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, 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.

Monday, December 31, 2012

2013 Goals

Every year, I review the previous year's goals and set new ones. I usually come up with quite a list, but I'm narrowing it down this year. Here are my goals for 2013.

  1. Land higher quality gigs. For the first time since picking up the guitar, I've been satisfied with the frequency of my gigs. In 2013, I'd like to have about the same (or slightly more) gigs, but with a higher percentage of good paying jobs. Nearly all of my gigs are for pay now. Many of them are restaurant gigs that pay okay, but not great. I'm certainly not complaining about the restaurant gigs. It's nice to have steady work. I would just like to find more corporate gigs in the next year.
  2. Recruit a roster full of students. I have a handful of students now. I've been teaching from home, but now I'm signed on to teach at Tessitura. I'm the first and only guitar teacher at Tessitura, so I'm in a good position to pick up new students with no in-house competition. Twenty students sounds about right. I enjoy teaching, and twenty students would help provide steady income while still leaving enough time for practicing, gigs, and my church job.
  3. Increase my hours at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from 10 to 15. Currently, my duties are to run the choir, to provide music once a month myself, to coordinate music for Sunday services in general. Based on conversations I've had with congregants, there seems to be increasing interest in forming a children's choir. Having the extra hours would allow me time to do so. I'll need to convince the board and the congregation that this is a good idea.
  4. Find a guitar teacher. I'm happy with the progress I made as a guitarist in 2012, especially in the area of improvisation and general technique. As usual, there are a lot of things I want to improve, but trying to get better at everything at once can make you feel scattered and overwhelmed. Working with a teacher again will help me refocus. This year, I'd like to find a guitar teacher to 1) help me develop more comping ideas, 2) help me develop more improvisation ideas, and 3) kick my butt in the area of repertoire, especially memorization.
Things went pretty well in the second half of 2012. I just want to keep doing more of the same in 2013, but with my sights set a little higher.


Yesterday's service at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation was about hope. The minister was away, and instead of a regular sermon, three of us gave our own personal reflections about hope. This is what I said:

I am poor. I’m better off than some. I have a roof over my head, and as you watch my weight go up and down, I obviously have enough to eat. But still, I’m poor. You’ve probably heard or read about people who are one accident or illness away from disaster. I’m one of those people. Some months I’ve had only a couple dollars left after paying rent and bills. I recently put off treating an abscess tooth because I couldn’t afford the dentist. It was a matter of getting treatment or paying my rent. I often feel embarrassed by not being able to afford certain things, and my money situation has not helped my dating life.

My finances weren’t always a mess. In the ’90s, I was at the start of a promising career as a professional trombone player. I was often hired to play in pick-up groups for touring acts like George Burns, Rosemary Clooney, and The Manhattan Transfer. I played with the Ohio Light Opera for three seasons before I won an audition to play in an Air Force band, where I quickly rose to the top of the trombone section and performed as a soloist. I was all set. I was going to put in my 20 years of service, draw a military pension, and then settle down with a college teaching job. That was the plan, anyway. This all came to a crash when I developed a muscle tear in my upper lip due to overuse. What was once effortless was now painful, both physically and emotionally. Every time I tried to play, it felt like someone was poking me with a needle on the inside of my lip. I endured the final two years of my enlistment and then received an honorable discharge.

After leaving the Air Force, I allowed myself a year to heal. I tried playing trombone again, but I still couldn’t play. Four times, I tried to get my trombone chops back, but I failed each time before I came to the conclusion that I was never going to be able to play the trombone again.

To say I was depressed is an understatement. I found solace in food, gained 140 pounds over the course of a few years, and lived a solitary life. Somewhere in the middle of that, I was married, but then was unexpectedly divorced after three years. To this day, I have never received a solid answer for why Katherine left. Maybe she had a good reason, but she never told me. So…not a happy camper.

In spite of all this, I feel hopeful. What has given me hope is music. The guitar brought it all back.

Back in 2003, when we were still married, Katherine gave me a guitar for Christmas. Within a week, even though I could barely play the thing, I was already planning my second musical career. As a trombone player, I went from stone cold beginner at age 11 to passing a college entry audition at age 17. I figured that I could do something similar with the guitar, so I set myself a goal of being able to play professional guitar gigs after six years of practice. With my professional background and training, that process was accelerated quite a bit, and I began playing gigs after 3 years…not exactly setting the world on fire, but doing a decent job.

As I began performing more often, other opportunities began to appear. I realized that I was at least as good a singer as the people I was backing up, so I started singing. Now, I find myself teamed up with an amazing singer who shares similar musical goals. I’ve started teaching guitar lessons. More gigs are coming my way, and I have a quarter time job at this crazy church that allows a secular humanist to run their music program! So, while I’m still poor, things are looking up, and I’m very hopeful about the future.

Aside from the upward career momentum, music itself gives me hope on many different levels. I am absolutely driven by music. I can’t imagine what I would do without it. I’m involved in some aspect of music all day, every day…practicing alone, rehearsing with others, arranging music, typesetting music, and performing. I love the art of it, and I love the challenge of it. I love the fact that I will never have a perfect performance, no matter how good I become. There’s always going to be something to improve, and I plan to continue working on my craft the rest of my days. I’d like to leave this world with a guitar in my hands, trying to learn just one more lick.

Music also gives me hope by helping me connect with others. To put it mildly, I am socially awkward. There’s just something in my makeup that makes it difficult for me to connect with people. I feel uncomfortable making light conversation, and even though I’m a staff member, after a service, I’m usually out the door and gone before most of the congregation. I don’t have any problem standing in front of a crowd, but I’m extremely uncomfortable being in it. If you look up the word “introvert” on Wikipedia…that’s my picture. But music has helped me some wonderful people. I’m not exactly a social butterfly yet, but at least it gets me out of the house.

Now, I started off by telling you that I’m poor. But I don’t usually feel poor, because my days are filled with something that I love. I have discovered my purpose in life, and I’m following the dream. And because things are beginning to come into place, I feel hopeful about my future as a professional musician and life in general.

So…Are you hopeful…Or is something missing? If there is a hole in your life, I won’t presume to tell you how to fill it, but it couldn’t hurt to search – to find out what it is that fulfills you. I’m not saying you need to follow my path and go as far as making a career of it, but whatever it is, just do it. There is never going to be a perfect time to start. If you wait for just the right time to begin, you’ll be waiting for the rest of your life, so you might as well start now.

I hope that you’ll think about what fulfills you, and that you’ll follow your path. I hope that someday you’ll feel as rich as I do.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Multi-Trick Pony

How do you become a professional musician? When I was in my 20s, the only path I knew was to practice hard and hope that I eventually won an audition for a full time gig. I played the trombone extremely well, and eventually I did win an audition for a full time playing job in the Air Force, which was working out great up until the point my chops gave out due to an overuse injury. (I've already written about this experience in an earlier post.)

When I won that Air Force audition, I was a one trick pony with a really good trick. Once I began learning to play the guitar a few years ago, I decided to take a second stab at a musical career. I already knew that it would be years (if ever) before I would catch up to other guitar players with more experience. I couldn't afford to be a one trick pony anymore, because my trick was never going to be better than theirs.

It's doubtful that I will make a career out of performing alone, so I've had to assess my strengths and learn a few new tricks. I'm cobbling together a career through music engraving, gigging, teaching, and working as a church music director. Things seem to be heading in the right direction as of late. I'm performing more often, my roster of students is slowly growing, and there is a possibility that my church hours will increase in the future.

So, to address the original question of how to become a professional musician, if you have one really great trick, then congratulations and good for you. You are part of the small minority. For the rest of you, figure out what useful skills you possess. Discover what you are best at, start with that, and use and develop your other skills to diversify and create your own niche.

You may not be the best at any one thing that you do, but very few people will have your particular combination of skills.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Upward Trend

I just realized that I've reached another milestone in my quest to reestablish a career as a working musician. (For those of you who may have stumbled upon my blog for the first time, you can click here to find out why I had to start my music career over again.)

Currently, I make a living by music engraving, working part time as a church music director, playing gigs, and teaching guitar. While I enjoy all of this, I am happiest when I'm playing guitar or singing. My ultimate goal is to be able to earn most of my living by performing and teaching.

This month, for the first time since I started playing guitar, I will have earned more money from gigs and teaching than from music engraving or my church job. Admittedly, the results are skewed, because this is December, which is typically a heavy gig month. Still, this is the first time I've made more money from playing guitar and singing than from anything else. Unless a few gigs fall into my lap, church and music engraving will once again be my main money makers starting in January.

But overall, things are looking hopeful. I see a gradual upward trend from year to year. In January of 2010, I had exactly one gig, and it was a freebie. In January of 2011, I had a handful of gigs, and most of them were freebies. In January of 2012, about half the month was booked with paid gigs. I'm currently booked every weekend in January of 2013, and nearly all of them are for compensation. In 2013, I won't be surprised if there are a couple months where my gig/teaching income surpasses my church/engraving income, and one day I may tally up my totals and discover that gigging and teaching has become my main source of income. That will be a time for celebration!

Onward and upward!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Creating My Own Gigs

This December has been a great month for gigs, and surprisingly, January is nearly booked as well. In general, I'm finding that I'm booked for a gig on any given weekend each month. There is a downside to this…well, not exactly a downside. I play with a few different people, and I've had to learn a different set of music for nearly every show this month. Even though I'm playing mostly Christmas music, I'm playing the same songs in different keys, different tempos, and different styles. This is a great way to learn to be flexible and expand my horizons, but it's also a lot of work to keep up with. With limited preparation time, I feel like I've had barely enough time to do an adequate job for any given show.

The upside to this is that I feel that I've become a better overall guitar player over the past few weeks. The downside is that I feel scattered and unfocused.

Next year, rather than play a bunch of different gigs over the holidays, I'd like to create a show that I can either take to different venues or play in one place for a holiday run. I would like to make a transition from playing restaurant and corporate gigs to putting shows together…creating my own gigs. Most musicians are doing what I'm doing now, chasing after the same types of gigs. By creating my own shows, I could collaborate with other types of artists and expand my possibilities. I'm sure this would take more effort on my part, but I think it would be worth it.

The reason I'm thinking about a holiday show for next year is that it gives me plenty of time to kick around some ideas, and it would be probably be easier to create and promote a Christmas show for starters. After that, I could start developing other types of shows. I imagine that I would begin with only one or two shows a year. After gaining experience and developing a network of collaborators and contacts, maybe I could do more.

For now, I just want to get through December. Starting in January, I'll start kicking around ideas. We'll see what happens!

Concert for a Cause

Last night was a first. My friend, Lori Guy, and I performed an online streaming show with Tom Olsen (piano) and Lauran Hunt (bass) through StageIt. Originally, Lori and I were going to experiment with this format by putting on a low key Christmas show for friends and family – sort of a holiday greeting. Then, a few weeks ago, a young woman at our church lost her battle with cancer. Summer Dale was only 16 years old. Before Summer died, she created Team Summer, a foundation that helps other kids with cancer deal with their illness and their treatments.

Lori suggested that we donate our online show money to Team Summer. I thought it was a great idea. What was a low key Christmas show turned into a major affair! We created a Facebook event on our Godfrey and Guy Facebook page, and I hyped it mercilessly. It would have been nice if I could have just advertised the show one time and then had the world beating down our virtual door for a ticket, but unfortunately it doesn't work like that. Each new Facebook post or email about the the show generated 1-2 ticket sales. Even if I made just one ticket sale through a new post, it was worth annoying my friends!

In the meantime, we needed to find a place to hold our concert. We had recruited Tom Olsen and Lauran Hunt to make it a quartet, so we needed space. My little apartment certainly wouldn't do, and Lori was in the middle of moving. I told Terry Davis, the minister at my church, that we were looking for someone at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation to host our show. It turned out that Terry and her partner Gail were holding a minister's open house on December 9, so why not have the show be part of the open house? Perfect! Now we had both an online and a live audience!

StageIt allowed us to create a special "soundcheck show." We could invite five people to watch and give us feedback through StageIt's chat feature. Four friends helped us out, and their input was invaluable. We worked on some technical problems through that soundcheck, and we enjoyed the interaction. Out of sheer paranoia, Lori and I ran another quick soundcheck the night before. It wasn't much of a show. We just wanted to make sure we still had audio and video up and running.

Our technical difficulties didn't end with the soundcheck shows. Using StageIt was a brand new experience for us. Through the first couple numbers, the viewers in the chat room were letting us know that the sound levels were too high. The levels in the room for the live audience were perfect, and it took us a while to realize that we could set the input levels directly on the StageIt site. Once we figured that out, the volume for our online viewers was fine. Halfway through the show, the computer crashed. We had no idea why at the time, but later Lori figured out that the computer was overheating. After a few tense minutes, we were up and running again. After that, we were fine. Fortunately, StageIt allows for a 10-15 minute "encore." Our online viewers stuck it out during the blackout, and we thanked them by using all of our encore time to play three extra numbers. The computer crashed again, but at least it waited until after the show was over!

Aside from the technical problems, the show was a musical success. We had a blast! Tom Olsen and Lauran Hunt were a welcome addition to our usual Godfrey and Guy duo format. Lori sounded wonderful, and I was happy with my own playing. We received good feedback from our online viewers, and the music was a big hit at the open house.

Most importantly, the fundraiser was a huge success. Between our online and in person viewers, we raised $960 for Team Summer! This went way beyond my expectations! I thought maybe we would be able to raise $200. I would have been ecstatic with $500. I had no idea that we would end up raising nearly $1,000! Even better, Summer's mom was there, so we were able to turn over the cash and checks from our open house donors right away. Some people wrote checks to the church, so those will go first to NWUUC to be processed and donated to Team Summer. It takes a couple days to process the online funds. Viewers get 48 hours to ask for a refund, so I need to wait a few days for those funds to go through. Once that happens, I'll write a check to Team Summer for the balance of the online ticket sales.

Overall, this was a tremendous experience for us. The fundraiser went even better than expected. The musical experience was a blast, and we enjoyed using StageIt.com. We liked the interactive, informal aspect of StageIt, the service was easy to use, and tech support was quick and helpful. We definitely want to do this again!

(If you would like to learn more about Team Summer or make a donation, please visit www.teamsummer.org.)

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Children and Church Music

Last Sunday, I was at the mercy of a 9 year old drummer, but it was by choice. Because my music director job at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation is only quarter time, I have had to focus mainly on the adults: choir, hymns, and service music, but I feel that it's crucial to get the kids more involved in making music. I asked Emma and Claire (fictitious names) to help me with the first three pieces of music for a Sunday service, and I was also joined by another adult musician, Bruce, on bass.

Claire is a 9 year old drummer, and Emma is a beginning guitar player. I'm guessing she is probably around 12. We rehearsed the week before the service, and then again the day before the service. Both girls impressed me, and they were tons of fun to work with. I went into the first rehearsal with absolutely no idea of what they were able to play. Claire was able to play a few different drum beats, and when I had her focus, she was able to keep a steady beat without rushing – or at least without rushing too much! Emma has been playing a year and a half. She hung with me on the guitar chords. I showed her how to play a B minor chord. Since it was a new chord for her, she had trouble with it the first rehearsal, but she nailed it a week later and during the service.

During our first rehearsal, I commented that the music was coming together even faster than I expected. Claire said "That's because we're fabulous!"

Sunday morning was go time, and they did great! Claire held down the beat, Emma nailed her chords, and the congregation ate it up! I had a big grin on my face the whole time, because I had so much fun playing with them! After they played the third song, they left the service to rejoin their friends, who had already left for children's activities. I saw the girls briefly afterward, and I only had time to thank them and tell them they did a great job. I was told, though, that they had a great time playing, that they were proud of themselves, and that they'd love to do it again. It makes me feel good to know that I helped created a fun, positive musical experience for Emma and Claire.

As I mentioned before, my job is only quarter time, but I hope that I'll be given more hours in the future. That's something the congregation will have to vote on. As it stands now, I only have enough hours to work with the kids occasionally. In the future, I hope that I will have enough hours to start a children's choir and work with these girls and any other kids who also play instruments.

Our music program at NWUUC is gaining strength, and if I have the time to start working with the children on a regular basis, we'll establish an even firmer foundation.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Getting Gigs

I started playing guitar in 2003…really more like 2004, since I received my first guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even when I was learning my first chords, the fire to become a performing musician once again was rekindled. By 2007, I had enough of a repertoire that I could start playing in places and looking for groups to play in. For the most part, I played in retirement homes and coffee shops for free. Since then, my total number of gigs each year has grown gradually but steadily. This year, for the first time, every single Friday and Saturday in December is booked, and I have a few weekday gigs lined up, too. All of these except one are paid gigs. The way things are going, I'm confident that in another few years, I'll continue to be booked, and that the quality of my gigs (in other words, pay) will increase.

So how do you get gigs? For me, it's a little tricky, because my style of playing is especially well suited for background music. When you're playing background music, you don't necessarily want to wow the crowd, because that's not your job. On the other hand, you do want to be remembered by the client or someone else from the event so that they will hire or recommend you in the future.

So here are my suggestions for getting gigs. This is what's been working for me. There's nothing here that I haven't read or heard somewhere else. This kind of advice is all over the place, but I'm surprised at the number of musicians who don't do many of these things.
  1. Have something to offer. You need to have a repertoire, and you need to be playing something that people want to hear. You don't need to be a virtuoso. I'm certainly not, and I'm not the kind of guitar slinger to can play all styles convincingly. I have a repertoire of solo guitar arrangements of classic jazz songs, mostly from the '30s and '40s. I have a pleasant voice and a guitar style that's easy on the ears. This combination lends itself well to background music.
  2. Be clear what you offer. On my website and on my Gig Salad profile, I make it pretty clear that I'm a good background musician.
  3. And did I just mention my website? Yes, I did. You must have a web presence. You can start your own page on Facebook and tweet on Twitter to your heart's content, but you really need to have your own website, where you control the content and the look. When someone emails you for more information about your music, it looks very professional when you can send them a link to your site. Also, you will eventually start getting gigs because people come across your website. Most of my upcoming gigs have come as a result of someone finding me through an online search. I also landed a spot in a quartet through my website. They were in need of a new guitar player. The drummer found my site, heard my music, and contacted me. Next thing you know, I'm playing with a group that gigs on a regular basis. This has not happened overnight. I've had my website up for a few years now, but it's only been recently that new clients have been finding me through my site. Just stick with it and maintain an online presence.
  4. Stay busy. One of the best ways to get gigs is to have gigs. This is a conundrum when you're just starting, because you don't have any gigs yet! So, you need to find opportunities to play in public and be seen. I did this mostly through playing at retirement homes, coffee shops, and open mics. Even if you're just playing for tips at first, it's good to have some performance dates on your calendar that you can point to. It's also a good way to practice performing in public. And you just never know who's listening. Someone picked up my business card at a coffee shop a few years ago and waited until a couple months ago to contact me about playing a wedding. So, if you don't have any paid gigs, or you don't have many, it doesn't hurt to play somewhere for tips. I look at "for tips" gigs as advertising.
  5. Have a business card. This is crucial for any musician, but I think it goes double for background musicians. Wherever I play, I bring a stack of cards. If it's okay with the client, I'll distribute a few cards to each table, in hopes that a few people will take my card home with them. At the very least, I'll keep a small stack of cards near me so that anyone who wanders my way can pick one up. I always make sure to give a card to my client at the end of the gig, even if they already have my contact information. The next time they're looking to book music for a party, seeing my card in their card collection could make the difference between being hired or being forgotten.
  6. Act like a pro. Be courteous and professional in your emails or phone conversations. Dress appropriately for the gig. Show up early. Stick to non-alcholic beverages on your break. I've often had clients tell me that I'm very easy to deal with. I may not be a virtuoso, but courtesy and professionalism can take you a long way.
No doubt there are other good ideas for getting gigs, but these basics have worked for me: have something to offer, make it clear to your potential clients what it is that you offer, maintain a website, stay active publicly, have a business card, and behave like a pro.

If anyone else has their own suggestions for getting gigs, please add them to the comments section. I'm always ready to pick up another hot tip!

Thursday, November 15, 2012


Every so often, you play a gig where everything seems to flow. The notes fly effortlessly from your fingers, and all your improvised solos are inspired. You look at the clock and can't believe the evening is over, because it feels like you just started.

Tonight was not one of those nights. I played solo guitar for a realty company's 40th anniversary party in downtown Atlanta. Despite playing guitar all day, my fingers felt cold and stiff. It felt like I fumbled my way through most of my solo arrangements, and I couldn't quite find the flow in my improvisation. It was an off night, and I was disappointed in my performance.

Imagine my surprise at the end of the night when my client praised me effusively, asked for business cards, told me that the partygoers were complimenting my music, and added a generous tip.

There's usually a big difference between how you perceive yourself and how others perceive you. I tend to judge myself harshly. In the hours I spend practicing, I work relentlessly to become a better player through perfecting new solo arrangements, learning licks, or improving my speed and accuracy. While I've come a long way in a short time, there is always something new to learn. A short search on YouTube will reveal a host of amazing guitar players to inspire me. Sometimes my diligent practice results in a magical gig where everything clicks. Sometimes I fall short, and I disappoint myself.

In public, I don't let my disappointment show. The only way most clients can tell you've made a mistake is if you make a face. Tonight, my client didn't know or care about my self doubts and musical ambitions. She just cared that the partygoers were happy, that the music sounded nice, and that I acted like a pro.

Even on a bad night, I still enjoy the fact that I'm being paid to play the guitar for a few hours. It's not a bad way to earn a few bucks.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Jamming with Students

This Sunday, one of my students, Grace, will be attending her first jam session. Aside from playing with me, she hasn't had any experience playing with other people. This is going to be a great learning experience for her. She'll be exposed to different genres of music, and she'll hear different styles of guitar players. She hasn't heard me play a lot of jazz, so that'll be a new thing for her. She'll also get to hear other good soloists and plenty of fingerpickers. Nearly half the musicians at this jam session are women, so I think Grace will also be inspired by hearing so many other strong female musicians.

Because this is Grace's first jam session, we've been working pretty intensely on handful of songs for her to play. Each song has a little challenge for her: a new fingerpicking pattern, a challenging intro, a new chord, and a new strumming pattern. She's met the challenge in each song, and she's ready for the jam session.

Grace is playing Summertime especially well. As a matter of fact, for the past couple weeks, she's been playing it so smoothly that I lose myself in the music and forget that she's a student. It's a real pleasure to work with a student who practices everything I assign, even the repetitive scale exercises, and it's paying off. She's only been playing a couple years, but she is beginning to develop a fretboard knowledge that is deeper than that of many older guitarists. This familiarity with the fretboard will pay off big time as her knowledge grows. It's one thing to mimic licks or use TAB to "paint by numbers." It's another thing to know exactly what you're playing and why it works.

I wish I could peek 10 or 20 years into the future and hear Grace play. I think she's going to be amazing. For now, I'm happy to jam with her in lessons and help her along in her journey.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Stone Mountain Pics

Until my recent move, walking was my main form of exercise. My new neighborhood isn't as friendly for walking as Winnona Park near downtown Decatur, GA, so most of my workouts are spent planted on a stationary bike while watching NetFlix. I much prefer getting outside to exercise, so it's a treat when I have a free day and can head over to my favorite hiking spot, Stone Mountain. The most popular trail is the Walkup Trail, which as you might guess, takes you straight up the mountain. The Walkup Trail is just over a mile. It starts out pretty easy at first, but the higher you go, the steeper it gets.

As popular as the Walkup Trail is, I'm surprised more people don't walk the other trails surrounding Stone Mountain. According to the brochure, there are about 15 miles of trails in the park, and while they don't all present the physical challenge of a steep, uphill mile, there are enough ups and downs to get your heart pumping and muscles working.

My favorite route is a 5 mile loop around Stone Mountain. I hiked 15 miles today and took pictures from my favorite parts of my favorite trails.

The start of the trail doesn't
look like much of a trail.
So you have to follow the
orange hash marks.
Into the woods after a quarter
mile of following the dotted line.
On an earlier walk, this deer tolerated me
long enough to pose for a photo.
My favorite water crossing. I find this
spot very peaceful.
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood.
I took the white one.

I saw several ducks today.
Here are four of them.

Ah, water. I could be happy with just a
cabin and a canoe. Oh, and a paddle.
Covered bridge.

Some useful information about covered
bridges. Watch out for robbers!
No robbers here.
The water wheel. Another of my
favorite spots.
Close up of the water wheel.
Near the Labyrinth.
On a hot summer day, this shallow spot
is usually filled with splashing children.
This section always reminds me of the
hobbits walking out of The Shire.
I am a nerd.
Met a box turtle today.
I never thought of climbing the mountain
in this area until I saw this sign.
Fire and dry leaves. What could go wrong?
Actually, there was a minor fire today!

Not something you see every day
on the trail.
A most glorious sight after a long hike:
the public restrooms!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Upward Trajectory

I just realized that compared to last year at this time, my gig calendar looks pretty full, and most of those gigs are (gasp!) for pay. I'm so pleased that I continue to land more and better gigs. It seems that my fledgling jazz guitarist/singer career has been on a slow but consistent upward trajectory.

Taped to my computer so that I can see it every day is the phrase "I make a quiet, comfortable living playing the music I love." It used to read "I will make…," but I scratched out the word "will," because I prefer to think in the present, to act as if this is something that I'm already doing rather than constantly think of it as a future occurrence. To be more specific, this is what it will mean to make a quiet, comfortable living making the music I love:

  • Grow my music director job at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation from quarter time to half time. Currently, my church job includes leading the choir two Sundays per month, providing the music for one service per month, and scheduling another musician to play one Sunday per month when I have the day off. Once we have the funds and a larger congregation, I would love to begin a children's choir, start a regular church band, and lead other educational activities such as a "how to read music" class and a "sing through the hymnal" series.
  • Maintain a roster of 15-20 guitar students. I only teach a handful of students now, but I'm working to connect with a teaching studio to help grow my roster.
  • Regularly play corporate and private jazz gigs as a soloist, with a band, or as an accompanist. Recently, I've been fortunate enough to have joined a jazz quartet that plays regularly at The French Market on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday every other week, and I suspect the group will be landing private and corporate jobs soon. My own group, Tea for Two, is beginning to book party gigs and wedding jobs, and we're even playing for a swing dance in February. I rehearse with Lori Guy, an excellent jazz singer, and lately, we've started to land a few voice/guitar duo gigs. I feel that all three of these projects (the quartet, Tea for Two, and the duo with Lori) all have great potential for success, and as a bonus, they're all super fun to play with.

So, I'm growing in three areas overall: the church job, teaching, and performing. I am slowly making progress in each area. I would love to snap my fingers and make all this happen at once, but if that actually happened, I would be overwhelmed. I think it's actually a good thing that my success is gradual, because this gives me time to make adjustments and grow.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

We Be Jammin'

Earlier this afternoon, I hosted the first ever Zen Tea Sunday Jam. What fun! The turnout was higher than I expected. When I sent invitations, there were a few people I REALLY hoped could be there to kick this whole thing off. These folks expressed interested in coming to the next one, but they already had plans that conflicted with this first one. Aside from myself, there were only two people who confirmed they were coming, so I was thinking that this would be a tiny (but fun) gathering. As it turned out, 9 musicians showed up, and a few people wandered into the back room to enjoy the music.

Nine musicians may sound like a small amount, but frankly, I don't want the Zen Tea Sunday Jam to be much bigger. I enjoyed the variety of styles and levels, and nine was a manageable number. We each had the opportunity to lead several songs, take solos, and play along without getting in each other's way. The turnout will increase as the jam becomes more established, but I think I'd like to keep this at around fifteen participants – twenty at most.

I feel that this first Zen Tea Sunday Jam was a success. Turnout was larger than expected, there was a diverse array of styles and abilities, and, most important, everyone seemed to have a good time. I'm looking forward to the next one on October 28!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Zen Tea Jam

A couple months ago, I was talking to Connie, the owner of Zen Tea, where I play at least twice a month. We were talking about the back room, which she plans on expanding into a small concert venue. It struck me that the back room could also be used to hold a jam session. I was speaking hypothetically, but Connie's eyes lit up, and the next thing I knew, she had me agreeing to host a monthly jam session.

The first Zen Tea Sunday Jam will take place this Sunday (9/23) from 2-5, and I'm really looking forward to it. It'll evolve over time as I figure out what works and what doesn't, but for now, it is going to be a round robin style session. We'll go around the circle and take turns leading songs. There may also be instrumentalists who don't necessarily want to lead a song, but would like to play along. While we don't need everybody to be playing all the time, I do want this to be an inclusive group, so I'm asking the musicians to bring chord/lead sheets if a song has a lot of chord changes, or to walk us through a song if the changes aren't too complicated.

Ideally, this will be an eclectic experience. I've extended invitations to musicians of various backgrounds, including folk, jazz, and Latin. Several people will have original songs, too. Of course, the music being played ultimately depends on who shows up, but I'm hoping for a mix of styles.

I have no idea how many people will show up to this first jam session. Even if just four or five musicians show up, it'll be a start. I've heard from a handful of musicians who are already busy on Sunday but are interested in coming in the future. It may take a little while to establish this as a regular thing, but I feel that this will eventually become a monthly event that many people will look forward to.

Mainly, I want to use the Zen Tea Sunday Jam as an opportunity to support Zen Tea. It's such a lovely little place to play, and Connie is very serious about expanding the back room into a concert venue…basically a mini Eddie's Attic for you Atlanta music lovers. If we musicians do what we can to support Zen Tea and help bring in business, we'll be doing our part to help bring a new concert venue to life.

If you are interested in keeping up with the Zen Tea Sunday Jam, please visit www.facebook.com/ZenTeaJam and "like" our page.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Unitarian Real Book

When I was first getting into jazz guitar, I practiced sight-reading by playing through all the Real Book volumes. At first it was slow going, but my sight-reading gradually improved. At this point, I can sight-read just about anything at tempo unless it's a really fast bebop tune.

My piano playing skills are gradually improving, and I'm finding that I'm able to learn new music more quickly. I still can't play anything up to performance tempo, but I'm getting close. Just as it is with guitar, I feel it's crucial for me to sight-read well on piano. One of my main goals is to be able to play hymns for church services, and I also want to be able to cover the piano accompaniment for choir if there is an emergency with our paid accompanist. In both cases, I need to be a good sight-reader.

To develop my sight-reading as a pianist, I'm slowly making my way through the Unitarian Universalist hymnal, Singing the Living Tradition, just as I used the Real Book for jazz guitar. I'm killing two birds with one stone by simultaneously developing my sight-reading skills while learning the hymnal in depth.

At this point, it takes a while to slog my way through a few hymns. This can be frustrating, but I keep reminding myself that this is the way it was when I started reading through the Real Book on guitar. I'll get there. My guess is that I'll feel comfortable making my piano debut in early 2013.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

New Quartet

Earlier this evening, I played a gig with a group called the Jazz Swing Quartet. It's not the most imaginative name. On the other hand, you don't have to spend a lot of time explaining what kind of music they play or how many people are in the group.

This was a combination gig and audition. Their previous guitarist left the group. I was contacted last week about trying out with them, and so I found myself at The French Bakery in Locust Grove, GA, playing jazz standards with a sax player, bassist, and drummer.

The gig went swimmingly. The guys were all complimentary. The drummer told me that I added a new dimension to the group, and the bass player (and leader) told me he couldn't be happier. I was auditioning them as much as they were auditioning me, and I was impressed with how the group sounded. The bassist was solid, the drummer was tasteful and sensitive, and the substitute sax player sounded great. They were also really nice, laid back guys…easy to play with and easy to get along with.

I liked them. They liked me. We all had fun, and now I'm part of another jazz group. The group has a regular gig at The French Bakery Friday and Saturday every other week, and they don't rehearse. This is perfect. I still have empty days on the calendar to schedule my own gigs, and I don't need to spend another night rehearsing. It was also refreshing to have someone else be in charge. All I needed to do was show up and play.

Aside from having a regular gig and earning some extra cash every other week, this is going to be a tremendous learning opportunity. I love learning jazz standards, but it's easy to get lazy and put off learning new songs unless you're going to perform them. With this gig, I suddenly have a very, very good reason for learning a lot of new songs. Thanks to my background, I did a good job sight-reading the unfamiliar tunes. The next step is to learn the band's repertoire more in depth so that I can bring something more to the table each time I play with them.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Improv at Act3

A couple weeks ago, I led a music service centered around musical improvisation. This evening, I had to put my money where my mouth was when I played for an improv show at Act3 Productions.

Tonight's show was similar to Whose Line Is It Anyway. The "band" was Steve Weikle on sax and yours truly on guitar. We played a few numbers before and after the show, and we played for a couple of the musical games. One was pretty simple for us. The game was called "Half Life." The actors improvised a one-minute scene while we played background music. Then they were supposed to act out the same scene in 30 seconds, then 15, and eventually 5 seconds while we played faster and faster.

The other game, Greatest Hits, had me sweating a little bit. If you haven't seen this game, the audience comes up with someone that people usually don't write songs about. Tonight, it was the dentist. Then two actors pretend they're doing a "greatest hits" commercial for a compilation album (Songs of the Dentist). They name a musical style, and we come up with an accompaniment while two other actors make up a song.

I admit that I almost chickened out of the gig because of this game. I've seen Whose Line Is It Anyway, and those backing musicians can play anything. They're amazing! When I learned about this game, my first reaction was to think that I was a one trick pony…I can play jazz pretty well, but not much else. Steve reassured me, telling me that we could make up a list of styles to choose from so that the actors didn't stump us with something completely out of the ballpark. I started making a list of styles I could fake my way through, including blues, bossa nova, polka, folk ballad, Cajun, funk, reggae, and a few others I don't remember now. This helped me realize that I'm not the one trick pony that I thought I was. I've learned other styles mainly through playing with InTown Band and by performing musicals at Act3 Productions.

The game was a lot of fun. In fact, the entire evening was a blast. Those young performers are really talented! Steve and I received lots of positive comments, and Jesse, who led the show, told us his big idea, which is to bring in a few more musicians and improvise an entire musical! After tonight's experience, I'm up for anything!

Friday, August 17, 2012

A New Wrinkle

It looks like I may be in a new jazz group in about a week. Two nights ago, I received an email entitled "Quartet Work." This is the kind of email you want to click on right away! I thought it was going to be a gig lead. Instead, it was a drummer named Randy, asking if I was interested in playing with their quartet.

The quartet is comprised of sax, guitar, bass, and drums – instrumentals only. They have a regular gig at an upscale French restaurant Friday/Saturday every other week. Their repertoire is similar to my own. Randy told me that their guitarist just left the group. He found my website and felt that I would be a good fit. He asked me to call Dan, the bassist/leader, if I was interested.

I called Dan about a nanosecond after reading that email. It seems that their previous guitarist left the group because he couldn't play as loudly as he wanted. Keep in mind that this is a background music gig at a fancy restaurant. This is not the type of gig where you turn it up to 11. (I suspect there is more to the story. Only time will tell.) Dan and I hit it off on the phone, and we decided to find a time to get together over the weekend to play through a few tunes and see how we all sounded together. The next day, he emailed me to let me know that the other guys had listened to the recordings on my website, and they felt comfortable enough to have next Friday's gig be my audition…no need for a private rehearsal.

So, next Friday (8/24/12), I'll be sitting in with the quartet, playing jazz standards from 6:30-10:00 at The French Market in Locust Grove, GA. I'll know some of the songs, and I'll be sight-reading others.

I won't officially be part of the group until after I play with them, and I'll be auditioning them as much as they'll be auditioning me, but I have a good feeling about it. Assuming this all works out, this quartet would fit nicely into my schedule. They have a Friday/Saturday gig every other week, and they don't rehearse. This still leaves opportunities to book my own solo or group gigs. Also, it'll be a relief to be a simple sideman. I wouldn't have to worry about booking, publicity, or any other non-musical stuff. All I would have to do is show up and play my guitar.

It was a pleasant surprise to be invited to audition for what appears to be a good situation. Lately, it seems that each new opportunity is slowly leading me toward bigger and better things. My ship hasn't quite come in yet, but I am catching glimpses of it on the horizon.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Be Careful Out There

Mom's car right after the accident.
My mom was in a bad traffic accident a few days ago. She was driving down the highway in a compact car. The driver of a large pickup truck turned left onto the highway from Mom's right side. He either didn't see Mom's car or didn't look. Mom didn't even have time to react before they smashed into each other. The vehicles were totaled, but both drivers survived. I don't know the status of the other driver, but Mom has a broken sternum and broken ribs, and her neck and back don't feel so hot. She spent a couple days in the hospital for observation. She has been released, and she is staying with my brother and his family, where she'll be well looked after.

Living in Atlanta, I've seen my share of careless and downright dangerous driving. More often than not, you'll see drivers zipping through heavy traffic like they are in a race. I've witnessed a disturbingly large number of drivers turning left on a red light. I've also seen several drivers who apparently don't realize that oncoming traffic has the right of way if you are turning left, and approximately half the drivers in Atlanta don't seem to understand the value of using a turn signal.

This past week, while driving on I-285, someone came up on me so fast that I thought he was going to ram me from behind. He swerved into the right lane at the last minute, missing me by inches, and proceeded to approach and pass other cars in the same manner. Two nights ago, I was driving side by side with an SUV on Freedom Parkway, when two racing motorcyclists zoomed right between us on the dividing line. They were so close that I could have open my door and creamed them. Five minutes later, on the same road, I was waiting at a stoplight at the head of a line of five or six cars. Another motorcyclist passed all the cars on the left hand side, zipped in front of me, and then turned right.

This type of driving has always disturbed me, but with after Mom's accident, it just plain pisses me off. Nobody wants to believe they can die, and sometimes it seems they're treating the roads like it's a video game. Unlike a video game, though, there is no reset button. If you crash, you can't just use another life.

I also consider this kind of dangerous driving to be selfish. When you drive like a lunatic, swerve in and out of traffic, split lanes to pass between to cars, or pass everyone else sitting at a stoplight, you are treating the rest of the drivers as obstacles instead of living, breathing human beings who are just trying to get somewhere. If you want to risk your own life, go somewhere and race on a closed track, but how dare you risk everyone else's life just because you're in a hurry!

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Playing Within Yourself

Last night I played at the Hungry Ear Coffee House. I used to host the show, and it was nice to return as a performer. The new host, Bob Bakert, is doing wonders with the Hungry Ear. It's always been a great place to play, but Bob has taken the show to a new level. The room is filled every month, and the performers are superb. It did my heart good to see how much the show has grown.

My band, Tea for Two, played at the Hungry Ear last night. We shared the show with Curtis Jones and Martin Norgaard. Curtis is an amazing guitar player with chops to spare, and Martin is a world class jazz violinist. We performed second, and I have to admit that Curtis and Martin are a tough act to follow. Martin's violin playing was spectacular, and Curtis can play guitar at a speed that I probably won't even approach for at least 10 years.

It would have been easy to be intimidated by such good players, but I've been reading a book that helped me stay in a good frame of mind. The book is Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner. I haven't even practiced any of the exercises in the book yet, but just reading through it has been helpful. One of the main points of the book is that to be a "master," you don't have to master everything. You just have to be a master at what you do. This really clicked with me last night. Nobody in Tea for Two could match the virtuosity of Curtis and Martin, but we didn't have to. Blazing speed isn't our thing. Our musical strength is our sense of vocal blend and ensemble. (That's not to say that I wouldn't like to have Curtis' technical skills. As a matter of fact, I work daily on my speed so that I will eventually possess the technique to play whatever comes into my head.)

If we had taken the stage last night and tried to be instrumental wizards, we would have flopped. Curtis and Martin did what they did very well, and we did what we did very well. We sang our hearts out, sang tight harmonies, played some tasty solos, supported the singing with understated but effective instrumentals, and connected with the audience. I was happy with our set, and the audience really seemed to enjoy themselves. The people left smiling, happy, and humming our songs. You can't ask for much more than that.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Home at Zen Tea

It appears that Zen Tea is becoming a second home.

I usually play at Zen Tea once a month with Tea for Two, but last night I performed as a soloist. I didn't attract as many people as the full band usually does, but I still had fun. Two hours of singing and playing my favorite music at one of my favorite venues is a good way to spend a Saturday night. Although I didn't exactly fill the room, Connie (the owner) liked my solo show and asked me to book another one. Flattery will get you everywhere. I booked a date for September 1.

A friend of mine, Barbara Hotz, plays nearly every Sunday afternoon from 2-4 for a regular event…a tea tasting, I think, but I'm not sure. She doesn't play every single Sunday, so I'm going to be her alternate, which means I'll probably play an additional Sunday each month or so.

On top of that, it looks like I'll be hosting a monthly jam session at Zen Tea, which will start in late September. This is an experiment, and for now, we've only scheduled September 23 and October 28. If those go well, we'll continue. I'm not sure exactly how I'll run the jam session yet, but I do know that I would like this to be an eclectic jam session. To reflect my personal tastes, I'll invite musicians of all stripes to the event – particularly folk musicians and jazzers. Of course, the musical styles at the jam session will ultimately depend on who actually shows up, but I'll do my best to make it a melting pot.

I've been playing at Zen Tea for about two years now, and I've loved it since day one. The moment I first walked in, there was something about the place. The tension left my body, and I felt peaceful and at ease. Part of it is the decor, but mostly it's because of Connie, who calmly treats all her customers like friends.

If you're ever in Chamblee, GA and just need a place to sit down and relax a while, you should check out Zen Tea. Meanwhile, I'm thinking about setting up a cot in the back room.

Chick-fil-A (sigh)

Yes, this is yet another blog about Chick-fil-A. I see my Facebook friends posting all sorts of things for and against Chick-fil-A's stance on "traditional" marriage, whatever that is. I've seen posts like the picture on the right, and other friends have snidely posted comments like "I'm going to enjoy a delicious sandwich at Chick-fil-A today!"

I doubt I'm going to be writing anything new on the great Chick-fil-A debate. I'm sorely tempted to respond to my friends' Facebook comments, but that inevitably ends in a ridiculous flame war. All I want to do here is put my opinion on record and leave it at that.

Let's start off with a couple pieces of information. First of all, I feel strongly that gay people should be allowed to be married. Second of all, regardless of Chick-fil-A's stance on the issue, I don't like their food. I've eaten at Chick-fil-A three times in my life, maybe four, and it just doesn't do much for me.

Although Chick-fil-A and I share a different opinion on the issue of gay marriage (and probably a lot of other things), the owners have every right to donate to whomever they choose. (If it turns out that they discriminated against employees or customers due to sexual preference, that would be another story, but I haven't heard or read anything about that.)

In turn, if I find that a restaurant is openly against gay marriage, I can simply choose to spend my money somewhere else. This is no hardship for me, since I don't even like Chick-fil-A's food, but I have friends who love Chick-fil-A's food who have decided to never eat there again.

I'm amazed at the number of Facebook friends who are amazed at the long lines at Chick-fil-A since this whole ridiculous thing started. Really? You didn't see this coming? You didn't expect religious right-wingers to come out in droves, viewing this is as a delicious way to support their cause?

I seriously doubt that the "biblically based" Chick-fil-A is going to be hurting any time soon, and I don't feel this will signal a new boom for them, either. They've lost plenty of regular customers. They're getting a lot of business now from those who want to keep Chick-fil-A from being "oppressed." The brisk business will eventually die down, but through this little "I'm going to Chick-fil-A" fad, they will regain regular customers to replace those they lost. I think it will all even out.

Meanwhile, I'll continue to spend my money where I think it should go…into locally owned establishments that view their customers as people and not dollar signs.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Skink Day

Stone Mountain has become like a gigantic gym for me with a $35 a year membership fee (parking pass). Once a week (twice if my schedule is free), I like to go to Stone Mountain and tromp around. There are two different kinds of hikes that I enjoy. The main attraction for hikers seems to be the Walk Up Trail, which is a one mile hike straight up Stone Mountain. There are also plenty of trails that go around Stone Mountain. Sometimes I enjoy the physical challenge of the Walk Up Trail, and sometimes I enjoy a longer hike through the woods.

Today I took a longer hike. I walked five miles around Stone Mountain, mostly sticking to the Cherokee Trail. After one circumnavigation, I turned around and retraced my steps for a total of 10 miles. It was an eventful walk, with plenty of nature moments.

It began to rain during the first section of the hike. It was so steamy that my glasses soon fogged up. I'm extremely nearsighted, but I was better off carrying my glasses. I'm glad I was familiar with this trail, because it a blurry two miles before the sun came out and evaporated the moisture from my glasses. Oddly enough, it didn't appear to have rained at all on the north side of the mountain. That ground was bone dry.

After the sun came out, the rocks were steaming, and I started to see five-lined skinks all over the place. I think there must have been a skink convention, because they were everywhere! I'm sure those skinks have been there all along, but this was the first time I started to notice them. After I became aware of them, I saw them wherever I looked. I've only been walking the trails at Stone Mountain for a couple weeks now. I'm looking forward to seeing more wildlife as my city eyes get used to looking for critters on the trail.

On the return trip, I came across a rather large deer. We stared at each other for a few seconds before she bounded away. After reaching the south side of the mountain, I got rained on again…twice. At least it wasn't enough to fog up my glasses again. Aside from the annoyance of foggy glasses, I didn't mind the rain. In face, it felt wonderful, like I was walking through a lawn sprinkler on a hot day.

Aside from my nature moments, I'm also thrilled that I appear to be able to run again. For now, I'm sticking mainly with walking the trails, with an occasional stretch of running (well, trotting). The trail is much easier on my knees than the hard road, and the tricky footing helps keep me from over striding. I've read that running on tricky terrain is also a good way to strengthen the ankles and all the other joints that support running and walking. I'll eventually increase the percentage of time I spend running versus walking, but, to play it smart, I plan to mix running with walking from now on.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Making It Up (Music Service)

This morning, I led a music service at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation. The service was based around musical improvisation as a form of communication, and I also drew parallels between musical improvisation and Unitarian Universalism. The service was well received, and I owe a debt of thanks to the musicians who helped me out: Thomas Vinton, Yahya Rahmaan, and Steve Weikle.

This was my script for the service. You lose some of the "oomph" without the music, but I hope you still find the words meaningful.

July 22, 2012

Tom Godfrey (worship leader, guitar)
Thomas Vinton (piano)
Steve Weikle (woodwinds)
Yahya Rahman (drums)
Susan Burnore (worship associate)


PRELUDE (The Musicians)
Flippin’ Giddy (by Tom Godfrey) [an original composition]

CHALICE LIGHTING (Susan Burnore and Tom Godfrey)
The words for this morning’s chalice lighting come from Ella Fitzgerald. “Forgive me if I don’t have the words. Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.”

I don’t know what’s going to happen this morning. I mean, I have some words printed out, but the heart of this service is musical improvisation. I really don’t know what these other guys are going to play. I don’t know what I’M going to play. We’re just making this up!

OPENING HYMN (The Congregation)
#1003 Where to We Come From?

  • Start as regular hymn.
  • Group will then start to improvise as we phase out the hymn and have congregation sit.
  • We’ll bring in the congregation at the end, singing whichever part they want.


OFFERTORY (The Musicians)
Cutesy Blues (by Tom Godfrey)

REFLECTION (Tom Godfrey)
I love improvising. I used to be afraid to improvise. Actually, sometimes I’m still afraid to improvise, because you just don’t know what’s going to happen next. If you’ve ever been to a jam session, you know that sometimes improvisation is magical, and sometimes…it isn’t. To me, improvisation is a little like stepping off a cliff and trusting that a bridge will appear. I started out as a classical trombone player, where I was trained to play everything “exactly right.” The few times I was forced to improvise, I tended to shut down. I was so used to playing whatever I saw on the page that I didn’t know what to do if I actually had to come up with something on my own.

Back in the ‘90s, I was a trombone player in an Air Force band. It was a good job, but I developed a muscle tear in my upper lip and lost the ability to play trombone. Musically and socially, I shut down for nearly 10 years. I worked as a music copyist, but I couldn’t play the trombone, and I didn’t sing in public. A few years ago, my ex, Katherine, got tired of hearing me talking about wanting to learn to play the guitar all the time, so she bought me one. It was the best gift I’ve ever received. Playing a new instrument reignited my passion for music. Despite my classical background, I gravitated toward jazz guitar, and I eventually started learning to improvise. And I loved it! That’s not to say that I was good at it right away. I was terrible. But I didn’t care. I wasn’t afraid to be terrible. I wasn’t afraid to make mistakes. I just wanted to explore.

Now, I don’t believe in fate. I only believe in coincidence. Still, it’s an interesting coincidence that I started becoming more of a musical explorer around the same time I discovered Unitarian Universalism, which encourages spiritual exploration.

This morning, we’ll be exploring musical improvisation as a way of communicating, and I’ll even draw some similarities between improvisation and Unitarian Universalism. Lucky for you, I’m a musician and not much of a talker. I’ll just make a few points and then, like Ella said, “Maybe I can sing it and you’ll understand.”

MUSIC FOR ALL AGES (Tom Godfrey and Thomas Vinton) [This took the place of the usual children's story.]
The Blues
Does anybody know what it means to have the blues? If I say that I have the blues, it means I’m feeling a little sad. The blues is also a kind of music. It started back when we had slavery in this country. Many of the slaves had to work very hard in the fields, and they sang work songs that helped make the day go a little faster. Over time, these work songs changed into what we call the blues. Lots of times, blues songs tell a sad story. Sometimes they’ll tell a happy story, too, but usually it’s sad stories. The funny thing about singing the blues is that it can make you happy. It might seem strange that singing a sad song can make you happy. If something makes you sad or angry and you hold it inside, your bad feelings can grow and grow, but if you let them out and let someone know how you’re feeling, you can suddenly feel better. I think that singing a blues song can make you happy because singing is a way of letting the sadness out.

This morning, we’re going to sing your sad stories. Think of something that makes you sad…or happy. I’ll give you an example. You may not believe it, but I used to have a full head of hair. “I woke up this morning, all my hair went away. Woke up this morning, all my hair went away. I’m so sad and lonely, had to put my comb away.”

Now it’s your turn. What makes you sad? Mad? Happy? What’s fun? What’s boring? [We will take whatever the children give us, and Thomas Vinton will use it to improvise a blues song.] [This was one of the highlights of the service.]

MAKING IT UP (Tom Godfrey)
I think of musical improvisation as a conversation. Just as with any other worthwhile conversation, you need a common language, a willingness to listen, and some rules of engagement. A common language, a willingness to listen, and rules of engagement. Once these three things are in place, the conversation can go anywhere. In a musical conversation, there are certain rules, or at least conventions. Depending on what instruments we play, we each have a sense of what role we’ll be playing within the group. This particular bunch of musicians doesn’t play together on a regular basis. I play with Thomas and Yahya, and I’ve played with Steve, but Thomas and Yayha don’t play with Steve, and the four of us have all played together exactly one time. Despite that, there are certain assumptions or expectations that we have of each other. Let’s take the blues, for example, something we just did with the kids. The blues is such a fundamental part of American popular music that almost every musician can play a basic blues. So let’s say a rock player, a country picker, and a jazzer walk into a bar. (No, this is not a joke.) If you have them all sit down and just say, let’s play a blues in G, chances are they’re going to be able to come up with something.

Aside from the blues, there are other musical conventions in the jazz world that we call standards. A jazz standard is simply a song that most jazz musicians know. The beauty of a jazz standard is that even though everyone has the same basic information in the form of chords and melody, we are all free to interpret the information in our own way. For example.

Again, we are all free to interpret the information in our own way. There’s a religious parallel. People can interpret the same religious texts in radically different ways depending on what they already bring to the table or how they were raised. One Christian may use the Bible to justify a war. Another Christian may be inspired by the same book to love his neighbor, and may even extend his definition of a “neighbor” to include people from all over the world. One Muslim may use the Koran as a guide for living a peaceful, harmonious life, and another may use the same book to justify a suicide bombing. That’s about as heavy as I’m going to get today. I’m just a musician. You can reflect on religious parallels while we interpret “Fly Me to the Moon” a third way.

Wynton Marsalis might be a closet UU. He said, “As long as there is democracy, there will be people wanting to play jazz because nothing else will perfectly capture the democratic process in sound. Jazz means working things out musically with people. You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing.” Does that theme sound familiar? “You have to listen to other musicians and play with them even if you don’t agree with what they’re playing.”

This church has offered a class called Building Your Own Theology. Well, we’re going to build our own song. I have no idea what’s going to happen here, but whatever we play, it’ll be the result of listening to each other’s ideas, trusting each other, and building on what we hear. I’ll start off with a riff. Yahya will have to put a beat to it, while Thomas and Steve will have to figure out what key it’s in, and we’ll take it from there. We’ll step off the cliff and trust that a bridge will appear.

We have our most meaningful musical conversations when we can establish common ground, when we listen to each other, when we work to understand each other’s ideas, and when we trust. As UUs, we have our most meaningful conversations when we can establish common ground, when we listen to each other, when we work to understand each other’s ideas, and when we trust.

Please rise in body and spirit as we sing…

#346 Come, Sing a Song with Me

Come, Sing a Song with Me (continues as an instrumental jam) [The postlude usually functions as exit music. We continued jamming over this hymn, letting the congregation know they were free to go to the lobby or stay and enjoy the jam. About half left and half stayed. One couple even started dancing!]