Unlike many of the musicians working the scene today, I came to jazz relatively late in life. I started playing alto saxophone in elementary school. But for a young upstart in Ponca City, OK, the only real option for musical education beyond that, at least on a wind or brass instrument, was to join the marching band, which was basically an adornment for the football team. Between the sweltering hot marching practices and the apoplectic band director with the veins bulging out of his neck, it stopped being fun for me. I began to get the grim, albeit erroneous, notion that this was the best I could hope for when it came to music. Nobody was presenting any alternatives at that point in time. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as jazz. Regrettably, I gave up playing after junior high. But I listened to music like a fiend. My early influences ran the gamut, from Todd Rundgren and Joni Mitchell to Steve Wonder and The Who. I sang along with all of them and you could say that these were my first voice teachers. I discovered Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald when I started listening to jazz in college.
Many years later, after a situation involving a Halloween karaoke party and a plumber’s costume, I ended up singing in a couple of blues bands around Seattle. After the particularly painful demise of one of them, I decided to lick my musical wounds by studying jazz. I called Greta Matassa, the woman who would not only become my teacher and mentor but also my good friend, and after that first lesson with her, my world changed forever. The transition from blues to jazz took a lot of work. I often say it’s like going from playing hockey to figure skating. Such refinement does not come easily for a goober like me. I will be a lifelong student of the art form.
My first CD “As the Fates Decide” was released on the Pony Boy label in the fall of 2010. I had a lot of fun on this project and was fortunate to work with a killer band that featured Randy Halberstadt on piano, Doug Miller on bass, Steve Korn on drums and Chris Spencer on guitar. Special props go to Randy for his kick ass arrangements and wise counsel on the production side. I am grateful to be part of the Pony Boy family. My inclusion on the label has been life changing for me.
Jazz, like life itself, is an ambiguous proposition. In any given tune, you don’t know what is going to happen. This is especially true when you venture into improvisation. We cultivate certain tools in jazz and hope that when the critical moment comes, our mastery is sufficient to serve our highest expression. It’s an ongoing process. Light sabers and the Force come to mind. I think that it’s this challenge of the ever changing unknown that draws me to art form. I am particularly intrigued with all things involving rhythm: changing meters, different grooves and feels, variations of tempo, etc. This is where things get really interesting to me.
Of course, I am inspired by the great vocalists who have gone before me. Among my favorites are Anita O’Day, Nancy Wilson and Carmen McRae. I have a special affinity for Ms. McRae. She was a wise, old soul. When it comes to telling it like it is and singing straight from the heart, she will forever be the one. Every time I listen to the “Live at Ratso’s” recordings, I feel like I’m connecting to an old friend, or a guardian angel.
These days, I sing at nightspots, festivals and private events throughout the Northwest and feel very blessed to do so. My goals, at present, are to play with as many people as possible, to get back into the studio and to continue to learn about the music I love so much. Beyond these, I’m open to wherever the wild ride takes me