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, 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!

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