When did you begin playing [instrument], and why?:
I started playing guitar at age 9. I had recently quit violin, which had temporarily ruined the joy of music for me. But luckily when I was young I became obsessed with my mom’s record collection. I had been listening to a lot of Beatles, Eric Clapton, and Fleetwood Mack, and then one day we saw a guitar at an auction and I coerced my parents into getting it for me. The rest is history!
What are your personal goals as a musician?:
My personal goal is simply to make excellent music and get better and better. That can mean making more moving and convincing records, writing better songs, playing guitar with more ease and expressiveness, or helping other people do those same things. Cross-pollination is also important to me. I want to bring the same sensibilities and skills that I use when playing Bach to the world of pop music, and when playing classical music I want it to groove like my favorite rock records. And I definitely want to leave my mark on the world by making amazing records and putting on great shows!
Do you have a memory of a time when a musical concept or technique really clicked? Something you’ll remember forever?
I have many….but I’ll name one. My best friend in college was an outstanding jazz pianist. We used to jam together constantly, and I was often a little timid because I had nowhere near the level of harmonic knowledge that he had. But through our playing together he taught me the art of being a “baller,” meaning, playing whatever came to me with complete confidence, effectively blasting through layers upon layers of self-consciousness. Being completely okay with playing wrong notes and sounding “bad” is the quickest way to liberate your inner voice as a musician. Just learning how to get into a creative flow can speed up the development process exponentially. If you can tolerate a year or two of sounding so-so but being fearless about it, before long you will sound fluid and creative and great!
What is your favorite piece of advice from one of your past (or current) teachers?:
Just after college I took some lessons with a world renowned Polish guitar player named Lukasz Kuropaczewski. He taught me EXACTLY how to practice in order to MASTER pieces. It’s a really simple process….Just go very very slowly, work on every single measure of music many times, eventually tying everything together, and make sure that the hands and body are ALWAYS relaxed, secure, and comfortable. It’s time consuming, but suddenly very hard pieces of music can become really easy to play. The key also is to only repeat good habits….If a passage of music or an exercise is too difficult, you need to slow down or break it down into smaller chunks until it is easy to execute….only then should you start repeating, and never speed up until it is easy to do so.
What was your most challenging moment learning an instrument?:
Studying classical guitar at the college level was very hard, and there were many times that I wanted to quit. I would often procrastinate or not practice enough and feel like I wasn’t making any progress. But i stuck with it! These things take time.
What is your biggest musical achievement?:
It’s hard to say and depends on the era. In high school I got an amazing opportunity to go on tour in the west coast and to Germany with members of Frank Zappa’s band. I was OBSESSED with Frank Zappa in high school, and that was pivotal for me and felt like a big achievement at the time.
My senior recital as a classical guitarist was a huge achievement because I proved that I could perform at a really high level, even after having slacked off for a lot of my Senior yearn college.
I’ve been recently making some recordings, both of my music and others’, that I’m very proud of. I feel that I’m starting to come into my own as a producer and mixer. Not a lot has been released yet though. By biggest achievements are yet to come!
Favorite thing about teaching?:
I really like the feeling of progress. When a student is on a roll, and they’re practicing, and i see consistent improvement week to week it excites me. Also, sometimes lessons may be stagnating, and then there’s an “aha” moment, where the student or I discover a new technique or idea that suddenly propels everything forward.
What is a piece of advice you would like to share with anyone learning music?:
Be Patient, Go SLOWLY, and DON’T QUIT (unless you decide, after long hours of contemplation and many heart to hearts with family and friends, that you simply don’t like music enough to want to learn how to make it.)
Also, Justin Bieber and Taylor Swift ARE NOT the paradigm! You don’t have to be a star by the time you’re 16, or 18, or 25, or even 35! In music you can hit your peak at ANY AGE. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa when he was 65. Remember the tortoise and the hare? etc. etc. you get the point….
Personal music projects: i.e. bands, groups, shows, recording, etc. (if any):
I’m currently working on numerous projects with Tony Moore, Pablo Batista, George Spanky McCurdy, and Junius Bervine. We are in the midst of opening a new studio. The company is called “The Breed” and we’re about to usher in a new era of live recorded music in Philly!!! (that’s just excitement, not hubris ;))
And I’m always working on my own compositions under the name “Laughing and Screaming” and plan to release some new music soon.