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.

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.