Insecurity in Action

Tuesday was a real doozy. My first day of the school year (perhaps my last first day of the school year ever) included the submission of my thesis, a four hour practice session, lunch with an ex-girlfriend, a composition lesson with Ariel Marx, and two classes— Colloquy in Music (in which we talk about and prepare for our final recording projects), and Jazz Arranging (in which we learn how to arrange music for a big band). In fact this whole week was a doozy. In addition to fulfilling my school requirements, I played two shows with the new band Kangaroo (which I joined this summer), auditioned for and made it into NYU’s contemporary vocal ensemble (I’ll be playing guitar as part of the backing band for various singers—I won’t be doing any singing myself), went to see a stellar R&B cover band at Groove, and capped the week off by getting good and drunk at a party at my apartment last night.

Despite having a week full of music, school, and socializing, I still feel like I should be doing more. I’m not even sure that I could be doing more, but I know that New York has a way of making me feel like I should be doing more. I think that no matter what field you are in, the talent level, the potential work opportunities, the endless list of things to do and places to see, the high cost of living, and the rapid pace of this city makes one feel like they should constantly be working and playing harder.

This attitude does not make for a comfortable existence. As I was discussing today with my roommate Delta (yes her name is Delta), I’ve felt more insecure this past year of living here than at probably any other point in my adult life. Yet this is not a negative. The things that are making me feel insecure— namely the high level of musical talent surrounding me and the uncertainty of my future after school— are the same things that are motivating me to work harder and get better. I didn’t move here because I thought it would be easy; I came here to learn and grow, and the discomfort of this place has in large part been my greatest teacher.

This is after all, a special, attractive kind of discomfort. It is not the discomfort of say being stuck at a tiresome party when you really just want to go home. It is more like the discomfort of finding someone at that party who engages you in a deep, honest conversation that challenges your core beliefs and assumptions about yourself (does that ever happen at parties?). It is a discomfort that is the opposite of complacency. Whereas complacency leads to stagnation, the discomfort of being in this pressure cooker of a city inspires me to action and offers me the feeling of being fully alive.

I’m not sure how long I will live here. I do know that after I finish school, I want to stay for at least as long as it takes for me to feel like I gave “making it here” (in that Frank Sinatra sense) my best shot. I might stay for one year or I might stay for fifty. I do believe that the longer I am living here, working hard, and being propelled forward by my ambition as well as my sense of insecurity and discomfort, the more likely it is that I will have a big break. For this is a special place, and I think it is realistic to believe that something unrealistic will happen here.

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Sunnin’ and Funnin’

School’s out for summer everybody! I’ve got high hopes and ambitions for this summer season. Ideally I’m going to embark on a daily course of trying to take over the world Pinky and the Brain style. I may have even found my co-conspirator in a Utah born, NYU educated, world travelled, vibrant young social worker/musician/aspiring sports agent named Francesca— unfortunately I may be Pinky in this metaphor— more on her later.

I’m currently working on a three year plan that I’ve created for myself. I’ll spare you the details of this plan, both because its boring and I don’t want to reveal my secrets just yet. However, I will bore you with the ideal daily routine which is aligned with my three year plan:

  1. Wake at sunrise, have a cup of tea, and write in my journal.
  2. Go to Central Park and practice/play classical guitar by the lake.
  3. Have breakfast while watching or reading the news (I gotta stay informed about this ongoing no holds barred cage fight between the Trump administration and democracy y’all—I’m really pulling for democracy).
  4. Write/record/produce original music in the world’s tiniest recording studio (my bedroom).
  5. Have lunch while watching something hilarious (there’s a lot of great comedy out there people— I’m currently working through Veep and Master of None).
  6. Go to the gym and workout or play b ball (healthy body, healthy mind).
  7. Go to school and practice electric guitar at the NYU jazz studies building.
  8. Work on my master’s thesis.
  9. Have dinner, have a drink with friends, and relax.
  10. Go home and go to sleep.

If you’re still reading, I want to commend you and thank you for your patience. I’m really pushing this author-reader relationship to the limit by asking you to stay engaged while I throw around phrases like “three year plan” and “daily routine” and then hop right in to obliquely bragging about how I live right next to Central Park. Yet I only did that to demonstrate that I have really high standards for myself, and that I consistently fall short of these standards. That’s right. My plan this week was to execute the above routine every day from Monday through Friday. I basically did it once on Thursday, however I didn’t even work out— I took a nap instead. So what was I doing with my time this week instead of being a self-motivated, music-minded, rigid worker-cyborg? Well, let me give you some highlights:

Monday, May 15

After having spent the afternoon playing music and hanging out with my good-buddy Jonathan in Prospect Park, I met up with my friend Francesca (mentioned above) in Williamsburg and ate some world class shawarma before going to a free comedy show at Bar Matchless. Coincidentally, Bar Matchless is where I made my NYC debut back in the summer of 2015 when I was on tour with the hilariously fun band Swampbird (read about that here if you like). All the comedians were very funny, but the highlight of the show came when a tipsy Michael Che (of SNL fame) decided to drop in for an impromptu set. Actually, calling it a set is a real stretch. He actually just crashed another comedian’s set and spent the whole time bantering with him and the audience about mother’s day, sports, and conspiracy theories. It was great—he’s even funnier in person.

Tuesday, May 16— Wednesday, May 17

Tuesday morning I woke up sick with a sore throat, headache, and heavy fatigue. I literally could not keep my eyes open for any significant stretch of time. Thus, I resigned myself to just resting until I was well and basically spent the next two days sleeping. The only variable during this stretch was where I slept— my bed, the couch, or in the sunshine of the park. I really have no idea what it was I came down with, but it felt like I was sleeping off and fevering out the remainder of a long semester’s demands and stress.

Thursday, May 18

Like I said, I actually executed that daily routine pretty well. Sometimes I can sort of almost be disciplined.

Friday, May 19

After sleeping in, I went to school and practiced sight-reading with my friend and fellow guitarist (read: poor sight-reader) Dan. We then ventured out on a beautiful warm day to watch some fellow NYU jazz students busk under the arch of Washington Square Park. I was sitting cross-legged leaning against a small pillar and enjoying their music when all of a sudden I looked up and saw Jeff Garlin walking towards me. Despite the competing sounds from my NYU friends, the theme song to Curb Your Enthusiasm burst loudly through to my consciousness. As he was walking towards me I tried to think of something to say: Hey, I’m your biggest fan! (No. I’m a fan, but I’m probably not his biggest fan); Hey Jeff, how are ya? (I actually couldn’t remember his name at the time, so that wasn’t an option). Instead, as he walked by me, we made eye contact so I just smiled and said “hi,” and he replied with a friendly “hey.” It was nice.

Two celebrity sightings in one week is very auspicious.

Saturday, May 20

Such a “long week” of “hard work” required some serious rest and relaxation by the time Saturday rolled around. Thus, I again called up my good buddy Francesca to hang out. We were both feeling pretty low-key so we just holed up in her grand-parents’ beautiful Central Park West high-rise, cooked some dinner, ate, drank, and made merry. Now, many of you may be reading between the lines and assuming that this is a new romance, but hey, don’t assume, don’t read between any lines. Actually she and I are developing something that, for a variety of reasons, is much more precious to me right now than romance: true friendship.

We met on seis de Mayo at dawn in Central Park. I had been up all night celebrating Cinco de Mayo with some friends and was finally making my way home, while she had woken up early to go kick a soccer ball around. We had a brief humorous exchange and then ended up walking around the park for an hour or so kicking the ball back and forth and talking before I finally needed to go back home and sleep off my looming hangover. We’ve become fast friends, and I am so grateful for this. The Upper West Side is an amazing, beautiful place to live, yet outside of my wonderful roommates, I actually have not met any young people that I really connect with in the neighborhood. Thus, it is so fun to have what in many way feels like another “kid” in the neighborhood to play with.

Sunday, May 21

I’m sitting here at my coffee shop, writing this blog post, and even now a large part of me truly regrets that I haven’t gotten as much work done as I had hoped. I do indeed feel great when I am achieving things and working towards my goals. Yet something that I and many other Americans frequently forget is that there are things just as important as work. This week was full of rest, friends, and fun, and that is nothing to regret.

Happy Mother’s Day!

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.

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?

Fridays with Wayne

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.

Well, what do I do now?

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.

Lessons in Love

Here at NYU I am exposed daily to some of the most talented and successful musicians in the world. I’ve never been (and likely never will be again) surrounded by such a diverse and eclectic group of true musical masters. By virtue of this, I’m gaining a clearer picture of what it takes to “make it” in the musical world. No, I cannot point to a single factor that will guarantee musical success—  anyone who is in the business of reducing success to a single factor is probably trying to sell you something. There are always many unique elements— talent, discipline, luck, influential friends, facial symmetry, instrument choice, era, location, etc.— that may have lead a musician to his or her brand of success. Yet among the multitude of varying success factors, there is one thing that I think all the musical masters have: Love.

That’s right kids, buckle up, because this blog post might get a little sappy.

This seems obvious, but it is worth stating anyway: you have to love music to be successful at music. True, I can’t think of any musician I know who doesn’t love music, but I can think of a lot of musicians (myself included) who sometimes forget about that love because we are distracted by concerns like making money with music, pleasing an audience, or becoming a better musician. There’s certainly nothing wrong with considering those things, but I think it is important that they not cover up the essential fact that we are doing all of this because we just love music.

This semester I have the incredible honor of taking both an improvisation class and a guitar ensemble with the great John Scofield. By all measures John Scofield is one of the greatest and most important living musicians— he is an incredible guitarist and a prolific artist who has recorded and performed alongside jazz legends such as Chet Baker, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall, Tony Williams, Joe Henderson, and many more. Here is a man who (rightfully) could carry an air of self-importance— and yet what shone through when I met and interacted with him was just a selfless, joyful, and gracious love for music. After a two hour guitar ensemble in which he patiently played arrangements of his songs (at much slower tempos) with me and four other guitarists, he then treated us all to an impromptu rendition of the beautiful standard Days of Wine and Roses. It is clear that he doesn’t think of himself as “the great John Scofield” the way that we do as fans. Instead, he is the great musician that he is because he maintains a deep love for music that pushes him to keep playing, learning, and listening.

On Wednesday I was treated to another lesson in love by the delightful Mary Scott,  the widow of the English saxophonist and jazz club owner Ronnie Scott. Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club opened in 1959 and has been the most important jazz venue in London ever since. In 1964 Mary Scott, an avid lover of jazz, ditched her nursing studies and began working at Ronnie’s, thus beginning a long series of interactions with some of the greatest jazz musicians of all time. She spoke to all of the NYU jazz studies grad students about the onstage power and offstage antics of people like Ben Webster, Chet Baker, Stan Getz, Buddy Rich, Wes Montgomery, and countless others. She told us that when Bill Evans played there you could hear a pin drop in the room because everyone in the audience was listening to the beautiful music with rapt attention. She said that Sonny Rollins would always treat the club staff to an after hours solo concert that would sometimes last until the sun came up. All the while that she was telling us these amazing stories, Mary was glowing with sincere love for the music and musicians.

Again, there are countless reasons that Mary Scott and John Scofield have gotten to live the incredible lives that they’ve lived. You cannot discount the luck of simply being at the right place at the right time. Yet John and Mary’s experiences couldn’t have happened to just anyone. A fundamental reason that John Scofield has gotten to perform and record with brilliant musicians and that Mary Scott has gotten to hear them and know them personally, is that each has a deep devoted love for the music.

A lot of things need to go right for you to be success in anything. I can’t tell you what the right conditions are for you to become a famous musician, or a well known author, or a brilliant inventor— I’ll leave it to Malcom Gladwell to tease all of those out. However (no matter how corny it sounds) I do know one thing: you have to have love.