beck and may together The Southern California-based songwriting team of Jordan Beck and Jonathan May have just released their debut CD, Cousins, a terrifically eclectic mix of pop tunes, from lively, up-tempo numbers to powerful, emotion-packed ballads, performed by eleven of SoCal’s finest vocal talents, including Broadway leads James Snyder and David Burnham, recent Ovation winner Todrick Hall, and a number of musical theater stars whose work has been raved about on these pages, including John Massey, Brad Standley, and Drew Tablak.

310827_140864402673228_5520406_n Beck and May start things off themselves with the bouncy autobiographical “Cousins.” Snyder’s “One Memory More” and Alistair Tober’s “Whatever It Takes” showcase Beck & May in romantic mode, followed by Mazie Wilson’s life-affirming “The Strongest Tree.” Hall’s Disneyesque “Fish Song” and Massey’s country-western-flavored “Fast Food Nation” are filled with wit and whimsy. Baraka May’s “Get Over Here” reveals lyricist Beck’s way with words: “When will you see you’re over her, so you can get over to me?” Standley’s “Those Were The Days” has Beck & May waxing nostalgic, while Destiny Lofton’s “Fly Away Little Bird” is the partners’ contribution to the inspirational song genre. The CD’s two most powerful songs, Tablak’s “Song Of A Child” and Allie Trimm’s “My Friend Marta,” each feature a gut-punching eleventh-hour twist. Burnham closes the twelve-song set with “Dreamer,” a song which could easily be the anthem of two songwriters with big dreams they are only just beginning to fulfill.

While inspired by the greats of musical theater lore, Beck & May’s very contemporary songwriting style adds their names to the shortlist of 21st Century song-masters like Scott Alan, Adam Gwon, and Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk. Gorgeously arranged and orchestrated by May, Nolan Livesay, and Brian P. Kennedy and featuring some terrific studio musicians and backup singers, Cousins is a CD that starts out an instant favorite and keeps getting better with each new listen.

Older cousin Jordan Beck recently sat down and filled us in on Beck & May’s back story and their hopes and dreams for the future. Here’s our chat:

Jordan, unlike most songwriting teams, you and Jonathan grew up together as cousins, not coincidentally the title of your first CD. Did you spend much time together as children?

beck and may cover

We spent quite a bit of time together growing up, as our families were very close. Jonathan’s a few years younger than me, so I was actually closer to his older sisters when we were kids. But we connected on things like baseball and once he was in high school and getting more involved with music, we definitely started to hang out more.

How did your songwriting partnership come about?

It was after Jonathan graduated from high school that we started to collaborate. I gave him a lyric of mine to try out, just to see what he would do with it, and I was blown away. He just had a knack for it, and the rest is history.

What drew the two of you to writing songs in the musical theater/cabaret mode rather than go the usual pop music route?

It’s funny you should ask that. I know Jonathan for one wouldn’t necessarily put himself in the musical theater/cabaret category. I was more of the theater kid growing up. Jonathan’s background is really jazz and pop. I joke sometimes that I tried to shelter him from much of contemporary musical theater out there simply because I wanted him to retain his own sound. In the future, we definitely plan to branch out even more into the pop world as well theatrical projects.

How did you get started listening to musical theater scores?

The first soundtrack I ever bought was Bye Bye Birdie. I wore that thing out. After that, I definitely listened to a lot of Alan Menken stuff. Little Shop of Horrors, Newsies, his Disney classics.

In addition to Menkin, who else were your greatest musical influences growing up?

Lerner & Loewe, Maury Yeston, Stephen Schwartz, Ahrens & Flaherty, and of course Rodgers & Hammerstein. I’m also a big fan of 1776. I also love Craig Carnelia, so it was an absolute dream to have him as a Master Teacher at the Johnny Mercer Songwriter’s Project when Jonathan and I did that back in 2009.

Jordan and Jonathan with Craig Carnelia

You’ve certainly created an eclectic group of songs on Cousins? Are any of them from shows you’ve written or have in the works or are they all individual creations?

The songs on our album are all stand-alone stuff, except for “My Friend Marta” which is part of a song cycle we’re currently working on with 4 other songwriting teams.

recording cousins
Jonathan and Jordan recording the title song, “Cousins”

How do you come up with a theme for a song?

Many of the songs come from a personal place, either an experience one of us went through, or perhaps it just dealt with something we deeply care about. I guess it’s whatever we’re feeling at the moment. That’s probably why all of the songs are so different from each other. They were written over a span of three or four years.

Richard Rodgers famously wrote the music first when he was teamed with Lorenz Hart and second when he collaborated with Oscar Hammerstein II. How do Beck & May divvy up the task of writing songs?

It depends. I usually will come up with a lyric idea and pass it on to Jonathan. Then he’ll usually come back with something that’s a little different musically from what I had in mind, but a whole lot better. It goes back and forth like that. I’m constantly revising my lyrics, making little tweaks here and there once the melody has been finalized.

You say this is how it usually works for the two of you. Are there any exceptions to this rule?

“The Strongest Tree” was a different story. Jonny wrote the melody for that song in its entirety before I wrote one lyric, except for maybe the bridge. We definitely try to keep it balanced. I love writing lyrics to his music.

What was the genesis of Cousins?

After we did our concert at The Kennedy Center as part of ASCAP’s Broadway Today and Tomorrow Series, an album was definitely on our minds. We had a bunch of songs that we really hadn’t recorded, and people would ask us where they could hear our music.

So how did you go about raising money to produce it?

We set up a Kickstarter campaign to raise money and we met our goal of $10,000 with 6 days to go. We also applied and received a grant that helped us a bit.

285289_10150268908192230_3101191_n james snyder recording one memory more
Broadway stars David Burnham and James Snyder recording Cousins CD

drew tablak baraka may
Drew Tablak and Baraka May record their tracks

How did you assemble (and assign) the phenomenal talents who perform its songs?

As far as the talent, all I can say is we are blessed to have some phenomenally talented friends. We could not have been more pleased with the lineup. Each of them is perfect for their particular song.


A musical you’ve written and one that can be licensed for performance is Peter Pan—A New Musical. What made you decide to write “another” Peter Pan?

We were actually commissioned by a theater to write it back in 2009, that’s what got us started on it. Once we began, it became something incredibly special to us.

How does Beck & May’s differ from previous musical versions?

I would say it’s not just another Peter Pan with our own version of “I Won’t Grow Up.” The story has been told so many times, so we really wanted to come at it from a different angle, definitely our own style, but retain the classic story. Flipping the story on its head or making it darker doesn’t appeal to me personally, simply because I love the story as it is. We really just wanted to write the Peter Pan we’d want to see, and just cross our fingers that others like it too.

What show or shows are you working on currently?

Right now I’ve got several projects in the works with various collaborators. Aside from the song cycle I mentioned earlier, Jonathan and I have our eyes set on a true sports story for our next project. We’re just looking for the perfect book writer for it.

What do you hope this New Year has in store for Beck & May?

I hope people listen to and enjoy our album, now that it’s finally available. I hope Jonathan and I continue to grow closer as collaborators and of course, being my cousin, I hope we continue to grow even closer as friends. He’s already family.

Thanks so much for taking the time to talk about your work with Jonathan!

Of course! It was a pleasure.

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