Update

I know that a lot of people have been holding their breath for my latest blog post – waiting to devour every word I write just to rebroadcast it and retweet it with the voracious intensity of the contemporary information consumer. Fear not! For it has come.

The past two months have been an intense study in me living in New York City and how to balance work, school, teaching, music and the combination of all three directions moving together in synergy.

Or something like that.

Like a boss.

I’ve been going to Manhattan School of Music getting my Masters Degree in Jazz Composition, starting again in academia where I left off with my degree from Berklee in Jazz Composition in 2009. Who knows, maybe if I get enough post secondary degrees in Jazz Composition I might be worth something to somebody at some point in some capacity. Likely not, however. At least I’ll have a piece of paper by the end of it.

Study at MSM has been intense for reasons that I didn’t quite expect. I went into the whole experience thinking that it would be like my Berklee training in Jazz Comp was – utterly intense in writing, non-stop sessions late into the night with Sibelius, insane compositional techniques flying everywhere, weekly project band sessions, Greg Hopkins excitedly showing us the Bartok string quartets and every week reminding us that his roommate in college wrote drum parts to all of them. Instead, the compositional element has been rather, well, tame in comparison, or at least tame compared to how I remembered it being at Berklee. One afternoon a week I chill with Jim McNeely in a couple classes and a lesson, and then go over various noodlings of mine. Awesome stuff, just not intense.

What is intense, however (to me at least), is the performance aspect. I didn’t really realize it when I was applying for the program, but the whole thing is set up to create a “jazz triple threat”. Arranger/composer, performer and teacher. This is actually a great model, because it prepares students for the real world of jazz in ways that Berklee doesn’t even bother with, but it certainly kicks my ass in gear when it comes to the jazz chops. Dave Liebman’s 2-year lecture seminar with Phil Markowitz on his chromatic concept for improvisation (chromatic adventures with Dave Liebman, as we say) is probably the most advanced improvisation course taught in the world, and represents the compendium on how to play “out”. Gary Dial’s Improv class, on the other hand, represents the compendium on how to play “in,” taking the curriculum from Charlie Banacos’ legendary notes and courses and giving it to us in a weekly dose of “oh my God this is a crap ton of ridiculousness to practice.”

On top of this I’ve been starting to do all of the necessary fieldwork to “pay my dues” on the scene in terms of going to shows, clubs, jams, etc to build an actual performance career, the same way that I tried to do in DC and Boston (but was cut short both times because of leaving). Interestingly, however, this all has not been in jazz, but rather in pop/rock/singer songwriter circles. Having done the jazz circles in DC and going to school uptown during the day for jazz, I felt I needed a change of pace from working my way up playing crappy standards with crappy musicians in crappy cafe restaurants for a while before I got to the point where I paid enough dues to hang with people who could play only to realize that those gigs don’t pay at all.

Fortunately, there is a very strong Berklee alumni network in the city of New York, and it’s been relatively easy to insinuate oneself into an alumni network when you yourself are an alumni. Imagine that! A lot of people from Berklee move to New York after graduation (myself included), and a lot of them are singer songwriters or otherwise aspiring pop/rock acts. I’ve been slowly developing a calendar for the rest of the year and into next spring of dates with a couple of these acts and others. As an electric bass player, it’s far more musically rewarding to play in these circumstances 98 percents of the time anyway, since you’re not sounding like crap playing walking basslines when an upright bass would sound 5000 times better. More importantly, this sort of thing could conceivably end up paying the bills (how nice that would be!) without having to resort to a job at Starbucks on the side.

Hooray for being part of a corporate machine!

Its interesting to be thinking along these lines, however, because it reminds me of one of the many fascinating posts on composer/bassist Ronan Guilfoyle’s music blog about the composer/pianist Danny Zietlin, a phenomenal musician who plays and has played on the highest level possible, but maintains a psychiatry practice full time and does music “as a hobby.” The traditional thinking in music is that if you are to be a musician who plays at the highest level, you have to do that and only that as your career and as your life. That’s my thinking as well. Why would I be spending my time making 9 dollars an hour at a Starbucks for 15 hours a week in addition to the 17 graduate school credits, exhausting myself and not giving me enough time/energy to network, attend concerts, write music, practice, rehearse etc? In other words, do the things that I need to do in order to “pay my dues.”

Danny Zietlin made an interesting comment to Ronan after reading Ronan’s post about him. He suggested that his psychiatry practice and music feed off one another, and the fact that he does both doesn’t detract at all from each discipline. That’s great! If I had a particular desire/aptitude/training/years of medical school for psychiatry, I’d totally do both. In fact, any other thing that I could put my heart and soul into that could pay the bills and help support my terrible music addiction I would pounce on and do right now. The problem is, of course, for anything like that, you’d have to do at an extraordinarly high intellectual, technical and emotion level, just like music (this, I suspect, is why Zietlan considers his two specialities symbiotic). For some reason, I just don’t see serving mocha latté’s as fulfilling a particularly spiritual niche in my psyche right now. Maybe I need to read more new age books on Zen in order for that to kick in.

I’ll stick with music for the time being.

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1 Response to “Update”


  1. 1 Emma October 27, 2010 at 1:46 am

    Great post, Adam. I’m especially interested/pleased to hear about your experience with grad school, as I’d wondered.

    As far as the psychiatric practice (or, ahem, finding some sort of job with an MBA) in combination with pursuing music not just as a “hobby” but as a passion == well, obviously that is why I hope to do. And I agree that it’s something that can be done. At least I’m hoping so. I like the thought that each activity adds to the other, rather than detracts.

    Additionally, it’s SO cool that you’ve gotten so many performance/gig opportunities lined up. I’m obviously jealous, and hearing stories like that do make me want to move to New York and try to perform in some capacity. But since I did spend the time, money, and brain power to go for the business degree, I figure I gotta give it a go here in Boston.

    My final comment is just to point out that Starbucks is NOT the only option of doing something other than strictly “music” to make money as a sideline to gigging. My brother, ostensibly a “musician,” worked first for a publishing company and then for the NYPhilharmonic in non-music capacities (part-time) while composing, music directing, and performing. Starbucks is a good example for making your point, but it’s, realistically, not THE alternative to music.

    Wow, I apparently had a lot to say. Weird.


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Welcome to Adam Neely's blog/website. Check out his compositions, links, and information about lessons on the top bar, and enjoy the music!

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