Happy Mother’s Day everybody! In honor of this mother’s day, I’ve decided to break my blogging fast and feed you some words straight from my brain to yours. Before I start discussing any musical material, or tell you how to pick up women at the bar (yes that is something I cover later in this blog post), I want to take a moment to celebrate my own mother. For one reason or another, motherhood has been a topic that has come up a lot lately in my conversations. Whether I’m talking with someone who had a very engaged mother, or someone who’s mother was not exactly present for much of their life, I have come away from these conversations with a deep gratitude for my mother. The selfless love and care that my momma has given me is the solid foundation upon which my life rests. She is an amazing, strong, sweet, sensitive, and intelligent woman who has an incredible intuitive sense for the needs of other people (especially children). She is also a talented, and prolific visual artist, who has inspired me in my own creative path (that’s one of her paintings above). She sacrificed so much of her own life so that my sister and I could have a leg up in our lives, and I can never thank her enough for this. Thank you momma! I love you!

I suppose that by talking about my wonderful mother there has been a bit of a topic trend in my last two posts: family. For my previous blog post was not exactly a real post, but a bunch of cute pictures of my niece used as a distraction technique so you’d all forget that I had set a pretty ambitious goal for myself. The goal was to write, record, and release four new songs during the moon phase cycle. Well, that was about two moon cycles ago, and clearly I’ve not released any new songs have I? HAVE I? No, I haven’t.

Not only did I not complete that goal, but additionally I just straight up stopped blogging for like two months. I really went off the deep end huh? Oh man, you should have seen how nice and regular my postings were from August to April. I posted something nearly every week! Oh wait actually you can see. Check out my WordPress stats y’all. Those black blocks are the days I posted something—notice the big conspicuous gap in postings during April and May.

Sidenote: this is also how I try to pick up women at bars. I lock eyes with a lovely lady across the way, confidently saunter over to her, and then seductively whisper into her ear “hey girl, check out my WordPress stats,” unveiling my blog data. Then she’s all like, “Oh my god. 44 followers? Semi-regular posts? I’m yours.” It works every time kiddos. For more on this topic, check out my other blog: how to pick up women at bars. Sadly, I personally won’t be picking up any women at bars until I pick up my pace on this blog.

In this bizarre alternate reality I’ve just created in which blog-writing is some kind of romantic currency, I very well may have kept up with my posts these past two months. However, living in the actual reality that we live in— the one in which blog writing offers little to no romantic, economic, or social rewards, I just basically stopped blogging when the rest of my life became too busy and full. I am after all not a full time blogger, but a full time student, and late in the semester when assignments, responsibilities, and social engagements were piling up, I could have kept blogging, yet I’m certain either my schoolwork or my sanity would have suffered.

So I forgive myself for the blog hiatus, and I hope you do too gentle readers. If you don’t, that’s ok too, but perhaps you should check out my other blog: how to forgive people. The good news is that now that school is out for summer, I am re-entering the blogosphere! I do this not for any romantic, economic, or social gain, but because this is a personally satisfying and enjoyable practice. This is where I come to organize and articulate my thoughts about my life and my music, its where I come to practice the craft of writing, and its where I come to set ambitious goals that I may or may not accomplish.

I mentioned one of these ambitious goals earlier: I would write, record, and release four new songs during the moon phase cycle. Specifically that was the moon phase cycle from February 26th to March 27th. Well, I obviously didn’t release any new music during that time, but that’s only because I also didn’t record any new music during that time.

I will however give myself a small pat on the back and say that I did write four new songs during this period. Furthermore, I will record and release these songs. For our final project in the jazz studies master’s program at NYU we are required (although it feels more like a privilege) to record an album of original music at NYU’s state of the art Dolan Recording Studio. The four songs that I wrote, which were heavily influenced by my music lessons with Wayne Krantz at the time, are songs that I will record as part of this final project.

Thus, I’ll give myself a D minus on my moon cycle assignment. Yet as classic slacker wisdom states: D’s get degrees, man. In this case, my D-minus execution of one goal, will indeed help me achieve one of my current goals of earning a master’s degree. What will be truly interesting to see, however, is how my life and goals shape up after I earn that degree. For graduate school provides a clear structure and aim for my life right now— yet once I graduate, it will be up to me to blaze my own trail. Whatever happens, I think that this lowly practice of blog writing will remain an important personal tool in my march towards musical success.

Happy new moon eve everybody! I’m writing this post from Mulholland’s bar in Williamsburg with a Brooklyn Lager in my hand, NCAA tournament basketball on the TV (currently S. Carolina 55—Florida 57), and some very special company by my side. My sister Liza, brother-in-law Joe, baby niece Bridget, and our friend Gaines came to visit NYC this weekend so we’ve had a whirlwind weekend of hardcore hanging out. I know you’re all waiting with bated breath for the four songs I’ve written this moon cycle. You faithful readers of course know that my goal for this moon cycle was to write, arrange, and record four songs. You know that right? Right?

Yeah, you know that. I want to tell you a little more about those songs, but first, look at how cute my niece is.

What were we talking about? Oh yeah, those songs I’ve written— I wrote four songs these past four weeks, and my goal was to share them with you all tomorrow. Yes, my goal was to share them with you tomorrow, but my new goal is to share them with you in a week. Is this a cop out? Yeah, a little bit. But I’m a grown ass man, and can cop out of my goals if I want to. Plus, I have a really good excuse. I could have recorded these songs in time for my Monday deadline if I had spent all weekend recording these songs. Instead I’m hanging out with this goofball!

So anyway, you’ll just have to keep that breath bated while I go enjoy myself. See you next week!

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, my goal for this moon cycle is to write, record, and release four new songs. And the next logical question is “how the hell do I do that?” If anybody has a good answer to that question, please let me know. I’ll be sitting in my room watching Girls (the HBO show, not the gender) until I figure it out. Ok bye!

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But seriously folks, most of the modest number of songs that I’ve written, have been a product of pure inspiration. The music flows out naturally and easily, and the lyrics come fully formed as if written in stone. However, this makes for a very inefficient songwriting process. Although my songs have mostly been snapshots of inspired moments, these moments are are few and far between. Using this process of “inspired songwriting,” it has sometimes taken me years to finish a song. It is a very different approach to say “inspiration be damned, I’m going to write and record four songs this month no matter what!” Unfortunately that is exactly what I’ve set out to do, and thus I’ve got to figure out a way to write these songs!

Lucky for me, I am surrounded by brilliant musical minds at NYU and am paying top dollar to be able to ask them asinine questions like “how do I write a good song?” During a show a few weeks ago at the 55 bar, the great guitarist and NYU professor Wayne Krantz told the audience “all you need in a song are two things and an ending.” Like everyone else in the audience, I was amused that someone who plays such creatively advanced music would propose such a simple equation for composition. Yet unlike everyone else in the audience, I get to pick Wayne’s brain every Friday at 3 o’clock (yes i’m bragging) and can unpack his approach to songwriting.

Few would accuse Wayne Krantz of being a pop musician, and yet he claims that he approaches his songs like a pop musician in that everything is either a verse or a chorus. He comes up with a musical idea that he likes and decides if it is a chorus part or a verse part (“is it the comin’ home part, or the storytelling part?”). After he has built either a verse or chorus part, he then uses contrast to create the other part. For example, if the verse part contains mostly short notes, he may change to long notes for the chorus; or if the chorus part is loud and rocking, he might make the verse sound softer and more relaxing; or if the verse part is using mostly one or two notes at a time, he might switch to full chords for the chorus; or any combination of these and other contrasts.

This all seemed simple enough after he explained it to me, so I decided to use this method to write one of my songs. Indeed, one could certainly use this method to write a song, but after I brought in my song for feedback from Wayne, I discovered that he has some other principles he uses to write a good song. In my song the verse material was funky, syncopated, and used just one or two notes at a time. I contrasted this with a more flowing chorus of full, lush chords. Wayne liked it, but one of the things he pointed out was that during my verse section (the storytelling part), I had this two-note chord thing happening which could be heard has a melody, but more would likely would just come off as a vaguely cool guitar thing. He said that most people really just want to listen to a singer, and if they can’t have a singer, they’d like to have a saxophone player playing the singer’s part— it’s a much smaller percentage of people who just want to hear some vaguely cool guitar thing. Thus, as guitarists, we would be wise to play some kind of melody that at least sounds like it could be sung.

The second bit of advice he gave me was to write an ending. I had simply recycled my intro to the song and used it as my ending. He told me that he thinks “the audience kind of appreciates it when you do the extra work— when you’ve put in a little extra detail.” It doesn’t have to be long or intricate, but it is worth it to put in an extra bit of effort and create a definite ending. He told me that when he was in high school, the guys in Steely Dan were considered some of the supreme arbiters of good taste. Thus, years later when Wayne was hired to play guitar for Steely Dan he asked Donald Fagen “what makes something good?” Fagen paused, thought about it, and replied: “the amount of detail that it has in it.” Wayne advising me to write an ending to my song is also him pointing to the larger goal of simply crafting something with a lot of detail.

I am using the Wayne method and his insightful feedback to help me write these four songs, and I am certainly getting a lot of great ideas by sharing my work with him. Yet the usefulness to me of Wayne’s method is not due to the fact that it is the ultimate right way to write a song, but simply by virtue that it is a way to write a song. It is simply far easier to create something if you have rules, principles, and guidelines for creation. Wayne has been developing these ideas for forty years, and thus I am happy to stand on his shoulders and use them for my purposes— it makes my life easier. And yet, embedded in all of his great advice is a nugget of wisdom he shared that destroys all the others: “The more answers that you accept from others, then the less creative your thing is by definition.” Ultimately yes, I would like to plumb the depths of my own tastes, tendencies, and experiences and come up with my won set of rules and guidelines for creation, yet for now, I’m just trying to write four songs. No reason to reinvent the wheel just yet.

So I beat my roommates in a great game of Settlers of Catan last night. In your face Anna! In your face Elisa! In your face Monty! Monty isn’t really one of my roommates— he’s a cute but horrible Chihuahua who is occupying our apartment right now (and I don’t mean occupying in the benign sense, but in the sense of invasion, annexation, and subjugation). My other roommate Paul was at an annual ball for Marines at his alma mater Columbia, but if he was home I would have beat him too and said “In your face Paul!”

I’m being a completely ungracious winner and gloating all in jest of course. It is fun to win the game, but the real prize is that I have truly wonderful roommates whom I sincerely enjoy being around, whom I can talk to either jokingly or seriously, and whom I get to play board games with from time to time. Yes, I confess that I do love to win, whether it is a board game, or basketball game, or music competition, yet the joy of winning anything is short-lived. It feels great for about five minutes and then it’s back to my perpetual sense of existential angst.

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Now I don’t mean to worry you dear readers— I realize that perpetual sense of existential angst is a pretty heavy turn of phrase, but the reality of it isn’t so bad. Fundamentally I am a pretty happy, optimistic person. I am just also acutely aware that we’ve all been hurled into the world and are now just basically winging it. We didn’t get to rehearse beforehand for this role of human being and we have no real idea what the future has in store. Acknowledgement of this leads me to a difficult question: well, what do I do now? This question summarizes what I mean when I say perpetual sense of existential angst. When faced with a bewildering and mysterious life with no clear path outlined: what do I do now?

The good (and bad) news is that for the most part we get to (and have to) decide how we are going to answer that question for ourselves. Let me share with you some of the more momentous ways I’ve answered that question in my life.

Spring 2007: “I don’t know, go to college I guess.”

Winter 2007: “I don’t know, drop out of college I guess.”

Spring 2009: “Go back to college. Work really hard.”

Fall 2013: “Take every musical gig you can get, teach guitar lessons.”

Fall 2015: “Apply for grad school in New York City.”

Summer 2016: “I don’t know, move to New York, go to NYU and study jazz I guess.”

And here I am now. As you can see, some of these answers were more resolute than others. There’s nothing inherently better about a more resolute answer— an unsure answer or a confident one could lead to either beautiful or terrible results. But I will say that it does feel better to have a confident, crystal clear answer.

So in the spirit of feeling good, I’d like to offer another crystal clear answer to the question at hand. As you know, (or will know by the end of this sentence), today we have a new moon. During this lunar phase cycle (from now until the next new moon on March 27th), I will write, record, and arrange for a band, four new pieces of music. I’m using the moon cycle simply because I love the moon, I think it is a consistently beautiful sight, and it gives me a definite span of time that is tied to a natural phenomena. It’s a slightly less arbitrary, slightly more exciting measure of time than a calendar month.

Being in school, I seem to have some obvious answers to the existential question “well, what do I do now?” I just do this assignment, I turn it in, and then I go to sleep satisfied right? Not exactly. I’m not here in school solely so I can earn a master’s degree. I’m going to school so that I can learn from true musical masters, enhance my musical skill, and thus increase my likelihood of having a vibrant career in music. Yet if I do want to have this vibrant musical career, I need to also take many steps outside of school. My goal for this moon phase represents one of these many steps. So readers, mark my words: on March 27th I will release four new recordings for your listening pleasure. Ok, I know what to do now. That feels good.