Well, the semester is over, grades entered, students graduated and now I'm sitting in my best friend's home in Toronto watching weird cartoons with his 8-year-old.

A break, and planning for the future. 

I have been hungry for a long time to get to the next level in my own music. Finding the time to do some severe shedding has been challenging when working an overload at St.FX and I'm grateful for that. Starting next week (because I'm taking some vacation time in Toronto right now) I've worked out a rather rigorous practice schedule for the Spring, to be revised in the summer and have some focused practice time! I'm very, VERY excited for this period and really hope to fix some holes and bring up some new, constructive habits.

This summer is looking light, and that is intentional. I will be performing with my Brother at the Halifax Jazz Festival on the 12th of July with a quartet featuring (obviously) my brother Josh on piano, bassist Paul Rushka and drummer Tom Roach. We'll be playing music from the NSTX record and some other original jazz tunes. I'm not %100, but I think this is the festival's opening act, and we're looking forward to getting out there and performing for you all.

Sporadic other gigs will interrupt cottage time this season, family time and maybe some adventure (heaven forbid).

I recently purchased a Helix (Stomp) and have yet to even plug it in. Wondering if I'm resistant to such technology or just really didn't feel like trying to learn a new piece of gear so soon after the academic year ended. I am, however, very excited for what this little box is going to offer me as a musician who must often travel to perform, and flying with an Amplifier is a complete non-starter. Even my pedal board I don't want to fly with. I leave a guitar in Toronto as I do come out fairly often to play and would rather not check a bag… the challenges of travel post Covid… is it even post Covid?

I've dodged it thus far… 



Tenure, the 2022, 23 academic year and the Future 

Well, it took a while, but I have crossed the rubicon and been granted tenure at StFX. 

I have to admit, when I left the University of North Texas if someone told me I would be in a tenured position as a jazz guitar professor I would have laughed in their face. All things considered, I recognize the privilege. I know plenty of younger, better players than I that are as qualified or more who haven't gotten this opportunity, and I busted my plus-sized rear end to get to this point. So in a way, well-earned Jake… good job.

Nothing really has changed for me. This year, has been quiet. I have had a very heavy teaching load at X with outstanding students. I would say that in my nearly 15 years here this is the best guitar studio I have had to work with not only in terms of the quality of the students, but their respectfulness, maturity, and hard work. Strange how all of those things can be connected. I have had two sections of Jazz composition and some of the music they are putting out is very interesting and exciting. 

I'm excited for the Spring and Summer recess from teaching. Now that I have tenure, a huge weight has been lifted from my shoulders and I don't feel the same pressures I did for so long, and now I get to relax and focus on my next projects, and, if any luck is left in me a sabbatical very soon.

My main focus this Spring and Summer are to play when I can, but practice. I have worked up a pretty ambitious practice schedule starting when this semester comes to a close in a few weeks. I want to write music and just reconnect with the idea of practicing with pure intensions, stripping everything down, and becoming a better player. The last few years have been so busy with academics and university duties that real hard practice is not something I find easy to come by, and everything is project-to-project based. But now, I am ready to hit the shed hard

Toronto and back again 

I had a great trip to Toronto last week, and while it was not as planned, it just goes to show that the world is full of really outstanding musicians with high skill sets.

The Emmet Ray is a cool vibe, as a whiskey lover, it is double fun for me to get a chance to have a nice taste and play music I wrote with great players. Sam Little and Rob Diack are wonderful players who I have enjoyed playing with the last few trips into the city and Dan McCarthy, whom I am a huge fan of was supposed to play that night, however, was too ill to perform. It left me in a mindset of either playing trio or trying to remember who I knew in town. Luckily for me, my old UNT friend Ian Sinclair is in the city and was available. What a treat it was to get to reconnect with Ian on the bandstand no less. We hung out a lot in Denton, but we didn't gig very much, but I do recall a few jam sessions and a few hangs where the axes came out. A wonderful pianist and composer.

Speaking of UNT. My Alma Mater recently held it's 75-year anniversary. The birthplace of jazz studies, UNT has been offering degrees in Jazz since 1947, a remarkable accomplishment. I did not go down for the festivities because of work commitments and whatnot, but the reports from the events were that it was a celebration of Jazz and those who help to teach it. I'm proud to be an alumnus and glad to hear it was a lot of great fun.

We are reaching the mid-term period of the semester, and right around the corner in the Antigonish Jazz Festival, it's very first and I am so excited that our little town is doing such an exciting event. I am looking forward to checking out the concerts as well as performing with Meghan and Paul.


Talkin' About... Gear? 

Not just a great Grant Green album (Talkin' About, feat Grant, Larry Young on organ, and Elvin Jones on drums). As an educator of jazz guitar, I often am asked questions about gear. Sometimes they're general questions, sometimes hyper-specific. I'm not an electrical engineer, nor am I a guitar tech/builder, but, over the years I have tried to continually educate myself about gear, trends in equipment, and how to keep things fresh and exciting. I think that the gear that you use should ultimately be a way to amplify (pun intended) the expression of whatever your musical voice is. This is, therefore, immune to the stereotypes of the genre... Rock players use pedals, and jazz players don't for example. Which is, by far and away one of the silliest things I've ever heard. I know a lot of rock players who plug right into an amp with no pedals, crank it and let it fly. I know guitar players with a pedal collection that would rival anyone with a discount at Guitar Center.

I've always gravitated towards a more modern sound. For my tastes, the big jazz box into a tube amp is an amazing sound, but it's not my sound. Thus, I have experimented with plenty of options for tones, reverbs, delays (analog and digital), drives, etc. I find my preferred amp sounds are American-voiced amps, ie a blackface Fender (twin preferred). I have a nice Vibrolux (it's a good one) but it doesn't have the headroom I'd like, but on a gig without an aggressive drummer it covers it and it's way easier to move around than my Twin Reverb.

Guitarists since the beginning have been bullied into becoming gearheads by the industry and that is all well and good. I encourage my students and anyone else to experiment with everything. Just because you play jazz doesn't mean you can't play a solid-body guitar. Shoot, Ed Bickert the legendary Canadian guitarist played on a telecaster... in fact, you can buy it at the Twelfth Fret in Toronto right now for a cool $32,000 Canadian dollars. I've been a huge fan of John Abercrombie for a long time and John often played semi-hollow and solid body guitars, throughout his career. The core of a guitarist's sound is the link between what he/she hears and that link with their technique. The Guitar itself is a vessel. yes, a poorly built instrument is going to impede you. An amp with crap for circuitry is going to be uninspiring, but the old wives' tales you've heard about legendary guitarist X showing up to a jam session, picking up someone else's instrument and someone else's amp, and getting up to play and sounding authentic like themselves is a very real phenomenon. I've been able to witness it myself. 

I'm not a legend in anyone's mind but I know that when I switch between my main instruments, most people do not really tell the difference in the tone. One guitar is a little bit brighter to my ears, and the other is a little more midrange and has a little more 'guts'. Each guitar makes me play different things, but essentially it's all still there and I play my way. Hard to explain I know, many folks have described similar sensations when playing really nice instruments. I'm lucky to own a few real top-notch guitars, and I run them through amps you can get anywhere not only because I prefer that style of amp, but because, yes, when I get on an airplane to go somewhere to play, I don't want the hassle of an unfamiliar voiced amp. However, one thing I learned from a really great guitarist, Tom Daniels was that if you're going to be a professional guitarist, you need to learn how to dial your sound in on any amp. You should be able to get close on any kind of amp, maybe not dialed in perfectly, but enough so that when you're on stage, it's fine and not going to distract you. I've been in scenarios with tired old backline amps and just wished I could have had my amp, but in today's world, that's not really possible.

It makes me very curious about all these Helix products from line6. Everyone seems to rave about them. I'm not sure myself, skeptical I suppose. I know some really respectable players who swear by them they certainly seem unbelievably convenient but I've not heard one with my own ears live and they are a lot of money to drop to replace a pedal board and amp that I've already invested thousands of dollars on. But the temptation is real. I recently purchased a Quilter amphead, it's a very recent purchase... like I have taken it out of the box to ensure it was real, but plugging it in yet, not gotten around to it, there are so many hours in the day. I have some stuff coming up and I'm thinking this is a solution to a back that isn't getting younger... that sucker fits in my carryon luggage... my life may be changed forever...

I tell my students that tone is the highest priority for a musician of any instrument. You must make a beautiful sound, that is, yes, subjective. However, much like when you know that food is too spicy, you know pretty much right away if a cat's sound is not happening, and it can be a major turnoff musically. When I hear someone for the first time, it's their sound I fall for, thus for me, it's everything. I don't ever want anyone saying my sound is wack, and while yes, gear plays a role in that... it's only a piece of the pie. Maybe more on other pieces down the road.