Sunday, October 24, 2010

Jazz Gig in Louisville, Kentucky

Hello all,

This past weekend I had the wonderful fun of playing with my old friend John and his big band.

He called me about Tuesday of last week and asked if I could drive up and play with his group over the weekend. He had sent me the links to the music and charts. (Of which I only looked at a few minutes on Friday night.)

It was a big band jazz gig. And I drove up there Saturday morning and got there in time to set up for our 3:00pm rehearsal.

To my surprise, the band was fantastic. Some of the best players from Chattanooga, and Louisville, as well as a few extras like myself made up the band. And the band was cookin' from the first song. Wow, it was a lot of fun.

From Glenn Miller's "In the Mood" to "Star Dust" to "It don't Mean a Thing if it Ain't Got that Swing" and a few big band arrangements of some hymns.

It was about 20 tunes of several pages each chart. About a half an inch stack of music was on my stand ready to be read at the beginning of rehearsal. During rehearsal we touched on the beginnings of most every song. Occasionally we would go through some tricky passage. But that was it. I only think we played one song at rehearsal all the way through.

If you want to see what the music looked like here it is...

And of those 60 or so pages of music, not one of them was in TAB.

Now, as you look at the music, don't freak out!

How this works is that most of the parts I was reading off of were piano parts.

So when I look at this music I am trying to learn 3 things...

1) What the chords are.

2) What the specific rhythms I need to play.

3) What the overall form of the song is.

And everything else in the part I just filter out. OR, if the information that I need is not there, I just use my ear and my knowledge of music or the song to fill in what needs to be played.

The first song "In the Mood" is written very confusingly.

Here is what it sounds like...

It is a pure piano part with no chord changes written in, and then it looks like someone along the way tried to fill in some chords by analyzing one hand of the piano part. So, I quickly found out that the written in chords were not accurate. But I did notice on the part that the song was in the key of Ab.

So, for the first song, I just used my ear and knowledge of the tune to fill in the chords. There were really only about 6 basic chords in the song so if you kinda know how the song goes then you can pretty easily figure out what you need to play.

Now, the second song, C Jam Blues is much more of a normal guitar jazz band guitar part. But I didn't try to figure out all of the notes in the chords at the beginning. I just looked at the chord name and the rhythm and used my own voicing.

The third song is a jazz arrangement of the hymn Rock of Ages. Here is the mp3 of it if you want to listen to it and follow along in the music for fun.§ion=view&mus_id=101179

Anyway, it was a great night of just sight reading jazz tunes with a great band! I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Here is a homemade video of one of the songs that we did. Battle Hymn of the Republic. You can't see me very well. I'm behind the last tenor sax player to the side of the drums.

But you'll get an idea of what we were doing.

I thought you might be interested in what this musical adventure looked like.

Playing guitar is a blast!!!

- Steve Krenz

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Gibson USA Factory Tour!

Wow Guys and Gals!

One of the best days ever!!! Just got home from the big behind the scenes Gibson USA Factory Tour. Wow!!

Legacy has worked with Gibson a lot the past year on various projects. They've put some of my lessons on We worked with them on the iPhone app. Our of our employees, Danny (who used to work at Gibson) has been our main point of contact for these endeavors and also for the idea of me getting a tour of the factory. Gibson used to offer tours of this factory more often but now the factory really doesn't do many of them anymore.

As we got closer to it, "Steve's Gibson Tour" became more and more of a production. It was decided that we should take a video crew so that we could get footage of it all. This had to be approved and low and behold it went all the way to the top. Henry, the CEO of Gibson, had to approve us taking a video crew in the newly renovated factory. We got his approval and the date was set.

So the little "Steve's Gibson Tour" was now quite a circus. It was me, a video crew of 3, Danny (from Legacy Learning Systems), plus 2 representatives of Gibson. The main guy taking me on the tour and answering my endless questions was a wonderful man, Joe, who is the production supervisor for the entire plant. As we walked through the factory it was clear the love and respect he had from his employees and he to them. He has worked for Gibson 15 years and worked up from just one of the guys on the line to the entire production supervisor.

15 years sounds like a lot, but over the course of the tour we would pass station after station of craftsmen (and women) that have been there 20, 25, 30+ years. The sense of pride, heritage, and craftsmanship was everywhere.

Keep in mind, this factory was completely flooded in water, in May from anywhere from 2 to 4 feet. Joe, told me that around 8000 guitars were in the factory when the flood happened. Every one of them was carefully catalogued and run through the wood chipper that churned on the back parking lot of Gibson after the flood for weeks. It makes your heart sick.
Can you imagine the feeling if you were one of the craftsmen who make them.

Luckily most of the machines are raised and sustained minimal damage. But the whole plant was completely gutted due to the mold, mildew and water damage. It took 3-4 months to get it back going again and just about 6 weeks ago the guitars started to come off the line again.

Every solid body Gibson in the world is made at that factory - Les Pauls, SG's, Flying V's, Explorers. All of the semi-hollowbody's are made in Memphis (335s, L-5's etc). All of the acoustics are made in Montana.

It takes approximately 20 days to make a guitar in that factory - from blocks of wood to a new guitar in a box ready for shipping.

Mostly what I saw were Les Pauls - probably 60%, then SG's, then an occasional one of something else.

I'll let the pictures speak for themselves, but Joe patiently took us through each station, explained what is going on and answered all of my endless questions. I may be an incredible looking 44 year old balding white guy on the outside but today on the inside I was a 10 year old kid thinking "This is SO TOTALLY COOL!"

I was deeply impressed by the personalness of the people and the instruments. I truly thought it was going to be more automated. "You put a block of wood on one end of the big machine, punch in "Red Les Paul", it churns and out it comes." But that was not how it was at all. All the way through the process, guitars are shaved with hand tools, inspected for defects, sanded, and painted by hand. On an on it went. I probably past at least 10 different stages where the instrument was inspected - good ones kept and bad ones discarded.

In one of the pictures, I think it is around Picture 12, you'll see a rather rough bearded man looking at an unfinished guitar neck. That man has hand carved the rough neck to every Les Paul since 1986. If you own a Les Paul and it was made since 1986, the man you see in that picture hand carved the the initial cut of the neck. Wow. Talk about heritage.

There were several people along the line like that.

Anyway, here are the pictures. I hope you enjoy them.

I thought many times about my Dad who told me when I was 10 years old "Gibson... that's a great guitar." He would have loved to have seen what I saw today. But he can't get around as well anymore and certainly couldn't have done all of the walking we did today.

It certainly made me appreciate the craftsmanship and complexity that goes into making a guitar. The neck alone, with all of it's parts from inlay, to truss rods, is quite a piece of work.

I am racking my brain to think of a way that we could get the Guitar Gathering attendees to get a tour like this.

Nope, they didn't give me a free guitar at the end of the tour. But I did change my "dream Les Paul" choice in my head about 3-4 times as I walked through there.

It was a great day!

- Steve Krenz

10 Tips on Choosing the Right Guitar

Choosing a new guitar can be an exciting and daunting venture all at the same time. Which kind should I get? How do I know if the one I like is any good? How do I know if I am getting the “deal of the century” or if I’m getting “ripped off?” These and other questions cross the mind of many guitar buyers as they search for the perfect guitar for them. Here are some simple tips to keep in mind when on your search to choose the right guitar for you.

1) Analyze your playing style. Look at what style of playing you have been doing or would like to do in the future. This will give you a good idea for what type of guitar you should steer toward. If your goal is to play bluegrass then don’t get too enamored with that red Flying V electric guitar with the flames on it.

2) Do some homework. Take some time to do a little bit of research on which guitars go with the type of music that you want to play. Look at videos, television, or the internet to see what guitars the players in the style you are seeking to learn are playing. Ask your friends or ask questions on a guitar forum on the internet. Get some good information and opinions. Spend some time getting some good information and opinions on which guitars go with that style. Don't get lost in the details just start to formulate some ideas of what guitars you think you might want to look for.

3) Glance into your wallet. Get a rough idea of what you want to spend. In the heat of the moment at the music store when emotions are high and the salesman is salivating and that $6000 guitar is gleaming in your hand is not the time to objectively analyze how much you can afford to spend on a new guitar.

4) Take a trip to the music store. Go down to the local music store, hopefully a big one with a large guitar selection, and spend the afternoon taking guitars off the walls, plugging them in, and playing them. Allow yourself to dream a little bit. Develop some ideas about what guitars you like and don’t like.

5) Pay attention to body shapes, the feel of the neck, & how it sounds. These three issues determine greatly your personal feel for the guitar. Does the guitar feel heavy? Does the neck fit your hand well? Does the size of the guitar feel comfortable against your body or does it seem unwieldy and awkward? If you’re listening to an acoustic, does the sound of the guitar have a clear high-end “sparkle” to the sound? Is the lower register of the guitar sounding full or does it sound “boomy”? If you’re listening to an electric guitar, does the guitar, with no effects, sound great in all of the pickup settings?

6) Keep the salesman at bay for a while. For me, I prefer to just look around for a while and develop some ideas and preferences on my own before I'm ready to get the salesman’s opinion or information. Getting too many details and opinions too early from an aggressive salesman will often times clutter and confuse the issue. Remember, the goal is to walk out the door with the guitar that is right for you not the salesman’s favorite guitar.

7) Be open to your heart, not just your head. For most people, a guitar choice is a personal decision. You and that guitar are potentially going to be in each other’s arms for years to come. While you are at the music store gazing across the wall of guitars, find "your" instrument; find the one that appeals and speaks to you. Don’t negate this personal dimension to your decision. Get all the relevant information you can but don't buy a guitar off of information, buy it because you love it, it sounds great to you, and you feel great playing it.

8) Look around and do some more homework. Don't buy the first guitar that catches your eye. Go to different stores and look online as well. Hone in on the make and model of the guitar that you are leaning towards. Learn about the various models and their differences. Learn the prices other stores or on-line companies are asking for the same or similar instrument. Be an informed shopper. If you find a guitar that you really like and might be worried it will get snatched up before you get back, put a deposit on it and have the store hold it for a day or two.

9) Make Your Decision & Negotiate The Deal. Once you have found the guitar that you want, as you are negotiating the deal, make sure the case is included in the deal. Also, try to get them to include a "set-up" job on the guitar as part of the deal. A “set-up” job will adjust the action of the guitar, the distance between the strings and the fretboard, which can make a huge difference in the playability of the instrument. This will need to get done anyway to make the guitar as playable as it can be and often times, when asked, the store will consider throwing this in in order to “clinch” the deal. Also, ask about add-ons like an extra set of strings, a strap or a tuner.

10) Go home and start practicing. Guitars were made for playing and making music. Use your purchase as a stepping-stone to inspire you to the next level in your playing. A new level of playing awaits you and your new guitar can be the catalyst to practice with renewed energy and make music with a fresh passion.

P.S. As you are walking to the car carrying that new guitar, mentally prepare yourself for that first scratch. It's like when you buy a new car. The first scratch is coming. It's not a matter of "if" but a matter of "when". Don't think of it as damage, think of it as adding character to your instrument. Happy Shopping!

Studio Session with Grammy Winning Producer Aaron Lindsey

Here's a chronical of a week of studio work I did with Grammy winning producer Aaron Lindsey

A Day in the Life – Day 1 – June 18, 2007

Hello all,

I have an upcoming recording session and I thought I would take you all along with me on the adventure. It's a 4-day recording session and I will try to write something every day about the experience.

I got a call last week from a good friend, Ken who does production services for recording projects. (In other words, he books musicians, writes out the contracts, makes sure everyone gets paid, makes sure the contracts are filed with the appropriate places, handles the copyright licensing needs and etc.). A client of his needed a guitar player for a session in a couple of days. They had called all of their normal guys to no avail - probably because it is being booked so short in advance. The really top "A" list players have recording sessions booked weeks in advance. So, I got the call of which I was grateful for. I was able to juggle some things around to make the session, which is happening today and the next few days.

The recording session is for a project that the keyboardist Aaron Lindsey is producing. I have played with Aaron a couple of times over the past few years. Aaron won a Grammy last year for being a producer on the Best Gospel album. The other players on the session are the great Dann Needham on drums. (Dan has played for everybody from Michael McDonald to Amy Grant and is a staple in the recording session world here in Nashville.) The bass player is being flown up from Atlanta for the week and I don’t know him. And the last of the four is me on guitar.

In a very rare occurrence in the recording world, I actually received a couple of reference MP3's to listen to before the session. I downloaded them on the ipod and I will listen to them today. I have not received any music yet and probably can assume that I will not which means we will be frantically scribbling out chord changes and accents while we are in the studio.
The session is for a gospel recording of a big church from somewhere. (I am constantly amazed how me, a balding middle-aged white guy, gets consistently called to play on these hip gospel projects. But I am thankful for the call, and will make more in the next couple of days recording than in a month of teaching.)

I have all of my guitars loaded up in the car, not knowing what awaits me. We can't get into the studio until afternoon so we probably will work from mid-afternoon till well into the night. The goal is to get 3 songs done each day. I have a tendency to get a little nervous before big sessions like this with players that I don't know and this one is no exception. But I'm sure it will be fun and go well.

A Day in the Life – Day 2 – June 19, 2007

Hello again, well it's day 2 of the recording session. Yesterday didn't go at all like planned but by the time it was over with (at 1:30am) we had recorded 3 songs, which was the goal. We were supposed to get started around 3:00pm but then it got pushed back to 5:00pm start time, which means a load in of 4:15pm. I showed up at 4:15 to a studio filled with people still there from the previous session.

The previous session was a recording session with video behind the scenes clips which took a lot longer than originally planned to film. The artist that they were videoing was Carolyn Dawn Johnson. She is a relatively new country up-and-coming artist. You can see her website here... . She was very nice and apologetic that things took so long.

I was the first of the musicians to arrive (I think everyone else must have gotten the memo that we weren't going to start till later.) I loaded my guitars in. Since I wasn't sure what I was going to be recording, I brought just about everything. I think I had about 7 guitars there - a various assortment of acoustics and electrics. Finally about 6:00 the other musicians got there and started milling about. But the drums had not arrived yet.

In Nashville, you have "cartage" which means that the drummer has all of his drums and equipment with a cartage company. He calls the cartage company and tells them where and when to drop off and set up his gear. So that when the session comes, the drummer just walks in, sits down and he's ready to go. You can get cartage agreements for guitarists, keyboards and whatever else as well but I have not needed to do that as of yet.

Finally, the drums arrive and the cartage folks set it up and Dann Needham (the drummer for the session) walks in and starts tweaking the adjustment of things. Setting up drums and getting all of the sounds right is a lengthy process in the studio so we were in for another hour of him hitting the bass drum or the tom while the studio engineers tweak the sound.
Finally, about 7:30pm we start working out the charts. So, I am by the piano with the producer and the artist representative while we hash out the last minute chord and key changes. Thankfully, by the time we actually sat down to record we had charts to all of the songs that we were recording.

Once again, sorry all you TAB guys, in the real world you read music, not TAB.

The drummer, Dann, just came off of a recording session with Amy Grant a couple of days ago. The bass player and the B3 organ player both play with the R&B artist Usher. (In the R&B world, Usher is about as big as you get.) As long as we're name dropping, the production coordinator, my friend Ken, popped in for a few minutes and told us about his trip that he just got back from where he flew with Michael W. Smith over to the legendary Abbey Road Studios to record his up-coming Christmas project with the 65 piece London Session Orchestra.

We sat on the couch in the studio looking at pictures that my friend Ken took a couple of days ago of the room where the Beatles recorded "Abbey Road" and several of their other albums. The pictures that were the most interesting to me were the picture of the actual 8 track recorder that the Beatles used to record on as well as a beat up Steinway piano that Paul McCartney recorded Lady Madonna on. And behind it was another beat up piano in the corner that played the famous piano parts to "A Day in the Life" by the Beatles. If you are into Beatles, seeing these things is about like the Holy Grail. My buddy, Ken played on these instruments while he was over there and he said it was incredible.

Anyway, back to the session. We did 3 songs. Actually they were a long medley of songs that we recorded in 3 different sections. All in all it probably was about 10-12 minutes of music when it gets all put together. Since it is gospel and R&B in its sound, the keyboards are really prominent, so the guitar plays a more supportive role. So, I just did a lot of Paul Jackson Jr. type one or two note rhythm accompaniment grooves with an occasional lick here and there. At times, the song gets rather big and orchestral so I would switch to distortion and double the bass line. On the more Pop sections I would use a Strat sound with some chorus and delay.

Basically, we would go through the song once, maybe twice as a band just to make sure the chart was correct and then we would record it. Usually we wouldn't like the 1st take so we may record it another time or two. Then we go into the control room to listen to it and then a person may go back in to fix one thing here or there.
We start again today at 11:00am roughly an hour from now. Today we are supposed to do the challenging songs so it should be a fun day but hopefully we will be done at a decent time.

A Day in the Life – Day 3 – June 20, 2007

Well, yesterday was a good day. The goal was 3 songs, and these were "the big songs", and we got done 4. The session went from 11:00am to 8:30pm. These songs were much trickier and more musically interesting than the first day’s material.
We are in the "tracking" stage of recording. What that means is that we are laying down the initial rhythm section bed to each of the songs (drums, bass, guitar, keys, organ). After this phase, then I will go in on Thursday and lay down "overdubs". Overdubs are where we go back in and add additional guitar parts or keyboard parts or horns or whatever.
Yesterday’s songs, I tracked with steel string acoustic on 2 of the songs, nylon string on one, and my telecaster again on the last funky song.

The first two songs were up songs, the 3rd had a little bit of a Pop Latin sound so I used the nylon string, and the last song was basically a funk riff with a bridge part built around it. (Think early Stevie Wonder and Prince mixed together.) On the last song, I recorded with a new effects pedal that I just got off of Ebay, a "Robotalk" pedal by Xotic. You can read about it here. . It gets a very funky volume sensitive Wah effect that worked out pretty cool. I didn't use it on everything, but for the opening lick it really sounded funky. It was the first time I recorded with it. I really cranked up my compressor to tame down the volume fluctuations with it as well as to give me a little bit more of a punchier tone.

My friend, Ken, popped his head in again because he is overseeing the production end of the session. I got him to send me some of his pictures of his trip last week with Michael W. Smith to record his new Christmas project at the legendary Abbey Road studios. I will try to post these on my personal profile in the community section. I tried to upload them here but I'm having trouble doing it.

There is also a recording studio across the street from the studio that we are in, and I watched musicians filing in and out of there all day as well.

Today, we are going to try to do 4 more songs which will leave all of Thursday for overdubs. It's been a lot of fun and so far pretty relaxed. Everybody's having fun and playing well.

A Day in the Life – Day 4 – June 21, 2007


Yesterday at the studio began at 11:00am and ended at 10:00pm. We got a lot done - 5 songs. I ended up charting out (writing out the music) to almost all of the songs yesterday. It took us about 30-45 minutes to write out the chart, then about 20 minutes to record the song.

We have finished all of the basic tracks for all of the songs and I am going to do overdubs today. Hopefully it won't take too long. Yesterday, I did a couple on acoustic capoed up and a couple on electric, 1 strat & 1 tele, and I did one on my new Godin Nylon string guitar that this session is going to pay for.

Playing music is exhilarating. I hope you feel it too as you play. I'll close this blog out tomorrow with a recap.

A Day in the Life – We’re Done! – June 21, 2007

Well, overdubs didn't take as long as I thought it might. I did a few additional tracks on acoustic and one on electric. On the acoustic tracks it was a little tricky. Here's why. The original chart was in the key of F. But we decided when we were recording it the other day that it was too high so we switched it to Eb, so the other day I had to transpose everything to Eb. If I had time I tried to write in the chords in the correct key but often there would be no time to write in chords so I would have to transpose on the fly while we are recording.

On simple progressions, which most of these were not, transposing on the fly is a skill that I can do pretty well. But on songs this complex, the chords and hits came a little faster than I could keep up with the transposing.

Now comes to today, we want to add acoustic to this song - remember that it was in F but was changed to Eb. Well, acoustic doesn't sound as great in Eb as it would in D, so I decide to capo at the first fret and play the song in D. Now, my chart already has two sets of chord changes (one in F and one in Eb) now I am frantically writing in the changes again, this time in D. But now there is even less time because it is just the producer, engineer and me. So, on parts that were easier I wouldn't write them in, but when it got tricky, I just couldn't keep up with all of the transposing so we would have to stop recording and I would write in the changes. So that didn't leave much time to think about what I am going to play once I know the changes. But it all turned out well.

These sorts of musical calculations when capoing is something that I wish I were faster in. To put it into perspective it would be the equivalent of you taking a song you have never seen before and having to transpose it (down a half-step or even a step and a half occasionally) correctly on the fly with no rehearsal while recording. And by the way did I mention the pressure to deal with as well because it's just you that the producer is listening to so closely he that can hear every voicing of every chord. And did I also mention that time is money, so the time of me writing out the chords and figuring out the voicings is very costly. Welcome to the studio world!

This session was pretty relaxed but I have been in situations where things are a whole lot more uptight. It's like, you panic and come up with this great guitar part just in the nick of time, you play it flawlessly, giving it your all, you finish and you hear the producer's voice questioningly in the headphones "OK, I see where you are going with that, but can you do something else." And then you are back to the drawing board with trying to create a different part.

But, they seemed to particularly like my acoustic work on this session, so I guess all went well. The last song I did was adding some rockin' electric guitar to one of the fast songs. First I laid down some power chords with distortion throughout the song and then we doubled it and panned both tracks left and right. This makes the guitar tracks sound huge but the tricky part is that you have to be careful to play exactly the same thing on both guitar tracks.

After we did that then I laid down a lead line as an opening signature riff at the start of the tune and then again at the end. Add a little delay and a little more distortion, a riff or two and a dash of attitude and there you have it, one smokin' lead intro.
So there you have it, one recording session down.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

A Day in the Life - Donna Summer Gig

About two years ago I had the privilege of playing with the "Queen of Disco" Donna Summer. Here is the quick rundown of that event. I was booked for the event by my good friend, Dino Pastin a month or two before the event. I recieved the charts to the Donna Summer songs but we only received 2 mp3's from her people. The one and only rehearsal was called for Friday at 7:00pm. Friday at 4:00pm, I finally got a call from Tommy Sims assistant who was going to email a link to the mp3's. I tried, the previous night to download them off of iTunes but a lot of the ones on iTunes are the radio versions of the songs and not the live versions. But I did find a couple of the live versions on YouTube and those versions matched up pretty well with the charts we were given. So, I finally had the mp3's in a listenable format at 5:00pm (2 hours before rehearsal). I got about 45 minutes of rehearsal on the six songs before I had to get ready to go. With 6 songs to learn and only 45 minutes you really only have time to just go through the songs and make notes on the music.

So, I went to rehearsal and met the guys in the band. The band consisted of...

Marcus Finney - Drums (Played with Larry Carlton, Billy Preston, Kirk Whalum)

John Billings - Bass

Nathan DiGasare - Lead Keys/Music Director (Nathan was nominated for a Grammy in 2005 for Best Contemporary Christian Pop Album of the Year)

Tommy Sims - Rhythm Guitar

Yours Truly - Lead Guitar

Scott Whelan - 2nd Keys

Dino Pastin - Sax (Keyboard/Sax player for country super group Alabama and he also played on the Jam Along CD's for L&MG)

and several other musicians in the brass section.

The rehearsal went well right from the first song. (It turns out, for a follically-challenged white guy, I can play disco pretty convincingly.) I felt that we were in some sort of parallel universe where I am playing the lead guitar parts and the great Tommy Sims is playing rhythm guitar next to me. I had to focus on my parts but I was keeping an ear on him and his little fills sounded great. (It sounded almost as good as if Tommy Sims were actually there playing them, Oh wait a minute...) ( and by the way, all of the charts were in music notation, no TAB. )

Tommy actually ended up being the nicest guy in the world and he was very complimentary to me. And yes, he does wear sunglasses at night.

Everyone came away from rehearsal pleased that it was sounding so well and looking forward to the gig. I was relieved that it went so well. Being a fill in musician during these sorts of rehearsals can be very stressful if things go south. "Uh, Mister Guitar player, what so you think you are playing? It's supposed to be the solo just off of the record. Now, let me hear you play the solo off of the record.... right now... with no one else playing.... perfect."

So, yesterday we had load in to the venue at Noon. We were playing at the new Symphony Center in Nashville. It is an incredible venue. Downbeat for the band was at 1:00pm. Donna was going to arrive at 2:00 for a brief soundcheck. We eat at 5:00pm and play at 9:00pm.

We had our soundcheck and then Donna Summer came out to check her mic. Man, can she sing. It was pretty much down to business but I must admit, when I was playing She Works Hard for the Money and she was singing and I glanced up looking at all of the lights and seeing her sillouhette, I did have a flashback to seventh grade school dances and get a little star-struck for a moment.

I remember during the actual performance looking out in the venue with a packed floor of people all staring up at the stage with their candlelights on their tables. It looked just like a movie.

The performance went well. Everybody loved it and loved her. We played well. It was a fabulous event and in 25 minutes & six songs it came and went all too quickly.

I had a great time.

I hope you are all well and thanks for coming along on with me on the Donna Summer Gig.

Keep Learning and Growing!

- Steve Krenz

Saturday, April 17, 2010

An Evening with the All-State Band

Last night I watched my oldest son play alto sax in the 2010 Tennessee All-State Band. Looking down on the stage full of young musicians, I thought about the impact that this wonderful event will have on my son.

When I was in the All-State Band my senior year in high school in Texas, that was the single greatest performance on my band instrument. I have't played my band instrument since we got married over 20 years ago. I'm sure most of the musicians that played with me on that concert many years ago had similar experiences and haven't played much since. I'm sure some continued to play and are sitting in some of the finest orchestras around today.

For me, I remember sitting on that stage, playing this incredible music, with my fellow musicians and feeling a wonderful sense of knowing that I wanted to be a musician all my life. And, for the most part, I have been--from then until even today. It's taken many forms but being a musician is what I was made to be. I couldn't be more grateful.

At the concert last night the emcee read a quote that said "Music is not a lavish luxury--something that we fund and support with left over dollars and left over time. It is as vital to our being as breathing and food. It arranges the large unseen peices inside of us and makes sense and order of the daily chaos that washes over us. Skipping right over the mind and working in the areas of the heart and emotion."

It was a beautiful night of music, of pride, of the knowledge that great things are occuring in the life of my son that will continue for a lifetime. I pray that the Lord would guide him during this time of transition to college and direct him like an arrow where he would have him to ultimately go and be. And I know that he will do that. - Steve

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Day in the Life - Michael W. Smith & Katinas Benefit

Well, quite unexpectedly, I ended up playing last night with multi-Grammy winner Michael W. Smith and the Katinas and Natalie Grant.

My friend, Sam Katina, called me about 3 days ago to play pre-service music for a benefit concert that they were holding for the victims of the tsunami that hit their home islands of Samoa. I was, of course, honored to do it. It was going to be the standard "acoustic nylon string guitar playing hymns" before the event for a few minutes type of situation. I have done a lot of this type of thing over the years so this part of the story didn't stress me out too much.

Sam and I play phone tag over the next few days as I fruitlessly try to get a few more details of the event. We never actually did speak one on one about the event until I arrived there.

On the day of the event, my lovely wife calls and says that this event is in the newspaper today and that Michael W. Smith, American Idol-Melinda Doolittle, and several other artists were going to be appearing as well. At this point, I began to think "maybe I should actually practice a bit for this thing" this might be a bigger deal than I initially thought.

I left work early to go home and practice for a few minutes, put on my "cool" clothes, and put my nylon string in the car and also brought my electric just in case. (It was a good thing I brought it.)

I arrived there late because of some traffic and already people are lining up outside for the event. I get in and get set up. The sound man asks me if I have an acoustic steel string guitar for another artist Jeremy Camp to use. I said "no", didn't know I needed to bring one for him. He ended up bringing his incredible McPherson acoustic anyway, although he did end up using my capo.

We did a few second sound check and, thinking I was just going to be playing pre-service for a few minutes, I told the soundman not to worry too much about my on-stage monitor volume because I didn't want to screw up anyone elses mix. (This decision I would later regret.)

We gather backstage and I start to get the vibe that the Katinas are going to want me to play with them (something I have done before) because their guitar player wasn't able to come. Sure enough, they ask me to play with them. Here was my instructions moments before we were walking out on stage "We'll do Blessed be the Name in E, How Great is our God in C, and Smitty (Michael W. Smith's nickname) will probably want to do Draw Me Close in Bb.

Luckily I was pretty familiar with all of those songs so I figured I could at least keep up with them, although I was now suddenly pretty nervous that Michael W. Smith was now in the mix.

We met backstage for literally about 2 minutes and then it was time for me to go out and play the pre-service material. "15 minutes - end right at 7pm" No problem. Well, I played a few things as folks are getting seated saving my "big" songs for the last five minutes and wouldn't you know everyone comes out 5 minutes early. So, the songs that I really prepared for I ended up not playing.

I go backstage, and Michael W. Smith is back there along with everyone else. Everyone was very gracious and personable. He eventually rounded the room and came up to me "Hi, I'm Michael". We exchanged pleasantries for a second and then he went out on stage and did one song then the Katinas get called out on the stage to play with him and they motion me to come out with them. So, off I go out on stage, playing with one of the biggest artists I've ever worked with not having a clue what we are going to play.

Do you ever have those dreams where you find yourself in school in class and the teacher says "Ok, today is the final exam" and then you panic because you haven't come to class all year and by the way, you're in your pajamas for some reason? It was one of those sorts of moments.

So, the Katinas (who have worked with him) immediately play the song. I find myself scooting over to look over Michael W. Smiths shoulder so that I could see his hands on the piano. Oh, and by the way, I can't hear a thing I am playing. The only thing I can hear is a few echos of me playing in the house. Which tells me, "Great, I'm nice and loud in the house, but meanwhile I can't hear anything I'm playing and don't even know what key we're in."

Mercifully, the song ends and he goes into the song I am familiar with in Bb so at least I was able to throw in a few licks on nylon string guitar that hopefully I didn't embarrass myself on.

We get through and walk off the stage. I breathe a sigh of relief. Then the Katinas and me by default get called back up a few more times to play songs that I don't know. But they all knew what they were doing so I just blended in and through in a few things when I could.

The night closed out with me playing with the Katinas for three songs at the end.

Everyone was pleased. I was very humbled and blessed to be there. They are great guys. And it was a surprising and wonderful break from working at the computer writing the blues course and chemo therapy appointments.

Musically, the ability to hear chord changes and know what they are saved my rump. This, above any other skill, is vitally important to be a musician at this level. This is a skill that is never formally taught yet called upon on almost every recording session I've worked on, and on some of the really high-profile live dates with major people.

Hearing chord changes is something that I want to do a course on in the future. It's not mystical, it just takes familiarity with music theory and real world practice.

To all of the people that say "I don't need to know music, tab is just fine for me... and music theory is too much's just useless information". To all of them I say "Maybe learning Stairway to Heaven off of the internet by someone's incorrect TAB is where your musical world is at, but in my musical world, doing the things that I am asked to do, you need to understand music and how it works."

Here's a short homemade video of highlights from last nights event that someone put up on YouTube. You can see my face occasionally sprinkled throughout it, and but you can't really hear a note I played (which might not be a bad thing).

Keep up the great work. Keep Growing in your Playing. Making music is a wonderful thing!

- Steve Krenz