Gypsy Jazz Secrets

July 25, 2017 | Author: Luis Alejandro Fonseca | Category: Jazz, Guitars, American Styles Of Music, Popular Music, Performing Arts
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“Carolina In The Morning”

The dynamic ‘Frank & Vinny’ show has been taking the guitar world by storm these past couple of years and if you’ve ever seen them live you’ll know why. They inject comedy and showmanship alongside dazzling virtuosity to deliver an eclectic set of popular tunes crossing all sorts of barriers. These guys are some of the hardest working jazz guitarists in show business and play some 200 plus dates a year in more than fifteen different countries. Oh and I didn’t even mention the dance moves…

Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

I had the pleasure of playing a week at the Jazz Alley in Seattle with Frank a few years back and hold our duets we performed then as some of my musical career highlights. His stunning virtuosity has made him the guitarist of choice for many of the world’s top musicians, including Ringo Starr, Madonna, Donald Fagen, Wynton Marsalis, Tommy Emmanuel, the Boston Pops, the New York Pops, and guitar legend Les Paul, who named Vignola to his “Five Most Admired Guitar List” for the Wall Street Journal. Born on suburban Long Island on December 30, 1965, Vignola was raised in the New York area. The Italian-American started playing the guitar at the age of six and grew up admiring a variety of guitarists. Far from a jazz snob, Vignola never listened to jazz exclusively and was also a major fan of classical, rock, R&B, and pop. The guitarists that he admires range from Django and Les Paul to rock icons like Frank Zappa and Eddie Van Halen. Frank has written 18 guitar instruction books for Mel Bay Publications and has recorded 6 Educational DVD’s for Truefire. Guitarist Vinny Raniolo is Frank’s musical partner in crime and provides the perfect accompaniment to Vignola. Both his rock solid inventive rhythm and ability to provide harmony lines at breathtaking tempos makes him an impressive guitarist in his own right. I was really impressed with Vinny’s playing and found his up beat energy a real thrill to be around. He really knows his stuff and like Frank comes from a tradition of guitarists mentored by the great Bucky Pizzarelli. This year a show will be aired internationally on the PBS network titled “Four Generations Of Guitar” which Vinny is honored to be a part of as the younger generation. It was a buzz to have Frank & Vinny call around the Secrets Studio here in Amsterdam and I really enjoyed hearing them do their thing up close. They are both green smoothie enthusiasts like me and we finished off the session with a special I blended up. These guys are inspiring and a breath of fresh air. Go Frank! Go Vinny!

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In the Secrets HQ with Frank and Vinny

Robin: Hey, what’s up? It’s Robin here. I’m sitting with Frankie and Vinny. Welcome to Secrets guys. Frank: Thank you for having us. Robin: It’s real pleasure. You are in town in Holland right now, we’re in Amsterdam at Secret’s headquarters which is a secret. We blindfold these guys on the way in. How’s the tour going?

Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Photo by Eric Ferrar

Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Frank: It’s been great, we started in Belfast last week and then we went to Wales for a couple of days. And then we went down to Italy. Two concerts. We were in Edam last night, I don’t know if I’m pronouncing that correctly. Then Amsterdam tonight. We’ll go down to Germany, meet up with Joscho for a concert down there near Dusseldorf or Cologne rather. Then to the UK. We’re on the road a lot. Robin: Yeah, so how long have you guys actually been playing together? Vinny: Well we’ve been playing together for 8 years and as duo for just about 3 years now. Robin: Okay. And is that your main show that you are doing right now? Frank: That’s it, we do close to 200 shows a year. I love the sound of two guitars. I mean there’s nothing like it. The rhythm and the lead guitar and switch it around. You are able to play lines together. And we were kind of forced into the duo setting because we had a trio with a bassist and he left suddenly about two weeks before a three month tour. So it was impossible to find someone to fill his shoes because of all the repertoire, the arrangements and anybody who is any good is not going to have three months free with no notice, so we were forced into duo and we realized, wow, this is better than ever. People enjoy it more.

Wherever we are we can rehearse. It’s great. And we do have probably over a hundred of pretty intense arrangements of all kinds of tunes from Beethoven themes to Zappa. Robin: How do you pick the repertoire? Frank: The uniqueness of what we do and the creative part is in the arrangements. So that’s always a lot of fun. And we’ll just go, we’ll play a certain song and he’ll put a certain groove to it and it’s like that’s nice. And you store it in your brain and tomorrow at the sound check we’ll go over it again and another idea comes in and before you know it you have an arrangement. Vinny: And when we’re traveling too, cause when we’re in France we play some French songs that French people will know, when we go to Italy we play Italian songs. When we go to the UK we play some Shadows songs and everybody knows it, so that’s very inspiring. Robin: Yeah, that’s great. And you’ve recorded two albums together with this duo? Frank: Actually only one album as a duo. We’ve done other records but we had guests and we’ve had bassists, but we just came out with the first duo record. Beloved Earth Songs. Robin: Yeah. I love the cover. Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Les Paul admiring Frank’s guitar work

Frank: Music from around the world, it’s a beautiful photo, he’s a great photographer. Robin: Yeah. It’s beautiful. And what’s on that? Frank: Brazil, some Italian songs, Concerto De Aranjuez Second Movement, Malaguena, Under Paris Skies, Apache, some great American popular songs. Robin: So it’s kind of like the old school way when people go to a show and it’s really a show they’re going to and they’re getting songs which we all know and love. Frank: Well, I think as instrumental artists that was important for us to pick songs people know. Robin: Yeah, because you both have been involved with jazz playing where you’ve been really creative but not necessarily communicating so much with an audience. Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Frank: I mean I love Louis Armstrong, and working with Les Paul and some of the real innovators of the music. Just seeing the way they would entertain an audience. Kind of a different vibe then you see most of the time. They really wanted the audience to like what they were doing. It was very important that the audience went home happy. Robin: So let’s go back to the beginning just so we can get the story. Frankie, you are from Long Island and you started playing when you were young? Frank: Six. And I knew then, this is it. This is what I’m doing. Robin: Okay and you were straight into guitar? Frank: Straight into jazz guitar. Heard a Django record, a Les Paul record and a Bucky Pizzarelli record and a Joe Pass record and I just fell in love with that style of playing and it wasn’t until later that I discovered rock and roll through a Frank Zappa record. Robin: So in your career, I know you were involved with the Django scene like years ago?

Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Frank: Yeah, 1988 I was in New York and I was working around quite a bit but you know, I kind of always wanted to do my own thing. So, I never had a problem knocking on doors. So I dressed in my tuxedo and I went into the biggest nightclub in Manhattan, the Cabaret they called it. Mel Torme used to work there and he liked themes. So I said, how about a Django Reinhardt theme? He said give me a tape, so I went and made a tape and handed it to him and three weeks later we were opening and we were there for 10 weeks, three nights a week, big time press. Cause no one was really doing a lot of Django, but they came out of the woodwork. The fans of the music. New York Times did a big feature story, again because it was so unique at the time. So that was kind of the start of my career in New York City. That was a lot of fun too. Robin: And you played with a lot of big pop artists as well? Tell us a bit about that. Frank: Yes. Gordon Sessions, Madonna, Ringo Starr and Donald Fagan, and it was always, you know, it was always because of my uniqueness that they would hire me. Which was interesting in retrospect because I never really played rock and roll, I fooled around with it but you hear a real rock player and a blues guy, that’s a whole another thing.

Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Robin: Tell us about that scene in Jersey, you with Bucky Pizzarelli and those guys? Frank: The Jersey Guitar Mafia basically, Tony Bartolla, Al Caiola, Bucky Pizzarelli, all the Italian studio guys and you know they would work so much. They would do four recording sessions a day, seven days a week. And then go play at night, there was such a rich scene of music. They would play at Zoot Suits one night and Benny Goodman at the next night so it was a pretty amazing. And they were all such great guitar players. Meaning, they can read. You put a piano chart in front of them and they would read it right down as though it were nothing. So you know, so I was very influenced by that style and the Freddie Green, the more swing four to the bar. I was kind of more into that style of jazz guitar playing than Django. Robin: Vinny, let’s talk about, you. You’re obviously a little bit younger than Frank? Vinny: I’m 29. Frank: Obviously! I had my smoothie today, what do you mean? Supposed to make me look younger. Robin: No, these guys look good in the flesh and so what’s your story? You from the same part of the world?

Vinny: Well, Long Island, yes. A little further west. I was born in Franklin Square, about 20 miles from each other. But I started actually playing saxophone in my elementary school and then I was playing saxophone in my church band and the guitar player in that band showed me a couple chords one day and that’s how I got started so I was playing in the church and then got into rock and roll and blues and then I went to a high school out on Long Island, actually the same one that Frank went to. Frank: Music High School. Vinny: And the teachers there were really amazing and they introduced jazz to me. I remember the drum teacher there playing the, for the first time a recording of Joe Pass. I was just blown away by Herb Ellis. The duo. The duo album that they did, one of the many beautiful duo albums. And then I got into jazz and started studying. I met Frank when I was about 15. And then I got an album from him that he generously gave to me. Frank: I just didn’t charge you yet. Robin: Just listening to you play before, I must say, you must be so happy because you’ve got a great timing and a great feel. It’s going nowhere, it’s grooving on the ends and the swings, it’s like you’ve really got something adding so much. Vinny: Thank you. Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

“I met Frank when I was about 15. And then I got an album from him that he generously gave to me.”

Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Robin: No, it’s really great. Frank: It’s a perfect example too of students of jazz, younger students who want to perform regularly and go on tour. It’s important to get out there and play. You give somebody opportunity who has talent, number one, and desire to learn, they turn into a monster rhythm guitar player just by playing, touring, practicing, and it’s no secret. There’s no secret. That’s the secret of the guitar secret! Robin: Yeah, there is no secret. Frank: And playing in front of people. Just playing lots of gigs. You know. The more gigs you play the more songs you have to play. You can’t stop . Robin: So 200 shows a year. A lot of countries? Mostly the states or all around the world? Frank: All around the world. Australia, New Zealand last year. Hooked up with the great Tommy Emmanuel. He knows a zillion songs. All repertoires too. He brought us to Australia last year and we played the Sydney opera House which is pretty ridiculously awesome. So we’re lucky. Turkey and Istanbul, Israel, and wherever we go there are Gypsy Jazz fans showing up at shows, it’s truly amazing. Players all over the world. Really amazing how much Django influenced guitar players. Robin: What about the guitars you are playing? Frank: This is a Thorel guitar made in Utah by a young luthier who made this. The Frank Vignola model, got a bunch of nice signatures on the back there. And it’s a great guitar. All mahogany with a spruce top. Diamond reissued pick up and it travels real well. And it holds up. So, I love the guitar. It feels like it’s an extension at this point. Robin: Sounds like it too. What about you Vinny what have you got? Vinny: This is a Collins, a spruce top, indian rosewood back and sides, really nice guitar. It’s been very good to me. Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Frank with Tommy Emmanuel in the dressing room of Sydney Opera House

Actually this a pretty brand new one, cause I had one for about 6 years and on a flight, unfortunately it got damaged. Frank: Damaged? It got destroyed. It got really destroyed. Vinny: So travel with a strong case. Or have instrument insurance. Cause getting money from the airlines is not fun and pretty impossible. Frank: Well they only had a 4 billion dollar profit last year, Vinny: So this guitar is pretty brand new and a I have a new one coming that John Buscarino is building for me. He’s building my own signature model which is going to be really great. It’s going to have a built in pickup. Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Robin: This kind of guitar? Vinny: Yeah, it’s going to have the same kind of woods, indian rosewood back and sides, pretty much the same. It’s pretty much going to look like this but with his, Frank: Touch. Robin: You guys should look out for that, should be a special guitar. Hey, what picks do you use? Vinny: Right now I use the Frank Vignola pick because.. Frank: He forgot his picks. Have extra picks with you in your knapsack, another guitar secret. Robin: What do you have Frank? Frank: Well this is a tortex Jim Dunlop the 1.14 millimeter. I’ve been using them for 25 years and I’ve tried all the fancy picks, the $25 picks but I always go back to these because they are very consistent and you can find them everywhere which is a good thing. If you lose your pick you are out of business.

“Thank God there’s a lot of work. It’s a great time to be in the music business. There’s so much opportunity out there.”

Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

Jamming on “Nuages”

Robin: What have you got coming up guys? Frank: We’re doing some symphony dates next year which I’m very excited about and just keep going. Thank God there’s a lot of work. It’s a great opportunity and a great time to be in the music business. There’s so much opportunity out there. I think every university, well not every one, they have a negative outlook on the future of the music business, but there’s more work than ever. Especially with the guitar, you don’t need anybody really. Robin: Well guys it’s a pleasure to have you here, Vinny it’s great to meet you. Vinny: Great pleasure. Frank: My pleasure. Robin: Go and see them, buy all their albums, buy the new guitar. These guys are really great, really inspirational, thanks for watching.

-Secrets Gypsy Jazz Guitar Secrets

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