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Guitar Masters to perform at Jazz SLC series

By Jeff Metcalf

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, March 21 2013 10:20 a.m. MDT

Bucky Pizzarelli at work with the Guitar Masters.

Bucky Pizzarelli

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SALT LAKE CITY — On Saturday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Capitol Theatre, four of the world’s greatest jazz guitarists will share the stage as part of the Jazz SLC concert series.

“It’s going to be a once-in-a-lifetime concert,” Gordon Hanks, founder of Jazz SLC, says. “To have these world-class jazz guitarists on the stage at our venue is an absolute coup to the series. I can’t even imagine what that night will be like.”

Sharing the spotlight will be legendary performers Bucky Pizzarelli, Howard Alden, Gene Bertoncini and Frank Vignola.

“To have any one of these players as the main headliner would be an unbelievable jazz experience," Hanks said. "But to have them together on the same night is great fortune.”

Frank Vignola echoed the same chorus in a phone interview. “We’ve all known each other for years and we’ve played together on numerous occasions," he said. "But to get us all at once is pretty unusual.”

Vignola, a perennial favorite of the jazz crowd, was instrumental in arranging the concert. “We’ve performed together five times, but it’s rare when our schedules allow us all to get together under the same roof.”

Vignola shies away from the obvious question of which one of the musicians will drive the evening — selecting music, arranging the playlist and doling out the solos.

“If anybody drives the bus, it would have to be the old man himself, Bucky Pizzarelli," he says. "Seriously, though, we’ll put the entire performance together when we do the sound check the day before the concert.

“All our styles are very different, but they completely complement each other in a larger conversation. It’s special for all of us.”

Vignola remembers listening to a record of Pizzarelli playing guitar when he was 6 years old. “Right then, I knew what I wanted to play and how I wanted to play the guitar.”

Pizzarelli and Vignola are close friends, and it’s no surprise that they’re always thrilled to share the stage. “We actually really hang out together," Vignola says. "My wife and I plus the kids will go over to Bucky’s house and he’ll cook spaghetti dinner for us.”

Not to be overshadowed by Vignola and Pizzarelli, Alden and Bertoncini come with pretty impressive resumes.

From banjo to electric and acoustical guitar, Alden is in constant demand in the jazz world. Versatile enough to move from mainstream jazz to foot-stomping banjo music and swing, his greatest strength is arguably his mastery of the acoustic guitar. Over the years he’s played alongside the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Carter, George Van Eps, Ken Peplowski and Scott Hamilton. To get a sense of the richness and depth Alden manages to create with seven strings, one need only listen to "The Concord Jazz Collection" where he shares the stage with none other than Frank Vignola and Jimmy Bruno.

“Howard was the first real jazz guitar player I saw live that I felt I could instantly play with," Vignola says. "It is such a treat to be on stage with him anytime.”

Vignola can’t say enough about Bertoncini's versatility. “Gene can play anything, and he does it with nylon strings. Pop, jazz, bossa nova — you name it and he’s played it. He’s a modern-day Segovia and there is nobody around that has his touch.”

Vignola provides a litany of television staff orchestras Bertoncini played for over the years, including Jack Paar, Merv Griffin and The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. And, just to make certain that Bertoncini’s credentials are impressive enough, Vignola advances an equally impressive inventory of jazz greats and singers he's performed with, including bassist Michael Moore, Wayne Shorter, Paul Desmond, Nancy Wilson, Tony Bennett, Hubert Laws and Earl Coleman. Literally and figuratively, Bertoncini is part of the family because he is the godfather to Vignola’s third son.

Vignola is passionate about jazz and equally passionate about the state of 21st century technology as it relates to his own musical explorations. “This is such an exciting time to be listening to music, and the Internet has truly broadened the scope and thinking of my own music. There are so many branches in the tree of jazz like bebop, post-bop, vocal jazz that it’s entertaining to hear all these new artists coming up. We’re seeing and hearing a new brand of musician.”

If you go:

When: Saturday, March 23, 7:30 p.m.

Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City

Tickets: ($30 adults/$10 students) Call ArtTix at 801-355-ARTS

Jeff Metcalf is a professor of English at the University of Utah and an avid jazz fan.

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