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, March 28, 2013

Lesson #5

Continuing with my practice of summarizing my guitar lessons with Dave Frackenpohl and outlining my next assignment…

Today's lesson went well. We warmed up on the major bebop scale, and then we played Nostalgia, which is a bebop tuned based on the chord changes from Out of Nowhere. When it came time to improvise, I did a pretty decent job of throwing in some ii-V licks that I've been learning. I had some trouble improvising over these changes last week, but the new ii-V licks really helped out. I actually sounded like I knew what I was doing this time! Next, we played Bags' Groove, and before improvising my own solo, I played the two Miles Davis choruses that I had transcribed. Next, I played through my F Blues assignment from Galbraith's Guitar Comping. Finally, Dave had me sight-read Fools Rush In, which is a tasty standard that I hadn't played before.

Dave commented that my work with the Miles Davis transcription paid dividends, telling me that I was starting to phrase more like a jazz player…more laid back and in the pocket, even when I'm playing faster phrases. It felt really good to hear that from him. I've been working diligently on my time and feel. I have a long way to go, but it's nice to know that I'm making progress.

Here's my next assignment.

  • Mixolydian Bebop Scale. Learn this scale, and also practice starting at the top of the scale and descending. We always practice our scales from bottom to top and then down again, but we need to be comfortable playing the other way. I'm going to apply this to my other scales, too.
  • Diminished Scale. I already know one form of diminished scale. Dave showed me a very easy diminished form that I hadn't thought of before…and that's why I'm taking lessons!
  • Girl from Ipanema. I kind of know this already, but this is a tune that I should have cemented in my memory. It will be by the next lesson! In addition to memorizing the melody and chords, I also will be transcribing a solo of my choice.
  • Wave. Here's another great Jobim song. I know the melody quite well, but I'm iffy on the chords. Again, in another two weeks, the chords will be solid. I'm very happy to be working on this song. I find it difficult to solo over these chord changes, so it'll be good to focus on this one for a couple weeks.
  • Galbraith Guitar Comping. I have the final two choruses from the F Blues exercise to learn. I've picked up a lot of useful ideas from this book. It's a tremendous resource.
  • ii-V Project. Although Dave didn't give me an assignment, it is my assumption that I am supposed to continue learning ii-V licks from the the sheet he gave me last time. I'm not in a hurry to learn all of these at once. I'll pick one or two more licks and drill them to death so that I can incorporate them into my vocabulary.
  • Bag's Groove. I'll be transcribing two more choruses from a Miles Davis solo. For learning good jazz phrasing, you can't do much better than play along with Miles Davis solos!
I'm enjoying my lessons. My favorite part is solo transcription. It's challenging, but it's incredibly rewarding. You get to see how the great players put their solos together, and you have the opportunity to steal some of their licks. In addition to the great ear training, it's beneficial to play along with the recording so that you not only learn the notes, but you get a real sense of style and phrasing.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Cool! A Lesson!

As I was driving home tonight, I said out loud to myself, "Oh cool! I have a lesson tomorrow." Yes, I talk to myself, but we're fine with that.

When I was going to college, there was a strange phenomenon. Some music majors actually dreaded their private lessons. I never understood this. You're majoring in music, yet you don't prepare for your private lessons…the single most important thing that will make you a better player on your instrument. Your teacher is laying out a path for you. There's no guesswork on your part. If you have a good teacher, his or her assignments will be tailored to your strengths, weakness, and overall level of skill. All you have to do is practice your lesson material, show up to your lesson prepared to best of your ability, and then get another assignment.

I didn't really look at it like this in college. I just knew that whatever my teachers were telling me to play, it was making me a better player. Now that I'm "old," at least from a college student's point of view, I really appreciate what my teachers did for me. That's why I perked up tonight when I remembered that my guitar lesson is tomorrow. I've practiced hard and have made good progress on my current assignment. Tomorrow, I'll play my best, get some feedback, and go home with a new assignment, leaving with more knowledge than I had at the beginning of the hour.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Bit by Bit

As a jazz guitarist, I've made a lot of progress in a short time, but sometimes I receive a clear reminder that I have a long way to go. This is not a bad thing. It's simply part of the process.

I've been working on some new licks. At last night's gig, I planned to use as many of them as I could, but once the gig got underway, I had so many new licks to think about that I hardly used them at all. I found myself noodling a lot, looking for places to play the new material. My solos weren't horrid, but they weren't very inspired, either.

I approached this morning's gig differently. Instead of trying to use all my new licks, I decided to just focus on two of them – one for a major key, and one for a minor key. I didn't put pressure on myself to use them all the time. Instead, I played them whenever it seemed right. It worked like a charm. Overall, I was satisfied with my solos.

So, lesson learned. I'll continue to learn new licks in my private practice sessions, but when it's time for a gig, I'll plan on incorporating just one or two of them into my solos. Quality over quantity. Eventually, the new material will become a natural part of my playing, and then I'll add some more, bit by bit.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Losing Time

My love for practicing guitar has been through the roof. I've always enjoyed practicing, but lately, I've been enthralled by the instrument. Have you ever lost yourself in a good book? Or lost track of time talking on the phone with someone you love? That's the way it's been with my guitar.

I can easily spend an hour working on a new lick or transcribing a solo. If I were a younger man with fewer responsibilities, I could spend the whole day practicing. Alas, I don't have that kind of time anymore! To make sure I cover everything I need to learn, I've been timing segments of my practice session…20 minutes to work on a new lick, 15 minutes on a new song, etc.

Lessons with my new guitar teacher are the reason for my renewed focus. Until now, I've been working on jazz guitar in a piecemeal sort of way. Now, I have a clear path being laid out for me. It's still up to me to walk the path, but it's incredibly motivating when you can suddenly see where you're going.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Keeping Track

Ah, the joys of weight control. Despite regular exercise, I've managed to put on some unwanted weight…nothing like the 325 pounds I used to weigh, but enough to make me cringe when I look in the mirror.

I've been pedaling my stationary bike regularly, but I have low impulse control when it comes to food. Exercise is easy. I enjoy it, but I have to work to keep my diet under control. I already know what to eat and what not to eat. I just need to control how much I eat.

I wish I could be one of those people who seems to know when they've had enough. They can have half a plate of food in front of them and still put the fork down because they realize they are full. I'm not one of those people. Like many compulsive overeaters, I look at that plate or a full bag of chips as a challenge. The eating isn't over until the food is gone.

I've started keeping a food diary to curb my tendency to overindulge. (This isn't a brilliant new idea by any means.) I don't write down every single calorie. I just write down what I eat and when I eat it. The end of the day is when I feel the strongest temptation. When I look at the list of foods I've eaten during the day, it helps me realize that I'm not starving, and that a small dinner is all I need.

Interestingly enough, the one day I forgot to keep track last week was the day I overate. Go figure.

As difficult as it can be for someone who has been overweight almost all of his adult life, I'm trying not to beat myself up over this. I just write down my meals and keep track without judging myself.

If you are like me and have already educated yourself about what to eat, but you have trouble controlling how much you eat, you might try keeping a food diary to help yourself keep track.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Change of Pace

This weekend offered a nice change of pace. I normally perform jazz standards, but this weekend was quite different. Last night, I played around a campfire, and this morning I led a music service at my church.

Most beautiful gig site ever.
Last night, a friend from church hosted a small gathering at his home, offering dinner outside, followed by songs and stories around a fire pit. I didn't expect the setting to be so gorgeous. He and his wife own a large piece of property, and the "back yard" is essentially a large natural sanctuary. I led a variety of songs, mostly of the folk variety. When I first started playing guitar, I planned on being a folk musician, so it was a lot of fun to sing these songs. The song list included City of New Orleans, Me and Bobby McGee, some Bob Dylan songs, etc. My mom used to sing these songs professionally, and the music brought back a lot of good memories. On top of all that, the weather was gorgeous. Spring had finally sprung a day or two before, and we enjoyed pleasant evening under the sky.

This morning, I led a music service with the help of my choir and handful of musicians from the congregation. It was very well received, and it was a lot of fun for me. I had a chance to sing a lot of songs that have touched me through the years, and these songs seemed to resonate with a lot of the folks in the congregation. A partial song list includes Burgundy Heart Shaped Medallion (David Wilcox), Why Is Your Heaven So Small (Susan Werner), Holy Now (Peter Mayer), and Guitar Shopping (David Wilcox).

After the service, someone told me that she wished we could do this every Sunday. While this was flattering, the truth is that I wouldn't have enough energy to do this every Sunday unless it were my full time job! While music services are fun, I think the novelty would soon wear off. One reason music services are cathartic is because they are infrequent. As one of my friends pointed out when I was having trouble narrowing down song choices…"Always leave them wanting more." This is true for the service itself, and it's true for music services in general.

Next weekend, I'm back to performing jazz standards. I have a private gig with Godfrey and Guy on Friday, and I'll be playing with The Standard Quartet on Saturday and Sunday. I probably won't be singing any more folk songs for a while, and it'll be a while until my next music service, but this weekend was refreshingly different.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Lesson #4

Continuing my practice of summarizing my lessons with Dave Frackenpohl to get a handle on my new assignment and help others who may be on the same path.

I've been working on:

  • Dorian and Mixolydian scale patterns.
  • Using Maiden Voyage as a vehicle for practicing arpeggio patterns and "thinking" in Dorian mode.
  • Learning the second half of Wes Montgomery's solo in Fly Me to the Moon from his Road Songs album.
  • Learning Out of Nowhere.
  • Working through three choruses from the F Blues exercise in Galbraith's Guitar Comping book.
  • Learning Now's the Time.
  • Solidifying my time with a metronome exercise. Click here to read about the exercise.
Today's lesson went well. I was pretty solid on everything, despite not having as much time to practice as usual.

Here's my assignment for the next lesson:
  • Bebop scale. To expand my musical vocabulary, I'm learning the major bebop scale. (Just add a half step between the 5th and the 6th.)
  • Comping rhythms. To give me some more comping ideas, Dave has given me a series of rhythms to use for comping. There's nothing drastic here. I'm just expanding what I already use.
  • Blues project. My jazz blues playing isn't terribly strong. To shore up this weakness, we're starting a blues project. I'm working on Bag's Groove. I already know the tune. To improve my solo chops, I'll be transcribing some Miles Davis choruses. This is the beginning of a long term blues project.
  • ii-V project. To add to my bag of tricks, Dave gave me a sheet of ii-V licks. My assignment is to learn two or three of these licks and insert them into my solos wherever I can. You can bet that I'll be overusing these licks on my next quartet gig! That's the way to learn them, though – just use them over and over. As usual, they'll sound forced at first, but they will eventually find their way into my brain and begin to flow naturally in my improvisations. This is a long term project.
  • Galbraith F Blues comping exercise. I've worked through nearly half of the F Blues exercise. I'll add to more choruses for the next lesson, and then I'll nearly be finished with this one. This Galbraith Guitar Comping book is great! There's no way I could remember all the new chord forms in a live playing situation, but one or two new chord voicings always stick with me whenever I'm working on these exercises. It's nice to be able to add chord voicing options.
  • Wes Montgomery solo. I've finished memorizing the Wes Montgomery Fly Me to the Moon Solo, which is played in octaves throughout. Now I'm learning it again without the octaves. I will continue to run through the solo playing in octaves, but when I learn it without the octaves, I'll be able to glean more licks to use in my single line improvisations.
  • Nostalgia. This bebop tune uses the same chord changes as Out of Nowhere, which I learned for today's lesson. My assignment is to learn the tune, and then transcribe and learn Fats Navarro's trumpet solo. I learned a new word today – contrafaction. When someone takes the chord changes from a song and writes a new melody over the preexisting chord changes, it's called a contrafaction. Now you know.
As usual, I have a challenging new assignment. This is all great stuff!

Song about Pi

Today is Pi Day! (3/14) One of the nice things about being the music director at a Unitarian Universalist church is that you can get away with singing some goofy songs every so often. During this Sunday's service, after the children give a presentation on the number Pi, I'll be singing this song about Pi. (And after the service, children will be serving pie.)

This song is called A Song about Pi. It's written by Irving Kaplansky, who is the father of singer/songwriter Lucy Kaplansky. I was delighted to find the song on this web page, along with an explanation. I transcribed Lucy's a cappella version and then added chords. Then I got dressed up and recorded this high production video.

Part of the song is based on the Pi series. You can assign numbers to scale degrees. For example, if you're playing a C major scale, the note C is 1, D is 2, E is 3, etc. Irving Kaplansky used the first few numbers of Pi (3.145926535897) to determine the melody. It's not the easiest melody, but it sort of works. If nothing else, now I can recite the first few numbers of Pi…as long as I can sing them.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A Little Each Day

I look forward to every other Thursday, when I take a jazz guitar lesson with Dave Frackenpohl, who teaches out of Georgia State University. Dave assigns plenty to keep me busy, and even though I've only had a few lessons, they're already paying off. So far, I've been able to take a couple ideas from each lesson and apply them immediately to "real world" playing. I used to think I knew a lot of chord voicings (and I did), but I pick up some useful new voicings with each assignment. I've also picked up some nice licks through transcribing solos.

I'm not as prepared as usual for tomorrow's lesson, but I'm prepared enough. I've had two weeks to practice. The first week, I had a pretty good amount of time to practice my lesson material. This week, I've been busy preparing to lead a music service, and I've been learning a lot of new songs for a gig on Saturday.

I tell my students that it's better to practice a little every day than try to cram all of your practicing into one or two days. This week, I've been taking my own advice. I would love to have spent a couple hours a day practicing my lesson material, but my performance preparation took precedence. I still managed to carve out at least 30 minutes a day for my lesson music, spending 5-10 minutes on each part of the assignment. As a result, I've made slow but steady progress, and I feel prepared for tomorrow.

It seems that part of the reason you can still make good progress by practicing consistently, even for short periods, is that daily practice helps you feel familiar with the music in general. While I couldn't spend as much time practicing for my lesson as I would have liked, I often found my lesson music playing in my head this week. Aside from personal experience, I don't have any evidence to back this up, but I think that, even while I was away from the guitar, my brain was processing my lesson material.

Monday, March 11, 2013

It's About Time

Keeping steady time is an important skill for any musician. It's a simple concept, but it's not as easy as you might think. Just ask anyone who plays with a metronome for the first time. You may think you are keeping a steady beat, but when you begin practicing with a metronome, you'll swear that the metronome is slowing down. It surely couldn't be that you are speeding up!

When I was a trombone player, I tried to stay on top of the beat. The trombone is a big instrument and requires a lot of air, making its response time a little slower than a smaller instrument like a trumpet. When I began playing guitar, I carried this "slightly ahead of the beat" mindset with me, which was a mistake. The guitar is much more responsive than a trombone, and by playing on top of the beat, I tended to rush.

With some effort, I've gotten my time under control…for the most part. When playing rhythm guitar, I can keep it nice and steady, but I tend to push the tempo when I'm improvising. My guitar teacher, Dave Frackenpohl, gave me a useful exercise.

My trusty old Dr. Beat.
The metronome never lies.
If you want to work on your own sense of time, first try practicing with a metronome ticking away on every beat. If the tempo is 120, then set the metronome at 120. You'll soon discover where you tend to rush.

Once you're used to playing with the metronome on every beat, set it to half the speed (in our case, set it at 60). Now think of every click of the metronome as beats 2 and 4, with beats 1 and 3 being silent. Without that steady click on every beat, you have to rely more on your own sense of time.

Finally, and this is the exercise Dave gave me, set the metronome to one quarter speed (in our example, we'll set it at 30). Now think of every click as beat 4, with beats 1 through 3 being silent. This suddenly becomes a much more challenging exercise!

Because I'm most likely to push the tempo while improvising, Dave has me improvising solo lines while setting the metronome to click just on beat 4. This gives me the double benefit of working on time and improvisational ideas at the same time. It only took me a couple days of this for my inner sense of time to settle down. I'm not saying that my time is suddenly perfect, but it has become more solid over the past couple weeks, and it'll only get better as I continue to work on it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Musical Workout

Tonight's gig at the French Market sure was a workout. Normally this group's lineup is sax, guitar, bass, and drums, but our sax player had car problems. The sax normally carries the melody while I accompany, and I generally play an improv solo somewhere in the middle of each song. Tonight, it was the "Tom show"…all Tom, all the time! It required quite bit of energy and concentration to be "on" all night, but it was a good experience.

Essentially, I took this opportunity to spend 3.5 hours putting my guitar lessons to use. We haven't talked about specific licks in our lessons, but I've gleaned a few licks through transcribing solos. Rather than try to remember every lick that I've worked on, I picked out a couple and played them wherever I could. Eventually, I'll be able to incorporate those licks without having to think about them, but for now, I'm consciously looking for opportunities to fit them in.

We've also talked about different ways to approach solos. In particular, if I'm not feeling too inspired, I'll play around with the melody. Another good way to generate ideas is to outline the chord changes.

My teacher gave me an exercise to solidify my time. (I'll talk about this simple exercise in the near future.) This exercise paid off tonight. My time was more solid, and I played in the groove more easily.

When you're sight reading for 3.5 hours, you're bound to hit some snags. There were a couple moments I'd rather take back, but I was pleased overall with how things went tonight.

I didn't incorporate a ton of new licks and tricks into tonight's gig. Instead, I concentrated on a few things and drove them into the ground! For me, this seems to be the best way to add new concepts into my playing. If I try to incorporate everything I'm working on, I'll get flustered. If I just focus on a few ideas, they seem to stick more easily. If I can incorporate just one or two licks each gig, they'll accumulate over time and become a natural part of my playing.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Loving It

Today, I had to stop and realize how grateful I am to be living the life I'm living. I'm not rich by any stretch of imagination, but I'm so happy that I've managed to find a way to do what I love to do.

This week, I taught guitar lessons to young and adult beginners. On the flip side, I've been practicing my butt off for my own teacher, learning a Wes Montgomery solo, learning "Out of Nowhere," working on "Maiden Voyage," and filling my head with new chord voicings. I finished a few music engraving projects, and I led a church choir rehearsal. I stopped practicing at 11 this evening, and I have a rehearsal tomorrow morning. I'm preparing solo music for a service on Sunday, and I'll be playing with a jazz quartet Friday and Saturday night, where I'll attempt to put my lesson material to practical use. Looking ahead, I'm preparing for an unusual (but fun) "campfire song leader" gig, and on Saturday, I'll be rehearsing with some church musicians, putting together music for a music service that I'll be leading a week from Sunday.

Busy? Yes! I put in some long days to make this whole freelance musician thing work, but it's what I love to do!