Friday, May 30, 2014

Nastos Interview: Part Two (getting personal)

In this segment of my interview with John Nastos we talked about the definition of "jazz", the married life of a musician, and then he turned the tables and asked me some questions!

Levi Downey: Do you consider yourself a jazz musician?
John Nastos: Yeah. I mean as a saxophone player, it’s pretty hard to escape that. Not that I want to escape that. You know, it’s kind of what we do. I do really love Jazz. I get that people stay away [from “jazz”]. Do you know who Ben Darwish is?
LD: Oh yeah! You work with him? I’m familiar with Morning Ritual. Bill Marsh is a killer guitar player in that project. What kind of work do you do with him [Darwish]?
JN: I’ve played a lot of stuff with him. We haven’t done anything for a while but he had a band called Commotion that I was in for a bit. [Darwish and I] played in Damian Erskine’s band together. There’s a drummer named Drew Shoals, we were in his group together. I think if you asked [Ben Darwish] if he were a jazz musician, I don’t know if he would say yes. And I don’t know if he would want to be identified that way. Because, for what he wants to do it’s almost a disservice. For certain crowds if you advertise yourself as a jazz pianist, it could actually hurt what you’re trying to do. They will be turned off by that. And I totally get that. But, for me it just kind of makes sense.
LD: Yeah, you know Robert Glasper and the Robert Glasper Experiment?
JN: Yeah definitely.
LD: It’s along the same lines right? He got a Grammy for the best hip hop album of 2011 and that couldn’t have happened if it were the “Robert Glasper Jazz Experiment”.
JN: Yeah, that’s probably true.
LD: I’m curious about that because some of the people I talk with treat the “J” word like it’s an insult. Then, there are the people that are pissed at those people who want to distance themselves from that “J” word.
JN: I always think that it’s kind of funny when people try to define what jazz is. And thus, I find it kind of funny to get upset about being defined as it… because it’s kind of undefinable.
There’s this kid on Facebook that was putting down this group, the Jam of the Week group. Don’t know if you’ve run into that yet? But, this trumpet player in town, Farnell Newton, created this group where they focus on one tune per week and you post a video of you taking one chorus of a tune and get advice from the musician community. The first tune was blues then “Just Friends” then “All the Things You Are”. And so there’s this kid who grew up here and now lives in New York and always has very strong opinions about music… he was like, “This group goes against what jazz stands for.”
And that it doesn’t fit the ideals of the music. I wrote back saying that I get pretty skeptical when someone starts trying to tell me what jazz is and whether it fits. And he was like, “Well, it’s about improvising with others”. I agree that’s a great thing [about jazz]. But, I wrote back asking if that’s true, then is a solo piano album not jazz? And he just wrote back saying, “Jam of the Week is not a solo piano record!"
LD: Wow, people get very touchy about this stuff.
JN: Yup. I think actually the word Jazz, if anything , lets a lot more people have a living doing this. See there are these things called Jazz clubs. And, they are going to hire, more often than not, Jazz musicians that identify in “Jazz” ways. In other genres there aren’t necessarily venues that gear specifically toward what you are doing.
You know, if you go out for dinner at the Heathman or the Benson, there’s going to be a jazz band there. You’re not going to see a rock act, normally, at a place like that.
I think the word Jazz has helped a larger base of people get a larger pool of jobs. But, I’m sure some people vehemently disagree with me.

Nastos plays and teaches alto sax and many other woodwinds.

LD: I’m sure they do! So, a little more personal question; the work life balance of a musician doesn’t seem to usually involve living in one place with a marriage and a family. Not to say that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but you are someone that has made it work. What have you found to be some of the keys to that?
JN: Well, my wife is very understanding about what this life is like. She knew what we were getting into from the very beginning. Not to say that we haven’t had our issues related to it. Especially in the beginning. You know, she would want to go on vacation and plan it out far in the future. And I wouldn’t want to do that because what if I get a gig that night? Especially then, when I wasn’t working as much. You know, I couldn’t turn down a gig for any other reason than I have another gig. And I think she understands that now more than before.
That’s actually very important in this business. If the phone rings, you want to do pretty much whatever you can to say yes because whether or not it’s a “legit” excuse people get a perception really quickly, “Oh, I tried calling them, but they couldn’t do it.” Next time, when they think about calling you, they’ll remember you couldn’t do it and this other guy could. Even if the other guy doesn’t play as well, it’s easier.
And there are a lot of facets to that. It’s also like -- not so say you should take a gig for any money that’s offered -- but they could call up and offer x amount of dollars and you say, “Oh, well I only work for twice that”. If you get lucky, they’ll find a way to do that. And if you don’t get lucky, they just won’t call you again. And then say you’re in a financial situation where you would take that gig, but they’re not calling anymore; it becomes a problem.
But, anyway, that’s not directly related to your questions. I try to make time. If I weren’t worried about spending time with my wife I would take on five to ten more students, but [our time together] is important. I don’t teach much on Wednesdays or Thursdays. I have only one student on Wednesdays because her weekend starts then. So I keep the schedule pretty clear. I still take gigs on those nights when they come up.
LD: That’s really cool that you’ve found a way to make it work. It’s great, you know, my sabbatical has brought up a lot of things that I haven’t figured out yet, and it’s really great to have someone to point to that’s making it work. I can say, “Hey, look at John Nastos he’s making it work”!
JN: Hah! Yeah I guess.
LD: So your wife works full-time. Is she a musician too?
JN: No, she is a nurse. And she does work a lot, and a lot of late hours. And there are times where that is hard. Because I have made those commitments like, okay I’m not going to schedule these days for lessons.
But, I know she makes compromises too. [For example] if we were going to spend an evening together, but then I get a call for a gig -- she’s really understanding with those last minute sub calls.
LD: How long have you been married?
JN: Just over a year. January of last year.
LD: A winter wedding.
JN: Yeah, she wanted a winter wedding and I was like, that sounds great to me! I really didn’t care what season… except that winter made it a whole lot more convenient for not missing as many gigs. It was great. We did it on a Saturday during the day so that my musician friends wouldn’t have a gig and her colleagues could make it too. It was really nice.
LD: Great. Thanks, John. I just want to check to make sure I asked all my questions…
JN: So, let me ask you some questions. I’m sort of intrigued by your project here. So when did your sabbatical start?
LD: Started the beginning of February. I had some dancing back and forth with work.
JN: So is it legitimately a sabbatical in the sense that in August or whenever, you have a job waiting for you? Or is it more, “This is how much time and then we’ll see in August. If I’m not making a living I’ll ask for my job back or look for some other gig”?
LD: Pretty much the latter. My dream scenario would be to find some way to have music be my new income source. But, I just don’t know what that would look like; hence the whole project. So I will need to have -- and this is a bare minimum -- about $1,500 of income coming in by the end of summer. I did get offered a chance to return to the position I left. Who knows? Maybe I’ll end up back where I was. It was a really a good job to have.
But, in order to improve to the point where I’d need to be to make a living, it was clear to me that I needed to be devoting a lot more time than I could while working full-time. So I guess that’s why I decided to call it a sabbatical.
JN: I see. So what is your “ideal” situation and what does your somewhat “realistic” situation look like?
LD: Well, my ideal would be to be at the top of the local call list. You know, like pretty much what you described. I’d like to be somewhere near where you are. I love the idea of getting an unexpected call for an exciting or completely new gig. Playing live as much as possible. But, I’d really like to learn more about production and arranging too. If I could pick it now, I’d want to do more than 50% of my time performing and then the other less-than-half divided into other creative projects related to music -- like recording or composing or teaching.
Then, the realistic version would be more heavy on the teaching because it is the primary income source for everyone whom I’ve talked with so far.
JN: Yeah. Interesting.
LD: I’d really like to build something like what you’ve done with your Metronomics App. Something that’s related to music and something that I’ll probably be doing anyway and might make a little extra money. You know, I’ve been doing a little booking for a big band I’m in and I know enough people from my past job, that it might make sense to take on some management role.
JN: Yeah, that’s definitely a huge need. It’s a good skill and it’s one that most musicians just don’t seem to have. I mean the fact that my metronome app sells at all is almost pure luck. I will rarely even tell people about it. I mean, if I have a student or maybe a colleague that I’m pretty close with, then I’ll mention it. But if it’s like a one-off gig or something… For example, I had this gig with Diane Shuur in Vegas. We had this bass player on the gig who I hadn’t met before. And he’s this pretty heavy New York guy -- teaches at Juilliard -- a serious dude.  And, I don’t have the self-promotion sense or maybe the lack of shame to tell him about it. Maybe he would like it and then tell some of his students at Juilliard about it and that would probably go really well.
LD: Yeah I’ve noticed that. It’s really a totally different skill set. The business and promotion side can be hard to deal with for the creative individual trying to focus on their craft. In fact they seem to work better when separated.
JN: A challenging field no question about it.
LD: So, do you have any advice for my situation? Now that you know a little more about what I’m doing and why.
JN: I have no idea! Haha. I mean, okay... So I listen to a lot of comedy podcasts like the Adam Carolla and Nerdist. Part of the reason I started the metronome app was because I was seeing a lot of young musicians burn out because they were spending every waking moment on music. I’m not the kind of guy that will get in my car and immediately turn on music. If anything, I’ll turn on a podcast. And one of the things I always hear stand-up comedians say is: Under no circumstances should you become a stand up comedian, unless that’s the only thing you can do. Not meaning that you don’t have any other skills. Meaning you won’t be happy unless that’s the only thing you do. Because it takes that amount of drive to get up on stage and survive the hecklers and to live the sort of miserable experience it takes to build up enough work to get going. And that’s something I’ve struggled with telling my high school students. Because, much more so than when I was in High School, there are all these Jazz education programs and all the kids say they want to go to Manhattan School of Music or Berklee and NIC or NYU or the Jazz Department of NYU. They all want to go to a conservatory. And part of me thinks I should say, “Well, yeah, I did it and it can be done”. And part of me wants to say, “You’re not going to make it, you shouldn’t do it”. Because the ones that really want it, that’s not gonna stop them.
So, it’s a weeding out process. Like in med school it’s first year chemistry. It’s like 30% of the people don’t make it past. But, it’s not really even a very practical class for becoming a doctor; it’s more of a bar to see how bad you want it. I can never decide what kind of personality I want to be. So usually what I say, “Music school is great, but don’t pay any money to go there”. If you can get a full ride to Berklee or whatever, then you’re talking about four years where you can have an experience unlike any other. Because I do think it’s important to have that drive. And I think that’s part of why I never got a “job.” Sure, I could have taken a job at some point and made a lot more money but I really really wanted the music thing and I made it happen.
I think your step of deciding, “Okay I’m making decent money, I have a job and I’m going to sort of throw that away and try it”. [It was] a good step in that direction because you’re willing to make a sacrifice. Whether or not it will work? I have no idea!
One of my favorite things about music is that when I started I thought there were more magical elements than there really are. As I spend more and more time around musicians, it almost invariably turns out that the people that spend more time are better than everyone that doesn’t spend as much time.
And that spills over to promotion too. The people that spend the most time promoting their shows have the most people show up. Renato Caranto sounds better than everyone because he spends the most time practicing saxophone. It’s true on the micro and macro level. The guys that have spent the most time on ear training are better at hearing.
So you’re idea of, ‘I’m taking time to devote to playing music.’ Is exactly the right thing from that perspective. But, if you subscribe to the 10,000 hours of being an expert theory, then you’re pretty short. You need 5 years, not six months.
LD: Yeah. I hear you. Thanks for your thoughts on this.
JN: Hah! I don’t know if you should be thanking me for that. I don’t know if any of that was helpful. Or even true for that matter!
LD: Haha. Well, I guess I thank you for your perspective then.
JN: Well, yeah. And to add to what I just said, you mentioned earlier that I must have had very supportive parents; I really did. I applied to half computer science programs and half music programs.
LD: Really?
JN: Yeah, and it was basically because I didn’t know if I could make a living doing this. And I thought, “Well, maybe I should do this computer science thing because I’m kind of good with computers”. And it came down to me getting a decent scholarship to do the music thing. And since I didn’t have to pay a bunch of money out of pocket, I thought I’d think about it more seriously. I did have a lot of momentum. In high school, I practiced a ton. More than I have ever practiced since.
But, I asked my parents what I should do. And they said I should do the music. Because if I really needed to, I could always go back and get the computer science degree later. And, yeah that was a useful thing. I don’t know what I would have done if they said, “Oh, I don’t know... this conservatory thing seems like a bad idea. You should probably get the computer science degree.” Yeah, so that was a useful thing to be able to do.
Not that I think a music degree is required to be a musician; it’s not. It just afforded me a couple years where I could really make that my concentration.
LD: I’ve heard a lot of people that have been to music school say a similar thing; it’s more about the dedicated study and practice time. And then there are the people you are always surrounded by.
JN: Yeah. I’d say that’s even more important. I think I got more out of the Jam sessions. The first year I was in the dorms and we had these practice rooms where you can jam 24 hours a day. Yeah, I’m sure I learned more in those jam sessions then I learned in “Jazz Theory 101.”
Yup, It will be interesting to see what you come up with!
LD: Well thank you so much for hanging out!
JN: Yeah, you’re welcome.

 Nastos vs. Renato Caranto in epic sax battle, an oldie but a goodie.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Info Interview: John Nastos

John Nastos
John Nastos, one of Portland's most prominent saxophone players.

If you like jazz and live in Portland, then you’ve likely seen or heard John Nastos. He graduated from the Manhattan School of Music in 2007 and has been making a ruckus ever since. Although, music is not all Nastos makes, he's also a talented programer. Need proof? Check out his pretty amazing metronome app, Metronomics. During our lunchtime interview Nastos was thoughtful and easygoing. Our conversation centered around the business of “making it” as a musician (part one below), but he was also open to my more personal questions about navigating a marriage in such an unpredictable career (part two coming later this week). So, without further ado...

Part One: The biz

Levi Downey: Thanks again for coming to hang out for a bit. I started to work on some of your lesson plan. Working backwards from the 7 to the 1 of each chord in Autumn Leaves has been challenging. Harder than I thought.
John Nastos: Yeah, knowing a tune to that level really helps. If you try to do that to another song you think you know well and you go, ‘Do I really know this tune?’ If I don’t, then how much am I faking when I’m soloing?
LD: What do you mean by “faking it”?
JN: Well, just like, ‘I am going to play this because I think it should work’ rather than, ‘I’m going to play this because I’m confident and I know that it will work’.
LD: Interesting. I’ve been thinking about that lately. I’ve been listening to my playing. It can be frustrating because I hear the same things being used over and over. In my head at the time I don’t remember it sounding like that.
JN: [Laughs] I know the feeling.
LD: So I have a bunch of questions for you.
JN: Go for it. LD: I recently read a book by Radhika Philip, Being Here. She is an anthropologist that lives in NYC and interviewed a bunch of musicians about how/why they create music. One of her many great questions is:
What is the intent that drives your music-making? Specifically the creative process of ‘I’m going to compose this, or I’m going to arrange this this way’.
JN: Interesting question. There is, at least for some people, an important distinction between what I’m doing for artistic purposes and what I am doing because I need to make a living doing it. For example, this video project I did with Clay Giberson, where we [filmed an original composition/arrangement] every day for a year.

One of the last Duo Chronicles videos made, featuring drummer Charlie Doggett.

The project [Duo Chronicles] came about partially because I was playing a musical. It was 8 shows per week and I couldn’t sub it out. There was no improvisation -- just reading. Same show every night. And I couldn’t play any other gigs because the shows were always in the evenings. It gave us this great creative outlet we could accomplish despite the sort of functional things we were doing to earn a living. I think he [Giberson] was teaching an insane number of classes at Clackamas Community College so he was into that same idea too.
We just put it online for free. We weren’t trying to make money off it. But, it also didn’t cost us anything really.We bought a camera and some video editing software. Overall, way under $1,000 to make. Which was much less than a CD would have been. And at the time, there wasn’t any sort of high minded artistic ideas except, ‘Okay, we want to do something that’s satisfying.
It wasn’t even like we were going to do something new. We did it because we like to write music. And we knew that elements of this were really going to push us because that’s a lot of material to come up with every week.
There are also other gigs that I play where I feel like they are really artistic and there are very little compromises that are made. I like Chris Brown’s gig for that reason [Chris Brown Quartet]. Everyone plays at a high level.  I like the charts and the musicians. There are other gigs where it’s just not that great. I’d like to swing the pendulum more toward the first option. Some people have the right idea because they’re like: Hey if you’re gonna try to build your own brand. And people want to see you, then you should play the gigs that put you in the best light.
LD: Yeah, but that doesn’t necessarily pay the PGE [Portland General Electric] bill.
JN: Yeah exactly. That gets a little tough sometimes.
LD: So you draw a clear separation between the “making a living” work and the “art” work. But, even then you might be happy to play some gig even if it’s not your favorite thing. But, at least it’s still better than an alternative profession where you might not be as happy.
JN: Definitely. Well, if I was playing 90% gigs I didn’t like, I might have a different opinion. But, certainly the balance I have right now is nice. I’d much rather do this. And I feel pretty confident that I could get a programming gig making a lot more money. But, then I wouldn’t get to do this and practice and all the other great stuff I love to do. So I hope that will always stay true, but who knows? I’m a little lucky, and have a skewed point of view on this because I’ve literally never had a “job.”
LD: No way. Because you were pretty much a professional musician from an early age?
JN: Well, I played enough in high school to make some money. Not a ton. Enough to have some spending money. And my parents weren’t like, ‘We’re not giving you any money!’ They helped with stuff like bus passes and things like that. Or to go see some shows. I always had enough money to see some music. I went to a lot of shows.
Then, I went to college. And I had a really good scholarship so that was nice. It provided a lot. My parents and grandparents set up a college fund, too, which covered the rest. So I didn’t really have to work then. And by the time I was done in college I was making a living with music.
LD: That’s like the dream everyone’s shooting for, right? Go to school, graduate and you’re doing what you love.
JN: It’s nice so far. If the jazz scene completely disappears, and I’m forced to then get a “job”, it could be a total disservice to me in that I don’t know how to function in the kind of environment of a “real job”.
LD: I see a sitcom in the workings: “John Nastos, in a the corporate gig”.
JN: Haha. Yeah. It might not go well. On the other hand, since I’ve figured out how to make a living as a self-employed musician, I think that if I needed to, I could be self employed in some other field. I now know enough of those sort of general concepts to make it work. Rather than just having to go do a corporate gig.
LD: Did you ever consider not coming back to Portland?
JN: Well, I knew I was going to want to come back eventually. Mostly because I just didn’t like the city [New York] very much. It really drove me crazy. Haha. Almost to a literal sense of going crazy.
LD: The sheer excess of the place?
JN: I guess. Part of it is that it’s just a really dirty place. And there’s no way to escape it. You’re just in it at all times. Yeah, I really didn’t like that. I felt like the highs there were really good. And then the general standard of living was way down here [points to floor].
I felt like in Portland, the highs weren’t going to be as high, but it was all going to be right around here [circles hand mid-high above the table]. Rather than being way down low most of the time. And it just depends on your personality type. If you just live for those high moments, then it’s the absolute perfect place for you. But, I would much rather have sort of a general consistency.
So, it didn’t take long. I knew by probably my second year studying there that I wasn’t going to live there forever. It turned into, ‘How long can I stand it here’. And it turned out that it wasn’t very long at all.
LD: So, you finished a four year program in three years [at Manhattan School of Music]?
JN: Yeah I did.

LD: Did you take a bunch of extra classes or have an insane workload? How did you do that?
JN: No. Well, a little bit. They had this really great program -- which is no longer available -- where all you had to do was learn all the curriculum for the senior year. You could just do it on your own. You didn’t even have to take the classes. And then you take the senior jury. I don’t even remember how the ratings work; something like 1-5 ratings. I don’t know if the juries actually made a difference. They’d say that if you get below a 2+ then you can lose your scholarship. If you were below a 3 then you could even get kicked out.
If you wanted, you could take the senior jury at the end of your junior year. Then if you passed, you had to do your senior recital. You had to take one humanities class every year which I did at PSU that summer. I was so unsure of my playing that I didn’t know if I was going to make it through the jury. But, it was worth it to try. I’ve always hated putting myself out there to the point where I might just publicly fail. So I waited and did my recital during the next school year. I had actually already graduated but hadn’t done the jury.
LD: Wait what?
JN: You know in high school when they won’t give you the diploma until you pay your library late fees? It was kind of like that.
LD: Haha. I see.
JN: Yeah, so I took the jury, passed and stuck around for a few months. But, it was funny. I was flying back to Portland for work.
LD: What were the gigs you were doing in Portland?
JN: Well I was definitely flying back for the Tuesday nights with Mel Brown. It seemed bizarre because I didn’t really want to be in New York, but I was subsidizing my living in New York with my work in Portland. At the time, there was a resurgence in younger folks leading their own bands and actually making some money doing it. Performing in more places than just Jazz venues.
If I could schedule three gigs I would have enough to make it work. Tickets were cheap! Like $175 for round trip on Jet Blue. So if I could make $300 bucks then I could fly back.
LD: So what year was this when you were going back and forth?
JN: 2006 and continued through 2007
LD: Then you came back to Portland and kept up the Mel Brown thing. And now you’re involved with many different groups: Stan Bock’s New Tradition, the Christopher Brown Quartet, and his father, Mel Brown’s Septet.

What other projects are you involved with?

JN: There’s the Ezra Weiss Sextet. Although that’s one where we had a regular gig at Ivories, which is now going out of business. Yeah, there are several groups where we will have to find a new place to perform. Also, I’m in the Chuck Israels Orchestra, the Kevin Deitz Sextet, and the Bobby Torres Ensemble.
LD: There has got to be some obscure one that you don’t even tell people about right?
JN: Well, there are some that have gigs that come around every once in a while. You know I used to have a lot of big band gigs -- back when big bands existed.
LD: Yeah that’s funny. There are actually like twenty or so big bands in Portland. But, they only exist when there’s a gig -- which is rare.
JN: The only one that I know of that’s regularly performing is the Bureau of Standards big band. I’ve played in there a few times. They play at Tony Starlight’s like once a month or so.
LD: Like the house band?

JN: No, they’re not that regular. One of the first gigs I got when I moved back in town was lead alto [sax] with the Art Abrams big band. And that worked about twice per month. The money was always pretty decent. And now it’s like twice per year.

LD: So you were probably on the call list for quite  few different groups.

JN: Well the Carlton Jackson/Dave Mills Big Band had a gig about once per month at the Secret Society and that went away this summer.
I subbed in some like the Woody Hite Big Band -- I don’t think they work much anymore.

LD: It’s really amazing how fast the demand shifted away from big bands!
JN: Yeah it makes the whole jazz education thing really sort of bizarre because in most schools one of the main focus points is on the big band.
LD: I’ve been thinking about that, too. If that’s all you learned how to do (play in a big band) then what do you do when you graduate and there are no more working big bands?

JN: And, yeah. You can’t even go listen to one. I think the only real way to learn how to play this music is to go hear it live.
LD: What about studio-type gigs? Do you do many recordings?
JN: Yeah there are a few producers that will call me for sax and woodwinds. There are a few gigs that come up here and there. There’s this one British producer that has only ever called me to play flute. He’s never called me to play sax. But, hey, I’m fine with whatever.
I don’t think Portland has ever had a really big commercial recording scene. Obviously there are places like LA where there’s jingles. NYC and Nashville, too. But, in the Northwest for whatever reason the big scene was Vancouver, B.C. They had a nice little session scene up there. Maybe not that big anymore -- but it was pretty big. Recording is a nice thing because you can do it during the day. It’s good and important to have some of those.
LD: Another question I was wanting to get to: What are the portions of your income and where do they come from? You teach, you’re on the call list for projects and you have the residencies.
JN: It’s shifted over time. I’m teaching more than I ever have before, definitely. In terms of what I can actually expect and count on each month then it’s probably pretty evenly split. But, a little more on teaching, then gigs, then the metronome app is there too.
Teaching is straightforward; more students, more money. It’s a pretty easy equation. There isn’t a lot of variance in the amount of money I make. Assuming I’m in town for the lessons. Like in February, I was out of town for a while then all the rehearsals for the Jazz Fest. So I just wasn’t able to teach as much. So that income was lower. Still, I kind of know what to expect. I’ll look at the calendar and know roughly how much I’m going to make in a month. Some students will cancel and I might pick up a new one here and there -- so I have a general idea.

Gigs are kind of like that. I know roughly about how much on my weekly gigs. I’ll probably work certain weekend days and it will be a certain rough amount. But that is the category with more unexpected income. [That category] can have a lot of variation from month to month based on whether or not [low or high paying] gigs come along.

If I get a commission to do an arrangement for someone, that’s great. That can be a category that might be zero dollars one month. And might be as much or more than all the other income. It’s the unexpected things that really make a difference.
LD: So that must be really hard to plan ahead.
JN: It is. That’s why I keep taking more students. It’s that baseline that I know I can expect. Then, it’s great when the unexpected things come up. Then I don’t have to count on it.
LD: So you mentioned the metronome application you built [Metronomics]. You seem like someone that said, ‘Most metronomes don’t do x’, so you just built your own.
JN: Pretty much, yeah.
LD: Was it always a plan to make it an application for other people [as well]?
JN: Well fairly early on in the development I knew it was going to be useful for me. And so I thought with a little more polishing, I bet other people would find it useful, too. I wanted it to be easy to use. So yeah, I spent another few weeks to make it presentable. Then released it and it’s been out for about three years now. Yeah, it turned out to be a good investment of time. Even though it took a bunch of time to develop the first few versions.
LD: Did you learn how to program while building the app?
JN: I learned how to program for iPhone, yeah. I had done a very small app for the Duo Chronicles [the video project with Clay Giberson]. But that was very basic. So yeah, I had to learn how to build it while I was making the metronome. I had done websites and stuff like that before. But certainly nothing to that scale.
LD: So I went to the talk at PSU with Ahmad Jamal a while ago. My favorite part was the last question Darrell Grant asked was the standard: “What kind of advice to you have for up and coming musicians”? And he replied with something like: “Always leave yourself options. Leave yourself more than one exit door because when there’s a fire, you’ll be trampled if you only have one”. He listed about six different revenue streams. So I can see how you seem to be doing that. I knew about your performing and teaching but I forgot about your arranging work. You have multiple revenue streams going.
JN: Yeah there just has to be. Kind of relating back to what I said about New York and coming back for the standard of living. I could definitely survive with a more simplistic lifestyle -- and that is not to say that I am even remotely extravagant. I am not. I spend no money -- But, I have a car and a house and health insurance and a nice computer and enough money to buy an instrument every once in a while. A level I feel relatively comfortable. Oh, and retirement contributions.
If all I cared about were practicing and playing what I want to play, and I didn't care about all those other sorts of comfort things, I’m sure I would make less money and spend less money. But, I’d rather just work a little harder and have those things.
LD: That’s great to hear you’re really making it work. It’s not like it was a cakewalk to get to where you were, though.
JN: Yeah and it is definitely possible. You know some people my age… I just get nervous you know. Having exit doors is so important. I mean the people my age sometimes don’t seem to think certain amenities are essential.
LD: Like health insurance?

JN: Well yeah, but also even renter’s insurance. But, I guess the people that make me even more nervous are the fifty-year-old musicians that are making a living, but don’t have a plan for retirement. I mean it’s great if you want to work forever. And I hope they can; I think that’s something to aspire to as a working musician. But, what if something happens and you can’t play anymore? What are you going to do?
LD: You must have had very practical parents.
JN: Haha, yup definitely.

LD: Just a few more questions for you. Do you consider...

TO BE CONCLUDED (check back later this week :)