Deep in the heart of Seattle, Daniel Schwartz ’13 and I rode backseat in a car driven by Aidan Lawrence ’14 along with Eric Robinson ’13 and Cary White ‘13. Past the shore of the Puget Sound we went, through the bustling metropolis that is the Emerald City. Pointing out of the window, Schwartz explained building after building not with historical fact, but with anecdotes of his life in Seattle. The man and the city are one in the same; he is the “206” he has tattooed on his arm (the Seattle area code). The portrait of the artist Schwartz is inscribed across the streets of Seattle, and in coming to understand his work and inspiration, it is not hard to find the soul of the city belted out in the guitar riffs and piano solos he tears apart across Williams.
Schwartz is a jazz musician, playing both the piano and guitar. Why jazz, I ask: “It challenges me to become a better musician,” Schwartz said. “If you play jazz, you can play almost every type of music. Most of what I play ranges between jazz and hip hop, and hip hop borrows a lot from jazz, so it works.” He took up piano early in his life, under the pressures of his parents, at the age of seven. “I didn’t really get into until I was in college,” he told me, though it is obvious his talent shines through his humility. “In high school, I played more guitar, but at Williams it takes less time to sit down at a piano than [to] pull out guitar, so I play more piano now,” Schwartz said. He busily restrings his friend’s guitar while I attempt to ask questions. It does not take long to realize that the artifice of interviewing is saved for strangers. Schwartz and I, having just spent a week traversing the Pacific Northwest, are beyond the silliness of “What was your favorite food in Brazil?” – where he spent his summer – and “Did you like the people there?”
“What brought you to Brazil?” I asked him. “I was trying to compare the rise of jazz music in the United States to bossa nova in Brazil,” he said. “Both styles occurred similarly, both were popular with the African descendants of the country and both evolved into popular music. I studied the rise of both and how race played a part in both.” “What’s bossa nova?” I ask. “It’s basically jazz in Portuguese. Very chill. Listen to Joao Gilberto,” Schwartz replied.
Still, I wanted to understand his artistic motivations more complexly. “What is inspiration?” I asked him. “Where is inspiration?” He continued on restringing the guitar, mulling over the question. Finally, he looked up from the guitar he had been working on, still unstrung, and responded, “I’m not really sure. For music in general? I was in this dope-ass jazz band in high school, and we were just a bunch of white boys at a really diverse school,” he said. “Our teacher was pretty much the blackest man of all time, this guy from New Orleans. There were some dirty players in the band who inspired me to work harder. Otherwise J Dilla beats, John Mayer, though people think he’s a bit of a b****, but he’s nasty at guitar. Anything that borrows from a wide range of styles – Earth Wind and Fire, Outkast. I play music when I get bored or when I feel down. You think of new ideas when you build on old beats, like ‘The World Is Yours’ by Nas is a great beat. I just build on it. So that’s inspiration.”
“I hear you’re a rapper,” I say. “Yeah, I rap. I’m pretty nasty,” Schwartz said. “You should check out my radio show. I’ll probably rap.” He finished stringing the guitar. All is well in the world. I ask him to play a song. “I can’t play right-handed guitars,” he told me. Is that homage to Jimi Hendrix? “Nah, I’m left-handed,” he said. “But Jimi Hendrix did go to Garfield [Schwartz’s high school]! Small world, I suppose.” Alright, so what goes on in your mind when you play? “I guess nothing, really,” he replied. “Nothing?” I ask. “I guess that’s why I like playing; it’s sort of like meditation. Playing clears my mind,” Schwartz said.
So where can we see Schwartz perform? “I’m in two jazz combos, and I’m getting going in this pretty new and interesting band,” he said.