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.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Making It Up

Last night I played a solo guitar gig for a wine and cheese crowd in Midtown Atlanta. I've been concentrating pretty heavily on Tea for Two, so it's been a while since I've played completely solo. I really enjoyed the job. It was in a beautiful room, the acoustics worked well for solo guitar, the guests were pleasant, and my client was easy to work with.

There's no way my client or the guests could have known, but this was a breakthrough experience for me. This was the first time I've improvised unaccompanied in public. I improvise quite a bit in group situations, but pure solo improv on the guitar is a challenge. I've been taking stabs at unaccompanied improv at home for a couple months, but I've never been brave enough to try it in public. When I booked this gig a few weeks ago, I decided to challenge myself and improvise throughout the evening.

There are two main reasons I've been working on unaccompanied improvisation. One is practical, and the other is artistic.

For practical purposes, improvisation enables you to stretch out the time. The solo guitar gigs that I play are musical wallpaper gigs. I'm there to help create a pleasant atmosphere. Some guests will listen for a while, but I'm not the center of attention. These gigs can last two or more hours. That's a lot of time to play solo, and it's quite a workout, too. I've arranged around 50 jazz standards for solo guitar, which is enough to get through a two hour gig. When I improvise, though, I can really stretch it out! I played for two solid hours last night, and I didn't even make it through half my repertoire.

An even more important reason to practice unaccompanied improv is that it makes me a better musician, and it helps me keep myself entertained at a wallpaper music gig. If I can improvise unaccompanied, I become a better solo musician. On top of that, it makes me a stronger improviser when I'm playing with other musicians to back me up. Playing my arrangements note for note can feel pretty stale after a while. If I played a few solo gigs each week (which is a goal of mine), I would get bored with these arrangements pretty quickly, but not if I sprinkle in some improvisation to keep it fresh.

I was pleasantly surprised at how well I improvised. I'm not exactly in the same league as Joe Pass or Martin Taylor, but I made a good start last night, and I'll be sure to include unaccompanied improvisation more and more often.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Atlanta Driving Tips

If you're visiting Atlanta and want to blend in with the local drivers, be sure to follow these tips.
  • Treat a red light as you would a stop sign. It's perfectly okay to coast to a "stop" and then go straight or turn left at a red light. Your time is too precious to waste.
  • If there is a sign that says "No Turn on Red" and the light is red, you should turn. That sign was probably put there because there's a hill that makes it impossible to spot oncoming traffic, but you're not just anyone. You have x-ray vision, and you know for a fact that no one is coming over that hill. Just gun it.
  • Honking your horn makes all the traffic in Atlanta go at least 15 mph faster, and it clogs up crowded intersections, too. It's a miracle, really.
  • Although the signs on the interstate say 55 mph, feel free to travel as fast as your vehicle can go. As a matter of fact, just glue your foot to the floor. You won't know your limits until you test them.
  • In most areas of the country, oncoming traffic has the right of way, but not Atlanta. If you're turning left, you should dive into oncoming traffic randomly, and for god's sake, don't use your turn signal.
  • As a matter of fact, don't ever use your turn signal. Ever.
  • Emergency vehicles are such an inconvenience, and those drivers are so rude, speeding through crowded streets with their annoying sirens blaring. Do NOT pull over to the right and stop. You don't even need to slow down. Besides, there's only a 1 in 300,000,000 chance that it's your husband, wife, brother, sister, father, or mother who is in dire need of medical assistance or protection.
  • Sometimes you'll see a sign at a clearly marked crosswalk that tells you to stop for pedestrians in the crosswalk. Ha! 1,000 points per pedestrian. (On the flip side, if you're a pedestrian, 1,000 points for ignoring the laws of physics, jumping in front of a car that's 10 feet from the crosswalk, and giving the driver a heart attack as you flip them the bird.)
  • By all means, text and drive. I know, I know. There's a new law that says you're not supposed to to do this, but if you hold your phone in your lap to text, who's going to know? The only real clue that you may be texting is that you're swerving randomly into oncoming traffic and blowing through stoplights, which are optional anyway.
Visitors, follow these simple rules, and nobody will know you're from out of town. Be sure to wear a medical bracelet and carry some instructions for notifying your next of kin. Enjoy your stay.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Test Run

For nearly three months, I've been out of action with an overuse injury. While I've remained active by working on a stationary bike, I've really missed running. I took a test run this morning. I didn't set any speed records, and I probably won't make the 2012 Olympic team. I ran 1.3 miles in 19 minutes. I didn't run the entire way. I alternated running and walking at 1 minute intervals. Overall, my leg didn't feel too bad. I began to feel a little twinge in my knee toward the end, which worries me a little. Still, to travel over a mile is a big improvement over not being able to last even a quarter mile.

Plan A assumes I am able to continue running. The plan is to go out three times a week and run one mile. I'll continue to workout long and hard on the stationary bike to keep up my fitness. If my leg feels okay, I'll VERY gradually add distance – probably a half mile at a time. I'll also use the run/walk approach. The macho side of me wants to gut it out and run the entire time. The practical side of me knows that a run/walk approach will allow me to travel longer distances, and it'll also allow me to continuing running longer as I get older. Also, I have it in my head that I would like to run an ultramarathon one day. Even the top ultra runners use a run/walk approach, so I may as well get used to it now.

If I'm unable to continue running, I'll reluctantly move to Plan B, where I'll stop running for a year, continue my long stationary bike workouts, and step up my strength training. Back in the day, I was very much into weight training and even had some manly muscles to show for it. I enjoy weight training, but I've been training lightly these days. If I'm unable to run, I'll very likely start hitting the weights a little harder. I have no plans to throw around a lot of weight like I did before. Instead, I would use light to medium weights and do a lot of circuit training.

So I have a plan, and I have a backup plan. If I have to, I'll switch to Plan B, but I love running, so I'm hoping I can stick with Plan A.

Friday, July 22, 2011

On the Right Track

As I continue jazz guitar lessons with Charles Williams, I realize I have a long way to go, but at the same time, I feel encouraged.

On the one hand, I have a lot of work ahead of me transcribing famous solos, learning licks, and broadening my knowledge of music theory. At the same time, I have to learn to incorporate all this into my own jazz vocabulary. This will take years of practice.

On the other hand, I sound good now, and each new concept I'm learning will only help me sound better. What's most encouraging is that every new thing I'm learning makes sense. It's all just an extension of concepts I'm already familiar with. This is comforting to me, because it's a sign that I've been on the right path all along. So far, there's never been a moment in a lesson where I've felt like I've had to start learning the guitar all over again. It's more like I'm on the same road Charles is on. He just happens to have traveled the path longer than I have, and he's helping me out with directions.

For current and prospective students, fear not! I've been giving you good information. The fact is, no matter how good you are, there's always something more to learn. That's the beauty (and frustration) of being a musician.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Getting It All Down: Transcribing Solos

I'll be constantly learning new things about the guitar, music, and myself until the day I take my last breath. The past few years, I've grown quite a bit as a guitarist, but lately I've felt that I was in a rut. I felt that I had learned about as much as I could on my own, so I began taking lessons last week with Charles Williams, one of Atlanta's finest jazz guitarists.

After less than a week of working on my lesson material, I already have a sense of how Charles will help me grow. The main thing Charles is helping me with is growing my musical vocabulary – my bag of tricks that I can use for improvising, comping, and arranging. (Comping is a common jazz term for accompanying. If you're playing in support of a singer or another instrumentalist, you're comping.) The main way I'll be improving my vocabulary will be through transcribing solos of great jazz musicians.

To transcribe a solo, you choose a recording, listen to the solo over and over, write it down, and figure out how to play it. This takes quite a bit of time and focus. I'm not very fast at it, although I expect to get better at it over time.

As Charles put it, "I don't know any good players who don't transcribe solos." Transcribing solos is something I've been putting off, not because I wasn't aware of the value of it, but because it's hard and I was a little scared of it. Now that Charles has pushed me in this direction, I can see I didn't have anything to be frightened of. Yes, it's challenging, but I can already see the benefits. When you transcribe a solo, you're retracing the steps of a master. As you reconstruct a solo and learn to play it, you gain a gradual understanding of how that particular musician approached the guitar. By practicing the solo, you learn new licks, which you eventually learn how to incorporate into your own style of improvisation. In a sense, this is like learning a language. At first you mimic what you hear. Eventually you learn to use words and phrases to tell your own stories.

We're starting lessons with two guitarists that are at the root of all modern jazz guitar playing: Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. I'm looking forward to this new musical adventure!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stretching

I love playing musicals, but after a run of shows is over, I often feel a letdown. The musicals that I've played demand a lot of focus. I typically spend a couple months drilling the difficult guitar parts over and over (and over and over), and then my schedule and energy are both taken up by dress rehearsals and shows. When a show is over, I often feel directionless, because I've been concentrating on the show music so much that I almost don't know what to do when it's done.

After my latest musical, Once on This Island, I felt the usual letdown. To give myself a break, I didn't touch a guitar for two days after the last show. I couldn't rest for long, though, because I was scheduled to provide the music for NWUUC the following Sunday, and Tea for Two has a couple gigs coming up.

When I got back into a normal practice routine, I didn't want to do the same old thing, so I'm shaking things up, stretching my guitar playing in a couple areas.

Lately, I've been spending as much time playing my nylon string guitar as my electric. That's because I'm practicing quite a bit of classical music, plus some guitar parts for a number of Celtic songs that I arranged for flute and guitar a couple years ago. I'm having a lot of fun with this. I had originally intended to focus on Irish folk music before a jazzer turned me to the dark side, so it's a blast to return to a style of music I've always loved.

As far as classical music, I'm practicing parts for flute/guitar duos. While I enjoy this type of playing, I'm also working on this music for practical reasons. I have a wedding gig in September with a flute player friend of mine, Julie, who's flute playing is so far beyond my level guitar playing that it's kind of intimidating, and my main goal is to not fall on my face! Also, my Tea for Two partner, Lynnette, and I are adding classical flute/guitar duos to our repertoire to make us more attractive for wedding jobs.

Classical guitar is a totally different animal than jazz guitar. There's a little bit of crossover with my personal style, which involves a lot of fingerstyle solo arrangements, but there are also big differences. Jazz guitar involves a lot of improvisation. You're free to embellish melodies, you make up the accompaniment as you go along, and you need to be familiar with a huge array of chords. With classical guitar, the chords are usually much simpler, but then there's the discipline of reading exactly what's on the page and being able to play two independent lines at the same time.

While I'm playing a good bit of classical music these days, I'm not switching camps. Jazz guitar remains my number one pursuit. I'll be stretching in this area, too. Lately, I've felt that my jazz playing has gone stale. I need some new ideas and challenges. I've made it pretty far on my own these past few years, but I felt it was time to find a teacher again to push me along. This week, I'll begin taking guitar lessons with Charles Williams, who is one of the best guitarists in Atlanta, is an excellent jazz player, and is particularly good at Gypsy jazz (a la Django Reinhardt). I'm really looking forward to getting together with him and pushing my jazz playing to the next level.

Whether it's Broadway, classical, Celtic, or jazz, guitar playing offers an endless array of challenges. I don't think I'll ever be bored with this instrument.