I opened a letter from LA Music Academy's scholarship committee yesterday. As this post's clever title suggests, I got nothin'. Junk.
I recorded a demo video and wrote an essay for the application. I uploaded the video here a month ago. I was hoping to post the essay in a more triumphant manner. Oh well. Much of it parallels what I've already said on this blog, but it might make good reading anyway.
1. Describe your musical studies to date and tell us how they have affected your development as a musician.
I started playing guitar in 1998 at age fifteen. I took lessons for one year, learning alternative rock and blues. I studied independently through high school before attending Harvey Mudd College, an intense science/engineering school. I enrolled in two college jazz bands, one under the instruction of cornetist Bobby Bradford. I started taking guitar seriously, making room for two hours of practice every day in a schedule that barely allowed for sleep. I didn't know what kind of player I wanted to be, but I was obsessed with practicing and learning, and I loved studying jazz.
In 2003, I started an indie rock band, Blue Judy, with a few college friends. We continued writing and performing around Los Angeles after college, recorded an EP with Heroes and Villains Productions in 2006, and were featured in a rockumentary TV show later that year. Although we never signed a record deal, we retained invaluable music and business lessons from independently managing our band. Countless hours in the rehearsal room also revealed the kind of mutual respect and honesty required for creative results in a group environment.
In July 2007, I left Blue Judy and quit my job to pursue a different route to a career in music. I had saved enough money to focus on nothing but practicing for a year, so I took the plunge. I started a blog in which I've been writing about my goals, ideas, and breakthroughs. All this time to practice and learn has greatly improved my chops and allowed me to rethink and refine my motivations and goals.
2. What are your musical goals for the next year? Over your lifetime?
My primary short-term ambition is to earn a living with music. Whether that takes one year or twenty, my life will revolve around that goal until I achieve it. I first want to gain the skills to work as a studio guitarist, not to pin myself down to that line of work, but to access the opportunities afforded by such skills. More specifically, I want to increase my facility at improvising over complex progressions, fill the gaps in my knowledge of contemporary styles, and elevate my sight reading abilities to a professional level. In addition, I'd love to complete a formal study of composing and arranging, learn as many jazz standards as possible, and transcribe all the Charlie Parker solos I can find, applying them to guitar in my own style. I've only recently discovered an inkling of my own playing style, and while this is a life-long endeavor, I believe I can establish the bulk of it within another year.
Over my lifetime, I want to study and create in every area of music I can. I prefer to avoid a master plan for my career, but my aim is for creative, musical employment on a variety of projects. I'd like to learn all kinds of instruments, starting with fretted, reeds, and horns. My other long-term interests include film scoring, sound design, and modifying and building guitars, amps, and pedals.
Tapping into my creativity, breaking the barriers between my head and hands, is my most significant source of motivation. For example, someday I intend to study music's relationship with sleep and dreaming, and why I can create the most complex, beautiful, original music in my head as I'm drifting off but remember none of it in the morning.
3. What musician or artist has been the most influential in your musical development?
It's difficult to single out a favorite artist as most influential, but I am currently most excited about Nels Cline. I remember the moment that sparked my interest, only two years ago. I was listening to Henry Rollins's radio show one evening when he chose to play "Jupiter" from John Coltrane's Interstellar Space. This was my first encounter with late-period Coltrane, and the first time free jazz made any sense to me. Upon the song's completion, I collected my jaw from the floor and, in the process of researching Coltrane's life and this album, found a recording of Nels Cline and Gregg Bendian performing the album live in 1999. That recording blew my mind like nothing I've ever experienced, and it opened my ears to the modern jazz scene. I have since listened to the entire catalog of the Cryptogramophone record label, which has released much of Cline's music. I'm convinced that this is the creative direction I want to take. I don't know what to call it, other than contemporary jazz. And awesome.
There's an ominous, frightening essence to the music Cline and his labelmates create, and I'm drawn to it like a zombie. He blends jazz with the raw intensity of rock in a way I've never heard, but I feel like it's been the object of my subconscious desires for years. In an interview, he expressed a need to capture that frightening element, as if the music were capable of destroying him. Listening to his efforts in pursuit of that end made me realize that I'm not just a fan of music, but of sound in general. My obsession is simply noise, whether one calls it music or not.
The best lesson I can take from a creative trailblazer like Cline is to avoid copying and forge my own path. I take great inspiration from his imperative to depart from the traditionally subdued jazz guitar sound. I often wonder why the most intense jazz musicians, historically, are rarely guitarists. Stevie Ray Vaughan is another of my biggest influences, and his intensity is second to none. What astounding results might have ensued had he lived long enough to study the likes of Coltrane? Nels Cline's influence brought me to that question, and it will drive me to produce my own answer.
4. Describe your musical weaknesses in detail.
I feel most lacking in sight reading and ear training skills. I attribute this to a reluctance to recognize their value until recently. I now work on them every day, and improvement is steady, but slow. Despite my experience studying and performing jazz, I lack confidence in seamlessly improvising in different positions. I just adopted the habit of combining adjacent positions in everything I practice, so I'm on my way. I'm moderately inept at anything involving an acoustic guitar: fingerstyle, country, folk, classical, flamenco. My technical background gives me an affinity to rules and rigid structure, which I use to my advantage whenever I can, but I often find it difficult to forget the rules and just create. I regret frustrating former bandmates with this approach, but I think I'm loosening up over time.
I like to remind myself that there will always exist styles I haven't studied, including those as of yet undeveloped, and I can always count them among my weaknesses. It's good to know that musical possibilities are infinite, and no one can ever exhaust their potential.