Walter Chapman: a legacy

Rockport Beach, Mass. -W. Chapman (photo credit: THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON)

Maumee River scene. -J. E. Harris Chapman’s influence in my grandfather’s work is evident. (photo credit: Susan Harris Duemer)

The word “legacy” carries a large connotation. Usually reserved for people famous in their field, those who spend their lives committed to excellence in their craft, and those instrumental in efforts to ensure the continuation of their expertise after they’re gone.

Most people have no idea who Walter Chapman was. He isn’t famous by any definition, and only seasoned veterans of the art community in my hometown of Toledo, OH would be familiar with the name.

In my family, Walter Chapman is revered.

You see, my paternal grandfather was an artist in Toledo. And a damn good one. Jim Harris left our family a collection of paintings, sketches, and drawings that continues to comfort and inspire us all 35 years after his death. My sister even wrote a book about his life, documenting his entire body of work. You can check it out here:

Walter Chapman was my grandfather’s mentor and friend, and I am so very sad to hear of his passing yesterday. He was 102. He spent his entire career painting, teaching, and passing on his knowledge about the subject and discipline that he loved so much.

Mr. Chapman helped to guide and shape my grandfather’s style and approach to painting, as he did with so many artists that he worked with. He encouraged him to try out watercolor, specifically his own “realistic impressionism” style, which became Grandpa’s preference and eventual specialty. He was intrinsically influential, not just in the works that my grandfather painted, but in his life as well.

My sister had the opportunity to interview Mr. Chapman at his Toledo home in the summer of 2011 while researching her book, and my dad and I were fortunate enough to tag along. At nearly 98 years old, he could not have been more kind and gracious with his time and precious energy. His stories were richly detailed, enthusiastically entertaining, and wonderfully candid. He spoke about my grandfather with respect, admiration, and honesty, and their friendship and mutual passion for their craft reverberated throughout his anecdotes.

Painting was an escape for my grandfather in an otherwise often tumultuous life, but Mr. Chapman saw potential in him and chose to encourage and pour into his talent, unleashing a fierce creativity that my family cherishes to this day.

I think often about how grateful I am for the creative gene that was passed down from my grandfather. Reflecting on my own career, I get most excited when I have the opportunity to write, arrange, or orchestrate … essentially “painting” with different sonic colors. My sister is an accomplished architect, gifted designer, painter, and sought-after professor, where she is molding the next generation of creatives in her field. And my 9-year-old son has an undeniable bent toward so many things creative: music, writing, and it comes as no surprise that he especially enjoys drawing.

In a way, I can trace all of that back to Grandpa Harris’ friend, Mr. Walter Chapman, whose influence has gone far beyond paint, technique, or the canvas.

That is a true legacy.

Chapman obituary:

May 2012 Toledo Blade feature:

Belmont stuns #12 UNC, 83-80

Re-blog from

Belmont stuns #12 UNC, 83-80.

My comments:

Great stuff as always, guys! Here’s my $0.02…

I’m going to admit right off the bat that in addition to my primary allegiance to our Bruins, I also happen to be a life-long Tar Heels fan, so this is my (lame) attempt at objectivity: The season has just begun, so let’s stay realistic and try not put too much weight behind either the Heels’ loss or the Bruins’ win.
That said, I can now in good conscience declare that Belmont’s win over #12 UNC is infinitely more beneficial to the Bruins that it is detrimental to the Tar Heels. I am of the opinion that this loss will make the Heels better in the long run. It’s one of those losses that stings right now, but it exposed weaknesses that can, and will, be addressed immediately. And we all know that it is far better to have weaknesses exposed in November than it is in March. Bottom line: UNC will be just fine with or without (co-knuckleheads) Hairston & McDonald returning to the lineup.

For Belmont, this is a win over a team ranked #12 in the NATION, the program’s most important, and signature, win to-date. That’s a huge deal, no matter what month of the year it is!!! Also, we learned a thing or two about our team as well. This was our forth game of the season and each one has been close late. That’s going to be big when conference-play starts up.
Be honest, the best any of us could’ve hoped for going into this game was a strong team effort in a single-digit loss to the Heels. That would’ve been respectable and something to build upon. A win wasn’t on anyone’s radar, and certainly not mine. When asked about this matchup prior to this week, I think even Coach Byrd said on at least a couple of occasions that this was going to be a nice “experience” for our players to have. I’ll say. That “experience” turned out to be proving that not only could they play with one of the best programs in NCAA history, but beat them in spite of one of the greatest home-court advantages that exists: college basketball’s cathedral, also-known-as the Dean E. Smith Center. A place where five NCAA Championship banners hang among the names and jerseys of basketball legend, and the face of the building’s namesake, coaching royalty, is immortalized in stained glass in the lobby.
I’d like to think that JJ’s eye might have caught a fuzzy glimpse of the #23 jersey hanging from the rafters as he watched the arc of his final 3-pointer float to the basket. An experience indeed.

One statistical thought: 80 is the magic number.
This is a list of the six mid-major teams that have managed to beat UNC in the Roy Williams era ( Every single one of them kept the Heels below 80 points.

Nov 19, 2004       Santa Clara                66-77 (L)            @ Santa Clara
Mar 19, 2006       George Mason            60-65 (L)            NCAA Tournament (2nd Rd.)
Nov 22, 2006       Gonzaga                     74-82 (L)            Pre-Season NIT (NYC)
Jan 4, 2010         Coll. of Charleston      79-82 (L) OT      @ Coll. of Charleston
April 1, 2010        Dayton                        68-79 (L)            NIT Final (NYC)
Nov 20, 2012       Butler                          71-82 (L)            Maui Invitational (Hawaii)

Anyone who knows even a little bit about Carolina basketball can tell you that ol’ Roy likes to run the ball and tries to get as many possessions as humanly possible. When the Tar Heels score more than 80 points against their opponent, the odds are extremely high that they are going to win the game. Sure they have lost putting up more than 80 at times, but it’s rare.
Rarer still, do the Heels lose at home when they score 80+ and they have never lost to a mid-major team at home during the Roy Williams era (2003-present).


Add Belmont to the list:
Nov 17, 2013                        Belmont                        80-83 (L)            Chapel Hill, N.C.

This is one for the ages, guys.
It is most definitely Bruin Time.

Spherical (with Spiral Dance)

Here it is, my latest jazz band arrangement!

Belmont University’s Jazz Band 1 recently premiered my arrangement of The Brecker Brothers’ composition entitled “Spherical”. (Take a listen to the original Brecker Bros. recording here.) This is the third chart I’ve written for my alma mater’s jazz band and I think it’s my favorite so far. (Check out the other two at the bottom of this post!)

For me, a good sign that I should do an arrangement of a particular tune is when I cannot get sick of it, no matter how many times I listen. That has definitely been the case for the previous charts I’ve done, and this one was no exception. It shuffled up on my iTunes last year while I was driving to my parent’s house for Thanksgiving. I honestly don’t even remember adding the tune to my collection. I never studied it, nor have I ever had to learn it for any band I’ve ever played in. It was just waiting there for me to discover, and I’m so glad that I finally did! If you’re anything like me, when you fall in love with a song, you put it on repeat and wear it out. After the first five or six listens, I knew I had to write a chart for this tune because I just couldn’t get enough. And I still can’t.

After the first few times through, I decided that Keith Jarrett’s “Spiral Dance” (from his most-excellent Belonging recording) would be a perfect complement to this tune for my arrangement, if I could somehow figure out a way to marry the two. I actually learned “Spiral Dance” in college, so I was already pretty familiar with it. It was even part of the repertoire of a jazz quintet I played in years ago. (Check out this live version from Keith’s quartet … doesn’t he have the most fantastic white-guy ‘fro EVER?! Ah, the seventies … anyhoo … )
I have always loved the one-note opening ostinato, juxtaposed with the angular melody. I decided to arrange it as a saxophone soli, using the 4-way-close, double-lead technique, while keeping the groove of “Spherical” going in the rhythm section. This approach transforms the melody (composed in the mid-70’s), giving it a “vintage” feel (with the 4-way-close, double-lead treatment, popularized by Swing-era big-bands), and all the while completely updating it with the super-hip, Brecker Bros. funk groove. I was really pleased with the results.

Outside of the ending, my arrangement follows the Brecker Bros. original recording fairly closely with two exceptions: 1) the addition of the “Spiral Dance” soli, which functions as kind of a bridge section, and 2) small, but important, changes to the harmonic structure of the 1st solo section (featuring trumpet with Harmon mute). I altered the first 4-measures of each phrase in the first half of the Harmon solo section, assigning the bass player to introduce a simple, but funky, 3-note ostinato motif that the entire band eventually plays at the end of the chart underneath the drum solo. I felt like this was a great way to add some continuity to the arrangement and an opportunity to hint at the ending without giving it away. By the time the drum solo happens at the end, that 3-note pattern introduced in the first solo section provides a great release and texture change for the band after the deep (and incredibly fun!) groove of the Tenor Sax solo, which is by far my favorite section of the chart.

Since the original Brecker Bros. recording ends with a fade-out, I had to come up with an ending for live performance. As most any writer will tell you, whether writing novels, short stories, or even essays, the ending is absolutely critical to the process. Arranging is no different. Once I figure out how I’m going to end a particular arrangement, I can go back and make adjustments to what I’ve written so far, ensuring that it builds up to the ending properly and in a way that makes sense. Not that I always start with the ending, but more times than not, I will work it out early on in the process so I know where I’m going. The very last lick of the chart is actually the standard live ending from the Brecker Bros. themselves, but adding the preceding 8-bar drum solo was my idea. It comes from witnessing the mastery of Keith Carlock on many occasions, playing with the Tom Hemby Band at 3rd & Lindsley here in Nashville. They always cover Joshua Redman’s “Greasy-G” and it ends with the band playing a funky melody line in unison, while Carlock solos his rear-end off, crossing bar lines and playing with different meters over the freight train that is the rest of the band locked-in on the main pattern. I transferred this idea to my chart by adding that simple 3-note ostinato motif for the band to play in unison while the drummer solos, crescendoing over the entire 8 measures, building toward the powerful unison lick at the end to close the piece. I love how the two instances of that little 3-note motif, first under the Harmon solo and then again at the end under the drum solo, work as subtle bookends tying this piece together to make a complete statement.

In closing, I’d like to thank Dr. Jeff Kirk, one of my musical mentors, my former arranging professor & composition instructor, and one of the finest college jazz band directors around. (That’s him and me pictured below after last week’s concert.) Jeff chose to close this particular concert with my arrangement, which was pretty cool considering the program included arrangements from Robert Lussier and the great Gordon Goodwin! He is always so generous with his time to look over my charts, answer questions and address any concerns that I might have. He always makes suggestions kindly, delivers criticism in the most constructive way possible, and his instincts are always spot-on. I am so grateful to him for giving me the invaluable opportunity to write, experiment, and hone my skills with such a talented ensemble. I never dreamed when I played in this band as an undergrad, that I would eventually be writing charts for it and it is truly an honor.


If you’re interested in the other arrangements I’ve written for this band, check them out:

Man Facing North (composed by The Yellowjackets)

Last Train Home (composed by Pat Metheny)

If you have any questions, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section below.
Thanks for reading and listening!

My Two Favorite Things About the Beginning of College Football Season


Full disclosure: I grew up in Big10 country and I’m not exactly a college football “fan,” though I am partial to the Michigan Wolverines (much to my chagrin the last several seasons). There is only one game a year that I have circled on my calendar as a must-watch game … it is the greatest football rivalry of all time: the Michigan/OSU game.

That said, I have lived in the midst of SEC-mania for over 15 years now. Anyone you talk to here will claim that the SEC is the most dominant conference of all time. People go on and on about it. Some will even judge your intellectual capacity based on whether or not you agree. (I am so not kidding.) The first few years I lived here in Nashville, I tried to argue this on a couple of occasions. I was never successful and was always dismissed as an idiot. Of course, the evidence is stacked so high that I couldn’t help but eventually concede the point. Just this morning, I saw a montage of sound bites from head college football coaches on ESPN. All but two were from the SEC. There is definitely some truth to the claim, I just get weary of hearing about it … all … year … ‘round.

It doesn’t matter what time of year it is, someone is talking about SEC football. We could be in the middle of the first glorious weekend of March Madness and some knucklehead is going to call into 104.5 The Zone (Nashville’s outstanding and award-winning sports radio channel) and want to talk about the Vols Spring practices and who might be the starting QB in the Fall.

Seriously. It happens every year.

Don’t get me wrong, I like football as much as the next guy. In the Fall.
I completely understand that football is king here in the mid-south, as it is in many other places around the country. And it should be. Football season is great, but the obsession over the SEC and the discussion of the college game ad nauseum throughout the year gets old. Of course the Titans are the big-ticket draw in this area, and we also have the Predators. (There are actually a lot more hockey fans here than you’d think.) I suppose we have professional baseball, too. (Although at $14/ticket, who wants to go to a dilapidated old ball park and pay $5 more per seat than one of the best minor league parks in the country? But I digress.) Anyway, it seems like every other sport is treated as a time-killer between College Game Day Saturdays from late-August until the championship game is held in January. College Hoops, the NBA, and MLB get talked about almost out of obligation until college football starts back up again. I’m actually beginning to wonder if it ever really ends…?

And don’t even get me started on the bowl system and how the “national champion” has been determined in college football for all these years. Ugh. At least the 4-team playoff is coming next season, so that’s good. Still feels too-little-too-late to me, though.

Other than that, I really don’t have an opinion, so without further ado, here are my TWO favorite things about the beginning of college football season:

1. The MLB Playoffs and World Series are right around the corner
I would rather watch two great baseball teams that I don’t care about play in the Fall Classic before I would choose to watch a regular season SEC football game. It’s okay, you SEC folks can think I’m stupid. I don’t mind at all. I’ll just be over here thinking about The Roar of ’84 and rooting for my Tigers to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy once again.

2. Only TWO months until College Basketball starts!
I make no apologies about it. College Hoops is my favorite. Where else can a 7-year-old kid have a night like this?? I rest my case.

So, I welcome you, College Football season. Today is your day in the sun.
You are my yearly reminder that better things are on the horizon.

Right Now, I’m a Superhero


Lately, Carter has been doing this thing where he tries to match my stride, step-for-step, when we are walking together. Last week, my cousin captured this happening in the picture above while we were on our way to Wrigley Field in Chicago. (We were up there for my sister’s wedding, which is a whole separate post. The guy on the left is my new brother-in-law, Blake. We like him a lot. He’s a good dude.)

Anyway, if you look closely, you can see Carter looking at my feet, trying to match my footsteps. Here’s how it typically goes:

First, he’ll grab my hand and try to keep pace. This doesn’t last long at all because his legs aren’t even half the length of mine yet. When he inevitably gets off, he’ll either take a long, slower stride or do a stutter-step to catch up. The result usually leads to him pulling my arm back, which causes a slight disturbance in my balance and general discomfort every 5-7 seconds or so. If I were a less patient person, this would drive me absolutely banana-sandwich. But each time it happens, I can’t help but smile.

You see, right now, I’m a superhero to Carter. Trust me, this is no delusion of grandeur on my part … it’s simply a fact. He is 7&½. Right now, there is no one in his world that is bigger, or stronger, or more like a superhero to him than I am. It’s actually kind of a lot of pressure, but I don’t mind so much. It is part of what being a dad to a boy is all about. If I got to hang out with Superman, or Batman, or Iron Man on a regular basis, you can be darn sure I’d be mimicking every step (or flight) that they took, paying attention to even the slightest detail of how they lived their life. I mean, let’s face it: they’re awesome!

Part of what makes them awesome, though, is the fact that they are flawed. Superheroes always have weaknesses that serve to remind us that they aren’t totally invincible. It is what causes us to root for them and it is what endears us to their character when they are trying to save the world.

I’m going to let you in on a little secret … I have flaws, too … weaknesses that serve to remind me that I can’t do it all on my own. In fact, I’ve not always been the best person, the best son, the best friend, or even the best father. I have experienced enough life to know that it often doesn’t work out the way you think it will. That this broken place that we live in contains a good amount of pain and hardship. I don’t always deal with the messiness of life in the best way that I can, and it freaks me out a little to think that my son wants to be just like me … down to the smallest detail … like making sure we walk the same exact way, with the same feet, on the same step.

If I allowed myself to think about that reality for too long, the weight would be almost unbearable. However, my first instinct is to smile because I am very conscious of the fact that Carter will not always want to match my steps, that this won’t last forever. But right now, he does. And I find great joy in that.

We don’t learn to walk without sometimes falling down. My missteps have made me a better man, a better son, a better friend, and a better father. I trust God to take care of me, even when I fall down, even when I fail. And perhaps more important, I trust Him to take care of my son, even when my weaknesses fail him.

I love the fact that right now, Carter wants to step where I step. Each stride is a part of his journey toward manhood. And I hope that someday, he’ll get to experience what it’s like to be a superhero, too.

The Year That Changed My Musical Life

Allow me to introduce you to someone:


10-year-old me. Handsome fella, isn’t he?

When I put on that Nike sweatshirt for school pictures that day, I had no idea that my musical life had already been changed forever.

My dad had an excellent collection of Motown records that I grew up listening to, and still love to this day, but it was in the year or so prior to this photo that I had started to branch out and build a little music library of my own.

On cassette.

For my boom box.

‘Cause that’s how I rolled.

Something else I didn’t realize was that I had the great fortune of being a budding musician during an epic season in popular music history.

As I was searching for images and processing names for my last post about musical heroes, I had a much more specific thought:
What ALBUMS have been most influential to me?
Taking the classic “desert island” question a step farther, I began to think hard about which ones really mattered to me. Narrowing them down is a nearly impossible task, so I decided to choose five or six records that were released in my lifetime and here is what I came up with:

Thriller – Michael Jackson
The Way It Is
– Bruce Hornsby and the Range
– Paul Simon
Joshua Tree
– U2
– Def Leppard
Ten Summoner’s Tales
– Sting

I began to realize something interesting about this list … with the exception of the masterpieces by Michael Jackson & Sting, the other four albums were released around the same time. In fact, they were released within 16 months of each other!
It kind of blew me away.
Here’s the list again along with their release dates:

Thriller – November 30, 1982
The Way It Is April 1, 1986
August 12, 1986
Joshua Tree
March 9, 1987
August 3, 1987
Ten Summoner’s Tales
– March 9, 1993

FACT: 1986–1987 was a profoundly prolific time for GREAT albums!

Deep down I guess I was vaguely aware of this record-making renaissance, but I had never really been conscious of it until recently. I mean, think about it: not one of those albums SOUNDS like an “80’s record.” Each one was ahead of its time … sonically, the production, the songwriting … they are superbly crafted recordings all the way around. The standard benchmark of a great album is how many hit singles it produces, and each of these had several, but these records are fantastic all the way through. There isn’t one “filler track” and to this day, I cannot skip around when I listen to them … my ears demand an all-track long-play. These albums are that great.

(A quick aside: Peter Gabriel’s So and Steve Winwood’s Back In The High Life would almost certainly be included in the list if I were to round out my top-ten. Everything I’m saying here absolutely applies to those albums as well. They were released in May and June of 1986 respectively … further proof of the significance of this 16-month period. In fact, if you do a Wikipedia search for all the albums released between the Spring of ‘86 through the Summer of ’87, you’ll find a ridiculous list of fantastic records. I am not aware of another timeframe that so many influential records have been released in such a short period of time.)

The Way It Is, Graceland, Joshua Tree, and Hysteria came out at the height of 80’s synth-pop, when the top of the charts featured singles from The Bangles, Billy Ocean, and the soundtrack to a little movie about a ‘maverick’ Navy pilot with daddy issues that had a few hits you probably still know all the words to. These four records bucked all the trends and refused to adhere to the sonic formula of the era.

What was it about those 16 months that produced such a plethora of legendary recordings? Was it the height and culmination of the 80’s? Was it the social change that was happening at a lightening-quick pace? Was it a mere coincidence? Or maybe it was the fact that the release of these albums just happened to coincide with the beginning of my 2nd decade of life and I was just starting to discover my own unique and varied taste in music? I’m not really sure I have a good answer, but I think it was likely a combination of all of those things.

What I do know is that each one of those recordings has an amazing story behind it, including many obstacles, setbacks, and plenty of hardship and heartache encountered during the process of its creation. Most of these albums have excellent documentaries telling the stories of their production and they’re all very well done. Several are available through the wonder of Netflix and definitely worth watching.

I like the fact that none of these albums came together easily. It gives them more weight and credibility somehow. It makes their impact on my own musical journey that much more meaningful and causes me to enjoy them that much more.

Great work is never easy and I’m so thankful that each of these artists persevered to give the world, and me, the gift of these wonderful recordings.

In addition to my musical heroes, I have decided that the “wall of fame” above my workspace should also feature some album covers that have been most influential to me starting with these:


And I just might even include a small copy of that picture of 10-year-old me.

After all, it was the year that changed my musical life.

The Importance of Musical Heroes


A few months back, I found a lecture on the internet given by a musician that I have the utmost respect and admiration for. In it (among many other things), he talked about how important it was to have musical heroes. He suggested printing out photos of your heroes and hanging them on the wall of the space where you work so that you might find inspiration and encouragement from the voices that you admire.

I guess I’ve always been aware of my musical heroes, but had never really thought too much about it before. Something in that lecture made me realize just how important musical heroes really are. They say a lot about the kind of musician you are and they reveal a great deal about your musical journey.

Sure, everyone has a favorite artist or band. But for those of us who call ourselves musicians, our musical heroes bare a certain weight that the “artist du jour” could never carry. I will admit to the world here and now that I love a great pop song. Artists like Katy Perry, Owl City, and Carly Rae Jepsen push my foot down and I have jammed out … loudly … to their stuff while working/driving/at the gym/etc. They are very talented, good writers, and they’ve all flirted with pop perfection recently. But musical heroes?? Not even close.

To qualify in my book, a musical hero is a pillar, not a stone. They’ve got miles on them. They have stood the test of time. When you study and imitate them, you wind up finding a little bit of your own voice. The music that you were drawn to at a young age, the music that came before you, the music that inspires you, that shapes you is so critical in your development as a musician. It really is important to be aware of.

As I began to think about who my musical heroes were, I realized quickly that it would be a very strange collection of photos:

Miles Davis

Bruce Hornsby

Duke Ellington

Claude Debussy

Rob Mathes

Modest Mussorgsky

Stevie Wonder

Gustav Mahler

Keith Jarrett

John Williams

Those are just the first ten names I came up with and the list is by no means complete. I realize many of them are at least vaguely familiar to most people, but I found myself choosing these specific musicians for various reasons. Each one has had a significant impact and influence on my musical journey. My familiarity with their individual bodies of work ranges from owning everything they have ever released, to a simple, yet profound awe at the genius of a single piece or movement.

It occurs to me that the best part of a list like this is that it keeps evolving. As you grow, the list grows. There is always room for another name!

Music has a funny way of finding you. We like to think that we “discover” new music, but I kind of think it’s the other way around. That’s certainly how I felt the first time I heard each one of the masters listed above. In each case, I can remember exactly where I was and how I felt the first time I heard their music … the opening blast of the Star Wars theme has been ingrained into my subconscious since before I could talk … “The Way It Is” blew my mind the first time I heard it on the radio … I played “All Blues” in my high school jazz band without ever hearing Miles’ recording and it unlocked an entirely new world for me …  it’s like each one was just waiting for my ears to cross their path at just the right moment so that they could rush in and take up permanent residence. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s an almost magical experience.

I actually had a moment like that recently. A friend got me hip to a composer named Eric Whitacre. Perhaps you are familiar with him. After listening to just one piece, I couldn’t get to the piano fast enough to write something of my own. For me, that kind of inspiration is extremely rare and I’ve learned to jump on it whenever it comes around. I haven’t spent enough time with Whitacre’s stuff to include him on my list just yet, but he most definitely is on the list for a lot of other people. The minute his music found my ears, I knew why.

I’m still scouring the web to find the best images to hang above my workspace. A much more difficult task than it sounds, believe me. I have only found a handful of photos so far. If you happen to come across any great pics of Mussorgsky, Mahler or Debussy, please let me know. I should probably make this blog post required reading for anyone who ever visits my little workspace. Without context, it really is a strange collection.

Who are your musical heroes? Whose work truly moves and inspires you?

The comments section is waiting … go ahead and share. I’d love to know!

Scott Harris Orchestra Series


Last week was the official launch of my new orchestra series with Check out the announcement about it on their blog:

It is a pretty wonderful thing when someone notices what you are up to and says, “Hey, we really like what you are doing and would like to partner with you and give you an opportunity to tell as many people about it as possible!”

Let’s be honest, in the grand scheme of things this is pretty small potatoes … small peas, actually … but the affirmation is a pretty big deal to me. I’m extremely grateful to my long-time colleague, Ken Barker, for making this happen. Ken is the finest music editor on the planet and is gracious enough to continue to assign me work when there are so many other talented and experienced people to choose from in this business.

Take a listen to the pieces I’ve arranged so far in this series on the music page of my website or if you want to listen and download a preview PDF of the scores, click here.

That’s it for now. There’s this brand new orchestra series with MY name on it and I can only think of one person who is going to add titles to it … back to work!


Top Five Best & Worst College Basketball Commentators


The people on this list are current commentators. There have been many fantastic commentators in the past (Al McGuire was my favorite), but I’m limiting this list to the names you’re likely to hear in the present. Also, I chose to exclude Analysts. If they were included, Digger Phelps would surely make the “Worst” list. Sure, he calls a few games here and there (and he’s awful), but he’s primarily a desk-jockey. He thinks he’s so clever with his matching neon ties & highlighters. And why is he always so angry?? Anyway, enjoy.


1) BILL RAFTERY – “With the KISS” ” Send it IN!” I absolutely LOVE this guy. He might be the game’s biggest fan … so passionate, always fair in both praise & critique, and incredibly entertaining. Resemblance to Statler & Waldorf aside, he and Verne Lundquist are the best team on any network, hands down.

2) JIM NANCE – “Hello, Friends.” He makes this list because of pure ability. I mean, it seems like he INVENTED sports casting, he’s sooo good. At any sport. If they awarded an ESPY for skill alone, he’d win in a walk every year. If he were calling a curling match to qualify for the Olympics, he’d be awesome. As far as College Hoops goes, he’s not particularly entertaining, maybe even a little boring at times, but he always executes flawlessly. The best play-by-play guy there is.

3) MARV ALBERT – “YES!” Always a treat when he takes a break from the NBA to call college games.

4) BOB KNIGHT – The Coach has such amazing insight into the X’s and O’s of the game. Plus, his dry humor and willingness to make fun of himself makes for a really enjoyable 40 minutes of basketball. I always feel like I learn something new after listening to him call a game.

5) DICK VITALE – I know, I know, I can’t stand him either. But love him or hate him, he’s the first announcer/personality you think of when someone says “College Basketball.” It doesn’t matter what game he’s calling, I can’t seem to turn it off. He loves the game almost too much and is probably its biggest ambassador. His signature phrases alone (“Diaper Dandy”, “Prime-Time Player”, among others) are enough to land him on this list. And all I know is that if he were to ever call a Belmont game from the Curb Event Center, every single Bruin fan would be jacked up, BABYEEEE!!!


1) DICK VITALE – Yup, he made both lists. Every time he mentions having dinner with a coach or the family member of a player, my eyes roll out of my head. If you don’t have the volume turned down on your TV, his voice will make your ears bleed. Also, and this is reason enough, he is a completely open and unashamed Dook fan. It makes me want to punch him in the throat.

2) CLARK KELLOGG – I just offended approximately half of my readers with this one (sorry Dad). I’m actually highly entertained by CK and I like him a lot, but his actual commentating is close to atrocious. At least once every game he will say something that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It’s a good thing he’s funny because if he had to rely on skill alone, CBS would tell him to take a hike, “Partner”.

3) LEN ELMORE – This guy is as dry as a bone in Terlingua, TX. He (mostly) knows his stuff, but I’d rather watch paint dry. Plus, he always seems to go out of his way to be overly critical of UNC players when calling Heels games and I don’t like it.

4) JAY BILAS – He made this list for the exact opposite reason as Clark Kellogg. His commentary skills are top-notch…like Jim Nance-good. The problem is he’s almost as boring as Len Elmore. And while I appreciate his efforts to appear unbiased where Dook is concerned, the fact that Hubert Davis is no longer the Yang to his Yin makes me uneasy. If it looks like Dookie and smells like Dookie, it’s ALWAYS Dookie. (See what I did there??)

5) ANY COLOR COMMENTATOR THAT HASN’T PLAYED OR COACHED THE GAME – I mean absolutely no disrespect here at all, but this drives me up the wall. For example, there are incredibly talented female basketball commentators out there. And it would be so cool to hear a female play-by-play announcer. But, when I hear a female doing color for a men’s game, to me it sounds completely out of place and in all ways lacks any authenticity whatsoever. Kind of like listening to an engineer at NASA describe what it’s like to walk on the moon. The differences between the men’s and women’s games are so incredibly vast and too many to name. If it was a co-ed game, I’m sure I would feel differently, but it most definitely is not. And please don’t hit me with the argument that a player like Brittney Griner is starting to bridge that gap because she can dunk. That’s ridiculous. One outstanding individual doesn’t put the women’s game on the same level as the men’s. Not even close. Although, I’m sure she has played (and won) pick-up and scrimmage games with some D1 men’s players and she may even get a chance to play in the NBA(!), however unlikely that is. So I will concede this: if when Griner is finished with her future career of dominating the WNBA and she decides she wants to start calling color for men’s games on ESPNU, I would be okay with that. She’s the only female I can think of that would be even remotely credible. Until that happens, I’m flipping over to that curling match.

One Shining Moment: An OVC Championship Experience


Plenty has been written and discussed about the extraordinary events within the mediocre confines of Municipal Auditorium on March 9th. Belmont’s win over Murray State in the OVC Championship was an extraordinarily epic game. A near-perfect night … one shining moment … and not just because of who won the game.

I am a proud alumnus of Belmont University. My passion for the game of basketball is eclipsed only by the adoration I have for my 7-year-old son and the time we spend together. Since the beginning of time and the invention of sport, countless dads have tried (with varying degrees of success) to brainwash their sons into liking loving the same teams that they do. It can’t be helped. It’s part of the DNA of being a father to a son. It brings me great joy to say I’ve been fairly successful in this endeavor, and the Belmont Bruins men’s basketball team tops the list of “my” teams that are now “ours.” We go to as many games as we can together. Belmont basketball is our thing.

Knowing his dad hooped a little (in high school), and given our enthusiasm for the sport as spectators, the boy has been chomping at the bit to play on a basketball team of his own. Naturally, I jumped at the chance to coach his very first basketball team this past winter at our local YMCA. In fact, it’s the reason we were at this year’s OVC Championship game. We got free tickets because my little baller was part of the group of kids honored at halftime for the Y’s “Good Sport Award” for outstanding sportsmanship during the season. Playing the game the “right way” is something we talk about often and he has really taken it to heart. He was really proud, not to mention thrilled to stand on the court in front of the several thousand people who hadn’t yet made a beeline to the restrooms, as the announcer explained why he and his counterparts were being paraded onto the floor. (While most of the other kids in the group were wearing their Y jerseys, not surprisingly, my son opted for his Belmont jersey. #awesome) We would have been there for that no matter which two teams made it to the final game. The fact that our Bruins were playing made it extra-special for both of us.

At the under-8 timeout of the first half, we were summoned to the area behind the Murray St. basket to get instructions for the halftime presentation. Belmont was down by eight at the time and the game didn’t look much better from the floor than it did from our Racer-infested, 5th row balcony seats. (Their fans were everywhere!)

Down by six, the Bruins made a huge seven-point push in the final 1:30 of the half to go ahead 22-21. We were riveted to the action and standing so close we could practically feel the sweat. Although we didn’t know it at the time, we were getting an up-close preview of the dramatics that ESPN would lead with later on that evening on SportsCenter.

Allow me to pause here to say a word about Coach Rick Byrd. He has done a remarkable job with this program over his long and storied career. No one could have ever imagined the kind of success that Belmont has achieved and he has been at the helm the entire time. Overseeing the treacherous transition from the NAIA to Division 1, he has led the team to 6 conference tourney titles in 2 different leagues and now 6 NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 8 years. And we’ve only been in a bid-eligible conference for 12 seasons … 12 SEASONS!!! Incredible. I’d like to begin a campaign here and now to name the floor of the Curb Event Center “Rick Byrd Court” … the man is one heck of a coach, not to mention an outstanding human being. More times than not, he not only gets it right, but he shines in the process. And Belmont’s first OVC championship game was no different.

The 2nd half was brutal. Murray St. woke up and proceeded to take back all the momentum. Behind a barrage of offensive efficiency that included fast breaks, long threes and alley-oops, it seemed like they were going to pack up another OVC trophy and send it back to Kentucky on the Pony Express. (I read later that the Bruins’ win probability at the 2:25 mark was 5.4%!) That Racers advantage seemed to last FOR-EV-ER.

Down 7 with just over 2 minutes to go in regulation and surrounded by overly boisterous fans donning blue & yellow (did I mention that the Racer fans showed up en-force?), we feared the worst. Exhausted from the excitement and anticipation of the day, my son just sat down in his seat, giving in to the possibility that our Bruins, like him, might be running out of steam.

And then … they started to fight back. A defensive flurry, a timely three, a teardrop, and a gorgeous 15-footer to tie it up. They found life. And earned another 5 minutes of overtime to somehow dig out a win.

That OT session will go down in Belmont basketball lore. I know it’s cliché to say, but Hollywood could not have scripted a more dramatic scene than what actually happened. We’ve all seen similar game situations on TV as part of conference or NCAA tournaments, but I’ve never been there to witness one in person.

There were so many remarkable moments during those final 5 minutes: Kerron Johnson landing on his chin and having to leave the game. Spencer Turner shooting Kerron’s free throws completely cold off the bench and then making arguably the most balls-out hustle/loose ball/timeout play of the season. Kerron’s clutch free throws to tie it at 68. Isaiah Cannan’s off the leg, over-and-back turnover. I found myself wanting to call my son’s attention to each of these plays … to explain the gravitas of the situation and just how rare it is to experience this level of play in this kind of atmosphere.

Then I realized that I didn’t have to say a word. At the tender age of seven, my son has been to dozens of college basketball games. He’s even seen overtime and double-overtime games where our Bruins have come out victorious. But not like this … nothing like this. I looked at him and he was riveted to what was unfolding before us. He completely understood how big the situation was. As I held him up so he could see the action, the only thing I said to him was after the Cannan gaffe: “These next 25 seconds are what college basketball in March is all about … we’re about to find out how badly our Bruins want to win this championship.”

After Kerron’s game-winner (which I will always affectionately refer to as “The Shot”), we jumped up and down, screaming at the top of our lungs with a hand in the air, joining the other Belmont fans in celebration while the approximately 1.2 million Murray State fans around us just stood there in shocked silence. It was the most incredible basketball game I had ever experienced in my life.

We went down to the floor to get a closer view for all of the post-game celebrations with the other Belmont fans. We watched the trophy presentation, saw the team cut down the net, cheered for all our players as they were announced, all the standard fare for the victors of a championship team headed to the Big Dance.

The thrill of the win plus the affirmation of my son’s good sportsmanship at halftime equaled one special night … one shining moment … and we drank it in. If there were any doubts about my son’s love for the Belmont Bruins or even for basketball in general, they were completely extinguished. While holding my hand on the way back to the car, he said, “Dad, I’m gonna remember this night FOREVER!”

Me too, buddy … me too.