Frank Vignola Trio: A Personal Recollection...

From a letter I wrote to my father a couple of years ago describing one of the most enjoyable concerts I'd ever been to (edited so as not to give TOO much away):

So—Frank Vignola Band: Frank Vignola, Gary Mazzaroppi and Vinny Raniolo. Frank plays the Super-Fat Frank Vignola Thorell guitar (his signature guitar) with a beautiful clear bright sound. He looks just the same as he did in his 1978 class photo (I'm just saying...) down to the hair cut and the mischievous grin (s**t-eating, some people would call it, the grin of a happy boy who is having the most fun ever and wants to let you in on it). Gary is the elder statesmen, probably in his fifties, tall, thick hair just thinning at the forelock, mustached, glasses, the kindest school principal you can imagine. He hunches solicitously over his beautiful 170-year-old double bass, stroking it affectionately, and when he plays, especially a solo, his eyes close and a dreamy, beatific look comes over his face. Vinny is the young one, in his mid-20s, with the most classically Italian looks: dark curly hair and eyebrows, a cocky stance, and when he plays he dances a little, almost, moving his body with super-cool rhythm.

The band has a number of schticks going, but the one they start with is that Frank is the crazy wild guitarist who can do anything, and can do it really fast when he wants to, and Gary is a master, too, taking long solos, while Vinny just strums great chords standing between them, lucky to be with these two fancy pants. That's until a moment comes along when Vinny is matching all of Frank's picking and strumming, note for note, in some complex racing passage of a song. So then we know, and then Frank can let both of them have all their great moments to shine.

Then there's the repertoire: Rodgers and Hart, a couple of other jazz standards, Rimsky-Korsokov, Bizet, Mozart and Bach, all jazzed up, Simon and Garfunkel—and that's just in the first half. After the break they took requests, played a gorgeous version of an old Appalachian shape note song (Vinny on a banjo with extra-lovely sound (he also played mandolin)), some more jazz, the Beatles.

This was all in a auditorium/cafeteria of a middle school in Maine. We were in the front row of a deplorably sparse audience. During the first half you could hear, occasionally, claps and cheers from the game that was happening in the gym somewhere behind the stage. On the other side of the aisle in the front row were four or five adoring teenagers who had been at Frank's workshop with 70 kids earlier in the afternoon. Apparently he is the best workshop leader of anyone the event organizers work with. During the intermission the three musicians came out and autographed CDs—Frank kept giving free ones to anyone who had bought a different one, to little kids, etc.—while one of the teenagers played, and played well, the FV Thorell guitar that was there for folks to try.

And a great moment in the second half when both guitars and the bass became percussion instruments; Vinny was making sounds come out of the top of the guitar neck that I couldn't even figure out how he could make, and then he and Frank did some amazing call and response with the plunky high notes above the fret board, while Gary rubbed and patted his bass, loving her all up. The recorded stuff sounds great, but it just doesn't transmit their generosity as musicians, how seamlessly they work together, how tuned into each other they all are, and how funny.

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