2018: The Year of Transition

Tomorrow is the last day of 2018, and in the biannual spirit of this blog it feels necessary to write a post. But it’s not just that; 2018 was a very important year for me and I’ve been wanting to collect my thoughts on it for a while now. If you read my last post a few months ago you’ll notice that I predictably didn’t end up posting frequent updates about my adventures in Los Angeles like I said I would. Turns out frequent blogging really isn’t my thing; I prefer collecting lots of thoughts into one long post rather than making more numerous short posts.

First, I owe it to those who follow my escapades to update you all on life in the City of Angels. I posted last the day after I first arrived in the city, so I hadn’t yet begun experiencing life in it. Well, I now have months under my belt as an LA resident and I think I can say that I know a few things about living here.

First of all, yes the traffic is terrible. However, I personally don’t think it’s quite as terrible as everyone says it is. Even during rush hour the massive freeway traffic is almost always moving, and drivers here are much more competent than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. I feel more relaxed driving here than in Washington, DC because here I know in general drivers are predictable and know how to operate a motor vehicle properly (neither of which I can say about drivers in the DMV area, or Indiana for that matter). That said, every town has its share of bad drivers to deal with and LA is no exception. The biggest difference between LA and other big cities regarding traffic in my opinion is that the traffic never really stops. I’ve driven home from a gig at midnight and still hit several jams. But if you plan and schedule for traffic and use a GPS to help you out, it isn’t a big deal. Finally, although LA drivers are competent, they seem to be exceptionally bad at staying in their lane. It’s drift city, and not in the fun way.

The prices are also terrible. Everything here seems to be ludicrously expensive. This (along with traffic) was another thing I was expecting, but it doesn’t make it sting any less. A medium meal at McDonald’s costs over $10 and a beer costs $8+, so I’ve lost any reason to go to McDonald’s or drink beer (not that either of those is much of a loss). Gas prices hugely vary…some gas stations are $4 or even $5/gallon, but I just don’t bother with those because some are $3.50/gallon or even less. That said, taco trucks are usually cheap and also amazing. The sheer amount of great local restaurants and food trucks is overwhelming, and I will never be able to eat at them all. As for the ones I have tried so far, suffice it to say that my stomach is very happy here.

Getting familiar with the area has been fun, and I’ve discovered firsthand just how diverse the various boroughs are. Places for the rich and famous like the Hollywood Hills are the stuff dreams are made of (unfortunately I haven’t seen any celebrities yet…), while places like Compton and east LA are exactly the opposite. Then there are places somewhere in the middle like Pasadena, Burbank, and Eagle Rock that I enjoy very much.

LAX is not as bad as its reputation suggests in my experience…the worst part of flying in or out of there has been the cost of the Lyft to get back to my house. The first time I had to fly out of the airport I got there three hours before my flight boarded just to be safe…I was through security in 10 minutes max, and this was during a busy time of day and time of year. It was the same story the next time I flew out from a different terminal/airline. Plus, the Southwest terminal (terminal 1) has a Chick-fil-A in it, which legally makes LAX a good airport.

I have to say that one of my favorite parts of living and working in LA has been just how much like its video game counterpart (“Los Santos” from GTA V) the real city is. Many areas look exactly the same, the people act much the same, and the radio stations even play the same music. It’s surreal, and for someone with many hours in Los Santos it never gets old.

Now that what I think of LA is out of the way, what have I done in LA so far?

Believe it or not, I have already managed to play quite a few gigs on quite a few instruments, including my first movie session! I am ecstatic at the progress I’ve made in the four months I’ve been here, but it must be said that I’m still very far from being able to support myself with the gigs alone. Thus, I have a day job that I landed two weeks after I arrived in LA. It takes up most of my time and energy and I intensely despise it, but I’m paying my bills and making money each month and for that I am very thankful.

The day job combined with my very cramped living situation means that my quality of life currently is not that great. Ever since I’ve started working this job I’ve sent out applications to better jobs as they became available, but the process is slow and it’s not like I have stellar qualifications for “normal” jobs with two music degrees. As much as I like it here and am on my feet regarding bills and the like, I won’t stop being stressed and frustrated until I no longer need this day job and can devote more of my time to doing what I came here for in the first place. However, there are a couple of very exciting things on the horizon (that I can’t talk about yet) that have huge potential for my current life and career. Truth be told almost everything about this LA experience (apart from the constants, like traffic and cost of living) has been different from what I expected. Connections that I thought would be a big part of my life have been all but absent, and new connections have come out of nowhere to propel me forward.

That’s what the last four months of 2018, and the entirety of my life in LA so far, have been like. The first eight months have already been covered in other posts as far as I can remember, but let’s recap before looking forward.

Before moving to LA, in 2018 I won the 2018 David N. Baker Jazz Composition award, gave my master’s recital (Ektachrome), played a plethora of memorable gigs, completed my master’s degree, got very close with some people I wasn’t close with before (you know who you are!), and a whole lot more. Most of that has already been covered, especially in the post “Another Chapter Complete“.

However, I would like to take some time to give two special shout outs that haven’t really been covered before.

The first is to my brothers in sisters in the IU Soul Revue and the IU African-American Arts Institute. For three years (2015-2018) I worked as the Horn Coach to the Soul Revue, an amazing job from day one that blossomed into an experience I will never forget. I became part of an incredible family, and felt so welcome and at peace in the walls of the Neal-Marshall that, as I’ve told many people in person, it was the first place that I truly felt like I belonged. It felt like home. And to leave that space and that position was very difficult for me. Of course, I know that I’ll be back, but I dearly miss it and everyone in it every day.

I’d also like to spend some time talking about Huckleberry Funk. This is a band that I joined very early in its life in summer 2016. At first I joined just as a trombone player, but through the best and wildest of rides I ended up playing synthesizers, all kinds of brass instruments, auxiliary percussion, and background vocals on every gig. I helped write much of the band’s repertoire and recorded an album with them. (If you didn’t know, the album (“The Teardown“) is out on all platforms – check it out!) It was an amazing experience that allowed me to experience a side of music I never would have experienced otherwise; this classically trained freelancing concert and studio musician was now playing wild synthesizer solos in front of jumping, screaming crowds. The members of this band became family, and when the band decided to stay in Bloomington, I knew that losing Huck Funk would be the hardest part of leaving. I was right.

But before I left, my brothers in Huck Funk gave me a final parting gift. It was a night I’ll never forget: August 1st at the Bluebird – my farewell show. The band made sure I got sent off properly. In secret they had custom T-shirts made that had an inside joke I had with that member of the band written on them, and wore them on stage. They made little paper Hawaiian shirts with blank backs that they asked people to write notes to me on and gave me a box full of notes after the show. They made signs for people in the audience to hold and wave around. That night, I discovered through multiple bouts of cacophonous applause and cheering that lasted for minutes on end, to my complete shock and disbelief, that the entire town of Bloomington loved me.

Every day I hope that one day the band will end up here too so that I can play with them again, and forever more. There’s a hole in me where Huck Funk was, and although I still talk and joke with them almost every day nothing can replace jamming and performing with them. To my brothers still holding the Huck Funk torch high, thank you for including me in the Huck Funk family. Thank you for everything. And I hope that one day I can hold that torch with you again.

I believe that’s all I can really write about 2018 at this point, and I’m happy to close the book on this transitional year. It was a very important one, and also a very exhausting one. Overall I think it was a good one, and I can’t deny the amount of important events and milestones it contained. But I’m also happy it’s over.

So…what do I think about 2019?

I don’t think I’ve ever been more excited about a new year. 2019 is a totally blank slate. I’ve completed my move to LA and am making a living in a new city and a new scene. I can only go up from here, and that’s enormously exciting. The amount of potential 2019 holds is astounding, both personally and professionally. And in the midst of all my friends releasing albums, getting big gigs, landing forever jobs, and a whole host of other milestones (congrats to all of you by the way – you know who you are!), I think everything’s going to work out in a big way for all of us.

I can’t wait!