My parents made me take piano lessons when I was four. Mom encouraged me to practice what the piano teachers wanted me to play, but I always wanted to play the music I heard on the radio or TV.
I studied classical piano at first, but I soon became more interested in playing jazz and popular music by ear, entertaining the family members after Sunday dinner. My grandfather played his old records and encouraged me to figure out the songs. My first interest in traditional jazz came from an old record I came across, Curtain Going Up by the Dukes of Dixieland.
My first paid gig was in 1991 at a local art center, and my repertoire grew rapidly when I began working at the Pullman, a local restaurant frequented by lovers of old architecture, old antiques, and old music. I played requests and specialized in ragtime, traditional jazz, gospel, blues, marches, and popular songs from the 20th century. Through high school I played for theater productions, musicals, and in my church. Three Cheers for my band director, Doug Lane, and his fantastic band program! While still in Staunton, I played with some talented local musicians in a Dixieland group we called the St. Clair Street Band. I played tuba with this band and started to learn how this style of music works. Jim Harrington, Buddy Thomas, Ross Brooks, and Richard Adams all taught me some valuable lessons.