“My Heart Is Beating to the Rhythm of My Future”: What I learned on My Journey from Concept to Final Jazz/Rap Music Track

"My Heart Is Beating to The Rhythm of My Future" Album CoverMarlowshere Blog (#139)

Keeping an open mind allows for a more interesting and better end product. This is true in business, academia, or the arts. This may seem like a simple, no-brainer piece of advice, but the ability to step back from preconceived notions and allow others into the process without judgement or outright rejection takes an open attitude.

An Open Mind About Genre and Style

In late 2016, Aldemaro Romero, Jr., the Dean of the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences at Baruch College (City University of New York) called me into his office (I teach courses in media and culture at Baruch College). The reason for the conversation? He wanted to produce a music video about the school aimed at prospective students and incoming freshmen and wanted me to suggest (I thought) a music track for the video. I was in the process of making a few suggestions of extant music when he interrupted me and said “I want something original.”

In other words, he wanted me to create a piece of music—around four minutes–that would become the score for the video. Dean Romero was aware of my various music activities within and outside the college. I was a logical choice to be involved with this.

I asked him for some thematic direction and some words he thought might be included in the track. It was agreed almost from the outset that the music track should incorporate lyrics, as opposed to a purely instrumental approach.

Grammy-nominated lyricist Janet LawsonMy next step was to contact Janet Lawson. Janet is not only a highly respected, Grammy-nominated singer, she also teaches vocals at The New School in New York City. More importantly, she is a gifted lyricist. We had previously worked together on several other projects where I had written the music and she had crafted the lyrics. She has a knack for coming up with just the right words to express a feeling or a concept. Her lyrics also convey some emotional depth. I met Janet at an ASCAP-sponsored jazz songwriting workshop led by the late Dr. Billy Taylor in 1980.

After conveying to Janet the themes the Dean was looking for, I asked her to come up with a few lines, just to see if we were on the right track. Within 24 hours Janet sent me this opening lyric: “My Heart Is Beating to the Rhythm of My Future.” Immediately I thought it was just right. I passed it on to the Dean who concurred. We had a very good beginning.

I ask Janet to expand on this theme. A couple of weeks later she sends me a more developed set of stanzas with a refrain: “I wonder yes, I wonder why, I wonder, do you wonder too?” It was just right given the academic context of the prospective video.

However, at this juncture I was beginning to come to a realization. While neither of us had ever been associated with a hip-hop or rap music project, she had inadvertently written an opening lyric with a strong four beat rap feel. Surprise, surprise, surprise. Problem was not all the lyrics had internal or ending rhymes. We went through four iterations of the lyrics before it was right. The Dean approved.

An Open Mind About Talent

The next challenge was finding young rappers to record the lyrics. I thought this would be a relatively easy task. Not so. Also, there was the issue of Rappers at recording of "My Heart is Beating to the Rhythm of My Heart"scheduling the recording session. It took several weeks to find enough rappers who could record all on the same day at Dubway Studios (NYC). We ended up with several members of The Blue Notes, a Baruch College a cappella group, a jazz bass student from The New School with a propensity for rapping, plus a couple of youngish professional Hispanic singers. The icing on the cake was Dean Romero himself who was present at the recording session. When I turned around and said I really needed one more voice, his hand went up in an instant. His voice is included in the rap’s “I wonder how” refrain.

The overall structure of the track was in three sections: opening lyrics, an in-the-middle instrumental interlude, closing lyrics.

It was my concept going in that given the diversity of Baruch College’s student body—it is the most diverse public college in the United States—that this should be expressed somehow in the music track. This is what we did. Working with engineer Jim Gately at Valhalla Studios (New York City), we chose 10 public domain hip-hop/rap drum tracks from the Internet. We then laid these out in a somewhat arbitrary order. As it turned out, it was the right order.

When we got to the middle “instruments only” section I had jazz pianist virtuoso ArcoIris Sandoval improvise different culture sounding melodic lines using an electronic keyboard that could generate different instrumental sounds. jazz pianist virtuoso ArcoIris Sandoval Each instrument melodic line lasted 18-seconds. For one of the lines I had her record the opening section of Bach’s C-minor Prelude from the “Well Tempered Clavier” on the Rhodes keyboard that just happened to be sitting idle in the Dubway recording studio. She also improvised lines for sitar, koto, steel drum, South American pan flute, and Middle Eastern horn. The two other improvised “instrumental” melodic lines were provided by Jim Gately (who also plays guitar) and Michael Hashim who recorded a “jazz” line on alto saxophone. All told the eight middle section instrumentals convey a sense of world music and, therefore, of a diverse culture.

When I delivered the mastered track to the Dean he immediately auditioned it for several student groups. According to the feedback the track hit the mark. The students got it. Once the video is shot and edited to the music track, Dean Romero intends to distribute the music video to as many outlets as possible.

Adrian Thorstensen (Engineer) and Eugene Marlow at Dubway Studios, NYCIf you’re interested, you can listen to a sample of the track at https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/eugenemarlow15. Fittingly, the lyrics to “My Heart Is Beating to the Rhythm of My Future” reflect the theme of keeping an open mind in the creative and learning process.

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