Artist Feature Friday: Jason Vieaux
“Vieaux opened ears with his rhythmic clarity and remarkable left-hand facility….He made the single guitar seem like a body of instruments at work in music full of the emotion of loss.” – The Philadelphia Inquirer
This week, we had the chance to speak to Jason Vieaux, a season-music veteran and guitar virtuoso. Vieaux is truly one of great talents to come from the east coast, but don’t just take our word for it…his music, and unique playing style, speak for themselves. We talked about his influences, his technique and how your playing directly impacts you overall tone.
Here’s what Jason had to say:
You started playing guitar at the age of eight. Can you tell us a little about what initially got you into playing music? Do you remember the first song you learned?
JV: My mother bought me my first guitar, at age 5. It was a kid-size classical, but I don’t think any of us knew what that was. Hot Cross Buns was probably the first single-line melody I learned in my first lessons, which were with jazz guitarist Joel Perry. He gave me my first music-reading lessons.
Do you play any other instruments?
JV: No, I never had any time.
Who would you consider to be some of you biggest influences?
JV: Probably Julian Bream and David Russell are the 2 biggest classical influences, but I’ve always been much more inspired by composers and musical compositions that anything else. Bach, Beethoven, Stravinsky, Ravel, Debussy, Miles Davis.
Do you remember the first guitar you ever owned? Do you still have it?
The aforementioned guitar, and yes it’s at my parents’ house. I had sold it to a family whose 7-year-old boy was studying with me, while I was in college. I probably needed the money so I sold it to them so the boy could have a proper classical guitar. I had forgotten about it, so my father bought it back from them and it was a very cool Christmas present many years later. I thought I’d never see it again.
Can you tell us about your finger-style technique?
Well, it’s a fairly standard classical guitar technique, although I like to use more wrist angles, wrist rotations and thumb angles than most players, I suspect. If your technique is secure, you can get a whole universe of sounds, dynamics and colors, if you experiment.
You have played with so many different orchestras and so many different venues around the world, are there any performances that really stand out to you in all the years you have been touring?
JV: My travels to certain areas of Asia are very memorable, as well as Brazil, Germany, France, Spain, New Zealand. But certain gigs were really different experiences as well, like playing at the outdoor Amphitheater in the Woodlands area of Houston with Houston Symphony, playing an Allen Krantz concerto to 3000 outdoors in Australia.
Sounds like your new album, Play, will consist of a number of songs you have performed over the last 20 years while touring. Are there any pieces on the album that are your favorites?
JV: I always thought “Cavatina” by Stanley Myers was a really beautiful pop song without words. I like how that turned out on the record. And it’s nice to get El Colibri (“The Hummingbird”) by Julio Sagreras on a recording. My favorites to play live right now are the Roland Dyens version of Jobim’s “A Felicidade”, and my Ellington arrangement.
I read that you like to practice at least 3 hours per day. Can you tell us a little about your practice routine?
JV: I have a weekly and monthly outlook of what needs to get practiced, and lower-priority things go into a rotation, higher priority pieces I try to look at each day, although that’s impossible sometimes. Some days you have to take hat you can get.
Do you still primarily play a Gernot Wagner guitar? Can you tell us a little about it and what attracted you to that particular guitar?
JV: It’s a double-top construction guitar, which means it has 2 very thin soundboards with a sheet of Nomex in between. The way Wagner is about to get this style of construction to produce a very loud guitar, yet not have a synthetic sound to it, is amazing. Lots of color and musical flexibility.
Is there a specific kind of wood combination for the body and neck of the guitar that you find produces a better tone?
JV: Not necessarily, it all depends on the talent of the luthier. I find I like spruce for the top more times than not.
What do you look for when it comes to a guitar’s tone?
JV: Flexibility – ability to adapt to musical situations and character.
What kind of strings do you like to use?
JV: Galli Titaniums
Do you have a specific way you like to record your guitars? Any specific microphones or setups?
JV: You would have to ask my recording team about specifics, but I can tell you that Azica Records uses Sennheiser MKH20, in a reverberant space. Bruce Egre is my engineer and Alan Bise is my producer. They’ve tried different things over the years.
I think it’s very admirable that you are sharing your talent through your online guitar education. Can you tell us a little about your ArtistWorks involvement?
JV: It took a few phone conversations for me to fully understand why I was being sought out by ArtistWorks, but I eventually signed on. And I’m glad I did, because it definitely provides a great service to many players for very little money. I’m continually surprised by the amount of information I can communicate to students to help their playing through this medium.
Our readers range anywhere from novice to professional, regardless of ability we all run into those road blocks or plateaus in our playing. Do you have any advice on pushing past those plateaus and getting to that next level?
JV: Lots of practice and lots of patience.
What has been one of your biggest challenges when it comes to guitar playing and how did you overcome it?
JV: Probably overcoming bad habits in my mechanics. But I knew that solving those problems would result in greater freedom and facility, so I was happy to do the work necessary.
Do you have any advice for our younger readers out there that are curious about playing classical guitar?
JV: Listen to tons of classical music (Lang Lang performing with Metallica on the Grammys doesn’t count). Unlike so much of the bad or mediocre music we’re deluged with by the marketplace (some of which I really enjoy occasionally), it won’t rot your brain! If you think about it for a second, it’s called classical music for a reason – because its sheer quality and humanity made it this far and is still cherished by music lovers today. And classical guitar is not merely a style of guitar playing, the guitar is a classical music instrument and has it’s own very rich history of repertoire.
If you could have dinner with one musician, dead or alive, who would it be?
JV: Mozart… seems like he knew how to have a good time.
Be sure to keep up with all things Jason Vieaux: