After hanging around as a sub for several years, I finally became the regular guitarist for the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I had been subbing for Jerry Aull, who has played guitar and sung with the SJO for a long time. Jerry recently moved far enough away that driving to the weekly Monday rehearsal would be too much of a haul. Jerry contacted me about six months ago to let me know that he would probably be moving, and he floated the idea switching roles. I would become the SJO's regular guitarist and he would sub for me when needed. Jerry remains as the male vocalist and will rehearse with the group once a month as a singer.
My years of hanging around like a vulture, waiting for something to happen paid off. In a group like this, the joke is that you have to wait for someone to die before you can officially join the group. Fortunately, all Jerry did was move.
Last night was my first official night rehearsing with the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I've played as a sub on countless occasions, so it didn't exactly feel fresh and new. As a matter of fact, I knew I would be asked soon, and I had been debating whether to join the group or not. A couple years ago, I would have jumped at the chance without hesitation. Lately, though, I've been busy with plenty of projects. There is my part time job at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation, a weekly gig and rehearsal with Godfrey and Guy, and an ever increasing roster of private guitar and piano students at Tessitura. With all of that going on (plus making sure I have the time to dedicate to practicing), I wasn't sure I wanted to take on the extra weekly rehearsal.
Upon reflection, playing with the SJO was too good to pass up. The group doesn't actually gig often, so it's not like I suddenly have a bunch of shows to play. What made me say "yes" to SJO was the opportunity to grow as a musician. I play most often in small group settings, where we are playing from lead sheets or from memory, and things are looser. I am usually the leader of whatever small group I'm playing in, and I will often change things on the fly…maybe try a different introduction, repeat back to the bridge instead of the beginning, etc. Playing in a big band is a completely different experience. As a guitarist, I may play a solo once in a blue moon, but I'm usually playing a set rhythm guitar part. There's nothing better for your rhythm guitar reading than playing through a bunch of big band charts.
I'm grateful for the opportunity to play with the SJO on a weekly basis, and I'm grateful for another opportunity to grow as a musician.
- Tom Godfrey
- 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.