About Me

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Atlanta, GA, United States
When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Lesson #3

I'm continuing to blog about taking guitar lessons with Dave Frackenpohl at Georgia State. This helps me absorb the lesson, and I hope that it is helpful for others following the same path.

  • Last time, Dave had me use strict up/down picking when playing the dorian and mixolydian scale forms that he assigned me instead of economy picking. For this lesson's assignment, he's having me apply strict up/down picking to scale patterns (1231, 2342, 3453, etc.).
  • We worked on Maiden Voyage, which is a great tune for learning to think in dorian instead of its root major scale. Dave showed me some sweep picking licks to use. We'll continue working on Maiden Voyage, incorporating the sweep arpeggios that he showed me.
  • I had transcribed a West Montgomery solo from a recording of Fly Me to the Moon. Wes played in octaves throughout the solo, which is quite a workout for me! I was able to learn the 1st half of the solo and could play it reasonably well, if slowly. Next, I'll figure out how to play the second half.
  • I'll be learning Out of Nowhere for my next lesson. Dave wants me to learn the melody, but you can bet I'll be learning the chords, too. It's a nice song. I'll be adding it to my vocal repertoire for sure.
  • Out of the Barry Galbraith Guitar Comping book, I'll be working on the first half of an F blues exercise.
  • Dave also assigned me Now's the Time, a Charlie Parker tune that is an F blues.
  • Dave noticed that I tend to push the tempo when I solo. To help solidify my sense of time, he gave me a metronome project. Using Fly Me to the Moon, he wants me to put the metronome on 60, think of each metronome beat as 2 and 4, and stay with the metronome when I play the melody or solo. Then, I'm supposed to do the same thing with the metronome on 30, think of each metronome click as "4" (with 1, 2, and 3 silent). Next to this assignment, he wrote the words "this is challenging." Thanks for the warning, Dave!
These lessons are great! They're just what I need. I'm especially happy that Dave assigned me a blues exercise and a blues tune. Playing blues is a big weakness in my game. Most jazz guitar players start with the blues. I skated right over the blues when I started getting into jazz. The first jazz song I learned was Misty. I can play beautiful ballads, but I'm just a poser when it comes to blues. This lesson assignment will help set me straight in that area.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Surplus

Ever since I decided to restart a music career, I've been poor. This is no exaggeration. I had to move out of the house that my ex and I had been renting and move into a small basement apartment. The rent was low, and utilities were included. Even so, I was sometimes late on my rent. Fortunately, I had a terrific landlady who was understanding. (She is a musician, and both her son and daughter are musicians, so she was sympathetic.) I've been able to pay my bills, but sometimes my checking account was literally in the single digits when the smoke cleared.

Lately, it seems that I've turned a corner. For the past three months, I've had money left over after paying my monthly bills and rent for my new apartment. Maybe I don't have enough left over to buy a house or that yacht that I've had my eye on, but I'm not so worried about the next round of bills. As a matter of fact, I've voluntarily added a new bill to the pile: health insurance! I can finally afford health insurance!

There hasn't been any one project that has taken off. Instead, everything has been improving little by little. The gigs have been coming steadily since last November. My student roster has been slowly growing. My church job is only quarter time, but having a steady check has helped immensely, and there seems to be some support for increasing my hours at the start of the next church year.

I'm not setting the world on fire, but I have a few burners going. As long as I'm earning enough to be comfortable doing what I love, that's good enough for me.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Three Little Things

Like many guitar players, I drool over guitar porn: the music store catalogs I receive in the mail. I like to see the latest guitars and gadgets, and I think about the killer rig I could assemble if I only had $5,000-10,000 to spare. To be honest, though, I really have everything I need. (Okay, maybe I'm still looking for just the right nylon string guitar.) As a straight ahead jazz player, I'm a fan of a clean guitar sound, so I don't need a huge pedal board or a Marshall stack.

As much as I enjoy looking at all the shiny equipment, it turns out that there are three small, simple items that make life a lot easier: string locks, an amp with a built in tuner, and a Peak music stand.

My Godin XTSA came with string locks, which makes it much easier to change strings. You just loosen the cap, thread a string through and pull it tight, tighten the cap, and tune. Simple!

I use a Roland 80XL for gigs. Its little brother, the 40XL, sits at home as a practice amp. Both of these amps offer up a great clean sound and have some nice built-in effects. Other than the tone, the best feature is the built in tuner. It's quite accurate. You just hit the tuner button, which is in the center left of the controls, and tune up. As an added bonus, the tuner automatically mutes the amp, so no one else has to listen to you tune…very handy when you're a church musician and you want to check the tuning during the sermon. I used to use a digital tuner pedal, the Boss TU2, which works quite well, but when your amp has a built-in tuner, you have one less piece of equipment to pack.

Finally, my favorite piece of equipment: the Peak music stand. It's made of highly durable plastic, folds in on itself, and fits nicely into a bag that ships with the stand. It's about $30, and it is light and solid. It's nearly as light as a cheap wire stand, and nearly as durable as a heavy metal stand. I've turned a number of my musician friends onto this stand. I've lost track of the number of times I've taken this stand out, only to hear another musician or audience member comment on it. You can click here for a video demo.

All three of these items or features are small things, but they've made a big difference by simplifying my gigging life.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

What Was I Thinking?

This week falls squarely into the "what was I thinking when I made my schedule" category. In addition to the usual rehearsals, students, church planning, and music engraving, I've got:

Busy is good, right? Right? That's okay. Musicians like to complain. If I didn't have any gigs this weekend, I'd be complaining about that!

Creative Streak

Between lessons with my new teacher and a focus on improving my Godfrey and Guy guitar parts, I seem to be on a creative streak.

At last night's French Market gig with The Standard Quartet, the drummer commented that he was hearing new ideas in my improv solos. I felt especially good about my playing with the same group tonight. After just two lessons with my new teacher, I'm discovering fresh ways to approach improvisation. I still have a lifetime of challenges ahead of me, but if the past two gigs are any indication, I'm on a good path.

Normally I'm exhausted after a gig, but tonight I felt inspired – so much so that after returning from a 3.5 hour gig, I felt compelled to take the guitar out again and mess around with some Godfrey and Guy parts. I ended up with a pretty tasty solo part for Old Devil Moon, and the start of a good solo part for Summertime. The only reason I stopped was because I have to get up early tomorrow to lead my choir.

The last holiday season was great for gigs, but once it was over, I didn't have much motivation when I returned to my regular repertoire…like there was something else I should have been doing. I dutifully practiced my scales and made sure I was prepared for gigs last month, but I was only going through the motions. Now I have some forward momentum.

It's nice to feel inspired again!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Lesson #2

I just returned from my second lesson with Dave Frackenpohl. Summarizing these lessons in my blog will help me wrap my head around what I just learned, and it may help some other jazz guitarists out there find a path.

Today, we warmed up with the dorian and mixolydian scale forms that he assigned me. I didn't have any problem memorizing the scale forms, but to clean up my technique, he told me to use strict alternate picking (up/down/up/down) instead of economy picking (where you keep the pick moving in the same direction as much as possible).

Memorizing scale forms is one thing, but putting them to good use is another. To help me learn to apply the dorian scale forms in a practical way, Dave assigned Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage, which can be used as one big dorian scale exercise…and is also a cool tune to learn.

Next, we played through my transcription of a Django Reinhardt solo from a performance of All of Me. That went pretty well. We talked about a few licks from the solo that I can put to use in other contexts, and then he told me to find and transcribe a solo from a performance of Fly Me to the Moon. I'll have to dig through my recordings or hunt online and find an approachable solo. The transcribing was by far the most challenging part of my first assignment, but it was very rewarding when I finally worked through it and learned it.

Then we looked at the first exercise in the Galbraith Guitar Comping book. I had worked hard on this two-page exercise for the changes for Shiny Stockings. I knew I had overachieved when Dave asked me how far I had gotten. I had worked out the entire exercise. I think he would have been happy if I had conquered the first page. I have an affinity for different chord forms, and so even though the exercise was challenging to learn, the new chord forms stuck with me pretty well. I even found opportunities to use a couple of the new forms at gigs, and I'll most likely find good uses for them the next time I write a chord/melody arrangement. My next Guitar Comping assign is a comp for Out of Nowhere.

Finally, we went through my A Train assignment, which was to outline chords as he played through the changes. To add a little spice, Dave suggested raising the 5th whenever I outline a dominant chord. We're staying on A Train a little longer so that I can practice working through the altered dominant chords. He also showed me a nice intro and the shout chorus, which turned out to be easier than I thought it would be. We finished out the lesson by improvising over the A Train chords. I had a lot of great ideas that didn't quite make it out through my fingers. I kept thinking of something a friend jokingly said once…"I really liked what you tried to do!" Dave didn't seem concerned about the finger fumbles, though. He appreciated the fact that I had interesting musical ideas, and he told me that the ideas will come through my fingers once we've cleaned up my technique.

This was a good lesson. I feel like I made a lot of progress in the past couple weeks, and the new assignment, while challenging, isn't out of reach. As a bonus, I've been needing to memorize more songs. All of the assignments are based on actual tunes, so I'm automatically memorizing jazz repertoire as we go. I'm really glad I started lessons with Dave. I've never had a problem motivating myself to practice, but it's been a scattershot approach. These lessons are helping me focus and dig deeper into some important concepts.

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Solo" Soloing

Joe Pass
Joe Pass was the master of self-contained jazz guitar improvisation. This is something that I've been working on, and I've gradually improved over time. Like any other musical skill, it's a work in progress that will keep me busy for the rest of my life.

Over the next several months, I'll be making a special effort to work on my solo improvisation as part of the Godfrey and Guy duo. When I improvise for myself, I have the flexibility to pick a key for that lays well for chord/melody arrangements. As part of the duo, where Lori Guy does most of the singing, I no longer have that luxury. As with most female vocalists, the key for any given song is "wrong" for guitar chord/melody arrangements. It's either too high or too low for a solo arrangement.

For now, I've been using a looper. I'll record while I comp for Lori during the first chorus, and then I'll loop those chords for guitar improvisation. This is great practice for my single line improvisation, and even better than that, it's great practice for training myself to keep time. When you start the loop over again, you can tell immediately if you've changed tempo. My time isn't perfect, but it sure has gotten better since using a looper to record entire choruses.

The bad thing about a looper is that there is very little flexibility. My comping has to be very basic. There's nothing wrong with simple. Simple usually sounds best, but if Lori does something creative in her vocals, I can't answer with an appropriate musical response, because it'll sound weird when I loop the chords back for solos.

I've nearly weaned myself from looping when playing solo gigs. Now, it's time to do the same with the Godfrey and Guy material. We have a lot of songs in the book, so I'm tackling a few at a time. The first three on the list are It's Only a Paper MoonAll of Me, and B├ęsame Mucho – all in non-standard keys. I like to blend improvised sections with chord/melody sections. I started working through these three songs earlier this evening. There are some bugs to work out, but I was pleasantly surprised with some early success.

I'm looking forward to the day when I'm comfortable leaving the looper at home for Godfrey and Guy gigs. It'll make us more flexible, and working through these songs will make me a stronger improviser. As an added bonus, it'll be one less thing to carry to a gig!