Last Thursday I went to 55 bar to see my teacher and guitarist extraordinaire Wayne Krantz perform with Michael League (bass) of Snarky Puppy and Josh Dion (drums) of Paris_monster. Like every Thursday night at the 55 bar, Wayne grooved, funked, rocked, and shredded his way through a fresh creative stream of unique modern music. I’m ever impressed at the fact that his playing is both technically precise and supremely spontaneous. Wayne’s music carries on the spirit of jazz (highly creative and centered around improvisation) without exactly sounding like jazz (Wayne rocks and grooves, he doesn’t swing). Although he told me afterwards that it felt like a bit of an off night, to an outside observer he, Michael, and Josh were in top form, demonstrating the height of musical possibility. I left the show extremely impressed and feeling like I urgently needed to go practice so that I can reach such a high level of musicianship.

On Friday I joined a new friend at Rockwood Music Hall and saw my first true rock show since I’ve moved to New York (wow, it had been far too long since I’d seen a good rock show). They are an L.A. based band is called Veers and my friend described them well as “smart rock.” They combined intelligent chord changes, tasteful instrument/vocal tones, and interesting song-forms over rhythmically precise rock grooves (i.e. “smart rock”). I’m sure the lyrics were thoughtful as well, but you know, it’s a live rock show in a relatively small room— to my ears the lyrics invariably get drowned out in these situations. After the show I met the lead singer and also chatted with some other musicians in the local NYC music scene. I heard casual talk about people jetting to Australia to play shows, or potentially doing an arena tour, or being music director for an up-and-coming indie rock songstress. I left the show happy to have gone, but feeling like I urgently needed to go immerse myself in the scene and meet the right people so that I too could have cool opportunities to travel and perform.

Urgent is one good descriptor of Manhattan (sidenote: it’s also a great Urgent). This city buzzes with an energy that sometimes seems to scream: “WORK HARD, PARTY HARD! You’re tired? DON’T SLEEP!!! THAT’S WHAT COCAINE IS FOR!” Kids, don’t do drugs. Also friends, family don’t worry, I never touch the stuff either— I hear it gives you double vision (I wish I could say that that is the last Foreigner reference in this blog post). Furthermore, whether you live in New York City or not I think most of us are victims of the sense of urgency created by the technological age that we live in. We walk around everyday with these little handheld super-computers giving us access to countless text messages, contacts, emails, songs, pictures, videos, podcasts, audiobooks, news stories, and social media accounts (not to mention the entire rest of the internet). We see pictures of our friends and family going on fancy vacations, or winning awards, or getting job promotions, or getting married, or having babies, etc. and it’s easy to think: oh my god I need to do that! I need to get married now! I need to have a high-powered job now! I need to be rich and famous now! Our sense of time and possibility is shaped by our setting, and personally my setting seems to be telling me that time is running out and I need to move quickly if I want to accomplish anything.

Yet there is another perspective on time housed right in my back yard. Saturday I took a solo stroll across Central Park on a beautiful sunny day in route to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Upon arrival, I instantly remembered how much I love going to art museums by myself (an activity I hadn’t done since my first semester of college at Lake Forest College when I would often take trips to the Art Institute of Chicago). It is a fine thing to go to a museum with friends, but I am never able to fully immerse myself in the experience of the art unless I am alone and free to roam at my own pace and let my own sense of taste guide me. During this intimate communion with the museum my thoughts slow down and I can get in touch with a different experience of time, for the mere act of taking time to gaze at a piece of art is a meditation.

Yet the art itself often also points to a story about time that is different than our prevailing cultural view. Take for instance this statue of Ugolino and His Sons by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux created from 1865 to 1867.

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This work is a visceral depiction of angst and desperation and an incredible technical feat of expert marble sculpting. It also represents a feat of patience and diligence which is rare in our culture today. The work is telling us: “yes it may take you two years of your life to create something this great— it may very well take you a lifetime, and you may be working on a single pinky toe for a decade— but you are taking this time because as an artist, you are attempting to create something that is timeless.”

Sure, there is no art that is literally “timeless”— every human creation is tied to the time in which is was made, and everything material will sooner or later deteriorate, yet somehow I do believe that the attempt to create something timeless is still a worthwhile pursuit. For viewing and creating these works of art does indeed expand our normal sense of time and let’s us touch something meaningful that extends both far into the past and far into the future.

If you are at all inclined, I encourage you to treat yourself to a solo date at your nearest art museum. I am certainly spoiled in that I’m a mere walk away from one of the greatest collections of art in the world, yet I think that any art museum will do. I strongly believe that the act of taking time to appreciate a painting or a sculpture in its every minute detail will make you a better person. The constant motion and rapid pace of our age (especially in a place like New York City) presents you with one hypothesis about time: time is running out! Days, months, years, and lives are short so let’s get to work, and then part hard! YOLO! Yet the art museum presents a different perspective: nothing great is made overnight. Greatness is made through slow, deliberate steps towards your goal. Furthermore, you don’t only live once (YDOLO!)— your physical body will perish, but your great work may live on throughout the ages, being born again and again for each new generation to appreciate and interpret…for to them, it feels like the first time.

Yes I just ended this blog post by jamming in another completely uncalled for Foreigner reference! BOO YA!


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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.