“What do you wanna play, Bucky? Let’s have a union meeting,” Frank Vignola joked.
“Nuages,” he replied as he started off solo on the Django Reinhardt classic. Bucky Pizzarelli, Frank Vignola, and Vinny Raniolo were all in town this past Thursday to pay homage to, and breathe new life into, the classic swing-guitar sound.
“You know, you told us some great news backstage,” Frank said to Vinny. “Why don’t you share that with us?” Vinny replied, “Today is my great grandmother’s 107th birthday. Well, she died 20 years ago, which makes it a little less amazing, but when I go I wanna go like she did . . . peacefully in her sleep, not screaming like her passengers.”
The way the three of them sat up there on the mostly empty stage and joked around—and called out changes to each other—made you feel right at home. It is the Italian way.
“Alright Vin, how bout you do some El Cubanchero?” Frank coaxed. He didn’t really have to coax too hard, because they both got up from their chairs and stood there doing a Latin guitar duel that seemed to get faster and faster. “We’ll be in the lobby for intermission, and just a warning, we’re shorter than we appear on stage,” Frank joked.
“I have some 78s in the car,” Bucky yelled.
“I’ll buy ‘em,” someone in the crowd yelled back.
But, before they took that intermission, Bucky said, “1938, Benny Goodman made a famous record called ‘Sing, Sing, Sing.’ We’re gonna do it with three guitars.”
After selling tons of CDs, signing autographs, smiling for cameras and shaking hands, the trio took the stage for another set. Bucky started off playing another swing classic, “Stompin at the Savoy,” and they went on with the solos. Someone at the front of the audience was trying to take pictures of the trio, and Frank got out of his seat and stopped the other two from playing and they all struck a pose for the camera as the crowd laughed. Then right back into the solo section like it never happened.
“Get up boys,” Bucky commanded after the tune was over.
“Bucky requested that we perform for you Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Scene One,” Frank said. Frank and Vinny did a jazzed up version of the iconic classical piece as they plied and pirouetted around the stage to an uproar of laughs. Then dun, dun, dun, dunnn, “down to the symphony hall,” Frank shouted as they launched off into perhaps the most recognizable classical piece of them all, Beethoven’s Fifth.
Bucky is a swing craftsmen. Every line and chord is carefully handpicked. Frank had a way of strumming so fast during some of his melody lines that it created a kind of sustained tremolo that sounded almost like a singing voice. Vinny did a fair amount of soloing, but he was really the primary rhythm guitarist with his big acoustic filling out that part of the timbre. Rather than stroking over the tone hole, he spent a lot of time right where the neck and the body meet giving a more dampened, straight chunk to keep time.
These guys were clearly having a great time playing with one another and for the sizable audience. After receiving a standing ovation and playing an encore, Frank threw out even one more to the boys as he said, “It’s hard to stop playing. I hope you don’t mind.” It didn’t seem to bother anyone.