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.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Never Bored

A few years ago, when I was living in Chicago and engraving music full time, my schedule was simple: Wake up and engrave until noon. Walk to my favorite sandwich shop (every day) and have lunch. Walk home and engrave until 5 or 6. Have dinner. Read a book, watch TV, or play a computer game. Go to bed. Wake up and do it all again. Wednesdays were a little different, because I volunteered at the Old Town School of Folk music in the afternoon, archiving old concerts by transferring them from DAT to CD. I even worked half days most weekends.

It was a predictable, boring existence, but that changed once I started playing the guitar.

At first, the only difference was that I practiced an hour or two a day. Then I started taking lessons and eventually worked up the nerve to start playing in public…in nursing homes and church, then restaurants, coffee shops, and paid gigs. I knew playing the guitar would add variety to my schedule, but I had no idea!

I started playing with the intention of becoming a fancy fingerpicker of American folk and Celtic music. Then I veered off into jazz and started dabbling in other styles with InTown Band. These days, I have to stay on top of a lot of different things at once. This week is a perfect example. I just finished playing Rent, I'm preparing Christmas music with Tea for Two, I'm performing jazz standards at solo show tomorrow, InTown Band plays a three hour show on Saturday, and I'm conducting a church choir on Sunday! So much for becoming a folk music specialist.

I'm putting a lot of things together – music engraving, teaching lessons, performing, and working as a part time church music director. I haven't talked to other musicians about this, but I suspect that most other freelancers are also putting together a lot of different projects to make it all work.

While I enjoy the variety, sometimes I long for more simplicity. I'm not sure I could handle all my current projects indefinitely. What I think is going to happen is that eventually two or three of my projects will outstrip the others. One of my bands may really start to take off, the part time church job may expand, or I may decide to make a stronger effort to recruit a lot of private students. At that point, I would have to make some hard decisions about which projects to keep or drop. Even then, I'll always have enough going on that I'll never be bored again.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Late!

Today was the final performance of Rent at Act3 Productions. It was a terrific show, and I'm looking forward to the next one. In January, I'll be playing guitar in Xanadu, and the cast will be on roller skates!

Although this last show went very well, it was marred by one cast member who was 15 minutes late. The audience patiently waited for this key cast member to arrive. This is the first time anything like this has ever happened at Act3 Productions, and I suspect the director will be taking steps to make sure it's the last time it ever happens. It would be one thing if this person had a legitimate excuse for a one time offense, but tardiness was a pattern of his throughout rehearsals. It's safe to say that this person won't be cast in any future Act3 shows. It's really too bad, because he is a talented young performer, but there are other performers out there who are equally talented – and who show up on time.

Many years ago, when I was an undergrad at the University of Illinois, I fired a musician for constantly being late to rehearsals. I was music director for a campus production of The Wiz. There were two violinists. One was okay, and one was really good. The one who was really good was late to every single rehearsal. I fired him because, as great as he sounded, it wasn't fair to the other musicians who showed up on time, and it affected group cohesion. I started to see eyes roll every time he came in late. When I announced that he was no longer part of the orchestra, the sense of relief from the entire group was overwhelming. I never thought I would receive applause for firing someone.

Anyone who has worked with me can tell you that my pet peeve is punctuality. If it's a gig, I'll be there at least an hour beforehand. If it's a rehearsal, I like to arrive at least 30 minutes early. My idea of being late is arriving 5 minutes early. Most people don't realize I'm serious when I say that there's probably an emergency if I'm not there 10 minutes before report time. I've started playing guitar too late in life to ever be the most talented guitarist in town (unless it's a really small town), but my dependability will continue to help me open doors and build trusting relationships with key players.

While I don't expect others to be as chronically early as I am, I do expect people to show up at the time we've all agreed to meet. To me, there are some important reasons to show up on time.

  1. It allows space to prepare yourself mentally and physically for a rehearsal or show.
  2. It shows a respect for the other members of a group. If a rehearsal starts late, I often become resentful, thinking that I could be reading, getting some extra work done, or just taking a little extra time at dinner instead of rushing off to a rehearsal that ended up starting late anyway.
  3. It shows professionalism. When, in contrast to many musicians, you have a track record of showing up when you say you're going to show up, that's a big plus in developing a good relationship with a venue owner or a booking agent. Also, it may cost you money to be late if you've signed a contract that says you'll arrive at the gig site at a certain time.
I hope that today's tardy young performer learns from this experience. He won't be cast in an Act3 Productions show again, but he's young, and there will be other opportunities. If he takes this lesson to heart, he'll become as reliable as he is talented.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Cube-80XL Review

A couple weeks ago I blogged about an old friend unexpectedly buying me an amp to return a favor from many years ago. This is a review of that amp, the Roland Cube-80XL. This is not an exhaustive review. The way I use the Cube80 is influenced by my style of play, so there are some features I don't use. If you want to learn everything about this amp, you can check out the Roland website.


The 80XL replaces my Cube-60, which is a terrific amp. I've used the Cube-60 for jazz and with my original group InTown Band, which blends several styles (rock, jazz, blues, reggae, soul, gospel, and whatever else we decide to throw into the mix). I still love the 60. In fact, I'm using it for a current pit gig, leaving it in the theater for the duration of the run while simultaneously using the 80XL for other shows.

I absolutely love the Cube-80XL. The best thing about it is that it just plain sounds great, and for the small to medium venues I play, I have all the volume I'll ever need. It has three channels: JC Clean, Lead, and Solo. The clean channel is modeled after the JC120 (Jazz Chorus 120). The lead channel has an impressive array of amp models. The clean and lead channels each have their own volume control. The solo channel allows you to save settings from both the clean and lead channels, including onboard effects. I've messed around with the various amp models from the lead channel, and they're fun, but with my style of play, the clean channel is all I use.

It has some nice effects on it, including chorus, flanger, phaser, and heavy octave. I especially like the chorus effect. I usually use a chorus pedal, but the onboard chorus sounds great and will do in a pinch. The heavy octave is fun. With this effect on, the amp simultaneously generates an octave below whatever note(s) you're playing. This is no substitute for being able to play octaves the real way, a la Wes Montgomery, but it's fun to turn on the effect and play fast runs in octaves.

You have a choice of spring or plate reverb. I don't use a lot of reverb, but I do like to add a touch of plate reverb. Although the delay effect is nice to have, I prefer to use a delay pedal for more control over the delay effect.

The 80XL has an aux in, allowing me to amplify an MP3 player. This is handy for background gigs where I need to provide music while I'm taking a break. I simply plug in my iPhone, call up one of my playlists, and I've got recorded background music while I saunter over to the buffet table.

You can use foot pedals (not included) to switch all these effects on and off, and you can also use a pedal to switch back and forth between clean and lead channels. The onboard tuner is handy, too.

Aside from the terrific sound quality from the clean channel, my favorite feature is the onboard looper, which allows you to loop 80 seconds of music. You can start recording a phrase by pressing a foot pedal, and you can overdub. The only thing I don't like about the looper is that you can't turn the loop off with the foot pedal (or possibly I have the wrong kind of pedal). This makes it impractical for live performance, but that doesn't matter, since I already own an RC-50 looper. It does come in handy for practicing at home. For example, I can loop some chords ad nauseum while I practice a new lick. I originally intended to only use the Cube 80 for performances and recording while using the Cube 60 as a back-up, but I've found the onboard looper to be so handy that the new amp has become a useful practice tool.

The Roland Cube-80XL is a terrific amp. Between this amp and my old Cube-60, I don't see myself needing another amp for a long time to come.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

No Do Overs

Last night was Act3 Productions' opening night of Rent. The show went very well. This is my third show as a guitarist with Act3. I continue to be impressed that a community theater with mostly teenage singers and actors puts on such amazingly good performances. Act3 won several categories for their recent production of Once on This Island at the Metro Atlanta Theater Awards. This was the first time Act3 had been entered in these awards, and they cleaned house! Act3 Productions has only been existence for about a year and a half. To be putting on such quality performances and winning awards so quickly is impressive. I am grateful to have become Act3's guitarist. I feel like Act3 has a bright future, and I'm lucky to have gotten in on the ground floor.

One thing I love about live performance is the spontaneity. Even when you're in a situation where the show is blocked and the lines are memorized, there are glitches. When you are recording in the studio or filming a movie, you have the luxury of going through multiple takes until you get it right…not so with live performance. There are no do overs. Last night was a case in point, and it was also a perfect example of professionalism and quick thinking on the part of Act3 talented performers.

For one of the numbers, they decided to go with a pre-recorded track instead of the orchestra. (I have no idea why.) It was a solo number for the character "Angel." (Check out the YouTube clip from the movie version.) About a third of the way into the song, the recorded track cut out, and Angel was left singing a cappella. Literally not missing a beat, the other onstage characters started clapping and beat boxing, and then the orchestra joined in, improvising an accompaniment.

After the show, it was decided that the orchestra would be backing the singer, and we wouldn't use the recorded track again. (This was a perfect example of why live performers, mistakes and all, are superior to backing tracks.) Except for the keyboard, all the other parts are marked tacet (which means don't play), so today's assignment was to listen to the track at home and come up with a part to play. Tonight, we'll meet early to rehearse the number. I'm 100% sure that we'll sound great come showtime.


Friday, November 4, 2011

Getting There

There is an Ira Glass quote that has surfaced recently on Facebook. The quote is condensed from a video that Ira made about storytelling. I've copied this quote from the blog, Design Talk, by John McWade.

"What nobody tells people who are beginners – and I really wish someone had told this to me – is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years, you make stuff, and it's just not that good. It's trying to be good, it has potential, but it's not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn't have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it's normal, and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only be going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambition. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I've ever met. It's gonna take a while. It's normal to take a while. You've just gotta fight your way through it."

Ira Glass is right on the money. There is a definite gap between where I am now as guitarist and where I want to be. Day by day, I'm closing the gap. It will take years to get there, and I'm fine with that. As a musician, I've had my nose to the grindstone in recent years. I try not to compare myself to the musician I will eventually become. Instead, I focus on the here and now, challenging myself with new concepts and increasingly difficult material. Sometimes I look up from the grindstone long enough to realize that I've made some important steps. Little epiphanies here and there have helped me realize that, while I'm not yet where I want to be, I'm getting there. I'm able to play my daily scale routine faster, more fluidly, and more consistently. I'm able to learn new licks and songs more quickly. I was pleasantly surprised at how much more quickly I was able to learn the Rent guitar book compared to how long it took to learn parts for other musicals I've played recently. So, again, I'm not there yet, but I'm making progress. The key has been, and will continue to be, to just play and play and play. Practice at home. Play in public as often as possible, even if it's just for tips and food. Get on a sub list and sit in with other bands. Play wherever and whenever you can.

Our taste guides us in our quest for artistic excellence. There are so many great jazz guitarists out there, and they all serve as my guides to a certain extent. My favorite jazz guitarists from the past include Joe Pass and Wes Montgomery. Some of today's finest guitarists include Tommy Emmanuel, Pat Metheny, Martin Taylor, and Frank Vignola. If I had to pick a living guitarist who most closely matches my own aesthetic, I would have to pick Russell Malone. He has amazing technique, but he often reigns it in and plays some of the most beautiful ballads I've heard on the guitar. Even when he's burning through a solo, he plays melodically and with intention.

Here are a few videos of Russell Malone that represent the future musician I would like to be. In the first video, he's accompanying Diana Krall. His low key comping is masterful, and he plays a beautiful solo. The second clip, Mugshot, shows off his funkier side, and in the third video, he plays a tasty solo guitar version of How Deep Is Your Love (yes, the Bee Gees song).