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.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Steady On

So far, my weight "re-loss" is going well. I'm losing pounds steadily, and I'm on track to meet my weight goal in June. That won't be the end of the process. As I've discovered the hard way, maintaining weight can be more challenging than losing it in the first place. I'll deal with that issue when the time comes.

For the most part, my weight loss this time around has been very steady. Except for the first week, when I lost 9 pounds of mostly water, I've been losing a steady 3 pounds a week.

Last week, despite a careful diet and plenty of exercise, my body stubbornly held on to the same weight for 5 days. Even though logic dictated that I was doing everything right, I was still frustrated. For a while, I considered cutting back on food, but that would have been a mistake. I'm already very careful about both the quantity and quality of my food, and I'm certain that eating any less could begin to pose a health risk.

Instead of freaking out about the situation, I simply continued doing what I've been doing all along: pedaling my stationary bike, walking, and eating healthy foods. On the sixth day, I suddenly dropped three pounds, which was a relief. There's no way I dropped three pounds of fat in a day. My guess is that I ate too much sodium earlier in the week and was retaining water. Whatever the cause was, I'm once again dropping pounds at a steadier pace.

If you are fighting your own battle of the bulge, there will be times when you doubt yourself or your routine. Sometimes the weight will seem to melt off. Other times, it'll feel like you're fighting for every ounce. When this happens, it's tempting to start changing things – eating too little or exercising too much. Remember, you've been successfully losing weight with whatever plan you're following. Just because the scale doesn't budge for a few days doesn't mean that you're suddenly off track. You may be retaining water. You may have gained some muscle. If you keep doing what you've been doing, chances are that you'll soon be back to your "losing weighs."

I'm glad I didn't change anything based on a few unsatisfying weigh-ins. I just kept reminding myself that this is a numbers game. If I burn more calories than I consume, the weight comes off. I stuck with my routine, kept eating the same foods, and eventually began shedding pounds again. So for now, it's steady on, and I'll continue to keep my head the next time there's a bump in the road.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Back Up

A while ago, I began recording backing tracks for myself. I had completed a couple, but then I got sidetracked. I don't remember if I was preparing for a musical or if I just had a bunch of gigs. For whatever reason, I forgot about recording for a while.

Lately, I've started recording backing tracks again with the iPad, and I'm having a blast with it. I'm using Garage Band for the iPad. As recording software goes, it's very scaled down, but I don't need much for what I'm doing. For most tracks, I just record bass, percussion, rhythm guitar, and sometimes a keyboard part. Sometimes I also record a second lead guitar part to harmonize with my live solo guitar. One handy thing about using the iPad for recording is that I can record anywhere. For example, I often record bass and drum parts on Wednesdays at NWUUC after dinner while waiting for my choir to show up. The church has a huge porch, and it's relaxing to sit outside, fire up the iPad, and record a few tracks.

When I perform for background gigs, I mainly play and sing solo with no backing tracks or loops. Two or three hours of purely solo guitar is rough on the hands. Playing with a backing track allows me to play single notes for a while and give my hands a break.

Yesterday, I had a chance to use my backing tracks for the first time on a gig. I played at Tessitura for the 2012 Oakhurst Wine Crawl, singing and playing background music as literally hundreds of people filed through for a glass of wine. Every 20 minutes or so, I threw in an instrumental with a backing track. Not only did this rest my hands, but it provided a nice stylistic change. My music tends to be smooth and relaxing. Even the uptempo tunes come out that way. My backing tracks have more of a groove to them, and they allow me some space to jam. Overall, it was a successful event for both Tessitura and me. I think Tessitura will get more business out of this, and a substantial number of my cards were snatched up. After the wine crawl, I was told that lots of people were commenting on the music. Hopefully those comments, plus the missing business cards, will turn into future gigs.

I'm enjoying the process of recording, and I'm learning a lot. The main thing I learned at the gig was that I need to check the overall balance between tracks using the amp through which I'll be playing the tracks. Headphones aren't enough, especially my cheap headphones. Through the headphones, my tracks sounded balanced. Through the amp, though, I got just enough percussion, a little too much bass, and not quite enough rhythm guitar. I don't think it was noticeable to people standing in line, chatting, and waiting for wine, but it bothered me a little. I'll use my amp and balance out those parts before next week's gig.

*Side note. The only weird part of the gig was when a guy shooting video got up close and personal while I was performing. I often use background gigs to work in new material, and he could have started filming while I was performing something I wasn't entirely comfortable with yet. Fortunately, he got up in my face while I was performing Autumn Leaves, which is a song I can probably perform in my sleep.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Just a Shell

Last night, I subbed in a rehearsal with the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I jump at the chance to play with any big band. I love the music, and I enjoy playing big band rhythm guitar. The guitarist rarely plays a solo in a big band. You are usually a cog in the rhythm section. The bass plays the low notes, while the piano often plays high notes and fills in the gaps when the horns aren't playing. The drummer drives the band. The guitar usually plays strict quarter notes in the middle register. When I'm playing in a big band, I try to lock in with the hi-hat and the bass. Listeners might not notice you in the mix, but they'll notice if you drop out.

When you play with a big band, you usually don't play full chords like a folk guitarist might, and instead of letting the notes ring, you usually cut the chords short by releasing the notes with your fret hand in a constant pumping action. I've been working on "shell voicings." In jazz, there are usually two notes that really define the chord: the 3rd and the 7th. Other parts of the chord add a certain amount of color, and it's usually the pianist's job to add the "extra" notes. In laymen's terms, this means that, when you play shell voicings, you reduce the chords to just two notes. This takes a while to get used to. Most guitarists can automatically play full chord shapes, but it takes a certain amount of theoretical knowledge, fretboard knowledge, and practice to isolate the two fingers that are playing the "essential" notes.

Last night was a great opportunity to practice playing shell voicings in big band parts. I was pleased with how I did. The Sentimental Journey Orchestra's regular guitarist is out of town for the next few weeks, so I'll be subbing quite a bit, having a blast playing with a good big band and practicing my shell voicings.

The master of big band guitar playing was Freddie Green, who played with the Count Basie Orchestra. Acting as a human metronome to help drive the Basie band, Freddie Green played strict quarter notes and played nothing but 3-note chords and shell voicings. I read a quote somewhere describing Freddie Green as the greatest guitarist to never take a solo.

To get an idea of what a master big band guitarist sounds like, here are a couple videos to enjoy. Corner Pocket, featuring the entire Count Basie Orchestra, was written by Freddie Green. Listen for Freddie's unmistakeable, unwavering pulse as he backs up the band. I Don't Know features the Basie rhythm section and gives you a more close up view of Freddie's playing.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Great Choir Rehearsal

I love my part time music director job at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation. While I have other responsibilities, the main part of the job is working with the choir. Wednesday night choir rehearsal has become a highlight of my week. You'd think that rehearsing in the evening in the middle of the week would leave me drained, but in fact, I leave most rehearsals feeling energized and uplifted.

Like most church choirs, the singers come from a variety of backgrounds. Some are strong readers and play instruments. Others have less formal backgrounds. For some, this is their first choral experience. Regardless of our individual backgrounds, we share a common love of music and a joy in singing with others.

Last Wednesday's rehearsal was amazing. The choir does very well with lyrical, flowing music, but they are sometimes challenged by more rhythmic, offbeat pieces. We were working on a piece called Look Up, Way Down. It has a lot of syncopated, offbeat rhythms. To me, it didn't look too tricky, because I play those rhythms all the time as a jazz musician, but the choir struggled. Last Wednesday was the final rehearsal before we were scheduled to sing this piece on Sunday, and so our goal was to sing the rhythms correctly by the end of rehearsal.

I rehearsed the choir thoroughly, section by section. As we continued working out the kinks, I felt the choir's confidence growing minute by minute. When we started rehearsing the piece, the choir was timid and ragged. Gradually, the piece came together. More importantly, they began to really feel the music. You can perform the notes and rhythms perfectly, but without style, it just sounds robotic. They were starting to sing with energy and soul! At the end of our rehearsal, we stood up and sang it all the way through. They were great! It literally sounded like a different choir. It was truly amazing to hear the choir transform over the course of a single rehearsal.

I drove home from that particular rehearsal buzzing with enthusiasm. There was no one in the car to talk to, but that didn't stop me. "THAT was a great rehearsal," I informed the steering wheel. On the way home, I also relayed this same information to the mirror and the radio.

At the end of rehearsal, the look on everyone's face was priceless. Their expressions seemed to say, "Did we really just do that?" Yes, you did, and you sang it just as well on Sunday.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tune Based Practice

Earlier this month, I blogged about taking Joe Pass' advice to "learn tunes." Last year, I got caught up in playing too many exercises and not enough real music. I'm still playing plenty of scales, but now my main focus is on repertoire.

With this "tunes first" approach, practicing is more fun. It's harder to put the guitar down when you're playing good music. It's also more practical. Nobody wants to hear you play scales. If you're concentrating on tunes, you're building a repertoire of interesting, listenable music. As I'm learning more standards, I'm arranging more. Some of my new arrangements work well for guitar alone, and some are more scaled down and require a bass or piano player to back me up.

On an average day, I break my practice into three chunks. First, I'll spend time practicing scales and other warm-up exercises. Next, I'll practice jazz standards. Finally, I pull out my nylon string guitar and practice classical and Celtic music.

The first part of my practice is geared toward technique. I run through scales and arpeggios, and I'll play a couple jazzy warm-ups and practice a few licks. I also use this time to review older solo arrangements and to practice sight-reading, which pays dividends when it's time to sit in on a big band gig or learn the guitar part for a musical.

When it's time to practice jazz standards, I'll work through a list of tunes I want to learn. Some of them will be new songs for Tea for Two. Others will be songs that I just want to learn for the fun of it. This is also the time I work on new guitar arrangements. The nice thing about arranging for yourself is that you are tailoring your repertoire for your own level. Some of the arrangements come easily, and some require extra time and effort.

I've recently started working on classical and Celtic repertoire again. I bought a nice collection of flute/guitar music last year. I've learned enough of the guitar parts to get through a wedding gig, but I want to learn the rest. I've also written several arrangements of Celtic music for flute and guitar, and I have a collection of Celtic guitar pieces I'd like to learn. It'll be nice to mix the Celtic pieces in with my jazz arrangements for background gigs.

I'm glad I took Joe Pass' advice. Learning tunes is more fun, and I can build technique and repertoire at the same time.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Going High Tech

It's Superbowl Sunday, so of course I spent my evening recording some music.

A few months ago, I wrote about my mild case of G.A.S. (gear acquisition syndrome). Thanks to a very large music engraving project, I've been able to acquire some new goodies. Since I began taking piano lessons, I purchased a new keyboard, but that's the only instrument I bought. This time, I got my hands on some high tech goodies, starting with an iPad.

My iPad has quickly become an incredibly useful tool for making music. As soon a I purchased the iPad, I bought the DeepDish GigBook app. Over the past few years, my songbook has become pretty thick. After adding hundreds of pages, it's a major pain to carry my songbook to gigs. With GigBook, I can store all of my sheet music in my iPad. I've made it a habit to copy all my songs in Finale and save them as PDFs so that I can email music to other musicians. In addition to my own files, I also have PDFs of about 15 fake books. It turns out that I can export all of these PDFs directly to GigBook. Within minutes of installing GigBook, I literally transferred thousands of songs to my iPad. Now, instead of using a small backpack to tote my songbook, my music library fits in my guitar's gig bag.

What's even more amazing about GigBook is the ability to organize all my music. I've set up separate folders for my own songbook, Tea for Two, InTown Band, Unitarian Hymns, etc. You can also easily organize set lists, allowing you to scroll through the music, song by song, in set order. There are more ways to organize my music that I haven't even begun to explore. You can also write notes, by hand, directly onto the pages in GigBook, which is handy if you need to leave friendly reminders in the music.

The only downside to GigBook is that you can only see one page at a time – not that you'd want to try reading two pages side by side on the small iPad display. If a song is long enough, you're going to have to turn the virtual page, which is not so easy when both hands are busy playing guitar. Fortunately, there is the AirTurn BT-105. This is a rather unsexy name for a handy gadget. The AirTurn is a Bluetooth device that allows you to turn pages with your foot. Very cool.

Oh, but the fun doesn't stop there! I can record music with GarageBand for the iPad. There are some pretty good virtual instruments built in, including drums, various keyboards, basses etc. You can also play directly into the iPad thanks to iRig, and you can sing directly into the iPad with the iMic. While this app doesn't have all the features of ProTools or Cubase, it suits my modest needs, and I'm finding it quite easy to operate. I'm using iPad's GarageBand to help a friend record a vocal demo. I just laid down some backing tracks for her, and then I began recording a backing track of my own for one of my favorite tunes, Little Sunflower by Freddie Hubbard.

None of these high tech toys take the place of real musicianship, but they sure are useful…and they look cool. My G.A.S. is relieved…for now.