August News

My trio has a couple of shows this week. One will be our regular Irregardless gig on Friday, and then Saturday we will be returning to Brice’s Brewing.

I’m honored to be part of a new music collective called The Raleigh Jazz Quartet, and I’m looking forward to playing with them tonight at the ultra-hip Watts and Ward in Raleigh. (Shh… don’t tell any of the guys that I’m from Carrboro!)

Come check out the Tim Smith Band in its full glory at Weaver Street Market! Don’t miss this rare chance to see the entire 7-piece band in action. Also, don’t miss the slightly-less-rare chance to see the Tim Smith 3 at 2nd Wind.

Carolyn Mitchell always puts on an excellent show at Irregardless. I’ll be playing acoustic bass with her and maybe sitting in on a keyboard song or two.

Finally, I’ll be joining the Todd Proctor Trio at C. Grace in Raleigh, where we will bombard our way through some energetic standards and tasty originals.

See you there.

Enter your email to receive our monthly news and we will send you an exclusive live MP3:
Posted in Uncategorized | Comments Off on August News

Two-Part Episode (Jazz Organ Project 55/250)

Part 1 – Preparing for a gig

Read and understand all communications regarding the gig. Make sure you know all details including, but is not limited to:
1. Exact start and finish times.
2. How much you are going to be paid, how, and when. Will you get a portion of any of the tips? This is important to know in order to avoid any misunderstandings, which often cause hard feelings. E.g., you thought you were going to get cash, but the gig actually pays you a check in the mail 8 weeks later.
3. Exactly what should you wear.
4. Do you need an amplifier, microphone, music stand, stand light, or fakebook?
5. Will there be food and drinks? Will you have to pay for them? Failing all else, will there be a source of drinking water? (Don’t laugh – I played a gig recently where we had to load in to a second floor walk up, then move the band up a flight of stairs to the third floor for another set, and the only beverages available were tiny warm bottles of ginger ale!!)
6. Where should the band park their cars?

I never leave for a gig without the following:
1. Spare audio cable and power cable. Extension cord.
2. Nalgene bottle of ice water
3. Extra clean shirt
4. Black hand towel
5. IPhone with IRealPro installed (basically a fakebook on my smart phone)
6. Custom molded -15dB earplugs

And finally, I’ll leave you with this pro tip: Be very early to every gig and rehearsal. Even if you believe that your load-in time is ridiculously early, be the first person there. Bring a copy of The NY Times, maybe spend some time practicing your putting, but be there early.

Once you get to your gig early and prepared, don’t be nervous. You practice music hard every day, and you are going to give 100% at the gig. Perhaps you might even have a bumpy night musically, but keep on playing through the bumps. 80% of the gig is you being nice to yourself and your band mates. The rest will fall naturally into place.

Part 2 – Will Mr. Ketch ever be ‘Jim’ to me?

When I was a senior in high school, my parents bought me a bass for my birthday. I caught on quickly, and started practicing playing jazz with my friends. I jammed with good musicians at my high school, and I believe I had a modicum of natural talent for jazz bass. During the summer between high school and college, I began to practice scales. At this point, I still didn’t know what I was doing.

That fall, I enrolled at UNC-CH. I had the absolute hubris to audition for the jazz band. Imagine my complete astonishment when I ended up getting placed in the advanced band- after having played the bass for less than a year, and having never touched an upright bass in my life? The direction of my entire life was defined in that moment by Mr. Jim Ketch, the jazz band director.

To this day, the name ‘Mr. Ketch’ is similar to ‘Mom’ or ‘President Reagan’. (Yes, Reagan was president when I went to college). I’d never call my mom Mary Ann, and I’d never walk up to Barack Obama and call him Barack, so I have a hard time calling Mr. Ketch ‘Jim’. I know he prefers to be called ‘Jim’, but it’s tough for me because it feels a bit disrespectful to someone who has been such an iconic and respected teacher to me from when I was 17 years old.

I’ll end this story by saying, Thanks Jim, I enjoyed playing with you last night!

Posted in The Five-Year Jazz Organ Project | Comments Off on Two-Part Episode (Jazz Organ Project 55/250)

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 | Comments Off on Practicing Sight Reading (Jazz Organ Project 54/250)

When Will I Be Good (Jazz Organ Project 54/250)

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 | Comments Off on When Will I Be Good (Jazz Organ Project 54/250)

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 | Comments Off on Practice Magic (Jazz Organ Project 53/250)

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 | Comments Off on Video from 7/6/17 at the Cameo Theater

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 | Comments Off on Time is Everything (Jazz Organ Project 52/250)

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 | Comments Off on July News

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)