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So if you’ve been a truly consistent reader of my blog (and I’m not sure I’m talking to anyone outside of my immediate family here), you’ve perhaps noticed a few reoccurring themes. For instance, one of my favorite things to do is to set super ambitious goals for myself, fail or fall short of those goals, and then rationalize my failure. In fact, I’m trying to trademark that as a tagline for my website: “Lucas Murray Music, rationalizing failure since 2013!”

Its got a nice ring to it no? Now let me show you how its done.

A couple of weeks ago I started a paid internship at a wonderful music production company called Man Made Music. I’m incredibly grateful for this and excited to learn from the many friendly, intelligent, and talented people that work there. The trouble is, on the days that I work there (Monday and Thursday), I’m left with very little time to fulfill my goal of writing and recording my daily songs. So this week’s post, which actually represents two weeks of songs, has only 8 songs instead of 12. Don’t worry too much about the math— the point is that I’ve come up a little bit short.  However, I think its reasonable for me to give myself a break on the days that I need to commit to working at Man Made Music. Don’t you?

And that’s how its done.

Overall, between my final semester of grad school, performing and recording with my band Kangaroo, and now my new internship, I simply don’t have the time and energy to keep up my original pace of six songs a week. Having thus failed at my original New Years Resolution of writing and recording a song everyday (except Sunday), it is indeed tempting to just scrap the whole project and move on with my life. I would certainly have more time to watch Breaking Bad if I did.

Yet I’m not letting myself off the hook. I don’t ascribe to the all-or-nothing philosophy. Personally, if I can’t have it all, I’d still like to have a little something. The practice of writing six songs a week was meaningful to me, and it would have been a wonderful feat of willpower if I had made it the whole year. Yet the practice of writing four or five songs a week (if thats all I truly have time for) will still be meaningful, useful, and satisfying. So instead of quitting, I’ll just adapt.

 

Enjoy the songs.

March 27 — Beaver Creek 

March 28 — Picking Up the Pieces 

March 30 — Bleepin’

March 31 — Hard to Be Human

April 3 — Dream State

April 4 — Cartoon Quest

April 6 — The Great Wave

April 7 — Cyber Woods

Alright kiddos, this week I want to talk about string theory. Just kidding. I’m going to talk about myself. So tomorrow marks the first day of my last semester of grad school at NYU. And thus begins the true test of my New Year’s resolution of recording a song a day. It has been relatively easy to record these songs these first few weeks because I’ve been able to spend as much time on them as I’ve needed. Now begins the difficult task of spending less time on each song and still managing to create something that I feel is worth sharing. Or, more likely, thus begins the even more difficult process of creating things that I do not feel are worth sharing, and still sharing them. Because dammit, I made myself a resolution and I’m going to stick to it. Anyway, here’s this week’s batch. Enjoy!

Daily Songs

January 15

January 16

January 17

January 18

January 19

January 20

 

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.

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 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.

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?

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!

Sleep GIF by Girls on HBO - Find & Share on GIPHY

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.