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, November 18, 2013

Ripples

A while back, I led a monthly jam session at Zen Tea. It was a casual Sunday afternoon session, open to musicians of all levels. We went around the circle, taking turns leading songs. Most of the songs were of the folk variety. I would usually lead an accessible jazz song. Some brought in their own original songs. The jam session is no longer being held, but I discovered today that it had a lasting effect on at least one person.

Early in the short history of the Zen Tea Jam, a trumpet player showed up a couple times. Then he stopped coming. He always seemed to have a conflict. I didn't think anything of it and assumed that he had lost interest.

That trumpet player called me today, asking for some music theory help. It turns out that, even though he wasn't able to participate in the jam session, his love for music was reignited, and he decided to get back to playing trumpet regularly. He is joining a band. He told me that some of his friends used to play in their school jazz band or concert band. They talk about how much they miss it, but they don't pick up their instruments. I was genuinely pleased for him. I congratulated him, telling him that a lot of people miss playing an instrument, but they don't do anything about it. He, on the other hand, is picking up his horn and joining a band.

This trumpet player was inspired to get back into playing. That would be beautiful enough, but I like to think that his example will inspire some of his friends to start playing again. Maybe their children will be encouraged to pick up an instrument. Maybe this short lived jam session had a ripple effect. I hope so.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Lesson #16

This is a recap of my latest jazz guitar lesson with Dave Frackenpohl, who teaches at Georgia State University. This helps me wrap my head around the new assignment, and I hope it also helps others who may be on the same path.

We started with a series of 7th chord arpeggios over the melodic minor scale…1 going up, 2 down, 3 up, etc., and then working our way back down. Dave showed me a more useful fingering for a form that starts on the 6th string, but otherwise, these went pretty smoothly. Then we played through Four. He showed me some different chords to use in the B sections. I've been starting the B section on an E-flat, but Dave told me that it's more common to start on G minor. Next, we moved on to Old Devil Moon. I mainly wanted to work on this so that I could work up a good accompaniment and a chord melody solo. Dave was pleased with the chord melody solo, but noticed that I tended to rush the B section, when I switch from Latin to swing. He also questioned the lead sheet and asked me to double check other sources for the melody and changes in the last 4 measures. Finally, we started looking at When Sunny Gets Blue for the next lesson assignment.

The new assignment:

  • Continue Diatonic Arpeggios. I've worked on a series of 7th chord arpeggios over the major, harmonic minor, and melodic minor scales. Now I just need to keep at it until I can play them without having to think about them.
  • Excerpt from Perpetual Motion. This general technique exercise is from a Paganini piece. To strengthen my up-picking, I'm supposed to play the 8th notes up/down/up/down in addition to the usual down/up/down/up pattern.
  • You Took Advantage of Me. This was part of today's assignment, but I didn't work on it. I've had several gigs to prepare, and something had to go! The assignment is to listen to the Joe Pass/Ella Fitgerald recording of this song and steal as many comping licks and ideas as I can. I would eventually like to transcribe the guitar solo, too.
  • Four. I had a feeling I'd be working on this one again. I learned the basic melody and chords last time. Now, my assignment is to transcribe a chorus of either Miles Davis or Horace Silver from their recording of the tune.
  • Old Devil Moon. There's not much more to do with this song, at least as far as lessons go. I just need to check on the chords and melody at the end and put myself on a metronome to resist the tendency to rush the B section.
  • When Sunny Gets Blue. Memorize it.
As usual, I have a mix of old and new assignments to practice for the next lesson. We're getting deeper into the arpeggios and a couple songs, and I have newer material to learn. All of these lessons are paying off. It's nearing Christmas time. I find that holiday music is a good measure stick of yearly progress. You play them for about a month and then put them away until next year. This year, I'm finding many of the Christmas songs easier to play, and I've discovered that I can improvise over several of them unaccompanied, when last year I had to use a looper for nearly everything when I played solo.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

It's Not About Me

Last night, I played a wedding cocktail hour with Tea for Two. With some weirdness leading up to the gig, this could have been a bad night.

On the way to the venue, I stopped for gas, only to discover that I didn't have my wallet. So I drove home…and couldn't find it. I looked everywhere, twice. I don't often lose my temper, but I displayed a vocabulary that would have shocked my young guitar students. I finally found my wallet, which I had absentmindedly placed it in my gig bag, which meant that my wallet had been with me the whole time. Twenty minutes late, I drove back to service station with one final stream of curses, gassed up, and made my merry way to Gala Special Events in Marietta.

One of my special talents is getting lost. Thanks to the Google Maps app, I don't get lost very often. More accurately, the app gets me to the gig site, but I actually don't know how I got there. I managed to miss the turn to Gala Special Events, though. I passed right by it, came back, and passed right by it again. The third time, I finally spotted the sign, which I would swear wasn't there the first two times I drove by.

As I walked into the reception hall, the hostess said, "Oh, I thought they weren't having a band tonight!" The DJ had already set up and was occupying the whole stage. I don't know where she got that information, but I assured her that there was, indeed, a band tonight. We were scheduled to play for cocktails, and the DJ was there for the dinner and dancing. I also made it clear that we needed to be on the stage where the DJ had set up. Once we got that sorted out, the DJ, who was either flexible or recognized that I was not in a calm state of mind, moved his table back far enough that we could set up the trio. Then, with very little warm-up and a minimal sound check, we played the cocktail set.

With all of that strangeness, you'd think this would have been a bad gig, but once we got started, I felt just fine, and the band sounded terrific. I just needed to take a moment to remind myself that this evening wasn't about me. It was about the bride, the groom, and the friends and family who were there to celebrate a special day. They didn't need to know that I had temporarily lost my wallet, gotten lost, arrived later than planned, and had to convince the staff that we were supposed to be there. All they needed was good music, and we were there to deliver.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tipping Point

Something very strange has been happening lately. I'm doing what I love, and money is coming in. (Usually I'm doing what I love, OR I'm making money.) Tonight, I realized that I haven't been stressed about paying rent for over a year. For a working musician, that's quite a feat! I'm not sure when it happened, but I feel like I have reached a tipping point in my pursuit of a freelance music career. I'm able to spend more time bettering myself as a musician and less time worrying about making my rent.

It has taken a while to reach this point, and I'm pausing for a moment to appreciate the journey. When I first began playing guitar, I set a goal of becoming a professional guitarist in 10 years. Surprise! Ten years later, here I am.

I'm far from being the best guitar player in town, but I seem to have carved out a place for myself. I have a part time music director job at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation, teach guitar lessons at home and at Tessitura, and am landing a fair number of gigs. If I had to rely on just one of these endeavors, I wouldn't subsist, but when you put them all together, it means that rent and bills are being payed, and I even have some cash left over at the end of the month. A miracle!

Things seem to be trending upwards in general. My church job recently expanded from 10 to 15 hours. (I'm hoping that this will grow to 20 hours over time.) I teach a little over a dozen guitar students and enjoy a good rate of retention. (I eventually want to grow the roster to 30 students.) I recently got in good with an event planning company that has already hired me for 3 gigs. (I don't want to be playing every single night, but I would like to eventually play 2-3 of these good gigs per week.)

Without doing something every day to improve my musicianship, all other success is hollow, so first and foremost, I strive to become a better musician. I have a long way to go as a pro guitar player, but, looking back at where I started, I'm pleasantly surprised at where I am today, and I'm excited about what tomorrow will bring.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Mighty Fine Aquarium Gig

I enjoy background music gigs. You put on a tie, play some relaxing music while folks mingle, collect a check, and go home. On a typical background gig, a few people may come up to you during the evening and compliment you, but that's usually about it. You play and sing your best, but you fly under the radar.

Last Tuesday's background gig at the Georgia Aquarium was anything but typical. A medical information technology group, AHIMA, rented out the entire building for the night. In one room was a DJ and an arial group, there was a string quartet in the lobby, and I had the good fortune to be performing solo next to the giant tank near the Ocean Voyager exhibit.

My area was where people would come to get away from all the noise of the event and just relax. The room was so peaceful, with whale sharks, mantas, and other big fish swimming lazily. During most background gigs, you might get an appreciative nod from time to time, but there is no applause. I was quite surprised when people started applauding for me. It wasn't like it was a show.  Not everyone applauded, and the guests didn't stop what they were doing just to listen to me, but it was nice to have a little bit of recognition throughout the evening.

As I look back on that wonderful gig, there were a few highlights:

  • Arriving early enough to see some exhibits after setting up my equipment. I'll bet that not many people get to walk in the Ocean Voyager tunnel alone!
  • Seeing the whale sharks for the first time.
  • Warming up while watching the fish swim by.
  • Seeing someone cry while I sang Over the Rainbow – assuming that those were happy tears.
  • Hearing a mother and her two grown daughters sing along with Dream a Little Dream of Me. After I thanked them for singing, the mother told me that she sang this song to her daughters when they were babies, and now one of the daughters sings it to her new baby.

As far as background gigs go, it doesn't get much better than this. On top of everything else, I made a positive impression and established good rapport with the event planning company who hired me. They told me they want to make me one of their "go to" musicians. Sounds good to me! They hired me for another gig at the Georgia Aquarium in January. I'm crossing my fingers that they put me in front of the Ocean Voyager tank again!