Stanford musicians resolutely play despite lack of campus music scene
It’s 11:48 p.m. on a Saturday night. I’m standing in the backyard of 680 Lomita, wearing a tank top and shorts, regretting my decision to follow the mythical Exotic Erotic dress code. I sway to the live band’s music, trying to ignore the goose bumps on my arms. The live band finishes up one of their original songs, “Waldo,” and transitions into a song we all know and love: “Shout” by the Isley Brothers.
I jump around with the rest of the crowd, waving my arms in the air and forgetting I was ever cold as the saxophone player wails away on his instrument and one of the lead singers tells us we make him want to “Shout!”
Stanford isn’t exactly known for its music scene, but the campus hosts a myriad of talented musicians, all vying for a chance to play their music for people who appreciate it. The music scene isn’t always visible when you first look at our campus, but with some digging, trips to house parties and Facebook stalking, it starts to reveal itself.
“When I first started at Stanford, I was primarily making music by myself,” said Ryan Edwards ’13. “This year I got involved with IDA [the Institute for Diversity in the Arts] and found other people to work with.”
A junior sporting an afro and a longboard, Edwards has been involved in music his entire life, playing the harmonica in elementary school and taking the stage for the first time during a talent show in the fourth grade. He began dropping beats and rapping when he came to Stanford, mixing hip-hop with other genres such as jazz and electronica.
Edwards formed a collective with people he met through IDA, and they began performing at different functions on campus, such as Wine and Cheese at Kairos and rush events. For Edwards, getting involved in the music scene was tough because it was not very visible to him as a freshman.
“Finding people to work with was difficult during my freshman year because a lot of people would be like, ‘Oh, I’ll rap on a track with you because it sounds like fun and it sounds cool,’ but actually taking action and writing a verse and getting onstage and performing it in front of people, they don’t follow through,” he said. “It’s just a matter of finding the right people who are taking it seriously.”
Edwards added that working with people is both more fun and important for learning collaboration.
Others slid more seamlessly into the music scene at Stanford.
“I took Music 171 [Chamber Music] last year and they offer jazz combos,” Jared Naimark ’14 said. “I wanted to do something easy to start, so I auditioned and was placed in a group.”
The group fell apart at the end of last year but Naimark and two other members continued to play into this year and incorporated three new members.
“It’s more of a band this year,” Naimark said.
He started learning music at a young age and has been playing the saxophone since the fourth grade. He got involved in the music scene at Stanford by jamming with people in his freshman dorm, Larkin.
“It can be tough getting everyone in the same room and hard to find committed people,” Naimark said. “There’s also been some arguments about the vibe of the group.”
Harry Doshay ’14, another member of the group, began playing the bass when his dad left one in his room when he was younger.
“He stuck the bass in the corner of my room, and after a while it started talking to me and so I started playing it,” Doshay said.
“It can be difficult to get people to play on a regular basis at Stanford,” he continued. “I just try to play as much music as possible, at every opportunity.”
Their combo, named Too Big to Mail–its third name so far–has played at on-campus events such as Monday Night Jazz at the CoHo, Wine and Cheese at Kairos and Art After Dark. However, Naimark and Doshay are not interested in publicizing themselves too much.
“I’d like to continue playing jazz and sax because it’s how I express myself, but we don’t necessarily want to put our name out,” Naimark said. “It’s just a fun thing to do, playing with friends.”
“We’re not really playing for money or publicity,” Doshay added. “I just want to keep playing with these guys and having fun. I’ll probably end up just like my dad and end up playing with a bunch of buddies, thinking I can rock, playing at my own birthday party.”
Stephen Henderson ’11 M.A. ’12 has also been playing music most of his life.
“I grew up on the east side of Maui that really harbored music,” he said. “I started playing the guitar and ukulele when I was 10.”
When Henderson came to Stanford in 2005 as a freshman, he started a reggae band called Paradise Groove. He more recently started a music collective called the Dot Dot Dots. Henderson has been a professional musician since the age of 15 and has been producing professionally since he was 21.
“Finding people to play with has to be something that happens organically,” Henderson said. “You have to share the same principles, be experienced enough and finish each other’s melodies…My own music is very sacred to me so I want to make sure it’s of quality.”
When Henderson first came to Stanford, he didn’t find a class or a track to develop his music. He learned about the music industry by himself through independent research, as he felt there was no strong sense of artistic community.
“People go to see other people perform because they know someone in the band, not because the music is good,” Henderson said. “It’s not necessarily indicative of a healthy community. You want your art to speak for itself.”
In 2010, Henderson co-founded the Red Couch Project, which showcases independent artists in an accessible setting, giving up-and-coming musicians resources to develop their careers. In July, he plans on starting an independent production company with his older sister and has plans to build a studio.
“It will be a safe, beautiful, sacred place for artists to play,” he said.
With six albums’ worth of material already, Henderson just wants to keep making music.
“Hawaii’s music scene suffers a bit, so I’d like to help out there as well,” he added.
Henderson’s influence is well known within the music scene on campus.
“[At the Knoll] he’s created an open group of musicians who can come through and play,” said Ben Broer ’12, drummer of a Stanford-grown band called Den of Thieves. “I think what he’s doing is fantastic, and I really admire him.”
Den of Thieves features Broer on the drums, John Hollywood ’12 on the guitar, Alex Klein ’12 on the saxophone, Jason Loftus ’12 on the bass and Michael Davies ’12 on the keyboard. All five of its members have been in the group since its start. Their involvement in music grew from an interest in the craft and admiration of those older than them who were playing instruments.
The band members dallied in music their freshman year and came together during spring quarter of their sophomore year. Klein described them as a Grateful Dead cover during their initial time together, though Hollywood and Broer disagreed.
“We started out as a classic rock cover band, but we’ve developed our own style,” Broer said.
All three agreed that it is tough to get involved in the music scene at Stanford.
“There’s no place for musicians to congregate,” Klein said, adding that the Knoll could work as that place, if it focused less on computer music. He also expressed an interest in Frost Amphitheater being opened to student bands.
“There isn’t a huge incentive for bands to play around [campus] either,” Broer added.
However, Klein offered hope for the integration of music into campus life.
“The music scene is changing for the better,” he said. “There are a lot of really talented musicians, but few bands.”
Den of Thieves has played at a lot of events on campus, mostly weekly and biweekly “staples,” like Happy Hour at Enchanted Broccoli Forest, Wine and Cheese at Kairos and parties at Narnia.
“We’re just starting to move off campus,” Broer said, citing a show in San Francisco this week in which the group will play original music.
With graduation approaching, the members all have plans that will take them away from Stanford and away from the band, from going on to work in sound production to attending medical school. Though they may not continue performing, they stressed the value of their band experience.
“It’s really important to take the time to do your art,” Henderson said. “If you could be playing music and you would be playing music, then you should be playing music. It has to be just important to you as your academics.”