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, August 23, 2013

Going Acoustic

I bought a new Taylor guitar about a week ago. Although it is an acoustic, the low action makes it nearly as easy to play as an electric. I'm absolutely in love with this guitar, so much so that it has become my main guitar, even for jazz.

I started out with the intention of playing acoustic guitar. David Wilcox is the musician who inspired me to begin playing guitar in the first place, and I also loved (and still love) folk music, particularly the folk music of the British Isles. In my first year of playing, I found Bob Shaw, an excellent guitar teacher  whose main focus was jazz. I gradually turned into a jazz player and began playing electric guitars. My first electric was an Epiphone Sheraton II. Then I bought a beautiful Heritage 575, and for the past few years, my main guitar has been a Godin XTSA.

Although I've been playing electric guitars, many of my favorite players play acoustic, including Earl Klugh and Tommy Emmanuel. A new favorite of mine is Vinny Raniolo. Vinny, who tours often with my favorite guitarist, Frank Vignola, plays an acoustic guitar…not an archtop, just a really sweet sounding acoustic that would be a folk guitar in someone else's hands. Inspired by Vinny, and with a natural preference for acoustic sounds, I bought the Taylor 314CE, and I'm glad I did.

I will still bring out the electric guitar from time to time, but I feel that I'm able to express myself more authentically with the Taylor. I can hear each string more clearly, and I hear more "wood" in the sound. My rhythm playing has a nice "chunk" to it, and my solo guitar arrangements have more life. I'm looking forward to taking the Taylor out for its first gig tomorrow!

Saturday, August 17, 2013

New Baby

Although I've played mainly electric guitars, I've been more and more attracted to acoustic sounds over the past several months. The Godfrey and Guy duo has been mixing in some folky songs with our jazz standards, and I've been thinking about how nice they would sound on acoustic. I've also been interested lately in reviving an old love of mine…Celtic music. I absolutely love the folk songs of Ireland, Scotland, and England, and, just like the folk songs in the Godfrey and Guy repertoire, these sound marvelous on acoustic guitar. Even in my jazz playing, I'm loving the "woodier" acoustic sound and the chunkier comping.

For me, the main issue with moving from mainly electric to mainly acoustic has been my wimpy electric guitar hands. Acoustic guitars are generally harder to play than electric guitars. The strings are usually heavier, and the action is a little higher. An evening of solo guitar can be rough on the hands even on an electric, but it would wreak havoc on my hands if I tried to do the same thing on the acoustics I've played.

Taylor 314CE
Enter the Taylor 314CE, my new baby. A couple years ago, I played a friend's 314CE at a New Year's Eve party and was struck by how easy it was to play. I've been thinking about that guitar ever since. I've been saving my pennies. A few weeks ago, I knew I was getting close to being able to afford a 314CE, so I went to Sam Ash to try one. I just wanted to see if my friend's guitar was an anomaly, or if they were all so easy to play. Sure enough, this guitar felt just as good in my hands as my friend's. Two weeks later, I had enough in my account to pay for a guitar and have money left for pesky things like rent, bills, food, and gas, so I went back to the store, tried it one more time, and bought it.

Sometimes I experience buyer's remorse, even if it's a piece of equipment that I need for my work, but not this time. It played and sounded great in the store, and it sounded even better at home. It's ridiculously easy to play. It feels like this guitar was made for me. I couldn't put it down all evening.

As she handed me the receipt, the salesperson said "This is a forever guitar." I think she's right.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Getting Close

As of this morning, I'm pleased to announce that I've lost 50 pounds and have 16 to go. There's no magic formula for this, no special diet, no pills. It's simply a matter of math and consistency.

The math part is that if you expend more calories than you're consuming, you will lose weight. This is where the MyFitnessPal app has been so useful. I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a simple, straightforward way to keep track of their eating habits. You start off by inputting your age, your general activity level, how much you weigh, how much you want to weigh, and how much weight you'd like to lose every week. (It caps off at 2 pounds per week, and you can also set it for weight maintenance or weight gain.) It starts off each new day by letting you know how many calories you can consume. You add your meals and snacks as you go, and it also factors in your exercise. Once I've factored in an hour of cranking away on the stationary bike, it's satisfying to see 700 more calories added to my daily intake!

For me, using MyFitnessPal isn't so much about the exact numbers as it is about monitoring my own eating habits. As long as I'm eating healthy foods and staying in the ballpark, I'm losing weight.

Consistency is king! MyFitnessPal helps a lot with my food consumption, but I also have to make sure that I exercise on a regular basis. I hop on my stationary bike 6 times a week. I usually pedal an hour a day (yay for Netflix), but if I don't have the time, I'll settle for as few as 30 minutes. As long as I'm doing something 6 days a week, I'm making progress. In addition to the cardio, I'm also doing some basic strength training every other day…nothing fancy…crunches, planks, push-ups, curls, and lateral dumbbell raises. My legs get plenty of workout on the bike. I've added strength training partly out of vanity and partly for its extra calorie burning effects. Vanity…When I've melted away my excess fat, I'd like to have a few manly muscles to show for it. Calorie burning…Having extra muscle boosts your metabolism. Your body requires extra calories to maintain muscle mass, and simply carrying around more muscle is a big help in maintaining a healthy body weight.

As I get closer to my target weight, I'm gradually slowing down the weight loss. I've already begun to allow a few more calories each day. When I have about 10 more pounds to go, I'll allow a few more. I'm trying to come in for a soft landing. I've lost significant amounts of weight before, but one mistake I made was that once I hit my target weight, I convinced myself that I could eat whatever I wanted since I was exercising so much. Wrong! This time, I'm gradually increasing my food intake so that, by the time I've reached my goal, I'll already be consuming my calories at a normal, sustainable level. There won't be any sudden switch from weight loss to maintenance mode. That's the plan, anyway. As I've stated before, I want this to be the LAST time I ever have to lose such a significant amount of weight. After this go round, I want to keep it on an even keel.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Paying Dividends

My younger guitar students are always surprised to learn that I take lessons from a teacher, too. Surprise, surprise, I don't know everything about guitar. I may be further down the path than my own students, but and I am a student, too.

My own teacher, Dave Frackenpohl, is taking time off during the summer, so I've had a couple months without a lesson. I'm continuing to practice the lesson material he last assigned, though, because these lessons with Dave are paying dividends.

Jazz guitar is such a different animal than classical trombone. When I was a classical trombonist, it was fairly simple to measure my progress. I couldn't play a certain etude at first, and then I could. Or I could play with fewer cracked notes or expand my high range. My progress as a jazz player is harder to gage, because the nature of the music is more ephemeral. With classical trombone, I would practice the same solo over and over until I got it right. Because jazz is improvisatory, you never play the same solo twice.

I can't use a specific solo or exercise as a measure of progress, but I can get a sense of my progress by my comfort level when improvising.

We work on a variety of things in my lessons that have helped me to develop as a jazz musician, but I think the most important is transcription. I transcribe solos of great jazz musicians and learn to play them. This helps me understand how these world class musicians crafted their solos. It also gives me an opportunity to steal licks from the greats. There might be a couple measures of a solo that I especially like. I'll take that lick, learn to play it in all keys, and find ways to use it in my own solos. It's very similar to learning a new vocabulary word. You learn its meaning and how to spell it. Then you learn to use it in a sentence. At first, you may feel awkward using the new word, but the more you use it, the more natural it feels, until it is a regular part of your vocabulary. Then you learn a new word.

I've noticed that my solos are becoming more coherent over the past few months. Sometimes it feels like I actually have something to say instead of just babbling. I still play my share of crappy solos. It's all made up, after all, and sometimes you paint yourself into a corner. Still, I'm feeling a greater confidence in my soloing these days, and I owe a lot of that to Dave.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Meet My Little Friend

Meet my little friend.
This jazz guitarist just bought himself a ukulele! I have to admit that this is in part an investment. I've had several parents ask me if I teach ukulele. On Monday, one more parent asked about uke lessons, and that was the tipping point. The plan is to spend some time getting comfortable with it, and then offer ukulele classes to youngsters at Tessitura, where I teach guitar. It'll be nice if some of those little ones eventually become guitar students, but even if they don't, I'll be doing us all a favor by sending happy little ukulele players out into the world.

This is a fun instrument! I've already taught myself a few chords. It seems like it would be almost impossible to play a ukulele and be anything but happy. There are people who do amazing things on the ukulele, but I think I'll stick to the basics. I enjoy pushing myself as a jazz guitarist, but I also like the idea of playing an instrument simply for the sake of strumming and singing some happy little songs.

I like to record "memo songs"…just single take songs captured by my iPhone's voice recorder. Yellow Submarine seems like a perfect ukulele song. Time to get busy!

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Gearing Up

A few days ago, I was pleased to see an increase in my NWUUC paycheck, reflecting my increased hours. It's not a huge amount of money, but when you're a freelance musician, every little bit helps. To me, this pay increase represents a new charge to the music ministry at NWUUC.

NWUUC has had a very basic music program for the past couple years. It's been a quarter time position (10 hours a week), which leaves just about enough time to run a choir, plan music for services, and practice music for the services in which I'm the lead musician. In the newest budget, the congregation voted to add 5 weekly hours to the job, with the understanding that much of that will be devoted to developing a children's music program.

Seeing that extra money in my account was a reminder that things are about to get real, and I'm highly motivated to raise NWUUC's music program to a new level. I'll spend most of the extra hours on children's music, but I also plan on forming a church band to rehearse once a month. I've occasionally asked musicians in the congregation to play with me when it's my Sunday to be the lead musician. With limited hours, we only had time to meet the morning of the service, and I would go into each service crossing my fingers that it would all turn out okay! My new hours will only allow for one rehearsal a month, but right now, that one rehearsal will seem like a luxury! We will rehearse music for upcoming services, but I also plan on rehearsing songs in general, gradually developing a band book. Just like the children's choir, it's not going to be something we can build overnight, but an accumulation of regular rehearsals will go a long way toward developing a deeper sense of ensemble and a solid repertoire.

After the recent UUMN conference, I purposefully did not think about my church's music program. I just wanted to let all the new information settle in my brain. Tomorrow, though, it all begins! I'll take out my notes and conference materials, meet with NWUUC staff, schedule children's choir and band rehearsals, schedule some piano tunings, order music, and get this new church year going!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cheaper Than Therapy

I'm feeling melancholy tonight, and I'm grateful for music to help me through.

There's a saying among musicians that music is cheaper than therapy. How true! I often approach music in an academic way. I'm a big music theory geek, and jazz guitar is my geeky playground. Sometimes, though, you have to let go of all the knowledge and just play.

Today was one of those days when I just needed to play and let it out. I'm pretty open in my blog, but I won't write about topics that could potentially hurt others. Let's just say that I'm glad I've learned to figure out what things I can control and what I can't. I'll leave it at that.

One thing I can control is the music that flows through my fingers. In a music service last summer, I explained during the children's story that, even though blues songs are often sad, it can actually feel good to sing the blues, because it helps you sing the sadness away. My improvisations, even over the happy songs, sounded a little sad tonight, and that's okay. I was playing what I felt. I'd be lying if I said I played all my sadness away, but playing guitar tonight helped me channel my emotions. I suspect I'll be letting some more out at tomorrow's gig.

I don't know what tomorrow will bring, but for tonight, my guitar provided some much needed music therapy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Appreciating Normalcy

After a great experience at my UUMN conference, I'm finally settling into a normal routine back in Atlanta. I loved the conference, and now I'm learning to appreciate normalcy. I don't exactly lead a normal life. There's no 9 to 5 in my schedule. Each day offers something different, but overall, my typical week has a certain ebb and flow of music engraving, practicing, students, church work, and gigs.

Before the conference, I was beginning to feel a little burned out and bored. Now that I've dropped from the conference back into my everyday life, I very happy to get back to business as usual…only it's not exactly business as usual. My job at NWUUC is expanding, I have new professional contacts and new friends, and I'm excited about the future again.