Could you take us through the creative process that has yielded your lastest release, "In the Driver's Seat."
I began rehearsals for the music eighteen months ago. For some of my songs, I specifically tried to write 'shorter,' more concise pieces with a catchy melody--this was definately true of Step it Up; Hummingbird and Strut Your Stuff. Step it Up features Michael Paulo on sax, who was recommended to me by Rick Braun. Hummingbird was ultimately the perfect song for flute and vibes--my keyboardist, Dan Cerveny brought this to my attention. As you can hear, only flutist, Steve Kujala (my old Auracle bandmate) could have played that multi-dimensional and virtuosic flute solo. Strut Your Stuff is an archtypical shuffle tune with a little extra flair within the arrangement.
What aspects of "In the Driver's Seat" have you found to be the most satisfying for you personally so far?
Thus far, I can confidently say that I believe this is my finest recorded work to date. I know how hard I worked on this project for the last eighteen months as a producer, performer and composer. It is personally fulfilling to create a work that you're very proud of and to make it available to your audience(s).
You've performed and been involved with a diverse range of musicians so far in your career. Can you give us a bit of perspective as to how those experiences have led you to where you are today with your music?
I've always said that to a certain degree, you are influenced by all of the significant people that you've come into contact with during your lifetime. From my early musical years as the percussion section leader in high school in Oshkosh, Wi., working with the internationally-acclaimed wind ensemble director and educator, Dr. James Croft, to later performing for one of my early jazz influences, the great Dave Brubeck, I've learned from some phenomenal musicians and educators. Vibist, Gary Burton, taught me the value of understanding and applying jazz theory and harmony when improvising and the dedication involved in becoming a jazz virtuoso on your instrument; Ray Wright (Eastman School of Music) taught me how to arrange music for a Big Band and a studio orchestra; Bill Dobbins (Eastman School of Music) taught me how to write jazz music in various styles; Teo Macero (Miles' producer) taught me how to 'edit' my compostions; vocalists Jack Jones and Michael Feinstein showed me how to relate to an audience, as they both have a tremendous rapport with their audiences; Rick Braun showed me the value of being a meticulous producer in the studio; Auracle (jazz fusion band in the 1970's) was where I initially honed my craft as a jazz performer and composer; etc. These individuals and/or bands...and numerous others, have shaped my musical evolution, in addition to my own creative voice as a jazz performer, composer and educator. Your own distinct musical journey is an ongoing evolutionary process that continues throughout your lifetime.
What's the most challenging aspect of all you do in your career...from being a professional musician to being an educator...and thus generates the most personal growth for you?
I've jokingly referred to my career as the AAA School of Music: All things, to All people, at All times. The coordination of every aspect associated with my teaching studio (students' schedules; music; communications; mentoring; etc., ) combined with the creation, promotion/organization and performances of my band, can be exhausting and somewhat overwhelming at times. It's not uncommon for me to run from one appointment to another and arrive with five minutes or less to spare--multiple times each day.
If you were to choose to learn a new instrument that you've never played before, what instrument might that be, and why?
I've always enjoyed the 'sound' of the saxophone within the jazz idiom, so I suppose that would be the instrument that I'd try to learn how to play--I'd probably start on alto. When the saxophone is played by a gifted performer, the range of expression that the player can achieve is truly remarkable and eminently appealing. Furthermore, it is much easier to transport than a vibraphone, which would be really refreshing.
What are some of the most important goals you have for yourself in the next five to ten years?
1.) I've been pursuing my musical version of the Smooth Jazz 'dream' for FOURTEEN years now, which began with the first song I composed for the genre in 1995 and has continued throughout my first CD, Balance Act; second CD, Bad Kat Karma; and now, In the Driver's Seat. I suppose my primary career goal comes down to the word opportunity. I'd like to have the opportunity of showcasing my vibraphone playing and my music at prominent jazz festivals and jazz venues around the United States. I'd also like to take my family along (sons David and Sam and my wife, Beth) if these opportunities presented themselves to me and if it was possible to coordinate these events with their schedules.