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