Show with Clibber Jones Ensemble

Last Tuesday the Clibber Jones Ensemble had our first show in several months. We played a radio broadcast on Georgia Tech’s station, WREK. I haven’t done many radio things, but they’re always sort of awkward for me. Playing in a small-medium sized room that is mostly empty, but knowing that an invisible number of people are listening. It’s simultaneously intimate and alien.



I’ve played in Clibber Jones Ensemble longer than any other single band I’ve ever been in. I think it’s the only performing group I’m a regular member of. I’ve developed very close relationships with everyone in this group, and count them among my closest friends.

Amy, the pianist, and I had a bonding moment.



The show was archived, and can be listened to here. It starts after about two minutes of country music.


I’m finding that the hardest thing about trying to write a blog for me is actually writing. I’m not very good at it, and that’s half the reason I’m putting this out into the world instead of my notebook. I think I tend to try to sound “smart” when I write. I’m trying to avoid that, and be more informal. I also get distracted easily when trying to write. I just clicked away from this, and spent seven minutes reading another blog. My excuse is the whole figuring out how to write informally thing.

The past week and a half or so has been busy. There’s been steady progress on all the projects I’ve been writing about. The thing has been learning how to accept where I am, and have faith that I’ll achieve my goals if I work steadily one day at a time.

I have a love/hate relationship with how what I do in music has turned out. I’m constantly doing different things. It’s a blessing and a curse.. On my music stand currently is my transcription notebook, mostly Sonny Stitt, and music for the next Clibber Jones Ensemble concert.







Teaching is back in full swing. My schedule has slowed very little since the new year. It typically does Over the weekend I needed all of these guys.

Last Sunday I had a rehearsal for the next Clibber Jones Ensemble show. It’s going to be a live radio broadcast, and hopefully we’ll get a live album out of it.


We rehearsed at Amy O’dell’s house. CJE has had a few rehearsals there, but this was the first I was able to attend. It’s the driest room this band has ever reversed in. We play loud.  I kept thinking something was wrong with my horn. Not hearing any reverb felt like extra resistance.  The room had a great shape for a panorama.


Week in Review and Stuff

When I decided to start a blog my goal was to write two posts a week. So I failed that this week. But we’re in a snowstorm in Georgia, and anything more than .02 inches cripples us. So I have some extra time to write…..and give this post a self aggrandizing title .

Last Saturday was first time I spent New Years Eve without a gig. I went to a house party hosted by some old friends I used to play in a band with. It was also my first New Years Eve not drinking. I had wondered how it would feel to not drink at a house party since a lot of people were staying the night and getting pretty sloshed. Honestly, it was a lot of fun. I played some music with some folks till very late.

It turned out there were several people there who didn’t drink, and, as usual, my not doing so wasn’t a big deal to anyone. I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m in a place where my not drinking is an issue it’s probably a situation I don’t want to be in.

As I’ve written this I’ve tried to think of other interesting things to share. There isn’t much other than music related activities. So I guess I  still have work to do in the finding hobbies department.

Since getting stranded in the big ice storm in 2014 I’ve been terrified of driving during ice. I decided to cancel my lessons for the past two days. This gave me a good bit of time to get caught up on the things I began over the holidays.

Apparently Atlanta didn’t get much snow. Just sleet and ice. In Calhoun, about an hour North of the city, we got a couple of inches. By Georgia standards this is basically a blizzard.


I’ve made significant progress on the books I’m writing for my students. Over the past few years I’ve been writing exercises for students on the spot and taking excerpts from several etude books and solos on the IMSLP in lessons. It’s become pretty obvious that there are certain exercises I’m essentially writing out over and over. I keep coming back to the same excerpts. So I’ve decided to write them all out and give them to the student once they’ve gotten past the first two band method books or so in terms of the music they’re capable of playing.

I also have several students who are interested in jazz. I’m trying to find a way to teach beginning improvisation that’s organized. I’m working on a book for that as well. I hope to be able to give my students a first draft next week. With the jazz material I’m just going to try to stay one step ahead of the students working on it. So over time that should come together.

I am continuing to struggle with trying to maintain some sort of balance with music work. I have to be aware of a fear that if I’m not working obsessively at something I will never be as good at it as I want to be. Or any good at all, for that matter. So when  I realized that this book project had to be done soon, or that I really want to keep this blog thing going for a while (even if no one ever reads it), I know that takes time away from practicing and composing. And while not doing those fear of failure creeps in.

My tendency is to want to do a little bit of everything over each day like I did over the break. I don’t regret doing this last week, but that’s not realistic all the time. If I don’t dive into a project full time I will never get it done. I see in myself a tendency to pick something up, do a little bit of it, put it down, and move on to something else. The result is the jack-of-all-trades syndrome.

So it’s a balancing act. I’ve bit myself in the ass not maintaining other important skills. And once I don’t do something for a few days I have a hard time picking it back up. Rather that’s practicing, exercise, or reading, it’s always true. It’s like I have forty eight hour amnesia towards any healthy or beneficial activity. Over the summer I threw myself into writing a program of music for a concert. I hardly practiced. When it time to play the concert I had written some music in which I was supposed to play as a soloist, and could barely play it. That was a result of lack of balance.

One other thought this period of having to alternate between throwing myself really hardcore is the necessity to push past boredom. Moving from one thing to another rapidly keeps me from getting bored. The thing is that it’s really pushing through boredom in a subject that leads to me making progress. And my threshold for boredom is very low, about two hours of doing the same thing. The reality is that’s about how much time I have to do music work at home on the days I teach.  So I love days like this weekend where I do have the opportunity to push past it over and over.

I have enjoyed the extra couple of days off.  The lost income is a bit frustrating, but I appreciate the chance to finish up some of these things. Now I’m getting bored of not teaching!  I’d like to get back into a routine.

I’ve made some progress on my find-non-music-hobbies objective. I took a cute picture of my cat. Well, I think it’s cute.








Random Music Things

I’ve tried to avoid doing too much work this week. It’s the first time this year I’ve had so many days in a row off from teaching, but I feel awful if I’m not somewhat productive. So I’ve tried to tackle bits of the different projects before me in small chunks while still binge watching bad tv shows.  There are two things I have to get done by next week, and a third that I really want to have finished. I think I’ll have to spend the rest of my vacation being more focused.

So here are, in no particular order, the music things I’ve been doing this week.

I wrote a solo for tuba and tape (is that the correct term anymore?) earlier this year. It’s the first of a group of solo pieces I want to write inspired by conversations I’ve had with my father about his life. He’s 83, and I would like to document as much of him as I can while he is still healthy and lucid.  The tape part is a mix of notated music for synthesizers and samples of him talking. I decided to prepare it entirely in Ableton. It’s been a challenge! I’m sure I will post a long rant about it soon.


I decided I need to compile books for my students that have all the different exercises I typically ask them to do in one place. I have a lot of students who are primarily interested in classical playing, are beyond the elementary band methods, and aren’t ready for much repertoire. I’m trying to find enough public domain pieces to put selections from into one place in something of an organized manner. I think I may put some of it up here in case anyone who could use it every comes across this blog.

I also have several solos to learn. I had a goal of transcribing six Sonny Stitt solos by the end of the year. However, I stopped writing down solos I’m learning until I can play all of it from memory at full speed. I’ve finished three.  I have a game plan for learning as much Sonny Stitt as possible. I’m not sure if it’s the most effective, but I’m learning 6 blues solos, 6 rhythm changes solos, and 6 solos on standards or jazz tunes. I plan to go through that cycle twice.

I’ve played at a couple of things this week. I normally teach from 4-9 on weekdays, so I can forget how bad traffic can be in Atlanta. I’ve driven into town in the late afternoon/early evening a lot this week. Now I remember!



On Monday I sat in with the house band at the Northside Tavern jam session. I spend a lot of time performing original/avant garde music, but I’m really most happy when I have a img_0885balance of styles. Doing a better job of balancing inside with outside music in what I perform is going to be an important part of next year.
Lola, the band leader, is an incredible singer and pianist.  I’ve learned a lot from playing with her over the past couple of years about what to do and what not to do when playing with a singer.  I was able to sneak a picture of her playing drums with some folks jamming!



Last night I played at the Mammal Gallery with the Alpiar Experiment. AE is Chris Alpiar’s large group which contains many of my favorite Atlanta improvisers. Majid Araim, Kenito Murray, Rasheeda Ali, Jaimecito Baron, Paulino, and many others. Chris  is a15781592_10158049920875014_8488218445651306910_n monster player who I try to imitate in all sorts of ways. Two other incredible bands performed that evening. I really wanted to stick around to see them, but wasn’t feeling well and decided to go home.  I feel really bad about that.

Chris has the most amazing collection of clothes he wears to shows. I want to find where he shops!


I decided to only play soprano saxophone. I only take my tenor to things where I’m not asked to play any specific saxophone out of habit. It’s become a sort of safety net. Perhaps there’s a degree of ego involved…..something to the effect of, “I sound good on tenor. I won’t sound as good on alto/soprano/clarinet/etc. I only want people to hear me sound good.” That’s something I’m trying to get around by forcing myself to not play tenor whenever possible.

Many of my friends in that circle of musicians don’t usually hear me play stuff that’s not weird. I recorded a chunk of the set on my phone, and this funny moment happened when Rasheeda and I were off to the side trading licks.

I saw this written on the wall of the bathroom. I thought it said pee and not pass until the end of the evening. I’m not sure what that says about me.



This will be my first New Years Eve without a gig in a long time. It’s also going to be my first New Years Eve sober (I quit drinking in April). I’m going to go to some friends’ house jam session/party, but I plan on leaving before midnight. I don’t want to be on the road. Since stopping I’ve been around many people drinking heavily in bars when I play.  Because this is New Year’s and at a house I’m sure folks will be going at it even harder. I have zero desire to drink, and being around it won’t be a temptation at this point. If it was I wouldn’t go. However  I’m interested in seeing what it’s like to be sober in that environment.

Also, I’m making good on my New Year goal (I’m not going to to call it a resolution) to find non-music hobbies. I’m taking pictures of my cat!



Christmas Fun

Each year the holiday season becomes more about seeing friends and family than anything else. That has been more true this year than any previous. One thing about myself I realized this Christmas is that one of the great joys of my life has been appreciating the company of people I truly care about. Many of my close friends have moved away from the metro Atlanta region and holidays are a happy opportunity to catch up.

I’m trying to make taking pictures more of a habit. I’ve always tried to not live in my phone, and document every part of my life. As a result many of my fondest memories have not been documented. So I’m striving for a happy medium. Here are a few.



Christmas Eve was the first Saturday in recent memory that I didn’t teach. I beganimg_0859 the day with breakfast with Katie, my best friend from high school. Her and her boyfriend live in New York City. Bradley was not from the south, and had never been to a Cracker Barrel. He studied the menu far more closely then we did.

After breakfast I went to Kennesaw to visit John, my closest friend. He and his girlfriend were also visiting from NYC.  John and I have shared a close friendship nearly from the moment we met. Even though our lives have taken drastically different paths we have remained close. Meeting up with John in person is like a continuation of where we left off in our conversation. This is also true of his girlfriend and I, sometimes much to John’s consternation.



John is newly an uncle as of 2016. This was the first time he got to experience the joy of wrapping gifts for a small child. I did what older southern folks refer to as “supervising.” Essentially I contributing nothing but getting in their way, talking about things not relevant to the task at hand, and sort of making suggestions. I was encouraged to sit and provide company for good reason!

I did get to try my hand at riding a children’s toy. I would not recommend it.


Later that evening I met up with my friend Michael. He’s a new friend as of 2016. He’s been a source of inspiration, encouragement and wisdom. We grocery shopped for a small Christmas Eve dinner party img_0865he organized. I learned a good bit about buying food to feed large groups. Despite growing up with a mother in restaurants and catering, I know nothing about buying, cooking, or serving food!

This is also perhaps the least flattering picture of myself I have ever taken. But writing a long post about my day seems vain enough. I’ll let it be what it is.




Christmas day was spent with my parents. My brother and sister are married, and have extended families of their own. They each decided to do their own Christmas dinners. My mom, dad, and I grilled steaks. Actually my father grilled and mom and I “supervised.” Since my parents do not like being photographed I will not share those.

I spent Christmas night with Katie, her boyfriend, and her parents. Again I failed to take any pictures of the food, or people. I was too occupied my trying to capture pictures of her parents’ animals in cute positions. They always scurry off before I can get my phone out, open the camera app, and take the picture! My social media is covered in incredibly adorable photos of my friends’ pets. I wish I were better at it. I did manage two sort-of-decent photos of Scruffy (dog) and Yeti (cat.)


A wonderful weekend all in all. I feel very fortunate getting to spend it doing my favorite thing, being with friends and family.


On a musical note, I found this video on Youtube of the Sam Rivers trio. This was the second or third jazz concert I ever went to. I must have been 14, and was far too young to appreciate how incredible it was. I’m happy someone documented and shared it!






This is what my desk looks like on December 22. I was trying to think of something to take a picture of, and saw this. It’s a good reason of why I should resolve to be better organized.

I’m not a fan of New Year’s resolutions. They seem to always be very lofty, and without any plan of action. Loose weight, quit smoking, get X job, etc. All are great ideas, but how are you going to do it? Also, I try to look closely at how to make my life better on a daily basis.

Over the past several months I’ve learned the importance of assessing myself, and trying to take the actions necessary to improve areas of weakness. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s in music, life, or relationships. So this year, I decided to make New Year’s resolutions…sort of. Instead of coming up with the usual I tried to review my weakness and goals in both music and life, and find a course of action. I thought I’d share it with the world and explain my thinking. I doubt anyone else will find this interesting or useful, but I’m a lazy person. I need to hold myself accountable.

I strive for an integrated approach to my goals. All of them, rather in music or life, can only be achieved by overcoming flaws in my character. Most of them aren’t new. I wanted to achieve a lot of the same things over this past year or longer. What is it about myself that has held me back from achieving them? When I look over the list I realize the word that keeps popping is insecurity.

The first music goal I wrote down was, “Learn to play ‘in’ @ a level u want.” In my music studies, I feel like I learned to do a lot of stuff. However, because I studied a wide variety of topics I didn’t get as proficient at any one thing as I would have if I studied just it. The number one regret for me is not having gotten better at playing “jazz” in the traditional sense of the word. I just don’t have the vocabulary and repertoire to stand on as my friends who are committed straight ahead players. As the years have gone by I’ve moved into focusing on my own thing, and my ego and insecurity have held me back from doing the what is necessary to overcome that deficiency. For example, I’ve avoided straight ahead jam sessions out of fear of sounding bad. While I have developed a number of skills and idiosyncrasies that make me me, it’s time to fill in this hole in my ability.

It’s not enough for me to just to say, “I’m going to learn to do this.” I have to know how. Without a clear plan of action my goals never get accomplished. I have a tendency to think about something I want to do more than do it. So below that goal I listed what I’m going to do. I’m going to learn a ton of solos, learn a ton of tunes, practice soloing with a metronome, and suck it up and go to some straight ahead sessions.

Acknowledging what flaws in my personality I have to overcome to achieve a music goal has become a big deal to me. So I write them down. In the case of my wanting to get better at jazz it’s obviously insecurity and ego.

I don’t like to attach numbers to any of these things. I tend to overestimate myself, and set unrealistic goals. If I wrote how many solos and tunes I’m going to learn this year it would be in the hundreds. I would beat myself up when I fall short of that number and give up. It’s important for me to know that if I completely fall on my face today, tomorrow is another opportunity to try it again. A number of solos to transcribe (learn and write out….for my non musician friends), songs to learn, pounds to loose, etc. gives me an excuse to give up when I fail. Progress on goals are a just for today process.

In this way music goals are like many of my goals in my life as a whole. I want to start going to the gym regularly in 2017. I’m not going to attach a number to the pounds I want to loose, amount of muscle I want to gain, or even days a week I go. I would rather say, “I want to do this,” then address what’s keeping me from doing so. It’s many of the same things as getting better at jazz. I’m insecure about my body. I don’t want to be around a bunch of folks in great shape, and just be average. I don’t like looking dumb around people. I have no clue how to work out. All of these things just seem like excuses to me, but they are my feelings. I have to take them seriously.

The next step for me is to prioritize these goals. What should I look at working towards now? Again, I have a tendency to think more than do. If I try to spread my energy over the eight music goals and seven personal goals, nothing will get done. I plan to work on them one at a time. The ones that come the soonest should have the clearest plan of action The longer term ones I won’t worry too much about yet. But having them written helps me stay open to an opportunity to work towards them if life presents me with one.

We’ll see how all this goes. Now that I’ve put this into the internet my vanity and the three or so people I imagine reading this can help me stay accountable to reporting on my progress later in the upcoming year.


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Composer Series Concert with Jeff Crompton


On Saturday Jeff Crompton and I shared a bill at the Eyedrum performing our original compositions. It was a beautiful evening with an enthusiastic audience.


Jeff is a saxophone, clarinetist, and composer, and something of a legend of creative music in Atlanta. I’ve had the pleasure of hearing him in numerous settings over the past few years. He played a solo set that showcased all of the things I love about his playing and writing. He has one of the biggest and most flexible alto saxophone tones I have ever heard. He combines various aspects of American music, particularly improvised, in a way I’ve never heard before. Even at it’s most avant-garde (whatever that means) his music is constantly melodic and accessible.  Check out his website if you haven’t!


He was kind enough to let me sit in. I had a hard time keeping up!



For a long time I’ve wanted to perform with a large group of percussionists and winds. I premiered a long piece that’s hopefully a beginning of that project. Chris Alpiar joined me on saxophones, and Olivia Kieffer, Brandon Dodge, Ryder Seigle, and Dallas Dawson played drums and percussion.  Brandon and Olivia are primarily classical performers, and Dallas and Ryder play a good bit of improvised music. I wrote one measure vamps, gave them to the all percussionists, and asked them to improvise parts inspired by them. Then I wrote themes for Chris and myself to play and improvise on that were more tonal and harmonically straight forward than a lot of the stuff I’ve written.



I was very happy with the results. However, I felt that about half the music I wrote didn’t take advantage of all the percussion as much as it could have. I hope to perform with this lineup several more times. I think I’ll take some of the movements from this piece and make them into individual songs. I need to study more styles of drumming more seriously, and use that as the springboard for material for this group.  I titled the piece “Circles Within Circles,” but I’m thinking I will use that as the name for the group. Kind of an homage to the fact that we all know each other through different  scenes within the larger Atlanta music community.


Also, this may be the first time anyone’s tailgated Eyedrum!



Here are some clips from our set.




Hello world!


I’ve threatened starting a blog many times. Here is my attempt at doing so. My main motivation behind trying to write stuff on a semi frequent basis is to document the events in my inner and outer lives so that I can trace growth in various areas.Perhaps doing something like this will give me some accountability towards more structure.