Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Musical Influences

Every musician has their own musical influences - early encounters with other artists that influenced their own course and approach to music.

I started out as a trumpet player, so one of my very first influences was the great Maynard Ferguson.  It was my brother who actually turned me on to Maynard.  My brother was a sax/clarinet player and two years older than me, so of course he was in on all the cool stuff!  So one day he tells me about this album called "Conquistador" that had this really great trumpet player.  I was like "cool" let's check it out, so we went off to the record store. Yes, I said "record" store - and used our saved cash to buy "Conquistador"  - and after listening, I was completely blown away by Maynard's' chops and range and this began my long journey into jazz and big band. I saw Maynard live a few times when he came through town and he never disappointed:

Influences have a chain effect. So while I was getting into Maynard, I started checking out all his other songs, such as Give It One, and Chameleon (which lead me to Herbie Hancock later, but that's another story) and started listening to other instrumentalists, such as Bill Chase, and predominately horn bands such as Brick, Tower of Power and Chicago, of course the incredible Earth Wind and Fire! This opened me up to Rock, Soul, Fusion and so many styles. I have always loved all types of music as a result, but I seemed to really love jazz, Blues, Funk and soul the most. Somewhere along the chain, I eventually stumbled across the great Grover Washington Jr. Probably the most soulful sax player of all time, I found myself drawn to his very fluid style, which was very jazzy and bluesy, but also funky! Grover somehow seamlessly blended my favorite genres together. His album Winelight remains one of my favorite albums of all time and I think over the years I collected most of Grover's earlier recordings. Mr. Magic remains the musician's "national anthem" and I have played it countless times in numerous bands:


 All of these early influences lead to many other great musicians - too many to list in a blog post. But I always like to visit my early influences as a reminder of where and how I started out in my musical journey. Influences are what shape us and help lead us down that path. So I owe a great debt to the likes of Maynard Ferguson, Grover Washington Jr. and many others. Both Maynard and Grover are sadly gone now, but if I could go back in time, I would love to tell them "Thanks".

Friday, May 29, 2015

The Art of Slap Bass

Master musician and perhaps one of the greatest bass players in the history of the world, Marcus Miller absolutely slaps the crap out of Jaco's Teen Town.  Amazing stuff really.  This guy is fantastic live. Catch him if you are lucky enough to find him coming through your area.

Swingin' on the Highway to Hell

Here's a very cool big band arrangement cover of AC/DC's iconic Highway to Hell by the German band Jazzkantine.  Again, it reaffirms my belief that you can swing almost any song and make it sound good.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Crazy Little Thing Called "Lounge"

Here's a nice cover of the Queen song "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" by Torsten Goods, a German jazz guitarist. I have to say - I like his arrangement of this cover. A bit of lounge-ified with some Elvis thrown in for good measure, although the Queen version had a lot of "Elvis" in it to begin with. Great stuff! This guy has a terrific jazz sound.

Also like the black and white with superimposed color, especially the shoes, jacket and the guitar. Very stylish. Love the color of his guitar. Is that a Rhapsody in Blue quote at the end? I believe so.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Connecticut (Randy Goodenough)

Here's another collaboration/experiment I did with the fine singer and songwriter Randy Goodenough. I added the strings sounds to this recording and remastered it slightly. I really like Randy's stuff - he's a great lyricist and I plan to do some other collaborations with him in the near future.


Thursday, May 14, 2015

EWI Funk!

Here's a song I recorded when I received my EWI4000s that I purchased from Patchman Music. It is set to EVI fingering.  It's pretty easy to switch to this instrument from EVI but I prefer the EVI octave mechanism. Still, in a pinch, I could gig with this instrument.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Lounge as an Art Form

I am actually a big fan of lounge music.  It has a combination of things I like: good musicians, humor and great arrangements.  You can't really beat that as a triple play.  One of the best loungers in the business is Richard Cheese, who will fearlessly take on almost any song and "loungify" it.

Here's a nice arrangement of a Pussycat Dolls song where he even does impressions. Amazing stuff.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Great Music Need Not Be Serious - Just Entertaining

A friend who plays guitar recently caught up with me after many years and filled me in on a new band he is playing with.  He is one of those rare musicians that has what many musicians lack - a sense humor!  He knows the value of entertainment vs. pure art, and that puts him way ahead in my book.

Here a a video of one of his latest projects. I appreciate the nostalgic lounge angle here combined with the humor. These guys look like they are having fun on stage - and that is half the battle. Very interesting to watch.  Good stuff! Go catch these guys in the area if you get the chance.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Chump Change Band - Columbia, Missouri

 Many who know me remember when I was in the Chump Change Band back when I was living in Columbia, Missouri in the 80's. I joined Chump Change after a stint with Glen "Bummer the Drummer" Ward's Kansas City Street Band.  I loved playing with Bummer and learned quite a bit from playing with him, but something has always drawn me to the blues.

So sax player Jeff Watkins and I started hitting local jam sessions to have some fun.  We eventually found ourselves at Lee's Lounge on the corner of Garth and Ash.  This was a tiny dive a more urban part of Columbia, not to far off the  downtown strip.

That's how I met the incredible Babe Martin, and the awesome Kenneth Brantley.  At the time, Smitty (bass) was playing with another band (Natty Bumpo) so we had a rotating bass and drum seat at the time. But everyone played with everybody at some point. Columbia had a great music scene at that time, and we all knew each other.

I remember getting my high school friend David Lowe involved on bass at some point, and David was a terrific player in his own right. Sometimes Joe McBride, keyboardist extraordinaire, would also gig with us. And ton occasion, we sometimes had my college friend and drummer Marty Morrison playing with us as well.

I think at one point, I pulled in several friends to play drums when we were short a drummer on a Sunday night.  Such was the struggle of a forming band.  We rarely made any money at Lee's Lounge, but we didn't care.  It was all about the music for most of us. Those that only played for money didn't come to Lee's Lounge.

So every Sunday night we played at Lee's lounge. I did this for most of my senior year in high school and for 4 years after that until I moved to Washington DC.  For us Lee's Lounge was our church.  It was really a great scene.  It could get a bit rough and tumble at times, but it was really the place to play on Sunday and was one of the best venues for real music at the time.

Eventually we started playing more regularly together and took gigs all over Missouri.  People liked the authenticity of what Babe was doing, and he was the leader of the band. We played what Babe played and that was that.

I have great memories of my time with Babe, Kenneth and Smitty. They were always good to me and we became good friends. I miss them to this day, but after I was gone, they never slowed down and only became better. They are now considered a legendary band in Columbia, MO.

Soft spoken, but carrying a mighty guitar, Babe Martin was the first musician who encouraged me to play EVI.  Kenneth was a horn playing mentor to me for more years than I can remember. And Smitty was always a rock-solid, extremely positive person who you could always count on.  Smitty  and I speak with each other by phone from time to time.  All three were huge influences on me musically, and all are first class people as well. You can thank all of them for keeping the blues tradition alive in Columbia, Missouri.

More on my Chump Change years later. For now, here's a great clip of Big Babe Martin and The Chump Change Band.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Funky Retro Wah Guitar

Here is a song I did just for fun to explore the scratchy wah guitar. I created this song mostly using loops, but recorded the flute and synth tracks myself using my EVI. Check it out:

Monday, April 20, 2015

It's All in the Arrangement

Scott Bradlee's version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles theme song is a great example of how a good arrangement and great musicians can make any song sound great.

Not to mention those awesome EWI runs by Steve Sweat! Great stuff.  In fact, I like almost all of Scott Bradlee's stuff, especially his work with Post Modern Jukebox.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Song of Gigs Past...

Here is a song I recorded that I used to do back in Columbia with Chump Change when we were playing every Sunday at the now long gone Lee's Lounge (as well as at many other gigs):

Kenneth Brantley played a really nice version of this!  I really have fond memories of my Chump Change years.

This was recorded with me playing the lead and haronies on my EVI using the Dynasample Xpression sound module. I doubled the sax line and played the original Chump Change harmony lines I used to play with Kenneth!  I also did a very light string line throughout.


Here is a Song I recorded over in collaboration with the excellent Randy Goodenough:

Randy sent me a prior recorded track and graciously allowed me to add some parts to it for fun.  I added a Glockenspiel sound to give a "clear" tone, and then dubbed some sax lines over certain parts.

I like the way it turned out and will hopefully be collaborating with Randy on some other projects.

Music Lessons

I started trumpet lessons at the age of 8 years in Columbia, Missouri, a college town known for its rich music scene and culture.  My first teacher was George Defoe from the University of Missouri.  I studied with George Defoe until his departure from Missouri during my junior year in high school.  After that I took lessons from Dr. Alexander Pickard, also from the University of Missouri.  In Junior High and High school, I played the jazz chair as well as the lead trumpet chair.  I was also a District Band member and an All State Band member.

During my senior year in High school, I met sax player Jeff Watkins (who is currently James Brown's sax player) at a jam session in Columbia Missouri. This encounter led to numerous musical experiences and eventually the trumpet chair in Glenn "Bummer the Drummer" Ward's reincarnation of the Kansas City Street Band. 

After two years of playing in the Kansas City Street Band, I ended up playing with Big Babe Martin and the Chump Change Band.  Both of these bands remain institutions today in Columbia, Missouri.  Kenneth Brantley, the superb veteran alto sax player with Chump Change, took me under his wing and mentored me for several years in the art of jazz, blues and R&B horn playing. 

The Chump Change Band experience was rich in the true blues experience.  Through Babe Martin and Chump Change, I was able to meet and play with such greats as John Lee Hooker (resulting in a citation in the 1987 Downbeat magazine), Albert Collins, James Cotton, Albert King, Koko Taylor, Robert Cray and many others.  I also had the privilege of performing and becoming friends with Joe McBride,, who was living in Columbia at the time and who played with Chump Change occasionally.

After playing in Columbia for several years, I transferred to Iowa University in Iowa City for my last two years of college to play with the Johnson County Landmark, Iowa University's top jazz band.  I continued to play with numerous local musicians both academically and professionally.

After graduating from the University of Iowa, I returned to Columbia, Missouri briefly and played some gigs with the Chump Change Band before moving to Washington D.C.

In Washington D.C., I joined up with jazz guitarist Jimmy Joyce and co-founded the Jimmy Joyce Quartet, a popular jazz group that played Capitol Hill for several years.  Eventually, I started frequenting the weekly jam sessions at the New Vegas Lounge and other clubs in Washington D.C, and hooked up with Jackie Lee, a former guitar player for Wilson Pickett, and subsequently joined Jackie Lee's Posse Band, which included Jerry Wilder (of Chuck Brown fame) on electric bass. 

After playing numerous gigs with the Posse Band, I was eventually picked up by a local D.C.-based Soul Singer (Jimi Smooth) as an evolution of Jackie Lee's Posse Band, I played with Jimi for many years before moving out of the DC area.

These days I live in the greater NYC area and currently record and play with local musicians in the area.