July News

We are going to hit the road an play the hits down in Fayetteville at the Cameo Arthouse Theater this week. I’m familiar with Fayetteville because I was born there and I spent a lot of time with my grandparents there. I hope you’ll join us for this First Thursday series at the Cameo.

I’m lucky to be playing a few times with Dr. Stephen Anderson and Kobie Watkins as we accompany Yolanda Hall at the Sharp Nine, and Noah Powell at the Irregardless.

If you like big band jazz, don’t miss your opportunity to hear NCJRO at the Sharp Nine this month as well at their monthly residency.

Grant Osborne will join me at Grove Winery to show off his new shiny white MIDI harmonica- get ready to have your mind blown.

Also, thanks in advance to Tim Smith and Todd Proctor for hiring me to play with y’all this month. I can’t wait to jam!

Enter your email to receive our monthly news and we will send you an exclusive live MP3:
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Practicing Sight Reading (Jazz Organ Project 54/250)

The more you learn about music, the more you realize you don’t know. But after about 30 years of playing music, I was floored when I realized that I had been doing something wrong the entire time.

I had been practicing sight reading the wrong way.

Up until now, my idea of practicing sight reading on keyboard had been to slowly practice a song measure by measure. Then I would increase the speed until I could play the piece perfectly a tempo.

While that is a decent way to practice a piece of music, it turns out to be a lousy way to practice the skill of sight reading in general. After years of doing it, I found myself not getting any better at sight reading, i.e. looking at a new piece of music and playing it right away.

My friend Grant Osborne helped me realize that the best way to practice sight reading is to read through a new piece of music, probably with a metronome, and catch as many parts of it as you can. The important part is to keep going no matter what.

After three days of practicing this, I saw a big improvement. It felt great to improve after being in a rut for years. Thanks, Grant!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

When Will I Be Good (Jazz Organ Project 53/250)

The other day, I sat down to listen to a recording of my trio. I heard myself make tons of mistakes, and my time seemed to always be rushing ahead of the beat.

I wondered, “When am I going to be good? I’ve been practicing this stuff for seven years, and I’m still not there!”

I bet a lot of musicians listen to their gigs an think the same thing. But when you listen to a show, try to look at it from a couple of different perspectives.

1. Did people enjoy the show and get their money’s worth? In the case above where I was feeling critical of my own playing, we had a great show. We sold out of CD’s and got $160 in tips, which is pretty good for a jazz trio playing at a small club. Maybe I thought my playing sucked, but people really liked the band.

2. Jazz is not learned overnight. I watched a video of a great local keyboard player last night. He is a little younger than me, but his skill level is far beyond mine. I was browsing his website and I saw that he had been playing piano since age 4. That means he has been playing keyboards for probably around 35 years. DUH, that’s why he’s way better than me. In another 28(!!!) years, I still might not be as good has him, but I wager that I’ll be pretty dadgum good.

3. Listening to recordings of yourself play is important. When critiquing your own playing, make note of the things you’d like to work on or do differently. If you don’t like what you’re hearing, don’t let it get you down. Get excited about practicing to improve.

Posted in The Five-Year Jazz Organ Project | Leave a comment

Practice Magic (Jazz Organ Project 53/250)

It takes a ton of practice to become a great magician. Great magicians often spend years in seclusion practicing magic tricks in order to get them perfect. It’s one of those careers that necessarily has to be about the love of the craft.

Music is similar to magic. Great musicians make performing look so easy that it might be hard to imagine how hard they had to work. But it’s not unusual to find a musician who started playing at age 2, and spent all of their high school and college years locked away in a practice room for many hours a day.

Whatever you are working on, no matter how small, obsess over it and perfect it as if you were mastering a difficult card trick. Don’t settle for anything less than perfection.

Posted in The Five-Year Jazz Organ Project | Leave a comment

Video from 7/6/17 at the Cameo Theater

Thanks to George Johnson of GJ Music Videography for this cool video.

From the Cameo Theater in Fayetteville, NC, with Casey Overton on guitar and Zsolt David on drums.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Time is Everything (Jazz Organ Project 52/250)

Timing is very important in music. It’s much more important than the harmonic content or the tone quality of a particular instrument.

I’ve seen pianists with a great time feel sit down at an cheap or out-of-tune piano and make it sound beautiful. I remember Brother Yusuf Salim coming to gigs back in the day with a cheap Casio keyboard. His performances always sounded excellent because of his time feel, which was confident and full of personality and jazz history. It’s been probably 15 years since I saw him, and he’s since passed away. I can’t remember any of the notes he played, but I remember that time feel as if it was yesterday.

If you’ve ever seen Ron Carter play a student’s bass at a college master class, you will immediately recognize his playing. His tone is certainly a part of the equation, but even on the worst sounding basses his unique time feel is evident.

I transcribed a very fast Cannonball solo from the album Cannonball & Coltrane. I believe it was from ‘Limehouse Blues’. After writing out the notes, there were several places where he was playing notes that seemed wrong on paper- but his time feel is so strong that anything he plays sounds right. Same with Miles, Herbie, etc.

You can work on your timing by practicing with a metronome or playing along with classic jazz recordings. I also think it’s very important to take a short video of yourself each day. Watch the video and be honest with yourself (but not mean!). What can be improved about your time feel?

Posted in The Five-Year Jazz Organ Project | Leave a comment

How To Fail (Jazz Organ Project 51/250)

Recently, I had a gig that was going to be four rehearsals and two shows. The music was easy, and I enjoyed being able to sight-read the material nearly perfectly on the first try. The band members were a bunch of my good friends.

Everything was cool, except for one thing: the band leader disliked me from the second that I walked into the room. She absolutely and completely hated my guts, even though we had never met before.

The more that I tried to be polite and considerate, the worse the situation got. After four rehearsals, she called me and told me I was fired from the gig. My immediate response was “Why? Was there a problem?” She just said a few vague (and pretty mean) things.

At this point, I made a split second decision to just let it go- so I said “Alright. Thanks for having me, take it easy,” and we hung up. The next day I returned the music, and they paid me for the four rehearsals I had done.

Let me turn this situation into a teaching moment. Here are the main points for musicians to consider:

1. No matter how great you are at music, and no matter how much your soul beams with beauty, there may be someone out there who totally can’t stand you.

2. After losing a gig, spend a short time objectively evaluating what happened. Why was your gig a disaster? Is there any reason to call or write to apologize (e.g., you arrived late, etc.)? What lessons can be learned? Don’t obsess or get emotional. Don’t get mad or sad or brood.

3. Is this the type of gig that you want to avoid taking in the future?

4. Don’t trash-talk the venue/bandleader etc. on social media. If the bandleader trashes you to others, remain silent and show them you’re an adult. If you feel like you’re owed a large sum of money, you may want to send them a short, courteous email informing them. If it’s not that much money, you might want to just drop it and move on.

5. Drop it and move on. Realize that you can’t win them all, and proceed with your life. The next day, make it a point to identify your strong areas in music, and spend time practicing them. As tough as it might be, don’t let a setback slow you down. Start practicing and rehearsing again the very next day.

Posted in The Five-Year Jazz Organ Project | 1 Comment

Man Vs. Music (Jazz Organ Project 50/250)

“It’s at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys.” – Emil Zatopec, Olympic Gold Medal Marathoner

I’m obsessed with the documentary Man Vs. Snake, which follows a few players who play the video game Nibbler. Their goal is to get over a billion points. To accomplish this, they have to play the game for over forty hours straight. I used to consider myself pretty good at video games, and I can’t last more than about three minutes at Nibbler.

For these guys that ‘marathon’ Nibbler, it seems like the first twenty for hours or so are pretty easy. Then at about 36 hours it becomes extremely difficult.

Anything that requires concentration and physical stamina gets a lot tougher during the final stretch. I notice this when I’m at a gym class, doing meditation, or practicing for a long time. That last little bit is so tough mentally and physically.

Train your body and mind to handle the final sprint. Power through the mental fatigue, and realize that this final sprint to the finish is probably the most important work you will do when you practice.

Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Man Vs. Music (Jazz Organ Project 50/250)

Just Watch (Jazz Organ Project 49/250)

It’s important to observe master musicians live and in person. You’ll learn things that are somehow impossible to latch onto by listening to recordings or watching videos.

I remember seeing Ron Carter play live for the first time in around 1997. It was before videos were widespread on the internet, so the only way I had ever experienced Ron’s playing was through classic jazz recordings and maybe the occasional concert photo.

It was amazing to see him play for the first time. I never anticipated how tall and confident he would look, and his sound and playing technique were very different than I imagined. After I left that gig, I felt like I had improved 25% as a player, just from having observed Ron Carter play.

I closely observe great keyboard players when they play, and I end up learning something new each and every time. My favorite light bulb moments are when I see someone easily doing something that I have trouble doing. Something about watching the person play with ease translates quickly into my own playing, almost as if by osmosis.

Posted in The Five-Year Jazz Organ Project | Comments Off on Just Watch (Jazz Organ Project 49/250)

Use A Timer (Jazz Organ Project 48/250)

I procrastinate and get distracted very easily when I am faced with doing things that I kind of don’t want to do. Timing myself keeps me focused and helps me accomplish things quickly.

I challenge myself by using the countdown timer on my watch. For example, I don’t enjoy using my computer to write music, but I’ll set a timer for 5 minutes and tell myself, “Before this timer expires, I will have turned on my computer, started the music software, and I’ll have written eight measures of music.” This makes it fun. The hardest part is just getting a project started. By the time I’ve written eight measures, I have the momentum to finish the song.

Or, “In the next five minutes, I will have written an email to book gigs.” When I use a timer, I don’t procrastinate or surf the web- I just sit down and do the work. The timer is also great for writing blog posts. I want to succinctly express an idea, which shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes.

There are a multitude of ways to use a timer during practicing as well. If I only have an hour to practice a set of 10 songs, I might set my timer to practice each song for 6 minutes. During that time, I’ll try to identify the one or two most difficult places in each piece and work them out.

Posted in The Five-Year Jazz Organ Project | Comments Off on Use A Timer (Jazz Organ Project 48/250)