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, served as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 2011 to 2017, and currently serve as Contemporary Band Director at the same congregation.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Be What You Are

A couple nights ago I played at the Tuesday Night String Club at Java Monkey. This is a low key, semi-invitational open mic. I like the fact that it's low key. There are enough musicians to offer a variety of music, but few enough people that you often get to play at least 20 minutes. The String Club falls on the same night as InTown Band rehearsals, but I still like to go if I'm not too tired. Since the majority of my playing is with groups these days, it's refreshing to be a solo act for a little while. Tuesday isn't exactly a prime gig night, so by the time I usually get to play, the patio has mostly cleared out. I don't mind, though. While I like to have an audience, I mainly go to play and relax. I really like the people involved, and it's nice to spend some time with them.

I'm enjoying getting to know Lindsay Petsh (and I'm probably spelling his name wrong). Lindsay runs the Tuesday Night String Club with Allison Adams. He's one of the nicest guys you'll ever meet. At the last String Club, Lindsay said something that made me think. While I was waiting for my turn, he was complimenting my guitar playing. Of course, I'm always happy to have someone tell me that I sound great, but for some reason, probably insecurity, I tend to deflect compliments instead of graciously saying "thank you." In this case, I said something like "yeah, but I still have plenty of weaknesses to bring up." Lindsay told me that it wasn't my weaknesses that were important, but my strengths, and that I use my strengths very well.

I've been thinking about Lindsay's words for two days, and I've taken them to heart. I've been overly focused on what I am not. I am not a technical wizard who can fly all over the guitar. I'm not flashy. My solos aren't dazzling. My singing isn't bluesy, I don't scat, and I don't have a huge voice.

Those are my weaknesses, but I have strong points. Overall, I'm more lyrical than dazzling. I play my best solos when I slow down and dwell on rich harmonies and singable melodies. (In fact, super fast playing for the sake of super fast playing turns me off. While I appreciate the technique involved, after a few bars of super fast playing, I long to hear a melody.) I have a clear voice and phrase well. You can understand the words I'm singing. When I accompany others, my "less is more" style lays out a nice structure without overshadowing the soloist.

Thanks to Lindsay's words, I've decided to embrace my lyrical strengths. At tomorrow's Tea for Two gig, I plan on slowing my solos down and playing more melodically. That's not to say I'm abandoning technique. I'm constantly working to improve my skills, but the technique should serve the music and not the other way around.

1 comment:

  1. Great thoughts Tom. I think all musicians deal with those issues, my attitude is that I'm playing as me and not someone else so whatever comes out is the way it's supposed to be. I also go in with the intent that I'm either going to learn something or teach something, so at the end of the event I've achieved my goal...