Manhattan college professor, Lawrence Udeigwe is a man of odd forms. He is a mathematician cum musician. Udeigwe studied for a bachelor’s degree in computer science and mathematics. He studied further and bagged a Masters degree then a Ph.D in applied mathematics.
With a doctorate, he began a career as a mathematics college professor. Meanwhile, the heart knows what it wants. With a head for mathematics and heart for music, Udeigwe went for his love.
ThisDay Newspaper interviewed Lawrence Udeigwe. He shared his story and journey on both paths. Apparently, there is a lot of interesting lessons from this intriguing life story. Excerpts from the interview is below.
Lawrence Udeigwe: It’s Difficult to Describe Why I Do Music
You said for the purpose of this interview you are a musician and not a mathematician. But there’s no way we will talk about you without the other aspect of you which is mathematics. Can you take us through a bit of that actually?
Alright, I’m going to be a little biographical about that. I studied… got my bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Computer Science. But while in school, I actually wanted to play music. My goal was to finish and then move to New York and do music. But after that, I went to grad school. I thought I will do a Master’s degree. By the time I finished my Master’s degree, I decided I want to be a college professor. So I went on and did a PhD in applied Math. And then I got a job, teaching mathematics and doing research in Math. But then the music bug was still in me throughout this period; throughout the period of my education I was performing in clubs. I had a band. I formed my first band in 2008 and had been performing. And I released at least three albums along the way. So I’m working on my fourth album actually right now. So that’s it.
So I went on and did a PhD in applied Math. And then I got a job, teaching mathematics and doing research in Math
I understand you are working or have just released a single. Can you tell us about that? And while you are telling us about that maybe it will be nice for us to go through your discography; some of the songs you have done that really came out there, how they did and everything about you musically?
So I released my first album in 2008, it’s called ‘Highlife, Soul and Ecstasy’ yeah. I was a baby musician then. I just worked on this album. It came out in 2007 with my friend in his bedroom studio. And we got it done. It came out in CD format. It was only on i-tune then. And it did quite well Pittsburgh Pennsylvania and the surrounding music market. And then in 2010 I did another album it’s called ‘My House’. This was my first attempt at producing. And when I said producing, it just means taking musicians to the studio and recording it live. I was on piano and I got a bass player and a drummer. And then a sax player and a guitarist and we did the album. So, it wasn’t digitally produced; it was done in the studio and I produced it. I like the outcome of the album. But it wasn’t too successful. I had a single that was in it. The single was called ‘Reflection’. I actually promoted it in Nigeria and a few radio stations played it. I didn’t have enough funds to make it go big but I was happy with that single ‘Reflection’. And then I released another album in 2018 called ‘Rhythm Sustained’. It’s on a streaming platform. I think that’s my only album on the streaming platforms now. And the album actually did really well. It leaned more towards jazz. And the jazz community in New York City actually rated the album very high. They rated it 4 out of 5 which is high for them. And I think because in addition to having a jazz foundational composition, it introduces them to some elements of African music not necessarily the afrobeats, the pop/afropop that we know today. Elements of maybe highlife, Fela’s afrobeat, even apala music. I listen a lot to Haruna Ishola (laughs). So you could hear a little bit of it even in my composition. So it did well in terms of rating. Commercially, I didn’t make a lot; I recouped my money but I didn’t make profit. So this new single is a single that is ushering in my next album which should be like an EP; like maybe 6 to 7 song EP. So, it’s called ‘Today’. It was actually one of the songs in the last album I did and I rejigged it and introduced more saxophones to it, maybe a little shorter and tweaked some of the words. And it’s getting good reception so far. And I’m happy about the reception so far.
Mathematics is my wife, Music is my girlfriend
I used to make a joke, saying that I’m like an unfaithful man who is married to a wife but still has a girlfriend. And what do I mean? My wife is mathematics and my wife makes the money and I take the money and give it to my girlfriend which is music; and music chops all the money
So essentially, why do you do music? You just said your music has not really been commercially viable, and you are not actually really bothered about the commercial aspect of it
So my going to pursue a PhD was actually one way of running away from music because I thought well, I don’t know how easy it’s going to be making a living from music let me go do something I know once I come out I’m going to be making a living. So after I finished I still wanted to do music. So to answer your question, it’s something that chose me. It’s not something that I chose. It’s something that has been in me and it’s difficult to describe why I do music. And talking about the commercial success, I haven’t been commercially successful from music I’m not hiding that. I used to make a joke, saying that I’m like an unfaithful man who is married to a wife but still has a girlfriend. And what do I mean? My wife is mathematics and my wife makes the money and I take the money and give it to my girlfriend which is music; and music chops all the money and still asks me for more money. So it’s like you have what you are given but at the same time where your heart is. And you are taking all your resources and you are putting it into where your heart is.
How do you combine mathematics and music; how has it been?
They need you to pay a lot of attention to them. Mathematics requires you to think about it every day all the time. To make good music, you have to always be in the zone. You have to always be observing things. You have to be practicising your piano; you have to be thinking of songwriting, thinking of the lyrics that would fit into stuff that you’ve written. So, I’m saying all this to say that it involves a lot of time management. What I usually do is I wake up in the morning and I meditate. It’s very important to me. And then I practice. And think of music. And then once I closed my door, I try not to think of music anymore. I go to work to my office and just focused on mathematics and not think of music until when I finished work and I’m walking back home, I think of music again. So, it’s been a struggle.
Why mathematics? There seem to be no relationship with both. Do you have any particular interest in mathematics?
There’s mathematics in everything. If you are cooking even from measuring what to go and cook there’s mathematics…so there’s mathematics everywhere. There’s mathematics in music. Mathematics is a subject I have always been good in. when I came to the US to study I wanted to study computer science. And after two years, I switched to mathematics. And I wanted something that I’m good at in order to be doing it and doing music. Mathematics has always been something I’m good at.
Going by what you have been saying you seem to have a background of jazz. So how would you encapsulate your genre of music?
You can say its afro-jazz fusion right of the sound I’m making right now. You can call it Naija-Jazz or Nai-jazz (lol). But if you want me to go with one…if you want me to coin one word for us right now I will call it Naija-Jazz. But in all seriousness, the foundational DNA of my music is jazz. I take jazz first and then I bring in everything I grew up with and everything I listen to.