The sly comments muttered by older professors follow Joey Nazariego around in the rehearsal room.
Nazariego is a beacon in their occasional all-pink outfits, painted nails and mismatched socks, a bright flair amid a sea of musicians trained to be a perfect entity.
While artist and producer Nazariego has had to learn that their individuality is not to the liking of everyone, it has not stopped Nazariego from embracing who they are.
“There is so much gripe around me being an openly gay artist and it’s weird because I went into music school thinking I would meet people with more open minds, but you meet people
who look at you like you’re different,” Nazariego said. “No matter where I go, people will look at me differently so be who you want to be.”
Nazariego is a fourth-year jazz performance major at Long Beach State whose interest in music began at a young age, singing around the house before they joined the school choir in their hometown of Leemore, California.
Their teacher told Nazariego that if they learned to play the Vibraphone, they could join the jazz band and attend the jazz festival that year. Nazariego did, and still plays the instrument along with piano.
Now, Nazariego is an artist on Spotify and Apple Music with a recently released single titled “Undressed” and a new project that they are working on.
“I’m channeling a lot of insecurities in the way that I view myself as a Mexican. The
way that I view myself as a gay person. The way that I view myself as somebody who can’t be around people who don’t know what it’s like to be misgendered all day long and who don’t know what it’s like to have had to grow up displaced because of something you couldn’t control,” Nazariego said. “The whole idea of this EP is to reclaim a lot of that pain, reclaim a lot of that anguish, and turn it into something that is more solidified. You went through all of that, now let it be a part of you because you just can’t forget it. It influences everything you want to say now.”
Nazariego knew that their project could benefit from others beyond themself and reached out to pianist Eric Bell, a third-year jazz major, and Brandon Muhawi, a third-year saxophonist.
Both will be featured on Nazariego’s new EP as Bell and Muhawi lend their instruments to the piece, bringing Nazariego’s musical vision to life.
“If it weren’t for the fact that I had a saxophonist to bring that texture that I want to hear or if I didn’t have a pianist to bring that kind of technique that I want to hear then what
I’m trying to emote through my music won’t come across,” Nazariego said. “It’s really personal what we are writing and investing in is still dependent on this idea of community.”
Bell and Muhawi are always willing to make music because it is something they love to do. Nazariego explained how all of their creative connections helped them to express their ideas.
“People can love music but that doesn’t mean they are so enthusiastic about the creation process, the process of getting your own ideas out there with friends and communicating about something that is so arbitrary but at the same time we all understand it so well,” said Nazariego.
Muhawi’s interest in music began when his fifth-grade friend recommended he join the school band. Ten years later and Muhawi is still as invested.
“Music has really given me a vehicle to connect with other people and develop a community and develop friendships that are long-lasting and go deeper than surface level,” Muhawi said.
Nazariego and Muhawi collaborate often because of Muhawi’s availability and interest.
“The music-making process is very personal and about Joey’s personal journey and their emotions. I’m just there to supplement sounds,” Muhawi said, likening this process to how popular bands worked throughout the decades. “If you look at any Beatles album it’s usually John Lennon or Paul McCartney as the writer or contributor and not all the members,
but each piece of music is still your personal work of art.”
Like Muhawi, Bell works with Nazariego. Bell’s feature on the new EP gave him motivation to take a new opportunity outside of the jazz industry and create with Nazariego.
“It happens a lot like this in the modern industry, someone will come up with the skeleton of an idea, and then they will bring in friends to freshen up the sound,” Bell said. “Joey’s music already sounded produced and awesome but then he brings me and Brandon in to add a little more character and a little more fun to it when we play it live.”
As a child, Nazariego didn’t always have someone there for them in times of adversity.
Nazariego wants to be that voice of hope for those who feel like they don’t see themselves represented and let them know that they are not alone through their music.
“If I’m not going to be honest how I navigate the world around me, in my art, and music especially, then I’m not going to have any real impact,” Nazariego said, “I want to be honest about who I am.”