My musical journey started in the fifth grade when I began playing trumpet in a new band program in our community. By the sixth grade, I was being bussed to the high school to rehearse with their band. In the eight grade, I started playing guitar and eventually keyboards and played all three throughout my high school and early college years. I attended the University of RI majoring in music education with trumpet as my major instrument. I later transferred to Berklee School of Music with a desire to study jazz arranging and composition. In my first semester general keyboard class, I met Harvey Diamond, who would change my life forever. I decided to switch my major instrument to piano.
My first 2 years I studied with two wonderful pianists. The first was Dean Earl, an older faculty member who was well versed in jazz of the 1920’s-1950’s. This gave me a good foundation in early jazz. Then I studied with Donald Brown, a younger more contemporary player and recording artist at that time. He introduced me to patterns, bop lines, and more contemporary harmony. After two years at Berklee, I decided to leave school and go on a quest to study jazz piano privately, which I did for the next fifteen years.
At this time, I studyied with Harvey Diamond and did so for 5 1/2 years. What I learned from him was invaluable. It was my first understanding of what the ART of improvisation was all about. Harvey was not just a great player, but an artist in the true sense of the word. He had a uniqueness about his playing that can only be described as “Harvey”. He had been a long time student of the late great Lennie Tristano and his teaching style emulated Lennie’s teaching. It was unlike any I had ever studied before or since. Lenny was blind, yet his teaching revolved around the visual aspect of creating music, seeing it in your mind. I use this concept in my teaching, as well as several of his unique exercises I studied. Harvey also encouraged “free” improvisation.
After Harvey I studied with Charlie Binacos. Charlie was an east coast legend in jazz education and everyone wanted to study with him. I had been on a 2-year waiting list before my first lesson. His lessons were an in depth study of chords, voicings, tensions, chord scales, arranging techniques, and transcriptions. I have adopted many of these exercises into my teaching method. It was 2 1/2 years of hard study. For several months I had practiced twelve hours a day. I needed time off—something different.
I was fortunate to study with Hal Crook after Charlie, who had a completely different approach to teaching improvisation. Hal took practicing freely to another level. He helps students let go of all the theory and exercises and focus on using your ears to guide you through improv.