New podcast episode now available! It's time to Discover, Learn, and Play Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce"
Aug. 31, 2021

Special Guest, Jon Gray

This JazzPianoSkills Podcast Episode welcomes avid JazzPianoSkills listener and student, Jon Gray.

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Welcome to JazzPianoSkills; it's time to discover, learn, and play Jazz Piano!

Every JazzPianoSkills weekly podcast episode introduces aspiring jazz pianists to essential Jazz Piano Skills. Each Podcast episode explores a specific Jazz Piano Skill in depth. Today you will discover, learn, playwith special guest, Jon Gray. In this Jazz Piano Lesson you will:

Jon Gray, Innovative Transformation Manager at Rackspace Technology in Austin, TX

About Jon's musical journey from childhood to adulthood

Various practice approaches used by Jon Gray to discover, learn and play jazz piano

Educational Support
Community Forum

Visit JazzPianoSkills for more educational resources that include a sequential curriculum with interactive Jazz Piano Courses, private and group online Jazz Piano Classes, and a private jazz piano community Jazz Piano Forums.

If you wish to support JazzPianoSkills with a donation you can do so easily through the JazzPianoSkills Paypal Account.

Thank you for being a JazzPianoSkills listener. It is my pleasure to help you discover, learn, and play jazz piano!

Warm Regards,
Dr. Bob Lawrence
President, The Dallas School of Music



Dr. Bob Lawrence  0:33  
Welcome to jazz piano skills. I'm Dr. Bob Lawrence. It's time to discover, learn and play jazz piano. Today, I am super excited to introduce an entirely new jazz panel skills podcast segment that focuses on the journey of jazz piano students. Did you catch that? students, their goals, their aspirations, practice routines, challenges, frustrations, and of course, their development, progress and success stories. The idea is this students, which by the way includes all of us who consistently dedicate time to the study of jazz, students are confronted with jumping over the same musical hurdles. The difference therefore is not found within the hurdles. The difference is how we approach strategically jumping over each hurdle that varies from student to student. So if this is indeed true, which it is, then it only makes sense to conclude that all of us can learn from each other, which again is very true. And that is precisely why I have decided to officially launch this new and exciting series that invites a student to join me on jazz piano skills for an insightful discussion, exploring how they discover learning play jazz piano on a year to year, month to month, week to week and day to day basis. Today, it is my privilege and honor to introduce to all of you to the entire jazz panel skills community, Mr. JOHN gray. JOHN is from Austin, Texas. He is an avid jazz panel skills listener, who I have had the privilege of teaching week to week online through the Dallas School of Music. JOHN is an innovative transformation manager at Rackspace technology in Austin. He is adept in driving, and managing operational evaluations and uncovering improvement opportunities while serving as the financial, technological and operational point person throughout the entire process, you will without doubt find his musical journey to be fascinating, and his insight into the study of jazz piano to be very beneficial. both audio and video formats are available for this podcast episode. And of course, you can listen to the audio version of this episode through any of the popular podcast directories, I Heart Radio, Spotify, Apple podcast, Google podcast, amazon music, Pandora, and the list goes on and on. Or you can listen directly on the jazz piano skills podcast website, which is jazz panels, cows, where you can also watch the video of the show as well, which I strongly recommend. Now, it is my great pleasure and honor to welcome to jazz piano skills. Mr. JOHN gray. JOHN gray, my friend, how are you today? I'm doing great, Bob, how are you doing? I'm doing I'm doing wonderful man. Hey, you know, thank you, first and foremost for being a guinea pig man. You know, this is our This is the first time on jazz piano skills that I am interviewing a student. You know, typically we always, you know, in these in these formats, we're constantly bringing on experts in the field, you know, like other teachers and educators and getting their perspective and insight. And believe it or not, I've had many folks over the past year say, you know, Bob, you actually should bring on some students and allow them to share with them their journey and and their successes, their frustrations and, and their whole experience. because quite honestly, other students share in those experiences as well. And so, you know, I brought it up to you and you were game and said, Yes, I'll do it. And here we are. So I just want to say right from the get go here. Thank you. I appreciate

Jon Gray  5:00  
Thank you. And I love I love being positioned, as you know, I brought on all these experts. Now here's john. I'm an expert.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  5:10  
You know, I didn't, you know, I didn't mean it like that, right? you get my point, you know, I tell you kind of, you know what the catalysts behind this was, you know, I had an educator, a piano teacher in college and graduate school that she, she would make all of us show up for the piano lesson an hour before our piano lesson. So in other words, if your piano lesson was at one o'clock in the afternoon, I'd have to be there at one o'clock in the afternoon before my piano lesson at two, so I would actually have to sit in on your piano lesson. And her thinking her logic to this, which I absolutely get was that all of us as students wrestle with the same, you know, same issues and wrestle with the same struggles. And the idea was that it was going to be a lot easier for me to sit across the room and see what she was talking about. While teaching you, you know, that I could say, Okay, I get it. Now. I see, I see what she's talking about. It's so much easier to see it on you than it is on me when I'm in the middle of the lesson myself. Does that make sense?

Jon Gray  6:17  
It does. Yeah. And it kind of takes the you get to you get to watch someone else in their learning process that takes that pressure away. Yeah, that's,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  6:25  
that's exactly right. So, you know, she, she was doing that. And I found that to be enormously beneficial. So that's kind of the spirit behind what we're doing here today, having you come on as a student to kind of share, again, your experiences and your background and your story. Because I know, there's many listeners right now that are going to connect and go like, man, I totally get that, you know. So. So with that being said, I would love for you to kind of I'm going to turn the microphone over to you and kind of let you share a little bit about you your background, how you got into music, you know, did you do? Did you get into it as an adult? Or did you start as a child, kind of, kind of share your journey with us? And then we'll go from there. So yeah, the microphone is yours, my friend.

Jon Gray  7:12  
All right, cool. So it all started on a rainy day in 1976.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  7:17  
I knew you were gonna do that.

Jon Gray  7:20  
No. So, you know, I had a normal musical upbringing, I went to decent schools, and it was music program. And so I learned the recorder. You know, I learned how to read the treble clef thing in the choirs at all ages. And, and it was, you know, it was pretty normal scholastic education. I also, you know, my mom insisted on piano lessons, I was kind of into it. When I was young, you know, I played for a couple of years, we moved around quite a bit and kind of that sort of broke, broke up the chain of of me staying with those lessons, but, but I learned enough during piano lessons to know how to read you know, treble and bass clef. And, you know, play maybe the level two in my method book, right. So, so I learned enough to be dangerous and, and, and the good news with that was that that is a really good foundation, if you if you can do that, you know, I think I think you're not starting from zero when you come back to it so so that was an important important thing I did even though it stopped when I was in like fifth grade, some of that stuff stuck with me so then as I got a little bit older, I was more into sports more in the trying to be a cool kid and not not practicing any instrument. So through through high school, I didn't really do any music. I did love I was always the music guy in my group in terms of listening I was the one looking for what's cool and what's different and trying to share it with my friends and always a little bit on the edge. You know, I kind of knew I had older siblings so I knew what was cool ahead of my age and and and then I would share that with my friends and I enjoyed I enjoyed educating myself about music, you know, pop jazz hip hop as a totally total omnivore. So I never thought one genre was cooler than the other. I liked them all equally and, and so so again, that was another kind of important part. And that continued through college. But late in college, I I got into kind of the the dance music scene so house techno and fell head over heels in love with all that music. And of course I wanted to be at the guy at the front of the room spinning the records, not just one of the people out on the floor of the club. So so I bought you know, turntables started to buy records and learn how to mix and and learn the art and skill of DJ And, and I had I had a buddy of mine that showed me basically how to match beats. And once I could do that, it was like, you know, I was stucked in completely and, you know, I was I kept doing that into my, you know, early adulthood, I graduated college got a real job, but sort of did that on the side. It was kind of an underground scene, right? It was, I was not doing weddings. It was like a basement club with one with one light bulb, you know, and but it was, it was really, it was really cool. And I really, you know, cherish that experience hanging out with the cool part about it was you did not need formal training to do that, right? So everybody in there was, there was there was no elitism, right. If you if you could write, you could do it. And and so I really got really love that scene, but I kind of aged out of it, right? It's hard to hard to do dance club at night and corporate career by day, so Right, right. So eventually, it kind of drifted away. And a friend of mine, while I was doing that had given me an old keyboard of his It was a 61 key, you know, unweighted, just come, you know, really cheap thing. And I was like, Sure, I'll take that and started started just tinkering around with it. And, and next thing I knew I was I wanted to play piano, I wasn't interested in the keyboard aspect, I was interested in piano for some reason. And, and so I, I went back to what I knew I bought a method book. And I just started at page one, right. And, you know, Mary had a little lamb, you know, CDE. And, and I just retaught myself from scratch, how to read, you know, how to read basic music and, and I got to the point where I was like, this is awesome, I love it. And so I bought a real upright piano. And then I was kind of off and running with, with that era of, of kind of my musical growth. And

Jon Gray  12:05  
yeah, I stuck with, with mostly classical, because I felt like at a lower skill level. When I was an adult, beginner, you could sound better, right? If you were playing that type of music. So right, I didn't, I didn't feel like I sounded like a beginner with some of those pieces. And at that age, that really mattered to me, I wanted to sound good when my friends asked me to play. So I would, I would, I would just learn progressively more difficult, or interesting classical pieces. And I got to like, you know, kind of a, I guess, an intermediate level doing that.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  12:40  
Yeah. And all of this is without a teacher, right? You're just That's right. Yeah, just got the book. They got a method book, you got a repertoire book with some pieces in it, you're like, Man, I'm just gonna, I'm just gonna hunker down and learn how to do this one at a time, one piece at a time, one measure at a time. What a painful process.

Jon Gray  12:57  
It was. And you know, when it started, I was like, This is what learning the piano is like.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  13:02  
And you know what, and that's what most and that is what most people think learning the piano is like, yeah, I mean, that's what the method book says. It is. Right? Correct. That's right. And the method book couldn't be wrong.

Jon Gray  13:13  
Yeah. Yeah. Right. been teaching millions of children for however it is.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  13:19  
Right. This is the way it's done. Right. Exactly. Okay. So. So what clicked? You got into jazz? Right? I mean, yeah. You started like listening to jazz? Yeah. How did that happen?

Jon Gray  13:30  
Yeah, good question. So all alongside this journey, right? I've remained a musical omnivore. So what are the things I listened to are not always parallel to the things that I would try to create? And so jazz was always a big part of my diet, musically into adulthood. I think. Bill Evans, one of his albums was kind of, you know, it was a quiet out, I can't remember what it was off the top of my head. But whenever the you know, kind of the night was over, and I was winding down, I would, I would flip that on and just kind of, it would just, you know, relax me. And so I always thought of jazz as relaxing music, as music that makes me feel comfortable. And I've always appreciated jazzy sounds when they show up in other genres. So when you're listening to hip hop, and the chords behind it are Jazzy, or you're listening to a band like Steely Dan, who's I'm obsessed with and always have been. I know, they use very advanced jazz harmony and so so I always had an appreciation for jazz and, and specifically, I loved hearing chords being voiced in unique ways, right, right. Where it sounded like there was not a lot of movement happening, but yet the mood would shift when the chord would change and and I always thought that was like, magic. And so so on the listening side, I was very into jazzy or sad. It just did. It did not seem like something. It seemed a million miles away on the keyboard. I was I was busy trying to learn a Chopin Prelude, you know, and with what I think you call it the duck button approach. Right?

Dr. Bob Lawrence  15:15  
Right. Right that that means push that button, right? Yeah. Yeah, I did a lot of that. Right. And that's a lot. And that's a hard that's a long road, isn't it? I mean, that's, that's a, that's a tough,

Jon Gray  15:26  
that's a tough haul. It is what, when you when, when you're learning, when you look at a sheet music arrangement of one of your favorite jazz tunes, and you just feel the notes on the page. You're like, Oh, my God. Yeah. I can't believe that. There's a million right. In the first, you know, eight bars.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  15:43  
Well, well, that well, that's

Dr. Bob Lawrence  15:44  
right. You know, you mentioned Bill Evans. So if you go out and get a book of Bill Evans transcriptions or whatever you open up, you go like, Oh, my gosh, I'm going back to Chopin dude. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It can be it can be overwhelming, no doubt. Right. So okay, so you got great jazz tastes, you're listening to Bill Evans and checking him out. And then so you started going, you started getting more into the, into the jazz scene? And and this is kind of interesting, right? You, you you started listening to jazz piano skills?

Jon Gray  16:16  
Yeah, Yeah, I did. Well, there's so there's, there's a little bit of a story about how I ended up there. So, so the pandemic happened, right? Right Thing shut down during COVID. And I thought, if there's ever a time to restart the process of learning the piano, I'm in it right now. Because it literally we had to close our business, like, we didn't have anything to do. Right days on end. And so.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  16:43  
So you're gonna take advantage you're going to take advantage of of COVID?

Jon Gray  16:46  
That's right. That's right. So so I decided to try composing a little bit. And I learned very quickly how much I don't know, I think I made it, I made a couple of credible attempts, right? using the internet, kind of as my guide, some YouTube videos, some very basic theory that I could kind of pull together from, from what was online and, and I composed a couple of pieces of music, that, you know, they they sound okay, right. Right. And, but I knew I was like, I was like, I need to know more, right? I don't not have the, I don't have the language that I want. And so, so I hit, I did what everybody does, I went to YouTube. And I was like, there's surely enough information out here for me to learn this. Right. And, and very quickly, it's like, you know, learn, learn your Pentatonix in five easy steps in 10 minutes, and then the guy's like, his hand grip. And, and I'm like, Okay, well, I can't do that. And so it quickly seemed kind of impossible. So I was like, I was like, let's go, let's, let's find podcasts. You know, I'll just watch. I'll listen while I'm walking my dog. And. And there's, there's a lot of jazz piano podcasts out there. And, you know, that is kind of just just, every morning trying to find something new to listen to is kind of how I stumbled upon upon yours. So Wow. Yeah.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  18:24  
Yeah. So it I think that's kind of interesting, because you had listened to jazz panel skills, and then you're, then you reached out to me, you know, it's interesting, cuz you're just down the road. You're in Austin, Texas. Right up, you're up here in Dallas. And I think what you do send me you sent me an email introducing yourself and yeah, possibly entertain the thoughts of, you know, talk a little bit about connecting and studying together.

Jon Gray  18:51  
Yeah, yeah. Well, I, I had, your your podcasts where we're kind of like pretty self contained lessons. And I appreciated the way you broke things down. I really just worked with the way that I like to learn. I thought you you explain the artistic stuff. In terms of technique very well. And then the technique stuff you always made sure it connected to the artistry. And so I never felt like it was all one or all the other. And I remember you had an episode on triads, which is where my where I was at that time, I was kind of learning. Like how to play triads without having to stop and pick out each note, right. And, and I followed, I followed the lesson, and then I took it through all 12 keys, and it stuck. And I was like, Oh, I just learned something. Like I really learned it. I'm not just reading it off the page, right and so and so that's, that's kind of what made me reach out. Was that lesson I followed it and I was like, dang progress. It really happened. So yeah, yeah.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  19:59  
Well That's awesome. So yeah, you reached out and then we did Connect. Right. So it's been great. You know, you and I've been studying jazz piano together now for a

Jon Gray  20:10  
year and a half, I guess. Yeah. Yeah, it's, it's, it's over a year. I think it's July of last year in late August now. So yeah,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  20:17  
it's, it's fantastic. So, Alright, so let's get into a little bit about, you know, how you study and how you practice. Because this is really the core of what I want to get get at today. So I guess I'll start, I'm just gonna start firing off some questions to you. Okay. Yep. And then we'll, then we'll, we'll go from there. So if you could somehow explain to us a little bit about how you thought about music, prior to us connecting prior to you kind of taking advantage of COVID. And getting back into the study of music and jazz. Specifically, how does it change from how you approach practicing back with the method book, and the Chopin Etudes to now with the various skills at jazz piano skills that that you're studying? Can you kind of compare and contrast for us? those two worlds?

Jon Gray  21:17  
Yeah, yeah. So So I think, I think when we first talked, I said, Mike, I want to have a command of the keyboard, I don't just want to have a command of one piece of music. Right. So right. So So, you know, we started with, with chords, you know, in all the different ways. And, you know, I had never had someone guide me through that. So that always seemed mysterious and impossible. So I would always default back to I'll just learn this piece of music. And, and so that learning this piece of music practice to me was open the page like, okay, which which part Can't I play at this sheet of music, let's play that measure as low as possible, and then slowly speed it up. And so, you know, by the time you've can play that measure, you've done hearing it, you're tired of it. And so, I, I found myself getting tired of my of my own of the stuff I was learning before I could even finish it. Right. Whereas now, now the difference is, there's there's kind of a goal for the day, right? And, and when I, when I sit, sit down at the keyboard, I've got the vocabulary that I'm working with on that day, and I try to stick within the framework of kind of what I've already decided to practice on that day. Yeah, yeah, right.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  22:40  
So important. You know, you mentioned something just few minutes ago, you know, like, when you got you, you would be thinking of the chord world, right? Or when, you know, we started with the harmonic structures of music, when we connected, that's the very first thing because you said you wanted to come into the keyboard. And I said, Well, we have to start with the foundation, right? That all that everything rests upon. And that's the harmonic structure. So we immediately started tackling the, you know, our major and dominant minor, half diminished and diminished sounds or diminished chords. And you're right, most people don't realize, I think when most people sit and think about chords and music, they tend to think in terms of this black hole kind of effect, right, that there's endless number of harmonic shapes and endless number of possibilities, which, which you and I have, have discussed this in detail, on many occasions that, you know, having a skewed understanding of, of the music, real musical reality can be very depressing, right? Because usually, it's it usually is skewed to the way to the side of endless possibilities and endless possibilities. I don't know about you, but if if there's endless possibilities, that's kind of depressing to me, you know, that seems like how am I going to learn endless possibilities?

Jon Gray  24:09  
Yeah, yeah. And I think that that gets confirmed when you again, you pull open a method book or lead sheet, and you don't see the C chord that you know, you see C minor seven, you know, flat nine, you see all these numbers and you're like, you're like I have to learn that like there's there's 90 chords just on this one page. And I know that they're connected or they're connected to the scale and you know, once you once you have those fundamentals, it's just a little bit extra to learn those extensions for you. It just seems like it's impossible infinite pool of numbers to know

Dr. Bob Lawrence  24:43  
right? And so you know, for us to tackle right away, you know, the, the the 12 the mathematical side of music, right the 12 note we are tuning system consists of 12 notes, those 12 notes produce five primary sounds, those primary sounds Sr 60 cores? I don't know about you, but when we when we attack that right from the beginning, was that not liberating for you? I mean, I remember I remember as a kid when I was learning that that was very liberating for me.

Jon Gray  25:12  
Absolutely. Well, well, it's it's attainable, right? It's, you can you can sit down those five, five days in a week, you know, let's take two days where we were not necessarily focusing on the four core fundamentals, the five days of like, real practice a week, you can, you can start to see how you how you approach those goals. Right? It's, it's attainable, and that was important, for sure.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  25:38  
Absolutely. Because now all of a sudden, you have, you can see that there's a beginning and there's a middle and there's an end, yeah, that you can, like you said, it's obtainable. You can accomplish this, you know? So, um, so, what, what were you hoping to accomplish? Back in the old days, right, with the method book versus what you're hoping to accomplish? Now? How has that changed?

Jon Gray  26:03  
Yeah, yeah, that's a good question. So, you know, when I was when I was learning music piece by piece, that it was important for me to play the most difficult piece I could write, I wanted to push the boundaries. Yeah, I wanted to put I wanted to sound great on this one piece, because I didn't have a whole lot else. So I wanted to, I wanted the one thing I could do to sound really impressive. And now it's like, I'm okay. With, with sounding a little more basic, because I feel like I'm gaining command of a broad set of skills that are that are more applicable. Right. So, right. Yeah. So I have no, I have no problem going back to basics, because I can see them at the foundation for something. Right?

Dr. Bob Lawrence  26:53  
Yeah. Because now I think you're at a point, you've come to the realization that it's much better to play something that may be on more of the simplistic side, but be musically fantastic, then to play something that would be challenge incredibly difficult music wise, and sound like you suck. Yeah, you know what I mean? Those are two, I'd much rather I, I'd much rather play something within the confines of my skills and my ability, right and sound very musical, then to try to tackle something very difficult, and then struggle with it.

Jon Gray  27:30  
Yeah, well, and have the ability to make a creative choice at the keyboard in the moment, rather than playing what you've memorized by rote. So that to me is, is that's the most important difference is, is I'm making a creative choice with every chord I play on, on which voice and I use, you know, how, how fast I play the rhythmic aspect. And it's, it's just way more It feels like you have way more of a command of the instrument when you're able to make those choices in the moment, rather than just kind of repeating what you've memorized.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  28:09  
Yeah, because there's that what you were doing prior to studying jazz. You were like you mentioned earlier, the dot button approach, right? Where what I call the dot button approach, you know, you got a piece of music in front of you that that means push that button, that dot means push that button. But you don't see any relationship between those dots at all. Right, so there's no understanding beneath the surface other than those dots. So now music has become just very much a mechanical process for you. There and no one studied music, I promise you, I've been teaching for a long time. No one's come into my office and said, You know, I really want to study music because I just love I want to be mechanical. You know it everybody comes in wanting to study music, because music is a creative outlet. It's an artistic endeavor. And it's reduced down to this dot means push this button, then it remains very mechanical and nothing even remotely close to creative or artistic. Yeah, you know? Yeah. And so yeah, so now what you're doing, what's the thrill from you know, this side, you know, as your as your teacher working with you and teaching is to see how you are just developing in leaps and bounds with this whole aspect of getting a command of, of the skills, the skills, the various skill sets, harmonically melodically rhythmically, and now being able to combine those skill sets to be able to express yourself artistically on the instrument. It's just it's a joy to be a part of and to watch that develop and unfold for you.

Jon Gray  29:47  
Yeah, well, well, you know, when we started, and you know, once I got kind of a command of the chords, and then we started learning a few progressions and obviously the 251 is the The main thing that you really want to have nailed down and have comfortable and confident non 12 keys and, and so that took a while to get that and then and then to be able to play from, from the notes from that scale on top of that. And do that in a way that's, you know, you're not reading it off the page. And instead you're just playing kind of what you're hearing in that moment, that is a completely different endeavor sitting at the piano, right then than it used to be. So So no matter you know, no matter where we go from here, the fact that I can sit down and play a 251, in my left hand, play a pretty melody and my right hand that I came up with on the spot. That's like, that's wizardry to me, that used to, I had no concept that that was I felt a million miles away when I started. And right now it's not, that's how I relax and have fun at the keyboard now.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  30:56  
That's very, that's very, very cool, man. So okay, so let's see you You mentioned something earlier, where you said, you know, when you sit down the practice, you said, you determine what you're going to practice, right? for the day. So let's, that that's a, that's a big statement. And that's something that I want to, I want us to take the time to expound upon a little bit here. So just take a few minutes right now and kind of share with everybody how you structure your practicing. Right? Because there's a lot of balls, right? There's a lot of when you study jazz, there are a lot of balls to juggle in the air, right? Yeah. You know, chords, the scales, the voicings, the rhythms, the transcriptions the tunes, I mean, there are a lot of moving parts, and we can all become quite, it's easy to get overwhelmed with all the moving parts. So how do you handle that? How do you structure your practicing?

Jon Gray  31:51  
Yeah, yeah. So So from a practical standpoint, I'm sure most of the listeners are in the same boat. They're, they're not professionals yet. And they probably have jobs. Right. So.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  32:05  
Yeah, and things getting away, right? Yeah,

Jon Gray  32:06  
yeah. So so so you have a limited time, budget to spend at the piano. And, and so the first thing is, choosing when you're going to spend that time to me is is critical. I choose my time to be right. When I wake up with my coffee before my day even gets going. That's when my personal, my mind is at its sharpest. And, and I feel like the whatever is gonna happen that day has not happened yet and started distracting me. So the house is quiet, the pets are still asleep in you know. So So first of all, just setting that time and knowing that's when I'm gonna, that's what I'm going to do the work today is that that's my time.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  32:52  
So that's built it that's, that's built in that's that you do that?

Jon Gray  32:56  
Absolutely. Yeah. If If, if I have something I have to do earlier than normal, I just wake up earlier to get my piano and before it like it's, it is a sacred, it's a sacred, at least half hour, every day. And, and so once you carve that space out, it's, for me, it's important to know what I'm going to do going into it. Once you start having to make decisions about what you want to practice, you're already kind of behind the eight ball, right? Because you can get a little neurotic, like, am I working on the right thought? So so I make a plan for the week. And that way, when I wake up on Tuesday morning, I don't have to be like what did it What should I do? What should I do? Oh my gosh, 15 minutes is over. I haven't even done anything yet. Oh my god. 20 minutes is gone. You know, at least if you're like me, you start questioning yourself. So going in with that going in with the plan. And so that that leaves you with a clear head to really focus on on that day. When

Dr. Bob Lawrence  33:53  
do you When do you do that Sunday night when you sit down and kind of sketch out what you're going to practice for the week on Sunday evening.

Jon Gray  33:59  
I actually do about after we meet on Wednesdays. Okay. Yeah, it's fresh. It's fresh. In my mind. We've got we've always had a great conversation and kind of talked about I've you've always answered some questions for me, and we've right talked about and that's that, for me is the best time to just pull out my eyes, I use my iPad, and I just I just keep a little ledger of kind of the things I'm working on. And I just kind of update it. And and then that gives me the knowledge of what I'm going to tackle over the next week.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  34:29  
Yeah, you're superduper organized with that which is like is I would have to say is the primary reason why your success your your growth, musically has just continues to be expedited

Jon Gray  34:44  
each and every week. When when it's it is ironic that in order to make progress, you have to you have to limit what you can focus on because there's so it's it is infinite and the further you get down this path the more things you've feel like you're not addressing on a given practice session, which I think you talked about early earlier. And so staying clear mentally about what you want to do. gets harder. To be honest, as you as you get further down the road to being organized, it's very, it's very helpful.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  35:16  
Correct. And there's a couple things on that. Number one, I've, you know, I've mentioned this to you in the past. And I know I mentioned at the students frequently that, you know, if you sit down on the piano bench, and you haven't decided what you're going to practice, it's already too late. You're right, you're already it's too late. Yeah, you're going to that practice session is going to be very scattered. You already you already have know exactly what you're going to that piano for before you even sit down otherwise, you're you're in trouble. Right. Yeah. So, you know, being organized that way, I think getting to the realization, after you study long enough, you realize that the various skills, this all these skills, do not enjoy autonomy, they they actually all have an impact on you know, scales have an impact on your understanding of chords and harmony, harmony, chords and harmony have an impact on on your understanding of scales and, and voicings and so forth. And so, what's what's comforting is knowing that if you are, like you said, you feel like you might be neglecting a certain area, right? In reality, in reality, you're not, if you've really kind of taken the time to map things out and understand how these things are all interrelated, that even if you don't physically touch something for a week, and you're doing all these other skills, it's having a profound impact on on the very skill that you haven't even touched, you know. So I think it's important to know that, yeah, and, and the other thing that I want to talk about that I think is really important, and I know you're very good at it, because you got your iPad all the time, and you got things sketched out, you know, is what I call paper practice, right? practice time away from the instrument Talk, talk a little bit about how you do that, and how that's been beneficial for you to study and practice away from the piano.

Jon Gray  37:07  
Yeah, yes. So especially when we first started, right, I was learning the notes of all the all the chords of all the five sounds. So that is very much an academic exercise. And the keyboard I found was distracting when I was trying to learn that, and it's may not be what you what you think of when you're like, I'm going to take some piano lessons. Okay, let me go sit over here with my notebook. You think I get to do the piano, but everybody,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  37:41  
right. But,

Jon Gray  37:45  
you know, having having thought through those things, away from the piano makes it click quicker when you get to the piano. And there's, there's just no doubt in my mind about that. So, you know, it, it may feel like, I'm not getting better at the piano when I'm over here with my notebook. You know, remembering what the three, four notes of the C seven c dominant seven is not. Right. Right. But you are and, and so. So first of all, just knowing that, that that that will help the physical side of it happen for you is, at least in my perspective, super important. And then

Dr. Bob Lawrence  38:25  
yeah, yeah. And that and that only happened for you, but happened for you faster,

Jon Gray  38:29  
faster. Absolutely. Yet, right. Yeah. The other thing is, is I think, jack jazz especially is it can get complex theory wise. And, and you need to have have that understanding in your head in an organized way before you like you said it'll get scattered very quickly. If If you haven't done a little bit of that pre work. And so it just, it's like walking into an interview like this without having done any thinking about, you know, what you might talk about, it's gonna go better if you've if you've done a little bit of prep, and so that's

Dr. Bob Lawrence  39:14  
right. Yeah, you know, it's, I've said that I don't even know how many times I've said this on in the various podcast episodes, but I know I think it's pretty safe bet I at least say at one time every episode that it's your conceptual understanding that drives your physical development that determines your physical development. I was gonna say that Bob,

Jon Gray  39:35  
but I didn't want to steal the line from you. So

Dr. Bob Lawrence  39:39  
you could steal the line. I still want. Hey, john, I steal stuff all the time, man. I steal stuff from students and pretend that it's my so. No, because, you know, I say that because I've said you know, if something's foggy upstairs if something's complicated Upstairs, if something's confusing upstairs, it's not gonna get easier when you sit down and try and get it out of your hands. You know, it just doesn't make any sense to think that right? times the time spent and stepping away from the instrument somehow, it's kind of like, I have relief, right step away from the instrument, and spent some time sketching things out, you know, I have no pads here in my office, I sketch things out all the time, you know, on the coffee table at home. This is these, these are great ways to what I call steal practice time you're actually practicing, you know, but you're right. You mentioned that our notion always is practicing means I gotta be sitting, my rear end has to be on the bench, and I have to be making sound there has to be a sound. Yeah, and that's just kind of a misnomer.

Jon Gray  40:52  
Yeah, when you when you gave me that, all the different, altered dominant scales to study, I knew when I saw that she was like, this is a coffee shop thing, this this needs, it needs something different. I need to change my environment. Because Because a lot of that is, when you look at it, you're like, Man, that's this is a new and challenging, and I knew I was like, I was like, I need to get away from the piano and, and learn this. Right? And that's an ongoing thing. So, right, right,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  41:21  
you know, and isn't, you know, isn't this a dimension of studying music? And and again, it really quite honestly, it doesn't have anything to do with jazz as much as it has to do with the study of music, just music period, right? Isn't there something invigorating, and very rewarding about just the intellectual side of music, just studying music itself?

Jon Gray  41:45  
100%. And, you know, it's crazy, we all walk around the world, we hear music all the time. And then the percentage of people that understand what, what is happening behind inside of that music is a sliver. Right. And I think I just think it's interesting. It's like, it's like, you've stepped into this secret world, that that among us already. And and I love that aspect of it. And I also think it's kind of cool that you know, that there's something kind of inherently nerdy about about this, but yet, it was always the cool kids who made music and and there's this, like, there's this kind of dichotomy of like, of it takes this academic study, to look cool at your instrument, right? You have to you have to know so well, and I've studied so hard to come out there and be the coolest one. So, right. Yeah.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  42:39  
Yeah, there's just something you know, very rewarding about it. You know, I teach a lot of, I have quite a few senior citizens that I teach, you know, you know, guys and gals that are in their 80s in their 80s. Right. And they come in in the morning, we have a lesson, you know, a cup of coffee and a lesson there. There's such a joy and I always say to every one of them at the end of the lesson I go, Hey, this beats the hell out of a crossword puzzle, doesn't it? And they are. All your all your peers are down at, you know, at the retirement village doing a crossword puzzle, and you're you're up here playing some Miles Davis tune out more fun. Absolutely. Yeah. Yeah. So. Okay, so I'm just curious, how do you go about on a week to week basis, on a week to week basis? How do you go about measuring your progress or assessing your progress? How do you personally do that?

Jon Gray  43:43  
Yeah, yeah. So So first of all, I try to be careful on the word progress, because it implies that, you know, we're marching towards the destination. And, and I don't believe that that is how this works. So so so when I say progress, I think of how am I feeling? with the skills that we're working on? Do I feel like I can use them to make music yet? Or do I feel like they are a mechanical exercise and, and once as they transition from one to the other, that's kind of that's how I that's how I conceptualize making progress at the instrument. In terms of how I kind of measure it, I this is gonna sound really nerdy, but what i like it to be visual. So when I talk about my my iPad, I tend to make grids with like, the different things I'm working down, go down the left, and then across the top. I've got, you know, a different variable, whether it's what key I'm working on, what tempo I'm working on, you know, and, and as I practice those things, you can just kind of fill in the grid. And that's does two things it It reminds me that I'm completing a picture. And, and and it reminds me that I'm not missing stuff. You know, I sometimes worry about that. But like we talked about if, you know, if you haven't touched your inversions for two weeks, and but you see that they're on the list, they're coming up, right, and you know, you're gonna get to them. It's just it takes some of that anxiety away from it, for me to have it visually represented. What I'm what I'm working on, you know, right, right.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  45:34  
Yeah. And it also keeps you honest, too, right? I mean, it kind of it paints a picture for you, on where you are, what you've done, what you haven't

Jon Gray  45:43  
done. Yeah, like, when you first introduced the 40 voices to me, those kept falling to the bottom of the list. Because they were hard. And I didn't understand. I didn't think they sounded good and right. And I didn't. Like, you know, I just gonna not do those. And I'm gonna go back to the top of my list. And then eventually, you're like, there's one thing left on this stupid chart, I guess I will start working on those.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  46:11  
Because he's gonna ask me about it. Right,

Jon Gray  46:16  
yeah, but But yeah, I think those are a good example of something that I just completely, not only did I not know them, or I just didn't really like them. I didn't like practicing them. They didn't make sense to me musically. And, but I, you kept kind of reminding me to work on them. And eventually, they started to come together. And now I'm like, I understand how to use these a little better. They sound good to me. Now. My ears, I understand them. And it's like, you have to have a little faith. Right? In the process. So

Dr. Bob Lawrence  46:47  
yeah, yeah. Because you know, you're not alone. Everyone, including myself, when first introduced the quarter voicings for the voicings right. Very odd because we're used to, we're used to sounds built on thirds, right, not, not four. So not only is it odd to the ears, but it's also odd to the hand, because different different type of shape all together. So there's just a lot of oddness going on here. Right? Yeah. Yeah, I think it falls to the bottom of everyone's list. And so that that's a great example. That's, that's it's so funny, man is absolutely so funny. But, you know, to go back to that word progress, how you said, You don't like to think it, like we're marching towards something. I think that's I think that's very powerful. Because, you know, I think the greatest progress quite honestly, is happening at the greatest times of struggle, but we don't we don't pick up on that. Right. So that's, that's a very, that's a very interesting word to use. Because, you know, I'll have students come in, and they feel like they, this happens all the time. It happens with you in our lessons, you know, you'll say, Oh, you know, I didn't you know, it was a tough week, I didn't get much done, I kind of struggled, you know, not, you know, and then you have, like, the best lesson that you've ever had, you know, it's like, because I think through the struggle, that I mean, we don't we all wish that progress was just a consistent uptick. A constant uptick, that that I mean, I'm progress was a consistent uptick. Yeah, we just yeah, it just, it just keeps going up just like this. It just keeps going up. But it doesn't happen that way. Right. We have these plateaus, where we struggle, we struggle, we struggle, we struggle on that, bam, growth, and then we struggle, we struggle, we struggle, we struggle, and then bam, growth, right? And so I try to remind students all the time that you know, the bam, the growth never happens without the struggle, the struggle, the struggle, the struggle.

Jon Gray  48:40  
Yeah. And those moments sneak up on you. You won't realize when you have them until it's over, right? I write them friends over for a pool party, and it started raining, and I just gotten a new piano. And they were all kind of like, Well, you know, john, now's your time. I was really little pressure. Yeah, you know, really nervous. But, but I realized, like, I I know how to improvise in front of people now. Yeah. And, and it you know, it's that that was a moment where I was like, I this isn't just the thing I can do to myself. I could do it. Right. And hopefully bring something to someone else.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  49:24  
And, and your friends enjoyed it. Absolutely. Yeah.

Jon Gray  49:27  
Yeah. Right. You know, at least they said they did.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  49:32  
They did pry. I promise you that.

Jon Gray  49:33  
Yeah. Well, it's it's probably more relaxing than you know, hearing me try to bust out a Chopin Prelude. That's, you know, right. Yeah. Yeah. A little more approachable.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  49:44  
Yeah. So um, so what are what are your long term aspirations with the study of piano study a jazz What? What kind of paint the big picture for us? Yeah, yeah. So I'm I'm very open minded. About about where this heads, I would, I would, in the near term, I would like to be able to play tunes, right? play them in a way that sounds nice. That has a little bit of aspect of something I brought to it. So, so that's, that's kind of the near term goal. But long term, I've, I feel like I have a lot of creative ideas in my head, musically, a lot of melodies Come Come fluent, or come quickly to me and, and then they develop into things in my mind. And I don't always have the skill harmonically to support them. And, and they kind of end up going nowhere. So, so long term, I feel like, I would like to be able to fully develop those things with with kind of a complete understanding of what's happening musically with them. So that so they can sound like finished products and not just dabbling. Yeah. And, and so I think I think, you know, composition, improvisation. And I am still interested in electronic music. A little different than the club stuff that I used to like, but, but eventually I would like to take my understanding of, of this music and and bring it to that. You know, and so yeah, that's, yeah, yeah. Yeah. You know, the long term, what's neat, I think you would concur with this, that it's, it's, it's fantastic that you're at a stage in your musical development now that you realize that it's forever. In other words, right, so many people start to study a piano. And because it never, ever does turn into a creative venture, it never turns into an artistic adventure, and always remains kind of a mechanical, mathematical academic exercise, that they eventually end up quitting. And that's really sad, you know. And so what I get thrilled about is, I know that you're at the stage right now, where you realize you've, you've crossed over, right? And you realize that, man, this is a part of who I am, forever. Yeah, forever in this study of music, and the study of piano is something that I can enjoy for ever for the rest of my life,

Jon Gray  52:28  
when when we have our lessons we have we often it's maybe not the right word, but we call it the grunt work, right? So right, the learning learning the fundamentals, the most important thing I think of of the last year has been my ability to figure out how to enjoy the grunt work. I'd write love, love the process, right, I wrote the whole everything around waking up getting my coffee showing up at the keyboard and, and pressing the keys that I'm working on that day, like that alone, it's it's meditative. And it brings me a lot of joy. And it's not about anything more than that sometimes, sometimes just just showing up and and, and doing that thing is, is fulfilling enough. And so if there's any advice I could give to other listeners would be figure out how to love that little pocket of time that you spend at the keyboard. Because then it doesn't matter what you're working on. The just the the act of going there and doing it is is the that is the reward. And and so, yeah, that that is Yeah, my number one number one thing I would I would try to communicate to other students is figure out how to love that aspect of it.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  53:46  
Well, it nicely said nicely said my friend because that enjoy all of it. Right? Enjoy the good days and enjoy the bad days, right? Because not every day, if not every day, not every day, you're gonna hit it out of the park, with your piano practicing. And that's just the fact of life. That's for everyone. There's days I get up from playing the piano and I'm just like, Okay, forget it, man. I'm, I'm gonna go, I'm gonna go do something else. I mean, that's just that's just part of the process, but that's what makes it you know, that's what I've said. I've said this many times, that's what makes this such a great endeavor, is because it's not a model airplane, it's not something that you kind of put together and then put on the shelf and you go, Okay, I'm done with that. Now what, it's something that we enjoy, and we grow, grow with for the rest of our lives.

Jon Gray  54:37  
Yeah, yeah. Musicians never finish, right. They, like I've accomplished music now. It's, you know,

Dr. Bob Lawrence  54:48  

Jon Gray  54:49  
it's a going thing you can you can make it more complex and then re simplify. There's there's so many different ways you can take it and, you know, that's that Is the joy of it.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  55:01  
Yeah. And you know, it's it's so great to that, you know you have when it comes to musical taste, you have a lot of different irons in the fire and and you love a lot of different things and, you know, like love electronic music that you're that you speak of. And, and what's really neat is that, you know, it's you know, we're studying jazz piano, right? I'm doing him quotes here, but the reality of it is john, we're studying music, right? We're studying music and you're going to be equipped, you're going to be equipped to actually go whatever directions you want to go with throughout your life musically. Because you're armed with the the arsenal the proper Arsenal to explore any genre of music quite

Jon Gray  55:43  
yet modern music is is built on jazz, right harmonically so

Dr. Bob Lawrence  55:49  

Dr. Bob Lawrence  55:51  
right so well, I'm mean I cannot begin to tell you I just want to take this opportunity to hear publicly to the jazz piano skills audience does that just tell you how much of a joy it's been to get to know you over the last the last year I'm so I'm so grateful for the jazz panel skills connecting us and it's been just a thrill not not only musically man, but just your friendship as well. It's just it's an honor to just be able to call you my friend.

Jon Gray  56:18  
Yeah, Bob you are an absolute mensch, the the process of getting to know you and getting to know this music with you. It's been super fulfilling, and you know, long may continue.

Dr. Bob Lawrence  56:32  
Oh, it will man it will I thank you so much, john, for for your time today and, and really appreciate it. And I know, I know, I speak on behalf of all the listeners at jazz piano skills. It's it's been a wonderful hour with you and sharing your experience and background and I know it's touched a lot of people as well and they certainly can all relate in in one way or in many ways for sure. No doubt about it. So on behalf of all the piano listeners at jazz piano skills, a huge hearty thank you to you my friend. Thank you, Bob. Alright, so john gray, what an afternoon what an hour has been I thank you my friend and we will be talking soon. Well, I hope you have found this jazz piano skills podcast with special guest john gray to be insightful and of course beneficial. One of my mentors and teachers, our friends and used to say to me after every lesson, never forget. The greatest thing about music is the people you meet through it. And the privilege of knowing john simply confirms aus sentiment 100% don't forget if you are jazz piano skills member I will see you online Thursday evening at jazz piano skills masterclass. 8pm, central time to discuss this podcast episode featuring john gray in greater detail, and to answer any question that you may have about the study of jazz in general. As always, you can reach me by phone at 972-380-8050. Extension 211 by email Dr. Lawrence Dr. Lawrence at jazz piano skills calm or by speakpipe found throughout the jazz piano skills website. Well, there's my cue. That's it for now and until next week. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the pearls of wisdom shared by john gray. And most of all, have fun as you discover, learn and play jazz

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Jon Gray

Transformation Manager at Rackspace Technology, Austin, TX

I am an enterprising and innovative transformation manager. Adept in driving and managing operational evaluations and uncovering improvement opportunities while serving as the financial, technological, and operational point-person throughout the process.

I create buy-in at all levels of the organization by analyzing service operations and goals, articulating the financial and technical business case for change, and collaboratively developing solutions to pressing challenges. I am an elite communicator and consensus builder with analytical know-how and financial expertise. I nurture collaborative relationships throughout the business to ensure our vision is executed successfully.

✓ Consulted, constructed, contracted, and closed $100M+ long term desktop lifecycle management services contract with DuPont by stewarding opportunity as sole architect during multi-year pursuit and bridging multiple sales and service delivery teams.

✓ Built high growth, independent startup from the ground-up to generate $1.4M annually by leveraging corporate experience and deploying service management best practices.

✓ Architected Dell’s first ever hardware-inclusive global utility / XaaS desktop computing model, offering technology solution for ~100K GE users.

✓ Managed and delivered software and hardware physical asset discovery project for > 10K desktops in large insurance offices across the UK. Developed field operational plans procedures and assisted in development of proprietary asset discovery toolset. Recruited, hired, and trained local field workforce.

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