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 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Short Recording Session

This weekend, InTown Band had a short, four-hour recording session at Earthshaking Music. It was indeed brief. Although we reserved a four-hour block of studio time, only half of it was spent actually recording music. We spent about an hour setting up, and we spent another hour of time after recording to get a rough mix (balancing the volume levels of the instruments and voices). That left two hours to record. Amazingly, we knocked out seven songs in two hours, which is quite a feat if you consider that we rehearsed a bit, talked through a few things, and so forth.

I couldn't be happier with the result. We recorded nearly everything in one take, and we just had a few minor problems to fix along the way. Most recordings these days are highly overdubbed. Someone will record the rhythm parts first (to a click track), then someone else may overdub guitar or piano parts, and eventually the vocals will be added. It's a very precise way of recording, but it's also easy to create recordings that sound artificial. InTown Band basically created a live recording. We didn't add any special effects after the fact, and we didn't overdub layers of instruments. We wanted to capture our live sound, and we succeeded. What you'll hear on the recording is how we sound when we play live and in person, and I'm so happy with the way it turned out.

We still have work to do on the project. We'll most likely reserve another block of studio time to fix a few small things and then fine tune the mix. In another month or two, we'll have seven songs available for download, and we plan on recording a full album by the end of the year.

InTown Band is such a fun group. I love everybody in the band. We have a great time rehearsing and performing, and I feel we have a lot to offer with our original music. This short recording is a big step for us, and I hope it's just the beginning.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Losing It #7: Halfway Home

I've lost 60 pounds since April 11, when I decided to lose weight once and for all. I still have 60 pounds to go before I reach my target weight of 200 pounds. The way things are going, I'm on target to reach my goal sometime in December. When I bit the bullet on April 11 and stepped on the scale for the first time in years, I was dearly hoping I wouldn't weigh over 300 pounds. My heart sank when I saw that I weighed 323. That was not a fun moment, but sometimes it's best to look truth in the face and just deal with it.

Many good things have happened since I started walking and watching my diet: a shrinking waistline, compliments from my friends, improved physical fitness, less pain in my knees, and greater self confidence. I've also noticed that others seem to be encouraged by my efforts. Many of my friends have either started or renewed their own exercise programs. It's a good feeling not only to be losing weight for myself, but also to know that I'm helping to motivate others to do the same. My story may help inspire others to exercise, but they in turn keep me motivated.

I wish I could play the martyr and write about how difficult this process has been for me, but to be honest, it hasn't been difficult at all. That's not to say that it's easy as pie (mmm…pie). Once I honestly and truly made the decision to lose weight, the rest fell into place. I'm an analytical person. To me, the process of losing weight is a numbers game. As long as I'm burning more calories than I consume, I'm losing weight.

The trick to weight loss is to make it a routine instead of something "special" that you have to endure until you've hit your target weight. I don't do anything crazy. I walk every morning for an hour. I restrict my calories but don't starve myself, and I avoid sugar. I don't keep junk food at home. I weigh myself every Sunday morning to monitor my progress. It's pretty simple. Once I've reached the 200 pound weight, I'll keep this routine. The only difference is that I'll be able to eat a bigger dinner and occasionally splurge on a treat…but I'll never again keep junk food in the house!

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Arranging for Solo Jazz Guitar

One of my favorite parts of being a musician is arranging songs for solo jazz guitar. It's one thing to learn the melody and chords enough to play along with a group. It's something else to arrange a song so that you can carry the whole load with six strings. There is a lot of illusion involved in solo guitar playing. For example, I can't always keep an interesting bass line going when I'm trying to play melody and chords, too, but if I can play pieces of a walking bass part, the listener fills in the rest. If I choose the right chord voicings, you can often hear harmony lines that I'm not really playing. We all tend to construct patterns to help understand the world around us, and this concept applies to arranging for guitar. If you give the listener enough to grab onto, she can fill in the rest for herself.

I enjoy puzzles. Arranging for jazz guitar provides a lifetime's worth of puzzle satisfaction and frustration. For example, you need to know chords – many, many chords. Lots of chords. Not only do you have to know many chords, but you need to know five or six ways to play any given chord, depending on where you happen to be on the fretboard. **Warning! Jargon alert!** The melody dictates which chord note is the highest note, so if you happen to be playing a Bm7b5 chord with a D on the first string (10th fret), you're going to need to know how to play a Bm7b5 chord somewhere around the 10th fret. If the melody note D is on the second string (3rd fret), you're going to need to know how to play that same chord somewhere around the 3rd fret. **End of jargon alert.** Sorry to get technical, but the point is that you need to know many chords and many variations of those chords if you're going to arrange music for solo jazz guitar, and this is only one aspect of the puzzle.

Although I'm normally very analytical, I tend to write arrangements with a more subconscious approach. Before I write a single note, I may spend one or two weeks simply playing from a lead sheet, making an arrangement up as I go along, letting my fingers do the thinking for me. Melody is king. Above all, I want people to be able to recognize the melody and sing along. After a week or two, most of the arrangement will be complete. At this point, I'll finally write it down on paper. Once it's written down, the editing begins. A writer will revise her story. I'll revise my arrangements. I might find a place where I can add a walking bass line or a more interesting harmony, or maybe I'll finally be able to find a solution for a tricky section that has eluded me.

Just because I've written an arrangement doesn't mean it's complete. My arrangements are never finished. I may refer to the written arrangement if I keep forgetting a certain spot, but otherwise, I'll put the paper away and let the arrangement grow on its own. As I learn new licks and tricks, an arrangement may take a new direction. My arrangement of Misty is vastly different than it was five years ago, when I first wrote it. I never changed it on purpose. It just sort of morphed into something else.

That's one of the beautiful things about jazz. Nothing is set in stone. Just because I played a certain way today doesn't mean I have to play the same way tomorrow. Every time I learn something new, it manifests itself somewhere in my playing.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Losing It #6: Choices, Choices

Who you are today is the sum total of your decisions and actions up to this point. You can't change the past, but you can alter your present course by making different choices. You can make new choices and take action now, right this very moment.

I weighed 323 pounds before I finally made the choice to lose weight and regain my health. I didn't reach that weight overnight. It was a result of consistently poor health choices over the past several years. I've lost 56 pounds, and I have 77 more to go. The 56 pounds hasn't come off overnight, and neither will the rest. I reached my highest weight of 323 by consistently choosing chips, Ben and Jerry's, and lethargy. I'll reach my target weight of 200 by consistently choosing long walks and healthy foods.

Who you are today is the sum total of your decisions and actions up to this point. You can't change the past, but you can alter your present course by making different choices. You can make new choices and take action now, right this very moment.

I made a lot of money as a full time music engraver, but I wasn't very happy. I didn't know how much I missed being a musician until my ex-wife gave me a guitar for Christmas 6 years ago, I instantly chose to restart a performance career. It wasn't long before I made the decision to cut way back on my music engraving. I chose to practice at least four hours a day and pursue as many performance opportunities as possible. Because of my choices, I progressed from stone cold beginner to a professional level player in fewer than five years. Through my playing, I'm finding fulfillment once again as an artist, and I'm meeting people, forming new friendships, and feeling more connected with my community every day. Another result of my choice to cut back on music engraving is that I'm dirt poor, but I have faith that I'll soon start earning enough money through performing to pull me through.

Who you are today is the sum total of your decisions and actions up to this point. You can't change the past, but you can alter your present course by making different choices. You can make new choices and take action now, right this very moment.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Feeling Loopy

As much as I enjoy guitar toys, I'm not as big a gear head as many players. (Read A Mild Case of G.A.S. for more details.) While I enjoy checking out music gear, my own equipment is fairly minimal. I don't have a lot of money, so I only purchase equipment if I'm going to use it.

My newest piece of gear is the Boss RC-50 Loop Station. This is not a new purchase. I've owned it for a while. It's tricky to use at first, which is why I haven't taken it out in public yet. It's like learning an instrument. You want to practice and master the basics before you play it in front of people, especially when you're being paid.

What does this thing do? I'm glad you asked. The RC-50 looper records phrases and plays them back repeatedly. You can also add layers of sounds and essentially create your own "band." You can pound out a drum rhythm on your guitar and have an instant "drummer." Then you can play a bass line, which repeats, adding another layer of rhythm guitar chords on top of the bass line. It has a microphone connection, so you can sing or play into a microphone and add voice or percussion loops.

While the musical possibilities are endless, I'm using the looper in a minimal way for now. Let's say I'm going to use the looper to enhance a medium swing song. What I'll do is play a basic swing beat on muted guitar strings (so you don't hear notes, you just hear the thwack of my hand hitting the strings). After I set up the beat, I'll sing the song. While I'm singing the song, I'm recording the guitar accompaniment. After I've sung the song, I'll continue to loop the guitar accompaniment while I improvise single line melodies on the guitar. With the rhythm guitar part looping over and over, I'm essentially accompanying myself as I play lead guitar. I get more elaborate with instrumentals, usually playing a tasty bass line, then adding a rhythm guitar part, and finally playing the melody.

Of course, if I miss a chord, I have to hear the wrong chord every time it loops back around. The solution is to not miss any chords!

In about a week, I'm going to be playing a 3.5 hour solo gig. I have about 4 hours worth of solo material, so I'm not lacking for repertoire, but the thought of playing solo for 3.5 hours makes my hand hurt just thinking about it. Playing single line solos is much easier on the hands than playing full out chord/melody arrangements, so looping my guitar accompaniment and improvising single line melodies will be a good way to rest my hands throughout the night. I'll be using the looper not just for the added musical interest, but out of physical necessity.

Until I get past the basics, I'll be using the looper in a minimal sort of way. To see what a master can do with the RC-50, check out this video on YouTube.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Motivation: Have To vs Want To

Many people express their admiration for my ability to stay focused and motivated. My weight loss is going great. My new jazz guitar career is beginning to show promise. I was able to go from a total beginner to an entry level pro guitarist in five years. I built a music engraving business from nothing. While I'm experiencing success in my projects, what people don't see is the even greater number of projects that I've tried and failed.

There's no logical reason why I fail at some projects and succeed at others. Several years ago I began writing a book about music notation, but I fizzled out. The book project wasn't any more challenging than developing guitar skills, so why did I succeed at becoming a good guitarist when I failed at writing the book? Motivation.

I believe true motivation comes from "want to" rather than "have to."

Let's take weight loss as an example. I've tried to lose weight before. Sometimes I succeeded. More often I failed. Of course I should lose weight for my health and well being, but that's not much of a motivator for me. It's not enough that I should lose weight for my own good. This time it's different because I truly want to lose weight. I want to lose weight for my health, because I have so many interesting projects going on that I want to stay alive as long as possible to see them through. I want to lose weight for my career, because many people will hire me based on looks just as much as musicianship. I want to lose weight for sheer vanity, so I can be more attractive to the ladies! Health, career, and vanity – these are much more compelling reasons than "it's for your own good."

My fledgling career as a jazz guitarist and singer is another good example. If I'd wanted to play it safe, I could have remained a full time music engraver. It was good money. It was steady. It was safe. It was boring. When I started learning guitar, though, I felt like I was on fire. I knew immediately that I wanted to resurrect a career as a performer. From day one, I was totally focused on learning to play the guitar, and when I discovered the endless wonder and puzzle of jazz guitar, my path was set. I remain focused on being the best guitarist I can be. Every day I practice scales and patterns that others might consider boring, but I actually enjoy and want to play my daily exercises, because I know that they're making me a better player.

Whatever path you choose, I hope it's something that excites you and motivates you. There are plenty of things in life that you have to do, but what makes it worthwhile is when you find something you want to do.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Losing It #5: Walking Man

It's official. I'm hooked on walking. I started walking a few months ago to lose weight, but walking has become more than just exercise. This morning I played a Sunday morning service. I set the alarm an hour early simply because I feel better once I've had my morning walk. I've experience many benefits since I've begun walking regularly.

  • My knees don't bother me as much. Over the past year I've developed a problem with my knees. It's painful to kneel down, or to be more accurate, it's painful to stand up after I've been kneeling. While sitting, if I keep my legs in a bent position, they'll begin to ache if I keep them in one position for a long time. While this is still a problem, the pain has lessened since I've begun walking. The improvement is probably due to a combination of exercising the joints and having less weight to bear as I shed my pounds. The pain may never totally go away, but it's encouraging to feel my knees improving.
  • Walking doesn't trigger my competitive instincts. In my physical prime, I tried both bodybuilding and long distance running…not at the same time. These two physical activities are mutually exclusive! They were both a great way to stay in shape, but I tend to become competitive, not with others, but with myself. As a weightlifter, I would always try to lift more and more, and as a runner, I would always strive to run faster and longer. These healthy activities became obsessions. I would start spending too much time at the gym, or I would do crazy stuff like try to lose an extra five pounds just to be lighter and run faster (back at a time in my life when I didn't have five pounds to lose). It's hard to get into a competitive mindset while walking, especially when you're waving to the neighbors and stopping to pet friendly cats. Walking is something I can do for the long haul without putting extra pressure on myself to perform, and it should be simple to maintain my target weight once I've lost the excess pounds. I'll simply be able to keep walking as I'm doing now, only I'll be able to eat more to maintain an equilibrium.
  • Walking makes me feel connected. For me, there's something about getting outside and putting my feet on the ground that makes me feel more connected with the world around me. There are other walkers and runners that say hello, and there are the neighborhood cats that greet me and let me pet them. Lately I've felt more open to new experiences. There's more to this change than just taking a daily stroll, but walking is certainly a factor.
Whatever you do, whether it's walking, running, rowing, or riding a bike, I hope that you can find an exercise that fulfills you and becomes more than just exercise.