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, October 22, 2011

Balancing Act

Last month I blogged about relapsing back to my old dietary ways, snuggling up at night with some chips and my two best friends, Ben and Jerry. After some recent struggle, I feel like I'm getting my weight under control again.

These last couple months have been about regaining balance. This past summer, I was exercising a lot, and I mean a lot! Pedaling the stationary bike for up to two hours some days, and walking 10-12 miles, I had it in my head that I would try ultra-marathoning at some point. (Frankly, this still sounds like a cool idea.) The problem was that when I took a church music director job, I didn't have time for this amount of exercise when you also factor in music engraving, practicing, and hustling up gigs.

Suddenly, I felt like I didn't have time to exercise at all. The music director job is only a 10 hour per week commitment, but that's about how much time I was exercising each week. In many respects, I'm an all or nothing kind of guy. Sometimes that plays to my advantage, but this time it got me in trouble. I just stopped exercising, thinking somewhere in my all or nothing brain that if I couldn't exercise for hours at a time, I couldn't exercise at all.

This was wrong, of course, and I've finally found my balance. I may not have time to plop on the stationary bike and pedal for two hours, but I have 30-40 minutes. If I have time to mess around on Facebook or write a blog, I have time to exercise. I can't eat as much as I did when I was working out 90-120 minutes at a time, which is a crying shame, so I've had to regain my balance there, too. It was hard to give up the Ben and Jerry's (again!), but I feel a lot better now that all the sugar is out of my system.

At this point, my newest "skinny clothes" are too tight, but give me a couple months and I'll be wearing them in style again!

Friday, October 21, 2011

Good Karma

This week, straight out of nowhere, an old friend helped me out in a big way.

This story begins a couple weeks ago, when my amp blew out just before playing a set with Tea for Two at the Oakhurst Arts and Music Festival. The sound man told us that there had been problems with the power all morning. My amp sounded fine until there was a power surge. It emitted a loud POP! and then went dead. The sound man solved the immediate problem by plugging me directly into the system, but after the show, I had to get my broken amp fixed.

Did I say this story begins a couple weeks ago? Sorry, my mistake. This story begins over 15 years ago, when I was a trombone player in an Air Force band. Kurt, a bass player friend, stayed at my apartment for a few weeks while he was going through a particularly nasty divorce. I didn't think anything of it. It's just something that a friend does for a friend, and I enjoyed his company. I'm happy to report that Kurt is happily remarried, and it seems like he's got a great family and is enjoying life.

Fast forward to last week. Kurt and I are Facebook friends. We haven't seen each other since I left the Air Force. We'll write a note to each other occasionally, but for the most part, we do the usual Facebook thing and comment on or "like" each other's status updates, pictures, etc. About a week ago, Kurt sent me a message. He had seen a couple status updates about my ailing amp. He wanted to buy me a new amp, and I wasn't allowed to say no, because it was payback for the time he spent sleeping in my apartment during his divorce. He knew that I would eventually get my broken amp back, but he still wanted to buy me a new amp so that I could have a back-up. I sent a link to the amp that would replace the Cube 60, to give him a clear idea of what I would get, and also to give him an opportunity to back out if it seemed to pricey. (For you gear heads out there, I chose the Cube 80, which is like the Cube 60 on steroids, yet is actually a little less expensive than the Cube 60 was when I bought it a few years ago. Go figure.)

Who was I to refuse this offer?

I thought Kurt was sending a check to cover the cost of the amp. Imagine my surprise when FedEx left an actual amp on my doorstep this afternoon! I'll be putting this new amp to good use in the next few weeks as I play a show with InTown Band, followed by two weeks of Rent, and I can rest easy knowing I have a good back-up amp.

I am incredibly grateful to Kurt for helping me out. It's a real testament to his character that he would offer this kind of support, unsolicited, for giving him a place to crash so many years ago.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Successful Experiment

Earlier tonight, Tea for Two took a chance and played a special Jazz by Candlelight concert at Zen Tea. We play once a month at Zen Tea, and like most other acts, we play for tips in the dining area. It's obviously not a lucrative gig, but it's a nice place to play. The staff treats us like gold, and it's a beautiful space. I don't play many free gigs anymore, but I enjoy playing at Zen Tea to stay sharp and work on new material.

Zen Tea has a multipurpose back room that is used for meditation, Tai Chi, yoga, and other classes. We store our cases there when we perform. A couple months ago, I was in back with Connie, the owner. I looked around and said, "Have you ever had music back here?" Connie perked up at the idea, and we decided to go for it.

Tea for Two
We were quite persistent with our marketing, putting up posters, energizing our small but growing fan base, sending out emails, and posting on Facebook, etc. Normally, the dining area gig is a "rehearsal gig," but since this was the first show at Zen Tea for which we were selling tickets, we wanted to add some extra polish. We picked our set list early and rehearsed a couple times with Bruce Gilbert, whom we added especially for this show.

The weeks leading up to the show were a little nerve wracking for me. I knew we were going to sound good, but I was a little worried about ticket sales. This was my first experience creating and promoting my own show, and I wasn't sure what to expect. I would have loved for the tickets to sell out the first day, but we're not exactly the Beatles. After the first week, we sold five tickets. After the second week, we sold eight. I was bracing myself for a minuscule showing, but this afternoon, Connie called to tell me we had sold out. As a matter of fact, people were still calling today, and Connie had to inform the callers that there were no more seats available. Full disclosure: With tables added for ambience, the small room held 22 audience members, so we didn't suddenly sell 100 tickets overnight. For our current fan base, this room was just right. As our number of fans grows, we'll gradually be able to fill larger rooms.

Bruce Gilbert
Numbers aside, our show went very well. I was pleased with how we sounded from beginning to end. I was a little nervous at the beginning of the show. I play so often as a background musician that at first it was disconcerting to have people actually listening to us! I settled in and found a groove after the first couple songs. Lynnette's vocals sounded great, and I was satisfied with my own vocals and guitar playing. Jeff was solid as usual on bass, and I was so happy that we had pianist Bruce Gilbert joining us. We normally play as a trio (flute/guitar/bass), and we sound good that way, but the piano added a whole new dimension to our sound and made us a more flexible group. As a bonus, Bruce sang a few of his original songs. He sounded terrific on his solo material, and he was a beautiful addition to the Tea for Two sound. We had someone shooting video. I'll go through the footage in the next day or two and post a few selections on YouTube.

This little experiment was a resounding success, and now we have a model that we can use to create similar gigs. At Zen Tea, we'll still be playing mostly freebie shows in the main area, but we're going to put on special shows in the back room now and then. Connie and I are talking about a Christmas show, and we'll probably put on a Valentine's Day show as well. We'll also be looking around for other places to play…places that may have a little used back room, as well as less traditional venues. Aside from Zen Tea, I'm not interested in the idea of playing in coffee shops anymore. The coffee shops and similar venues are saturated with musicians who play for tips only. Owners are understandably unwilling to pay for music when there are dozens of musicians who will play at no cost.

Rather than go where all the musicians are, I'm going to start creating opportunities by going where the musicians aren't. I think there are plenty of places in Atlanta that will be willing to host a concert, do their part in promoting the show, and share in ticket sales. We'll start small, targeting similar sized rooms and seeking larger and larger venues as demand grows. I already have some venue ideas, but I'm not ready to spill the beans until I've booked a few places!

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Weekend Full of Music

As the title of this post subtly implies, this weekend has been full of music.

Last night I played a gig at 2 Rules Fine Art on Marietta Square. This was for a gallery opening coinciding with the First Friday Marietta Square Art Walk. Because of the Art Walk, there was a steady stream of art lovers walking through the door, and there were several music lovers in the crowd. There were also some awesome cookies from a local bakery. I've been much better about watching my diet lately, but I have to admit those cookies were irresistible. I had waaaay too much sugar last night!

I was also pleased to play with Tom Olsen, a terrific jazz pianist and a super nice guy. I don't often work with Tom, but not for lack of trying. We're both busy musicians, and our schedules don't often coincide. The planets aligned this weekend, though, and we were able to play not one, but two gigs together.

This morning, Tea for Two played at the Oakhurst Arts and Music Festival, and Tom Olsen was able to join us. The art gallery gig was last night, and the festival gig was in the morning, so this almost felt like one really long gig with a sleeping break. I brought the Tea for Two book to last night's art gallery gig, so we were able to simultaneously play one gig while rehearsing for the next. We were able to pull off this morning's festival gig with a 30 minute rehearsal with the full group. No problem!

The Oakhurst festival gig was fun, but there was a poltergeist in the electrical power supply. We were first informed that they weren't able to get power to the monitors, which would have made singing difficult. When you can't hear yourself in the monitors, you think you're singing too softly. It's easy to overcompensate and start singing too forcefully. Fortunately, the monitor problem was solved minutes before we started. Tom's keyboard amp sounded horrible, like someone was adding a distortion effect. The sound man switched to a different power source. The problem went away, but returned about halfway through the set. There was nothing to be done at that point, so we soldiered on. Meanwhile, I was experiencing no problems whatsoever until my amp blew just as the emcee was introducing us…literally seconds before we were to start! There must have been a power surge. My amp emitted a loud pop and then went dead. I sang the first song with just the piano to back me up. The sound man motioned for me to keep playing, and he ran around, took my cord, and plugged me directly into the system. We were finally able to hear my guitar about halfway through the first piano solo. My amp is sitting in the shop now, and I hope it's nothing more than a blown fuse. The City of Decatur is going to reimburse the cost of the repair.

In spite of the technical problems, we enjoyed the festival gig, and we heard good comments. I was especially pleased that the emcee and the sound guy were both very complimentary in talking with us after the set. We kept our heads through the technical challenges and didn't freak out on the sound man. (Rule #1: Don't piss off the sound man.) While I would have preferred not to have to deal with those problems at all, in a way, I was glad we experienced them, because it demonstrated to me that the people I'm working with are real pros who can keep their cool in challenging situations.

I'm not playing any more gigs this weekend, but I'm still enjoying plenty of music. Tonight I attended a concert of German lieder performed by some stunningly good classical singers who were accompanied by Erin Palmer, the former accompanist at NWUUC. Tomorrow morning I'll run the sound board while Ken Sizemore leads a special music service at NWUUC called "Songs of Protest and Change," and in the afternoon I'll be heading to Anthony's Pizza to hear live bands all afternoon.

This weekend is more music-filled than most, but as I look at my weekly schedule, every day is filled with music in some form…gigs, rehearsals, practicing, jam sessions…it's all good. I'm one of the fortunate few who can honestly say that my way of making a living makes me feel alive.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

In a Jam

Last night I had no gig scheduled. This turned out to be a good thing. I went to a friend's birthday dinner at Burnt Fork, a new BBQ place in town. Delicious! We all chipped in to buy dinner for Allison, the birthday girl. Humor ranged from physics jokes to adolescent snickering while others talked about rolfing.

Not surprisingly, everyone at the table was a musician, and Allison invited us to her place for an impromptu jam. Before we started, we ate some of Allison's birthday cake, which was baked "from scraps" by her 6 year old neighbor, Ben. We all wrote a thank you letter to Ben, and then commenced with the music making.

It's easy to have a good jam session when you're with Allison Adams, Cyndi Craven, Billy Gewin, Ashley Filip, Rick Diamond, and Lindsay Petsch from Maple Street Guitars. There was also a "new guy" who recently moved from Colorado. I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember his name, but he's a terrific player and a first class songwriter. He's been going to the Tuesday Night String Club at Java Monkey on Tuesday nights. I've missed the past two String Clubs, so last night was the first time I met him.

All these folks, in fact, play at the Tuesday Night String Club. The difference is that the String Club is more open mic-ish, with short sets of 15-20 minutes. Last night was a sit in the kitchen, round robin sort of affair. It reminded me why I moved to Decatur in the first place – to be around more musicians. When I first moved to Decatur 3 years ago, I started going to a Sunday jam at Kavarna, where I met many of last night's friends.

There's a strange phenomenon in most jam sessions. You know your turn is coming. Five people went before you, and you have plenty of time to decide what to play, but when it comes around to you, you inevitably draw a blank. Luckily, when it was my turn to lead, Billy made it easy for me. He had been looking through my songbook and lit up when he spotted All of Me. For once, I knew what I was going to sing when it was my turn.

I only played the one song last night, but that's okay. I got the nod to play a few solos on others' songs. When I'm waiting to play at the Tuesday Night String Club, I like to figure out the chords while other musicians are performing, so I've secretly learned some of my friends' music and was able to play along. (I was so happy to finally be able to play along, out loud, with I Wanna Be Like You.) I was able to find some riffs that supported the other singers, and if I was too lazy to figure out the chords, I just enjoyed listening to my friends while I pet Allison's pooch, Caleb, who was very happy to see everyone.

We all had a great time celebrating Allison's big day. She should have birthdays more often!