Adi Meyerson remembers the moment she knew that making music would be her lifelong career. The Israeli native was in high school and had just finished a recital and was saddened at the fact that it was over. Her disposition changed when she came to the realization that music could be her profession, and she thought, “Oh wait, this is something I can do for the rest of my life. How cool.”
To further her studies in jazz and bass performance, Meyerson arrived in Hell’s Kitchen from Israel in 2012, earning her bachelor’s at The New School and her master’s at the Manhattan School of Music. In 2020, she was awarded a grant from the NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre, referred to as the Women’s Fund, joining the initiative’s over 150 female recipients since its inception in 2018. The $5.5 million-dollar program, now in its third year, is administered by the New York Foundation for the Arts in partnership with the City of New York Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment, to address the underrepresentation of women in the arts.
Meyerson received the grant for her sophomore album, “I Want To Sing My Heart Out In Praise Of Life,” and we spoke to her on the same day it was released and she was celebrating by playing at Minton’s, the legendary jazz club on 118th Street in Harlem, the neighborhood she now calls home. She explained that this project was inspired by the paintings of Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama, which she first saw in a gallery in Chelsea back in 2017. Because she has synesthesia, a condition where she sees color when she hears music, this particular artwork resonated with her. “Her colors that she was using with her paintings were really similar to the ones that I saw when I heard pitches,” Meyerson said. So she decided she would one day write music with it in mind, and as fate would have it, our city played a role in this labor of love, which debuted on August 6.
You started playing the electric bass at 14. I read an interview with you where you said that in Israel you don’t take music in school. Did you have to take private lessons?
Here you can just choose an instrument, but over there, we had to get our own lessons. So I started on electric bass and reached out to one of the seniors in my school who also played bass and he gave me my first bass lesson on electric bass.
What made you want to go into music? Did you have any musical influences?
It was kind of a thing I always was drawn to and always wanted to do. My dad played guitar and we had a guitar laying around, so I would always play with it, pick it up. I wanted to play violin at some point. I wanted to play piano. My parents would get me an instrument, but we never really went past that point. I went to school from 7th grade to 12th grade in an arts school, and I was accepted as a visual artist. I started taking music lessons. We had general music and I was hanging out with a lot of the music majors and realized that if this was something I wanted to do, I actually could do it myself. So I had some money saved up and at some point decided, “Bass could be fun.” And I bought a bass and got some lessons and that was it from there.
Where did you live when you first got here and what did you think of the city when you arrived?
I lived in Hell’s Kitchen and I actually lived there until a year ago. And then I moved up to Harlem. So I lived in the same apartment for eight years. I came to visit New York a few times, so it wasn’t my first time, so I kind of knew what to expect. But I also had a complete culture shock. I guess I was a little cocky in thinking because I spoke English well that I would be fine. But it is a completely different country, different place, different culture, a lot of slang, a lot of words I didn’t know. But I always liked the fast pace of New York. And I love the history of the city, especially because all my heroes came through New York or live in New York or lived in New York at a certain time. Going to all the jazz clubs and walking the streets.
What was the application process for the grant?
I remember having to submit a project idea and talk a little bit about the significance of the project and how it relates to the narrative of being a woman and how that project will elevate that. And also I had to submit some work samples and a budget. But there was a lot of space to actually talk about the project which I appreciated because there have been certain grants I have been applying for that don’t give you as much space to really tell them what you want to do ... It’s been a long process. I applied for the grant back in 2019 and then got the notification that I received the grant in March of 2020. And then two weeks later, the world shut down.
Did you work on the entire album during the pandemic or had you had some of it started?
I had some already started. I had a lot of the music written already and they extended the deadline. It was supposed to be out by March 2021. Then when COVID hit, they extended the deadline to November 2021 to give us more time to figure it out. I had a lot of the music written already so then I took a little time because of course nobody knew what was happening. Then we decided to go into the studio in November 2020, so I did a lot of fine tuning.
“I Want To Sing My Heart Out In Praise Of Life” is based on the work of artist Yayoi Kusama. Tell us how you selected her.
I first came across Yayoi Kusama, who is this Japanese avant-garde artist, at an exhibit in New York in 2017. I just went to see it with a friend. I didn’t know anything about it. And her artist statement really spoke to me and also seeing her art really spoke to me ... And then when I was in grad school, one of my professors gave us an assignment to write a song or music based off an external influence from a different art form. And I was like, “Well this is exactly the person I need to do this.” So then I started writing it in school. It evolved and grew from there and after graduating, putting it together as an album and applying for the grant and everything, it took a different turn. And then learning more about her life and everything also contributed to the project and grant because she had a very interesting life ... It’s definitely taken on a whole other meaning with the pandemic and everything and tells a more personal story. It represents how I deal with mental health and everything going on in the world. It’s been a fun journey.
How can you describe the album’s sound?
I would like for people to listen to it in its entirely, so from the beginning to end because it really is an album and a journey. It’s got a little bit of everything. It starts off a little crazy, a little avant-garde, then free, a lot of open sections. There’s a lot of groovy melodies to it. I guess it’s kind of a combination of a lot of the things I like - jazz, swing, free improvisation, soul, R&B, songwriting. It’s a lot of everything. I’m curious to see how people will respond to it because it’s definitely different than the first one I put out.
What are your favorite venues to play at in the city?
There’s so many. I really like Smalls and Mezzrow. I always love those venues. I have yet to play at the Village Vanguard but that’s definitely a bucket list and a dream and I love listening to music there. I love National Sawdust; that’s an amazing venue. And I really loved Jazz Standard, which has closed, unfortunately. That was one of my favorite venues to play at. I love Minton’s, which I’m playing at tonight. Dizzy’s. Smoke is a good one. The Jazz Gallery, I have yet to play there, but love what they present.
To learn more about Adi’s work, please visit www.adimeyersonmusic.com
Applications are open for the third round of grants as part of The NYC Women’s Fund for Media, Music and Theatre. The application period runs July 26 through November 1.