Dr. Shawn Purcell, who teaches jazz guitar and jazz arranging at George Mason University and performs for the U.S. Navy Commodores, provides us with many insights into his story, learning and teaching music at a collegiate level, touring with the Ringling Brothers Circus, and his career as a military musician.
Shawn, Joe, and Aaron discuss methodical and efficient practice routines, working with new students to develop these practice routines, and the need to adjust these practice routines to prepare for different sorts of gigs and musical opportunities.
Shawn’s story takes us from his youthful days of Led Zeppelin, Ozzy Osbourne, Steve Vai, and Van Halen to his college days in which he studied jazz guitar and the recording arts at Duquesne University.  Upon graduation he landed a gig touring with the Ringling Brothers Circus, for which he spent two years traveling around the country on a circus train and played guitar for a living.  His next stop was eight years as the guitarist for the Air Force’s premier jazz ensemble, the Airmen of Note.
in 2004, Shawn and his wife, Dr. Darden Purcell, moved to Nashville where he gigged and earned his Master of Arts in Music from Middle Tennessee State University.  He gives us details of his experiences in the Nashville music scene.
If you thought Shawn had already received a lot of music education, he and his wife then moved to Illinois where he earned his Doctor of Musical Arts in Jazz Performance.  After a period of teaching at the National Guitar Workshop, he landed the job as the guitarist for the U.S. Naval Academy Band, and a couple years later he won the position as guitarist for the U.S. Navy Band “Commodores” jazz ensemble in Washington DC.  Shawn tells us lots of information about becoming a military musician, the lifestyle, the necessary skills, etc.  He stresses the importance of being able to sight read!
Finally we get into a deeper discussion about higher education: how to become a music professor, what that experience is like, how universities work, etc.
Shawn was one of Joe’s jazz guitar teachers at George Mason University, and Shawn’s methodical and organized style of teaching helped Joe achieve tremendous growth as a guitarist and as a teacher.
Check out Dr. Shawn Purcell at www.shawnpurcell.com
Welcome to Fret Buzz The Podcast. I’m Joe
McMurray and I am Aaron Sefchick. And
today we are very pleased to have with
us Dr. Shawn Purcell. He’s an
incredible jazz guitarist, he was my
teacher and he is a guitarist for
the Navy Commodores band and he is a
professor at George Mason University
teaching arranging and jazz guitar. You
do some piano as well? I can play a
little bit of piano but I wouldn’t
really play in front of any other
audience members but yeah, I do it but
I don’t definitely don’t teach it. Okay
okay well yeah we’re we’re glad to have
you welcome to the podcast
yeah thanks guys thanks Aaron thanks
Joe good yeah yeah absolutely thank
so I guess where I wanted to kind of
start was just again mentioning that I
had the opportunity to work with you
back in 2016 we were uh time yeah it
flies by but I I’ve worked with other
teachers and I I’ve got a lot of respect
for all my teachers but I think that
your style of teaching it fit well with
my just the way I think in the way I
learned awesome right yeah it just it
connected well with me and I think that
it it was the right fit for me and I
literally have my notebook full of your
stuff right within arm’s reach of me
right now
excellent yeah but I it was a very you
have a very methodical way of teaching
which which was good for me you know
I’ll never forget running bebop scales
off of the root of every chord the third
of every chord the fifth the seventh the
ninth all that especially ever uh was a
lazy bird oh yeah lazy bird oh yeah we
did all kinds of stuff I guess okay
that’s awesome yeah I’m glad you said
that job I mean I I try to be methodical
I also try to work with each student so
I you know some students do well with
the methodical some don’t do quite as
well with the methodical so I try to try
to adjust but I definitely sneak the
methodical in there no matter what
because I think it’s just important to
kind of develop a methodical practice
routine hmm yeah otherwise you find
yourself you’re not as efficient in your
practice time right time is precious
right yeah as you probably know now that
you’re done with school you know time
just kind of flies by and I feel like a
lot of students think that when they
graduate they’re gonna have more time
well I think a lot of students have not
a lot of students but students
definitely like their first couple years
have the attitude of I can’t wait to get
out of school so that I can practice
more but I try to let them know that
this is probably one of the most fertile
periods for practicing that you’re gonna
have so use that to your benefit so
developing a method early on I think is
important so that when you do find that
you’re running out of time because you
have gigs or you’re teaching yourself or
you’re you know whatever you’re doing
you still can get something done even if
you have 30 or 40 minutes and if you’re
not methodical it becomes difficult to
to do that I think yeah yeah they’re
definitely those times when I’m I decide
I’m gonna play for fun for a little
while and I’ll put on a backing track
and I like 15 20 minutes later I’m like
oh my gosh I’m still playing everything
yeah I try not to do that too much
that’s great and I you know and I think
that for me I I try to tell students too
that if you’re super busy when you get
out of school and you don’t have much
time to practice but you’re doing a
music that’s great that means you’re
being successful so I I feel like if you
have enough time to if you feel
comfortable with all of the projects
you’re doing and you feel over prepared
all the time then not that there’s
something wrong but maybe you’re not
working as much as you need to be to be
successful so I I spend most of my time
feeling just sort of not overly prepared
in any one area but I try to embrace
that and try to think that that’s that’s
a good thing and I hope that that’s what
my students are gonna have as well
mm-hmm it’s not comfortable not being I
feel very uncomfortable not being
prepared but it is something that’s
always there yeah I wish I had more time
to yeah I yeah you kind of I feel like I
kind of live in this bubble of feeling
semi prepared for everything but never
really having enough time to just feel
like man I’ve got this one thing dialed
in and then I can move on to the next
project after this it’s sort of like
this fluid thing where all of these
different projects like between the navy
between George Mason I’m getting ready
to record a record at the beginning of
March so I’m getting music for that too
making sure that I’m getting rehearsals
and charts written for that still trying
to write for the commodores of big band
charts preparing for classes grading
trying to do gigs you know I’m married
so then it’s so it’s like all of these
things just kind of are happening at
once and I try to be as prepared as
possible but I feel like in a way I’ve I
try to step back and think I’m happy
that I don’t have enough time to prepare
for everything because that means that
I’m busy and working so that yeah but I
like that bubble yeah oh yeah absolutely
bubble to be in I find with most most of
my students I’m gonna say 80 85 if not
even more students getting back to this
idea of practicing most of people don’t
know how to practice here that that’s a
very big gray area for people in terms
of if you only have a half an hour of
time per day and structuring that half
an hour sure so you get the best of your
ability into that half hour yeah I would
agree with that and I think that
practicing practicing how the practice
is almost as important as just the
actual act of practicing the instrument
so I still find myself trying to tweak
how to be more efficient if
say working on phone to start to work on
like diminished scales diminished
patterns I haven’t I to develop some
kind of methodical approach to it so
that yeah when I do have just 30 minutes
I can actually accomplish something and
not just feel like I’ve wasted 30
minutes just thinking about this
particular concept so yeah I feel like
like it’s another life long a tough
endeavor to just keep developing your
practice routine and changing it and
assessing it like when you’re 20 my
practice routine was one way but now
that I’m in my 40s with a little less
time maybe I have to structure it a
different way one when you have out of
curiosity when you have a new student
that comes in to you what are some of
the common mistakes or bad habits that a
student will have when it comes to
practicing or whatnot like that oh boy I
think that I don’t want to over
generalize my students but right grab
say that most kids coming in it’s like
say a freshman in college haven’t really
developed a practice routine they they
sort of practice just different stuff so
as different concepts are thrown at them
they just kind of practice that so if
they’re in jazz band in high school
they’ll practice a chart or they’ll see
someone on YouTube talking about how the
superimpose pentatonic scales over
chords and so then they practice
pentatonic scales over chords because
they think hey that’s pretty cool that
sounds cool right then they’ll throw in
I guess technique so I feel like not
that it’s a mistake but most students
come to me as freshmen not necessarily
having a specific practice routine or
knowing how to put together a practice
routine okay
practice routine I mean it it shifts it
shifts for me based on what I have on
the horizon would wise sure you know I
like I had a jazz gig on Thursday night
for Valentine’s Day with the duo and my
whole routine for the week really
shifted to prepare for that sure my
warm-ups became more jazz
warmups my you know mutt the bulk of my
time was spent on jazz concepts and jazz
you know making sure I was tight on the
charts and that sort of thing
sure where is like this week I don’t
have a got a more of a bar brewery kind
of gig coming up and so I have you know
it’s gonna be more rock-oriented right
I’ll sneak in some of my jazz tunes but
I definitely shift my routine from week
to week sure and I think that that’s
just knowing how to do that as well as
important it’s like you know how to do
that so that works for you so yeah like
today I’m playing a five hour Hasidic
Jewish wedding gig hours yeah so just in
that one big I’m gonna play solo
acoustic guitar for the ceremony kind of
pseudo it’s not really jazz but it’s
kind of Yiddish music but we play the
head and improvise so it’s it’s a jazz
presentation of that and then for the
whole main portion it’s very heavy rock
but you tisha tunes yeah so I you know
it’s definitely different than when I’m
teaching bebop scales at Mason on
Thursday or doing a Commodore concert so
yeah you have to you know if you’re
wearing many hats like some musicians
some guitarists if they’re only doing
jazz then they can tailor their practice
routine that way and then prepare for
gigs as they come but yeah if you’re
doing like duo gigs rock gigs maybe a
show here and there a solo guitar gig
you know just leaving space to be able
to bone up on that stuff just practice
that stuff or just dust off like if I
have to play a rock gig dusting off
those tones and just the equipment that
I have making sure my gear is correct
for each setup so yeah allowing time to
practice for other projects is probably
a big portion of it as well yeah so
where did you where did you start I’ve I
forgot where you went to school and how
did you how did you even get into music
in the first place um my I sorry I sort
of was trapped into music my father’s
side of
family everybody in my father’s side of
the family is a professional musician or
was a professional musician literally in
my aunt my uncle my dad my grandfather
all professional musicians so I just
kind of grew up around it um and so I
got into I played piano I think starting
at five and then at twelve you know I
discovered groups like Led Zeppelin and
Ozzy Osbourne and those type of groups
and so I just wanted to play guitar at
twelve but I was told by my parents that
to play guitar I had to continue to play
piano which I didn’t really enjoy now I
regret I wish I would have enjoyed piano
more but yes I started playing guitar at
twelve and just kind of the same way
probably everybody else did it just
picking off like I remember hanging out
with a friend of mine and we had like a
we were playing kiss alive the live
record and Ace Frehley had this like
pentatonic run on love gun and up
sitting there like trying to figure out
like what’s what’s a steely doing on
that you know on this and so that was
how I started out I played in a church
folk group when I was 12 as well which
was cool because I got to learn all the
open string chords and how to strum
tunes and I just you know had a lot of
folks around me that did it
professionally and were musicians so it
was you know I’m grateful that I had so
many people at that early of an age
helping me or just telling me what what
did I needed to practice what I needed
to work on but yeah I probably started
like everybody else I guess I was a big
metalhead Steve I was like my first real
huge influence Van Halen all that stuff
and then I when I got to college that’s
really when I got into jazz so I wasn’t
really like my dad was a jazz musician
so since he was my dad I thought well
jazz if my dad plays jazz then I don’t
really like jazz my you know old father
plays it so I didn’t really enjoy it
that much until maybe high school I got
her on some casts that played you know
they were playing like Donnelly and song
for my father and so I got into it and
didn’t like I got like a Charlie Parker
coltrane record and a Miles Davis record
when I first heard it I was like 17 or
something I just I didn’t I don’t want
to say I hated it but I just didn’t see
what all the about yeah so I put it with
these guys that I was playing with
really dug it so I sort of went along
with it and then eventually it started
to develop and a look into a love for
jazz for but for sure like my freshman
in college I was like super hoped to be
like a straight-ahead guitar player and
jazz guitar player were you involved in
any symphonic band or anything like that
in high school no when I was in high
school I played I was more on the sports
end of things but then I had like raj
bands probably from the time I was a
sophomore through the rest of high
school so you know doing just like cover
band yeah yeah Duff playing poet you
know poison covers like you know we’re
tapping and the an old Ibanez with like
a Floyd Rose and so like learning all
the Steve Iowa Emmy tricks and stuff
like that that’s so no no real symphonic
experience but because my dad was a
professional musician he would put me on
gigs that I really probably shouldn’t
have been on I wasn’t ready for and so I
could yeah it was now it’s like a senior
in high school I played the Ice Capades
for a week and was doing gigs probably
by the time I was like 15 playing like
weddings and gigs so I was really ready
for it but it was a good experience it
kind of showed me what it was like to be
a professional guitar player even though
I wasn’t at that level yet awesome sure
dad kind of helped push that a little
bit oh yeah absolutely
absolutely great work with dad really I
left Pittsburgh like my early 20s so I
worked a lot with him from like as a
teenager into my early 20s so yeah all
of that experience was great and he
taught me to about reading he taught me
about like Freddie green for Count Basie
how to chunk chunk chunk chunk and all
the stuff that I just didn’t at the time
care about or particularly like but now
I look back on it and it was
great great experience great great help
and great advice for sure so yeah being
a pro musician I I I don’t know I I
guess I had a decision to make to do it
but I never really felt like there was
anything else I wanted to do right
you’re lucky okay well I guess so
I don’t know what yeah I was I was um I
that’s another thing with my students
like at Mason is I I know that 95% of
the students that I run to maybe even
higher percentage don’t have parents
that are pro musicians or don’t have
parents that are even maybe even
interested in music and there’s kind of
like a little bit of a battle because
most I don’t say most parents but a lot
of parents aren’t particularly thrilled
when their kid comes and says I want to
do jazz studies college degree um so I
just have to kind of also realize that
as part of teaching and I know Darden my
wife that runs the program at George
Mason Mason um we try to give them like
real-life experiences in the way of like
gigs and performances and try to teach
them also how to be a musician because
it’s it’s more than just practicing
bebop scales it’s it’s you know we’re
dressing appropriately showing up on
time knowing that if it’s a rock gig you
can’t bring like a super 400 Gibson with
the totally clean sound and do the gig
like you know these are things that I
somewhat took for granted just because I
saw it as a young player but a lot of
students just don’t have that experience
they just don’t know anything about just
the actual act of being a professional
musician I guess right right real real
life situations yeah once you get out of
school and sure actually making money
for yourself and going out there and
trouble yourself as a business and yeah
yeah absolutely and so we try to do as
much I mean I meet with my students once
a week for 14 weeks
semester so it’s it’s just a woefully
short amount of time yeah to teach them
all of this stuff so just try to give
them bits and pieces as it goes for sure
I thought one of the most helpful
classes at Mason I think I’ve said this
on a prior podcast but was the art of
teaching music and that class was split
into two halves and for half the
semester we actually learned how to
teach more effectively there was a lot
of teaching philosophy and like actual
like teaching it she’d bring in a the
professor would bring in some of her
private students and we’d one per one
student in the class would teach that
kid and everyone would analyze what they
did and right like it made me think
about the approaches I have to teaching
and dealing with different people and
different needs I was the other half the
class was I mean they taught us how to
like do taxes and write our our private
studio information-packed to give to
parents like late policy and
cancellation policy in all kinds of real
world but things is very useful that’s
awesome yeah that’s um these are things
that I mean I’m really thrilled that
they have that class because these are
things that a lot of people just find
out the hard way yeah they get out of
school and they think like okay I’m
gonna gig and I’m gonna teach and I’m
gonna tour and I’m gonna be this and
that and record and they don’t
necessarily have an idea of how to put
together yeah like a teaching contract
you know if you if you’re putting
together a private studio and every
other week a kid is cancelling do you
have a policy do they pay you to do just
eat that time you know putting together
that type of stuff learning how to teach
like it’s really it’s harder I think
it’s more challenging for me to get a
student from point A to point B than it
is to get myself from point A to point B
yes I know I feel like I know what to do
to accomplish what I want but to try to
teach a student that
is is really challenging and and it’s
it’s again it’s like a constant like
lifetime fluidity of changing your
teaching up knowing that each student’s
not the same person so one approach
doesn’t work with one student the way it
does with another one and so yeah
teaching again it’s like a whole nother
aspect of music that you have to
practice and you have to think about you
can’t just think I need to make some
money to pay for my rent so I’ll get
some private students it’s it’s so much
bigger than that and that can tend to
get lost sometimes but yeah so it it’s
wonderful for me at Mason especially
because I get to see students for four
years and you know obviously they have a
little bit of an incentive because
they’re being graded but to just learn
how to take a student that’s a freshman
17 or 18 year old that hasn’t really had
much jazz experience or guitar
experience and try to get them by the
time they’re 21 or 22 to be ready to get
out there and and unfortunately I don’t
really get to talk to my students about
teaching so I’m glad that they have
classes like that because there just
isn’t enough time to deal with all of
these things unfortunately I have
sometimes I run into you it’s an
internal struggle in myself with certain
students you know some students respond
well to if you’re hard on them they step
up their game some people so I didn’t
tend to shut down sure and there’s a
fine line and I’m constantly trying to
figure out where that is with each
student because sometimes you know you
tell a kid this is what I want you to do
and you’re really nice about it in here
this is how you’re gonna get to where
you want to get to you and then they
they show up the next week and they
haven’t done what you asked her then
maybe you try another week with the kind
approach and then they don’t do it it’s
like okay if you want to get here like
you’re not gonna get here I don’t want
you to like there’s no reason for you to
be doing these lessons if you’re
I’m gonna practice what I’m gonna
practice right yeah just say it
tastefully and but with the right amount
of harshness to make them feel like
they’ve got a responsibility to do what
you’re asking right yeah I’m just as
important as your basketball coach yeah
luckily with the grading system there’s
like a built-in inherent incentive for
the students to mm-hmm to practice I
found like when I would teach privately
just private students like a store or
wherever at my house there’s no they
have no incentive other than just their
own Drive so I would tailor my kind of
harshness I guess differently in
different situations
um I think with the college students I I
feel like it the older I get the kind of
nicer I get if I was teaching you maybe
when I was 30 I would have had little to
no tolerance for anything now in my 40s
I try to have more tolerance but you
know honestly I’ve had a couple of
students in the past that have it’s kind
of talked to me as outside of lessons
and said like hey man I feel like I
really want you to like beat down on me
like I feel like you’re too nice and I
really want you to bring kind of like
that harshness all the time because I
think I need that so sometimes students
will just say like hey hey dude I need
the I don’t want that every week for you
to kind of pat me on the back and say
good job I want you to come down on me
all the time so you know then I try to
tailor it a little bit to that without
being too you know I don’t want to
berate a student just to berate them but
yeah there are times where you have to
kind of have a 20 or 30 minute chat with
the student and say hey man you you’ve
got to get your proverbial stuff
together and you know maybe you’re late
to lessons you’re unprepared maybe you
don’t show up to lessons and you know at
some point I might tell them like you
might want to rethink what you’re
choosing to do because if you kind of
act like this or if this is kind of how
you’re going to approach music
boy you’re gonna have a really really
hard time making it after school so yeah
so um I’m I’m pretty much nicer now
Darden my wife tells me that I’m
probably a little too nice and I’ve had
some students say hey you’re too nice I
don’t feel like I’m that nice but I get
occasionally yeah I’ll have some guys
literally say I look I want you to kind
of bring the pain well sometimes it
takes that in terms yeah to expose your
weaknesses right you know you need to be
called out on a lot of your things and
same thing with my students I have the
same thing happen and it is often times
when you know I’ll have a student it’s
like I will have that that sit-down
discussion of why are you here and
please don’t waste my time and don’t
waste your time or your or your money
yeah think about like caught man George
Mason I don’t know what what it costs
per year to go to George Mason but
whatever it is it’s tens of thousands of
dollars and and yeah I you know I have
students where I will get kind of harsh
with them is that I will get the the old
I haven’t practiced this week because I
had a paper to write
and so I’ll stop them and say okay so
when you get out of school are you
planning on writing papers for a living
and they kind of chuckle and they’re
like well no I don’t want to write
papers and and so I just say hey you
want to play guitar
you came here to school to play guitar
but you decided to not practice this
week because you had a music history of
paper to write I’d you know obviously I
don’t promote getting poor grades and
classes but I will tell students maybe
you need to adjust your time and if you
don’t get that a plus on that paper
maybe you get an a-minus or a b-plus but
if you practice ten hours over the next
couple days or week that will pay off
for the rest of your life the the paper
you’ll forget about the paper but the
practicing has to come first
you know time management becomes really
important yeah I feel like with teaching
and there’s just so many elements to try
to teach a young guitarist time
management how to play the instrument
how to be a profession of all you know
just lots of it’s it’s much deeper and
much heavier than just hey make sure you
know your major scales and your modes
yeah yeah so can we jump back to your
your upbringing
you went music school in yeah you can
universal yeah Duquesne University in
Pittsburgh and that was a great that was
like a super important experience honest
in my life they had a large guitar
program which people out their priors I
can do I’ve never even heard of Duquesne
University maybe they have a large
guitar program they had I think when I
was there they had something like 40
guitar majors
well maybe 40 or 45 guitar majors
between classical and jazz and so
consequently they had like five or six
adjunct guitar teachers and it was
amazing because each guitar teacher like
the one of the gentlemen I studied with
most was a guy named Ken karsh
and Ken was like phenomenal technician
could play jazz really well could go out
and play a show really well do wedding
or like he was kind of like the
consummate jobbing guitar player but
just had like phenomenal like literally
mind-blowing technique but then also
suffered from a carpal tunnel syndrome
so with can I got like that all the
phenomenal stuff but then also the side
of him that would show you how to be
healthy with your hands how to warm up
how to make sure that you weren’t gonna
have to have some kind of hand surgery
because of overuse or repetitive stress
injuries so he was amazing he was
probably the most important influence at
that point but then they had a really
great bebop guitar player Joe Negri who
used to be on Mister Rogers he was
handyman Negri phenomenal kind of like
swing Bop guitar player still
alive he’s in his 90s I think now and
still plays great they had another guy
mark cook who is a big like on the
fusion scene in Pittsburgh the classical
teacher Tom Kitka was great
Marty Ashby taught more Brazilian kind
of styles so they had all these guys and
and they were pretty cool with having
you switch around so I did most of my
time with the guy ken Karsh but then one
semester I studied with Mark Cooke doing
more fusion stuff did some Brazilian
stuff took a semester of classical so it
was it was an amazing place for guitar I
think I should say so but yeah the ones
I mean Duquesne just you say Duquesne
and people just sort of scratch their
heads but it was I don’t know what I
don’t know if it’s the same way now but
at that time there was just a ton of
guitar majors guitar players hanging
around well it really doesn’t matter so
much when you like where you got your
training if you received good training
it’s not like you’re going to typical
job interviews there’s rarely a time
where I need to spout any credentials as
a musician right I mean the yeah the the
only downside with Duquesne was that I
mean it was in Pittsburgh so you made
connections in Pittsburgh but it was not
the same as maybe like a North Texas or
Miami where you were meeting a lot of
musicians that were gonna be out in the
world after they graduated Duquesne was
kind of pretty sequestered to like local
musicians and it was a bigger music ed
school so even though there was 40 or 45
guitar majors I don’t know how many of
them ended up actually becoming like pro
players so it was like amazing in one
hand but then I would stress to students
where you go to school what connections
you’re gonna make at school so like
George Mason University it’s a smaller
University but it’s in Washington DC and
Washington DC has such a huge music
scene that it’s just a great place to be
not only because the faculty is really
also because you’re in Washington DC so
there’s just so many opportunities it’s
it’s mind-boggling so that was the only
thing I missed with Duquesne was at
Pittsburgh smaller City good music scene
but it wasn’t anything like a DC or New
York or LA and so I felt like I maybe
missed a little bit of that in my
training there just the connections but
the actual like training was yeah it was
outstanding so where did you go after
you graduated what was the next step
yeah so about six months and my whole
goal when I was in college was that I
wanted a tour and I wanted to move to
New York
so it was like tour New York toured New
York so about five months after I
graduated Ringling Brothers Circus was
in town and they would hire local
musicians at that time so I got hired to
play for Ringling but they were
switching over to a self-contained band
they had worked out with the music
musicians union tap self-contained band
touring and so after the first rehearsal
the trumpet player one of the trauma
Clarence comes up to me and says hey man
are you looking to go out on the road
and so I was like ding ding ding like
tour go to New York so I’m like yes yeah
I would love to go on the road and he
said ok so we did the rehearsals we did
a week run and the bandleader invited me
back to his train car after the last gig
and just basically said hey we’re
starting rehearsals for the next tour
and three weeks would you want to do
this gig and I was just like you know
hell yeah like I’m down I’m ready so
it’s like it was a little it was one of
my first experiences though because I
had a lot of gigs lined up so I had to
call all these people in Pittsburgh and
basically say hey all of these gigs you
booked me for three weeks from now I
can’t I’m not gonna be there yeah but
yeah it was great I went out toured with
Ringling for two years almost to the day
two years so a month of rehearsals and
then literally about the first year was
about 55 weeks without a week off
touring and then a couple weeks
in another like 40 or 50 weeks for the
second year and so I completed the whole
tour which I think was like 90 some
cities it’s crazy I was unaware that
ring weenie even had had a band well now
I mean now Ringling’s just totally gone
right unfortunately but yeah at the time
they had a self-contained band of like I
think it was a nine piece band and at
the time it was really cool too because
Cirque du Soleil had become really
popular but Ringling was kind of moving
more towards that type of music so it
was very not super rock and roll but
kind of more rock and roll like artsy
artsy rock and more I guess I don’t even
know how to describe it so it was cool
for me as a guitar player because there
was just so much stuff for the guitar in
the show yeah but I just had a blast
doing it but two years was enough you
know that was like pre cellphones and
free internet or it was just coming on
the scene so I remember just like doing
your laundry became like an entire day
endeavor because I remember being in a
trend and getting a payphone calling
like a cab company I think it was like
in Dallas and the cab company asking
like well which train yard are you and
there’s like five or six and you had no
I you know he had no idea so it became
this kind of day-long frustration just
trying to you know wash your boxer
shorts but I heard but it was great it
was a great playing experience I made
really great connections chops improved
a lot developed tendinitis during that
time because I was like a young I was
like 22 so I wasn’t warming up and we
were playing constantly so I got a nice
early experience in how to treat my body
better Oh overcome tendinitis while
still doing ten shows a week Wow so was
it it was a it was a great experience
for me at that age because I was super
young and and it kind of checked that
touring box and yeah we had a lot of fun
for sure I mean did you have like
elephants on your tour de train I mean
you had the full well you know we had a
bit of a bit of a long story but we had
a like my first train run in 94 we had a
train wreck it was in lakeland florida
and art our car got totaled so i within
a month I was like in a train that
actually flipped off the tracks and got
totaled oh my god that little that was
sort of an experience in and of itself
for the first year or so we lived in
hotels because they lost like 20 or 30
train cars and it takes time to get you
know I guess you can’t just go down to
the local train main car dealer and get
train cars so yeah I spent most of my
time in hotels but yeah we were on the
train yeah you had all the everything
the clown’s the acrobats the animals but
if the train was like about a mile long
so you weren’t really it wasn’t like we
were living in a car where the next car
down was a bunch of lions or something
like that right it was it was definitely
like separated out quite a bit but yeah
it was that it was the whole it was the
circus were you practicing on the train
while you’re traveling yeah I practiced
it like so that was a really great thing
about the circus was that it paid well
and you were you were stuck there and
even though you’re doing like ten shows
a week that you had a ton of time
because you know ten shows two and a
half hours a show everything else like
was free time and you couldn’t go in it
like you were on the road so you could
either practice or I guess do other
stuff but I practiced a lot so it was
really important and their drummer there
that was really great we would get
together before shows and just play and
occasionally I would write stuff and
have people come in like early before a
show in play so it was it was very cool
in that way like lots of time didn’t
have to worry about paying bills only
had to worry about playing guitar and
that probably was the only two years of
my life where I literally only had
guitar to think about
you know it didn’t really have to think
about anything else so is it was a great
time I think I was 22 when I started
that 22 to 24 so it was wonderful like I
feel like that really just like
technically when I came back off of that
like my chops felt just really great
jazz playing not so great after two
years of doing that but but just the
actual like playing guitar physical
aspect of it was really strong yeah
and now for two years you were you were
done you were you had had enough yes I
had yeah some some guys would stay there
like my roommate on the shows did the
gig for probably like 15 or 16 years oh
because it was um it was a union gig it
was good pay you got Penton yeah you it
was benefit so for a lot of musicians
yeah man they would stay out there and
do it for a long time but for me two
years kind of I had done what I wanted
to and I just felt like it was gonna be
more of the same and I was ready for
some other from some other experience
yeah and and were you actively looking
for something after those two years or
were you just kind of like okay I’m done
with this and and yeah I was like I was
gonna move to New York that was my plan
so I moved back to Pittsburgh and was
just doing gigs with the people that I
had been playing with before I left
yeah Wow and then about four or five
months after that the air force my
grandfather called me and said hey the
airmen a note which is the air force’s
band in DC is holding an audition for
guitar players and I sort of blew it off
I was like yeah air for I don’t know air
force military I don’t know and but they
were like man it’s a really great gig so
I just was playing in Pittsburgh and and
was getting ready to move to New York
and just sent like a cassette off to the
Air Force and then like a week or two
later got a call to get I got invited up
for that audition didn’t really want to
do that necessarily but figured I’ll go
audition so I I did that and got one
that gig No
so pretty quickly after the audition
moved from Pittsburgh and went to Air
Force basic training and then moved to
DC after that and so that was I was like
25 at that point I think I’ve turned 25
like in basic training which was really
awesome that’s not the best birthday
probably more like very basic training
getting yell yelled out to wake up at
4:00 in the morning on your birthday my
birthday yeah yeah yes I planned on moon
I planned on the New York thing but then
when the Air Force became up that kind
of sent me on a different a different
path I guess yeah so then you were that
was what 15 20 years ago yeah I was 96
22 23 years ago almost 6 so you’ve been
in the military bands ever since no I I
long story there – I did Airmen of note
for eight years or almost eight years
and then Darden was also in the Air
Force Band and we got married in 2001
and we both decided to leave the Air
Force so we both gave up full-time music
gigs and we moved to Nashville like in
2004 2003 2004 and so I spent eight
years living in Nashville and then we
went to Illinois after that and we both
did our doctorates at the University of
Illinois yeah at the University of
Illinois so we spent about four years in
Nashville and that was great and we just
gigged and I taught at Middle Tennessee
State for a while and then Darden wanted
to do her master’s degree and there were
no real black jazz vocal programs in
Tennessee so we ended up moving to
Illinois because we knew the gentleman
that runs the jazz program there so yeah
so we picked up again moved to Illinois
and lived there for about four years
before coming back to DC that was 2000
yeah we went to like 12 2007 and then
came back in 2011 what pulled you to
Nashville actually my wife Darden really
wanted to just go there and and gig and
do session work and
when we were still in DC we went there
for about a week just to visit and loved
it and just it was just like a really
exciting place and a place where you
know we had never been somewhere where
you could like walk down the street and
starting it like noon there’s all these
live bands like down on lower broad and
then if you’re out till 2:00 a.m.
there’s still bands playing on lower
bras so it’s just a very exciting place
musically and so we just fell in love
with it
pretty pretty much instantly like the
first day we were there first two days
were like this is where we’re gonna go
yeah um and we didn’t really know
anybody we knew we had one contact in
Nashville so we just it was literally
just like a leap of faith we’re gonna
move to Nashville and just see what
happens yeah oh yeah they’re better than
your average musicians movin have well
yeah there’s a Nashville is awesome
there’s a lot of like incredible guitar
players I spent like my first year in
Nashville quickly realizing that if I
threw like a stone in any direction I’d
hit the bar Clara that was unbelievable
like amazing at what they did and so it
was a little bit of like Nashville was
one part inspiration in one part
depression inspiring because there was
all these great players but it was also
depressing because it was like every day
I would hear about some other player and
I would go hear them and they were just
I mean for as many guitar players that
probably weren’t that good there was
like twice as many people that would do
stuff that I I just couldn’t believe
like we’re just shockingly good and it
was just awesome because you’re playing
with these people and you’re also able
to just hop in your car or whatever and
go drive ten minutes and go see like
unbelievable guitar playing I mean it
was really like truly like ridiculous
now it was mostly country so if you
weren’t like a big country fan maybe it
wouldn’t be quite as awesome but just to
see these players was just yeah it was
crazy crazy good yeah I’ve always heard
good things about Nashville and the one
thing that I did you know
was hurt kind of funny but I’ve always
heard about Nashville is is that beyond
the circuit if you want to get a coffee
or something like that you can’t cuz
everything closes down but yeah but
that’s very much changed nowadays and
yeah everybody’s kind of going Nashville
now and it’s building up more and more
and more yeah it was probably a little
sleeper then but it was we moved there
kind of about the time there was like a
big migration of like a lot of musicians
from Los Angeles because Nashville was
cheap yes
live like super like amazingly cheap and
so you had all these kind of transplant
musicians coming from other areas and
now I’ve heard it’s just like exploded
like horrible traffic like super
metropolitan it was kind of getting that
way when we were there but it was still
a little bit small like it was still
manageable yeah but it was awesome I
mean there was just I mean it was it was
unbelievable in one way because I had
never done a gig before where at the end
of the night I got like four dollars and
13 cents because someone put a couple
pennies in the tip jar and put it up but
then but then you’d make four bucks but
the van would be like all these like
unbelievable players that are like out
touring with big name artists um so is
it was an interesting it was a really an
interesting place at that time I don’t
know what it’s like now but it was it
was cool and it was a great experience
and we’re happy that we had it but it
was after a couple years we knew that it
wasn’t necessarily a place that when you
may stay the rest of our lives right
what the experience was really wonderful
and it was it was weird too because
Nashville and I don’t know if there was
anybody listening in Nashville so I
don’t want to get flamed for this but it
was like the first like I I could read
pretty well and even at that age and it
was like the first place that we went
where I felt like being a pretty good
sight reader was not at all I helped
Wang and I and I remember even playing
with like a band and and they wanted me
to learn something and I said well do
you have a chart and it kind of like
poked fun at me because they kind of
said oh you’re one of those musician
that can read music so it was it was a
little bit of an interesting yeah
it was an interesting place because so
many great players but then that player
might not be able to read music so they
had like the national numbering system
yeah I remember doing it jazz gay there
was a really great singer and I can’t
remember her name in Nashville and she
was like a big like backup singer
touring backup singer but she was a jazz
singer as well and we did some gigs and
and whoever did her book did the Jazz
book in the numbering system so I’m like
doing this for our gig and like the
tunes and like c-major and when they
want to modulate to a flat major it’s
like flat 7 minor 7 2 flat 3 7 2 flat
it’s much more easier and I was like oh
and I’m like oh it’s just a 2 5 and a
flat major so it was like all night like
decide deciphering like these
lumbering charts and I’m like man
wouldn’t just be easier to write like a
flat minor and not like all these
numbers but well yeah was that it was a
cool experience and we met a lot of
really wonderful musicians and made made
a lot of like life lifelong friendships
and connections there yeah I had the
opportunity to go down there a few years
ago I have some friends that were in a
big rock band and Washington DC area the
whole band moved to Nashville and they
ended up breaking up after a couple
years there and the drummer and bassist
now have a business where they they just
backup anybody the needs of rhythm
section right there called mutual groove
and they do a lot of cool stuffs though
I wouldn’t stayed with them and like
you’re saying I had one of the best
experiences of my life because all day
people were just like friends would come
and stop by and we’d be like the three
of us would be playing music and sure
that person would be sitting there
hanging out maybe drinking a beer or
something and then all of a sudden
they’d pick up whatever instrument and
they’d be insanely good yeah yeah we’re
like oh my god you’re an interest like
everyone we dealt with like if you
rented a car or bought a coffee or went
to a restaurant like everybody was a
musician or a songwriter or have a
studio so it was it was it was very cool
I mean it was just like a cool
place to be mitten in comparison then
you said your wife went you guys went up
to Chicago Illinois no it was two hours
south of Chicago is Champaign organa
Illinois where the new globe is so small
town really small town it’s a much
different landscape yes much different
Midwest really like artsy community so
when we went there you had this it
wasn’t me I mean it was amazing and that
was actually a place that we thought we
might stay the rest of our Lodge
ironically but it was like a town of
like a hundred thousand people there is
all this eclectic music ranging from
like straight-ahead jazz to diffusion to
like lots of like experimental like
atonal kind of free stuff and the town
like the folks in the town like the
Townies they would support everything so
you could play like a gig of like Stella
by starlight with like a quartet and
they would come out and love it or you
could do like a whole night of just like
free where there’s nothing no form no
nothing and just like a bunch of noise
and the same people would come out and
love it just as much and so it was we
really we loved it there even more so
than Nashville a different vibe because
it was like a small town yeah it’s new
per the music school there I think
there’s like a thousand music majors and
it’s like a big electronic music
University and so there was just all
this like just interesting different
projects yeah very clean you know like
where they combined like strings with
like fusion and it is just it was cool
like all kinds of stuff and again the
champaign-urbana like you weren’t making
like you obviously weren’t retiring on
the money you were making at these gigs
but so many great players and just like
you got to be a part of so many
different projects so many different
styles and everyone just kind of it was
a very community-based area where
everybody knew everybody
and everybody’s supporting everybody and
it was just yeah we just had fun there
and I thought you know thought we would
stay there but then again ended up
leaving yeah and you you left because of
the because of the military band again
or yeah each Tommy Chen we were at
Illinois and we were hoping to teach
there and but it was like kind of during
like 2008 when like the economy kind of
crumbled in the housing market bubble
burst and so when we were getting ready
to graduate
they were like furloughing professors at
U of I so we quickly realized that we
probably weren’t gonna be able to get
any kind of teaching gig there because
they were laying people off so it was
the weird time and so I was teaching at
national guitar workshop we were we were
all set to leave Illinois and move to
Indianapolis and we had some teaching
gigs lined up Darden and I both did she
was gonna teach you like Milliken and I
was gonna teach it at place in
Indianapolis and I was teaching a
national guitar workshop in one summer I
had like four camps and it was like in
Austin Texas Sandy Spring Maryland
Nashville and Chicago so I was like in
my Honda Civic driving to all these
camps cuz they were kind of back-to-back
and I got an email from the jazz
director at Illinois saying you might
not be interested in this but one of
your students might the Naval Academy
band is looking for a guitar player so I
deleted it I deleted the email and and
so I’m teaching a camp and and Darden
calls me and she’s like hey did you get
that email from chip chip McNeil the guy
that sent it I said yeah I deleted it
and she said well it’s a premiere or
band and it’s in DC in the DC area and
she was like you know it would sure be
nice to move back to DC because with all
of our families from DC and Pittsburgh
East Coast so this was like in the
beginning of July so I drove back from
one of the camps and I immediately like
overnighted materials for the Academy
because I just never once I left the
military band I just never had any
aspirations to ever do it again not that
it was a bad experience it was just
I had done it for eight years and I just
didn’t want to do it again right and so
I sent the materials and one of the guys
that was at the band at the time I don’t
know if I had gig with him when I was
first in DC but he knew my name and so
he called me and said you know are you
really wanting this gig and I was like
well yeah you know sure and he’s like
okay so they invited me out to the
audition and you know in true like music
business fashion we were moving from our
townhouse in Champaign or our house on
like August 1st to Indianapolis so we
had a u-haul lined up the audition for
the Academy ban was July 29th
oh I Drive to DC because we can’t really
afford to fly and I wanted to take my
gear and so Darden is calling the u-haul
company saying we’re either taking this
u-haul to Indianapolis or we’re gonna
move to DC Fairhope it’s like July 29th
I go an audition I win the audition I
call Darden and I said I won the
audition so her parents like bought
plane tickets flew to Illinois I drove
back to Illinois and like the next day
we unloaded the house and to DC like
that day because our lease was up so it
was like something’s not very like it’s
not stressful but just kind of a bizarre
oh yeah time because we then we had to
call all of the people like we were
about to start teaching at these schools
and we had to call them and say hey
we’re not going to be there in like two
weeks right to do these gigs and so yeah
so we moved back to DC and I did the
Naval Academy been for about a year year
in a couple months and then the
Commodores guitar player retired did
another audition there and then won that
gig and then do we didn’t have to move
because it was in the same area but
switched over to the DC DC band so yeah
I never really had any kind of like
inclination to get back in but it just I
guess I was just meant to to get back in
so now I’ve been I think I’ve been in
the military almost 15 years now even
though I got in twenty-three years ago
yeah you start out as an e6 right yeah
you’re if you go to the DC bands you
start as an e6 each band has like fleet
bands and field bands all over the world
they don’t have that same deal but in
the DC the military has like they it’s
like a special promotion and it’s to
attract you know like most of the DC
bands you you get older musicians that
have been out playing already already
have a career but maybe you want the
steady income the benefits and we’ll get
most of the time like late 20s through
early 30s and so that promotion helps to
entice musicians of that caliber to come
and do those gigs is it really does seem
like a great if you want a steady income
kind of job but you want to be playing
music I mean an e6 it’s published on the
internet anybody can look what military
members paid you’re starting out at
$2,600 a month plus BH the housing
allowance yeah I think that I think in
the Navy Band now if you win the gig and
you’re single
it’s like sixty-two thousand dollars
with everything starting standard in
yeah and then if you are married the way
the military works is you get like the
extra like dependent pay so I think if
you’re married and you come in it’s like
67 or 68 thousand dollars like right out
of the gate dancing more than you’re
gonna make playing typical gigs yeah
yeah yeah yeah and you’re working during
the day so you potentially have
basically everybody about that you know
you’re thinking like okay if someone
comes in making 68,000
if they’re doing like 150 dollar gigs in
general that’s like I don’t know how
many gigs you’d have to do but like 700
600 so yeah it’s a great the pain the
benefits is yes I may I mean it’s
it’s almost like yeah you feel like
you’re getting away with something okay
yeah you get health care you get a house
yep which it’s untaxed you get
training I mean you’re getting you have
you get to go to the Navy School of
Music right actually a DC band does not
do that so like if you go to DC band you
just go you check out from basic
training and you go directly to g6 in
the Navy Band if you’re in the fleet
band system like we have some students
that have done that and are doing that
right now they go through the lick the
music school and then they get sent
wherever they’re gonna get stationed but
yeah for DC you go like it’s like basic
training right to the band okay which is
awesome and do you feel like the music I
mean in general the music is very you
play I guess you have different types of
bands right like summer jazz summer rock
summer yeah we have like many as been
there’s a cruisers rock band country
currents like a bluegrass country
there’s like a mixed chorus concert band
and then like the ceremonial units and
they’re all I don’t want to say they’re
all separate because occasionally people
do cross over and play with different
bands like if someone’s on leave or if
someone’s out for some reason but it’s
pretty separated out so it’s like I’m
not like I play in the Commodores I’ve
never actually played with the country
band or the rock band I’ve played with
the concert band like if they have
something if they’re maybe doing like a
Pops concert or there’s guitar I’ve done
that a bit yes pretty like for me most
of my gig is playing like either with
the big band or playing like what they
call protocol events which are just
events where you’re playing background
music so it’s like a background gig but
it’s military so it’s a protocol event
and doing like a lot of that kind of
stuff like trio quartet solo guitar but
yes it’s it’s 99% jazz Wow you know some
getting paid to play jazz essentially by
the government yeah that’s awesome and
you get to play it some pretty high
profile events is yeah you get like we
have a I’m not doing it this week but we
have a trio that’s planned like at the
vice president’s house
you know the White House occasionally
lots of just yeah lots of high-level
events but I’d say most of our gig is
more public based the eleven are one of
our main missions is just kind of going
out and doing tours so kind of bringing
like touring places and playing places
where maybe people don’t ever have an
interaction with the military so we’re
much more of like a public affairs
people unlike small towns like in the
middle of the country can come out and
see like what their tax dollars are
going to so they can see like okay here
is something that the military is doing
that I’m paying for with my taxes and
this is good like I enjoy this it’s you
know good like community relations and
then public concerts in DC and so the
protocol stuff some of that but most
more like kind of PR public relations
public concerts long educational as well
yeah have you had the opportunity to
play overseas at all I did when I was in
the Air Force like when I was in the Air
Force that Airmen our note traveled a
lot like a lot a lot maybe even more so
than I would have liked but yeah we
played I think we did like 17 or 18
different countries when I was in the
Air Force
well so like you know anywhere from like
Belgium Germany Italy Luxembourg
countries in the Middle East so yeah I
think it was like 17 or 18 with the Navy
have not traveled overseas
went to Ireland for a couple days but it
was just a very short trip with the
Commodores it’s mostly like in the
United States right what do you have do
you have advice for anybody that that is
interested in potentially joining one of
the military bands yeah I would say
is super important so I spend it’s not
like I start read all day long every day
but you know we rehearsed three four or
five days a week depending on our
gigging schedule
and so people are bringing in new charts
all the time we have different
performances where maybe we support like
a young composers competition for
instance so then we have to sight-read
10 or 12 charts and be able to perform
those the sight-reading becomes super
important yeah the same thing that’s
like any gigging musician just like
getting the appropriate sounds knowing
that if you’re playing like a heavy like
rock fusion tune that you need like a
good solid overdrive sound how-to for me
it’s like fitting in with a big band
like guitar players rarely play like
with a sax section or a trombone section
so just you know if people are guitar
players especially looking for that type
of gig like if they’re playing and
they’re big bands at universities like
really trying to make the most of that
experience because that’s a bulk of my
my gig
but yeah the reading reading thing is
key and just being cool you know so like
if we have an audition and someone comes
in and they’re a bit jerky maybe or a
bit just kind of I don’t know have a
strange vibe it’s like you pick up on
that and you know you could spend
conceivably 20 or more years with these
people so you know sometimes being like
a cool person and a cool hang can
sometimes even trump the playing it’s
like if someone’s just a little bit
better of a player but they’re kind of a
jerk I’d rather be with like someone
that’s a little less of a good player
but it’s like a really fun hang on a
cool cool person so I’d say just you
know being professional and just knowing
how to get along with other folks
because you’re just with the same folks
for so long different than gigging I
mean you know you need to be cool to be
a gigging musician but you’re playing
with different people all the time so if
you do have like a little bit of a
dust-up with someone maybe it’s not the
end of the world you don’t have to
address it but like with our gig if two
people kind of if their relationship
goes south you’re
you’re still in that room with that
person for a long time so you have to
just learn how to get along with people
for sure yeah and you are representing
obviously yeah yeah you know yeah and
yeah being like um you know we don’t
like there’s probably misconceptions
like I’m not at the Navy Yard at 7:00
a.m. doing like PT II doing push-ups
with the with the band but you know you
there’s yeah you have to maintain like a
certain appearance make sure that when
you put I mean it’s again it’s like kind
of like normal life making sure like
when you put your clothes on that
they’re not all they don’t look like
they’ve been balled up in your trunk of
your car for the last two months you
know bathing just like present yeah
giving like a good professional
presentation so I anything almost
everything about being a professional
musician carries over to like if someone
wanted a military gig but I would say
that the sight-reading thing like if
your site reading is great
your chances increase exponentially if
you can’t really read it really hurts
you and all of those other things might
not overcome the reading thing so
reading yeah
really important yeah being in big band
at Mason was a quite an experience yeah
and people will like so for the
commodores it’s like people write for
specifically for us a lot so it there’s
a lot more on the guitar book than
people might imagine so yeah that
becomes that’s like my crusade is to
just like make sure that all of my
students can read really well because
almost every gig that I’ve done it’s
like a steady gig that pays well and has
benefits and stuff has been in large
part like due to reading like show work
the circus military gig like all of them
if I was a poor sight reader acquittance
I read all of those gigs would just be I
wouldn’t have gotten them and they would
be like I don’t know like it would just
be like a nightmare trying to keep it
like if I couldn’t read that well
but the commoners book would just be
like a constant like I’d have to devote
my entire life to it it’s like I’d be
like citing everybody else would be like
hanging out I’d be like sight reading
until like a reading until 1:00 in the
morning every night trying to keep up so
yeah sight reading is like super super
big one it’s something that most I mean
your average guitarist he’s not in you
academia in the world of academia your
average guitarist doesn’t read treble
clef they could still like um I don’t
know how much reading like say our
country band does so like maybe if
you’re a country guitar player and
you’re trying to get a gig with the
country band and the military maybe the
reading wouldn’t be as big but then that
guy the guy that’s in the country band
right now Joe Friedman’s like a great
jazz player lived in New York
he can read really well it’s like you’re
gonna at some point be faced with
playing with some other group where you
have to so just it it’s like I feel like
you can never escape reading
unfortunately as much as I’d love to
well it can’t hurt you that’s for sure
right yeah exactly exactly so yeah so
that would be the biggie but yeah just
being cool like when it really boils
down to it it’s like I just nowadays
love being on gigs where people are just
cool and I have fun and I know people
and it’s like I I don’t want to say I
would trade that for the level of
musicianship but I I would trade it a
little bit more the older I get to just
not have like a bad experience yeah game
so I want to go back to the reading
thing I it kind of connects with what we
were talking about with the practicing
earlier yeah like I didn’t read really
before I decided I wanted to go back to
school I had read on the piano for years
and oh my viola growing up but isn’t
like I never really had a reason to read
on the guitar right yeah huh book left
like playing rock music and whatever I
started you know you can go through the
basic books but I was using melodic
rhythms network was really helpful book
is great yeah yeah that that was really
like you really need to build reading
time into your practice schedule like it
might be ten minutes a day or ten
minutes every other day whatever it is
it becomes something that has to be just
a general part of your practice schedule
if you weren’t to be a skill that you’re
gonna have sure yeah for a gigging
musician that’s the only thing that I’ll
tell people to do every day like if you
miss a day of scales or if you miss a
day of technique that’s fine but just
read every day because you know I think
we all know as guitar players that no
matter how good you get there’s always
gonna be someone that’s better so I’m
thinking like no matter how good of a
jazz improviser I am there’s always
gonna be someone better no matter how
good of a rock player I am someone’s
gonna be faster or have more technique
but I do know that in general guitar
players tend to be a little lower on the
reading spectrum so I realized younger
that if I could read pretty well like
even if you leave read like a lychee
like it seems like if you can read a
lead sheet other instrumentalists think
you’re like a genius if you can just
read like the head to a tune so we kind
of people have different expectations
for us as guitar players so I’m like if
you can read really well like you get
you get a certain amount of stuff
because of that even if maybe there are
better jazz players or something you’re
gonna get some type of work that none of
those people can get because they can’t
read as well and I mean let’s face it
we’re guitar players were terrible
readers it’s like if you like I feel
like I’m a pretty good sight reader but
if I put myself up against like a tenor
saxophonists even like the worst tenor
saxophonists reads at the same level as
like genius guitar player reader so just
being able to read a little bit is
important and if they can develop that
reading to be like pretty good it
there’s so many opportunities that will
come from that it’s it’s mind-boggling I
feel like it’s not quite fair
the way that the guitar is laid out like
like I’m by far and away best at reading
around the fifth position yeah I know
that and I try to move to different
areas in my practicing but if I like sit
down and I’ve got a sites site reading
something well like I’m gonna
automatically go to the fifth position
if it makes sense but during the tune
yeah I mean it’s a different position
everything’s out the window the you know
yeah yeah guitars like really yes a
challenge because it’s like if you want
to play like say uh see there’s like
five or six of that same note on the
instrument or if you want to with
voicing there’s like the same four notes
there’s three or four different ways to
play them I I do think that we’re at a
bit of a disadvantage because of that
because like on piano it’s like middle C
is right there yeah you there’s no like
five different spots on the piano for
middle C so yeah guitar player is like
we’re sort of a bit handicapped out of
the gate but you know yeah like look
what you’re saying like reading in a
specific position can be helpful because
like fifth position for instance like
you get more or less everything that’s
gonna be written for the guitar with
like a few little spots maybe you have
to jump out of that position sometimes
but yeah that’s that that’s helpful I
mean that’s if guys do it that way then
that’s totally cool you know I would say
there was a really great book called
written by a guy named Tom Bruner he was
like a Las Vegas show guitar player and
he was the first guy I can’t remember
what it was called but it’s still out
there you probably find her on Amazon he
actually would read in regions so he
would like break the guitar up and the
like maybe like third through eighth
fret was a region and then like through
twelfth was a region so that was really
cool and eye-opening for me because I
had always been taught like positions so
I’m reading this in the third position
fifth position seventh this guy like
expanded it to be more of a region and
that that made more sense and was
helpful and he would write these like
bizarro like atonal etudes that were in
this region and that book in particular
was really helpful
you know long with them a lot of rhythms
book but that’s more Malacca rhythms is
much more kind of tonal and much more
positional so the Thom Bruner thing was
really helpful so their guitar players
out there that are looking to help with
their reading the top like seek out just
Tom Brunner and I can’t remember the
name of the book right now we’ve got a
step up my yang
but yeah guitarist weird man it’s like I
still you know I’ll make my guitar
players like learn all their drop two
voicings and we’ll get to like the
bottom four strings I’m kind of like I
need to like work on is myself but you
know everybody kind of has their certain
things that they gravitate towards you
just want to like keep widening that
that I guess bag of stuff that you can
do so it’s like they I’m sure when I sit
down with students like it Mason they I
don’t try to give them like the vibe
that I know everything about the guitar
but they probably I don’t know if
they’re shocked when I’m like oh I don’t
know this drop to like on the bottom
four strings but yeah there’s just
things that we all gravitate towards and
we just keep kind of working to widen
that range and kind of like knock down
those barriers I guess same thing like
reading you know I can’t read like if
you made me read something like up above
the twelfth fret
it would just be painful for me so I you
know I try to overcome that you know
compensate for that but still try to
sight-read like in 12 position to try to
better myself
to some extent but yeah I’ll gravitate
towards like fifth sixth seventh
position for sure yeah one question that
I would have is is how did you see you
did come to DC from Illinois
how did you get into Mason and how did
that whole thing begin and then I am
interested in this this idea that you do
teach on a college level students that
that fascinates me I I really like that
aspect in terms
the educational field of right people
coming into college just specifically
for guitar and jazz or a lot of you know
our listeners and then me specifically
continuing education and women that that
all really appeals to me
so how like again how did how did that
whole thing begin how did you get into
being a professor at Mason and then the
whole aspect of being a professor right
and and teaching loads of students and
yeah that whole journey of of that being
able to teach sure um yeah I think I
started teaching I thought it Mason like
in the 90s when I was first in DC and
Jim Carroll who is the founder of the
jazz program hired me and I taught there
for a couple of years and that was like
my first taste of like teaching on the
college level I had never done it before
and I was probably like maybe late 20s
so I didn’t really fully grasp the
impact at that point it was just at that
point for me it was just kind of like I
show up I teach lessons right you know
kid a doesn’t practice I just tell him
like came in like you got a practice and
then kid B he’s really good and so we
you know it was just kind of that I
didn’t really treat it as like being a
professor or anything I was just like
I’m showing up and getting paid to teach
lessons I just happen to teach him at
this school then when we went to
Nashville I had a friend that taught
that ran the program at Middle Tennessee
State University so we moved to
Nashville and he wanted to hire me to
teach there and what I quickly learned
and this was a great experience was he
said yeah I’d love to have you teach
here okay great and then as the semester
got closer he said do you have your
master’s degree and I said nope sure
done and he said oh man he’s like I
can’t I can’t even float your name to to
these people they’ll just there’s no way
so why don’t you get your master’s
degree here and then we’ll put you on
faculty so I begrudgingly did a master’s
degree but started to get more insight
into maybe how academia worked more kind
of like of that sort of pseudo like
scholarly you know doing papers research
hanging around professors and teachers
there now it’s like an older like now
I’m in my 30s seeing that it’s more than
just teaching like lessons to students
so I taught there for a little bit and
then when we got the doctorate like so
then we started thinking like well maybe
teaching at the college level is kind of
something that we want to pursue so we
when we got the doctorates at Illinois
we were there for like four years and I
was the TA there and they had no guitar
teacher so I taught all the guitar
students jazz guitar students there as a
doctoral student and that was like super
eye-opening like we learned so much
about just how universities work how
programs work what universities are
looking for so like nowadays you can’t
even get and it’s unfortunate but it’s
just the way it is the you can’t even
get an adjunct teaching gig at a college
without a master’s degree like they just
won’t unless it’s maybe a private school
that can do things they way they want
them but if it’s like a state school
maybe I guess you could get it with a
bachelor’s degree if you’re like a
big-name person but for everybody else
like the rest of us gotta have a
master’s degree and now even like
they’re wanting doctorates to teach like
adjunct part-time and certainly if you
wanted a full-time teaching gig yeah
definitely the doctorate so when we came
back I had my doctorate and I taught at
Towson for a couple years like the Naval
Academy did a gig at the Towson
University and they were just happen to
be looking for a guitar teacher and the
guy I guess liked how I played and and
so I taught there for like two and a
half years three years but after three
years to commute it was like 80 miles
each way two days a week mom got to me
and so um Darden my wife was teaching at
Mason but now she runs the program they
were looking for like another guitar
teacher because they had too many
so I just applied and had to go through
that even though I taught at Mason in
the 90s had to go through the same thing
like where they did a search like a
regional search like in the East Coast I
think in Midwest and you know interview
audition you know
do you like the audition again and so
now I’ve been there for about four years
and now I I mean I don’t fully
understand so what it’s like to be a
professor but now I realized that it’s
much more it’s how much of an impact you
can have on a student either positively
or negatively right but yeah so the
being a professor I mean I don’t really
even like to think about it it’s similar
to like when I play with the Navy it’s
like even though I’m in the military
it’s like when I’m playing I’m not
necessarily thinking about that
specifically same thing at the
university level but I would say that
you know for people out there that maybe
want to teach at the college level
just having the academic credentials now
for better for worse is a must so you
know get a master’s degree if they want
full-time teaching gigs doctorate is
almost a hundred percent required now
and most schools when they advertise the
position will say doctorate preferred or
required and master’s is always what is
required for a job listing and just kind
of you know I think my experience is now
you know I don’t want to say that that
schools wouldn’t hire like younger
musicians but I just kind of feel like
for me I’m much more suited to it now
than I was when I first taught at Mason
back in the 90s well I just have
experienced more stuff like just more
almost anything that a student can come
to me with the same thing with any
professor or any I mean really any
teacher but especially at the college
level any students that have like a an
issue or a question about something I’ve
pretty much lived all of those things
right so you know just try
to bring that experience to that
situation and so like in a way like I
like that aspect of it I also like the
private teaching aspect where if you’re
teaching privately maybe you don’t get
as involved in the people’s lives maybe
but maybe you do sometimes and there’s
like a positive experience to that where
it’s just like okay we’re just doing
music and I’m just gonna focus on music
with you whereas the college kids I feel
like you’re kind of part part
psychiatrists part part like
authoritarian where you’re like scolding
them for stuff and and you know I I
think most people take that seriously
but I take it more seriously now than I
did like if I was like twenty five year
old Sean teaching at George Mason right
I wouldn’t care about the other stuff as
much and now I realize like how
important that is to have those
interactions and just to make the
connections with the students so it’s
like if I’m training guys to be
professional musicians you know I want
them to like I want us to have a
positive experience to just because when
they get out of school I want to
recommend them for stuff and I would
also want them to recommend me for stuff
that’s that’s like another thing it’s
like I have a lot of students that
they’ll have a gig that they can’t do
and I’ll say oh man you know hey if you
ever inter bind like let me know and
they just kind of look at me like you
wouldn’t want to do this gig that I was
supposed to be I don’t know Mike well
yeah like I’m I’m a guitar player I’m a
musician like I want to yeah yeah well
just kind of having like that
relationship of professor to students
but then also quickly in a couple years
you’re gonna be peers right right and
just trying trying to make their expiry
but helping them along the way with like
other types of issues you know like the
invariable guy that’s has some kind of
like personal problems and they maybe
bring it up so then you
and delve into that personal aspect of
things yeah that that’s kind of what the
professor thing means to me now I’m sure
my wife Darden agrees it’s like just
kind of helping to train people to be
like professional yeah people yeah and
then lastly what would you say to any
potential students that who are looking
to go into a music program that may find
Jazz Studies a little intimidating um
well that’s a good question um I would
just say to – even though it is
intimidating I think for ever even for
everybody to try to be open to it
and try to not try to like it enjoy that
experience or enjoy that journey I would
say like if they if they enjoy it and
have a love for jazz that that the
intimidation aspect of it will kind of
quickly go away and that’s partially on
the professor as well so my job is to
also try to make something that’s maybe
intimidating feel a little less
intimidating also like for any student
really like not even jest it is to have
students realize that it’s like a 50/50
experience so especially with jazz I
will sometimes get students like right
now I have a really great stable of of
students but I will at times get
students that don’t like jazz they like
though they don’t hesitate to tell me
like hey man I don’t like jazz but I
don’t want to be a classical guitar
player and that’s all I got those are my
options I would say like aside aside
from those folks which are a little bit
more of a that’s a little bit deeper
dive to get them into it it’s to realize
that you bring fifty-fifty to the lesson
so my best experiences with students are
students that don’t just wait for me to
tell them what’s next
you know we all
you know we all as young guitar players
are just like fascinated like when I was
fascinated with like kiss or whoever you
just find that you just go do it
I didn’t wait for like a teacher to tell
me to check out kiss and learn that I
just heard it and loved it so the
students have to kind of realize that if
they’re showing up week after week
saying hey dr. Purcell I did drop two
voicings kinda now what do I do
well keep working on that but then do
this then the next week okay well I did
those two things what do I do now that’s
that not like a great experience the the
best experiences are the students that
come to me week after weeks and like hey
man like I was checking this out but
then have you heard of this guitar
player no I haven’t oh yeah I was
checking him out and I started to
transcribe some stuff and I think he’s
doing this like what do you think that’s
a more positive experience than the kid
that’s like every week like okay I did
this now what do I do
I haven’t done any planning on my own
part I haven’t listened to anything new
I just did exactly what you told me and
so the students that aren’t maybe into
jazz as much are intimidated by it right
out of the gate are usually a little bit
more like that they haven’t found that
curiosity yet ever des so I would say
for them to try to find that and develop
that and then you know if you’re taking
jazz lessons at the university level and
then by the end of year two you’re still
thinking I don’t really like jazz then
you know I never really wanted to tell
them do something else
but if you’re getting a degree and after
a couple years you just don’t like that
style of music that you know that’s a
problem yeah I think you know it’s it’s
like writing a paper on a subject that
you don’t want to write a paper on it’s
like the whole time it’s just this work
and there’s no enjoyment you’re just
trying to like get it done and get
through that to get on to something that
you enjoy like the the jazz lessons or
your experience at music school
shouldn’t be that it shouldn’t be like
writing a paper
on a topic that you don’t like and so
some students I have had students in the
past kind of move on to another major
and and end up happier because they just
stay like frankly I don’t like jazz I
don’t listen to jazz I don’t go hear
jazz and you know at some point you just
have to realize that that’s not that’s
not like a recipe for success
yeah so they should at least have I
think they should at least bring some
enjoyment right out of the gate like if
they just hate it right out of the right
from the start I’ll work with them but
yeah just to kind of think about that I
guess yeah anybody uh well no I I think
the more that you can break down those
as an individual the more that you can
break down those walls and and be more
accepting two styles of music I think
you’re well on your on your journey
that’s that’s part of the process of
opening right up as a musician and
learning more and more and being able to
let’s just say you are a rock player or
a metal player or whatever it is and the
acceptance of saying okay I may not be
anybody right but at least now I can
understand these concepts and
incorporate them into what I’m already
doing and making yourself a better
player by doing that yeah yeah versus
kind of just always holding up this wall
against it and saying no I’m not I don’t
really enjoy jazz and I’m gonna be
against it well that’s right I need to
reassess here yeah yeah if you’re that
way then I would say maybe look for like
another career path or another like
major like I’ve got rock guys that study
with me like right now that that they’ll
say like I’m not gonna be like a
professional jazz musician which is fine
but they’re like man I really dig like
Jimmy Haring or a really dig like Derek
Trucks or these people and so I realized
that they’re using improvisational
elements that are taken from jazz so
even though they’re not themselves like
hugely like jazz guitarists are loving
jazz like they
that those elements so they they do the
work they study it they do the
transcribing and then they kind of bring
that to their the style that they play
and that that’s awesome I mean that’s
that’s great that’s perfect yeah it’s a
huge deal to be able to to take it took
me a while to connect rock playing and
jazz really well but like you were
saying with Jimi hearing and guys like
early Robin Ford mm-hmm and Larry
Carlton there’s all these players that
infuse jazz elements into their rock
playing and/or blues playing and like
you you have to play some straight-ahead
jazz in order to learn how to play that
way and then there’s that day that you
realize you can have your overdrive
pedal on and like yeah you know you’re
playing a rock solo and you just like
throw this bebop kind of licking and
like you don’t draw it out too much but
it’s it’s amazing what it can do oh yeah
yeah and I rang in other genres yeah I
remember that was a big thing for me
like cuz I was like such a huge Steve
Vai fan and I remember him talking about
whatever time he was at Berkeley that he
would spend time like each day reading
out of the real book I’m like okay
here’s this like guy that doesn’t it you
know high school Shawn doesn’t think he
sounds like a jazz guitar player but
he’s saying like you know I read every
day out of the real book and learn like
my jazz voicings and stuff and I’m like
man that’s awesome
like that’s great like I want to learn
all that stuff even just just as like to
better myself as a musician even if I
don’t end up being like a jazz or a rock
or whatever player I’m going to end up
like I want to know all of that stuff
yeah to bring but whatever I do yeah
yeah and in your compositions I mean
understanding jazz harmony is just it’s
incredible in yeah writing
man I I feel like the there’s no amount
of information that’s gonna be like
there’s never like a negative impact on
knowing something new you know so if you
like if someone even if someone’s like a
death metal guitar player but they like
wanna like I you know
think about like a guy like Alex
Skolnick who I think was was he in a
band called like Testament or something
Testament yeah so he he like kind of
quit that and became like a jazz guy you
know so even if he didn’t become a jazz
guy even if he stayed like in Testament
you know you can bring those elements to
that music or just like better like just
learning more stuff
I still get fascinated with watching
like people I don’t really finger tap
ever but I’m still blown away and get
super like excited and download videos
and like instructional things I’m like
you know sweet picking or finger tapping
stuff that I don’t
maybe not gonna do on a jazz gig but
it’s still cool to me I still want to
like learn how to do it yeah yeah have
fun window so I mean I guess in the end
I would say that the biggest thing that
I would say to anybody but especially
students is that it should be fun to
play so if if if it constantly feels
like work and it’s not enjoyable to you
that would be the big red flag but yeah
just take take whatever your teachers
give you or take whatever you’re
learning or want to do and just enjoy
that and be open to new stuff and try to
enjoy that as well that I mean in the
end that’s really the big thing because
if you don’t enjoy it like if we didn’t
love playing guitar why didn’t you know
why would you do it yeah you know yeah
the best students like you said are the
ones that you give them their coursework
or their homework and then they come
back with you know that end war yeah
yeah you know be curious it’s it’s not
um guitar lessons on the college level
is not like taking like your theory 3
class where you just do the work as
quickly as possible to get done so you
can hang out with your friends or get to
other stuff it should be the thing that
you’re constantly like seeking out new
information and being curious and
wondering about stuff and then bringing
it to your teacher like think of the
teacher as a guide as opposed to just
like your teacher
someone that you can come to and say
like hey man I was checking this out I
don’t understand it but I love it it’s
cool can you help me with this that’s
those are my best lessons is like some
some student that says like hey I was
checking out Allan Holdsworth and he
does this like really crazy lik what is
this yeah and then we’ve kind of like
figure it out to get you know it’s like
you kind of do it together and it’s
great and it’s a good experience and and
you know I the students need to also
learn that teachers learn as well so if
you bring a new guitar player to me
I’m gonna get something out of it as
well so again like win-win yeah and and
the student often sees you light up
you’re like whoo yeah it’s exciting I’m
pretty convinced that all these kids
like think that when they get with a
teacher that the teacher knows every
like there’s nothing that this teacher
doesn’t know and that they’re like a
rope robotic like I don’t know I just I
don’t know what the perception is but
yeah I get as excited as they do to hear
a new guitar player or here’s some new
new thing yeah awesome
I I know you’ve got a this wet five-hour
wedding gig so ya wanna be yeah
you know cognizant of your time but
thank you so much for doing this hey
thanks guys I really appreciate it I had
a blast I’d love to do it anytime again
for sure yeah awesome and and we would
actually really like to have Darden on
as well that would be great I’m sure you
could probably do that that would be
wonderful because we’ve not had any
singers on or at least nobody who’s like
first and foremost a singer sure you’re
not how to be female yeah no not on
purpose at all yeah that’d be great yeah
thank thank you again Sean we really do
appreciate it thanks guys I could
yeah all right guys yeah have a good one

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