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, August 30, 2010

Learn Tunes


Joe Pass was one of the best jazz guitarists, period, and he's one of my main musical inspirations. When asked what a developing guitarist should practice, he responded with "learn tunes." In other words, all you need to know is contained in the jazz repertoire. Now I suspect that Joe spent plenty of time practicing licks and scales, but I think he meant that you should spent most of your time learning the repertoire, because the licks and scales are all there in the music.

Lately I've gotten away from learning tunes. I've been spending a lot of time working on technique, especially scales, arpeggios, scale patterns, licks, and pick speed. There's nothing wrong with this. It's a necessity at my stage of development. While I'm not setting the world on fire, my technique has definitely improved over the past several months, but I've drifted away from learning tunes. It's time for a course correction.

When I was a classical trombonist, I played a lot of etudes. An etude is a piece of music written for study, not necessarily for performance. An etude is meant to help the player focus on one or two aspects of playing. For developing legato technique on trombone, you absolutely have to work through the Rochut Melodious Etudes for Trombone. And then there are the Blazhevich Clef Studies that were written specifically to help (or force) the trombone player to be comfortable reading bass, tenor, and alto clefs.

From now on, jazz melodies will be my etudes. Today, I started working on Joy Spring. I've been in love with this melody since the first time I heard it. It's tricky. My single line technique will improve as I get this melody under my fingers. My improvisation will improve as I learn to navigate the chord changes. I'm not going to stop playing scales, patterns, and licks, but I'm going to renew my focus on learning tunes.

In case you haven't heard Joe Pass, click here for a YouTube clip of Joe Pass performing Joe's Blues.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Losing It #11: Plateau

The bad news is that I've lost very little weight over the last two weeks. The good news is that my pants have loosened, and I've had to tighten my belt one more notch.

About 6 weeks ago, I started a strength-building routine: crunches, push-ups, and curls. I've added a little bit of muscle to my frame. If I add a few pounds of muscle while burning the same weight in fat, the number on the scale will read the same, even as my clothes fit better. This would explain looser pants in spite of minimal weight loss. An added benefit to adding muscle is that it requires extra calories for your body to retain muscle mass. In other words, having more muscle helps you burn fat. While the numbers on the scale have barely budged over the last couple weeks, in the long run, my extra muscle will turn me into a fat burning machine!

So far, I've lost over 70 pounds through careful diet and consistent exercise, and that's how I'll lose the remaining 50.

If you've lost a lot of weight but find yourself at a plateau, don't worry. You'll be fine. Just keep doing what you're doing.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Losing It #10: Running Man (sort of)

I ran a quarter mile today. I realize that I haven't set any endurance records, but considering that I weighed 323 pounds only four months ago, I can be proud of this. I've lost over 70 pounds from walking, but lately I've had the itch to start running again. I wave to the runners on my daily walk, and part my heart runs with them.

My body has gone through a remarkable change over the past few months. The most noticeable change is on the outside, as I continue to shrink, but I also feel a big change on the inside as my body adjusts to my increasing physical demands. When I began walking, I was weary and footsore after a 30-minute walk. My body soon adjusted, and I was able to increase the length of my daily walk. Today I walk 4 miles on weekdays and 8 miles on weekends.

The next logical step after walking is running. I'd like to dive right into running, but because I'm still heavy, I have to be careful. My legs and heart have been strengthened by taking long walks, but my joints and tendons aren't quite ready for long runs. Last week I began introducing a very short run into my daily walk. When I say a very short run, I'm talking about a whopping 100 feet. This is to prepare my joints for the added stress of running. The plan is to very, very gradually increase the length of my run. I'm not in a hurry. I'm not preparing for a race. There's no deadline. I'm feeling my way through this. I'm gradually increasing distance as my body adjusts.

Today I ran a quarter mile without discomfort. As a matter of fact, I wasn't breathing much harder than when I walk. I'll stick with a quarter mile for the next couple weeks, let my body adjust, and then add a little more. Assuming all goes well, I should be running regularly by November or December.

Back in my Air Force days, I was quite the runner…not world class by any means, but pretty fast. I trained for speed over medium distances and clocked some pretty decent times at local 5K and 10K runs. This time around, I'm not planning to train for speed. Those days are past. When I'm running again, it'll be purely for health and pleasure.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Interview

My last "real" job was as the head of the graphics department for the Mark Foster Music Company back in 1998 or so. This overstates the case. I was the graphics department, and I didn't do anything fancy. My two main jobs were to create ads for choral music trade journals and to create printing plates. I've been a freelance music engraver since then, and more recently I've been a freelance guitarist and singer.

For the first time in over a decade, I've applied for a job. This is a quarter time position as director of music at a Unitarian Universalist church in Atlanta. With a 10 hour per week time commitment, money is not the key factor here. Last year, I was interim music director at the Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation. I enjoyed the experience so much that I decided I would send a resume the next time a similar job opened up. Last month I saw a notice for this position, and I sent my resume immediately.

My interview was today. I was only invited to the interview yesterday, which was both good and bad. The downside was that I had very little time to prepare. The upside was that I didn't have time to get nervous and obsessive about it. The interview went quite well. I felt I had good rapport with the minister and the search committee. I didn't have time to anticipate questions, so my answers were off the cuff and heartfelt. I've never felt so comfortable and "myself" at a job interview. Part of that may be due to my increasing confidence as a performer, but mostly I think it was my attitude about the interview. I didn't try to provide the "right" answer to their questions. I presented myself openly and honestly, leaving it up to them to decide if I was what they were looking for. They seemed to have a good feeling about me, and I have a good feeling about them.

They are interviewing a few more candidates. For round two, 2-3 candidates will be invited to audition. Each candidate will lead a choir rehearsal and then lead the choir (and the music in general) for a Sunday service. I feel confident that I'll be invited to the audition round, but I won't know anything for certain until next week.

I'll be looking at some music that I would like to rehearse with the choir. If I'm invited to audition on short notice, I'll be ready. If I'm not invited to audition, well, time spent studying music is never wasted. Aside from studying some musical scores, this week will be business as usual: practicing, music engraving, rehearsing, and scaring up gigs.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Losing It #9: Strength and Stretching

In my blogs about losing weight (70 pounds so far!), I often write about walking, but walking isn't my only exercise. I also stretch and strengthen.

What I'm about to write isn't exactly top secret. You can read about it just about anywhere, but since you're here now, you might as well hear it from me.

There are three basic types of exercises: aerobic, strengthening, and stretching. Aerobic exercise, such as walking or cycling, can improve your overall stamina and heart health. My choice of aerobic exercise, walking, is what I write about most often, and it's the key exercise in my weight loss routine.

Aerobic exercise is great for burning fat, but strengthening exercises are also a great help. When you perform strength exercises on a regular basis, you add muscle. The coolest thing about this, for weight loss, is that increasing your muscle muscle mass increases your metabolism. In other words, simply by having more muscle, you burn more fat, even if you're just, say, blogging at your computer. Back in my glory days, I was into bodybuilding, but there's no need to spend hours at the gym. Today, my strength routine is very basic: crunches, push-ups, and dumbbell curls. I don't need a gym, and the only equipment I require is a light set of dumbbells.

Women, if you're afraid of bulking up, don't be. For the average woman, you have to do a lot of heavy lifting before you even begin to look bulky. Also, for both men and women, if you're looking to build big muscles, you'll want to lift heavy weights with fewer repetitions. If you're looking to tone your muscles, you'll want to lift lighter weights with more repetitions. Me? I'm not looking to recapture my bodybuilder physique. I'm using lighter weights and high repetitions so that I'll have some muscle tone when I reach my target weight.

Stretching doesn't increase fat burning, but it helps prevent injury. I have a bad back, and stretching exercises my hamstrings and butt helps to keep my back loose. I haven't gotten around to it yet, but I keep meaning to take up yoga. Many, many people have recommended yoga to me. I haven't started it yet, but my stretching routine is largely based on some yoga exercises my ex-wife used to perform.

There's a really good book on stretching titled, oddly enough, Stretching. I highly recommend it.

If you want to lose weight, focus on aerobic exercise. Get out there and run, hike, walk, swim, cycle, and dance. For overall fitness, don't forget to strengthen and stretch.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Change Jar Principle

Like many of you, I have a change jar. I toss my loose change in it and don't think about it too much. It starts with an empty jar, then a handful of coins, slowly building up over time. After a year or two, I take it to one of those Coinstar machines. Depending on how long it's been since I last emptied out the change jar, I could have between $100-200.

Sometimes it seems like changes in our life come all at once, and sometimes I suppose they do. For the most part, though, I think these big events are a result of incremental changes or a series of choices we've made over time. Weight loss is a prime example. As of today, I have lost 70 pounds (with 53 still to lose). It didn't happen overnight. Over the last few months, every single day, I've made the choice to go for a long walk and eat healthy foods. Each day, I lose a few ounces – spare change. Every single time I make the choice to exercise and watch my diet, I add a little more change to that change jar. Over the course of a week, I'll lose 2-4 pounds. Weeks turn into months. Ounces turn into pounds. Pounds turn into tens of pounds. Assuming I continue making the same choices, I'll lose 123 pounds and hit my target weight sometime in December.

My fledgling career as a jazz musician is another example of incremental changes adding up over time. Six years ago, I was a beginning guitar player. Today, while I'm not earning enough to make a living at it yet, I'm performing quite a bit and sometimes (hold onto your seats) I'm getting paid for it. That's quite a jump for someone who didn't know a single guitar chord six years ago, but there have been a lot of choices and changes in between. The most important choice is to spend time practicing every day, usually 3-5 hours. You can't expect to land regular gigs until you've reached a certain level on your instrument. Other choices have included jumping at every opportunity to perform or rehearse with others. If I'm available, I always say yes if I'm asked to sub in a rehearsal with a big band. It doesn't matter that I'm not paid. What matters is that I'm gaining experience and networking with other musicians, some of whom may be in a position to hire or recommend me at a later date. I also play a whole bunch of non-paid gigs at restaurants and coffee shops. Again, it doesn't matter that I'm not paid. What matters is that I'm gaining performance experience, developing a repertoire, and occasionally meeting customers who may hire me to play at their party or wedding. Just a couple days ago, I booked a solo gig because someone heard me playing with On the Cool Side three months ago at a free gig. When I played that "nothing" gig, I put a little change in the change jar, and three months later I was hired to play for a VIP reception at the Decatur Book Festival, where I may very well meet other people who would like to hire me.

Someday, maybe in the next year, maybe in five or ten years, I may catch a break. Maybe I'll land a lucrative steady gig. Maybe I'll make a recording that sells well. Maybe I'll be hired to play in a name band. Or maybe I'll simply find that I'm extremely busy with a calendar full of well paid gigs. Whatever big thing suddenly happens, it'll only happen because I've been preparing for that moment, adding a little bit to my change jar every day through practicing and performing.

Maybe you want to lose weight, start a new career, go back to school, run a marathon, quit smoking, or climb a mountain. If there's a goal you want to accomplish, don't be discouraged if it's going to take you a long time to get there. Instead, use it as motivation. You already know it's not going to happen at once, so take small, easy actions. Every day, do something that will help you reach your goal, no matter how small it seems. Every coin adds a little bit to the pile.

Put a little change in the change jar, starting today.

A couple years ago, InTown Band (then Allen, Vinton, and Godfrey) cowrote a song called Change Jar. You can listen to it on our MySpace page.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why I Sing

I'm singing a lot these days. As a matter of fact, I rarely play a purely instrumental gig. It wasn't always this way. Before I injured my lip, all of my professional life as a trombone player was spent performing instrumental music. When I took up guitar, it was the same. I've always thought of myself as an instrumentalist, and I came into singing reluctantly. Actually, that's not entirely true. I've enjoyed singing in choirs from time to time, but I've never considered myself a solo singer until recently.

Although I've been an instrumentalist most of my life, I've always been more attracted to singers. As a trombone player, I tried to emulate the expressiveness of a good singer. As a trombone teacher, I would often sing to my students to demonstrate a point, and I would sing to myself while practicing to help develop a better sense of phrasing.

This singing aesthetic carried over when I began playing jazz guitar. Sure, I listen to jazz guitar players, but I listen to a LOT of jazz singers. My collection of Ella Fitzgerald recordings is enormous! I listen to jazz singers for the same reason I used to listen to classical singers: to learn style and phrasing. Phrasing is something that guitar players often overlook. Our phrases aren't limited by our breathing, and as a result, many guitar players (and piano players) tend to play improvised solos in run-on sentences. I like to play my guitar solos like a singer, with shorter, more natural phrasing.

Whenever I learn a new song on guitar, I always learn the words right along with the melody and chords. Again, this helps with phrasing. Even if I'm playing a song as a guitar instrumental, I feel that knowing the words helps me put extra meaning into my playing. With this approach to playing guitar, I suppose it was inevitable that I would begin singing in public as a soloist.

To be honest, the main reason I started singing more often is because the tip jar fills up faster when there's a singer! Another reason I started singing is that it makes me more marketable. Most people prefer to listen to a singer rather than a solo guitarist.

I've since discovered that I truly enjoy singing these great jazz songs for an audience. I love, love, LOVE jazz songs, and it's fun to share these songs with others. Although I started solo singing for utilitarian reasons, the real reason I sing now is because I love it.

Here are a couple YouTube videos with singing:

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Classical and Jazz

I have to admit that when I was in college, studying classical trombone, I looked down my nose at the jazzers. Maybe college has changed these days, but back in the dark ages, when I was an undergrad at the University of Illinois (1984-1988), there were clear factions in the music school. We classical musicians tended to dismiss jazzers as an inferior species, and I'm sure the jazzers held some similar notion of us. I had a small taste of the jazz world, playing bass trombone in some of the jazz bands, but I was never a full fledged member. Although I held myself in higher regard than those mere jazz mortals, I was secretly jealous of their ability to improvise.

It took living in the real world to figure out that neither kind of music is "better." It's all a matter of taste and preference. As Ellington said, there are only two types of music: good and bad.

In my experience, the biggest difference between classical and jazz is improvisation. There can be a certain amount of improvisation in classical music, but nothing like what you'll find in jazz. In small instrumental settings, the improvisation is often more important than the original melody. The emphasis is on the process of making music. The classical composer sits down and writes out the music in detail. When you listen to a live jazz performance, you're witnessing the musicians make it up as they go along. Sometimes they bomb, and sometimes it's pure magic. To me, playing jazz is often like stepping off a cliff and trusting that a bridge will appear.

There is less emphasis on music reading for jazz players. This can be a detriment. I've heard some jazz players joke that they read just enough so that it doesn't get in the way. Frankly, this sounds like an excuse for not learning to read as well as you could. I've never heard a good sight-reader complain that they read too well. Classical musicians, on the other hand, read extremely well. Their job is to stick to the script, playing the music note for note, with all the correct rhythms, dynamics, articulations, and anything else that's written. If you're a jazzer, you can get away with not being a good reader if you only play in small group settings, where you're expected to play around with the melody and make up your own accompaniment, but if you're going to play in a big band, you're going to need to be able to read, and that goes for guitar players, too. Even though I haven't been playing guitar very long, I'm the first call sub for a couple big bands in Atlanta, simply because I can read down the parts.

Although I'm a jazz guitar player now, I still draw on my experience as a classical trombonist. Sight-reading is probably the best example. Guitar players tend not to be very good readers, but this is my greatest strength. There are plenty of guitar players in town who can play faster, know more licks, and have a bigger repertoire, but I'd wager there are very few who can sight-read like I can. I've only been playing guitar for six years. Eventually, my technique is going to catch up with my reading ability. When it does, watch out!

Ironically, even though I reached a much higher level of playing on the trombone than I have reached thus far on the guitar, I'm a better improviser on the guitar than I ever was as a trombone player. Maybe I was too uptight as a trombonist. I was afraid of sounding bad, and when you're learning to improvise, you're going to sound plenty bad for a while. When I first started learning how to improvise on the guitar, I already knew I was going to sound bad at first, so it didn't matter. My self-consciousness was gone, and I simply allowed myself to sound bad until I started sounding better!

Whatever differences there may be in the music, I've found both classical and jazz musicians to be the same in one respect. For the most part, the musicians I've met are friendly and generous of spirit. It doesn't matter if you're donning a tux or a beret, reading note for note or playing it loose. What matters is that you play to the best of your ability, be supportive of whoever is playing the melody, and sing out with all your heart when it's your turn to lead. Classical or jazz, if it sounds good, it is good.

Losing It #8: Vocal Health

So far I've lost 66 pounds. I have 57 pounds to go before I reach my target weight. Through this process, I've experienced many positive changes. I look and feel better. My knees don't bother me as much. I have more confidence in my personal life and as a performer.

What I didn't realize was that my singing would improve with my weight loss. The exercise certainly helps. I have more stamina for long gigs, and I have better breath support. I think it's mainly the change in diet that has helped strengthen my voice. During the past few years, I've had a slight, constant cough. I couldn't breathe too deeply for fear of inducing a coughing fit. The less air I could take in, the less control I had over phrasing and pitch.

The following foods are bad for your vocal health: salty foods, fried foods, acidic foods (i.e. pizza sauce), and milk and dairy isn't so great, either. At my peak weight, I was eating lots of chips, ice cream, pizza, and fried foods. Hmm, does anyone see a correlation?

My diet is a lot cleaner these days: baked foods instead of fried, salads instead of french fries, and chips and ice cream aren't even in the picture. I changed my diet to lose weight, but it sure was a nice surprise to find that it's also helping to strengthen my singing voice.