About Me

My photo
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.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

2011 Goals

I'm a big goal setter. Every year since I began playing guitar, I've written out my goals for the upcoming year. I like to post them on the door of my equipment cabinet and check them off when I've met them. My goals are usually pretty ambitious. I rarely manage to accomplish every single goal for the year, but I have a pretty good batting average.

Here are my goals for 2011.

1) Arrange at least 15 Christmas songs for solo guitar, and arrange at least 5 Beatles songs for solo guitar.

I'm pretty good at faking my way through Christmas music, but I'd like to build a repertoire of well written holiday arrangements. I love Beatles songs, but I just haven't gotten around to arranging any of them for solo guitar, so it's time add a few to my repertoire.

2) Recruit 20 private guitar students.

I recently began recruiting guitar students, focusing on beginners of all styles and intermediates who want to explore jazz guitar. I already have four students lined up in January, and I'm confident I'll be meet my goal of 20 students in 6-8 months. For now, I'm traveling to each student's home to teach. If I reach 20 students and it seems there's still a high demand, I'll consider teaching from a studio or store.

3) Record a solo album.

I'm often asked if I have a CD for sale, and I unfortunately have to keep saying no. InTown Band, my originals group, has a CD for sale, but I don't have a solo album. I haven't decided yet if it'll be totally solo or if I'll hire some back-up. I do know it'll be a mix of jazz standards and original music.

4) Record backing tracks for Christmas songs, jazz standards, and original instrumentals.

I haven't put a number on this goal, because I'm still learning how to use the recording software. Eventually, I'll come up with a system and be able to crank out backing tracks efficiently. The backing tracks will be for long solo gigs. Playing solo guitar for 2, 3, or even 4 hours can really wear down your hands. Backing tracks will allow me to play a lot of single line melodies to give my left hand a rest. It's always preferable to play with a group of people, but not every client is willing to shell out the money to hire a full band.

5) Write 20 original instrumentals.

I slacked off this year in the writing department, and I plan to write more original music in 2011. I'm not so great at coming up with lyrics, but I have a knack for writing strong melodies with interesting yet accessible chord changes. In 2011, I'll focus on writing lots of instrumentals, and I'll present the voice-friendly ones to InTown Band for lyric ideas.

6) Memorize 50 vocals.

My classical training makes me a very strong reader, particularly for a guitarist. The downside is that I tend to rely on my reading too much when I'm performing as a soloist. As a result, I stare at the music and avoid eye contact with the audience. It's time to wean myself away from the written music and start connecting more with the people who are listening.

7) Get comfortable standing and playing.

I'll always prefer to sit and play guitar, but the simple act of standing automatically enhances my stage presence. Before I lost weight, I was very uncomfortable standing and playing. Now that I've lost 115 pounds (and counting), standing and playing has become a little easier. I have less weight to carry, and even the position of my guitar has changed to a more comfortable position as my tummy has lessened.

8) Write an "improvised" chorus for at least 5 songs I've already arranged.

If I write out a chorus for an arrangement, it's obviously not improvised. One of the main skills I'm developing is improvising completely solo. It's pretty easy to improvise on guitar when you have back-up, but it's quite a challenge when you're playing all by your lonesome. When I practice sight-reading out of a Real Book, I'll often improvise over the chords. This has improved my improv quite a bit. By writing out "improvised" choruses, I'll essentially be writing out exercises for myself, coming up with new licks and deepening my understanding of the guitar. I may never reach the level of a Joe Pass, but I'd like to be able to improvise a chorus or two without back-up.

9) Weigh 200 pounds, max.

I'm almost there now. On April 11, 2011, I weighed 323 pounds. Today I weigh 208, and I'll reach 200 sometime in January. I've been running quite a bit, with plans to eventually complete a marathon, so I'll most likely end up in the 185-190 pound range, which is heavy for a distance runner, but light for a guy who is 6'2" and has a large frame. I never want to weigh more than 200 pounds ever again.

10) Complete two half marathons.

I've signed up for a half marathon in March, and there are two Atlanta half marathons in the fall that I'm aware of. I'm happy with the way my running has progressed, and I'm confident that I'll be able to complete a couple half marathons with no major problems. If the half marathons feel comfortable, I'll be looking at running a full marathon in 2012.

So those are my goals for 2011. There's still a week left in 2010. I think I'll get a head start on those backing tracks.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

iPhone (geek alert!)

If you think this blog entry is yet another Mac geek gushing about his new iPhone, well, okay, it's another Mac geek gushing about his new iPhone. My previous phone was about 5 years old, which is pretty ancient in tech years. It even had the older style keypad with combined numbers and letters, so that if you had to type the letter C, you had to press the number 1 three times. Texting was glacially slow.

I bought an iPhone about a month ago, and I'm amazed at how much it has changed the way I operate. You can read reviews or go to Apple's website to learn about the features. I'm just going to write about the features and apps I've found useful.

I have a special talent for getting lost. I couldn't even guess at the number of times I've gotten turned around on my way to a gig, or even coming back home from a gig. I grew up in Illinois, where everything is a flat grid with the roads all running north/south or east/west. In Atlanta, the roads curve up and around hills, and it doesn't take me long to get disoriented. I used to use MapQuest to find my way around town, which meant printing out directions for most of my gigs. With the Maps app, I don't have to print anything out anymore, and there's even a little blinking icon that shows where I am in relation to where I'm going. For someone who gets lost as easily as I do, the Maps app alone is worth the price.

iTunes has been useful at gigs. I recently played a few long Christmas gigs. I was able to connect the iPhone to my amp and keep some music playing while I was on break. It's going to be even handier once I've recorded a few backing tracks. I'm recording solo backing tracks for myself with Garage Band. I save the tracks as MP3s and load them into iTunes. I can then hook the iPhone up to my amp and have my own miniature back-up band. (Live back-up is preferable, but it's useful to have prerecorded tracks for some situations.)

I've also downloaded metronome and tuner apps, not to mention the iReal Book. The tuner app seems to be more accurate than my "real" tuner, and with the iReal Book, I can call up the chords for 500+ jazz standards and even transpose them to different keys automatically.

I use the Kindle app quite a bit, too. I like to read, and it's nice to have a digital book with me. Let's say a miracle happens and I don't get lost on the way to a gig. Suddenly I have extra time on my hands. What to do? Call up a book on Kindle at the gig site and read it while I furrow my brow to try to fool my client into thinking I'm answering time sensitive messages.

Most of my song ideas come when I'm away from the computer or even a piece of paper. With the iPhone's voice memo recorder, I can record song ideas while I'm driving. This saves me from having to sing the same idea over and over all the way home until I can rush through the door to grab a pencil and paper.

The iPhone has also been useful for losing weight. I recently wrote about MyFitness Pal, which helps me set calorie goals and track my food intake and exercise. Despite succumbing to the temptation of holiday goodies, I've managed to shave off a couple pounds, thanks in large part to keeping myself honest with MyFitnessPal.

Sometimes you buy a new gadget or piece of musical equipment, only to discover that it wasn't as great as you thought it would be. Other times, you buy something that turns out to be more useful than you thought possible. Well that's how I feel about the iPhone, and now I'm finished gushing.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Want Gigs? Build Relationships

It's easy for us musicians to keep a distance from potential clients and only think of them as sources for gigs. It's also a mistake. If you merely view your contacts as sources of income, it's very possible that the number of gigs you book with them may dwindle. However, if you are willing to develop a relationship with everyone you work with, you increase the odds of getting more performance opportunities.

It takes a while to develop a relationship with a client. Some of your clients may eventually become friends, while others may simply become good working partners. Either way, it's a matter of developing trust. Your client needs to know that you're going to bring your A-game every single time. No matter what the pay is, you always need to perform to your best ability, dress for the occasion, show up on time, and be polite and professional with your client, guests, and other workers (the bartender, waitstaff, and anyone else who is also there to serve). After gigs, follow up with a verbal "thank you," followed by an email or even a thank you card.

As you continue to book gigs with a client, impress them with your consistency. All that stuff you just read about professionalism and courtesy? Do it every single time. Not only will you continue to book gigs with that particular client, but they'll be more likely to recommend you to someone else, and there's no better advertisement than word of mouth.

Be extra helpful with your client. A few months ago, I performed for a corporate client at the Embassy Suites in downtown Atlanta. She contacted me last week. Their next big event is in Las Vegas, and she was wondering if I could hook her up with any musicians there. I don't have connections with any Vegas musicians, and I could have told her that and been on my merry way. Instead, I contacted someone else who is familiar with the Vegas scene and asked him for a recommendation. He put me in touch with the right musician, and I was able to put him in touch with my client. This didn't cost me anything but a little bit of time. I don't know if that musician got the gig or not, but I'll bet the next time my client has an event in Atlanta, she's going to give me a call.

In a nutshell, be professional, generous, kind, and helpful, and you'll slowly see your gig calendar start to fill up. Sometimes good things happen to good people.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Busy Season

As a musician, this has been a busy Christmas season. In the past two weeks, I played ten gigs and did a photo shoot. I have three gigs coming up this week (possibly four), including a radio interview. This isn't to brag; it's to write about how grateful I am to be playing a lot.

Last year at this time, I played a few gigs, but nowhere near as many as this year. Like most musicians, I often wish I had more gigs. It's easy to get caught up in fretting over what's happening now, but looking back over the past few years gives me some perspective. Compared to last year, month by month I've been playing out more frequently. I'm definitely making progress in the quantity of gigs, and the quality of gigs is also improving. To me, a quality gig has to either pay well or be fun. Of course, the best gigs are the ones that are fun and pay well!

My eventual goal is to perform as frequently throughout the year as I have been this December, and next holiday season I hope to be in a position where I have to turn down some gigs and pass them along to my other musician friends. I would love to be playing 4-5 quality gigs each week as a soloist or with bass or piano, with Tea for Two or InTown Band, as a member of a big  band or sitting in with a combo, singing or strictly performing instrumentals, center stage or as background music. You get the idea.

This is my mission statement, lovingly taped to my computer. "I will make a quiet, comfortable living playing the music I love." I'm not quite making a living at it yet, but I'm getting there. Meanwhile, I'm thankful for this busy holiday season and for the gigs I've played this year.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

My Fitness Pal

If you're looking for an easy way to count calories and keep track of your exercise, I highly recommend checking out MyFitnessPal.


Although I've been successfully losing weight for 8 months, I wish I had discovered MyFitnessPal earlier. It would have saved me a lot of guesswork. The site is free, and the service is priceless. It's available through their website at www.myfitnesspal.com, and it's available as a free mobile app.

When you register, you're taken through a brief questionnaire. You'll be asked how much you weigh now, and how much you want to weigh. You'll also be asked how many pounds a week you'd like to lose or gain (max 2), and how active you are. It gives you examples of jobs that fit different activity levels. Although I exercise regularly, I selected a sedentary activity level because I sit at a computer or play guitar most of the day.

Once you've been taken through the questions, you're given the maximum number of calories you can eat every day and still meet your weight goal. Throughout the day, you enter meals and workouts, and the day's remaining calories are automatically updated.

The site factors in exercise, and you can do a customized search for different types of exercise. For example, after I run 4 miles at a pace of 10 minutes per mile, I'll add the workout on MyFitnessPal. The 644 calories I burned off are added to the number of calories I can consume that day.

If you know how many calories are in the meal you just ate, you can simply type the number. If you're not sure, there is a huge food database that includes lots of restaurants. Just add the calories or add the food, and your remaining daily calories will be updated.

While this isn't an exact science, I'm finding MyFitnessPal to be a very useful tool to help me stay on track as I work to lose the rest of my excess pounds. A few days ago, I was tempted to buy some cookies when I ate at Subway. I looked up the cookies on the MyFitnessPal iPhone app and learned that they would have totaled more than 600 calories, and this helped give me the willpower to pass them by.

If you're a calorie counter and a gadget geek, you can't go wrong with MyFitnessPal.