Uncovering the Genius of Derrick Hodge

This post explores the musical journey and artistry of Derrick Hodge, discussing his latest album Color of Noize and his approach to double bass, electric bass, composing, and recording. It highlights his influences, experiences, and the creative process behind the album, showcasing his growth as a musician.

With Derrick Hodge · Philadelphia, PA

Derrick Hodge is a musician whose artistry transcends boundaries. As a renowned bassist, composer, and producer, he has made a significant impact on the music industry with his innovative and soulful approach. With a deep understanding of various genres, including jazz, R&B, and hip-hop, Hodge effortlessly blends intricate melodies and infectious grooves to create captivating compositions.

Jason and Derrick sat down in late 2020 for an interview and dug into a wide variety of topics.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

It’s so great to connect with you. I’m such a fan, and I just appreciate what you do.

It means the world to me, man. I’m a fan as well. So thank you so much. I’m honored.

You’ve been a part of the last few decades of my life. I used to live in Chicago, and I remember going for runs along the waterfront listening to Be, and that bass line would start my day. You literally started my day for years.

And now I’ve been listening to Color of Noize, and your musical language speaks to me so much.

Thank you, Jason. Thank you for showing the new album, Color of Noize, that love as well. It really means a lot.

These Instagram Live sessions, I love how you’re approaching them and with the color schemes. What gave you that idea?

The Color of Noize idea (even the album cover) is just black and white.

By design, the merch and logos are void of additional colors, and they were designed for the album’s songs. It was about the spirit of letting the listener take it and run with it, make it your story, and paint in your own way.

That’s the whole thing about it, the question mark of, “What is Color of Noize? What is noise? What does that look like?”

With that in mind, I was so anti-color that I didn’t even think in that way. And Capitol Records, The Music Group, and Blue Note actually reached out and recommended, “Hey, why don’t we try a series that, instead of trying to paint any particular picture, let’s do something where there are colors that react to everything that’s happening.”

That was their call, and I’m glad. I didn’t realize people would react that way to it. It’s been eye-opening. Actually, it’s spoken more to what it’s supposed to be about in the first place, just me letting go and letting it happen. So those colors that happen in the background and all that’s right at the moment, and shout out to Blue Note Records and the team for coming up with

It’s so cool to bring everybody together like that. The album is inspiring and fairly different from your previous two albums, too. You did this wonderful interview with Mitch Joel for the Groove podcast.

You were talking about trying to paint your life in music and sound, approaching it. Can you talk about that concept?

When I try to be honest in telling my story, it’s often about just, “Okay, how do I get out of my own way?” And not worry so much about, “Okay, what am I known as to people?” And do I want just to give them the best glossy version of what that might be? From a bassist’s perspective or a specific instrument’s perspective? How do I present to the listener what I want to say?

I feel like this journey as an instrumentalist, artist, and writer has allowed me this opportunity to record as an artist, so I just tried to be honest about what kind of makes me tick and what’s my story. Live Today, which is my first album, was the beginning of that journey of just letting go and not necessarily coming solely from a bass perspective and story.

My second album was a departure from that, but another way of getting in my heart where I literally sat in this room and just jumped instrument to instrument and recorded a whole album that way, and so that was a very introspective process.

For Color of Noize, I really wanted not just to speak about how sound and spirit react to me. I said, “What if I just totally let go and see what happens?” Like maybe write songs from a certain personal perspective, but then bring it to the bandstand in a way where the whole band has that freedom to tell a story, and hopefully, it’s something that is a beautiful art in the end. The beauty of it is letting go and not overly working things out too much at the beginning of the creative process.

Really just seeing what happens with it and letting the question mark of what it is just develop into something. And that’s what Color of Noize is. Because of that approach and letting go, I wanted the DNA of my spirit and story to reflect more in the songwriting.

It was that approach for this album, but the actual delivery of it — shout out to those amazing musicians in the band that did it that way! I really tried to honor the jazz tradition in American music history.

I thought about Duke Ellington, whom people talk about his amazing writing, and I know some of his band members. Some could barely read music. He would write around individuals and characters and just let them do their thing and let them hear what’s happening in a section, and just let it be. I tried to marry all that together for this story, but letting it become something I can’t control that becomes uniquely everyone’s.

When you were presenting ideas to the band, were you at the piano? Were you using metaphors to introduce the individual tunes? How did that process go?

Jason, I’m glad you asked that. One of the biggest things, because I’m a composer by nature as well, and I tend to think, sometimes, in a through-composed way, even with those colors, you spend a lot of time on your own, just, “How do I document this in a way where that stuff is captured?”

Then, people understand the full story of everything when it’s time to record. For this, the challenge was in committing to letting go of it. As you said, I had to approach it with freedom by living in the moment and giving them what I feel is the DNA and spirit of something and then letting it happen.

It really was different from song to song. I would go to the piano and just play like the themes. For example, with Heartbeats, I would just sit there and play it and sing what the melody was.

I actually had sheet music there for them, and I said, ” I’m only gonna put it out if this isn’t working,” because I didn’t want to be selfish with it and force them to have to understand it that way. Because that’s selfish as well. So I said, “Let me have that prepared, but let me try to explain it in a really sick singer-songwriter-type way.” So, for each song it was documented; the camera crew was in here, and I would just sit, play, and sing. And I said, yeah, I was going for this feel here. Let’s just give it a shot.

I didn’t show them anything from the bass itself. We recorded that whole album in a day and a half. I hadn’t played that on bass until it was time to record. And that was really by design. I wanted them to see, “No, I’m reacting in the moment too.”

So, I would play the piano for certain songs and let them hear another song. I would pull up my voice memo and let them hear how I came up with it at the piano at home.

And just, “This is the vibe. I know that piano is out of tune, but let’s take it and run with it. Jahari, what do you think about here? Mike? What do you think about here? Justin and Mike, also, what do you guys think about this? Let’s vibe with it. Let’s see what happens.”

Most of that album is that “let’s see what happens.” It was the first takes, for the most part, throughout the entire album. So I’m thankful to them for embracing that moment and making it their own.

But that was the biggest challenge, really honoring that approach and saying, you know what, let me present it in a way where we all have to get out of our own skin and not think, “Oh, we’re on a session, and let’s be great.” No, let’s just be in the moment.

Did the ideas for this album come to you as melodies? As textures? I think it’s so fascinating how ideas start and then morph.

Just about every song on that album came as… it was just a thought. I would often sit at the piano in the house, and people can hear that piano on the record, a 1902 Ludwig Upright Piano.

I would just turn on the voice memo on my phone, start recording, and just start playing if there was an idea. Sometimes, it might be a shape, a color, an emotion, or a feeling I’m trying to capture. I might just start with a couple of notes and let it resonate, and it might not even be formulated yet.

It might have been just a harmonic concept that was coming through, and I had no melody yet. Then I would just start singing over it and capture it all on voice memo and then not revisit it until we’re in the studio. It was really, for the most part — the process for the whole album.

And by design, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t trying to make the songs convey too much from the bass perspective at the formulation of it. I wanted it to feel like a departure from the through-composed, produced type albums I’ve done prior.

If we rewind 20 years ago to when you were leaving Temple University, were you doing that back then with a DAT, a Minidisc recorder, or something?

You’re so funny. I can’t believe you just said that. The mini disc recorder started when I was in college, and I had this small blue square Minidisc recorder.

I had that! That was the Sony.

Yes. That was the one I used. That was the Minidisc recorder I used when I entered my first bass lesson with the great Ron Carter. It was the same thing as I used to record my upright bass shows with the legendary Mulgrew Miller. All of that was there. Actually, that inspired me to record a song that I recorded onto the Minidisc 19 on my album.

That song was a song I wrote when I was 19. The idea came to me while I was shedding on the bass. Victor Wooten was a big influence, especially at that time, and he put me on to this BOSS Loop Station that he’d been using, and I just took that, and I’ve been shedding on it. That was a song I wrote when I was 19, so I thought, let me revisit that feeling for this album and capture that in a moment of honesty.

Actually, Color of Noize reminds me of the spirit of Victor Wooten’s book The Music Lesson, which is about letting go and just rethinking how anybody teaches anything. It’s really interesting.

Oh, Jason, it’s funny. Thinking back, you brought that up and brought out sides of myself that I didn’t really tap into.

I tried to own my experiences through my life, in the music, and try to get out of my own way, and directly or indirectly, sometimes influences on me happen through times like this, just talking about it. And I’m like, “Wait a minute, yeah.” Victor was a big influence on me, not just in what he did but also conceptually.

I remember when I first hooked up with him, the respect he showed, and hearing him talk about Christian McBride, the amazing John Clayton, and all those other greats. It was like, “Wow, yeah, it’s okay to be into it all.” Partially, that open-mindedness influenced me to do that, like the song Doxology from my first album on acoustic bass.

That also paid homage to a cut of my history coming out of church and the great John Clayton I studied with. I remember the first time I heard John Clayton playing the song Emily. I think it was with the Clayton/Hamilton Big Band.

It blew me away, but it was minds like Victor Wooten’s. I would have never thought he was that open-minded about so many different things until I was sitting in a room with him, and he’d be checking out all kinds of music and paying homage to so many different types of music.

I was like, let me be honest about that in my story and in my music.

When did your path cross with John Clayton?

I went to Temple University in Philadelphia, and Terrell was, at that time, pretty much overseeing the music program there. In college, Terrell was the one who first put me on to John Clayton. He was working with him while he was teaching us. We’ll go off and tour with him.

John became one of my biggest influences, indirectly. I didn’t get a chance to meet him, but Terrell knew that. So, when I got out of college, Terrell personally connected me with John. I just took a flight all the way to LA just to meet him and get a lesson with him, and that’s how that relationship began. I think I was about 22 at that time.

You got started at two years old on drums. How do you think that your exposure to drums at such an early age might have shaped your approach to the bass?

It’s funny. I didn’t realize it then, but I think it opened my mind to how I was listening.

It wasn’t just that I started on drums. It was too big for my body. When I wanted to pick up the bass, they put me on guitar first in the school system. I was six then, and I think that combination of the drums and playing acoustic guitar but wanting to play bass simultaneously, I realized how that was opening up my ears to everything else.

I played drums in the little marching band, but someone was already playing electric bass. So they put me in the orchestra at seven years old, and I played electric bass in the little orchestra and was never in the band. I was never in any of that until later.

I think indirectly, playing another instrument and also playing guitar at an early age opened my mind. I was always hearing harmony, and I was hearing the beauty of different ways of communicating percussion, and so putting that all together, I think that kind of informed my decision-making, especially as a bassist, and the way I took in information. It wasn’t necessarily limited to even what I was hearing around me on the bass.

I would hear something orchestrated and say, “Man, that’d be cool to try that on the bass one day.” And I totally couldn’t, but it was like, “Why not? Why not try it? Why not go for it? Why not try these approaches?”

And I think that’s what informed my decision-making the most. Because I didn’t start on the instrument I feel like I love the most, it opened up my ears when I did get on it, not necessarily to think of it in a limiting way. How do I incorporate it all?

I know your mother is a vocalist, and the influence was playing you different albums or records at different, from different genres.

It’s incredible. Jason, that is huge. I can’t say that enough. That all really influenced me to this day because we couldn’t afford an electric bass. I wanted to play the electric bass. It was too big for my body. So I started on guitar, and all we had was the one in school, but at night, my mother would turn on the radio, pick a station every night, and say, “Just listen.”

Every night. It would be something different. That was everything because I didn’t realize how that was informing how I hear things and break down the emotion of making something speak. That made me even appreciate when some people thought in the orchestra, “Oh, this music isn’t as cool.” Man, that harmony was amazing to me, and I owe that to people like my mother.

I remember Joe Conyers, who is in the Philadelphia Orchestra, 20 years ago, I was sitting on a stand with him in orchestra. I listened, and then Joe said, “Hey, listen to what the second clarinets are doing. Listen to the violist.” He basically gave me an education on what I wasn’t hearing.

Absolutely. And I think about another blessing for me was they had an outreach program where I lived.

I’m from Philadelphia. We ended up moving to Willowwood, New Jersey, and they had an outreach program where they would send the bus to certain schools, and because I was in orchestra, I was one of those schools. They would send us to the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, and we would just sit in all the way in the top nosebleeds with our music teacher and just watch the Philadelphia Orchestra rehearse.

They’d let us listen to their rehearsal and everything, and then we would leave without saying bye, which was just, “Don’t make it sound.” It was mind-blowing for me because it was there where I just started feeling that power, even though I couldn’t describe any of it at the time.

I was a terrible reader, and the theory and all that stuff. I caught up with that, fortunately, a lot later. But at that time, I couldn’t describe that emotion and those feelings and the beauty of how that’s happening. It wasn’t just what was happening. it’s the balance of the families of instruments that’s making that beautiful thing.

It’s not even just what’s on the paper. It’s the dynamics, markings, and bowings combined with that. Because that’s happening in a certain balance, that’s what’s making things have a totally different emotion than if the second violins were playing just one marking louder and softer.

At the time, I couldn’t explain it, but being able to hear it and watch a conductor try to convey that emotion off the paper in that way, and it came to life, man, that changed everything for me.

Did you ever think you were going to do anything else besides music?

When I was nine, I thought I would be a police officer.

And then after that, it was so funny. It’s so amazing. You never know the influences that are around you that are influencing your hope. The hope that, hey, if you find something that’s a spark, just go with it. My mother was one of those people. “Oh, you like music, just keep doing it, work at it, keep doing it, and see what happens.”

It dawned on me that music was finding me. I went to Temple University because my high school music teacher went there, and he said, “Hey, why don’t you check that out?” they identified that desire in me, and I lived around that music.

It almost found me, which was one of those things when I think back. I always saw myself doing it, but I never thought about the career of it or the business of it. It’s one of those things by feeding it and by having influences around me saying you can at a young age. I just kept feeding it, and I think the universe just opened up.

You were on tour with Jill Scott and then decided to return to Temple. Is that correct?

Absolutely. When I was in Philly then, it was unique because so many records were coming out around that time.

I was in college, a freshman and sophomore at that time, but many records were happening. That’s how I got to be on those Jill Scott and Floetry and music, albums, and all that stuff. Because of that, they started touring and doing everything, and that was my first actual tour with Jill Scott.

You go from being broke and not having much to, “Oh man, this is fun.” You can go out, have fun, do whatever, and play music too. You think that’s all cool. But I never really focused so much on the career of it. “Oh, this is the end all be all. Let me just stay here because I’m making money.”

I just enjoy taking in information and music. And I knew there was a lot that I needed to get to. I knew I didn’t have it together. That’s the beauty of really diving into the jazz and classical tradition.

If you’re really going to be honest with yourself, when you dig into it, there’s no way to really have ego. You will learn, “I don’t have this together,” and I chose to feed that.

I left that tour, returned to college, and chose to feed that curiosity. I never thought that in terms of the music business. And the career in music, that’s actually when certain relationships began forming that opened doors for the music business for me.

It was that senior year, when I left after my junior year, when I came back, that I really bonded with Terrell Stafford, who, Terrell was the one who introduced me to Christian McBride. I started playing on the jazz scene with Clark Terry and Bootsie Barnes and all these things.

But it was really feeding that curiosity. I never would have thought I’d even be playing jazz at the time like that. It was just choosing not to be so comfortable.

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How would you recommend someone begin developing a curious mind? If you were a teacher and wanted to instill that curiosity, which you so obviously have had throughout your career, do you have any advice you might give someone?

Yeah, absolutely. Jason, I think we can’t ignore the times. The times are what they are. Technology is not going backward, and accessibility is not going backward, and sometimes people who are teaching it’s easy to become an idealist

I realize some of the greatest teachers, for me, took the time to show me the way.

James Poyser, the legendary producer, could talk to me about Herbie Hancock all he wanted, but it wasn’t until he purchased Thrust, The Headhunters album. He gave it to me, and then I decided to go home and listen to it. That opened up the window for me.

I think the answer is that, with me and many others, we are trying to take ownership and do that ourselves. If in universities, when people come and talk and want to do lessons, if I see someone that has, promise, I’ll go out of my way sometimes and ask them who are some of their favorites and if there’s something I think that might be lacking in gaps in understanding of the instrument in a certain way.

Instead of telling them what they need to check out if that person is performing live, I’ll buy a ticket for this student to hear them. I think that’s the answer. They’re not going to just desire it on their own so easily now, so it takes us really reaching back and saying, “Let me help make this environment where they can grow at least a little more.” Let me get them a ticket to hear this amazing musician and say, okay, now you go and promise me on their break, you go backstage and meet them, ask for a lesson, ask how you can stay in contact.

And then from there, they have the opportunity to directly connect with somebody, and now things are fed differently. They’re invested beyond just clicking whatever on YouTube and all that, so I really recommend it now just. In-person, checking out these artists’ live, and not being ashamed.

I remember back in my college days at Northwestern, Rufus Reid came and visited the jazz band, and I remember him giving me a cassette and being so open and friendly and nice. I’ll remember that for the rest of my life.

I’ve been working on that even more now instead of just speaking on it, man, and I’m thankful doing this interview with you. I’ve been trying to use this Color of Noize platform to support that. Even with merchandise and some CDs sold, it’s providing an opportunity for two promising composers. Once everything opens back up in 2021, all expenses are paid. Hopefully, they can fly in for my next commission work. All expenses paid.

They’ll sit with me. Be in the pit with me and the conductor and look over scores. Watch the entire rehearsal. Sit right by the stage while the performance happens. And they’ll physically be able to grasp that opportunity instead of the hype of it being on social media.

Sometimes, we have to go that extra step to connect and give the generation behind us opportunities to personally connect and discover, “Oh no, this personal connection is going to drive me to want to become better beyond just seeing what I can get on my computer.” I use that as a tool, but it really is a people business, so I’m trying to use that platform to help connect people more. To get out of just It’s looking at the computer screen.

I mentioned Common’s track Be (Intro) earlier. My DBHQ business partner Trevor Jones asks. “This is a striking way to open the album. How did it come about?”

I think I had hired a string quartet or two. There were about 10 players in the room at the time. And there was a little intro in the beginning that was cool and lush and had a kind of Chicago feeling about it. Common Kanye and I recorded that at Sony in New York at the time. I remember everything in the studio was always recording. Because I was in the booth and they couldn’t see me, I wanted to go for a certain flow and see how everything would feel.

So I played through it on a bass and was like, “That’s cool. Let me play that again and then show them how we’re going to go into the song.” And what people are hearing on the record is just that. That was something where I was going through the roots of what would be under what they’re playing.

So the space in it, there’s things happening. There were other things happening around it. I went to the song and said, “Yeah, so it’s something like that.” And then they said, “Actually, no, that’s killing.”

And I was like, “Man, I got this whole…” They’re like, “Nah, man, let’s just roll with that.”

And that’s how “Be” happened.

How do you maintain facility on electric and upright?

For me, there is no there’s no way around it. Especially with upright bass, you just have to play it. Even today, I emulate my college professor in heights in college, Vince Fay, and an amazing bassist. He taught double bass at Temple, went to New York, and played bass for Footloose by night.

He was doubling and was just the perfect example of being authentic in doing both. He would sometimes take us to check him out playing. What just got me was how authentic he was at both. We would start focusing on that and things he would tell me he would listen to just to get out of the space of the electric. For me, it’s not just going back to acoustic bass and working on the fundamentals of that in classical. It’s also “What do I listen to?”

I tend to focus on artists that really have a beautiful sound and what they do that forces you to not get into the trickery of something and bypass the sound that’s required to make those ideas work.

You can’t just play it and attempt to even play something like Edgar Meyer without trying to really deal with that sound, which makes you have to deal with the technique of it. That makes you have to go back and really pay respect in that way.

Brian Bromberg, or what I love about people like him and the great John Patitucci, I don’t hear gaps in understanding when they switch between both. It’s really a respect for both instruments.

I had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Patitucci for a couple of hours the other week, and he talked about how even when he was touring with Chick Corea at the time on electric bass, he would solely shed the acoustic. If you’re going to be convincing (on both instruments), there’s just no way around it.

I say feed your ears with as much as you can for me. To this day, I’ll go back and not just listen to the Ray Browns. I’ll listen to Oscar Pettiford, but not just Oscar Pettiford. As I said, Edgar Meyer or Israel Crosby, in terms of beautiful, smooth playing, will keep me interested in that might cross over into the electric in an interesting way. I think of Ron Carter in that way.

It’s really feeding your ears, so when you hit the practice room, you’re really focusing on that going back to the history of those instruments that’s really rich. I think the challenge is more so because of the physically demanding nature of the acoustic bass, and you can easily try to out-muscle it and lose that fight.

That’s something I was talking with Larry Grenadier for the podcast a few years ago. He talked about how we sometimes fall into this trap of thinking that more power equals more sound. But when you actually pull too hard, you lose the sound. And for arco playing, it’s the same thing.

Yeah, you absolutely do. But I noticed even for myself, when I stay away from it long enough, I will start it. There was a season where all of a sudden, I would say, why am I muscling it? And why is it sounding like this?

Why is it sounding like I’m fighting with the bass to try to get that sound and get that feeling out of it? I was sitting watching. I was like, “No, let it speak for itself.” that’s where going back to the instrument and dealing with it, you discover those things.

The biggest thing for me was the sound. That exposed everything, man. Especially the weaknesses and the temptation to fight the bass.

Our rich tradition it’s almost like a musical diet. You are what you eat, and by feeding yourself those sounds, you’re entering that time with the instrument.

Absolutely. That worked for me because I said, “If I’m constantly trying to make sure I’m trying to speak from the instrument, let me incorporate what speaks to me and my history.” And it was always a balance of using my ears, even from childhood. So instead of just transcribing things, it started to become, “Okay, how do I use these years to really listen and focus on how are they getting that sound?”

Focusing on that, especially in the midst of maybe playing the electric at a certain time, say, I said, “When I go back to the upright, who do I think really was amazing at shifting on the instrument and shifting in a seamless way and shifting where they’ve in an economical way? Who got a beautiful sound regardless of the action?”

I started thinking in those terms, which helped me to dive into the instrument and not even think about the electric. It’s never worked well for me trying to balance both simultaneously.

I’ve had to go all the way that way, especially when I’m playing more of another. If I’m playing more of the electric in practice time, it never really worked well for me. If I tried to balance both, I would have to shed.

Is your creative time highly scheduled, or is it more spontaneous? What are your work habits like on your creative craft?

Fortunately for me, the discipline of creating time has always been consistent. I’ve always been a morning person, and that’s what’s worked for me. I’m a dad now, so now, afternoon, evening, going into the nighttime, that’s when I actually do a lot of the actual practice and work time on the instrument.

But in terms of what I’m actually doing, that has changed over time. Because for me, even shedding, just working on themes and variations and things like that, just with the pen and writing, I’ve tried to build that into my practice time. Creating time for that won’t necessarily be a couple of hours on electric and then a couple of hours on upright.

It might be, “How many different ways can I transcribe what I’ve already written using different devices just to explain it a little better, explain it a little differently?” Instead of going the lazy route and writing an “out” chord. How do I write that and make it really cool and sound amazing and do that with everything?

With collaboration and composing, like for film, what was your process like with Terence Blanchard, or maybe even more generally, what’s it like writing for film?

It’s a beautiful experience for me. I’ve always embraced that opportunity to completely let what’s going on in my world regarding the imagination come to light. The question has always been, “Okay, what does that look like? And what does that sound like?”

Fortunately, on most film projects I’ve been a part of it. I haven’t been limited to, “Oh no, we want this specific thing. We want this whole score to be just quartet, or just this, or just that.” That has allowed me to use that as a platform to open up and try to speak to whatever colors speak to me. So, the beauty in film writing for me has been that collaborative process with Terence Blanchard.

Returning to the beginning, he would say, “This is the theme that I had in mind, man. This speaks to me and my story, but hey, I’m gonna give you these rules. Why don’t you check this out? And just totally think out of the box.”

We were studying Schindler’s List. We were checking out John Williams. And I said, “I know we were checking that out, but here’s some blank reels. Let’s just try to paint in our own way, see what happens?”

That was an eye-opener for me when it comes to film scoring, I hold on to that to this day, I’m not separating writing for film from what I have to say as an artist. I trust the training and, honestly, try to go in any situation, especially as a composer, and just be water, be an open look.

Don’t try to prove some string writing chops because that’s limiting, too. Let me look at it, and if they’re saying just give the emotion we want, it could be anything. Let it be anything. It could be guitar one minute. It could be like, go grab the keyboards the next. Just being open to that.

I think film throughout my career has helped me connect with that creative openness in the studio. That approach is what affected my second album, which I recorded in this room. Just jumping around different instruments and really just getting in my own head and just giving somebody that perspective.

If we go back to 18-year-old Derrick or 22-year-old Derrick or someone around then, what advice might you give your younger self?

Yeah, absolutely. What is it that you love doing? If you’re in the music world at all, what is it that you love doing? Do you want to speak from your instrument as an artist, performer, writer, or whatever? Start asking those questions now, and then pursue it wholeheartedly, but don’t get comfortable.

I would say. It’s really challenging now in social media. You can put out something, even when you’re in your working form, just something that you might have worked on, and you put a minute snippet of it in the world. And sometimes the likes, the hype, and everybody saying you’re great can be a distraction.

Even if what you did might have been cool, that might have been “great” to some, which can distract your development. Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. Make uncomfortable comfortable, and you never know what direction that will be.

I was a terrible reader, and I never thought that just writing would be an actual life for me. I never thought that, but when I left, I just got to go back to college. One of the things for me was, let me go all the way in. I would go to the Philadelphia Orchestra and just pull out scores. I would pull off Principles of Orchestration and just start checking it out, understand all these terms, learn about these families of instruments, what that means, and some of my favorite composers. I just started checking it out.

Nobody really cared that I was writing at the time. So I started writing out scores on my own, never had it heard, and I started sending it out to people. That’s how I got into Sundance, and that’s how I got my first Chicago Symphony commission. That was all just a leap of faith. But what led to this phase of discomfort and not feeling good about myself because maybe my friends in school thought I could play well over changes, which can be a distraction.

So I encourage you all to find that thing that’ll make you just drive at whatever you’re going to do. Just don’t get comfortable.

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