-time of honest learning, and walk the long path from mediocrity to competency and ultimately to mastery. That’s my plan at least.

*I want to say that I meant no disrespect to the nation of Belize in this blog. Belizeans don’t get drunk or high more than any other nation (although the white tourists who travel to Belize probably do). Just to clarify I picked Belize because they have a pretty bad soccer team and I traveled there once.

“What Inspires You?”


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Last Saturday I was sitting at a 2nd avenue bar called the Thirsty Scholar with my friend Jonathan. We were talking about Ashtanga Yoga, jazz jam etiquette, and his time in Brazil when we heard about the bombing in Chelsea. Despite the scare, we let the night steer us to Union square where we watched some chess matches and met a man named William Lombardy, better known as Bobby Fischer’s chess coach. Lombardy made pleasant general small talk with us for about two minutes before he embarked on a free flowing rant which included a denouncement of the NYC judicial system, a discussion of his eviction battle with his landlord, and a scathing criticism of America at large.

And these are the rich ups and downs of New York City. One minute you’re having a delightful conversation with a new friend, the next you hear of a terrorist attack, the next you meet an iconic chess master, and the next he’s telling you how terrible the world is. I’ve only been here for a few weeks (so check back with me in a few years), but my feeling is that this city is neither good nor bad— it’s just superlative. Due to the incredible density and volume of people from all backgrounds and walks of life, NYC offers you both the best and worst of the human experience, sometimes in rapid succession.

Musically (this is a music blog after all), I’m also offered a daily course of both the best and the worst. I got to school and am literally face to face with some of the best musicians in the world (e.g. improvisation class with Billy Drewes, guitar lesson with Peter Bernstein, master class with Ari Hoenig etc…), I then go to the practice room and am faced with my own mediocrity as I struggle to learn Anthropology, and finally as I’m waiting on the subway home, I’m treated to a sloppy rendition of “Hey Joe” by a drunk busker with an abrasive guitar tone (I call it a “sloppy joe”).

As I encounter such a spectrum of musical quality, it’s difficult to not get caught up in the game of comparing myself to other musicians— variably I’ll think “oh man, I’ll never be able to do that” or “he’s 7 years younger than me, how is he so good?” or “pssshhh, I’m better than that guy.” Yet these are not productive thoughts. Even though I am in school and obviously trying to use this time to improve, comparing myself to teachers, or classmates, or subway singers is not a good way to achieve that goal. For ultimately I’m not studying music because I want to be better than anyone else— I’m studying music because I love it and I want to be better capable of expressing it. If I use the desire to be as good or better than others as my motivation, practices and performances become either a chore or a competition (neither all that enjoyable). Yet if I use my love of music as my motivation, practices and performances become a joyful privilege.

Yet this motivation was reduced to an even simpler level in a masterclass with the great Peter Bernstein (no relation to Leonard). One of my classmates asked him the question “what inspires you to play?” He replied “I just try to get down to the basic fact that I like holding the thing, and I like hitting a note and feeling it vibrate. Sometimes I run into trouble if I get more complicated than that.” He explained that he doesn’t really even hope to sound good, because “well, what if I don’t sound good?” This was a revelation for me. Here was one of the most tasteful and talented guitarists in the world (a man who has performed with artists such as Sonny Rollins, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Diana Krall, and countless others) saying explaining that the only thing that he tries to let motivate him is the fact that he likes to feel a note vibrate against his chest.

Pete doesn’t play because he is trying to be great, or because he is trying to be better than anyone else— he plays because he just loves to hear and feel the notes. Musician or not, there’s a lesson here for everyone. Throughout the inevitable ups and downs of life, it is wonderful to always have an activity that you know you love to do. Whether it is music, basketball, painting, or anything else, the surest way to keep doing your favorite activity is to fall in love with the most basic elements. If you can learn to simply enjoy the sound of a note, or the feel of the ball in your hands, or the sight of a brush stroke on the canvas, or even the mere act of breathing, you’ll have learned something really important about living.

I’m at it again, I swear.

At the dawn of this blog-site, I told myself and you my precious readers that I was documenting my musical progress and pursuits in order to hold myself accountable to my stated goal of making music my livelihood. I knew that I was going to make a living with music— I simply gave myself no other choice— and publicizing my goal on this blog was a way to further solidify that destiny. What I didn’t know was what exactly my musical work would look like, and whether I would be really really poor or just poor.

Lo and behold, all fall and winter I have indeed been getting plenty of musical work to keep myself afloat. Furthermore, it seems to be getting easier and easier for me to find new and steady work (yesterday alone I was offered three gigs). But as it turns out, actually playing, practicing, and working on music seriously cuts into my blogging time. My life lately has been full of subject matter for this blog (quick generic summation: playing with six different bands, practicing jazz and classical guitar, teaching four guitar students, booking and performing numerous shows, attending countless rehearsals, writing and recording original music, applying for grants and music contests, etc.); yet the more subject matter I create, the less time I have to write about it. I am certainly much more comfortable with this catch-22 than the converse (i.e. me blogging about music so much that I rarely actually play music), however I do still feel that this blog is an important cornerstone of my musical life.

Socrates allegedly said that “the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being” (or something like that). I’m not going to unpack all my thoughts about that quote because this isn’t a philosophy blog (this is). Suffice it to say that I think that guy Socrates (and/or Plato) was on to something, and I think that taking time to examine, reflect upon, and reveal my musical endeavors and ambitions does in fact make my musical life more worthwhile.

Thus, I am here rededicating myself to this blog. I am not quite as ambitious as my first go-around when I said I would blog like every weekday (what?! that’s like professional bloggers status). Instead, I’m aiming for two short blog posts a week revealing what I am currently planning for, working on, and thinking about in music. If you are reading this now, please continue to check back in on my progress as I attempt to fulfill my goals of completing my 10,000 hours to mastery, getting paid for original compositions, becoming the most famous Lucas Murray on the internet (more famous than this one), and continuing to stay comfortably poor by playing music. Peace.

Anxiety and Encouragement

This past year alone I have performed numerous times in a jazz big band, a guitar ensemble, two rock bands, a hip hop band, a cover band, various small jazz ensembles, and as a solo classical guitarist. I am incredibly grateful to have the opportunity to play with many talented musicians in such a wide array of groups and genres, yet I do often wonder if I am spreading myself too thin. I have a mild fear that I will never be as good at playing any one genre as players who have devoted themselves solely to studying a particular style of music. Furthermore, though it seems the most lucrative strategy right now, I wonder if playing frequently in a number of relatively unknown groups is the better economic decision than striving to have one musical project achieve “brand-name” success. Yet I realize that there are definite pros and cons to either specializing or diversifying and no way to simultaneously reap the benefits of both. As Kwai Chang Caine would say: “you must choose.”

For now, I have chosen the path of diverse musical output: I play background jazz and dance music at parties and events, I play loud hip-hop and rock shows, I give guitar lessons, I compose my own music, and I write about music. I do this, practically speaking, because it is the only way I can currently provide any kind of sustainable living for myself– no single group that I play in currently performs often enough to be my sole livelihood. Yet I am also naturally a “big-picture” person, and I feel satisfied that exploring music from these many different angles is potentially offering me an expanded picture of what music is and can be. Though I may never be the purest jazz guitarist, or the most virtuoso classical guitarist, I do believe that through playing many styles I am going to continue to develop a unique musical voice and generally become a better musician. Furthermore, I am comforted by an awareness that music is not a competition. Though it is tempting to compare myself with other guitarists and musicians (who may be masters of a particular style), I know that I can only express myself musically in accordance with my own tastes, background, and capabilities. To keep myself going, I must always believe that my current level of musical ability is adequate enough for performance, while simultaneously working extremely hard to expand my musical horizons.

Monday night I went to the Afterthought to see the great Bob Dorough, composer and performer of many of the great original schoolhouse rock songs (including the classic “Three is a Magic Number“). He was there playing with some of Little Rock’s finest musicians including Barry McVinney, Joe Vick, Jay Payette, and others. It was humbling to see these incredible musicians (musicians who have labored not for fame, but for their love of music) in all walks of life performing together on stage. Bob is in his 80’s and still has the spirit and enthusiasm of a 20 year old. What he lacks now in vocal power, he makes up for in a warm soulful and humorous delivery. Smiling widely as a row of horns shout the head to Charlie Parker’s “Now’s the Time,” Bob was having a great time (and so was the audience).

This performance stands in opposition to a conversation I had earlier that afternoon with a friend at my office (River City Tea and Cream). Our talk at one point hinged on a humorous, but obviously over-generalized, portrayal of elderly men as being either extremely sweet or the classic “dirty old man.” From here, it was only a small leap to us discussing the possibility of myself being a creepy old man at age 60, playing guitar in a Rock ‘N’ Roll band, hitting on much younger women. Though I don’t realistically envision this happening, I do sometimes have a vague concern that Lucas at age 60, will be stuck playing music appropriate to Lucas at age 20. I think of aging bands like The Rolling Stones and KISS and frankly it is weird to me that they are still on-stage performing songs about not getting satisfaction or rocking all night. I then look at Bob Dorough, and it seems completely natural for him to be singing and playing Jazz in this intimate bar. I find myself wishing to also have a fitting musical outlet when I am his age…

I then hear the voice of my conscience slapping me back to reality: “Lucas, you are 24 years old and still at the very beginning your musical and artistic journey. Worrying and fantasizing about what your musical life will be like in 30-40 years is not helping you right now. You may pursue goals, but understand that you may not achieve them, and even that achieving your goals may not actually be fulfilling. Simply focus on this unfolding process, trust that hard work will pay off, and continue to practice the art, craft, and critique of music.”