My music career began when my baseball career ended. After taking a bouncing groundball to the face and accepting my complete ineptitude both at the plate and in the field, I decided to hang up the cleats. My parents were always believers that keeping myself and my siblings busy with a hobby would keep us out of trouble, so after tossing around a few ideas post-baseball retirement, the idea of learning guitar came up. Some family friends had a ¾ size acoustic guitar, and soon enough I was learning to strum and pluck through classics like “Ode to Joy,” “Yankee Doodle,” and the like.
A year or so later, I received my first electric guitar. My parents helped me purchase a used Jackson guitar and small amplifier from a friend of mine. I remember walking the guitar and amp a mile home from my friend’s house and getting set up at home. Though the guitar wouldn’t stay in tune, was difficult to play, and had a wiring issue which caused a perpetual buzz to emanate from the amp, I was immediately hooked.
Throughout middle school and high school, I practiced incessantly. I took lessons from a number of teachers, worked in a guitar store, and diversified my tastes from my starting point of heavy metal through classic rock and folk. By the time I was 15 I was to have my first gig: a high school talent show. With my brother on bass, and two other friends on vocals and drums respectively, we prepared a fairly spot-on cover of every guitarist’s coming-of-age tune, “Stairway to Heaven”. As I played the solo and the crowd voiced their approval, a wonderful sensation, or a natural high if you will, washed over my being. It was after that performance I knew I was going to become a professional musician because that feeling was something I knew I would continue to chase the rest of my life.
As I progressed through high school, I knew if I were to study music at the collegiate level that Led Zeppelin and Paul Simon weren’t going to cut it. Knowing that either jazz or classical guitar were my two potential avenues of study, my 17 year-old self purchased a CD of two musicians- classical guitarist Andres Segovia and jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. I listened to the Segovia record first, and while beautiful, it didn’t stop me in my tracks. Following that, I popped in the album “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery” and it frankly blew my little mind. Another watershed moment for me, it solidified my interest in studying jazz guitar in college.
I ended up attended Central Michigan University for my undergraduate degree, and after my first year of playing catch-up (I started my jazz education very late at 17), I truly began to fall in love with the music. I listened, composed, arranged, practiced, and performed as much as I could during this time, and was rewarded with a number of awards and scholarships. I was also learning on a more meta-level, about how to teach. I was taking in teaching techniques and philosophies from all of my professors along the way, making note of what worked, observing how to direct ensembles, different approaches in private lessons, and so on.
After receiving my B.S. in Music, I continued my education at Michigan State University where I completed a M.Mus. in Jazz Studies. While the program was mostly performance based, I was given a number of opportunities with my assistantship to teach. One assignment was to give jazz guitar lessons to non-music major students. It was a pleasure, but the other assignment is what really turned me on to teaching. I, along with the other grad students and a professor or two, would travel to Detroit to do a weekly youth jazz program for the MSU Community Music School-Detroit branch. It was this program where I truly began to understand the joys, the challenges, and the all-around fulfilling nature of teaching. Seeing those students perform at their recital my first year teaching was truly moving, and from then on I was bitten by the teaching bug.
Post-graduation from MSU, I continued to work for the Youth Jazz program downtown (and still do to this day, in fact) and had a couple of private students, but I wanted to expand my studio. After some applying around the area, I began teaching at two studios, one of which being Expressions! It’s been great to be able to pass on the fun of playing guitar and an interest in music to my students. My goal, even when I was bent on being a full-time performer, was always to be able to positively touch at least one person with my music; I knew how much music meant to me as an individual and if I could pass that same feeling along to someone else, I’d have truly succeeded. With both performing and teaching, I’ve been lucky to surpass some of my wildest dreams and work with some great young musicians.