Pop. Bop. Jazz. Blues. Swing. Rock. Classical. No matter the genre, guitarist Frank Vignola plays it, or shreds it — with lightning speed and a dose of humor.
Jazzchicago.net calls his technique “clean and blazing fast.” The Washington Post terms it “jaw-dropping.” Intermission Magazine lauds his “total mastery of a musical instrument.” The New York Times dubs him “one of the brightest … stars of the guitar.”
This luminary of the guitar will perform a wide-ranging program, “An Evening with Frank Vignola,” at 7:30 p.m., Feb. 14 in East Tennessee State University’s Martha Street Culp Auditorium. The show is sponsored by ETSU’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts. Rhythm guitarist Glenn Tosto will join Vignola for the performance.
“I know we have a lot of musicians and artists in the area who love guitar, a lot of guitarists,” said Anita DeAngelis, director of the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts. “This is a great opportunity to see an artist who has worked with Madonna, Ringo Starr, Wynton Marsalis, the Boston Pops and Les Paul. His résumé is pretty extensive and pretty incredible.”
His repertoire is as extensive as his range. Gershwin ballads, Beethoven symphonies, Rodgers and Hammerstein show tunes, Lennon-McCartney love songs and Django Reinhardt riffs all share equal billing in Vignola’s programs. This virtuosity, range and unique gypsy technique earned him a spot on legendary guitarist Les Paul’s list of Top 5 Guitarists in the world.
“One of the unique things about him is the man has no limits,” says Jeremy Fritts, guitar instructor for ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old-Time and Country Music program. “He’s thought of as a jazz guitar player … and he has this style that is rooted in the gypsy jazz style of playing, but he brings that style to classical and rock, and he collaborates with people known as bluegrass musicians like David Grisman. He can just grab something and put it in his style …
“I first became aware of Frank Vignola through his collaborations with Mark O’Connor. I was instantly blown away by his lyricism, technical virtuosity and his high-energy approach to the music. Since then, I have definitely become a fan. What impresses me most about Frank Vignola is his boundless imagination: his ability to take elements of gypsy jazz into the 21st century and his ability to interpret works from practically any genre (Gershwin to Beethoven to rock ‘n’ roll standards) and make them his own.”
DeAngelis had a similar experience upon seeing Vignola at a presenters’ conference.
“When Frank performed, the house went crazy and this was a rather jaded crowd,” she says. “Everyone was talking about how wonderful he was, what a great musician he was. So we are looking at a performance that is going to be very high energy and high quality.”
Vignola, a native of Long Island, N.Y., was, by the 1980s, well-known as a sideman to such performers as Madonna, Starr and Leon Redbone. In 1988, he came into his own as a bandleader, and his Hot Club of France tribute was hailed in the New York Times as one of the Top 10 acts in the city. Since then, he has performed regularly with Les Paul, made appearances on records with stars including O’Connor, Marsalis and Queen Latifah, and recorded a number of his own CDs, solo and with musicians such as guitarist/singer Tommy Emmanuel and mandolin player David Grisman. Nowadays, he often tours with guitarists Vinny Raniolo and Glenn Tosto, and offers clinics and master classes at major universities and colleges throughout the world, including Juilliard and Boston University.
“It is always exciting to see musicians of this caliber visiting ETSU,” Fritts says. “I am certain that students of all levels can benefit greatly from experiencing Mr. Vignola’s unique approach firsthand. For the aspiring guitarist, this ... presents a remarkable opportunity ... but there won’t be anyone in the community who won’t leave thrilled.”
Tickets are $20 for general admission; $15 for seniors 60 and older, and $5 for all area students with a valid student ID. Group discounts are available for general admission and senior tickets.
To find out more about Vignola, visit http://frankvignola.com.
For information about the Mary B. Martin School of the Arts, call (423) 439-8587 or visit www.etsu.edu/cas/arts. “Like” ETSU Mary B. Martin School of the Arts on Facebook and follow it on Twitter at TheArtsAtETSU.