Pizza for Thanksgiving in the Big Apple

by Ron Oshima

Lyle Rivera, MYSO Jazz Studies guitarist and 2019 graduate, spent his first Thanksgiving away from home dining in at Joe’s Pizza on 14th St. and 3rd Ave., a few blocks from New York University (NYU) where he is a freshman. This is the quintessential image of a young musician striking out on his own in New York City. Lyle is pursuing a Bachelor of Music degree in Jazz Studies at NYU, which lies in the heart of Greenwich Village, home to many jazz clubs.

What led you to MYSO?

I spent the last two years of high school in MYSO after my guitar teacher, Neil Davis, recommended it to me. [Neil is on the MYSO jazz faculty]. I picked up a guitar in the eighth grade and was essentially self-taught until I engaged Neil as a teacher my sophomore year. I knew Neil because he taught a guitar ensemble at my high school, Pius XI Catholic High School.

How did you end up at New York University?

I applied to several top schools in addition to NYU, including Eastman and the San Francisco Conservatory. NYU accepted me and gave me a generous financial aid package. When I was a high school junior, I visited NYU because a lot of jazz artists I admire live and perform in NYC. On that first visit, I took a private lesson with Professor Brad Shepik, who is currently my private instructor in guitar.

Part of the application process at NYU is an audition which consists of a jam session. They combine a group of applicants with different instruments, make a band on the spot, and have you play a song. Fortunately, MYSO provided me the experience of being with different musicians constantly, and the MYSO jam sessions at the Jazz Gallery were very helpful. At those jam sessions, I was playing with top-level musicians like professional bassist, Jeff Hamann, who was very nice and supportive. In fact, I found the entire Milwaukee professional jazz community to be very helpful in my development.

How does one learn improvisation?

Just like learning a language, improvisation is best learned by listening to others improvise music, perform written music, and talk about music. MYSO provides a safe space for young musicians to improvise as well as perform written music. Improvisation, like any skill, requires a curious and confident mindset. Musical improvisation is a primary way that I can relate myself to others and the world around me. It allows me to communicate in a way that talking never could, and that’s why I love it.

Describe your experience at NYU.

I recently took part in a performance in December with the New Music Ensemble from NYU. We performed ten pieces, each composed by a different composer from the Cherubini Conservatory in Florence, Italy. One of those pieces was accompanied by dancing choreographed by the legendary dancer, Douglas Dunn, long-time faculty member at NYU. It was a privilege to do this show.

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