Name: Adam Larson
Location: New York, NY
Profession: Professional Musician; freelance writer for Hot house and Downbeat Magazines
Years Playing: 13
School/Major/Degree: BM in Jazz Performance from Manhattan School of Music 2012; MM in Jazz Performance (2014); Manhattan School of Music
Teen Jazz has been around since 2004, and as a result of our almost 10 years of existence, many of our artists have outgrown their statuses as “Teen Jazz Artists.” Many of the musicians we featured early on have gone on to have successful careers as performers, and have earned being promoted to “Teen Jazz Influences.” Adam Larson is our second artist to make the transition from Artist to Influence (Andrew Boostrom was the first), and we’re excited to share his updated interview with you.
Adam Larson was one of our Teen Jazz Artists of the Month back in June 2005 when he was a freshman in high school, and he has since gone on to become a professionally touring musician as well as a writer for Hot House and Downbeat magazines. You can read our reviews of his albums Simple Beauty and Overdue Ovation here.
WHEN DID YOU FIRST BEGIN SERIOUSLY STUDYING YOUR INSTRUMENT?
When I was 14 years old.
WHO ARE YOUR GREATEST INFLUENCES?
John Coltrane, Lester Young, Michael Brecker, Kenny Garrett, Chris Potter, and Ambrose Akinmusire.
WHO DID YOU STUDY WITH?
Larry Harms, Jim Boitos, Dr. David Baker, George Garzone, Steve Wilson, Phil Markowitz, David Liebman, Donny McCaslin, Rich Perry, John Riley, and Marjean Olson.
WHO OR WHAT GAVE YOU THE CONFIDENCE TO PURSUE MUSIC AS A CAREER?
My parents have always been the best support system for me. They have continued to be patient with me and have always been willing to do whatever they can to help me reach my goals. Beyond that, having the opportunity to work with other talented musicians my age via programs like the Grammy Band, YoungArts Jazz Fellows, etc, kept me on track and inspired during my time in high school.
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON WHAT IT TAKES TO BE SUCCESSFUL AS A PERFORMER?
You have to know how to use four words really well; yes, no, please and thank you. The ability to say no to something is a skill that is vital for any career path and I’ve found it particularly true of being a performer. Being able to show gratitude is also super important- no one wants to work with someone who isn’t grateful for the opportunity. You also need to be able to play even when you don’t feel like it emotionally/physically; whatever the scenario. Some nights are magic and some nights you don’t want to play. It’s the latter where your success as a performer really comes out in the way you carry yourself professionally.
DO YOU THINK ANY OTHER SKILLS ARE NEEDED ASIDE FROM THE ABILITY TO PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENT WELL?
Yes. Playing great is less than half the equation, particularly if you don’t have management and do a lot of work under your own name as I do. Being able to find work for yourself and know how to get it is really important. To neglect the business side of the music is fatal. There exists a “nth” percent of musicians who get picked up and don’t have to confront this for some time thereafter or perhaps ever, but for the rest of us, it’s crucial to have not good business sense, but GREAT business acumen. That being said, you have to be at a level in your playing where if indeed the phone rings from that “big name”, that you can deliver, and deliver WELL.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE THINGS YOU DID BEFORE YOUR CAREER AS A PERFORMER BECAME AS SUCCESSFUL AS IT IS TODAY?
I always try to be humble and gracious to those that I have the opportunity to interact and play with. There are too many cases I have seen of people who are very amazing players but poor people. I’d much rather deal with someone who really wants to play the music and is positive, than someone who sounds incredible but is a drag to be around. I am continually setting goals, both long and short-term for myself. Staying true to those goals and their respective deadlines is something that has kept me very focused over the past decade. Being present is also important. You could be the baddest player in the world but if no one knows about you then what’s the point? This is something I’m still working on as well.
WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR GOALS MUSICALLY FOR THE FUTURE?
I’d like to keep doing what I’m doing. I just came off a 16 day, 25 performance tour of the Midwest with my band from my debut record as a leader with my group from NY. I hope to be able to do Artist-in-Residences at several colleges over the next few years, present master classes, and continue to record my work on a semi-annual basis. I would like to get my band playing festivals and bigger venues. In particular, I have a strong desire to have my band in at the Jazz Standard- we’ll see what happens. I also do a fair amount of commissioned composing that I would like to see blossom into more opportunities on a larger scale.
WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO CONTINUE TO PURSUE MUSIC?
My peers and my mentors. New York is amazing for that – you can hear great stuff all the time; no real shortage of inspiration here. The biggest stumbling block is reluctance and pessimistic thinking.
HAVE YOU EVER COME CLOSE TO GIVING UP?
Several times. Ultimately, there is nothing else I would want to be doing and my passion for the music and a life in music is unwavering; my patience is not. This is something that I continue to discipline myself on and get better at each day.
WHAT PERFORMANCE SETTINGS ARE YOU THE MOST COMFORTABLE IN – LARGE CONCERTS, FESTIVALS, SMALL CLUBS?
I feel comfortable in all types of venues. Nothing better than a packed crowd in a small venue though; I would take that over 250 people in a theatre built for 500. When I feel that the audience is tangible and a part of the stage, I feel the most at home.
DO YOU WRITE MUSIC? WHERE DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION?
Yes – most of the music I play (about 95%) is material that I write or that my guitarist, Nils Weinhold, writes. The other 5% is either jazz standards or arrangements.
I get my inspiration from my peers, mentors and fiancé.
WHAT WAS YOUR LAMEST GIG AND HOW DID YOU LEARN FROM IT? WHAT WAS THE BEST AND WHY?
Lamest gig was playing for a private function where I was asked to play in a bedroom of a hotel suite next to the bathroom, with a pre-recorded background track playing tunes like “believe” by Cher. I learned to never play solo gigs ever again with recorded background tracks, and if I did to charge an obscene amount. Consequently, I haven’t played any solo gigs with background tracks since then. I was 16.
Best gig was a recent one in which I sent out 45 invitations to a “secret-show” in my home town at my repair guy’s shop. It was a tiny room and the audience was packed. The energy was great and everyone was attentive and supportive of the music. It was a special evening.
ADVICE FOR A YOUNG MUSICIAN:
Practice with consistency. 30 mins everyday is better than 4 hours once a week. Don’t get overwhelmed with the vast amount of work that lies ahead of you. Instead, embrace it as a challenge and have peace in knowing that you have more time now (as a teen), to practice and learn than you ever will the rest of your life!
HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF MUSIC:
Reading, writing, basketball.
P. Mauriat Saxophones
Hercules Music Stands
New releases and projects:
For More Information:
Get Adam’s CD Simple Beauty on Amazon