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.

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.