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By Alison Richter
Frank Vignola is recognized as a preeminent jazz guitarist, which says a lot about his talent but omits much of his repertoire and experience.
Vignola, the author of 18 instructional books and six educational DVDs, has recorded and performed with a vast selection of artists, from Tommy Emmanuel to Ringo Starr.
That’s in addition to world tours, master classes and the time he spends on the road with guitarist Vinny Raniolo, with whom he just released a new album, Melody Magic. Like their performances, the disc is an unusual collection of music ranging from classics to contemporary, again defying the labels and stereotypes that one might associate with the term “jazz guitarist.”
Vignola lives and breathes his instrument, as is evidenced in his work ethic and the enthusiasm with which he discusses performance and technique.
GUITAR AFICIONADO: Early in your career, what were some of the biggest challenges you faced as a player, and how did you overcome them?
Number one, getting work. That was always very important to me, obviously, because I needed to make a living and I didn’t want to do anything else. So I spent a lot of time getting work, knocking on doors. Back then it was sending out press kits and CDs in the mail. Now it’s all Internet, which is brilliant. As far as playing, I would always practice and learn the songs that people I was working with wanted me to learn. I was always researching new records. I had a thousand records at one point. I would go into a used record store and buy all the records of the people I didn’t know, the people I’d heard of but never listened to, just for research purposes.
I continued to study in my 20s with different teachers. I would take a lesson or two from one or two special teachers. It’s never-ending. I see guys like Bucky Pizzarelli at age 87 and Les Paul up to 91 — he would still practice every day. Those guys are so dedicated to the guitar and to music. I think that’s what keeps people going at that age. They appreciate so much about what the guitar has done for them in life, all the places it’s brought them, all the people they meet, all the great memories, and they keep it going, which is fabulous. I have something to look forward to! Sitting on my porch at the age of 87 and practicing — how cool would that be? My porch might have to be in the south of France, though. That’s the only thing!
Do you practice daily?
I do practice daily.
What does that consist of?
I have four kids at home, so when I am off the road, I dedicate time to them and the house and the marriage, but I still pick up the guitar. On some days it might just be playing a few of the songs that we do, for ten or fifteen minutes, or practicing something new, at least playing the guitar.
When we’re on the road it’s a different story because we’ll practice for an hour or two at our soundcheck, we’ll practice in the dressing room, if we have the afternoon or morning off before we travel we’ll take out the guitars and warm up for 10 or 15 minutes. It’s a lot more hands-on active, but you have to play every day, because if you miss a week, it will take a week to get back your hands, loosen them up again, if you will. Also, the guitar is wood, so if it doesn’t vibrate every day, it’s going to stiffen up. You need to play the guitar a lot. So my practice consists of the material that we play and trying to add new songs every month to the repertoire.
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