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.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Radio Man

Two nights ago, a man named Ron Kibler called me and started talking about the radio. At first, my brain didn't quite compute the sounds my ears were hearing. I kept expecting him to say "and we need your pledge," but I finally realized he was asking me to come to the station for an interview and to play a couple songs. This is the first time anyone has called me for a radio interview, so it all felt rather surreal after I hung up the phone. If I felt this way after being asked for an interview on a local radio station, imagine what it must be like to wake up one day and learn that a song of yours has hit the charts or that suddenly everyone knows your face. I'm not in danger of being mobbed on the streets just yet, but still, it made me wonder how I would react if my stock in the music world suddenly soared.

Once or twice a month, I play at a Cajun restaurant in Tucker, GA called Rotagilla. (That's "alligator" backwards.) There's a guy who's heard me play a few times, and he told Ron about this wonderful guitarist and singer, Tom Godfrey (me!) who plays there. I didn't recognize the man's name, but if he's heard me perform at the restaurant, I'm sure I would know his face. You never know who's out there listening.

So anyway, I'm going to be live on the air in a few weeks. I'll start and end my segment of the show with a song, and I'll take questions, including call-ins, in the middle. Although I'm looking forward to the interview, I'm sure I'll be nervous. This will be my first time doing anything like this. I'll be sure to pick a couple songs I can play even if my hands are shaking.

You can catch the show on December 18. I'll be on the air at 9:30 a.m. Atlanta listeners can tune in to 1010 AM, and other can listen online at www.wgunradio.com. The call-in number is (770) 491-1010.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Losing It #18: On the Road Again

Last weekend, I overdid it on the running. I ran 6 miles, and my route included 4 very long, steep hills. I was prepared for the first two hills, but I didn't realize those last two hills were on the route until it was too late. My body was ready for 6 miles, but it wasn't ready for those hills. I gutted out my run out of sheer stubbornness and stupidity.

I felt pretty good the day of the run, but it was too soon to congratulate myself. The next morning, I felt a pain below my knee. A "good pain" is when your muscles are slightly sore from a workout. A "bad pain" is when a muscle feels like it's been pulled or your bones or joints feel crunchy, and that's what my left shin felt like. Ah, shinsplints. While the uphill run demands the most effort from your body, it's the downhill and the extra impact that gets you.

For the rest of the week, I did the smart thing and stayed off my feet. I pedaled the stationary bike every morning. The stationary bike isn't my favorite workout, but there's no impact, and I can at least pass the time by watching a video. I've been watching the Battlestar Galactica series on NetFlix and enjoying the frack out of it.

After a week of pedaling, I hit the road this morning to resume running. I left the stopwatch at home so I wasn't tempted to push the pace. It sure felt great to be outside running again, and my leg felt great. I'll be going for easy runs this week, and next week I'll start building up my mileage again. It won't be long before I build back up to a 6-mile run and beyond, but I won't be running that hilly route any time soon.

The lesson isn't that running is bad for you, but overdoing it is. I've only been walking for exercise for 5 months, and I've only been running for 2.5 months. Your body adapts if you gradually increase the workload, but it freaks out if you overdo it. Six miles of steep hills was way too much for me, but after another 6-12 months of running, I bet I'll be able to tackle that route again.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Double Booked

Double booking. It happens in the music world. This weekend, I was scheduled to play at Ray's in the City with Tom Olsen, a wonderful jazz pianist. I arrived an hour early as usual and began setting up. As I was finishing my set-up, a man walked through the door and headed directly to the small musician's stage. I thought he was going to ask when we started playing. Instead, he asked "Are you playing tonight?" I replied "Yes, we start at 6." He said "Oh, I'm playing tonight." Not yet understanding his intent, I asked "You're playing tonight? Was Tom not able to make it?"

It didn't take us long to figure out that the night had been double booked. When this is the case, you have two basic options. The two acts can share the evening, or one act goes home the loser. The gig at Ray's in the City pays, but not well enough that it's worth splitting the check with another act, and so this one went to the "judge." In this case, it went to "J," the guy who books the musicians at the three Ray's restaurants: Ray's in the City, Ray's on the River, and Ray's at Killer Creek. (The piano player mentioned that this has happened a few times since "J" took over the booking.)

What was really crazy is that Rick (the piano player) was called last minute by "J" to sub for someone else who was supposed to play that night! I thought at first that maybe "J" didn't have us on the schedule, and so he called Rick to fill the empty slot. Nope. We would have been double booked either way, either with Rick, or with the guy who would have been double booked with us in the first place.

Tom and I came off on the wrong end of the double booking, but it wasn't a total wash. Everyone involved was polite and professional, with no hard feelings. Rick was gracious, saying he would have just as quickly bowed out if the decision had gone the other way. Tom is going to be scheduled for two gigs at Ray's in the City in January, and he'll be calling me for at least one of them. The manager at Ray's in the City comped our meal. My duo partner, Lynnette, and her parents had come to hear us play, so I invited myself to their table and enjoyed a lovely dinner with friends.

It was altogether a wonderful evening…just not the evening I expected. Sometimes you just need to roll with the punches.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Losing It #17: Final Push

I'm in the final phase of my weight loss adventure. I've lost more than 100 pounds, and I have about 20 to go before hitting my target of 200 pounds. Lately, my weight loss has been at a standstill. I haven't gained. I haven't lost. I've been running quite a bit, but I've also been eating quite a bit. I think I relaxed my diet the last week because I simply needed the mental break. Now it's time for the final push.

I'm not going to be doing anything different to lose these last 20 pounds. I just need to get back to what's gotten me this far and keep up the strict diet for 2-3 more months. So, after two weeks of easing up, it's back to watching the sugar intake, ordering a salad when I go out to eat, and refraining from eating after 6 p.m. It shouldn't be long before I hit the magic 200 pound mark.

Once I've met my 200 pound goal, I'll probably have a little bit more to lose, but at that point, I'll be losing fat not through strict dieting, but because I'll be training for long distance races. I wouldn't be surprised if I eventually slimmed down to 185 by the end of 2011 by simply running.

I'll worry about all that later, though. For now, this is the home stretch, and any extra bit of weight loss after this is gravy. Mmm, gravy.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Break It Down

Sometimes I think about what I would do if I won the lottery. One of the first things I would do would be do give a lot of that money to family, a few select friends, and some favorite causes. After the big giveaway, I'd probably be left with a mere $50,000,000 or so. Oh, the places I would go. Oh, the guitars I would buy. The problem is that I don't play the lottery.

We all have dreams. If all you do is think about it, your dream will remain just a dream unless you do something about it. If you want to turn your dream into a reality, your first step is to turn it into a goal…not just a goal in your head, but a written out, established goal. Whatever your dream is, write it down and put it up somewhere where you can see it. Stick it on the fridge or tape it to your computer. This helps change your inner dialog from "wouldn't it be nice if…" to "I'm going to do this." Once you truly make the decision to turn dream into reality, you may feel a surge of energy, like the world just shifted around you.

After you've written down your main goal and really decided to go through with it, you have a lot of work to do. It may seem overwhelming, but whatever you want to achieve, it's doable if you break it into smaller chunks.

Nearly seven years ago I started playing guitar and decided to use the instrument as a vehicle for restarting a performance career after my trombone career was halted due to a lip injury. My first major goal, which has been met, was to reach a skill level that I considered to be entry level professional by 2010…not a world class player, but good enough to be making some money through guitar playing.

Once you've decided on your big goal, you're going to want to break it down into smaller bits so you're not overwhelmed by it all. You can break it into several mini-goals, which will all push you further toward your big goal. As you make progress, you may need to revise your mini-goals or create some new ones. The big goal remains the same, but most of the mini-goals are adjustable.

After deciding I wanted to reach a professional level of guitar playing, I wrote down the things a professional guitarist should know, including chord knowledge, familiarity with the fretboard, and lead playing. At first, my goal was to be a fancy fingerstyle folk guitarist, but I took a left turn when I discovered jazz guitar. The overarching goal of becoming a professional level musician remained the same, but I had to make some revisions to my mini-goals because of a change in musical direction. Now I also needed to learn improvisation, jazz comping, chord/melody style playing, arranging, and a whole new world of chords.

Each one of your mini-goals will have sub-goals. For example, learning jazz chords. There are many, many chords to learn if you want to be a jazz guitarist. There are at least five different places on the fretboard where you can play any given chord, and then you can use different voicings to change the texture of that chord. For example, off the top of my head, I can think of 9 ways to voice a basic C7 chord, and I can come up with more if you give me a little time. The point is that there are many chord forms to learn. If your goal is to have a solid grasp of jazz guitar harmony, you'll quickly discover that it's going to take a few years, so what you end up doing is learning them a few at a time and gradually discovering how to put them to practical use. Whatever your own mini-goals are, you can apply the same concept and work toward success a little bit at a time.

Eventually, your big goal gets broken down into a daily routine. If you stick to the plan, you're doing something that contributes to the overall goal every single day. For me, it's practicing guitar with a purpose every single day. Everything I practice moves me closer to becoming the guitarist I'm capable of becoming. Every song I learn increases my repertoire. Every scale I play improves my technique. Every solo guitar arrangement I write deepens my knowledge of the fretboard and my own capabilities. I improve bit by bit. The things that challenge me today will become old hat in another year or two.

My original goal was to reach a professional level of guitar playing. I've reached that goal, and I will continue to improve year by year. My next major goal is to take it to the next level and actually make a living with a guitar in my hands. I may develop a private teaching practice, audition for cruise gigs, or finally break through the barriers in the Atlanta scene. Very soon I'll be sitting down and drawing my roadmap for the next 5-10 years.

Do you have a dream? Do you want to make it a reality? Write it down and turn it into a goal. Figure out what steps you'll take to make it happen. Break those steps down further and further until you have bite sized chunks. Work every day to make it happen. You can start today. You're not going to win the lottery until you start playing.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Makes You Happy?

This was the plan: Put in 20 years playing trombone in the Air Force (which would have allowed me to draw a pension), and then find a college teaching job until I decide to retire. At this point in my life, I would have been playing in the Air Force for around 17 years. I probably would have owned a house by now, and I would have made a lot of college connections through presenting masterclasses and performing recitals.

That was the plan, but a lip injury put a stop to all that. Today, I'm 44 years old, living in a basement studio apartment, starting over on a completely different instrument (guitar), struggling to find good paying gigs, and often having trouble making ends meet.

So why am I so happy? If I were the kind of person to dwell on the past and keep second guessing myself, I'd probably be miserable, but the past is the past. The only constructive thing I can do about the past is to accept its lessons.

The main reason I'm happy is that I'm doing what I love to do.

Material things don't make me happy. A new guitar or amp will temporarily thrill me, but they don't make me happy deep down. Would I like to have a house or a large bank account? You bet! But it's not high on my priority list. What is high on my priority list is making music. Fortunately, this doesn't require a lot of money or a large home. I can make music just as easily in my small apartment as I can in a mansion, and practicing, not money, is what will make me a better musician.

Maybe someday I'll be able to afford a house, or maybe I'll continue living in a studio apartment for the rest of my days. Maybe I'll stay in Atlanta, or maybe I'll be lured to another city by a steady gig. Maybe I'll find work performing on cruise ships, or maybe I'll develop a respectable private teaching practice and stay put. Whatever the gig, wherever I am, as long as I'm making music, that'll be enough for me.

So what makes you happy?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Practicing Spontaneity

It's funny how if you practice a certain thing, you get better at it, like it's some kind of weird coincidence. I've been practicing improvising a lot these days, and I was pleased to find at tonight's gig that my solo playing has improved. I'm not exactly in Joe Pass' or Pat Metheny's league, but I've gotten better.

It may sound strange to practice improvisation. How can you practice something if it's different every time? To a non-musician, it might appear that the music flows out of the improvisor like a gift from above, but the truth is that we're not always so inspired. On some nights, the musical ideas flow like a river. On other nights, the river is frozen solid.

For the past month, I've been practicing improvisation at the same time I practice sight-reading. Every day, I take out a fake book and sight-read 8-10 songs. (For you non-musicians, a fake book is a large collection of lead sheets: melody, chords, and sometimes lyrics.) I'll play through the melody first, attempting to play it perfectly the first time. Then I'll practice improvising over the chord changes. Sometimes I improvise single lines, and sometimes I'll challenge myself and improvise chords with a melody on top, which isn't particularly easy on the guitar. After I've improvised my way through a song, I'll go back and work on the problem spots, playing around with the tricky chord changes until I come up with a few things that sound good.

When I practice improvising, I usually don't sound all that great. To make it as challenging as possible, I improvise without any back-up…no Jamey Aebersold tracks, no Band in a Box. I've discovered that if I can play without relying on back-up and make it sound even halfway decent, it's going to sound pretty good once I'm playing with someone else.

Like most musical skills, improvisation is something that can be developed. It comes naturally to some, and other have to work at it a little more, but it's something that all musicians can do with practice. I've worked at improvising off and on over the past few years, but I've mainly "practiced" improvising during gigs. Even with only a month of concentrated practice, my improvising has improved quite a bit, and I'm excited to think about how far I'll take my improvisation skills in a year (or five or ten).

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Waiting for My Turn

As much as I enjoy solo and small group performing, my favorite kind of guitar playing is big band rhythm guitar. On the surface, it may not appear very exciting. The guitarist in a big band rarely takes a solo. For the most part, you play quarter notes all night. On the other hand, you have to stay mentally sharp because the chords are coming at you a mile a minute, plus it's a lot of fun to be part of the whole big band sound. The guitar plays a very specific role in a big band, providing a clear pulse for the band and filling in the middle register of the rhythm section. The bass covers the low while the piano covers the high end. If you're doing it right, the listener may not even notice the guitar unless it drops out.

Although there are plenty of guitarists in town with better technique, I have an ace up my sleeve: I can read music. I'm living proof that you can be a guitar player and read music at the same time. Jazz band books typically have a lot of charts, and there's rarely time to rehearse any of them in depth. Another guitar player may have more impressive chops, but if he can't read music, or if he only has a rudimentary grasp of reading notation, it's going to take him a while to learn any given part. On the other hand, while I don't have lightning fast technique, I can read down most big band guitar parts the first time. This makes me very useful as a sub, because I can sight-read my way through a performance if necessary.

One of my goals is to be the regular guitarist for one of the big bands in Atlanta. Unfortunately, there is only one guitar player per band (and some big bands don't use a guitarist at all), so it may be a while before I earn a spot. In the meantime, I get as much experience as I can by subbing with the Sentimental Journey Orchestra and the Atlanta Swing Orchestra. I'm also working to get myself on the sub list with other jazz bands in Atlanta.

You get into many of these groups by simply hanging around long enough to be the last man standing. Essentially, I'm waiting for someone to quit or leave town. Sometimes I feel like a vulture waiting for a guitar spot to open. For now, I enjoy subbing, and I'm sure that my turn will come.