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.

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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