6 Gems in Classic Jazz Piano

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The day I fell in love with jazz was the day I first listened—really listened—to a jazz piano solo. It was right at the top of Buddy Rich’s big band performance of “Ya Gotta Try”. Barry Keiner hammered out a killer piano performance on that 1977 recording and I couldn’t stop listening to it. Chris Sharp, my high school jazz band director even wrote out a piano solo for me to play along with the group. I was hooked.

Since then, I’ve studied jazz, performed it, talked about it with friends, and most of all, enjoyed listening to it. More than anything, I’m just a guy in awe of what the greats have been able to accomplish. They’ve woven together legendary strings of notes that tell a story in seconds. They’ve grouped individual tones with great harmonic complexity, mirroring the nuanced shades of human emotion. So much power in 10 fingers!

I want to share with you a handful of personal favorite albums that lit a love in me for the art and the instrument. Even if you don’t play it, even if you’ve never fully listened, just one take could make you an instant fan.

BillBill Evans - At the Village Vanguard

Why I Love It: Because it’s Bill Evans. Hailed for his rich depth in his harmonic vocabulary, Evans stands out as one of the best pianists in the history of jazz. This album highlights a few tracks from his historic live recording at the Village Vanguard.

Favorite Track: “Gloria’s Step [Take 2]”

Continue reading

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Blueprints: 5 Steps to Planning on Purpose

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Recently, I shared the importance of taking action with the resources you have, no matter how limited they may seem. If you’re in a line work which demands that you create content or solutions to add value, there are plenty of things beyond your control. But successful leaders take responsibility for the things they can control, consistently executing with excellence.

So how do you ensure that your work is excellent? How do you make certain that the things you can control are tight? Continue reading

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Switching Keyboard Sounds… without the Dead Space

Photo by Fanch The System

Over the years, one of the biggest problems I’ve dealt with as a musician in church is how to switch keyboard patches smoothly. I’d fumble over number keys to change over to a smoother pad, only to kill the vibe in a room at the end of a sweet moment of worship. Or that one time I methodically timed my sound-switch only to realize—to the horror and bewilderment of the gal in the front row—that the new sound was drastically louder than the old one. Yikes!

On some keyboards, it seems impossible. On others, it may take a little digging to figure out a method. But on the Yamaha Motif series, the solution is built right into the interface. It’s called performance mode.

Performance mode allows you the flexibility to carry out a variety of actions, from switching patches to layering and splitting your keyboard, from playing simple, custom sounds to performing as a one-man band with complex arpeggiators. There’s a ton of power at your fingertips!

A little while back, I posted a YouTube video to serve as a basic tutorial for how to layer sounds on a Motif. I also showed how to use this feature to your advantage, particularly in a worship setting.

No more dead space. No more moment-blockers. No more shocked attendees jumping in their seats! Although, don’t we all need a good kick in the pants from time to time?

 

I should note that this kind of thing can also be applied by anyone using a MIDI keyboard connected to a computer that hosts your sounds. All you need is a keyboard with some sort of way to control multiple volumes—sliders, faders, knobs, etc.—and some software that supports playing multiple instruments at once. Ableton Live, Reason, Main Stage and Omnisphere are great ones just to name a few.

Happy layering!

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What’s It Gonna Be?

Image by zzpza

It’s all too common to live in scramble-mode when you’re overseeing a worship experience, isn’t it? You know, that crazy state when you feel like it’s all you can do to pull off the weekend in view, much less take on planning ahead. Things change, communication falters, equipment hangs up, your drummer bails out—it feels like it’s all out of your hands. And before you know it, it’s time for rehearsal. Scratch that, it’s time for the service!

But what about those elements that are in your hands? What about the domain that’s been entrusted to you? There are things you can control right now, things within your scope of responsibility, things which will rise and fall under your leadership. Continue reading

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March 2014 [Monthly Soundtrack]

Coldplay-MagicI love new music. I love playlists, especially on Spotify. So I figured it’d be fun to pull together a few favorites each month and share ‘em with all you fine people! (Besides, what fun is there in listening to great stuff and not sharing it with your friends?)

Of the 16 tracks chosen this month, here are a few I felt stood out from the rest.
 

 

“Magic” by Coldplay

I haven’t been able to unglue my ears from this single. Though I’ll be the first to admit that my early obsession with the new Coldplay may have stemmed purely from the fact that it was… well… the new Coldplay. Nonetheless, it’s mesmerizing. Seriously, you try playing this on repeat on a coastal drive and tell me it doesn’t cast a spell on you!

“Awake” by Tycho
This gem isn’t new since making its debut last year. But in honor of Tycho’s full-length(-ish) release earlier this month, I thought the beautifully crafted title track deserved another moment in the spotlight.

“Morning” by Beck
Very reminiscent of Beck’s Sea Change album in ’02. (Just listen to track 1 and see what you think.) If you ask me, it begs to be heard again. I’m on board!

“What Is Love” by Janelle Monáe
This girl is fire. Too much fun! So worth checking out.

Check out the full list below or at the link: March 2014 [Monthly Soundtrack].

To follow along the rest of the year, subscribe to the big cumulative playlist here: Favorite 2014ers. But enough with my thoughts… How about yours? Throw some comments at me to let me know your top 3 tunes in March!

That One Weekend I DJ’d at Church [Hit Mix 2013]

Okay, so maybe there was more than just one weekend. But this one in particular featured a mashup of songs where I pitted the band against my Ableton Live rig. Here was the result:

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6 Spotify Playlists to Unleash Your Inner Music Curator

In an age when a staggering amount of current music is the new norm, the thought of keeping up can be daunting. Lucky for us, the changing times come along with pretty phenomenal tools to face the challenges that come with tracking the trends of exponential music growth.

ImageSpotify is an essential among those tools, making it easy to access tons of music while creating the ability for keep a narrow focus with playlists. As an added benefit to its popularity, some biggest players in music—media outlets, artists, and music orgs alike—have created playlists of their own to help the little guys like us! I mean, come on, who doesn’t want to impress their friends with the freshest insight into what’s trending in the world of music?

As a musician, I want to stay ahead of the game. I want to know what’s breaking and catching the ears of the masses before anyone realizes it. Full Disclosure: I have big aspirations to become a world-class music curator! And chances are, so do you. So without any further delay, here are 6 playlist that you need to follow (and create) to get on the right track to music-savvy status.

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1. Follow the Billboard Hot 100.

Billboard is a staple when it comes to determining what current hits have everyone’s attention, based on radio airplay, sales data, and streaming activity… so you know it’s good.

2. Follow the official playlist for New Releases on Spotify.

As soon as singles and albums become available in the ecosystem, you’ll know here. You can even enable notifications to stay on top of it.

3. Follow the Best New Tracks playlist from Pitchfork (or your favorite music blog alternative).

If you wanna be great, you gotta keep your eye on the greats! Pitchfork does a terrific job of scanning for up and coming winners. To find out what’s good but may be flying below the radar, keep an eye on this one. Or you can find out if your favorite music blogger has one of their own. I also recommend The Hype Machine, Earmilk, Gorilla vs. Bear, and Ad Hoc.

3. Create an Up Next playlist.

Any time you find something worth listening to from a friend, a magazine, or any of the above sources, stick the tunes here! This is meant to be a catch-all of things you’d like to get around to checking out. Don’t limit yourself to how much you put in here. Just constantly adhere to these two suggestions: 1) Fill It Up with new stuff & 2) Clean It Out once you listen.

4. Create a Now Listening playlist. (Here’s mine.)

This playlist should house the albums and singles in your rotation right now, sort of like the answer to an old-school question, “What’s in your CD changer?” (Remember those?) I like to keep up with this in 3 steps:

a) Limit the list to 5-6 albums at a time as well as any singles I want to hear.
b) Store the playlist offline for foolproof access when I can’t stream over an internet connection.
c) Change it out every 1-2 of weeks, filling it with goods from my Up Next playlist or anything else I want to chew on.
d) Star any tracks that I love along the way.

5. Create a Stuff I Like playlist. 

No one wants to hear new music all the time. Keep a playlist with songs that you’re guaranteed to connect with. If you want star your tracks as you go (see 4d above), it’s easy to place them all in here. No limits; just good music. When the need arises to rekindle those old flames, just put this bad boy on shuffle!

Easy and effective, just the way I like it. Let everyone know how you like it! How do you manage to keep up with the flood of music?

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good liturgy

“Good liturgy, whether formal or informal, ought never to be simply a corporate emoting session, however ‘Christian,’ but a fresh and awed attempt to inhabit the great unceasing liturgy that is going on all the time in the heavenly realms.”
- N.T. Wright, The Case for the Psalms

in the now

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Isn’t it funny how easy it is to long for yesterday and be restless for tomorrow all at once? And all the while, we find ourselves sitting in the land of “now”.

In the winter, we salivate for sunbathing and beach trips while cold air sinks into our bones and snow blocks the car port. In the summer, we romanticize about snowflakes and cold-weather fashion while the sun scorches our skin and the wet weight of humidity bears down.

Seasons within a year behave a lot like seasons in our lives. Like a long lost spring, we pine for the days of ice cream trucks and Saturday morning cartoons. Or we can’t seem to wait until that big graduation or promotion or retirement, much like our out-of-control eagerness for a Pumpkin Spice Latte in the fall. There’s one key difference when it comes to those milestone seasons of life: They don’t come back.

At least never in the same way. That feeling of a newfound passion and learning in a season of training is unique, different than the feeling of mastery and success in a season of thriving. It takes a surprising amount of intentional focus to live present in the now. Why? Because the now is not the destination; the now is the journey.

It takes a surprising amount of intentional focus to live present in the now. Why? Because the now is not the destination; the now is the journey.

I love how Jon Acuff says it in Start, his book about navigating the path to awesome. He describes 5 seasons in that we can maximize to enjoy and thrive in the now:

  1. Learning
  2. Editing
  3. Mastering
  4. Harvesting
  5. Guiding

While each stage can be accelerated with sound, strategic tactics, none can be skipped. And who would want to? Each one is important. Each one has moments and memories to be forged and enjoyed.

“You don’t need to go back in time to be awesome; you just have to start right now. Regretting that you didn’t start earlier is a great distraction from moving on your dream today, and the reality is that today is earlier than tomorrow.”
― Jon Acuff, Start

What if you feel like you’ve already missed the boat on a season? Don’t get discouraged! You’re still on the journey. You still have now.

How do you take in the season called “now”? Share your strategies in the comments section.

trust & confidence

They go hand in hand. A one-two, knockout combo. And before you get nit-picky–yes! I realize they’re synonymous. But in your Christ-following life, you can’t fully have one without the other.

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In my experience, a time of trust is one of leaning on God’s wisdom and relinquishing my own. It’s a conscious confession that my own brand of doing life just won’t cut it. It’s surrender to something greater than what I have on my own. It’s Proverbs 3:5.

Those times have served me well. Granted, they have been moments in my life when I felt like I was out of options. In my mind, all I could do was turn to God and cry out, “I need you! My way isn’t quite working out!” But even that simple assertion and step of trust was fruitful in those moments.

A few years ago, I felt I was out of options in my search for a college experience that wouldn’t heap a mountain of debt on me. I made one of those pleas to God. Not only did he give me an option that didn’t previously exist, but that option led to pivotal appointments and relationships that changed my life forever. I met my wife! I ultimately discovered my calling! God cemented in me a truth essential to His nature: That He is trustworthy. That His plan for my life is far more intricate than mine. That the dreams He has for me eclipse my highest aspirations.

“If trust is leaning on God’s strength, confidence is fully pressing into it, knowing with all certainty and peace that God is going to come through.”

Which leads to confidence. If trust is leaning on God’s strength, confidence is fully pressing into it, knowing with all certainty and peace that God is going to come through. In those early days of trust, I learned that God’s way is better, but it took some struggle. While I let go to His plan, I was full-blown fearful! In the years since that experience, I’ve seen God do the same thing over and over as a result of trusting Him to lead my life. I don’t have to be afraid or hesitant, because He’s shown me that He is trustworthy, even when I don’t clearly see what’s ahead.

Now, in the middle of a season of undetermined transition for my family, we can have both. We can trust that God loves us and has our best interest in mind. We can walk boldly, with the “confidence that what we hope for will actually happen,” and “assurance about the things we cannot see” that God is orchestrating behind the scenes.

“Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see.” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT)

Pick apart the semantics all you’d like, but as for me, I know where I stand. This time, I have both. This time, it’s trust & confidence.

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