June 24, 2021
Soundtrack to The Green Fog (2017) dir Guy Madden, Evan Johnson and Galen Johnson, a found footage remake of Vertigo (played by Kronos Quartet)
Storyteller (2019) (for Kronos Quartet, multimedia tribute using the voice, singing, and playing of Pete Seeger)
Clear Line (2020) (for big band with no rhythm section)
Ye Olde (2015) (for 3 guitars, trombone and drums)
The Heavens (the Atheist Gospel Trombone Album) (2012) (solo, overdubbed)
Equally split between leading my own groups, composing for those groups, composing and arranging for others, and playing as a sideman in other people’s groups in many different styles.
I started piano lessons at age 5 and trombone at 10. There was a lot of music in the house like Broadway show tunes, Ragtime, Classical music, folk, and classic rock. Also as an American growing up in the 80s and 90s I was surrounded by music in film, TV, radio and civic life, which to me was blues, oldies, cartoons, action TV soundtracks, hiphop, patriotic music, and the occasional jazz. As I became a teenager I was more and more obsessed with learning the history of jazz and classical music, as well as anything else in the world that caught my ear.
When I was 8 I saw the 11 and 12 year olds in the Herbert Hoover Middle School Jazz Band directed by Ron Maddin. They played in a school auditorium with a light show that was integral to the arrangements of Count Basie and Glenn Miller. I started fantasizing about learning to play a purple saxophone. A couple years later I learned trombone instead and got to play with that band, bathed in a spotlight covered in purple cellophane.
Later in various summer jazz camps I was exposed to bebop from people like Wayne Wallace, Jimmy Heath and Jay Clayton. The beauty and seriousness of the grand tradition that they came out of was very striking to me and I wanted to honor it and be a part of it.
I always struggle with writer's block. When I was younger I thought that going for long stretches without committing music to paper or recording was a failing. But now I see that it’s OK to spend a lot of time thinking about what exactly you are going to make and why. Solidify your ideas and your philosophy behind those ideas, and then create the work. Procrastination, in that sense, is a good thing.
Trombones are cheap and plentiful and I have many, including Conns in a variety of sizes from the 20s and some Bachs from the 80s. I also have a Conn Eb Tuba from the 1890s. Each instrument has had multiple owners before me. Not sure if they were used for the circus, the military, a community band, a symphony, or played by a famous person. I like to think that they are haunted and that is reflected in the sound a little bit.
I also have a Farfisa Mini Compact that I keep right next to my studio for occasional inspiration.
For 20 years I’ve used PD (Pure Data), as a tool to manipulate audio, experiment with tuning systems, and improvise.
Keep an open mind. You probably won’t end up doing exactly what you thought at age 18, but you could end up doing things that are pretty cool and satisfying!
I’ve used big headphones for 25 years or so. Nowadays I use them to hear details during a transcription or a mix, for recording in my home studio, to keep my family sane, to enjoy music late at night, and sometimes to just go for a walk and check out an album from start to finish. I keep them in the basement and going down here to listen for a while is always a treat, like eating a special dessert.
Before I go into the studio with a band I like to create a mockup of how the album might sound. I’m working on such a project, involving a lot of electronics, which sometimes can be harsh or muddled. These headphones have given me the power to sort out exactly what sounds I want to draw from, to enter the studio with my best foot forward. Every night after my son is asleep I escape to the paradise of my cluttered basement studio to work on music or simply listen to some favorite albums. The level of detail that I can distinguish is extraordinary.