SoundCloud Playlist

I’ve been writing and self-recording my own compositions for the last 7 years. I haven’t gone in to a studio or anything. I don’t have the money right now. But I have the songs and I want them to be heard. So, I put them on SoundCloud. I’m embedding the songs on my site, too. Thanks for listening.

Leadville TR 2015 – Internship

I’ve often been tired. Two Autumns ago I was finishing my Bachelor’s degree at MSU Denver, Music Directing a show and working nights as a custodian at Lifetime Fitness in Parker, CO. I wasn’t sleeping. I was mainlining Red Bull like Lou Reed and once started hallucinating in class after having been awake for 72 hours. Sleep is awesome. Don’t take it for granted.

That was a physically exhausting time. This past weekend, August 21-23 was the emotional equivalent of that time.

The body is an amazing apparatus. It is a finely tuned, beautiful and expertly functional machine comprised of thoughts, feelings, strength, fluids, hormones and many other facilities that I don’t really know much about. What I do know is that it takes a village to get a body to overcome 100 miles of trail that weave it’s delicate thread through the majesty of Leadville, CO. My wife and I were able to be a part of that village this year as our friends, Ben Dicke, Emily Dicke-Luhrs, and Becki Lynn Lassley conquered mountains, rivers, valleys, the darkness and the dawn to finish The Race Across the Sky.

It started innocently enough. I got a text message a handful of months ago from Emily asking me if I was interested in pacing her through a portion of the race she was preparing for. I knew about Leadville because in 2012, right before we opened the first show I ever Music Directed (Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson) Ben had finished running on a treadmill for 24 hours to raise money for our production and then a couple weeks later, ran his first Leadville Trail Run, recovered for maybe 48 hours, then came in and continued directing his show. I was more than impressed, but also wasn’t really able to calculate what he had just done in my math-impaired brain. I had run cross-country in High School and having been home schooled that really means I just sort of ran around my neighborhood in the Mojave Desert of CA. I was solid at running, but it fell off my map for music, sitting around, and finally applying self-taught skills to land work planted in front of a computer all day. My body, this amazing thing that I am blessed with only once, had softened. It was shapes. Non of which I was happy with. So unbeknownst to me, Mr. Dicke had started a thread through my life that would lead me to fall in love with running again. But I digress.

Emily texted. I was honored and still am, post race weekend, that she would even ask me. Alannah and I were planning on being up there to crew, to fill racing pack bladders with water, set up pop-up tents and camping chairs, etc., but I was certainly not thinking it at any time that I would actually put my feet to the hallowed dirt of this Ultra Running institution. I promptly asked her, “What do I need to do to be the best pacer for you I can be? And how far is it that I’m pacing?”. The last question was asked with a trace of fear and hesitation. Even though I knew I could do it, it took a lot of convincing my brain to understand that i could do it, and the unwavering support of my wife to actually believe I could do it. It was 8 miles in the depths of the dark before the dawn that I would have the extreme joy and emotional overload of helping my friend. More on that later.

Crewing: You know how when you’re really excited about applying for a job and you want it so bad that you’re willing to put on your resume that you have experience with something and then, after you’ve interviewed and they call you back, you have to show them you know how to do the stuff you said you can do, but can’t? That’s what a first time crew member for an Ultra Marathon felt like for me. I learn quickly, so that’s a plus. My wife is smart and calculated. Type A all the way and that helped a ton as well. Our leaders had their charts and clipboards and I had an amazing crew-chief in Joe Bearss and his  Lieutenant, Sara Foster in that they knew what the crap they were doing and were gracious and laid out everything that needed to be ready when our peeps came through our camp. I can’t thank them enough. Then came the sitting. It takes a long time to run 100 miles. We were based at Twin Lakes, the 40 mile mark. Ten miles from the half-way point, up and over Hope Pass. It was stunning in its beauty and rife with energy as more and more crews showed up. You chat, you drink water, you take pictures, you wonder where your friends are. They’re out there. Running. They come in, you take pictures, you smile and hope they’re doing okay. Sometimes they talk to you, sometimes the focus is so deep that it seems like they barely register you are there. You do what you’re told to get them out and on their feet again. The pacers prepare. You meet new people and you talk about music, the beauty of the guitar and you find out later as this new friend while pacing one of your heroes through the darkness and shadows cast by headlamps, that they listened to In Rainbows on a little bluetooth speaker that was attached to their hip. Radiohead thrumming through the black in 5/4 and 7/4 and the dawn still hours away. The stars reel and look closer than they ever have as you weave baskets of trail and dirt on your shoes, caked and muddy. At least that’s how I imagine it.

In the darkness, my alarm vibrates me awake. Time to dress and prepare for my pacing duties. I got the socks and the shoes and the lamp and the water and I meet the band of brothers and sisters downstairs in the labyrinthian home that was crash-pad for many friends and crew members. We drive in the early morning night to find our loved one. She’s now 80+ miles into her adventure. I will be her comrade for 8 miles. “Like Eminem”, my wife said. I was nervous. I don’t usually get nervous. I’m emotionally calculated or jaded as Alannah might say, that I don’t often get nervous about things. The most nervous I’ve been in my life was hoping that Alannah still wanted to walk toward me when we got hitched last summer. This was not that kind of nervous, it was a nervous that came from a fear of failing to do the duties my friend had asked me to do. Emily had her reasons for asking me to be a part of this monumental undertaking. I still don’t know why. To this point the furthest I had run ever was 13.1 miles. At least the furthest that I had paid to run and got a medal for completing. Prior to the actual race I did train so as not to fail her. I hiked, I ran up hills, I started a marathon training schedule so that a) I could run a marathon next year and b) I could push my friend through the forest, next to the lake, and get her to Joey so he could get her home. He did.

The night grew lighter and the grey and shadows waned as dawn came upon us. It was trudging at best. My friend was broken. “This race has broken me”, she confessed to the trees and rocks. I walked behind her, never far from her shoulder. Trying to find words, but sometimes the silence confirms and you both understand, this is a boat that you row together. It’s the actual movement that is the answer. No words are needed. I thought of hashtags in my head. I was charged with Samwise Gamgee quotes to soften every step that the trail dealt. Like a jackhammer was a step down hill, driving into her legs. Every uphill was met with an exhausted sigh. I couldn’t carry her, though I wanted to. It’s in the rules. We bantered. We tried to laugh. We tried to jog. We just moved forward. She smiled at everyone we passed and who passed us. The glittering Unicorn of 100 miles, slowly losing her shimmer. But still she smiled.

I am surrounded by heroes. Men and women who are heroes of family, of life, of creativity. Heroes that believe that a human is more than they believe they are and can do more than they thought. This is why my wife is a teacher. She believes that the young people she teaches to dance and directs in her shows at her Middle School are more than the sum of their parts at this point in their hormonal, middle school existence. She sees the future leaders of the world, she prepares them for the realities of life, she sometimes wants to hip check them into a row of lockers. My wife is honest. A hero of truth and without her words and encouragement and without her believing that I could be Samwise Ganges (She hasn’t read the books or seen the movies) for Emily, I wouldn’t have been able to do it. Thanks, love. I am surrounded by champions and heroes. I am inspired by their determination, their fearlessness. I want to support them in all they do all the time. Near or far. I am grateful for their companionship and their laughter.

As I sit in my living room, reflecting on the weekend, feeling inspired, programming my pedal board for the next 2 shows I’m a part of and of course, doing my 9 to 5, I actually believe I can do anything. Thank you, my friends, for all that you are, every day. See you soon.

All my love,
– JTV

“I feel like spring after winter, and sun on the leaves; and like trumpets and harps and all the songs I have ever heard!” – Samwise Gamgee

A Practical State

I don’t consider myself a Jazz guitarist, but having studied it for the past 4 years as a complete noob, I have to confess, it has become my favorite medium to perform. I still have a long way to go in terms of my ability, vocabulary, and rep, but I have the desire because nothing hits me harder than a good swinging jazz guitar (i.e. Wes, Grant, Herb, Kenny, Barney).

Something that I have recently struggled with is keeping a solid practice schedule. Now that I’m a college graduate with a stamp on my head that says “You’ve given us your money, now here’s a piece of paper” and without the consistency of my instructors (Ron Miles, Dave Divine), I have found myself in a haze of debilitating uncertainty with how to start off my day in terms of expanding and maintaining my chops.

Transcription has been on the top of my list and with my work schedule (I work from home 4 days a week) I am afforded the opportunity to take 15 minute or so breaks and jump on my axe and make some time for my art, but there are many other facets of the medium that I’m missing out on.

I am hoping to get in some lessons here and there with my previous instructors, but that isn’t always the easiest thing to do being here in Colorado Springs whilst everyone else is in the Denver/Metro area. So I turn to the internet. In these moments of research, I find many diligent peers with great thoughts and ideas on the matter. Here are 2 that I will begin applying immediately.

http://mattwarnockguitar.com/practicing-jazz-guitar-5-tools-for-effective-woodsheding
http://mattwarnockguitar.com/6-steps-to-an-organized-jazz-practice-routine

I hope these are beneficial to you as I’m assuming they will be for me. Cheers and keep sheddin’.

The Capo. Use it, it’s good.

There are some differing opinions on the capo within the guitarist universe. Some like it, some despise it. Others refuse to even acknowledge that they exist. Granted, the capo has kind of gotten a bad wrap. It’s what everybody associates with YouTube covers of songs that need the keys changed and the only chords the artist knows are the 4 in the song, but not in that key cause they can’t sing it. So, you know, capo and still play those 4 chords and be able to sing. Don’t learn to play those chords without a capo somewhere else on the neck. You need to know all of those chords. All of them. Everywhere. First of all: I don’t disagree. Secondly, for those of you out there that are just starting out, don’t worry. There are only 5 chord shapes on the guitar. C-A-G-E-D. Every other chord you come across is a derivative of these shapes. Whether it’s major, minor, diminished, min9, Dom7(b9) they’re all derived from those 5 shapes anywhere on the neck.

Thirdly: I have to think that if the capo, which has been around almost as long as the guitar (check it), was meant to be used and used well. Why? Science. And some other stuff, but mostly science.

The guitar is a chordophone. This is a way of categorizing instruments into groups for the use of study. It basically means that there are strings that are stretched over a resonating chamber (the guitar’s body) that are either struck, plucked or bowed in order to make sound. The guitar is ideally at it’s best when played in keys that incorporate it’s own natural resonance. If you’ll notice in the above paragraph, the 5 chord shapes that I mentioned are also, not coincidentally, the keys that the guitar works the best in, in relationship to the open sound of the guitar. Granted there are some flat key tonal centers that can use an open string here or there. Eb, Bb, Ab for example, but the more that you close the guitar off from it’s natural tendencies the more difficult it becomes to produce that sympathetic sound and thus the brilliance of the capo.

Stylistically there are some musics that don’t really lend themselves to a capo. Jazz is one of them, but I have to wonder, out loud, if that is because nobody’s really tried? As an instrument that carries a 3-fold responsibility in a Jazz combo or big-band setting (solo instrument, rhythm, chords), the guitar’s openness is often subdued in order to accent the percussive elements of its nature. Though modern Jazz composers and guitarists are often substituting the open string sound by incorporating it into their chordal alterations which creates a generous and wonderful sound and clash of overtones. Try it sometime. But, in terms of the capo, the Jazz medium is one that doesn’t really work well that I’ve seen. Yet. Where it shines is in the pop, country, bluegrass, and rock settings. This is because that most of these genres incorporate only slight variations on the CAGED system, which makes for very easy transposition to an alternate key while maintaining the guitar’s idosyncratic nature. A song played in the key of Bb will sound better capoed at the 1st fret and played in A or the 3rd fret and played in G in order keep those resonant qualities. This in NO way diminishes the artists’ ability on the instrument. And if you’ve been told that you’re not a “guitar” player because you use a capo, that’s just not true. In fact, point them to the fact that the capo has been around for at least 320 years and that all that history has to count for something.

We’re all at different places when it comes to our craft. The guitar has been made competitive by those that have something to prove. Art doesn’t have anything to prove and neither does a craft specifically. You are at your own pace. Nobody is racing you. They’re racing them selves. Take your time and learn it at your tempo and if that includes a capo, trust me, you’ll actually be a better musician for it.

-JTV

Time, My Hands and Revelations of a Thicker Neck

I’ve had the same guitar for 15 years. I’ve played others. Had to borrow a few here and there, but ultimately, it has been the one, constant instrument since I began playing.

This one.

This is it here. I never named it. At least, not yet. I named my Lowden acoustic, but it sort of already had a name associated with it and I felt like it would be a disservice to rename it after I bought it. Especially from such a friend as the friend I bought both of these guitars and my first real amplifier, a 1968 Fender Vibrolux, from. This guitar and I have been through a lot: Flat Wound Strings, Round Wound Strings, Nut adjustments, Bridge adjusments, Truss rod adjustments, my first musical, my first music directing gig, auditioning for the music program at UNCO and MSU Denver, etc. But recently I’ve found myself struggling to play it. I’ve noticed that my hands are much more comfortable and actually perform more accurately on a thicker neck. Recent examples would be Gibson ES-335, L5, and the American Standard Telecaster. I love my G&L Tele with it’s flamed, bird’s-eye maple V-neck, but I find myself struggling with some playability and wonder if it’s time to put it on the back shelf and begin my search anew for something a little more playable and comfortable, without having to give it up? If you’re not familiar with this problem, imagine the thing that you love doing most in the world and then struggling to do it because of the equipment you have. If you’re an artist and the one brush you were painting with for years and years, the only one you had, because it was the only one you could afford, all of the sudden didn’t feel right. Didn’t move the way it once did, didn’t settle into your hand like it was meant to be there. All of the the sudden your canvases start to look different, the sing differently. The colors start to clash in a disorganized way. They don’t lay on top of each other the way they once did. The blend is wrong. All of sudden the joy feels like work. The work creates frustration and even in the realm of practice, you find your self struggling to be joyful, to be mindful of the craft you’re attempting to push forward in. To be the best at what you do and who you are as represented by this tangible mess of magnets and wood and steel.

In this thought process I find myself jealous when I sit down and play someone else’s instrument that is almost as fluid and flawless to play as the water that flows in the channels around Tampa, in which I am currently situated, at a Hilton, waiting for a rehearsal dinner for a friend of my Woman’s. Truth be told, I don’t know a lot about the intricacies of setting up my instrument. I’ve learned how to adjust the truss, action and intonation, but maybe there’s something more? Maybe there’s a knowing that is deeper that would allow this instrument to become the fluid beauty I once knew it to be. I don’t have the funds to just go out and buy another instrument to make myself feel good about where I stand instrumentally. Sure, I want more guitars, but now is not the time. Now is the time for frugality and gaining knowledge that will allow me to propel this instrument toward another 15 years of playability. But in the meantime, I’m not sure how to deal with my frustrations in regards to my gigs and my practice habits. As seasonal as these times are as nothing does indeed last forever, I feel like this awkward winter of playing has lasted for far too long and I would really love some relief. Till then…