We had the good fortune of connecting with Jehad Choate and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jehad, what’s your definition for success?
I think success, much like personal happiness or self-actualization is unique to the individual. I also don’t think it can be anchored into one all-encompassing moment, because we humans are far too complex for that. I think this perspective of success has made all the difference in how I’ve been able to deal with all of my failures. Success is that moment where an idea, a belief, a motivation is tested, and the benefits out-weigh the cost as a byproduct. Where one writer finds success in selling a million streams, there are others who find success in simply finding the time to write in their own style. Every time I can pay a bill with the money I make from doing what I love doing is a success as much as getting a glowing recommendation from a director or producer to work on someone’s next project. It makes up for all those moments I couldn’t pay the bills as an artist, or all the rejection letters I’d get from publishers and companies who simply don’t know who I am and not willing to take a chance on what I can do.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I am a composer and sound designer. I take seemingly random sounds and give them meaning and context through a sequence of pitch over time and I try to guide emotions of my listeners through an ever-changing balance of tension versus release. What sets me a part from other composers is my sense of nuance in groove and culture. I know it doesn’t seem like much, but when I was growing up a few things had their hand in me understanding music. From kindergarten to fourth grade, I was in an Islamic private school. We had the same studies as everyone else except there would a couple classes dedicated to the Arabic language and Islamic scripture. Side bar, muslims pray five times a day. Before every prayers, A guy would get up to the front and on the microphone to perform something called the Azzan, which is the call to prayer. Every day after lunch, I heard this as a child, and thought it was the most beautiful music ever. Though orthodox muslims wouldn’t equate the two, it was very music-like. There were intervals, it had a form to it, phrasing, and the pitches were close to being identifiable, though in retrospect were sung off-key rather than done is some kind of microtonal fashion. Sometimes they would let the young boys do it too, but I never got the chance. Then, I went to public school in 5th grade. On a very different spectrum, my sister Jenny used to have a Nintendo, which she barely let me use unless supervised by her. Some of the music would just stay with you well after you’ve finished playing the game, and I remember watching her play “Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse” and the both of us just completely swoon by the music that was on there. As fun as the game was, we would always be more excited in finding out what the next stage’s music would be. Then when we figured out the cheat code to be able to play the entire soundtrack of the game. We would just spend a lot of our recreational time listening to the music as is. We used to have this old 70’s organ in our living room that pretty much collected dust until I came around… and I would plunk away at the keys until I could play something resembling a Castlevania tune. By sixth grade, I joined band and started playing the Euphonium and Baritone Horn. I wish I could say I was just a natural talent, but honestly when we got to try out instruments on day one, I was hoping to be a trumpet player. I successfully buzzed on both that mouth piece and a Trombone one, and then looked at all the people in line for Trumpet, Sax, and Trombone, and thought I would never get first chair with that much competition. My band director, Mr. MacTavish was influential in motivating my musicianship. I’ll always remember the first piece of music we played. It was called “Castles in Spain” and not the Hendrix one… and I remember we were one of the few sixth grade classes with enough aptitude to actually play this live. I told him afterwards that I thought the music was garbage. He cracks up and says “what do you expect, you guys are just learning how to play for the first time ever?” I respond, “No, I know that! I think the sheet music is bad… it’s not cool.” He chuckled and looked me in the eye and said, “Well, if you think you can make something better then prove it.” I spent the summer between 6th and 7th grade learning composition basics… there was no YouTube tutorials, or even decent software with play back (Finale was around but we are talking the first couple versions). Just a boy with his library card and the burning desire to prove he could write something better. I wrote my first march for concert band, and truthfully it was pretty awful. But, I remember proudly bringing my score to Mr. Mac, and him thumbing through the pages and looking at me in shock, “Not bad, man. Keep this up and you can probably make a living off of it one day.” Since then, I’ve never stopped. High School: I played guitar. I was writing for my punk and ska bands, and arranging popular tunes for the brass section in marching band for the stands. Community College I was still writing small ensemble stuff for the bands I was in, until I got to Berklee College of Music. That is where I learned how to really polish my skills, what to listen for, and how to conduct business. I also learned to trust my ears and my motivation. Truthfully I went in there as a guitarist, but I think the reason I nailed my audition was I played original music, because the judges kept asking about that rather than my playing ability. It made sense, once I got there, I learned really quickly I didn’t have the skill to be a competitive performer, but everyone and their mommas were asking me to write them something. Whether it be an etude or a piece for their jury… or even a few final projects that non-writers paid good money to get written well… I was known as a writer there, and most importantly, I loved every minute of it. I graduated and promptly moved back to Orlando only to experience the mass hysteria of the student loan bubble that my millennial brethren still suffer from today. I did a few band gigs, but kept up the orchestral and concert writing while finishing a Master Degree from the University of Central Florida for composition. I did that while working two-three jobs at a time to pay down my loans. I taught at the community college I got my higher education start at for six years. When things finally settled a bit, my close friend, Brian, who lived in LA kept telling me to come out and live with him to really start the work I was supposed to do. After much soul searching, and realizing I wasn’t going to make the necessary connections I needed to fully realize my work and brand, I moved. I drove cross-country from Florida to Arizona (got into a terrible car wreck) then drove a rental to Long Beach, California, where I currently reside. Since then, I’ve worked on well over fifty independent projects, 2 seasons of one television show, and have been praised for my contributions as a composer, sound designer, and engineer. I’ve done this by word of mouth and the kindness of strangers. I met a handful of people through a group called the Long Beach Filmmaker’s who used to openly meet every Thursday, facilitated by Camera-Wizard Mark Chaudary. Through that group, I met a collection of writers and directors, actors, actresses, and others that have not only nurtured my skills, but have become really great friends. I will always be grateful for the core folks (Mark, Bill, Chris, Sarah and Bron) from this group because they all really gave me my first chances at filmmaking when I arrived as a sound engineer and sound designer. I can’t say I am at the top of mountain… because I certainly am not… I still have a lot more people to meet and dues to pay before I can say this is anywhere near a success story. It certainly hasn’t been easy, and it can get rather lonely on the adventure without a proper mentor/agent/manager to guide me through the business world. But, every time these details get me down, I just remember all the people that got me to this point, and I’ll put in that extra hour of work, read that extra blog, or shake that extra hand to try and push further. If there is anything I want the world to know about my music is that in concert writing, I write with empathy. I am not in the business of manipulating my audience’s emotions, as much as helping them find what they’ve had an idea about all along. I choose subjects for my tone-poems that at the surface seem odd and sometimes downright satirical, but its meant for you to relate with when juxtaposed with one’s own primal urges and deepest darkest thoughts. It also calls upon real classical music… not just the Eurocentric stuff music school and theory has been forcing us to keep as a classist status quo for centuries, but with influence from Afrocentric classical music, along with Indian and Caribbean feel. Because that is a part of who I am, and I write concert music that includes any and all listeners. As a film composer, I help sonically interpret the story the other filmmakers are trying to make. Sometimes that calls for a full creative influence, but most times it involves getting together with the director, producers, or music supervisor, and hashing out exactly what musical aesthetic needs to be harnessed to make a scene work, and push the narrative. While developing my cues, sometimes I will sneak in a Jhapata tabla rhythm, or a big band tutti hit, to see if the powers that be favor a different creative direction, but mostly, it’s about collaboration and reaching an agreeable conclusion to how the product is presented. That’s the same principles I follow in my sound design as well. Lastly, if there is anything the world should know about my story… it is that it’s not over. In fact… this is just the beginning. I still have so much to write, with so many unique and fascinating projects to work on, and stories to tell. I can’t wait for you to hear them.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The day would have to start with coffee, which I walk to Hot Java on Junipiero and Broadway pretty much every day to get. I can honestly say it is some of the best coffee I’ve ever had, and I’ve come to befriend the staff who are always kind and fun to be around. The Aquarium of the Pacific is another place I would take them. Fun fact: I actually worked there for a total of 3 days until the shutdown. Something about sea creatures I always find calming. I also love sharks and have never missed a shark week. So, a trip to there is great because you can stroll through the exhibits and make good conversation, and take nifty pictures of jelly fish and seahorses. There are a lot of great places to go to for lunch and 39 Degrees on Redondo and 7th has some great sushi. If you are looking for drinks there are a lot of great places that also facilitate live music like: DiPiazza’s, Alex’s Bar, Roxanne’s (Mondays were so much fun for open mic nights), The Prospector, Good Bar. If you just want to drink and see some lively folks while hanging out and talking then Baddeley’s and Reno Room are great too. If you want good cafe food, and just some peace to read and write, or are more into poetry and such then The Library on Broadway is great also.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
Nothing could be possible without the love, encouragement, and support of my family. My parents, Ali & Eleanor worked hard to make sure my sisters and I had everything we needed to be ready for the future, while never letting us forget our Caribbean roots. My sister, Penny, has always showed that unconditional love and kindness goes a long way, especially when building new relationships. My sister, Jenny, introduced me to my love of concerts, and musical performance, while teaching me how to be courageous. It takes a village, no doubt, and I can list names for days of who influenced what aspect of my creativity that burns the brightest, but for the sake of time I just want to add I wouldn’t be half the man I am today if it weren’t my extended family, my brothers: Victor, Kelvin, Kevin, Brian, Dylan, and Matt.
My Logo was designed by: Rob DeVita Picture of me with a Guitar: Michael Barone Pictures of me with Boom: uncredited but on the set of Real Acting