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.

Monday, December 30, 2013

2014 Goals

In my last blog article, I outlined my goals for the next 10 years. In support of those long range goals, here are my goals for 2014. I have some other, smaller goals, but these are the main ones.

Weigh 195 pounds. I feel like my weight is finally (finally!) under control. I've been maintaining about the same weight since September. This year, I plan to make a final push and get it down to a healthy 195 pounds. My strength is improving, my resting heart rate is nice and low (in the 50s), and I feel good in general. While I am feeling quite healthy, I would like to actually look like I work out. I've been going to the gym regularly to add strength training to my cardio work. I'll continue to do that, and I'll tighten up my diet a bit.

Establish the NWUUC band and children's choir as regularly anticipated parts of Sunday services. This is in support of my goal of eventually building the job from a 15 hour per week position to a 20 hour per week position. The adult choir is a well established, cherished part of the music program. My hours increased this past year from 10 to 15 hours. I'm spending most of the additional hours on building the children's program and the church band. Those two new programs are keeping me busy, but once they are well established, I'll be ready to add more to NWUUC's music by either adding another program or by expanding the band and the children's choir.

Maintain a roster of at least 20 guitar or ukulele students. My long range goal is to have 30 students, but if I added so many students all at once, I wouldn't be able to handle the schedule and still juggle my other responsibilities. I have 13 students now, so I need to add 7 more to meet my goal. I generally add only one student each month, but I have a pretty good retention rate. I'll just keep building my roster slowly.

Add another event planner to my list of regular clients. I finally managed to get my foot in the door with a good event planner. I'm hoping that having one major event planner as a client will make me more attractive to others.

Become more comfortable with unaccompanied guitar improvisation. One of my long range goals is to improvise comfortably in the style of Joe Pass. I've been improving in this area, but I have a long way to go. I've been approaching this skill haphazardly, improvising unaccompanied on random songs. This year, I'm going to focus on a handful of songs and get really comfortable with them. Through my lessons with Dave Frackenpohl, I've learned that I can make good progress on improvisation in general if I focus intensely on one or two songs at a time.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Next 10 Years

I started playing guitar 10 years ago. To make a long story short, I was a professional trombonist until an overuse injury ended my brass playing career. After a hiatus from any kind of performing, my wife (now my ex) gave me a guitar for Christmas, and I was immediately hooked. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new career as a guitarist. I originally intended to play folk and Celtic music, but I drifted toward jazz, which is my main focus.

When I decided I was going to become a professional guitarist, I drew up a list of goals for the first 10 years. My overall goal was to become an "entry level" professional. To me, this meant attaining a skill level that was high enough that I could do a good job at gigs. It also meant that, while I wouldn't necessarily be the first call player in Atlanta, I would develop enough connections to keep me gigging on a fairly regular basis.

I'm rarely satisfied with my playing, but I would like to pause for a moment and be grateful that I met my 10 year goal. I'm not a world beater on guitar, but I'm pretty good. I sight-read extremely well. I gig steadily.

Okay, the moment is over, and it's time to look at the next 10 years. This is my overall goal: To become a well established freelance musician making a comfortable living as a performer, teacher, and church musician.

That's a pretty broad goal. Maybe it's more of a mission statement, but it can be broken down into several goals. To be a well established performer implies an increasingly higher level of musicianship, so the most important goals to me are in the area of musical development.

These are my goals for 2024:
  • Play an average of 2-3 good paying gigs per week.
  • Maintain a roster of 30 students.
  • Increase the NWUUC Music Director job to 20 hours per week.
  • Memorize 100+ jazz standards.
  • Comfortably improvise guitar solos in the style of Joe Pass.
  • Become a good scat singer.
  • Become a competent piano player.
  • Become a competent ukulele player.
  • Be financially stable enough to take 1-2 yearly vacations.
  • Live in a rented house, big enough for a studio space, in a quiet, safe neighborhood.
  • Comfortably maintain a healthy weight of 190-200 pounds.

Having all these goals without devising a way to meet them is no good. I've broken each of these goals down into separate steps, but I won't include them here, otherwise, this would be a really, really long article. I'll break down a few choice goals into steps in future articles.

Getting this far was a blast. It was 10 years well spent. Time to get busy and make the next 10 years even better.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Lullaby

I enjoyed a special Christmas treat when my mom sang Peggy Lee's Christmas Lullaby with me in last night's Christmas Eve service at NWUUC

Let's backtrack.

When I was a kid, Mom was a professional musician, singing folk songs and strumming her guitar at public and private events. For public shows, Mom and Dad would take my brother (Darren), my sister (Cheree), and me along. Darren and I would often perform a handful of numbers with Mom. Dad would run the sound system. Cheree was too young to sing with us, but she would dance in Mom's guitar case and keep us all entertained. (Our parents took us to gigs to perform, but I imagine another reason they took us was so they wouldn't have to spring for a babysitter.)

Those performances were special times. Looking back, we weren't exactly playing in huge venues. We were on the mall circuit, and we would often play at local churches and small festivals, but that was big time for us kids. I felt like a star! I'm mainly a jazz musician, but I still have a deep love of folk music that can only stem from this treasured childhood experience.

Mom has been visiting for the past few days and has heard me practicing Christmas Lullaby over and over, so she learned the song by osmosis. We arrived at church early so I could make sure the sound system was set up. After a quick soundcheck, I ran through the Christmas Lullaby and heard Mom harmonizing. She sounded pretty, so I asked her if she wanted to sing it with during the service. Mom immediately agreed. We sang through it a couple more times and were good to go. She sounded great in the service. It was a real treat to sing with her.

Things have come full circle. The last time I performed with Mom, I was the short one, and she was the one holding the guitar. It was a special performance on a special night.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Tick Tick

I teach an adult student who has been playing for about 11 months and has been making steady progress. Her movement from chord to chord is becoming more fluid, she has a couple "go to" strumming patterns that work in 90% of the songs she wants to play, and she has a natural affinity for fingerpicking. To help her move to the next stage of her playing, I've been preaching metronome work.

We had a good laugh today when she said, "The metronome messes me up."

Right now, my student has trouble strumming steady quarter notes along with a metronome set to 80 bmp. However, she can count out loud in time with the metronome, no problem. She can also tap her guitar in time with the metronome. After she counts out loud and taps, she is then able to strum to the metronome. So, that's the exercise…count with the metronome, tap with the metronome, and then strum with the metronome. I've given her one-bar combinations of quarter notes and eighth notes to play, but I've asked her to always start with the quarter note exercise.

This may sound like a remedial exercise, and I know for certain that my student doesn't enjoy this, but it's absolutely essential to develop a sense of rhythm and time. It's the only way you're going to play well with others. Even if you're a soloist, you're going to need to keep a steady beat, otherwise people will find it challenging to listen to you.

Whether you want to be a killer lead player or a rock solid rhythm player, practicing with a metronome is the most efficient way to improve your technique. Once you are able to maintain a steady beat and stay in sync with the metronome, you can make friends with difficult lines or chord changes more easily. First, you start the metronome at a tempo at which it is nearly impossible to make a mistake. It may be an excruciatingly slow tempo, but that's okay. You want to start super slow, so that you are properly training your muscle memory. Get it right in slow motion, and you can then incrementally get it right at speed. Just start at a nice, easy tempo. Practice a problem area until you can play it correctly. Increase the metronome speed by 5 clicks and repeat the process. You will eventually run into a speed at which your technique finally breaks down. Remember the top speed at which you could play with control. The next time you practice that spot, start 10-20 clicks slower than your top speed and build from there. It won't be long before you can sail through that lick or those tricky chord changes.

My student has told me that she has no rhythm. I beg to differ. She has an undeveloped sense of rhythm, but it's in her. All she needs is a metronome and a few minutes a day focusing specifically on tempo.