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.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Remembering Bob Shaw

It seems like there have been a lot of celebrity deaths in 2016. While I'm sad for their loved ones, celebrity deaths don't affect me that much. I may have listened to their music or watched them on the silver screen, but I didn't know them personally. A death that has affected me is the passing of my former guitar teacher, Bob Shaw. Although he passed away about a year ago, I only learned the news recently. You can read Bob's obituary here, but I'd like to share how he affected my life for the good.

I met Bob Shaw in 2004 after recently moving to Atlanta. I had been playing guitar for maybe four months, and I wanted to find a teacher. After an online search, I reached out to Bob. At the time, I was more interested in folk music, while Bob was a jazz guitarist. Still, I decided to contact him. I figured that anyone who had been teaching for 30 years might have a thing or two to show me. Boy, was I right about that!

In our first lessons, it became apparent that Bob was the right teacher for me. If I sucked, he told me. If I sounded great, he told me. He had a wonderful sense of humor, and I think he must have enjoyed teaching me, because our 30-minute lessons often extended to 60 minutes. We started off with the folk songs I wanted to learn. With my professional music background, I learned folk tunes quickly. In some ways, I was probably a challenging student. I had the fingers of the beginner but the experience and theoretical knowledge of a professional. Sometime during those first months of lessons, Bob played a chord/melody arrangement of a jazz standard, and I was blown away. I hadn't heard anything like that. Before long, we were working through the Mel Bay Rhythm Guitar Chord System and I was learning to play jazz standards. Then Bob encouraged me to start writing my own solo jazz guitar arrangements. I tackled this challenge enthusiastically. Since my guitar chord knowledge was still limited, it took an excruciatingly long time to write arrangements, and it took even longer to learn how to play what I wrote, but I kept at it. Misty was my first solo guitar arrangement, and to this day I often use it as an opener when I'm performing alone. Other arrangements followed. Arranging was (and is) a perfect way for me to explore the possibilities of the guitar. I eventually got faster at arranging, and I've even gotten to the point where I can often make up arrangements on the spot if needed.

Bob not only steered me toward jazz guitar, but he helped me find playing opportunities, two of which immediately come to mind. The first was subbing with the ASO – the Atlanta Swing Orchestra, that is, not the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Their regular guitarist, a former student of Bob's, was traveling more often, and they needed someone to sit in on rehearsals and sub for gigs when he was out. Through playing with the ASO, I eventually was called to sub for the SJO – the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. Thanks to Bob's teaching, I was able to sight-read the SJO guitar book pretty well. I became their first call sub, and then I became their regular guitar player after the previous guitar player moved.

Bob also steered me toward my first small group jazz experience. Someone was hosting a small group jazz jam on Thursday nights. This wasn't for performing. It was more for fun and practice. Bob told me about the opportunity, and soon I was jamming on Thursday nights. This helped me gain confidence, and from that experience, I either joined or started a series of groups. Now I'm performing with Godfrey and Guy once a week and playing solo guitar twice a week. Godfrey and Guy recorded our first album recently, and we have plans for more.

Whether I'm playing in big bands or small groups, I can trace my beginnings back to Bob Shaw. His influence helped set me on the path.

Not only did Bob help me find places to get started playing, but he also had a profound impact on my musical style. Bob played with elegance. He had a way of making everything sound easy, even if it was difficult. I tend to gravitate toward medium tempo, tasty music, and so Bob's style rubbed off on me. More than once, warming up before a rehearsal or a gig, someone has said to me, "Have you ever heard of Bob Shaw? You sound just like him." I was always delighted to hear this, and I'm sure Bob would have been pleased as well.

Bob may be gone, but his musical spirit and influence will live on through me and his other students. Even though I received the news one year too late, I hope he's had time to look down from wherever he is and check in my gigs from time to time.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

2017 Goals

I don't celebrate the major holidays or my birthday, but I do take time at the turning of the year to sit down and think about the things I'd like to accomplish in the year ahead. You might call them resolutions, but I call them goals. The word resolution sounds intimidating to me, but a goal sounds doable. It's important to understand that even if you don't quite meet your goals, you're doing something positive just by working toward them.

Each year, I review the previous year's goals, and then I write up a new list and stick them on the fridge. I had four ambitious goals for 2016. I only met one of them, but I made a lot progress toward the other three.

2016 Goals
  • Weigh 190 pounds. I bit the bullet and stepped on the scale early last year. 270 pounds. Gulp! This wasn't nearly the 324 pounds I used to weigh, but it was still about 80 pounds too much. I got to work, being more careful with my diet and exercising regularly. I currently weigh 215. I haven't met this goal yet, but I'm well on my way.
  • Record Godfrey and Guy's first album. Goal achieved! We recorded our first Godfrey and Guy album, You and the Night, and we're very proud of it. It's a collection of night-themed jazz songs. We added horns, bass, and drums to our voice/guitar duo, and it turned out just as I had hoped. Lori Guy's vocals are sublime, I'm happy with my guitar playing on the recording, and my horn arrangements turned out nicely. And yes, this album is for sale. You can order yours at www.godfreyandguy.com!
  • Increase my private student roster to 25. This didn't work out, but for all the right reasons. At the time I wrote this goal, I was teaching at Tessitura, a music studio in Decatur, GA. The owner, Lynnette, had been looking for renters for times the studio wasn't being used. Luckily for her, someone approached her about renting her space full time to open a personal training gym. She couldn't pass up an opportunity like that. She gave me two months notice, which was plenty of time to figure out what to do about my teaching situation. Since most of my students live in or around the same neighborhood, I decided to travel to each student's home to teach. This worked out really well! I'm paying much less in gas than I was in renting the studio. I had to space the students further apart to allow for travel time, which meant that I didn't have time to teach 25 students. My roster increased from 12 to 18 students, and I'm earning more money per lesson than I did teaching at Tessitura. As far as private teaching is concerned, this year turned out just fine.
  • Memorize a total of 120 Godfrey and Guy songs. Not quite. The previous year, I had memorized 60 Godfrey and Guy songs. I thought I could memorize another 60 this year, but that was pushing it. Many of the songs I memorized in 2015 were low hanging fruit – songs that were either mostly memorized or pretty easy to memorize. The remaining songs are more challenging. That being said, I memorized 47 more Godfrey and Guy songs this year, for a total of 107.
Suitable for framing
(or sticking on the fridge)
2017 Goals
  • Finish guitar method book. I've been pecking away at this project for a little while, but I haven't made any meaningful progress. It's time to get to work and make this happen. With my music education background and experience, I feel I can write a better guitar method than what is already available. I've been using my holiday downtime to get started on this. I'd like to finish it this year and start using it with my students in 2018.
  • Record a Godfrey and Guy Christmas album. Now that we have our first recording under our belts, we'd like to record a Christmas album. Our plan is to take older Christmas songs and jazz them up. Why older Christmas songs? Because many of them are public domain, and we won't have to pay for licensing! But also because there are some great songs out there. We're already working on a playlist.
  • Weigh 190-195. I dropped 55 pounds in 2016. With 20-25 pounds to go, I feel confident that I can hit the 190-195 mark in the coming year. My Air Force weight was 185, but that was with a super strict diet and lots of running. My aching knees don't allow me to run anymore, and I refuse to diet as strictly as I did in the Air Force. It's hard to say exactly where my weight will eventually settle, but 190-195 seems reasonable.
  • Submit choral music to publishers or self publish. I've written a lot of music for my choir at Northwest UU Congregation. I plan to go through the music I've written for my choir and bookmark those that I think are publishable. Some may require revisions, and some may be perfect as they are. Then I'll have to decide whether to submit them to publishers or self-publish. I'm leaning toward self-publishing. With my background as a professional music engraver, I can create a great looking musical score. And with digital technology, I can easily create PDF scores for customers to download.
  • Memorize a total of 130 Godfrey and Guy songs. I have memorized 107 Godfrey and Guy songs, so I only have to memorize 23 to meet this goal. Some of the songs that remain unmemorized are tricky, and I have to constantly play through the 107 memorized songs so I don't forget them. With that in mind, I think that memorizing 23 songs is a reasonable goal.
I'm excited about the upcoming year. So what are your goals?

Monday, December 26, 2016

Grand Pause

December is awkward for me. When someone asks about my Christmas plans, I tell them that I'm not doing anything. After a brief silence, the other person doesn't quite know what to say, and even worse, they may invite me to their house for Christmas. I don't celebrate Christmas or any of the other major holidays that cluster around this time of year. I've regretted the few times that I've taken someone up on their offer to spend a Christmas day with them. After about 30 minutes of sitting around trying to act festive, I begin thinking about all the guitar practice time I'm missing. I'm no Grinch. I don't want to ruin anyone else's Christmas, and I'm happy for those who love the holidays. Birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving, Easter, New Year's Day – to me, these are all regular days. While I don't celebrate these holidays, I very much look forward to the time between Christmas and New Year's Day.


"Grand Pause" is a musical term. Written over a rest, a "G.P" indicates that all the musicians stop playing at once.

I like to think of the week between Christmas and New Year's Day as a Grand Pause. Work is often on hold. People are traveling or staying home and resting. I love this week. Lessons are canceled, no rehearsals are scheduled, and gigs are sparse. For this one glorious week, my calendar is blank.

I'm filling my own Grand Pause with projects. I've been practicing Christmas music for a month, and now it's time to brush up on my regular repertoire again. I'm arranging music for a January performance. I've started writing a guitar method book. This is all time consuming, but with the Grand Pause and a clear calendar, I still have plenty of time for movies, naps, and books. By the end of this week, I'll feel refreshed and ready to tackle the coming year.

Whether you celebrate Christmas or not, I hope you have a time for your own Grand Pause before everything starts up again.

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Half Century

Today I turned 50 years old. The big 5-0. A half century.

I don't really celebrate birthdays. If others are offended that I forget theirs, maybe they'll find it reassuring that I often don't remember that it's my own birthday until half the day has passed. Thanks to Facebook, I'm now reminded of each birthday as soon as I fire up the computer.

If you had asked my 20 year old self what my 50 year old self would be up to, he would have predicted that:

  • I would be firmly established as a band director in a major high school or in a college.
  • Along with that high profile high school or college band directing job would be a family and a nice house. I'm not big into white picket fences, but I love porches. That house would have a big wraparound porch.
  • I would be playing trombone in a local group, either a jazz band, concert band, or chamber ensemble like a brass quintet.
Well, 20 year old self, the joke's on you. None of that happened. Instead, I am a freelance musician doing the following:
  • Holding the part time Director of Music position at Northwest UU Congregation.
  • Performing as a freelance jazz guitarist and singer.
  • Teaching guitar, ukulele, and piano lessons.
  • Working as a freelance music engraver.
How did I end up here? Who cares? I love what I do. I don't have that one steady job or a nuclear family, but in spite of some nasty twists and turns, I've managed to create a life filled with music. I'm unable to play the trombone anymore, but I'm having a blast with jazz guitar, which is an endless puzzle to be solved. I love all my students, and in my NWUUC music director job, I'm surrounded by caring people and a supportive staff.

So here's to 50 more years! As for today, I'm going to celebrate by going about my regular day with a lighter heart.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Ready for More

It's August – back to school time for many. For me, August means it's time to gear up for another year at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation, where I serve as Director of Music. This is a part time position, and I have two months off every summer. Around this time last year, I was feeling burned out despite my summer break. It's not a good sign to feel this way before the new church year even begins! It got worse, too. I thought that I would maybe feel more enthusiastic once I was back in the swing of things, but I kept feeling more and more burned out as the year progressed.

I don't know why I felt this way, but I have a couple guesses. We were going into the new year with the intention of trying new things, including a more informal Sunday service called Worship Café, which we scheduled every couple months, and the Join-In Choir, which was a new initiative of mine. Both of these ideas involved some extra effort on my part, particularly the Join-In Choir, for which I wrote all the arrangements. Going into the new church year, I knew I was going to have some more work to do in a schedule that was already pushing up against the limits of my 15 hour position.

Mostly, though, I think I was feeling burned out because I was going into my fifth year, making this the longest time I've stayed at any job. Aside from my four years in the Air Force, I've always been a freelancer, working at home and taking on projects as a music engraver, performer, and teacher. I don't know if there is any such thing as a "five year itch" in the world of work, but if there is, I was feeling it.

This year I feel so much different. I'm excited to come back and start working at NWUUC again. Some of it is just a general feeling of enthusiasm that seems to have come on, and some of this is deliberate on my part. I've taken some personal steps to help me put this year in perspective, including:

  1. Deciding to even out my NWUUC work schedule. The Director of Music is a 15 hour position, but I have rarely worked exactly 15 hours in any given week. If I'm doing a lot of arranging, I have often put in 20-25 hours in a week in addition to performing, teaching lessons, personal practice time, etc. Other weeks, I might work as few as 8 hours. Each staff member kept track of their hours last year, and my hours miraculously averaged out to almost exactly 15 hours, but the roller coaster ride of longer and shorter hours took its toll. This year, I'm taking steps to even out my hours.
  2. Putting in some "preseason" work. This relates to my first decision to find a way to even out my hours. During the summer, I've been logging some hours, organizing a choir retreat, doing a bit of library work, and copying new music for the Band. I've been doing this on my own time, without the pressure of any deadlines. As the year progresses, I'll be factoring in these hours. If I start to feel guilty that I've put in a few 12-hour weeks in a row, I'll remind myself of the significant number of hours I've worked and recorded this summer.
  3. Learning to love my work. I listened to an interview featuring Mike Rowe, the host of Dirty Jobs. Mike Rowe observed that many of the people who perform some of the nastiest, dirtiest, smelliest jobs actually seem enjoy what they do. He said that they have learned to love their work. Listening to that interview and comparing Dirty Jobs to my Director of Music job, how could I not love my work? Are there things I don't like about it? Of course! But there is so much more to love about it. I work with a supportive staff. I give amateur singers and instrumentalists an opportunity to make music. My piano accompanist is ridiculously talented and easy to work with. I have to work within an overall framework, but I have quite a bit of autonomy. I pick all the band and choir music. Although the minister usually has the final say in hymn selection, she selects from a list of hymns that I suggest each week. I get to fiddle around with a sound system. And I get paid for all this.
So, as I begin my sixth year at NWUUC, I'm recharged and ready to go. It's going to be a good year.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

2016 UUMN Conference Highlights

I just returned from my fourth UUMN Conference. This year's conference was held in Madison, WI at the First Unitarian Society of Madison. As usual, I had a great time and learned a lot. I'm extremely introverted – practically off the charts in every personality test I've ever taken. In spite of that, I've gradually been getting to know some of these lovely UUMN folks as I continue returning to the conference and seeing many of the same faces each year.

Here are some highlights, observations, and lessons learned from the past week:

  • The flight out and back. I considered it a good omen when my seat on the flight out was upgraded to the "almost first class" section. That's the first time I've had leg room on a flight. A young boy across the aisle was on his first flight. As the plane lifted off, he shouted, "Woo hoooo!" I live in Atlanta now, but I grew up in the Midwest. As we approached Madison, I felt a sense of homecoming as we few over fields of corn and soybeans. Alas, my seat wasn't upgraded on the flight back, but it sure felt nice to touch down in Atlanta and feel the familiar oven-like heat of home.
  • Practicing in public. With plenty of wait time, I practiced guitar in the airport. During the convention, I practiced guitar in a hallway in the hotel so I wouldn't wake up my roommate, who probably wouldn't appreciate hearing scales and arpeggios at 5:30 a.m. I used to feel self conscious practicing in public, but between my Noosh and L'Thai gigs, I play so much background music that practicing in public spaces actually feels normal.
  • Plenary sessions with Marcia McFee. In addition to leading each morning's service, Marcia led two sessions entitled Think Like a Filmmaker: Sensory-Rich Worship Design for Unforgettable Messages. Marcia gave us a lot to take in. Essentially, her premise is that she considers filmmakers to be the preeminent storytellers of our time, and that the main reason for this is that film offers a blend of elements, including visual and musical components. When all the components work together properly, they combine to form an experience that sticks with you. Leading by example, Marcia's services and workshops layered a number of stimuli at the same time. Sometimes music was used to underscore spoken word. There was a theme throughout the conference based on the refrain from a hymn: "There are numerous strings in your lute. Let me add my own among them." There was a visual component of actual "strings" at the front of the auditorium (actually, long, colorful ropes) that were used in different ways from service to service. One of Marcia's main themes was planning services so that you move seamlessly from one event to the next. At Northwest UU Congregation, I think we do a fairly good job of transitioning from one thing to the next in services, but there is always room for improvement.
  • Too much of a good thing. While I agree with most of Marcia McFee's ideas, I feel that an overemphasis on the seamless transitions and layering of visual elements, spoken word, and music can be too much of a good thing. I may be in the minority among the attendees, but I felt that the services sometimes crossed the line and came across as productions. To me, it felt like we were being led by the nose through services. As a layperson, if I were visiting a church that went to such extremes to put on a sensory rich experience, I wouldn't come back. Along the same line, in her workshops, Marcia will often stop and tell everyone to talk to the person sitting next to them about a topic that she just covered. As an extreme introvert who needs to sit and think about things, this was incredibly off-putting to me. I came to dread the "let's discuss" moments. I would have appreciated a "let's sit quietly and think about this" moment, and then I may have been more open to the "let's discuss" moments. Again, I'm probably in the minority, but in discussing the workshops with others, I'm not the only one who felt this way. As the conference went on, I started sitting as far away from others as I could and put out the "don't talk to me vibe" when we were asked to "discuss amongst ourselves."
  • Lots of playing. Last year, I was a little disappointed that I didn't get to play for any services or workshops despite throwing my hat in the ring. Well, I wasn't disappointed this year! I had the privilege of playing for two morning services, a friend's workshop, and in my own workshop. Aside from the joy of playing the guitar, it's important for me to play with others at these conferences. I'm extremely shy about meeting people, but if I'm holding a guitar, I feel very comfortable interacting with those around me. Once I've met and worked with someone in a musical setting, I begin to feel more comfortable speaking with them in non-musical settings like lunch, the bus, between workshops, and in the hotel lobby.
  • We Like to Move It, Move It! This was a fun workshop with Sarah Billerbeck, focusing on music and movement activities for children. First of all, it was just plain fun and silly, plus Sarah was working with a room of real, live kids, so there was a lot of energy in the room. I played guitar for Sarah on a few of the songs. That was fun, and it allowed me to some room for improvisation as I was accompanying the children's movements. And even though I don't work often with children in my church job, I still learned a few songs that I could teach to my choir as warm-ups or even use for congregational singing.
  • Repertoire! I learned several songs that I plan on introducing to Northwest UU Congregation. I was introduced to several terrific new choir pieces in the choral reading sessions. The music for the conference choir was, for once, easy enough to introduce to an average church choir. I'm excited about bringing some new songs to the Northwest Band, and I picked up a few songs that could serve for congregational singing or material for Join-In Choir.
  • How to Get Asked Back. Led by Joyce Poley, Aaron McEmrys, and my good friend Sarah Dan Jones, this session was for the "troubadours" – those musicians who travel around to offer workshops, special services, concerts, etc. This is not something I've done as a Unitarian Universalist music professional, but it's something I've been thinking about off and on. This panel discussion gave me a few ideas for the kinds of things that someone with my unique skill set could offer, and the panelists gave some good practical advice about nuts and bolts issues like marketing and pricing.
  • Building the Band. For the first time, I presented a workshop of my own, called Building the Band. I talked about lessons learned from starting a band, finding music, spicing up hymns with a band, and rehearsal techniques. This was the last workshop slot on the last day, so there were fewer attendees than there probably would have been if I had presented this workshop on an earlier day. Still, it felt like the people who attended got something out of it, and I had fun putting this together and presenting it. Each of my main topics could have been an entire workshop topic, especially the section on rehearsal tips. Learning from that, if I have the opportunity to present a workshop again (and I hope I do!), I'll choose just one or two big topics next time so we can go into greater depth. Aside from that self-criticism, I felt very good about this presentation and consider it a success, especially considering it was my first time. I was pleasantly surprised at the number of questions, both during the workshop and after, when people approached me in the hotel to talk some more. On top of that, one person described me as relaxed and open to questions, and another described me as inspiring. So, pat on the back for myself before I start picking away at where I need to improve.
  • Meeting the Band. One of the best parts about putting together my workshop was throwing together a band to play some musical examples. I was unable to find a time and place for everyone to meet at once for a rehearsal, so I rehearsed the music with one or two musicians at a time, and then we all played together for the first time at my workshop. Although I didn't expect to have to rehearse this way, it worked out really well. Aside from playing with some terrific musicians, I had a lot of fun working with everyone. Kudos to Susanne Maziarz (bass), Tristan Strelitzer (drums), Scott Roewe (alto sax), and Jed Levine (piano). We want to play together again next year! I don't know in what capacity we'll play. I don't care if we play a workshop, a service, or we just end up playing together at the hotel. I just hope we can all play together again.
  • Meeting an Old Friend.  Most years, I find that the workshop is being held near an old friend. This year, I had a chance to meet up with Jon Becker. I first knew Jon when I was an undergraduate trombone player at the University of Illinois. Jon was a trombone player studying for a his Master's Degree in music education. Several years later, I worked with Jon as part of the Collins project. I engraved the entire body of work of the American composer Edward Joseph Collins. This was a LOT of work! We're talking several large orchestral works, some involving choir, concerti, numerous piano and chamber works, and even an opera. Overall, this was about 10 years worth of work. Jon wore many hats in this project, including editor, so we were often in touch about the progress of each project, fixing errata, and other music engraving matters. Although Jon and I were in touch frequently during this period of time, we hadn't seen each other in person since I graduated from the U of I in 1988. It was really nice to meet Jon face to face and catch up in person.
  • Choral Workshop. Emily Ellsworth, the conductor of the children's choir at this conference, presented an absolutely superb workshop. Nominally, it was about working with children's voices, but as Emily herself said, it was really about working with voices of all ages. She focused mainly on choral warm-ups. As I took notes at this year's conference, I would often use a highlighter so that my attention would be drawn to especially salient points when I went over them later. Looking at my notes now, I highlighted most of the page. As an instrumentalist who isn't as comfortable working with voices as a trained choral conductor, I was pleasantly surprised to find that I'm doing a lot of things right. That doesn't mean that I didn't learn a lot from this session. I learned a few things I could tweak to make my choral warm-ups more effective. I learned a physical warm-up that will get the choir laughing – not that it takes much to get my choir laughing. I also have decided that I need to take voice lessons. It's something I've been thinking about, but Emily just came out and said it. She recognizes that many music directors (including me) who direct choirs are trained as instrumentalists. The best way we can learn how to teach vocal techniques effectively is to take voice lessons. I'll be looking into that. I learned a good way to describe a dynamic range to a choir. Number 1-10. Number 1 is the softest dynamic that will still project to the congregation. Number 10 is the loudest you can healthfully sing without shouting. I'll start using this number system with my choir. I remember learning about a similar number system back when I was a high school trombonist playing in all-state band. It was good to be reminded of this. I'm grateful for Emily's workshop. This single session was worth the trip.
  • Call and Response, Zipper Songs, and Rounds. I would like to learn more songs that a congregation can learn to sing quickly. Fortunately, my friend Sarah Dan Jones is a living library of these types of songs. I got to talking with Sarah Dan in the hotel lobby, asking her if she could recommend a book or other source for learning call and response, zipper songs, and rounds. At this point, Sarah Dan's repertoire lives mostly in her head, and the songs bubble up as they're needed. Sarah Dan mentioned that she sometimes thinks about writing them down, but she hasn't gotten around to it. Well, I'm the king of "writing things down." I offered to engrave them for her if she'll sing them to me. We're going to set up a Skype call and get all this started. Who knows? Maybe this will turn into a future publication. At the very least, I'll learn a lot of fun songs.
All in all, this conference was a wonderful experience. It always is. I learned a lot, deepened some friendships, and have a sense that I'm beginning to find my niche within the UUMN community.

Next year's conference is in Arlington, VA. I'll be there!

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Bebop for a Better You

Bebop isn't my favorite music. As a jazz musician, maybe I shouldn't admit it, but there it is. I don't hate it, but I haven't gone out of my way to listen to it, at least until recently. I personally prefer music that has a singable melody and sounds simple, even if it really isn't that simple. My favorite types of music reflect my easygoing personality. Even if the music is difficult, I like it to sound relaxing. With its angular lines and frenetic pace, bebop is far from relaxing.

Although bebop isn't my first choice in music, I've been playing more and more of it recently. Why? Because it's great for building technique. I spend a lot of time practicing Godfrey and Guy music – learning new songs, memorizing our repertoire, and working out guitar arrangements. Most of our repertoire is of the "Fly Me to the Moon" variety, straight out of the Great American Songbook. My technique has improved over the years as I've work on this highly melodic style of music, but nothing gooses my technique quite like working on bebop, which is why I've started working on bebop tunes again.

I don't have an outlet for performing bebop, and I'm not using these tunes to build repertoire anyway. Instead, I'm treating each bebop tune as an etude – a musical study. (My current "etude" is Billie's Bounce.) For me, bebop tunes are etudes in technique, transcription, and learning licks. For technique, I'm working the melody up to speed, or as close as I can get. Because bebop often has unusual lines, the melodies can expose holes in my technique or pose fingering problems for me to solve. For transcription, I'm learning the melodies and at least one solo chorus by ear. For licks, I can use the chord changes to practice new licks, plus I can take parts of the melody or a solo to learn one licks. Each tune is a long study. I'll keep working at it until I get what I need out of it, and then I'll pick another.

Already, I've noticed that my improv solos tend to be more creative when I'm practicing bebop, so I must be onto something. The Great American Songbook is my bread and butter, but bebop will continue to be in the mix.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Tips for Memorizing Music

When I was a classical trombone player, I rarely memorized the music that I played. Much of it was orchestra or band music, but I even used music when I played solo recitals. Now that I'm a jazz musician, I memorize music all the time. I'm constantly working to memorize Godfrey and Guy's repertoire as well as my own. When I was a trombone player, I was in awe of those who performed from memory. Now, I realize that it's nothing to fear. You just have to work on it as you would any other skill. The good news is that, the more often you memorize, the easier it gets.

Here are some tips I've picked up along the way that may help you memorize your music.

  1. Memorize frequently. Even if there is no immediate need, spend some time each day memorizing something. If you're a jazz musician like me, you can memorize the melody or chords of a standard. If you are a classical musician, try memorizing an etude or a section of a solo. The more often you memorize, the easier it gets.
  2. Sing. If you are learning a tune from the Great American Songbook, sing the melody. If you are memorizing an instrumental, or if you are memorizing a classical piece, sing it anyway. It'll help cement the melody in your head, and you may find that you play more musically.
  3. Learn the words. Even if you never plan to sing the song in public, learning the words is another great way to keep the new song in your head. You may also find that the music takes on new life and meaning when you learn the words, and it will help you to be a more sensitive accompanist.
  4. Find patterns and and forms; analyze. The more deeply you understand the music, the easier it will be to remember. Finding patterns in the music will speed up the process of memorization. When I first began memorizing chords to songs, I memorized a chord at a time, which was tedious. Later, I realized that the chords for jazz standards often follow similar patterns. It's much easier to recognize a typical 1-6-2-5 pattern than it is to memorize C6, Am7, Dm7, G7. 
  5. Practice away from your instrument. Are your chops tired? Fingers aching? Sing the music in the car. Run through the music in your head while you're going to sleep. Visualize. Imagine the feel of the instrument, the fingerings (or slide positions) you'll use, etc.
  6. Memorize a little at a time. It can be daunting to memorize a big piece of music. But you don't chop a big tree down with one swing of the ax. You chop away, one swing at a time. Start with eight measures. If that's the most you can memorize in that practice session, that's fine. It's eight measures more than you had memorized before you started. Build on that.
  7. But still play all the way through. Even while you are memorizing a little at a time, still practice the rest of the music. By the time you've memorized most of the music, you may find that the last section is nearly memorized from sheer repetition.
  8. Put it away and come back to it. My main reason for memorizing is to be able to perform my repertoire without the printed music. When you perform, you need to get it right the first time. There can be only one "first" time you play a piece of music on a particular day, but I've found that the next best thing is to go away from that music and come back later. After I've memorized a song, I will often play that song and then put it away, even if there are some mistakes I want to fix. I'll practice a few other things and then go back to the song again, keeping in mind places my memory may have blanked the first time. I'll just play it once and then repeat the process: practice something else and then come back for another run through of my memory song.
  9. Constant review. Once I've memorized a song, I don't take it for granted. All of my repertoire needs constant review. Fortunately, I play a few weekly gigs in which I have a chance to cycle through my repertoire, but to me, that isn't enough. Part of my daily practice involves playing through my repertoire. I have an alphabetical list that keeps growing longer as I continue to memorize. I'll play through 10-15 songs a day from my memory list, just to keep everything under my fingers and in my head.
If you make a practice of memorizing your music, I'm sure you have some ideas of your own. If you have any tips for memorization, feel free to add then in the comments section below.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Five Stages of Jazz Guitar Arranging

Writing arrangements for solo jazz guitar is a special joy of mine. Some of my arrangements are purely instrumentals, while most of them are written as solo choruses to vocal arrangements for myself or for Godfrey and Guy. Arranging for solo guitar is challenging and rewarding. I always learn something in the process. These are my five stages of jazz guitar arranging:

  1. Glee – I like a song so much that I can't wait to arrange it for solo guitar. Or Lori, my music partner, likes a song so much that I am required to write an arrangement.
  2. Despair – After sitting down with the new song and trying different approaches, I realize this is harder than I thought it would be. In fact, I can't think of a way to make it work. If it's my own song, I might find it difficult to find chord forms that will allow me to highlight the melody. If it's a Godfrey and Guy song for Lori, it's a sure bet that she sings it in a key that is too high or too low for the guitar, forcing me to get creative with octave displacement.
  3. Hope – After fiddling with the song for a couple days, or even a week, I figure out a good way to play a phrase. If I've figured out how I can play one phrase, I know I can write the rest.
  4. Determination – After a week, or possibly a month, I've written the entire arrangement. The end is in sight. Now I have to learn how to play what I wrote. This can take a while. Sometimes I can play my arrangement right away, and sometimes I need to spend a lot of time playing it in super slow motion before working it up to speed.
  5. Pride – Finally, I can play my new creation at a gig – usually a background gig where people are more worried about getting refills than whether or not I'm debuting a shiny new song. That doesn't matter to me, though. I mostly care that I took the time to write a new arrangement for a song that I like, and that now I have a new song in my repertoire.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Mobile Music Man

Today marked the close of one chapter and the beginning of another. I paid my final studio rent check to Tessitura, turned in my keys, and drove around the neighborhood all afternoon giving private lessons. I'm accustomed to planting myself in Tessitura on Monday and Tuesday afternoons, so it felt odd to be driving around. I liked the activity, though, and it won't take long to adjust.

This first week, I'm figuring out where everybody lives and ironing out some wrinkles. For example, one of the parents typed in the wrong street number, which caused me to knock on someone's door a half a block away. Thankfully, nobody was home at that other place, and it didn't take me long to sort things out and get the correct address.

It's a good thing I like dogs, because I met a lot of them today! One of the parents seemed surprised that their dog, who likes to bark and bark, settled down while I was teaching her son. For this particular dog, which looked like a black lab mix, it seemed the best thing to do was make friends while I was alone in the room with her, and then relax and ignore her so that I didn't prompt any more barking. Sure enough, she chilled out, and my student and I had a peaceful lesson with our backs turned to her. (She got plenty of petting before I left, though.)

I scheduled 15 minutes between each lesson, which worked out really well, since everyone was in or around the same neighborhood. As long as I end each lesson on time, it's not a problem getting to the next one.

I enjoyed teaching in the homes today. Students and parents all seemed much more at ease in their own environment. The parents seemed to enjoy the freedom to be at home instead of being stuck in the lobby waiting for their kid to finish a lesson. Many of the kids seemed excited that I was "visiting" their house. I enjoyed meeting the pets and siblings, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed roaming the neighborhood.

I'm grateful for the years I had teaching at Tessitura. Having that studio as a home base provided a great opportunity to establish myself in Oakhurst. Now I'm looking forward to the next chapter as a mobile music man.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

New Teaching Situation

A few weeks ago, my friend Lynnette, who owns the Tessitura studio where I teach, told me that she is going to be renting her space to a personal trainer, who will convert Tessitura into a personal training gym. This is an opportunity Lynnette couldn't pass up. She had been advertising Tessitura as a place to rent space for office use, yoga, or whatever when she wasn't teaching. She was hoping for some extra income from some smaller renters, but instead, she was contacted by someone who wants to rent out the space full time. It's a win/win situation for Lynnette. She's leasing her space to the personal trainer and then paying some rent to another landlord two doors away so she can continue her music classes.

While I understood that Lynnette took advantage of a good opportunity, I was a little bummed at the change in my teaching situation. Fortunately, Lynnette gave me plenty warning, so it wasn't like I had to find another place to teach the next day. Being right smack in the middle of the Oakhurst neighborhood, Tessitura has been a good home base. I searched for another neighborhood spot to teach. It looked like I was going to be able to teach at a local church. The music director was excited about the prospect, but it turned out that they have a policy of only renting to non-profits. I suppose it could be argued that, being a musician, I am automatically non-profit.

After the church location fell through, I realized that, since almost all of my Tessitura students live in Oakhurst, I can come to them. Starting in mid-May, I'm going to teach in my students' homes. The reaction from the parents has been unanimously positive – no driving to the studio and sitting around waiting while their kid takes a lesson. On top of that, I'm not increasing the lesson fee. Lessons at Tessitura are higher than my normal rate so I can cover the rental cost. I charge more for home visits, but that price is offset by the fact that I will no longer be paying rent. Even with the cost of driving and the extra buffer time between lessons for travel, I'll be earning half again what I earn at Tessitura. Parents pay exactly the same. I earn more money per lesson. Win/win.

To be honest, I've been lazy about recruiting students at Tessitura. I hate the marketing aspect of the music teaching business. I've been relying on Tessitura's great location, waiting for students to drift in. With no central location, I'm going to have to be more proactive about recruiting students. I've ordered some postcards to sprinkle around the neighborhood. I'll also encourage word of mouth by giving parents some incentive to spread my name around. For example, if a new student comes to me because of a referral from one of my students, that student gets a free lesson. I've managed to build up a respectable roster at Tessitura without trying very hard. Imagine what I can do if I put some effort into it! At first, Lynnette's news about renting her space threw me for a loop, but now it's starting to look like a blessing in disguise.

Starting around the middle of May, I'll be zipping around Oakhurst and the surrounding area, teaching guitar, ukulele, and piano to students of all ages. Have guitar, will travel.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Seven String Hobby

I bought a seven-string guitar a few months ago with the intention of using it for solo and Godfrey and Guy gigs when we don't have a bass player (which is most of our gigs). I knew it would take some getting used to, but was even more challenging than I expected. I lost interest in it and gave it up…or so I thought. I was considering selling it, but I hung onto it. I'm glad I kept it, because I've started playing it again.

When I first bought the seven-string guitar, I figured that maybe three months would give me time to adjust. It's just one more string! Silly me. I put too much pressure on myself to get good at it right away, and I became frustrated when I realized that it would take more time to sound halfway decent on it than I thought.

Now I'm thinking of the seven-string guitar as a hobby. Of course I would like to eventually be comfortable enough with it to play in public, but I'm enjoying the low pressure approach. Each night, before I go to bed, I pull out the seven-string guitar and play it for around 30 minutes. I'm not doing anything fancy with it. I'll play a few ii-V-I sequences and then play with a handful of songs that are in my repertoire, figuring out how to take advantage of the low A string. I enjoy puzzles, and this is a kind of musical puzzle.

As I continue to dabble in the seven-string guitar, it'll feel more and more natural to use the low A string, and eventually I won't have to think about it very much. At some point, I'll realize that I'm ready to play it in public. I'm not putting the pressure of a deadline on myself. It might be a year from now; it might be two years. Meanwhile, I'm enjoying my new "hobby."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

You and the Night: Mixing

Today, I went back to 800 East Studios in Atlanta to mix Godfrey and Guy's You and the Night album.  We reached the mixing stage about a month later than expected because our trumpet player, Hadrian Mendoza, was having some lip problems. It's a recurring injury that surfaces from time to time, and the only cure is to rest. Having experienced my own chop problems as a brass player, I could empathize, and I had no problem waiting for Hadrian's lip to feel better. It was worth the wait, because when Hadrian returned to the studio, he laid down some mighty tasty solos. Both Hadrian and the tenor sax player, Reed Lukat, did some great solo work.

As soon as we finished Hadrian's session, I scheduled two mixing and mastering sessions with Ken. Mixing is one of the final steps in the recording process. After recording all the vocal and instrumental tracks and then making fixes, the next step is mixing: adjusting volume levels so that instruments and voices are balanced, adding just the right amount of reverb, and generally fine tuning everything.

At the beginning of the session, I rerecorded my vocals. The night I laid down my original vocals, I was coming down with a fever,  and we often had to back up and redo phrases in which I had started coughing. Listening to the playback a few days later, I cringed at my vocals. They probably would have sounded okay to most people, but I could hear myself holding back a cough. I wanted to redo my vocals right away, but my cold and fever turned into a sinus infection, and I was unable to sing for a couple weeks. It wasn't until last week that my voice returned to form, and I happily rerecorded my vocals before we began mixing this morning. I'm so glad we took the time. The difference between the two recording sessions is like night and day.

Listening to the mix in the studio and again at home, I'm really happy with the results! As I mentioned earlier, Hadrian and Reed played terrific solos, and they nailed the ensemble parts I wrote for them. The drums and bass playing are super tasty. I had written some horn soli sections, with the guitar as the third "horn." These sections turned out nicely, and listening to today's mix makes me feel motivated to write more of these types of arrangements. I'm pleased with my own guitar comping and solo work.

Even with the extra vocal recording at the beginning of today's mixing session, we managed to wrap up seven of the eleven songs on the album. Next week's mixing will be a piece of cake. I'm very much looking forward to sending this album out into the world!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saying Goodbye and Making Room

Last week, a parent of one of my piano students told me that her son would be "taking a break" from piano lessons. We all know what this really means. A few years ago, this news would have disturbed me on two fronts. I would have found myself wondering what I did wrong that this student would quit, and I would have sorely missed the money! Fortunately, I'm now in a position where losing a single student is not a major financial setback. I've also learned that losing a student isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Some students click with certain teachers, and some don't. I have a fairly regimented approach to lessons, which is well disguised with a laid back teaching style and bad jokes. The basic idea behind my teaching is that if you can master the material I give you, you will be able to teach yourself to play anything. When I was a classical trombonist, I never had to bring an ensemble part to my teacher, because everything I played for lessons was much more difficult than anything I played in band or orchestra.

While this approach works with most of my students, it doesn't work with everyone. Some students (and to be frank, their parents) want me to get right to the "good stuff." They want to be able to play the music from their favorite band right away. I don't play that game. If we jump right to that favorite song, they're going to miss some crucial steps. This isn't to say that we don't explore music from their favorite bands, but I'm not going to let them play it if I don't think they're ready for it yet. If they (or their parents) are patient, they'll eventually be able to play whatever they want.

I have a fifth grade guitar student that I would love to hold up to other students his age as a great example of how to practice. He has been diligently doing everything I tell him to do for the past three years…a rare student! He has worked his way through three levels of method books, and now we're on to more advanced material. He is a good melody reader and has a solid knowledge of open chords. We're working on major scales, the chromatic scale, pentatonic scales, and Barre chords. As soon as he develops enough strength to handle Barre chords, the fretboard is really going to open up to him. He's going to be more than ready to try out for middle school jazz band when it comes time.

Another example is a high school guitar student whom I've been teaching since she was 10. Although she likes to perform Taylor Swift and acoustic/rock/folk songs, she enjoys working on jazz standards with me. She told me that since she started playing the jazz standards, all the other music she's been playing has become easier. She no longer needs my help in learning pop songs.

While I would have liked to continue working with the piano student who is now "taking a break," lessons with him never felt right. I never quite felt like I was getting through. There's nothing quite as painful as watching a student try to fake his way through his lesson material. I could never quite convince him or his mom that practicing the "current thing" would get him to the "next thing," in terms of both physical skill and understanding. While I don't think I was the right teacher for this student, he has musical talent, and I hope that he eventually finds a teacher that can motivate him.

In the meantime, I'm happy to report that I'm going to be working with a brand new student in a couple days. I hope we click.

You and the Night: The Learning Never Stops

We just finished our third Godfrey and Guy recording session for You and the Night. The purpose of this session was to make fixes in the instrumental tracks. My goals for this rehearsal were met, thanks to the help of some great musicians and Ken Gregory, the owner of 800 East Studios and an amazing sound engineer.

Our trumpet player was having some lip problems and needed to take the week off. That threw a wrinkle into the proceedings, but Ken was able to fix several trumpet blips digitally. It won't take too long to make the remaining fixes when our trumpet player's lip is feeling better.

Aside from the thrill of recording our first album, this has been a huge learning experience for me in many ways.

Arranging
I often write my own arrangements for groups I perform with. When I was a trombonist, I arranged music for trombone ensemble. I often write arrangements for the church choir that I lead. I've arranged many, many songs for solo guitar, and now I'm writing small band charts for Godfrey and Guy. I've never written music for a jazz ensemble, and I've already learned a lot. For example, now I know how to write more usable parts for the drummer by writing instructions to play time for 16 bars rather than writing out 16 bars of slashes. For the most part, my writing for the two horns worked pretty well, and I'm especially pleased with the soli sections for two horns + guitar. Still, I heard a few problem areas when I listened to the rough mix. Sometimes the writing was a little too thick (even with just two horns), and I ended up writing unisons or leaving out a part or two. Now that I think of it, every single rewrite simplified the music and got out of the way of the vocals. We recorded my rewrites today, and I'm happy with the changes. For future arrangements, the basic lesson is that simple is good. I'm also thinking that I may seek out a teacher to help with jazz arranging. I've always had a knack for arranging music, and I'm sure I could learn a lot on my own, but I could learn a lot faster with a teacher.

Recording Process
While I was officially in charge of each session, I often followed the lead of the other musicians, each of whom has more experience in the studio than I. I was responsible for the general direction of the session…calling breaks, keeping everything on schedule, pointing out fixes to be made, etc., but I often left the details up to the other musicians, and particularly to Ken, our sound engineer. In today's session, I was truly amazed at how little we actually played. Ken was able to fix an amazing number of mistakes digitally, and the musicians were really only required to replay anything Ken couldn't fix, plus take another run at some solos. Lori and I plan on recording more albums in the future, and I'm sure I'll learn something with each new project.

Guitar Comping
While I feel the guitar parts sound pretty good, I know I can do better. Most of my playing is either purely solo (solo guitar or the sole accompanist in Godfrey and Guy) or as part of the Sentimental Journey Orchestra, a 17-piece big band. I rarely play in a combo situation. As a soloist, I play anything and everything. As part of a big band, I'm mainly restricted to playing quarter notes all night. Playing with a combo, I need to find a happy medium. The bass and drums are keeping time, so I have the freedom to play some pianistic fills or even lay out sometimes. While my guitar comping in the rough mix is perfectly acceptable, I plan to practice some more and then head to the studio one more time to lay down some tastier guitar tracks.

It Never Stops
I told my guitar teacher, Dave Frackenpohl, that I was taking a break from guitar lessons while I completed this recording project. I couldn't focus on the recording and lesson material at the same time. I felt that I was putting my education on hold, but that wasn't the case at all. I've learned so much these past few weeks that I almost feel like I've gone through another semester of music school. The learning never stops.

Friday, January 22, 2016

You and the Night Recording

Last week, Godfrey and Guy went into the studio to start recording our upcoming album, You and the Night. I was a bit nervous going into this. I've never organized a recording project of this size, and I wanted to make sure it went smoothly. I wrote the arrangements, printed out parts, and set an ambitious schedule for our first session. I had planned on laying down rough recordings for seven of the eleven songs, but we actually got through all eleven with five minutes to spare. Yay!

Although I was nervous in the days leading up to our first session, I felt relaxed and loose once we started recording. Truth be told, I had a lot of fun! If I had a bottomless bank account, I would have no trouble spending the money on extra studio time.

A few days after recording the basic instrumental tracks, we recorded the final vocal tracks. Normally, we would clean up the instrumentals first and save the vocals for last, but a Thursday night session would have wiped out some of our band members who have busy schedules. Lori and I recorded vocals last night, and it went very well. Lori sounds amazing! I feel my own vocal tracks could be better, not for lack of singing talent, but because I was coming down with a cold. I had a sore throat and was getting chills – not the most ideal recording situation. We had to rerecord a few spots because I would start coughing in mid-phrase. To the average listener, I probably sound fine, but I can hear all through my songs that I'm trying to hold back a cough. Once we've finished up all the recording sessions, I'll wait a week and take another listen. If I'm satisfied, great. If I feel I should give it another go, I'll schedule some more studio time when my voice is at full health.

I spent most of today listening to the rough mix, marking my musical scores when I heard something that needs fixing. It was very helpful to have a CD to take home. While in the studio, I was mostly focused on keeping things running smoothly and nailing my guitar parts, so naturally I wasn't hearing everything. Tomorrow, we'll all reconvene at 800 East Studios and clean up the instrumentals.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Lessons from Elliot

Elliot Chasanov, teacher extraordinaire
Although I am now a guitarist, one of my main influences is Elliot Chasanov, professor of trombone at the University of Illinois. I first met Elliot when he was teaching at Kent State University. I was in the middle of my second year of teaching, and I was miserable. I was in Cleveland at the time. I remembered that two of my University of Illinois classmates had been private students of Elliot's in high school, back when he was playing in the Air Force Band in D.C. I recalled that he was now teaching at Kent State, which wasn't too far from Cleveland. I called Elliot out of the blue, telling him that I was planning on getting out of teaching and back into trombone performance. I asked if he might have a graduate assistant position available. As it turned out, the current grad assistant was getting his degree and moving on, so the spot was indeed open. I drove to Kent State to audition, and next thing you know, I was the the graduate trombone assistant at KSU, working toward a Master's in trombone performance.

As a jazz guitarist, I have developed a vastly different skill set than I learned from Elliot, yet he continues to be one of my main influences even to this day. No matter the musical style, Elliot's lessons hold true. Here are a few highlights from my days as Elliot's student.

Play with intention.

I'll never forget my first lesson with Elliot. We spent an hour picking apart the first phrase of the first etude in 60 Melodious Etudes for Trombone. It wasn't that I was missing any notes. I played the right notes, and I played them in tune with good phrasing. What was missing was the intention behind the notes. There was a certain fire that was missing in my playing, and Elliot was trying to draw it out of me. It was an incredibly frustrating lesson for me. I knew that he was giving me an important lesson (even if he was ticking me off!), but at the same time, I didn't "get it" just yet. It took me a few more lessons to learn how to stoke the fire and play from my heart. I finally started to develop some fire when we worked on the Grøndal Concerto for Trombone and Orchestra. I recall playing the first section in a lesson. He stopped me and said something like "that's not the way I would have played it, but it works great for you." I was on my way to finding my own voice. As a trombonist, I developed an intense style that served me particularly well in orchestral playing. My guitar style is more subdued. As a jazz guitarist, I prefer playing quietly, and I leave a lot of space in my playing so that there is room for others to contribute to the groove. The fire is still there, but it doesn't burn as fiercely. Elliot taught me to play with intention. Just as I found my own "trombone" voice with Elliot's help, I am gradually finding my own voice as a jazz guitarist.

There is a place for you.

Elliot is very encouraging. On more than one occasion, he told me that as long as you're a good musician and a good person, there is room for you in the music world. Thankfully, I've found this to be true! Most of my contemporaries have been playing guitar since they were young. I, on the other hand, began learning the guitar just over a decade ago. I have a lot of catching up to do! In spite of that, I have managed to carve out a place for myself in Atlanta through performing, teaching, music engraving, and as a part time music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation. It's a far cry from the classical trombone path I had originally chosen, but it's working for me.

Walk the talk.

Elliot leads by example. He teaches younger trombonists how to be good musicians, and he himself is a terrific trombonist.  Just like Elliot, I'll continue to be the best musician I can be, not just for myself, but as an example for my students.

Listen to yourself…literally.

If I could only take one idea away from Elliot, it would be his insistence that students record themselves when they practice. Listening to yourself on tape for the first time is a humbling experience. (I sound like THAT?) Once you get past the initial shock, recording yourself is the fastest way to improve. Your own perception of how you sound is often very different from how you actually sound. As you continue to record yourself, you will make adjustments that bring you closer to playing with your own ideal voice. When I was Elliot's student, we used portable micro-cassette recorders. These days, I'll play a section of music into a looper and then listen right away to the playback. With a recording session coming up, it's doubly important to listen to myself. If I can fix most of my problems at home instead of the recording studio, I'll save time and money!

Be true to your friends.

Elliot was not only a teacher, but he is a great friend. I never told him this, but I once went to knock on Elliot's office door. I don't remember if I wanted to talk to him about something or if I was going to ask him if he wanted to get some pizza. Before I knocked, I heard him talking on the phone. I couldn't help overhearing, and like a little sneak, I listened for a while. It sounded like he was talking to someone who had called him as a reference, and Elliot was singing his praises, telling the person on the other end that this student was an unbelievably good player, hard worker, great teacher, etc. If I were on the other end, I would have hired that person on the spot. I snuck away after half a minute, feeling guilty for eavesdropping. The next day, Elliot told me that a university had called, asking for a recommendation to fill in a trombone teaching spot that was soon to be open. It was then that I realized he had been talking about me. That really floored me, and even though I didn't get that job, I still remember hearing Elliot sing my praises to someone else. It wasn't so much the things he said (although they were flattering). It was the fact that he was going to bat for me and doing whatever he could to help me out. I try to follow Elliot's example. I'm a loner and don't have many friends, but for those few who are close to me, I would do anything.

I feel fortunate to have had Elliot Chasanov as a teacher. I've taken a different musical path, but his lessons will stick with me forever.