full-time professional musician who has performed and recorded in many different genres,
from classical and country to fusion and pop.
several years I toured Europe and Asia as featured soloist in
Blackmore's Night, featuring guitar giant Ritchie Blackmore of Deep
Purple and Rainbow.
My compositions and performances have been aired on PBS, Nickelodeon, Comedy Central, and, well... the Weather Channel.
At least a half a dozen times a night people ask me, "Where did you learn to play all those instruments?" I've written this up in some detail to answer that question.
I've been involved in music since age 8, when my mother in a flurry of spring cleaning unearthed my older brother's beat-up cornet. I started blasting on it, and must have made some sort of impression on Mom, because two days later I was at the Wolfe Tayne Music Studio in Mamaroneck, NY, learning how to breathe through my diaphragm from Vinnie, their house trumpet teacher. Vinnie was the archetypal jazz musician, complete with VanDyke beard and beret, alternately chain-smoking Chesterfields and blowing smoky riffs through his silver horn. While the music was over my head, I thought the image was about the coolest thing I'd seen.
At the same time I was into my sister's record collection. I must have been the only kid in the third grade that knew the lyrics to every Mothers of Invention album then in release - even if I didn't know quite all of the vocabulary. Also the Stones, Cream, Hendrix, anything heavy... I liked the Beatles OK but there wasn't enough crunch in the sound to get me off my feet. In '68 the "Hair" soundtrack came out which really introduced me to the Broadway song format via rock. Now there were some words that I didn't quite comprehend - as I'm walking around at 8 humming "Sod-do-meeee.....fe-lay-she-ooooo..." (I can understand now why my father wasn't totally in favor of this record.)
By age 13 I was a pretty hot little trumpet player but it was no longer a cool thing to do, not nearly as cool as sneaking out of school and smoking, so I quit the trumpet. The next year we moved from Westchester to the hinterlands of western Massachusetts. That September I met Pat Jones, a guitar player who had also just been transplanted from civilization (NYC). I was fascinated - I'd never actually seen someone play rock guitar in person before - and this kid was good! Now I understood how some of those fantastic sounds (feedback, string-bending) were made - and I just had to learn how to do it myself.
Playing my sister's half-size, $15 plywood guitar with an action about 2 inches off the neck was certainly a trial by wire - but perseverance paid off. I progressed on it quickly enough to justify getting my first Strat 8 months later, and then started learning all those songs and riffs from my formative years. I remember a eureka moment right then, when I first figured out the basic Chuck Berry lick that is the foundation of so much rock lead guitar.
The pop music that was happening at the time ('74) didn't do much for me - I started getting into John McLaughlin and Santana, whose athletic and sophisticated music was much more intriguing to me than Grand Funk et al. Speed guitar became the priority. Here the trumpet studies served me well, because I knew the scale exercises by heart and was able to apply them to the guitar neck.
I got seriously into Jethro Tull by 75 through a friend, and by 76 was learning the flute, where the trumpet techniques of breathing and tonguing were a big advantage in learning the instrument quickly. The 'distorted' sound that Ian Anderson got from the flute (which, as I learned later, he copped from Rahsaan Roland Kirk) eluded me for some time, but one day humming and blowing simultaneously got the effect.
In '78 I was at a recording session where an electric violinist, Yosef Oxenhandler, just happened to show up and cut a couple of tracks. I was enthralled. I'd come to know the sound well from listening to the Mahavishnu Orchestra, since McLaughlin had had both Jerry Goodman and Jean-Luc Ponty in the group, but to actually see it done - amazing! But, I thought, you have to start this instrument at 6 or something in order to play it with virtuosity. So I was surprised to hear from Yosef that he had started at 16. Since I was not quite 20 at the time, I believed it could be possible for me, too. I bought a violin the next day, and started trying to teach myself.
I say trying, because after a couple of months of absolute torture for myself and all those around me it became obvious that I needed expert guidance. I called Robin Stone, Greenfield's best musician, and started taking lessons from her. Robin has taught hundreds of people over the course of her career and was a wonderful person to study with. An even better pianist than she is a violinist, she has a terrific ear and was able to explain the technical barriers I was facing.
I lived in an attic in the country at the time and practiced my instruments 4-6 hours a day, until my hands would ache. I began to see progress after 6 months - I could play in tune in first position and was beginning to develop vibrato. After another 6 months Robin encouraged me to audition at UMass, where Julian Olevsky was the professor of violin.
Olevsky had been a child prodigy in the late '30s and '40s, and came out of the same Russian Jewish tradition that had fostered Heifetz, Elman, Seidel, and many other wunderkinds of the early part of the century. He was a monster player, with a brilliant style, flawless bow arm, and a lush, romantic tone. He had performed with most of the famous orchestras and conductors that I had heard of.
I approached this audition with trepidation. Although I'd made very quick progress, the fact remained that I was 21 and really not all that good, having only studied for about a year. I didn't see how I was going to cut it against other people who had been playing for 10 years or more. But to his credit, Olevsky saw that I had potential and a real passion for the instrument. I was accepted and began working even harder.
The next four years were great - an immersion in music. I developed a love for the classics through studying one of the quintessential classical instruments. Before the violin, composed music was something to be tolerated, not enjoyed. By the time I was done at UMass I had developed into a competent classical violin player, and the chops I'd acquired served me well in jazz and fusion. I learned keyboard technique as part of the graduation requirement, and this was to prove helpful to me both in writing and also in getting work as a multi-instrumentalist.
At the same time I began playing mandolin, which fuses the techniques of flatpicked guitar and violin. One of my ongoing projects is a complete recording of the Bach Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin transcribed for this instrument. In addition I play it in swing and traditional styles.
began playing alto sax some time ago on a whim - I'd always wanted to
be able to play a honking, growling R&B
solo. I busted my tail for several months, as I'd done learning other
instruments, painstakingly working through scales in all keys and
paying close attention to the tone and pitch. As a result in 4 months
I was able to play a decent rock and roll horn part. Since then
I've been expanding my command of single reeds to soprano and tenor sax
ck violinistically years ago.