First Class of Guitarists "Licensed to Jam" Graduates - Southern Maryland Headline News

First Class of Guitarists "Licensed to Jam" Graduates


Garry Simmons, Pete McDevitt, Bob Schaller, Jeff Bast perform on stage for their Art of Jamming Guitar Class Recital in Leonardtown on Sat. Dec. 2, 2006.
Garry Simmons, Pete McDevitt (Bass), Jason Fletcher (Drums), Bob Schaller, Jeff Bast perform on stage for their Art of Jamming Guitar Class Recital in Leonardtown on Sat. Dec. 2, 2006.  

By David Noss

LEONARDTOWN, Md. - Approximately fifty friends and family members packed into the auditorium at the College of Southern Maryland's (CSM) Leonardtown Campus last Saturday evening to see their loved ones graduate. But, it wasn't a normal graduation with cap and gowns, nor was the Dean there to hand out diplomas. Rather, the stage was packed with drum kits, guitars, amplifiers, microphones, and the men who would play those instruments. It was the final recital, no concert, for CSM's first Art of Jamming class.

The performers ranged from teenagers to fathers and grandfathers. They were there for their rite of passage. Whether they had visions of being a famous rock star or just liked to play for their personal enjoyment, they had stepped out of their basement practice rooms, where they played in solitude, and joined with a group of like-minded individuals who wanted to play music with other guitarists. They wanted to jam.

Stepping out for the first time is no small feat for most guitarists. Many fear looking foolish in front of other players who may be performing at a higher level than are they. Yet others may suffer from stage fright. Not everyone is a natural-born performer.

The class is the brain child of Bob Schaller. Schaller is the chair of CSM's Business, Economics, and Legal Studies Department. In addition to acting as an advisor to the class, he also participates and steps in as the instructor when the primary instructor, Steve Cavanaugh, is unable to attend.

Schaller has the added distinction of being the founder of CSM's Guitar Club which he started in December 2004. The club is a group of guitarists, of all ages and skill levels, from the tri-county area who share the love of music. They can often be found performing around the area at community and charitable functions as well as at private venues like The Coffee Quarter Roastery in California, Md.

The class was one of CSM's Personal Enrichment courses. It ran from Oct. 7 through Dec. 2 and cost each student a total of $90 for tuition and fees. Classes and practices were held on CSM's Leonardtown campus on Saturday mornings from 9:00 a.m. until 11:30 a.m.


Ted Pugh, Justin Dawson, and Steve Cavanaugh on stage performing.

According to Schaller, 14 students originally enrolled in the class. Two of the younger students dropped after a few weeks because they didn't feel comfortable. However, two other teenagers joined the class a short time after it started.

Some students traveled from as far away as Charles and Calvert Counties. Garry Simmons made the trip each week from La Plata. Norm Wineland drove down from Calvert County. "The only drawback [to the class] was the early morning drive on Sat. morning," said Wineland. "But, once in class, it was well worth it."

Cavanaugh, the instructor, is no stranger to music or the guitar. He is one of the founders of the Nanjemoy Creek Boys, a local band that has been around since 1997. Cavanaugh describes himself as an entrepreneur, real estate investor, database engineer, and musician. He attended CSM for three semesters as a music major and later graduated from Salisbury University with a minor in music.

Cavanaugh says that he started playing the trumpet when he was in the fourth grade. He didn't pick up the guitar until he entered the eleventh grade.

Schaller met Cavanaugh at CSM and recruited him to be the instructor for the class. Schaller describes Cavanaugh as a "gifted jazz musician." Cavanaugh said that he wanted to teach the class because, "improvised music is my passion."

Both men also performed along with their class in the recital on Saturday. They performed Miles Davis' So What as a duet to the pleasure of both the audience and the other performers. Schaller described the time performing that song as one of his "favorite moments" of the evening.

But, both Schaller and Cavanaugh will tell you that it is not about them, it is about the students. According to Schaller, the goal was to bring together a group of guitar lovers, teach them how to improvise with other people, teach them a few songs, give them experience performing in front of others, and to make a few new friends. Schaller noted that he also wouldn't be disappointed if the class set a few students onto a path of stardom.

“I just want to play with someone”Schaller said that the students all had a common reason for joining the class. "I just want to play with someone" was the theme Schaller kept hearing from the students.

“Not only did I gain confidence, but I made new friends that gave me the support to take my guitar playing to the next level”Gary Simmons said he took the class to see if he had what it took. "I was looking for an opportunity to see if my playing was good enough," Simmons said. "The Art of Guitar Jamming Class was a way to play with others of different skill levels. Not only did I gain confidence, but I made new friends that gave me the support to take my guitar playing to the next level."

“That's the most instruments we've had on stage at one time so far”That night, the stage was filled with 9 guitarists, 2 bassists, and 3 drummers, each with a complete drum kit. The addition of the extra bassist and 2 extra drummers gave the performance a special flare. "That's the most instruments we've had on stage at one time so far," said Schaller.

The guitar lineup for the night was: Ted Pugh, Justin Dawson, Zach Werrell (Bass), Steve Cavanaugh (instructor), Garry Simmons, Bob Schaller, Pete McDevitt (Bass), Jeff Bast, Norm Wineland, Mark Bowling, and Robin Guyther. According to Schaller, four of the students were unable to make it to the recital.

The drummers were John Clark, Phill Clark, and Jason Fletcher. Fletcher is a life-long friend of Schaller who often helps out when the Guitar Club needs a drummer. The Clarks are brothers. Phill is the drummer for the Nanjemoy Creek Boys. John and Phill also have another band named Li Mu Bai.

Although not part of the original curriculum, the class also ended up teaching the students about some of the business aspects of performing. Schaller noted that days before the recital, no one had decided on what songs were going to be played and in what order.

“Garry had prepared the set list, worked it out with all the players, and kept things rolling”Fortunately, there was a natural born leader in the group. According to Schaller, Garry Simmons of La Plata stepped up and took charge. Simmons worked with the other players to come up with a set list. Simmons also took the lead on stage by calling the songs, introducing the acts, and thanking the audience for their applause. "Garry had prepared the set list, worked it out with all the players, and kept things rolling," said Schaller.

“both Garry's playing and singing have come very far since our first class meeting in October”Simmons also decided that some vocals would be a good touch and went about obtaining sheet music with the lyrics. "Generally, guitarists don't sing, or rather don't sing well, as I proved [during the show]," remarked Schaller. "But sometimes a song needs a singer to move it along. I must tell you that both Garry's playing and singing have come very far since our first class meeting in October. When we needed someone to sing in class Garry would volunteer."

The group even went so far as to provide catering for their guests in the form of pot luck food and a few coolers full of ice and soft drinks. While some may have questioned the wisdom of the Voodoo Chiliafter the Jimi Hendrix songin a closed room for a three hour show, it was in fact delicious.

"Although far from perfect, it [the recital] worked and truly reflected what this whole project has been about: playing and blending together," said Schaller.

“I went into it thinking I would be the guy who would be playing just two notes, but found myself playing songs I didn't even know”"I really enjoyed the performance," said Jeff Bast, one of the students. "I went into it thinking I would be the guy who would be playing just two notes, but found myself playing songs I didn't even know. I also played my first lead in front of a live audience. I found out I have lots to learn but I also came out of it with a new found confidence. I've now got the fever."

“Trading Licks with Bob on The Thrill is Gone was a magic moment I won't soon forget”The students are also very fond of Schaller's and Cavanaugh's talents and dedication. "Both Steve and Bob are very talented guitar players who are willing to share their concepts on jamming," said Simmons. "Trading Licks with Bob on The Thrill is Gone was a magic moment I won't soon forget. Steve took the last solo on this song and just got in that zone and blew me away!"

“Every single student's playing ability improved-without question, without exception”Cavanaugh was also impressed with the students. "I was most surprised at the ability of the diverse group to gel and get on the same page so quickly," Cavanaugh said. "That is the goal of the course; however, I didn't think it would come together as smoothly as it did. Every single student's playing ability improved
without question, without exception."

Cavanaugh also spoke highly of Schaller. "He's definitely one of the most talented local guitarists I know, and he is generous with his knowledge," Cavanaugh said. "There's no doubt he is an asset to CSM
both faculty and students."

“We are hot on getting a blues thing going”Now that the class is over, some students are already making plans to expand their musical horizons. Wineland and Simmons are discussing forming a blues jamming club for So. Md. "We are hot on getting a blues thing going," said Wineland.

Kenney Wathen performed some classic Merle Travis and Chet Atkins guitar picking on his Fender Telecaster.The performers and the audience were also treated to special performance that night. Kenny Wathen performed some classic Merle Travis and Chet Atkins guitar picking on his Fender Telecaster. Schaller remembers Wathen from his popular playing days in the 1960s. They spoke a few weeks earlier and discussed Wathen's renewed interest in playing. Schaller subsequently invited Wathen to perform that night.

Schaller has a special talent for seeking people out and bringing them together with other people who have similar interests and goals. "I think of Bob as the master networker," said Cavanaugh. "He truly has a gift for matchmaking and pulling the right people together. I've never seen his Rolodex, but I can imagine it would more than suffice for a makeshift paperweight."

“Considering he just recently started playing after more than 30 years, you can just imagine how he would have sounded in his prime”Wathen used to be a regular player in his younger years. He only recently started playing again after a 30 year hiatus. "Considering he just recently started playing after more than 30 years, you can just imagine how he would have sounded in his prime," said Schaller.

CSM plans to offer the class again, first in Calvert County and then in Charles County. The Calvert County class is currently scheduled for Jan. 13 through March 3, 2007 in Prince Frederick.

Cavanaugh is slated to be the instructor again for this class. He said that he plans to improve future classes based on lessons learned this time around. "At this point, it looks like the next class will be different in many ways," Cavanaugh said. "One way it will be different for sure is the structure. Instead of lecturing the entire first class on the jamming technique, as I did in this charter class, I'll break the material down into 15-30 minute lessons taught at the beginning of each class. This will provide for a better balance of education, application of principles, and of course, plenty of hands on playing time."

For information about the Art of Jamming class or the CSM Guitar Club, call 301-934-7542 or 301-870-3008, Ext. 7542 for Charles County; 240-725-5499, Ext. 7542 for St. Mary's County or 443-550-6199, Ext. 7542 for Calvert County or email BobS (at) csmd.edu.


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