Willy Rodriguez, Musician
Education Update has launched a new section called Careers to provide insight and guidance to recent college graduates. Several graduates share their responses to the questions below.
1. Can you share both your professional and personal struggles and triumphs? What are you currently doing?
Right now I’m working as a musician, playing gigs and working as the house drummer for Wally’s Jazz Club in Boston. I still have one more semester to finish some last credits though. After that, I want to apply for a master’s degree at MSM, NYU or NEC. A big struggle I’ve had is to keep my mind sane. Times are hard right now and it’s hard to stay positive. Being surrounded by such amazing musicians, you can get discouraged. I always think “is this what I should do? Is this really something I should be doing?” In the start it was like that. It’s hard when you’re surrounded by such talented kids —18- and 19-year-olds playing amazingly well. But I’ve generally gotten over that attitude. Right now I’m very proud of myself that I graduated from Berklee and I’ve been playing with such great musicians. I played at Symphony Hall a year ago with a Berklee group and that was great.
2. Which college did you attend, and what was your major?
I graduated from Berklee College of Music with a degree in performance.
3. What year did you graduate?
4. What do you think your career goals will be five years from now
The way the economy is and the job market is, I’m aware that things are going to be difficult. I will probably stay in Boston due to money for a little. Five years from now I will hopefully be done with graduate school and living in New York. I hopefully will have worked in Boston before then though at a good job.
5. How did your major, if at all, determine the course of your current career?
A performance degree definitely helped. For someone who was not born in the U.S. (Puerto Rico) it helped me to develop my music vocabulary. It was great to have someone sit down with me and help me play jazz. It’s really important to learn the jazz language from someone who knows — jazz is an American art form.
6. Was the career guidance office at your college helpful in your job search?
Berklee in general was helpful. I was really not into it in the beginning but now I really appreciate what it has to offer. I learned so much from the school as a whole. But I never used the job placement facilities there.
7. Did you have internships, and were they helpful?
No, but working at Wally’s might as well be an internship. I’ve been playing there for years and that place is a school in itself.
8. Were there mentors who helped you achieve your goals?
There’ve been so many. Greg Osby got me listening to things I needed to hear — 20’s and 30’s stuff as well as modern material. I took master classes with him and they really helped me a lot. Dave Santoro showed me everything. His friendship was really valuable. In Latin music my good friends Gabo Lugo and Gregorio Bento helped. Before I got to Berklee, Francisco Mela used to stay at my house and he really prepared me for school. He still gives me lessons. Before he left he told me “don’t leave this town until you drive Boston crazy. Keep playing until people jump every time you play.” I take that advice to heart.
And finally Dave Liebman. Liebman is the next level. He’s been helping me a lot with my jazz performance. Berklee sometimes wants to put music in a box, but Liebman is tearing those walls down and really showing me how to do it right.
9. How did the economic situation in the country influence your career decisions?
People are not paying musicians well, especially in jazz. They don’t pay more than $100 a gig anymore — it’s crazy. Festivals are really slowing down and teaching opportunities are diminishing because schools are closing and departments are getting smaller. People aren’t spending in bars so the clubs aren’t paying much. People don’t want to spend money. It’s tough.
10. What motivated you to pick your current career?
My father really influenced me. He was a musician too. I was playing pans like any classic drummer when I was kid. Music was just something I always loved doing and found fun.
Facing the pop world really encouraged me to be a jazz performer. I played with big pop stars back home in Puerto Rico but I felt like I was under someone’s shadow. If I played with The Black Eyed Peas it becomes “check out The Black Eyed Peas’ drummer,” not “check out Willy Rodriguez. ”#