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, June 26, 2015

New Solo Gig

I'm thrilled to add a new weekly gig to my schedule. There are two L'Thai restaurants in Atlanta – one in Tucker and one in Smyrna. Both places have music Friday through Sunday. There are a few musicians who rotate. I'll mostly be playing at the one in Tucker, and mostly on Sundays, except when I'm not. Clear as mud? If you live in Atlanta and would like to drop in and say hello on one of my nights, the best thing to do is check my Facebook page, where I'll be announcing when and where I'll be playing from week to week.

This is solo guitar, no singing. This gig is going to be good for me in many ways. First, it's a gig! We musicians like to collect and keep them. Second, it's always good to be out in public. I have a website, a profile on Gig Salad, and I keep things up to date on Facebook, but there's nothing like being out in public where you can meet potential clients face to face. As a matter of fact, on my first night, I was approached by a guy who produces music for a local recording studio. He really liked my playing, took my card, etc. I looked up the studio, and they record commercials for some impressive clients, Indie films, and documentaries. It's not like I'm expecting a call tomorrow, but you never know where these kinds of contacts will lead.

While the L'Thai gig is great for publicity and gig hunting, I'm mostly excited because it gives me an outlet for developing my solo guitar chops. Performing with Godfrey and Guy every Friday at Noosh Persian Bistro already provides a good opportunity to bring up my solo guitar playing, but sitting down and playing solo in public for a couple hours each week will help me bring that aspect of my playing to a new level.

Next up, I'd like to find an additional weekly gig for Godfrey and Guy. I have the solo gig – great for solo chops. We have the duo gig – great for duo chops. I'd love to find a place where we can field a small combo to develop a group.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Seven String Guitar Book

The 7-string guitar adventure continues. I've been messing around with the 7-string guitar for a couple weeks. I figured out a few things, but it quickly became apparent that I needed some direction. My teacher suggested Mel Bay's Complete 7-String Guitar Method. A quote from the introduction reads "[This book] is geared toward the intermediate to advanced student. Those who already have an understanding of scale and chord construction, and other basics of jazz guitar playing, will probably benefit most from this book." Perfect! That description sounds an awful lot like me.

This isn't a book you'll typically find at your local music store, so I ordered a used copy online. Returning from a late rehearsal, I found my new (to me) book waiting for me in the mailbox last night. I started working through it today, and it's just what I need to help me tackle this beast.

The book is organized into three sections: Scales, Arpeggios, and Chord Voicings. It's set up so that you can work through each section independently. I'm spending most of my time on the scales and chord voicings. I'll start working through the arpeggio section after I'm familiar with the major scale patterns.

The material in the book is both new and familiar. Let's take scales as an example. The 7-string guitar is tuned exactly like a 6-string guitar, with a low A string added. So really, the scales are all patterns that I already know, but there is another string that extends the low range. It won't be long before the extended scale patterns are ingrained – same with chords and arpeggios.

The chord section is written with the assumption that you already know 6-string jazz chords, so the author concentrates on chords that are unique to the 7-string guitar. The chord exercises are pretty simple. They are all written in the key of C, with the assumption that you'll learn to play them in all keys. As simple as the chord exercises are, it's thrilling to hear those low notes.

If you are a jazz guitarist exploring the 7-string guitar, I highly recommend Mel Bay's Complete 7-String Guitar Method.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Four Years

In a few days, I will have completed my fourth year as Director of Music at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation. I have been attending NWUUC since 2004, when I first moved to Atlanta. I served as an interim music director three times, keeping the music program going while various search committees looked for new music directors. After serving as interim for the third time, I thought, "enough of this interim stuff," and applied for the position.

I've been a freelance musician most of my adult life, doing this and that to make ends meet. Except for my four-year stint in the Air Force, this has been the longest I've held anything resembling a normal job. Maybe "normal" isn't quite the word I'm looking for. This music director job is far from normal!

As I've grown more comfortable with the job, the music has evolved and grown at Northwest. When I first started, the music program was very traditional, with the choir singing two Sundays each month, me providing the music once a month, and the pianist providing music on my Sundays off. My initial goal was to simply keep the music program going as it was while I got used to the job, but soon the program started to reflect my own musical tastes. Before I took over, the music was classically oriented. It still is, but I've introduced a lot more jazz, rock, and folk into the mix than there used to be. I used to perform the music alone on "my" Sundays, but our minister suggested that guitar alone didn't always feel right; there needed to be more. So I recruited a bassist and a percussionist from the congregation to play with me. This grew into an official church band, with a lead singer, two guitars, flute, bass, piano, and percussion.

This year, I experimented with combining the band and choir for two services. It was a hit. The band loved playing with the choir, and the choir loved singing with the band. After a summer break, we are going to combine the band and the choir once a month. On top of that, the band/choir Sundays will feature a "join-in" choir, meaning that absolutely anyone can sing in the choir that day as long as they can be at the pre-service rehearsal that Sunday morning.

I learn every day from this job. It certainly has taken its twists and turns. The combined band/choir is something I never would have anticipated when I first began serving as Director of Music. Where does it go from here? Who knows? We'll keep the band/choir ensemble rolling for a while, and I imagine something new will evolve over time.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Seven String Transition

I've been playing the new 7-string guitar for about four days. It's a challenge, but it's fun. I brought the 7-string to a Godfrey and Guy rehearsal after exactly one day of owning the instrument. I could practically feel the smoke coming out of my ears as my brain went into overdrive. To make a long story short, it'll be a while before I debut the new instrument in a performance.

While I expected the transition to 7-string guitar to be tricky, I was surprised at some initial awkwardness when picking up the 6-string again, although it didn't take long to readjust. Last night's performance at Noosh suffered a bit after focusing on the 7-string earlier in the week. I play as many songs as possible from memory. Memory slips are inevitable in a three hour gig, but I had more than my share last night.

Going forward, I'll spend equal time on the 6- and 7-string guitars. At some point, I may have to decide whether to continue playing both instruments in performance or switch permanently to a 7-string, but based on the way things are going, I'm not going to have to make that decision any time soon!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

One More String

After saving my pennies, I bought a 7-string guitar. At $800, the Ibanez Artcore isn't exactly cheap, but it's the closest thing to an entry level price I could find for a 7-string archtop. It's a beautiful looking guitar. I prefer the tone of my Heritage 575, but still, this Ibanez has a pretty sound.

So why spring for a 7-string guitar when I haven't come close to mastering six strings? I've been fascinated by jazz guitarists who play 7-string instruments. In particular, I've been watching videos of Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, and Charlie Hunter. You can do a lot with a guitar, but if you are playing solo, or if the guitar is the only accompanying instrument, I find that even the best players lack a certain depth of sound. The extra string adds that depth.

The 7th string adds a bass note below the low E string. From what I understand, guitarists will either tune it to a low B or A. Like most jazz 7-string players, I've tuned mine to an A. Any note that I play on the 5th string can be played an octave below on the 7th string. I discovered right away that this adds a lot of body to chords with 5th string roots.

With the 7th string tuned an octave below the 5th string, I find the new landscape easy to understand intellectually. Physically, it's going to take a lot of adjustment. The guitar is tuned the same way with just one more string added. How tricky can that be? Plenty tricky! I'm so used to navigating from the 6th string, that I constantly find myself playing on the wrong group of strings. On the other hand, I find that the extra string doesn't affect my single note playing all that much, probably because I play most of my single note lines on strings 1 through 4.

This is not an instrument I would use while playing with a bassist. I'll continue playing my Heritage in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra and my church band. When I begin to feel comfortable with the Ibanez, I'll use it for Godfrey and Guy and solo playing.

The only way I'm going to learn to play this instrument is to simply play it as often as possible (which is obvious – this isn't rocket science). I spent quite a bit of time with the Ibanez today, mostly experimenting with different chord voicings. I'll also explore the 7th string in a more methodical way. I learned basic jazz guitar chord forms from the Mel Bay Rhythm Guitar Chord System. I've already taken myself through the book three times. I guess it's time to play through it a fourth time, adapting the chord forms for seven strings. I'll bring the Ibanez to my next lesson, too. Although he doesn't play a 7-string guitar himself, my teacher may have some suggestions for getting to know the Ibanez.

I already knew it would be challenging to learn the 7-string guitar, but all I had to do was play an "A" chord, and I was hooked. Even with the little experimenting I've done, I find that I love the depth of sound that the extra bass string offers. I'm looking forward to exploring and discovering new sounds and possibilities.