Four legendary guitarists perform one jazz show in Salt Lake City
By Rebecca Howard
Special to The TribuneFirst published Mar 16 2013 01:01AM
Four of America’s best jazz guitarists will converge in Salt Lake City on Saturday for the Guitar Masters Summit.
Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, Gene Bertoncini and Frank Vignola will bring their guitars and considerable talent to Capitol Theatre for the JazzSLC event.
"I trust these four giants to do something amazing," said Kevin Johansen, professor of guitar studies at the University of Utah. "I would go to hear any one of them individually. The fact that they’re all four together is exciting."
While it’s not unheard of to have four guitarists perform in one concert, it is an unusual event, Johansen said. "I know it sounds guitar-heavy, but each of these players has a unique personality and sound that’s all their own."
Frank Vignola said the first time the group all assembled in this configuration was about 15 years ago, for a jazz festival in Connecticut. They liked it so much, they kept doing it — although getting all four busy performing artists together is difficult. Vignola said Saturday’s concert will be the only time they will all play together in 2013.
All four will play together to begin and end the show. In the middle, each player will perform solo as well as in duets and other configurations.
"It’s neat because we don’t get on and off the stage," Vignola said. "So, if say, Bucky plays a solo number, we are all right onstage, watching every move, and I think that’s kind of neat for the audience to see how much we enjoy each other’s guitar playing."
Vignola is the youngest of the guitarists, but one with "phenomenal technique" and charm, Johansen said.
"It’s jaw-dropping, the things he can do — and as far as I know, he’s the only one capable of doing those things on the guitar," said Johansen, adding "He’s very much aware that in the 21st century, a jazz musician has to play to the audience, so even if you’re not a jazz fan, I think you’ll fall in love with Frank Vignola’s personality."
Vignola said he learned the importance of entertaining an audience from his friend and mentor, Les Paul. "That older generation of musicians, they were about entertaining— not just playing the guitar and practicing every day. They loved to be in front of people and see them laugh and smile."
The statesman • At 87, Bucky Pizzarelli is the "elder statesman" of the group. A studio musician in the ’60s and ’70s, he recorded on platinum albums and No. 1 hits, most notably Ray Charles’ "Georgia on My Mind." He played without really realizing their popularity.
"He didn’t really listen to that style of music. His true love was always jazz," said Johansen.
Pizzarelli is also a pioneer of swing guitar, Vignola said. "He served our country in World War II, he’s played for three presidents and he’s performed with everybody from Frank Sinatra to Benny Goodman. His latest collaboration is with Paul McCartney, so he’s doing pretty good for himself."
Forget his age, Pizzarelli is still youthful. "He puts the guitar in his hands and its like he’s 20 years old again," Vignola said.
Bertoncini is a nylon-string guitar player — which is unusual, since that is a guitar typically used for classical music. "He was one of the pioneers, along with Charlie Byrd, in bringing a nylon-string guitar sound to the jazz forefront," Vignola said. "He’s performed with Tony Bennett and many, many other luminaries. He had a famous duet with Michael Moore, the bassist."
Finally, there is Alden, whom Vignola described as "one of the top modern guitar players of our day." He also is a formidable banjo player.
Even if you don’t know their names, you may have seen Pizzarelli and Alden in the movies. In "Sweet and Lowdown," with Sean Penn, the rhythm guitarist was Pizzarelli, and the solo guitarist was Alden.
So how will these four distinct musical personalities combine?
"That’s the beauty of jazz," said Johansen. "You go to the concert knowing what they’re capable of, but never quite knowing what they’re going to do."