At breakfast the other morning with a few friends, I told them I was thinking about finding work in marketing and working on a resumé.
I told them about how lately I am having a really hard time feeling like playing the saxophone for a living and how it seems like it would be easier if I had some other source of income.
One friend, who I will refer to as Libra, said, “Are you sure it’s not just your mindset?” She’s a Libra so I was like psssh of course you’d say some shit like that. Then she goes, (I’m paraphrasing) “If it’s your mind that is causing you to feel this way, it won’t matter what line of work you’re in; a new job will not magically solve your problems. And, knowing you Jake, you’d hate answering to a boss. It would probably just turn out like the last job you worked except even worse.”
And, hit kind of hard by this comment and the truth in it, I had a cup of coffee that afternoon to cope (my first cup in a few days; I’m trying to quit because I don’t want to depend on drugs to find my happy). I felt a little better. I was able to go on with my day and put in some serious playing time on the saxophone and made some money, had fun, and got quite a few Instagram followers.
I thought, “Goddamn, maybe I should just drink coffee everyday and forget about being free of all chemical influences.”
Then I thought, “Well, my family does have a ton of mental illness in it: my mother, my brother, my cousins, depression, anxiety, bipolar, a story about a distant aunt shooting herself in the head with a shotgun... and a lot of them are on some combination of psychiatric medication, if not all the time then periodically.”
I thought, “Is it time to see a psychiatrist and get some antidepressants for myself?”
But my whole thing is I DON’T WANT TO BE DEPENDENT ON DRUGS, and I think back to a point when my mother was unable to get the drugs she needed and crashed her car, lost her job, lost her mind, lost her memory, almost burned the house down, and a bunch of other horrors. What if I come to depend on drugs and then for some reason I can’t get them? That would be fucked.
I mentioned this family-mental-illness situation to my Libra friend and she said she had tried antidepressants before and that her family also has a pretty deep history of mental illness. She told me that for her, the only thing that really works that isn’t drugs is regular exercise—like 30+ minutes of cardio every day—and meditation.
Now… I think about my life and times when I’m cool with everything and times that I’m not, and times that I’m cool with everything almost always either involved a lot of self-medicating (mostly with some combination of weed, alcohol, caffeine, or Adderall) OR a lot of physical exercise. Sometimes both, but usually I haven’t felt much need for drugs when I was really running and hitting the weights.
Taking my friend’s experience into account, it would probably be best if I worked out everyday if I want to make the kind of progress that I believe deep within me I am capable of. This feels a little daunting, but I actually love lifting weights (I especially love the tedium of methodically noting what I do, how many reps, how much time it takes, etc.) and running. I also love eating all the food that I get/have to eat when I am training and pretty much only getting sexier because of it.
I also think about the heavy hitters in this reality and how—almost without exception, whether they are entrepreneurs, athletes, actors, writers, thinkers, performers—all the badass motherfuckers at the top of the game are working out. I want to be like them. I honestly want $120,000,000. That’s like superpower goals. But how am I gonna get superpower goals if I’m depressed?
The answer is: I WON’T BE ABLE TO. But, if I can keep from being depressed by getting shredded as fuck, then I’m down to try. Thank you Libra for being my friend and helping me see something I was pretty much unaware of.
I’m really unsure if anyone will give a shit about this, but I have to share or I will explode. So rather than burst into a million pieces of flesh, bone, and guts, I will instead talk about my feelings and experience, and hopefully that will keep me somewhat peaceful; and perhaps this story will entertain as my stories—regardless of intent—often do.
If you’ve known me over the past few years, you will most likely recall that for a time I had decidedly quit playing the saxophone. I sold all of my instruments and vowed never to play again. With my girlfriend, Sydney, I formed a project called “The Pizza Bats”, which was a departure from the saxophone and all that jazz.
It was refreshing to do nothing but sing and play guitar, which is sincerely what I always wanted to do. There’s a lot packed into why I couldn’t allow myself to pursue this dream before, but I won’t go into it now (although I am working on writing what may ultimately be a book about my discovery of all the many wondrous traumas I’ve sustained as I grow older, wiser, and sober).
If you know me at all today, you have probably realized that I am playing the saxophone again. And, since October of 2016, I’ve been pursuing saxophone playing as a street performer and making some kind of money doing it. By November of 2017, I had started playing on train cars, and I have a made a decent living doing it since.
Refining my style and my repertoire to suit a public audience of all ages, nationalities, social statuses, religions, and so on, I have now reached a point where I can make—even in the supposedly dry month of January—about $40 in an hour. During the Christmas season, that number is closer to $60, with the most I’ve made in an hour being $90.
Problematically, the traumas that I have associated with playing the saxophone for a living are deeper and more complex than I ever realized. And, now that playing saxophone is something that I have to do (rather than choose to do) to afford the costs of living, I am starting to feel just as I did when I quit playing the first time.
I have within me an unshakeable calling to become my songwriting self. I feel that this is what I’m supposed to be doing on this planet, and the more success that I find as a saxophone player, the sadder and more tortured I become internally. For this reason, it has been very hard for me spiritually to want to play professionally and to fully realize and/or promote a lot of my instrumental jazz projects.
Being dependent on the saxophone, I’m in quite a bind right now. But, I’m searching for some kind of salaried, creative position in the corporate world to pay for my cost of living, with the ultimate goal of being freed financially from having to play the saxophone. I am following the hunch that a good-paying job doing something creative—that isn’t necessarily music—will allow me some peace, as well as financing to professionally record and produce the songs that I have written (and am currently writing).
Sidenote: I think I would also really enjoy not living in a partitioned-off section of an old lady's living room in Queens.
I have well-attached my given name to being a jazz saxophone player, and therefore I’ve chosen to create a separate identity for my songwriting pursuits. That identity’s name is Pretty Mutant, and if you want to follow my progress as a songwriter/indie producer, I have created social media accounts across all platforms. So I invite you to follow me now @pmutantmusic to keep up with my songwriting pursuits, and I will be using that moniker for pretty much everything that isn’t saxophone.
In the meantime, I’ll still be playing on the subway cars as long as I have to to make a living, but know that ultimately I feel that this is not what I have been put on this Earth to do, and, despite my high degree of skill at playing the saxophone, it may be phased out entirely at some point in the future; I don't know.
That’s all for now, folks. Stay tuned.
Earlier this year, I was asked by the director of Literacy Partners to arrange the theme song of We Speak NYC. It is an online show created to help immigrants and non-native English speakers succeed living in the city and develop literacy in the process. The show is now live!
I am very honored and proud to have been a part.
A special thanks goes out to the indispensable, Jonah Wei-Haas for help with production and handling the mixing and mastering.
I am not a Saxophonist: I am a Musician.
I am not a Musician: I am an Artist.
I am not an Artist: I am a Poet.
I am not a Poet: I am a Philosopher.
I am not a Philosopher: I am a Dude.
I am not a Dude: I am a Human Being.
I am not a Human Being: I am a shard of the Divine.
My body is but a structure for the Infinite, and Art but a structure for Philosophy. Saxophone but a structure for expressing Music, Music but a structure for Poetry, Poetry but a structure for Art.
I've had this idea for a while, and now I've finally made it real.
The logo is a composite of symbols that have special meaning to me and the music I have written and have yet to write.
The infinity loop at the top is a music staff, an original design that I have tattooed on my chest. It is a reminder that through composition anything is possible. The twist in the center also represents the duality of musical intervals as well as a yin-and-yang understanding. It is major and it is minor. The color yellow is divine to me (it is the color of our local god, The Sun, after all) giving the music staff a sacred significance.
The figure in the center is a sphinx. The sphinx is a pale-ish complexioned hairless cat with huge ears. I myself am pale, a cat (a slang term for a jazz artist), pretty much lacking in fur, and gifted with a highly developed aural sense.
The three symbols featured in the sphinx's face are from the Cosmology symbolism that I've used to compose a lot of my works (especially those from my project, Feat Sauce). The yellow nine-pointed star represents God, the red heart represents Life, and the black crescent represents the Void.
The cat has blue eyes just like me.
The glasses represent my firm belief that books will free me from ignorance and help me reach whatever goals I imagine for myself.
An updated version of my personal script is in the works, but for the time being I've decided to use Arial as a nod to the MTA since I make most of my bread playing throughout the subway system.
My most recent work honors the lives of three prominent New York literacy advocates.
Literacy Partners—a charity that I have had the immense fortune of contributing to as a donor, volunteer, and contracted composer/arranger—recently memorialized high-society literacy advocates Liz Smith, Parker Ladd, and Arnold Scaasi.
I had the rare pleasure of composing the original score for the below video that was featured at Literacy Partners gala in their honor. It was tough, but very rewarding and for a great cause.
This is kind of crazy, but I recently was asked to record some sax parts for a comedy sketch on BET's show, The Rundown with Robin Thede. Now it's out there in cyberspace.
My contribution starts at 1:45. Here's the sketch in its entirety:
The arrangement was a collaboration with musician Dave Keener (whose tragicomic songs can be heard here: davekeener.bandcamp.com/track/babe-magnet).
On Monday, Oct. 23rd, I’ll be reviving my project, Feat Sauce, for a show at Silvana in Harlem.
Click to view the Facebook Event Page
This will be my first show as a leader in New York City. I’m really excited.
For over five years, I’ve worked and re-worked these tunes in a variety of contexts: electronic, by myself at a glockenspiel, at the keyboard, at a piano, in concert, in rehearsal, with a full nine-piece band, with octets, trios, etc. etc.
Finally, I’ve come to a point where I just want the people to hear this stuff—it does absolutely zero good being incomplete and stuck in my mind.
So I’m considering the works essentially complete and, with a six-piece band for this occasion, will be performing this nine-movement conceptual cycle of compositions in its entirety for the first time, for a new audience, in a different city, with a new lineup. I’m stoked to say the least.
There's a lot of meaning that I've ascribed to it, but the basic concept is represented by this set of symbols:
The harmony for each movement is derived by excluding one or two of the other pitches. The harmony for I., for example, has C as its tonal center and excludes the pitches F# and B. Movement VI., for example, has B as its tonal center, includes F# in its harmony, and excludes the pitch C. Thus the harmony for each movement is derived.
Stylistically, the music is rooted in Electronic Dance Music. I feel very strongly that jazz bands should be grooving in styles people actually dance to (Swing, for example, is of course great, but any swing feels in the mainstream of the last 10 years sound nothing like Basie and the like. "Latch" by Disclosure, for example, is a Swing feel, but it's wrapped up in a modern guise.)
Each symbol has been ascribed a significance:
Each juxtaposition has been ascribed a significance as well:
So that's the gist of the concept. No telling what may happen on Monday.
Come to the show if you're in New York.
Mark yourself "Going" on the Facebook Event Page
Last October I quit my job as a breakfast cook in a resort hotel.
My job as a breakfast cook in a resort hotel was menial. And somewhat self-degrading, though I did get to wear a costume (however, I couldn't wear earrings which I felt was oppressive--am I a liberal tool for thinking that?).
So I had this job where I worked from 6 A.M. to 2 P.M. five days a week. It was alright, but since I was the new guy, they delegated every tedious and/or prolonged task to me: separating eggs, picking parsley leaves, picking basil leaves, etc. for hours on end.
So I had menial, repetitive tasks going on, and I also had infinite coffee (the Barista station was adjacent the breakfast line). Put the two together, and I'd get in a meditative state. And, in that meditative state I began to hear a good ol' ii-V-I in my head.
Long story short, I borrowed a saxophone, took it into the subway, played whatever I could before my chops would give out, clean out the horn, count my money and bounce.
People were really grateful that I was making music for them.
I was like, "I could play music for people like this everyday and enhance their experience of life in a beautiful way." I started doing it all the time.
After a heartfelt conversation with my former boss in a walk-in refrigerator designated for produce, I realized that if I'm in New York City, I need to do whatever is the greatest service to Humankind possible.
Now I'm not saying I won't if, either I absolutely must or I find something super awesome, but I haven't gone back to work since.