Being a jazz guitar player of only six years, there are many skills I wish I possessed. If I had been playing guitar since I was 7 instead of 37, I would be able to play a wider variety of styles and maybe even be making a good living as a studio player. In the short time I've been playing guitar, I've focused on jazz, and I've learned enough to fake my way through some other styles through my experience playing with Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey.
Another area in which I'm lacking is technique. I have my moments, but I don't possess the sheer speed that some guitar players have. I work on technique daily through scales, patterns, arpeggios, and etudes. Fast technique isn't something that you gain overnight. It starts with accuracy, and the speed comes later. It's one of those things that you may only realize you have after you've had it for a while. When I was a trombone player, all of my practicing came together after about 12 years, and one day I realized that I was able to sight-read music that I would have found difficult only a few years earlier. I've only been playing guitar 6 years, so all I can do is keep practicing and hope that it all starts coming together in another 6!
I also wish I knew more jazz standards and licks, but again, I've only been at this for six years, the first two of which I was just learning basic chords and scales. As with technique, my repertoire and bag of licks will grow over time.
Although I'm lacking in some areas due to inexperience, I make up for it in other areas due to my classical training and experience as a music engraver. For a jazz guitarist, I have an odd assortment of skills.
My main "other" skill is music engraving. Some guitar players teach. I've found that I don't enjoy teaching, so I'm fortunate to be able to pay the bills from engraving. Every small group that I've been in has benefited from my music engraving skills, especially On the Cool Side. It helps to have everyone on the same page, literally, and it helps even more that the music they're reading is professionally copied. On the Cool Side may not yet be the best known band in Atlanta, but I bet we've the best looking book in town!
I can also conduct. How many jazz guitar players can get in front of a choir, band, or orchestra with a stick in their hand and look like they know what they're doing? My conducting skills came in handy last year when I served as interim music director at NWUUC. Conducting experience is also very useful in running a small group, such as On the Cool Side. Conducting is more than just waving a stick. A good conductor knows how to run an efficient rehearsal and fix problem areas. In my experience, most jazz groups don't rehearse effectively. They'll run through an entire song and talk about it a little bit, usually forgetting where the problem spots were. Then they'll maybe run it again and usually make the same mistakes they did the first time. In my rehearsals, we'll often run through intros and endings first, or we'll hit a tricky spot in the middle. While many jazz groups will run through an entire song, if I hear a problem, I'll stop the band and fix it then and there.
I can read music. This may seem like an odd "other" skill, but I've found that many guitar players are weak in this department. Some guitarists say they read just enough music so it doesn't get in the way, but trust me, musical literacy is not a handicap. As a music reader, I am able to sight-read a melody without having to hear it first. I can sing in a choir and sight-read my part. I can write out my own songs without having to rely on anyone else to interpret them for me. I can read down a big band part that includes both chord charts and written out lines. I don't know a single musician who regrets learning to read music!
I'm the first to admit that I'm lacking in some areas of guitar playing, all of which will improve with time and practice. Meanwhile, I have to keep reminding myself that it'll be a long time (or maybe never) before I'm satisfied with my progress, but I have other skills that I can use. Everyone has a unique combination of talents, and it's up to each of us to figure out what to do with them.
- Tom Godfrey
- 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, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.