About Me

My photo
Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Lessons to Learn, Always

I played two gigs yesterday. One was my regular Sunday evening appearance playing solo jazz guitar at L'Thai, and the other was as part of a band at St. James United Methodist Church in Atlanta. No matter what the situation, and no matter who you are playing with, there is always something to learn.

Lesson #1: You don't know everything.
Harmonically speaking, there is no comparison between jazz standards and contemporary Christian music, but harmony isn't everything. Any musical style has its own idiosyncrasies. In sight-reading a jazz tune, I can draw on my bag of tricks and usually come up with a good comp right away. Is it swing? I'll try some basic Freddie Green comping. If I'm the only harmonic instrument, I'll default to my Joe Pass wanna-be style. Is it Latin? I have a few basic grooves that work for almost any situation. But yesterday's first gig wasn't jazz. While I'm comfortable in a jazz setting, I'm not used to playing contemporary Christian music. It's a different beast. Fortunately, I was playing in a group where the other musicians were all well versed in that style. As the rhythm guitarist, my job was to listen, find ways to fit in, and do whatever the band director told me to do. As I continue playing this service, I'll keep on listening and adapting so that I'll become comfortable with this genre.

Lesson #2: Take care of yourself.
Yesterdays gigs were back to back. I had a rehearsal in the afternoon, played the service, and then drove straight to my restaurant gig. I got home at 10 and putzed around until midnight before going to bed. I think I may have had one glass of water in a 12 hour stretch. Big mistake. I woke in the middle of the night with cramps in both legs and feet, probably from dehydration. Lesson learned – take a water bottle with me on Sundays! Some Sundays will be particularly challenging, with a Sunday morning service, a rehearsal, an hour of down time, and then two more gigs like I had yesterday. I'm going to need to take care of myself, pack a lunch, and bring some water. Maybe do some stretching, too.

My two lessons from yesterday are to keep learning and to take care of yourself.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Finding the Path

As a musician, I've struggled through career ending injuries and financial hardship trying to find my place in the world. Going through the rough patches, I've always had a nagging sense that I was close to what I was supposed to be doing, but I wasn't quite there yet. And then sometimes the universe tells you that you are right where you need to be.

When I was a much younger man, I felt that my dual purpose was to be a teacher and a performer. My sense of purpose was ripped away from me when I developed an overuse injury in my upper lip, ending my professional trombone career just as it was beginning. I ended up music engraving full time, working for publishers as a freelancer. I made great money, but I felt unfulfilled until I started learning to play the guitar. Eventually, the guitar playing supplanted the music engraving, even though it brought it significantly less income.

Over the past two years, my roster of private students has steadily increased, and I perform three steady gigs on the weekends. I gained enough students that I decided to cut back on my hours at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation and just run the band while hiring someone else to serve as Director of Music. This was a financially risky move, yet almost as soon I opened up another day for lessons, another six students signed up. I couldn't have asked for a clearer sign that I'm following my path.

As I wrap up my last week as Director of Music at Northwest, I received another signal that all will be well. Carl Fischer, one of the big league music publishers, has an opening for a full time music engraver. Without intending to brag, I am a great music engraver, and I would have a pretty decent shot at this position. A few years ago, I would have jumped at the opportunity. When I learned about the position this morning, I thought "Oh, that's nice," and moved on with my day. I didn't even think of applying. I don't desire anything else.

While I am a first rate music engraver, and the position at Carl Fischer would offer plenty of security, I find teaching and performing both challenging and fulfilling. It is enough. In my early 30s, I lost my way as a teacher and performer, but now I'm back on the path. I don't need to be anywhere else. All will be well, and all will be well, and every kind of thing shall be well.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Lots of Lasts

I have been Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation for six years, directing the choir, leading the contemporary band (which I started), planning hymns, and more. This past year, my roster of private students has grown to the point where it is difficult to balance teaching, performing, and my work at Northwest. To make room for more students, we are searching for a new Director of Music, while I stay on the staff in a smaller role, leading the band and being responsible for the use and upkeep of the sound system.

The new Director of Music will lead the choir, plan Sunday morning music (except for band Sundays), and more. He will also be my supervisor. To ensure that I'm passing the choir over to a good conductor, I put myself on the music search committee. It felt a little funny searching for my new boss! At this point, the search committee has concluded the search and made a recommendation to the board. The board has approved our decision. Assuming that he accepts the position, I think we have the potential for a truly excellent new Director of Music.

With my tenure as Director of Music winding down, I'm experiencing a lot of lasts this month. A few days ago, I led my last choir rehearsal. Tomorrow is my last Sunday leading the choir. I had my last staff retreat this past week, and my last staff meeting will be this week. The following Sunday will be my last Sunday as Director of Music. I am experiencing a mix of excitement, relief, and wistfulness as these "lasts" come and go. I'll miss Wednesday choir rehearsals, but even as I let the choir go, my private teaching practice is blossoming. The scales balance.

To make for a smooth transition, I've typed up a checklist that I'll go over with the new director to help get him oriented: a tour of the music library, the choir roster, how to use the sound system, how I handled my weekly and monthly "to do's," and a few other things to help him get settled.

I'm looking forward to seeing what our new Director of Music does with the choir, I'm looking forward to focusing more on teaching, and I'm optimistic about the future of the music program at Northwest UU Congregation.

Friday, June 2, 2017

Furry Friends

In my private teaching practice, I travel to each student's house to give lessons in guitar, ukulele, piano, or music theory. Teaching is a joy, but an added bonus is meeting the pets. Here are some of the furry friends I get to meet every week.

Cooper the giant poodle.

First up is Cooper, an extremely friendly poodle. It's hard to tell from this angle, but Cooper is really tall. I'm 6'2", and I don't have to bend down to pet him.

Karma, all bark and no bite.

Next is Karma, a black lab mix. Karma is all bark and no bite. Whenever I ring the doorbell, Karma barks and barks. When my student's mom opens the door, Karma still barks and barks, which is her way of showing that she's happy to see me (or anyone else who walks through the door). Once the lesson starts, Karma curls up nearby. If she sits close enough, she gets an occasional scratch during lessons.

Knox, friend to all.

Knox is another black lab. Knox thrives on attention. I'm his best friend until somebody else walks through the door. During lessons, Knox will sometimes butt in, just to let us know he is available if we would like to scratch his ears.

Miso, the dog-like cat.

Miso is a cat with the soul of a dog. He actually seems more dog-like than the dogs in the house. Unlike most cats, Miso will come when you call him. Miso will sometimes try to climb into a lap, regardless of the fact that we are each holding a guitar.

Pepper, shaggy and elusive.
Pepper is Miso's "brother." Pepper is the big, blurry dog. I never remember the other one's name. I've known Pepper for at least 6 years, but he doesn't generally let people touch him. It's only been in the last year the Pepper has let me pet him. I am honored.

I'm Poppy, pet me!
Poppy loves attention. If I accidentally make eye contact with Poppy during a lesson, he'll be in my face, wanting to be pet. While I'm playing guitar, he'll sometimes poke his head between my left arm and the guitar neck. Notice that Poppy's tail is blurry in this picture. His tail is usually in motion.

I've decided you're okay.
Now pet me.
I don't see Rio often, but he got in toward the end of this lesson. Because he doesn't see me often, he's still not sure about me. Once he decides I'm okay, he's just fine with an ear scratch.

Rosie, world's friendliest dog.
And finally, here's Rosie, possibly the world's friendliest dog. Rosie greets me at the door, and then immediately flops over for a belly rub. During lessons, she sits on the couch with my student, well within petting range of both of us.

So those are most of the critters on my route. I'm adding several students to my roster this month. I'm looking forward to meeting more furry friends.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Goodbye Treehouse, Hello Hobbit Hole

I've lost track of how long I've lived in my apartment, which I affectionately called the treehouse. This has been my favorite apartment. It's small, but I don't need much room. It's above a garage, which is mine to use for storage. It's surrounded by trees. There are a few windows that make me feel like I'm in the canopy when I look outside. It's cozy and suits my needs. I was prepared to hunker down in my little treehouse for many years to come, but the landlady is going to put the house on the market.

Although my landlady isn't planning on putting the house on the market until four months from now, I decided to start looking around for a new apartment. I would rather take my time and find a good place than wait for months and then start scrambling.

As luck would have it, I found a nice little place after only a few days of searching. I had been poking around and sending out some feelers. I posted a message on the Oakhurst Facebook group. Only one person responded, but it was the right person. He was showing an apartment the next day. I made an appointment, took a look, and fell in love with it. Several others were also looking at the apartment. I filled out the rental application and crossed my fingers. The next day, he texted to let me know that I could come over and sign the lease if I still wanted it.

If my current apartment is a treehouse, my next one is a hobbit hole. It's a basement apartment, but it doesn't feel like a basement. The house is on a slope, so the ceiling is high and there is a lot of light. The place is fixed up to feel like a home and not just someone's basement. It looks like there may be a little less floor space than the treehouse, but the hobbit hole has a very open floor plan, so I may actually have more flexibility in where I put my furniture.

I hate moving, but I like the possibilities that a new setting can bring up. While I'll miss the treehouse, the hobbit hole has new advantages.

  • It'll put me about 5 minutes away from Oakhurst, where I do most of my teaching.
  • It's quieter. The treehouse is close to a busy street, not far from a fire station. The hobbit hole is in the back of a house that is on the dead end of a quiet street.
  • My knees. Yes, my knees. To get to the treehouse, I have to climb a flight of stairs. My heart and muscles are strong and healthy. My knees? Not so much. My aching knees are the reason I don't run anymore, and I have to be careful when I climb stairs. I don't have to climb any stairs to get to the hobbit hole.
  • Walking! I enjoy walking, but the treehouse is not in a walkable area. The hobbit hole is in a quiet neighborhood with lots of streets for walking. I'm looking forward to putting on my walking shoes and hitting the road again.
I move to the hobbit hole in less than a month. I'm looking forward to settling into my new digs, and I'm excited about new possibilities.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Remembering Bob Shaw

It seems like there have been a lot of celebrity deaths in 2016. While I'm sad for their loved ones, celebrity deaths don't affect me that much. I may have listened to their music or watched them on the silver screen, but I didn't know them personally. A death that has affected me is the passing of my former guitar teacher, Bob Shaw. Although he passed away about a year ago, I only learned the news recently. You can read Bob's obituary here, but I'd like to share how he affected my life for the good.

I met Bob Shaw in 2004 after recently moving to Atlanta. I had been playing guitar for maybe four months, and I wanted to find a teacher. After an online search, I reached out to Bob. At the time, I was more interested in folk music, while Bob was a jazz guitarist. Still, I decided to contact him. I figured that anyone who had been teaching for 30 years might have a thing or two to show me. Boy, was I right about that!

In our first lessons, it became apparent that Bob was the right teacher for me. If I sucked, he told me. If I sounded great, he told me. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and I think he must have enjoyed teaching me, because our 30-minute lessons often extended to 60 minutes. We started off with the folk songs I wanted to learn. With my professional music background, I learned folk tunes quickly. In some ways, I was probably a challenging student. I had the fingers of the beginner but the experience and theoretical knowledge of a professional. Sometime during those first months of lessons, Bob played a chord/melody arrangement of a jazz standard, and I was blown away. I hadn't heard anything like that. Before long, we were working through the Mel Bay Rhythm Guitar Chord System and I was learning to play jazz standards. Then Bob encouraged me to start writing my own solo jazz guitar arrangements. I tackled this challenge enthusiastically. Since my guitar chord knowledge was still limited, it took an excruciatingly long time to write arrangements, and it took even longer to learn how to play what I wrote, but I kept at it. Misty was my first solo guitar arrangement, and to this day I often use it as an opener when I'm performing alone. Other arrangements followed. Arranging was (and is) a perfect way for me to explore the possibilities of the guitar. I eventually got faster at arranging, and I've even gotten to the point where I can often make up arrangements on the spot if needed.

Bob not only steered me toward jazz guitar, but he helped me find playing opportunities, two of which immediately come to mind. The first was subbing with the ASO – the Atlanta Swing Orchestra, that is, not the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Their regular guitarist, a former student of Bob's, was traveling more often, and they needed someone to sit in on rehearsals and sub for gigs when he was out. Through playing with the ASO, I eventually was called to sub for the SJO – the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. Thanks to Bob's teaching, I was able to sight-read the SJO guitar book pretty well. I became their first call sub, and then I became their regular guitar player after the previous guitar player moved.

Bob also steered me toward my first small group jazz experience. Someone was hosting a small group jazz jam on Thursday nights. This wasn't for performing. It was more for fun and practice. Bob told me about the opportunity, and soon I was jamming on Thursday nights. This helped me gain confidence, and from that experience, I either joined or started a series of groups. Now I'm performing with Godfrey and Guy once a week and playing solo guitar twice a week. Godfrey and Guy recorded our first album recently, and we have plans for more.

Whether I'm playing in big bands or small groups, I can trace my beginnings back to Bob Shaw. His influence helped set me on the path.

Not only did Bob help me find places to get started playing, but he also had a profound impact on my musical style. Bob played with elegance. He had a way of making everything sound easy, even if it was difficult. I tend to gravitate toward medium tempo, tasty music, and so Bob's style rubbed off on me. More than once, warming up before a rehearsal or a gig, someone has said to me, "Have you ever heard of Bob Shaw? You sound just like him." I was always delighted to hear this, and I'm sure Bob would have been pleased as well.

Bob may be gone, but his musical spirit and influence will live on through me and his other students. Even though I received the news one year too late, I hope he's had time to look down from wherever he is and check in my gigs from time to time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2017 Goals

I don't celebrate the major holidays or my birthday, but I do take time at the turning of the year to sit down and think about the things I'd like to accomplish in the year ahead. You might call them resolutions, but I call them goals. The word resolution sounds intimidating to me, but a goal sounds doable. It's important to understand that even if you don't quite meet your goals, you're doing something positive just by working toward them.

Each year, I review the previous year's goals, and then I write up a new list and stick them on the fridge. I had four ambitious goals for 2016. I only met one of them, but I made a lot progress toward the other three.

2016 Goals
  • Weigh 190 pounds. I bit the bullet and stepped on the scale early last year. 270 pounds. Gulp! This wasn't nearly the 324 pounds I used to weigh, but it was still about 80 pounds too much. I got to work, being more careful with my diet and exercising regularly. I currently weigh 215. I haven't met this goal yet, but I'm well on my way.
  • Record Godfrey and Guy's first album. Goal achieved! We recorded our first Godfrey and Guy album, You and the Night, and we're very proud of it. It's a collection of night-themed jazz songs. We added horns, bass, and drums to our voice/guitar duo, and it turned out just as I had hoped. Lori Guy's vocals are sublime, I'm happy with my guitar playing on the recording, and my horn arrangements turned out nicely. And yes, this album is for sale. You can order yours at www.godfreyandguy.com!
  • Increase my private student roster to 25. This didn't work out, but for all the right reasons. At the time I wrote this goal, I was teaching at Tessitura, a music studio in Decatur, GA. The owner, Lynnette, had been looking for renters for times the studio wasn't being used. Luckily for her, someone approached her about renting her space full time to open a personal training gym. She couldn't pass up an opportunity like that. She gave me two months notice, which was plenty of time to figure out what to do about my teaching situation. Since most of my students live in or around the same neighborhood, I decided to travel to each student's home to teach. This worked out really well! I'm paying much less in gas than I was in renting the studio. I had to space the students further apart to allow for travel time, which meant that I didn't have time to teach 25 students. My roster increased from 12 to 18 students, and I'm earning more money per lesson than I did teaching at Tessitura. As far as private teaching is concerned, this year turned out just fine.
  • Memorize a total of 120 Godfrey and Guy songs. Not quite. The previous year, I had memorized 60 Godfrey and Guy songs. I thought I could memorize another 60 this year, but that was pushing it. Many of the songs I memorized in 2015 were low hanging fruit – songs that were either mostly memorized or pretty easy to memorize. The remaining songs are more challenging. That being said, I memorized 47 more Godfrey and Guy songs this year, for a total of 107.
Suitable for framing
(or sticking on the fridge)
2017 Goals
  • Finish guitar method book. I've been pecking away at this project for a little while, but I haven't made any meaningful progress. It's time to get to work and make this happen. With my music education background and experience, I feel I can write a better guitar method than what is already available. I've been using my holiday downtime to get started on this. I'd like to finish it this year and start using it with my students in 2018.
  • Record a Godfrey and Guy Christmas album. Now that we have our first recording under our belts, we'd like to record a Christmas album. Our plan is to take older Christmas songs and jazz them up. Why older Christmas songs? Because many of them are public domain, and we won't have to pay for licensing! But also because there are some great songs out there. We're already working on a playlist.
  • Weigh 190-195. I dropped 55 pounds in 2016. With 20-25 pounds to go, I feel confident that I can hit the 190-195 mark in the coming year. My Air Force weight was 185, but that was with a super strict diet and lots of running. My aching knees don't allow me to run anymore, and I refuse to diet as strictly as I did in the Air Force. It's hard to say exactly where my weight will eventually settle, but 190-195 seems reasonable.
  • Submit choral music to publishers or self publish. I've written a lot of music for my choir at Northwest UU Congregation. I plan to go through the music I've written for my choir and bookmark those that I think are publishable. Some may require revisions, and some may be perfect as they are. Then I'll have to decide whether to submit them to publishers or self-publish. I'm leaning toward self-publishing. With my background as a professional music engraver, I can create a great looking musical score. And with digital technology, I can easily create PDF scores for customers to download.
  • Memorize a total of 130 Godfrey and Guy songs. I have memorized 107 Godfrey and Guy songs, so I only have to memorize 23 to meet this goal. Some of the songs that remain unmemorized are tricky, and I have to constantly play through the 107 memorized songs so I don't forget them. With that in mind, I think that memorizing 23 songs is a reasonable goal.
I'm excited about the upcoming year. So what are your goals?