December 30, 2021
I put on a show in July 2021 at Green Lung Studio, in Gowanus, Brooklyn, called "Away...", which featured my band, Stranger Days, as well as a singer named Eliana Glass, and an actor named Zivon Toplin, with a small of crew of actors in tow. The show combined my music with my poetry, read by Eliana, as well as physical theater, and some short experimental films that a friend, Astrid Asmundsson, and I made. The program was inspired by the Adult Swim show, "Off the Air", in which every episode explores a single concept or theme, and that's what we did through all these different mediums. It was the first time I put on anything resembling an interdisciplinary or multimedia format, and I was terrified beforehand, which meant I had to go through with it. I'm glad I did, as it was a deeply cathartic experience on both creative and personal levels.
With my own projects, I'm thinking about things on several different levels. I've performed in nearly all of my projects, but for some of them, including my nonet, Bird Blown Out of Latitude, I try to write in a way that gives me more room to observe and listen, and act in a capacity that is closer to a director or producer. But even with my quartet, Stranger Days, though I do take more of a spotlight, the second that it detracts from the ensemble experience, I have to readjust my approach.
With other people's projects, I always follow the leader. I really look up to the actor Willem Dafoe, because he knows how to align himself with the director's vision and get on a film's wavelength, but it's still Willem Dafoe. From Wild At Heart to Spider-Man to The Florida Project, he's completely different in each one of those movies, but also so true to himself. It's a miraculous balance, one that I try to strive for when I work with other artists.
My parents are both pianists, though my dad plays jazz and my mom plays classical. They got me started on piano at age 6, and I picked up trumpet at 8. Since they both came from different musical upbringings and career paths, I grew up listening to a wide array of artists and styles. Every summer, for most of my childhood and teenage years, they rented a house in upstate New York for a few weeks. So we'd have these long drives where we listened to everything from The Beatles to Olivier Messiaen, John Coltrane to Tito Rodriguez, Charles Mingus to Steely Dan, and so on.
My mom, Alison, was diligent about getting me to practice, and also for me to sit up straight when I'd do so. My dad, Arturo, got me to learn to improvise when it I was way too scared to do so. He also introduced me to a lot of the musicians he worked and continues to work with, such as the trumpeter Jim Seeley, who was my first trumpet teacher. My brother, Zack, was, and still is, incredibly influential and ahead of the curve, as he was listening to people like Vijay Iyer and Miguel Zenon when he was in high school, before they broke out on a bigger level. Speaking of high school, my time attending LaGuardia High School, in the Upper West Side of Manhattan, was an incredibly formative experience. It's an arts high school that draws students coming from a multitude of backgrounds, creatively and personally, and being exposed to different musical perspectives on a daily basis really laid a foundation of trying to be as open-minded and progressive as possible in my own artistic pursuit.
I'm eager to prove myself, which is a bit of a double-edged sword. While it's not too black-and-white, making art can often come down to the question of whether you accept yourself or you censor yourself. Particularly in the context of improvisation, I've had experiences where I think I'm being patient, but I'm really censoring and editing myself. But the other thing is to learn to accept spontaneity without acting too impulsively. Like with literally everything else, balance is key.
Keeping a journal has been one of the most immensely gratifying things for me lately, if that counts as gear. Obviously, I use it for my poetry, but I think it helps with any aspect of your work (and your life) to write things down. Especially for me, as I have a tendency to let things bottle up and stockpile, and then I'm overwhelmed by the time I'm supposed to tackle the project. A current project I'm working on is involving a lot of reading and research, and it's really helpful to write down things that I read, almost to give myself a feeling of what it may have felt like to write those words.
Maintain an awareness of what people appreciate you for, but don't be afraid to challenge their expectations of you.
I've been working with headphones for probably 10-15 years, when I started writing charts in Finale as a teenager. I don't use them for that purpose anymore, preferring to write each piece by hand and engraving later, but now I use them mainly for listening and production purposes. I experiment a lot in Logic, exploring mixing and sampling ideas, so it's good to be able to hear things clearly for that kind of work.
I am deeply lucky to be living and breathing, and to have the constant urge to express myself.