Micah Graves is telling his story in 2020 with no fear. The 21-year-old jazz and R&B composer, pianist, songwriter and bandleader has stayed impressively dedicated to his craft throughout the year’s lockdown, and it’s all paying off beautifully.

In June, his project Damien-Graves — a collaboration with trumpeter Jamal Damien — debuted with the potent single “Being a Black Man in America.” Throughout the months since, he kept as busy as possible with new music, socially-distant shows around the city, and even some of his own safe (but totally blistering) sets at local ice cream shops. After a few restless days of recording at Germantown’s Rittenhouse Soundworks in August, Graves announced that he had a full album of original compositions ready for release this winter, Not for the Ordinary.

Then in September, Graves shared an early and unmixed selection from the album, the tender “Ladybug reprise for Jasmine,” dedicated to the memory of his childhood friend and neighbor Jasmine Lewis. The new single “Ladybug For Jasmine,” like last month’s “reprise,” focuses his love for Lewis, who was killed in a drive-by shooting in August at the age of 21. Lewis was known around the East Oak Lane neighborhood for commanding respect with her basketball skills — she was attending Lackawanna College on an athletic scholarship and starting on their team — and the community all rallied around her family in the days following her death. “She was so strong,” Graves stresses, “and I can’t put into words how much she will be missed.” In his lyrics, he prays, “Hope I find your love tomorrow.

“Ladybug For Jasmine” begins like a lullaby, but the ten-piece band builds it into a colorful, unabashed adventure. The group is full of confident young voices from around Philadelphia, and together their energy soars — Julian Miltenberger on drums, John Moran on bass, Zach Fischer on guitar, Shafiq Hicks and Danielle Dougherty contributing stellar lead vocals (both are Graves’ classmates at Temple), and Jay Wade, Greg Davis and Jenna Camacho contributing additional vocals. As much as this ensemble owes to Esperanza Spalding, Robert Glasper, and the other stars of today’s popular jazz and R&B cosmos, their performance on “Lady Bug” also recalls Return to Forever, Weather Report and the great jam bands of the last century: they trust in each other, and they don’t fear the long journey.

Graves says his focus when writing for this album during quarantine, though, was not improvisation, but text and narrative. “I have been making an effort on putting the story first and letting my instrument simply substantiate the message at hand,” he describes, noting that his favorite musicians right now include songwriters Allegra Krieger, Nina de Vitry and Adrienne Lenker, “purely because their music is telling a story.” The product of these influences is a lyrical blend of R&B, jazz fusion, and pop songwriting that sparkles like a smile.

“Lady Bug” is out today on Bandcamp, with all proceeds going to the family of Jasmine Lewis. Micah Graves’ debut album Not for the Ordinary comes out this winter.