About Me

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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.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Taking Chances

There's a change in the air. I couldn't tell you exactly what it is. All I know is that I've been taking more chances recently. Those who have known me for a long time know that I typically prefer to have my music  just so…orderly, predictable, and safe. The same goes with my personal life. When you live as a hermit, only leaving the apartment to run errands or play gigs, it's very easy to order your life.

Now I'm starting to seek new directions. I'm taking more chances with my playing, and I'm taking more chances with my personal life, stepping out and meeting people instead of staying home in my man cave. It's hard to say when it started. Maybe it began when I first started seeing results from exercising and improving my diet, but I think it may have started earlier, maybe as I was making the decision to make a lifestyle change and lose my excess weight. I wanted my outside to reflect my inside.

I tend to build walls around myself, and in a sense, my extra weight has been a physical wall, hiding the me inside. Lately I was struck by a comment from a new friend who appreciated how open and willing I am to share my life's journey with others. She wouldn't have made that comment a few months ago, because I wasn't very open at all. She didn't even know me then. She only sees who I've become now and has no idea how closed off I've been over the past several years.

As far as playing, I find myself yearning for new experiences. I still love playing background music, but I'm finding it isn't enough. Lately I've been deliberately putting myself in uncomfortable situations, just to see how well I can adapt. For example, I just started playing a weekly Wednesday night gig at Rotagilla Creole Cafe. I could play it safe and just perform my usual solo or duo material, but instead, I'm inviting other musicians to join me every week. Some of them will be other jazz musicians, but some of them will perform other styles. Every Wednesday night will be a roll of the dice.

While I'm mixing and matching my musician friends on Wednesday nights, I'm also interested in mixing musical genres. A Celtic-Jazz combination could be interesting. A few weeks ago I heard a terrific African drumming ensemble, Sehwe Village Percussion, and I heard very clearly in my head how a jazz guitar could fit into the mix.

One of my musical heroes, Miles Davis, deliberately put himself in uncomfortable situations so he could grow. I suppose I'm following his example as an artist. I'll almost certainly be playing background music over the years, but don't be surprised if you go to an African drumming concert or an Irish pub and see me pulling out my jazz guitar!

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Exposure (the "E" word)

There is a word I sometimes get tired of when I'm looking for gigs: exposure. Many establishments act like they're doing you a favor when they graciously allow you to play for exposure (free). I certainly play my fair share of "exposure" gigs, but I'm choosy about where I play. In general, I limit my free playing to 45 South Cafe, Mighty Joe Espresso, and Rotagilla Creole Cafe, where I've just begun a weekly Wednesday gig. I play at these places because I like the people, and they treat their musicians well. I do NOT "play for exposure" anywhere the management acts like they're doing you a favor by playing for free.

I've recently created my own kind of exposure gig: the business mixer. I'm focusing heavily on finding background music gigs. The very nature of the music makes it hard for me to stand out. After all, if I rock the house as a background musician, I'm not doing my job! You don't really develop a fan base as a background musician, so instead of going after fans, you have to seek out people who can hire or refer you. In my case, this means establishing relationships with other professionals, including but not limited to event planners and caterers. This is where the business mixer comes in.

A couple weeks ago I played during a wedding professional networking seminar. I had already signed up for the seminar, but then I realized that the best way to advertise my music was to perform, so I volunteered to play at the event. I landed a country club gig as a direct result of participating, and I've established friendly relationships with several event planners and caterers. Next month I'm going to play for a business mixer, with the goal of establishing more relationships and collecting as many business cards as possible.

In my naivete, when I started making plans to become a professional musician, I thought that I would be all set if I could hook up with one or two event planners and caterers. Wrong! I need to establish relationships with as many event planners and caterers as I possibly can. To this end, I'm going to regularly seek out more "exposure gigs" at business mixers. I'm playing for free, but really, it's free advertising.

To be a working musician, I feel that most exposure gigs in restaurants are a dead end, unless you're playing specifically to build a fan base. With the kind of work I'm looking for, my best bet is to go to business mixers and play for the people who can hire me.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Mild Case of G.A.S.

Many guitarists have a bad case of G.A.S. – Guitar Acquisition Syndrome, sometimes known as Gear Acquisition Syndrome. If you want to rock out, you'll want an electric guitar, and many jazz guitarists (like me) like to play archtop guitars. For classical music, you'll need a classical nylon string guitar, and you'll need an acoustic guitar for folk music. And then there are the many, many cool guitar toys! Effects pedals, amps, and much more. Like many guitarists, I regularly look at guitar porn…catalogs from Sam Ash, Guitar Center, Sweetwater, and other music stores. I eagerly thumb through each catalog to see what's new, and I dog ear each page that has something I might "need."

My G.A.S. is relatively mild. I've never been a big gear nut, and I don't automatically buy every new thing that comes out – mostly because money is in short supply. If I suddenly found myself with a lot of money, I suspect my G.A.S. would worsen.

The rest of this blog is dedicated to the gear I use most often.

Guitars: From left to right, my three guitars are a Heritage 170CM, a Heritage 575, and a Godin Nylon SA.

The red Heritage 170 on the left is my newest and oldest guitar. I bought it less than a year ago at Earthshaking Music, so it's the newest guitar in the family, but the guitar is 25 years old. I can get a wide variety of sounds from this instrument, and it's perfect for the eclectic soul fusion of InTown Band. This little guitar is ridiculously easy to play.

The Heritage 575 in the middle is my main axe. It's beautiful to look at, and it's even more beautiful to hear. This jazz box has an incredibly sweet sound, and it's easy to play. I play this guitar with On the Cool Side, as a soloist, and as a rhythm guitar when I sub with the Atlanta Swing Orchestra and the Sentimental Journey Orchestra.

The Godin on the right is an electric nylon string guitar. Although it's electric, it has a very convincing classical sound. I often use the Godin for solo and duo settings. I just love the sound of finger style jazz arrangements played on a nylon string guitar. One really cool thing about this guitar is that it can be plugged into a synthesizer, which gives me access to a whole world of sounds, including strings, winds, and exotic instruments from all over the world.

Since I play all electric guitars, I need amps. My two main amps are the Roland Cube 60 and the Roland AC-90.

I use the Cube 60 for the two Heritage guitars. Although you can use the Cube 60's lead channel to get a variety of sounds, I only use this amp for the clean sound. (A clean sound in guitar-speak means the sound you get without any effects added.) It's absolutely perfect for jazz guitar, and it has reverb built right in. With the Heritage 575 (my jazz guitar), this may be the only amp I'll ever need.

The AC-90 is designed for acoustic guitars. This is what I use with the Godin nylon string, and it sounds pretty decent with the Heritage jazz box, too. The AC-90 has built in reverb, and it also has a separate input for a second instrument or a microphone. Most guitar amps sound terrible if you sing through them, but you can get a surprisingly good vocal sound out of the AC-90.

I don't have a wide array of effects pedals, but I use a few. When I play with InTown Band, I use the Boss ME-50 multi-effects pedal. I use the small pedal on the left to add distortion. I use the small pedal in the middle if I want to add a tremolo sound, and the small pedal on the right is for a delay effect (an echo effect). I use the big pedal on the right for a wah-wah sound.

And finally, we have a Boss chorus pedal and a tuner pedal. I love this little blue chorus pedal. If I get the settings just right, I can create a transparent, glassy tone that sounds great with many of InTown Band's mellower songs. The Boss TU-2 tuner is always in my gear bag. First of all, it's an excellent tuner, but it has side benefit. When you step on the pedal to turn it on, it mutes the guitar sound, so the audience doesn't have to listen to you tune. This comes in handy when I play in church at NWUUC. If a string goes out of tune during the service, I can quietly retune without bothering the congregation.

That's about it. Compared to your average folk guitarist, I suppose I have a lot of gear, but this is nothing compared to what many rock guitarists might use. I like to keep my rig simple, and aside from InTown Band's music, the only effect I use regularly is a touch of reverb.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Planting Seeds

My music engraving work has been scarce recently. This happens. It's part of being a freelancer. I'll have another couple projects coming my way soon, but aside from that, I have no music engraving work. Summer is always hard. I'm pretty sure that my clients conspire. They'll hold off sending me any projects for a few months, and then suddenly I'll receive a dozen concert band pieces, twenty choral octavos, and a symphony in the same week. I'm not exaggerating. This has happened.

Since the music engraving has dried up for now, I have a lot of extra time on my hands. This is an opportunity to take steps to enhance my performing career. None of these new projects are likely to land me gigs this week. I'm planting seeds, and I'm confident they'll bear fruit in a few months.

Last week I attended a business networking seminar hosted by Elite Events. I'm still trying to process all the information they gave us. As a result of that seminar, I made improvements to my website, learned more about advertising, and met several other people who are also trying to tap into the wedding market. I've spent the past few days following up on the contacts I've made. I would love for them to all hire or refer me this very moment, but it doesn't work that way. Instead, I'm simply trying to establish and maintain friendly relations. I'm planting seeds, and the gigs will come later.

Starting June 23, I'll be playing Wednesday nights at Rotagilla Creole Cafe in Tucker. This is a free gig, but I can opt out any time I find something better. I'll be using this as an opportunity to improve my people skills – connecting with the customers through banter, song selection, and simple eye contact. As a classical trombone player, it was sacrilegious to speak to the audience when I was sitting in the back of a band or orchestra. In my new incarnation as a jazz guitarist, I want to be more open and inviting, and this little Rotagilla gig is just what I need right now.

Another way I'm planting seeds is by learning how to use recording software to create backing tracks for myself. I prefer playing with a band, but in order to make myself more marketable, I'm creating backing tracks to sing or play with. There's also something very cool about carrying an entire "band" in your iPod. The disadvantage of creating my own tracks is that it takes a lot of time. The advantages are many. It costs less. I have total control over each recording. I'm not stuck with just one version of a backing track. I can edit any track as I see fit, and later on, when I'm better at using the software, I'll be able to arrange my backing tracks in ways that I can't even conceive right now. This project will take a long time. Again, I'm planting seeds. Having a library of backing tracks will make me attractive to some potential clients, and it'll also allow me to play for three or four hours at a time even if I happen to be experiencing voice problems. Having the ability to create custom backing tracks will also make me more attractive to potential wedding clients with specific song requests.

I have so many projects going on right now. I sometimes wonder how long I can keep up this juggling act. I feel that all this work is well worth the time, and that I'm stumbling in the right direction!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Losing It #4: Easy Does It

As I continue to lose weight, I am meeting little milestones that keep me motivated. There's the Sunday weigh-in, of course. The scale doesn't lie, and it's satisfying to watch the numbers decrease every week. I'm a chronic list maker and recorder of things, and so I keep track of my weekly progress on a piece of paper that is stuck to my refrigerator door. My belt is another motivator. I've tightened my belt by two notches. In another two or three weeks, I'll need a smaller belt. I have several pants that almost fit. These are pants that I outgrew, but I'll be able to fit into them in a few weeks. I also have pants from when I was much, much lighter. I won't have to shop for pants for a while. I'll just take the pants I already own and wear them in descending order. I can wear all my suit coats again without worrying that I'll pop a button.

Lately I've found that I'm not embarrassed by pictures of myself anymore. I'm gradually beginning to look like the me I want to be. In pictures from the past few years, I look round…tummy, face, everything. Round. To be honest, one of the reasons I grew a goatee was to help hide my double chin. I don't want to look like a collection of spheres anymore. I'd like to have some angles again. (Even after I lose the weight, I'll keep the goatee. I kind of like it.)

My approach to this weight loss adventure has been different from years past. As I explained in Losing It #1, I've lost significant weight three times before, but I've always gained it back. In the past, I've gone into my weight loss phases with guns blazing. Whatever I choose to do, I tend to go all out. I'm not competitive with others, but I'm very demanding of myself. The first time I lost a lot of weight, I started lifting weights, but I couldn't just go work out for the health of it. I had to become a bodybuilder, and I approached each workout as if I were going into battle. After I lost weight for the Air Force, I started running, but I couldn't just run for fun and fitness. I had to start entering races, always trying to run faster and faster. It's no wonder I couldn't stick with the program when I was pushing myself so hard.

Now I'm no longer pressuring myself. This time my philosophy is to take it easy and approach it as a gentle lifestyle change. Several years ago, I was proud to be able to throw heavy weights around or run a fast 10K race. Now I'm taking long walks in the morning, happy to be interrupted when a cat runs out into the road looking for attention. I'm even thinking about taking up yoga to help improve my flexibility and alleviate back pain. While I couldn't push myself forever in the weight room or in road races, I will definitely be able to continue my daily walks even after I've shed my extra pounds. In fact, I'll want to take a daily walk.

That's the key right there, at least for me. Find an exercise you enjoy, and build it into your schedule. Don't think of it as extra or special. Just do it for fun and make it part of your life.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Networking Newbie

The next sentence is not uttered by many musicians. This week I'll be attending a business seminar and networking event.

In March, I exhibited in a bridal show at the Cobb Galleria. It was expensive, but I looked on it as an investment. This was a chance to meet people who are in a position to hire musicians – not just future brides, but event planners, caterers, and other professionals.

Last month I learned that exhibitors at the Elite Events shows are invited to seminars and networking meetings. That's how I ended up signing up for a networking event this week. This is going to be a whole new experience for me. As I understand it, during the networking hour, each person will stand and give a 1-2 minute speech about their business. I wrote my presentation yesterday morning, and I've been practicing my little speech as diligently as I practice my scales. One benefit to my daily walk, aside from losing weight, is that it gives me a lot of time to practice my speech.

I volunteered to play solo jazz guitar at the seminar. I'll be playing during the 30-minute registration and during the lunch hour. I'm doing Elite Events a favor by providing mood music, but this is equally beneficial to me. While the rest of the participants have two minutes to present their business to the whole room, I have two minutes of speaking time plus ninety minutes of playing time to demonstrate exactly what I do. The funny thing is that I'm more nervous about my two-minute speech than I am about playing solo guitar for an hour and a half!

I haven't even been to it yet, but this seminar has already helped me. The process of preparing a two-minute speech has helped me adjust my focus. I'm juggling many, many projects, but where does it all tie in? Simple. My goal is to become the #1 background guitar player in Atlanta. An unusual goal? Yes, but there it is. My whole life has been one unconventional turn after another.

Today is Sunday. The seminar is Wednesday. I hope to start friendly relationships with event planners, caterers, restaurant and hotel representatives, and anyone else who is interested in live music. If you happen to see me talking out loud on my morning walk, I'm practicing my speech. If you happen to see me talking out loud on my morning walk after Wednesday, I'm just talking to myself. Wish me luck!