The Basics of Compound Interest

Jump To:
A. Introduction
B. The Basics of Compound Interest
C. Grow Your Financial Portfolio
D. The Benefits of Financial Freedom
E. Where to Open an Account
F. Stock and Companies to Invest In

Introduction

It struck me that what a lot of musicians really need is more money in their pockets, more business sense, and entrepreneurial sense. I realized that a lot of younger people don’t know the financial basics yet. I’ll be going over the basics that should have been taught to you in schools. Every American and every artist should know about this because it’s going to help you avoid being one of those tragic jazz masters who need to start a GoFund me to pay your bills when you’re older. 

Today I’m going to talk a little bit about compound interest. Don’t run away, compound interest is not multi-level marketing. It’s the power that every business person, responsible personal finance person, and every investor has taken advantage of since the dawn of time. I think as artists and humble musicians who don’t like talking about money, we need to be taking advantage of this in order to ensure the survival of our art. So, let’s talk about average stock market return over the long term.

The Basics of Compound Interest

The average annual return since adopting the S&P 500 is roughly 8%. I’ve seen that number as high as 10% and as low as 7%. The number may vary as people take averages over shorter or longer time periods; however, the thing to understand about the stock market is if you keep your money invested, and you do not touch it for the long run, you will not lose money. If you do not panic, and keep your money invested in an index fund like the S&P 500 or a Vanguard index fund, you will not lose money over a 30 or 40 year period of time. It has never happened. Historically speaking, that is as safe as bonds or a savings account. 

A lot of people say stocks are crazy, they claim that your money could be gone tomorrow. That’s true to some extent, but if you’re invested in the S&P 500, or a similar index fund, your money’s safe. In the long run, it will make money. However, if you have mattress money, which is money that’s just sitting in your checking account, you’re going to lose 2-3% every year due to inflation, inflation being your money’s worth less every year as a result of the government overproducing cash.

For the average uninitiated person who doesn’t know anything about compound interest, 8% seems like a small number; however, I’ll show you why Albert Einstein said this is the most powerful force in the universe by using a basic compound interest calculator. If you invest $1 and you’re 20 years old and you cash it out when you’re 65, which is the average age for retirement, and we take that 8% growth number, $1 when you’re retired is worth 32 X. So you might be thinking $32 is not a lot of money, but think about the growth. In this example, we only invested $1 and didn’t invest anything for the rest of our life and it grew by 32 X. Imagine if that’s a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand dollars contributed, or even a million dollars contributed. That is a ludicrous amount of money. It’s the same force that will ensure you aren’t one of those tragic jazz heroes who have to make a GoFundMe to pay your bills when you’re older. This is the type of growth that creates millionaires. The average millionaire is made by investing a little bit of your paycheck and a little bit of your gig money every month over a long period of time. Most people will not make a million dollars from their job or from their gigs over the course of their life, but if you take advantage of 32 X growth over 45 years, it’s more than possible. In fact, it should be the standard. 

On the other hand, if you invest $1 when you’re 30 years old, 10 years less time for growth, your growth is less than half. That’s why it’s so important to start today. The longer you’re invested in the market, your growth and the amount of money you’ve contributed just skyrockets. That comes around year 40, 50, and so forth. 

This is also an important message for your spending. Say you’re thinking about buying a PS5 or a flat screen TV. Rather than purchasing unnecessary things, you should be investing your money. If you invested that $500 instead of buying a PS5, you would have $16,000 in 40 years. This may be a little idealistic, but this is the real power that should really be taught in school. 

Grow Your Financial Portfolio

Now, let’s talk about a more real world example, because odds are, you’re going to invest more than $1 towards your retirement or financial future. A very common number for that is $6,000 a year, or roughly $500 a month, because that’s the maximum amount of money you can contribute to a Roth IRA account. $500 a month is something everybody can conceptualize because it’s typically less than half the rent people pay every month. If you don’t have $500 a month, contribute whatever you can. Even if you invest $1, it’ll have the same amount of growth. Let’s say you’re 20 years old and you cash out when you’re 65 and we take the 8% number we used earlier. If we calculate your portfolio using a compound interest calculator, it will be worth $2.3 million. By contrast, if you did not invest the money, and you just kept it in your checking account, your portfolio would be worth $270,000. That is not nearly enough money to live on from the time you’re 65 to a hundred, especially if you factor in unexpected medical expenses and extra insurance costs. Compound interest is the difference between jazz hero GoFundMe and a healthy portfolio. 

Let’s say you wait until you’re married, you have kids, you’re 35, and you’re starting a plan for retirement. You invest from age 35 to age 65, where you would only get 30 years of growth. You would have less than $700,000. To younger people, that seems like a lot of money, but as far as your retirement profile’s concerned, this is the bare minimum you need to live for the rest of your years. 

The Benefits of Financial Freedom

Financial freedom would help musicians in a ton of different ways. We would be able to have more bargaining power with venues, streaming companies, and labels if we weren’t dependent on them. It would help us focus on our art. In order to ensure musical freedom and a healthy retirement plan, you need to open up a Roth IRA account or a traditional IRA account as soon as possible. The difference between the two accounts is when you are taxed. With a traditional IRA, you don’t pay taxes on the money you contribute to that account this year. However, you are taxed when you take money out of the account after you retire. By contrast, with a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on the $6,000 this year. It’s included in your income tax. Then, when you withdraw money when you’re retired, you don’t pay any taxes on it. In my opinion, a Roth IRA is going to be the smarter choice.

Where to Open an Account

Where can you open up one of these accounts? There are tons of brokerages, which are companies that provide investors with investment plans and market intelligence. The one I use is called fidelity. There is also Charles Schwab and Wells Fargo. The most important thing is that you open up an account and start investing right away. 

Stocks and Companies to Invest In

The last thing I wanted to touch on is stocks and companies to invest in. For long-term investing, you need to put your money in the S&P 500. This is an index fund of the top 500 companies in the United States. They also have a dividend fund for people who want to make more money as they go. Vanguard index funds are popular as well and they have their own Vanguard 500 index within the S&P 500. All of these funds are pretty much the same; however, the important thing is that you understand compound interest, the urgency with which you need to utilize it, and the type of account you need to open in order to make sure you have a successful financial future. 

The Moment I Posted It (My Struggles with Social Media Addiction)

Video, audio, and text form to follow:

Jazz made me somebody. I was in the 7th grade, unathletic, short, awkward, you know the story right? I wasn’t noticeably good at anything but deeply desired attention. I opted for a class clown persona, loud-mouthing and doing obnoxious stunts (like freezing a photo of my face on the projector and hiding the remote… haha that one was pretty funny).

We live in a society where “pretty good” and “above average” just don’t cut it. Because we all think we’re above average. If you’re not the superlative, you’re unremarkable.

At this point, I was maybe smart, a bit funny, but unremarkable still. Even musically, I never made the top chairs as a classical musician; I was just pretty good. Then I found jazz and all of a sudden, I was the best. I was named the best high school jazz saxophonist in the state of Texas my Freshman year. I couldn’t even coherently play through a Bb blues or identify what key Autumn Leaves was in, yet by some freak judgement (and a very low bar), I was now remarkable.

That was the moment. No, not that moment! The moment I found out… that was just an excited yell to my parents. Rather it was the moment I posted it.

This was the most attention (likes, comments, mentions in school) I’d probably gotten at any point in my life up to that day. Every dopamine receptor in my ~15 year old brain was screaming for me to do more things like that! Correspondingly, I became obsessive. I was making videos of my licks, entering competitions left and right, and posting photos from every gig, and each time I did, the internet rewarded me. Before long, I had gathered one of the biggest social media presences of any person at my school, each video would bring applause, each competition win would bring respect, and photos of me playing in cool places brought me some of the first female attention I ever got. I told myself that I loved the music, others told me that I was born to play jazz, but in truth, I was addicted to being the jazz guy. Known for something, a topic of conversation… in a word: remarkable.

Some of you may be confused, what’s the issue? I got some popularity what’s the problem?
The problem has been made extremely apparent to me in recent years.
I was attracted to jazz for all the wrong reasons. I played everyday not out of an intrinsic joy and love for saxophone playing, but for the attention and respect I would get from it. Now here’s the kicker, take away the attention and respect and you’re left with a recipe for a real mental crisis.

I almost titled this post “Why Quitting Social Media Made me Depressed” but I didn’t want to give false prescriptions. But here’s why:
My social media rise continued into college, my audience from high school stayed and enjoyed beaming at cool things I was now doing as a “NYC Jazz Musician” and all was well. However, I started noticing some very disturbing issues (If you have any of these, you may have suffered similar miswirings):

1. I was constantly checking my socials. The “pull down to refresh” might as well have been an orgasm button. Each pull, I saw a red bubble with a like, comment, or other dopamine packed goodie.

2. The reach of my posts was affecting my self-worth. If my posts were doing well, I was on top of the world. If something didn’t get the likes I had hoped for, I was questioning all the things I was doing wrong and comparing myself to all the people who looked like they were doing better.

3. As my pond grew, so did the fish. I wasn’t just comparing myself to high schoolers anymore, here I was comparing myself to the most popular musicians in NYC and the world.

It became very apparent to me that my attachment to social media was unhealthy. I tried deleting the phone app, a social media detox, and just found myself continually coming back and looking for likes.

So the summer after Sophomore year of college, I deleted my social media. All of it. My Instagram with several thousand followers, Facebook with thousands of “friends”…
I thought it would be a big event. I had built up this self-importance that my followers really wanted to hear from me and expected texts and calls wondering what the hell happened. But this self-importance was just an illusion. In reality, nobody cared, nobody even noticed.

About a month later, I moved to Amsterdam to study abroad. I went with no friends and arrived in the country with the realization that not a single person in this entire nation (except for I guess the registration staff of the school I was supposed to attend) had any idea I even existed. This event, combined with the fresh wound of deleting all my social, gave me this crushing realization: I could disappear and no one would even notice for weeks… This was not me being an emo teenager, but an objective reality. I had spent years thinking the world thought I was something special and now realized it was all a façade. All the likes, comments, and emojis were nothing.

The first month in Amsterdam was real rough. I had no friends. My US friends couldn’t reach me because my phone number didn’t work and my social media was gone. I stayed alone in a studio apartment with my only human interaction being trips to the store and phone calls with my parents. I started school at a foreign institution where I knew no one. Musically, I stopped practicing altogether. The earlier realization that I got into music more for social validation cues than the joy of the practice itself was really hitting hard. I had no motivation to practice because I had no one to show off to…

Fortunately, this turned around rather quickly. I developed real and true friendships that gave me more joy than an internet audience of any size could. I even had the guts to talk to a girl I met at a nearby grocery store and remain friends with her to this day. Things I would never have done when I was glued to my phone. With the additional time I had from no more social media, I read inspiring books, made my first music videos, explored photography, developed a daily exercise habit, and started this very blog you’re now reading.

I’m not writing this because I think everyone should know my story, but because I know these problems ravaged the minds of my entire generation and continue to do so to today’s youth. I recently learned that the highest paid YouTuber in the world is a nine-year-old who rakes in nearly $30 million a year. Today, countless 13 year old girls are pressured to dress and look like they’re 21. All of this, in the pursuit of appearing remarkable. To look like the superlative.

Now, there certainly are exceptionally remarkable people that deserve every follower they have. But why are we giving this rat race to kids? To be clear, I do not support erasing social media from the planet. Most recently it gave us the incredible middle-finger to Wall Street that was the GME Short Squeeze, it raises billions for non-profits and charitable work, and has made learning and free education accessible to even some of the poorest in the globe. However, social media is truly not for kids. In such a formative time, with crazy social validation needs, brain development, and hormonal activity, it’s no wonder why teenage depression is up around 60% since the rise of social and suicide is now responsible for nearly a quarter of teenage death.

I’m now heavily back on social media. For my career goals, it seems to be an indispensable tool to spread messages like the one you’re reading now. I’ve put up major walls for myself. Biggest of all is that I no longer own a smartphone. I’ve been a proud flip phone user since March of last year. Social media is all done on my browser on my computer or at home on my iPad for Instagram. Of course, all notifications are off. Trust me when I say, I’m not cured. I constantly battle demons of social validation and self worth and still struggle to maintain a regular music practice that won’t get posted anywhere. That’s where I’m at now, this story is to be continued…

Brad Mehldau – All The Things You Are *Live in Köln, 1999

This transcription was a challenge given to me by the great Jaleel Shaw. A big focus for my semester, was to sound competent in 5 and 7. This solo took me about 3-4 months of work (10 choruses) to transcribe and play it roughly at tempo. I’m providing PDF’s of the solo below.

Since I’m a monophonic instrument and piano is not, I basically “summed” the whole thing into a single melodic line I could play. Most of it was single line, but in some cases I had to approximate it . I transposed it to other transpositions but did not really check them over for ranges/nonsensical accidentals. I am giving it away for free after all!

My performance of it:

Original Video

Here’s a downloadable audio version:

As far as I can tell it’s not available for sale, so shouldn’t be any problem providing the file here since it’s been free on YouTube for years…

Following your Passion vs. Creating it – “Are dreams for suckers?”

It’s such a popular idea to tell kids to follow their dreams. The new thing is to turn your passion into a career, find what you were born to do, and reject society’s cookie cutter path.

As a jazz musician, I certainly relate to this. I showed a lot of promise as a young saxophonist in middle/high school, won a lot of awards, etc., and I was told by all the loving, supportive, and well-meaning adults to follow my dreams! Ignore the haters! Do what you love! Nevermind that I was something like 14 years old… Nevermind that 99% of the people telling me this had never and will never purchase anything from a saxophone player in their lives. Yet here they are telling me it’s probably a good idea to make a business out of it?

First, I’ll clear the air before this gets dark and say that I have no regrets. Jazz, its history, and the community around it has brought me my closest friends, greatest mentors, and my most important personal revelations. However, now as a 22 year old, I’m realizing that I was not “born” to do this. I have no god-given gifts for swing, no matter how many people told me I had something special. What more, I found that I do love jazz, but damn history also excites me! Computers and technology keep me up at night. Philosophy and literature cause me to marvel at this world and my own existence. Photography allows me to capture the way I see the world and present it to other people. On and on…

This idea that we were all born with some singular disposition to a particular field that we must uncover in the first 18 years of life is just ludacris. It leads to the 35-year-old record store clerk who “just wants to be around music”, the starry eyed actor in LA who’s stuck around for probably 10 years too long, and so on. On the other hand, it’s the very same mindset that has given us history’s greatest disrupters, the people who dared to take on the impossible, and go against every concept of normal we accept as a society! From Coltrane to Elon Musk, behind every innovator was a voice that told them not to care about what was “in reach”.

Mike Rowe, who most of us know as the host of Dirty Jobs, is a very outspoken voice for the other side of the coin. Follow opportunity and then become passionate about what you do. You can see how his life experience plays into this. He spends his days meeting the people with society’s grungiest gigs. From the septic tank cleaner, to the dairy cow inseminator, and beyond. Yet he has found that many of these people lead happy and fulfilled lives with vibrant families, faith, personal interests, and more. Granddaddy marketing guru, Seth Godin, also takes this position, citing scientific research that shows how the random choices and circumstances around us as babies eventually become our preferences as adults. For example, NHL players have been shown to have a heavy selection bias towards having birthdays in the first quarter of the year. Theories are that this has to do largely with the cutoff dates for most youth hockey leagues… go figure.

So where does this leave us? A couple of practical nuggets I’ve deduced:

  • It is true that passion is a real advantage. Love for your work can lead you to outlast, outwork, and outwit your competitors.
  • But passion has more to do with chance and circumstance than it does any innate disposition.
  • It is important to take on goals that seem out of reach or even goals that no one has done before. This is imperative to our growth as a society.
  • But if you fail, it’s highly likely that there are many other things that you would also be good at. Even if you don’t think of them as your passion.
  • You can become passionate about most any work from cleaning gyms and flipping KFC chicken to hedge fund management.

Lastly, I will end with probably the most practical, concise reply to this dilemma that I’ve heard:

Put everything you have into your dream for 5 years. 7 days a week, 110% effort. If things aren’t working for you after you’ve done that, find another line of work.

From Hugh Jackman’s interview on the Tim Ferriss show

The Vulnerability in a Solo.

Improvising a solo in front of an audience is one of the most vulnerable things a musician can do. While we often see solos as displays of virtuosity, an improvised solo contains glimpses into a musician’s character, their empathy with those present in the room, and all the feelings of the moment. It’s why fans of John Coltrane or Miles Davis feel as though they know something about them despite having never met them. In this post I aim to explore two questions:

1) What makes a solo vulnerable?

This track from Marvin Gaye’s album, Vulnerable, is just sublime… A prime of example of musical vulnerability.

Every time I play my horn I’m consciously and unconsciously saying so many things. Before I even play a note, the audience recognizes that in 2020, in the days of private space travel, virtual reality, and unprecedented medical breakthroughs, I choose to spend my time playing a saxophone. This is not unnoticed nor insignificant.

Closer listeners can hear what types of musicians I listen to, how much energy I have and what sentiments I’m feeling in that moment, some things I have and haven’t practiced, how well I listen to my band-mates, how in tune I am with the the room I’m playing in, and still more.

When you think about solos that are “vulnerable”, you may think of something introspective, thoughtful, or sincere. But in reality, everything you say, do, or present is a revealing action. Soloists who refuse to fit their sound into the band or can’t listen to and value the input of the others are also revealing many things about themselves in those actions. Similarly, you can hear when a soloist is nervous or confident, in love or hurting…

Two solos you may think about when hearing the word vulnerable:

Coltrane on Blue in Green
Lester Young on Fine and Mellow

So what makes some solos more vulnerable than others? Why do some musicians sound like they’re pouring their souls out on stage while others sound somehow less sincere? Well, this thought process is a little flawed to begin with because whether or not music is vulnerable actually has nothing to do with the notes that came out or how good/bad the music sounds. The true measure of vulnerability lies in how genuine the artist feels about what he/she is creating. How right does it feel?

When Coltrane was caught “walking the bar” with his horn by Benny Golson, he ran out of the club in embarrassment. There is nothing inherently wrong with this or even embarrassing, but Coltrane knew in his heart that his musical voice lay elsewhere. Similarly, Lester Young left Fletcher Henderson’s band because of huge pressure to sound like Coleman Hawkins. Glad he stuck to his guns…

     Source: bigjaymcneely.net
“McNeely has set the bar extremely high. His performances serve as lessons how to truly play to a crowd.”

As improvisors, we are often pressured to mask our present emotions. This is because improvisers serve a dual purpose as entertainers. We often have to give a certain show even when we feel like crying in bed or punching a wall. When people pay a $30 cover to a club, they expect a show and to be entertained, not an improvisation about how mopey you feel right now. Through practice and sometimes blatant regurgitation, we learn to play back certain things regardless of how we feel in that moment. We learn an ability to express any sort of feeling at any moment for the purposes of serving the audience. Master entertainers (think James Brown, Cannonball Adderley, Frank Sinatra) are able to become a certain persona as soon as they hit the stage. I can’t imagine Cannonball felt as joyful as he played 24/7, yet I’ve never heard anything but raw, jovial spirit come from his horn. But hey, I never met him.

There’s a lot in this one. Glasper is also controversial nowadays because of how differently he plays.

This approach is definitely not better or worse, and as I said, it is not a measure of vulnerability. Vulnerability comes from how genuine the artist feels. However, it does allow for much less variation and less “in-the-moment” music. The scope of John Coltrane’s music ranges from hours of free improvisation, religious cries, and Trane changes to lush and melodic ballads and tippin’ songbook interpretations. Cannonball does what Cannonball does because he’s not there to express his deepest emotions, but to fill an audience with joy and lift their spirits. This is also a vulnerability, of course. It reveals a person that places the needs of others above his/her own. It could also reveal an artist with less volatile personal emotions and spiritual journey than someone like Coltrane.

Joyful music! This one really brings back memories for me.

Often, there’s another side of this…

[Louis] Armstrong’s lips, he recalled, ‘were as hard as a piece of wood and he was bleeding and everything else’… For once he established himself as the king of high C’s, he saw no choice but to continue his lip shredding ways, much like an aging gunfighter who must kill all comers or be killed himself.

From Pops: A Life of Louis Armstrong by Terry Teachout

The great John Riley, told me a similar story of his time touring with the iconic bebop trumpeter, Red Rodney. He told me (paraphrasing here) that Red had major dental problems because of his addictions. A dentist had installed some metal spikes of some sort in his mouth, and Red was not meant to play trumpet until he healed up and the spikes could be taken out. Instead Red and the band went on tour and each night Red hid a bucket somewhere on stage where he spat and coughed blood into out of sight. He never said a word to the audience about it or complained to the band once.

2) Why is vulnerability important?

If by masking ourselves, we can pull off a more energetic and entertaining performance, why should we as musicians (or any other creator) allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front an audience?

Everything new in this world has come from vulnerability. The audacity to think that one’s personal opinion, feelings, or approach is valid enough to pursue over what has been done previously is essential to change. Without vulnerability, the sharing of diverse ideas would cease and progress would stop.

To illustrate this, I’ll use a fable first told to me by a mentor, Stefon Harris. We are all blind in this world. We are singularly too small to comprehend the workings of the universe or even our planet, and no one knows why we are here. In this fable, 3 blind men are tasked with describing an elephant. The first touches the tusk and comes to the conclusion that elephants are rock hard creatures that are long and skinny. The second touches the belly and concludes that elephants are huge creatures that are entirely round. The third touches the tail and concludes that elephants are snake like creatures, long but small. All three men are right but are unable to see the whole picture. They can either fight a war because they believe they are right or recognize the validity in each other’s perspectives and over time construct a more complete picture of what an elephant is. Perhaps the first man exclaims that elephants are rock hard and the second man starts to question his thoughts and doesn’t want to share his view because he thinks he could be wrong. Maybe 1,000 blind men believe elephants are this way while you are the only one who believes its this way. In this world however, we are all blind, and it is only through the sharing of our perspectives, diverse perspectives shaped by our background, present circumstances, and diverse biology, that we can begin to chip away at truth.

TLDR: This quote is basically this entire blog in a sentence.

This is why as musicians and artists we must constantly seek peak vulnerability. To always look within ourselves and share our most honest and genuine truths. That truth could be that we are simply here to heal and bring joy to others. That truth can be that we are vessels of human experience, tasked with condensing humanity’s deepest feelings into notes and rhythms. Do what draws you in, excites you, and makes you feel whole. Everything new in this world has come from vulnerability. Music is a just a small reflection of that. Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and on and on. They are remembered because of this vulnerable quality. Vulnerability is the audacity to think that one’s personal opinion, feelings, or approach is valid enough to pursue over what has been done previously.

What This Lester Young Solo Can Teach Us About Leading a Purposeful Life

One of the most beautiful moments in jazz history: Lester Young’s solo on “Fine and Mellow”.

His solo starts at 1:20 but I would recommend watching the whole performance for some context. Notice how invested Billie is in each note Lester plays!

This solo was aired on CBS’s “The Sound of Jazz” television show in 1957 and today is viewed as a gem. This single chorus of a 12 bar blues was “acclaimed by some observers as an unparalleled marvel of economy, phrasing, and extraordinarily moving emotion; Nat Hentoff, one of the show’s producers, later commented, “Lester got up, and he played the purest blues I have ever heard…in the control room we were all crying.” (From Jazz: A History of America’s Music by Alfred A. Knopf)

Over 60 years ago and people are still so touched by this performance!

For those who are unfamiliar Lester’s life and career, you may be a bit confused. What’s so special? He’s sounds real pretty and swings, but why are these 45 seconds so monumental? You might even be thinking that you’ve heard Lester play more virtuosically before. Let me add some background.

That very same year, Lester was admitted to a hospital and treated for malnutrition, alcoholism, and cirrhosis of the liver. The doctors told him that he didn’t have much longer to live. Lester died just over a year after the show aired at the tragically young age of 49.

Whether or not the doctor’s statement happened before or after this solo, I’m not sure, but Lester undoubtedly knew in some way that he was in poor condition and that his consumption was trashing his body. This solo, however, doesn’t show a “tragically past his prime” Lester Young. From the bold way he gets up to the mastery with which he packs so much meaning into so few notes, Lester is teeming with confidence here. He doesn’t try to play like he did in his 20’s; he stands tall, makes a beautiful statement with only the capabilities he had on that day, and fills the room with honesty and vulnerability.

In constant mental and physical pain, but plays so clearly here…

Undeniably, you will reach a peak in your life. Whether that is physical, financial, career-oriented, or even artistic, you will reach a peak that you will never again surpass. For most of us, there will be a lot of life left to live after that. In Lester Young’s case, the very first solos he ever recorded, the Basie sessions with “Lady, Be Good” and “Shoe Shine Boy” (1936) have gone down in history as not only his very best work but some of the best solos in the jazz canon. He had just turned 27 years old! This was not unknown to Lester. He was known to be a very sensitive man, perceptive but easily hurt. He left the Basie band in 1940, had a disastrous stint in the military, and proceeded to consume his way to premature death.

Wikipedia has a pretty ridiculous (and not so objective) account of his later music that unfortunately is pretty reflective of public and critic opinion of the time:

“From around 1951, Young’s level of playing declined more precipitously as his drinking increased. His playing showed reliance on a small number of clichéd phrases and reduced creativity and originality, despite his claims that he did not want to be a “repeater pencil” (Young coined this phrase to describe the act of repeating one’s own past ideas). Young’s playing and health went into a crisis, culminating in a November 1955 hospital admission following a nervous breakdown.”

Wikipedia – “Lester Young”

What are your highest ambitions? Then what? It seems like our whole lives we’ve been taught to work super hard towards our goals as if they are some sort of finish line. But what happens when you’ve done it? Raise the bar and repeat? I highly doubt that Lester Young’s highest aspirations were to record the most popular solo but fans and critics continually told him that “Lady, Be Good” was his solo to beat! I really believe that this ruined his life with 2 big subliminal messages:

  • That each time he picks up his horn he’s being judged against what he’s already done.
  • Anything less than that past peak is almost meaningless

We do this to ourselves on a daily basis. We say, “I had more friends in college”, “I made more money at my last job”, and “I’ll never make anything that good again”. The truth is, the achievement focused life is a recipe for perpetual dissatisfaction. It teaches us to wait to love who we are right now because you’ve either done better or are going to do more. It’s time to question what exactly we’re chasing and whether the chase is coming at the expense of the life that’s happening right now. There is only one true finish line in life and it’s likely not going to be the point where you had the most money, friends, or fame.

So if not achievement, what do we live for then? What will make us get up in the morning and maintain a sense of progress in our lives? For that we have to talk about the fine line between goals and purpose. Here’s an idea I first heard from Tony Robbins: Astronaut syndrome describes what happened to those who went to the moon, took a photo of Earth from space, and came back national heroes in their 30’s and then had another 40-60 years of life they didn’t know what to do with. Falling from one of mankind’s crowning achievements, many of these people also went on to lead very tough lives of depression, alcoholism, and addiction.

Now imagine if the astronauts’ life goals were not to reach the moon but to show humanity that unthinkable feats are in fact possible! Then all of a sudden walking on the moon is not the finish line but a single pillar of a purpose driven life that can encompass thousands of pillars that may not even be related to space. Of course, some pillars are foundational and others are small, but every pillar that supports your purpose is positive no matter how it compares to others.

To me, this solo on “Fine and Mellow” is just one of Lester’s final middle fingers to all the naysayers. He delicately screams that he is not finished here, he doesn’t need to live up to anything, and that his past heights don’t diminish the value of who he is today. Lofty goals are achievable only at your peak. On the contrary, a purposeful life continues long after your biggest achievements. There’s no bar to raise, only a cause to continually live for. Sometimes it’s best to stop the push for a moment, recognize where you are today, and sing the blues you feel right now.

“We are going to the moon that is not very far. Man has so much farther to go within himself.”

― Anaïs Nin

5 Things We do as Jazz Musicians That Have Made it America’s LEAST Popular Genre (1.4% in 2015)

I know I’ll get some flack for saying some of these things. I’ll just start by saying I’ve done every single thing on here. Not one, a couple, most… every single one. This post is coming from a place self-awareness/self-critique as much as it is about general trends I’m seeing in our field. It goes almost without saying that each point has many, many exceptions. No finger pointing, I just want our music to be heard and think we need to have an open conversation about these issues for that to happen.

So, Jazz has become America’s LEAST popular genre, accounting for only 1.4% of total US music consumption in 2015 because:

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Why are 19th Century Landscape Painters Relevant in 2019?

All too often, we study art in a vacuum. Louis Armstrong played minor 3rds on major chords, Seurat painted using only dots, James Joyce wrote extended metaphors… but why? As I researched the career of English naturalist painter, John Constable, and his contemporaries, I came across many detailed descriptions of his brush work, color choices, and accolades, but one big question remained:

Why were European artists living in the height of the Industrial Revolution painting scenes like these?

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Constable: Release Notes

Today is the day! My first studio release, Constable, premieres tonight at 8PM Eastern time. Here it is:


On this cherished day in late September, I got on my bike and hit the road with nothing but my camera, a couple of sandwiches, and a bottle of water. Since moving to Amsterdam a few weeks prior, I couldn’t wait to escape the city to see the beautiful Dutch countryside.

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