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, 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.

Friday, May 17, 2013

What a Workout!

Joe Pass
I've been transcribing a Joe Pass solo for an upcoming lesson. (I'm Beginning to See the Light, from the Sophisticated Lady album with Ella Fitzgerald) What a workout! I used to think I had a good ear! As a freshman at the University of Illinois, I tested out of the first two semesters of ear training classes. Even if I can't always play them right away, I can transcribe single line solos pretty well, and I'm a solid sight-singer. Joe Pass solos are a different beast. Joe Pass was a master of playing unaccompanied guitar solos, which is an aspiration of mine. He played a lot of block chords with close harmonies, which are much more difficult to pick out than single line melodies.

I just spent over an hour transcribing eight measures of a Joe Pass solo. I was able to find a few chord voicings right away, but I had to puzzle out most of them. If I couldn't figure out a voicing right away, I would listen for the highest and lowest note of each chord (the two easiest notes to hear). This gave me a reference point, and then I could begin to fill in the chord from there. I would listen for a minor, major, or dominant sound, and then I would experiment with different voicings of the same chord until I found a match.

A quote from a Joe Pass DVD has helped immensely. In the introduction (I don't remember which DVD), he said, "What I play is easy." He wasn't being facetious. Whenever I watch a video of Joe Pass performing, he almost always grabs easy chord forms. I used the "this is easy" concept as a guideline to find the simplest way to grab each chord.

As I transcribe this solo, I really am struck by the simplicity of what Joe Pass played. He took basic guitar voicings and put them together in brilliant ways. I can already tell that I'll be reaping tremendous benefits from transcribing this and other Joe Pass solos. As I puzzle out each new voicing, I am either picking up new chord voicings or learning new ways to use voicings I already know. Eventually, this will become part of my own vocabulary as I explore unaccompanied improvisation.

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