Vic Juris: Topflight Guitarist
Stylistically, Juris was listening to a variety of players growing up. "In the beginning it was non-jazz players like Harold Bradley, Al Caiola, Tony Mottola. More commercial-type players. And then in jazz it was Pat Martino, Larry Coryell, John McLaughlin, John Abercrombie. I still listen to a lot of guitarists.
He's teamed with various quality guitar players over the years, like Coryell, Biréli Lagrène and Russell Malone.
"Lately I've been listening to a composer called Lutoslovsky, contemporary classical. I've been listening to more orchestra music. I don't know why. More classical, because I kind of neglected that in the past. Turning 50 had an effect, he quips, adding, "I'm influenced by everything I hear. It's such a wide variety of stuff. Somehow it all comes out in my playing and writing.
Mingus, Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor have all had their affect on Juris, not just the straight-ahead jazz or classic rock, he says. In fact, a decade or so ago he was involved in the group Five Guitars Play Mingus, which group a quintet of guitarists with a rhythm section to play specially devised charts of music from the bass-playing legend.
"That came about through an arranger in Canada who had too many guitars in his guitar players in his jazz program, so he was writing arrangements for the lack of horn players, recalls Juris. "So he got in touch with Sue Mingus. He wrote about a dozen charts for five guitars and piano bass and drums. (Pianist) John Hicks got the call from Sue Mingus to put a guitar band together. So John Hicks is the one who got it going. The original band was myself, Peter Leitch, Jack Wilkins, Ron Jackson and Ted Dunbar.
"We opened for the (Mingus) big band at times. That lasted for about a year. It intrigued Sue, so she wanted to do it. It didn't last, but was good while it lasted. Guitar players don't generally get the chance to play together in an ensemble, like the way saxophones do, or brass players. It was great for us to all hang out, trade ideas. And of course we played all Mingus music. Most guitar players don't get a chance to do that either. It gave us all a real insight into his writing.
Juris is also involved in education, authoring books on guitar technique and improvisation. He teaches at the New School of Music in Manhattan and also in the Rutgers University jazz program. Like many musicians involved in colleges across the land, passing things on and helping younger musicians is important. Juris excels at it. But in this day and age, it is also valuable in a basic survival way.
"It's always kind of been that way, for me, to make a living. You have to supplement in different ways, he says.
Many jazz artists have to look elsewhere to keep business going, whether it's education, studio work whatever can keep them busy and help pay the bills. That necessity is not lost on any musician, even if they are so successful they can make it on gigs and recording alone. All have paid their dues at one time or another.
"Times change, says Juris without bitterness or undue concern. "Unfortunately, I don't think the next generation of people go out much. A lot of people stay home and communicate on the computer rather than going out and doing it live. It's really affected a lot of weeknight (nightclub) business, I've noticed. People go out on weekends. It's also more expensive to go out to places than it was 20 years ago. The cover charges are a lot higher. Before you could go to three or four places in the course of an evening. Now you've got to pick and one place and stay there. So the economy has affected it to.
But Juris is staying busy fronting his group when he can, touring with Liebman, and arranging other gigs as they come up. His name is one that will keep being found on recordings, because of the quality of his work. There's hopefully another Mel Bay recording on the horizon, he notes.
It might not always be jazz music that moves Juris, with his broad tastes and eclectic ideals. But the music has propelled him to the upper echelon of guitar improvisers. Whether a lot of people know it or not, that's where he stands.
Visit Vic Juris on the web.