The Frank & Joe Show: Looking for a Long, Happy Run
Frank: We’re doing everything wrong. [laughter] It’s a six-piece band, a startup group, basically. The little careers we’ve carved out for ourselves as Frank Vignola and Joe Ascione, now it’s the Frank & Joe Show. It’s a startup group. We’re doing everything wrong. We didn’t make a jazz record. But it just feels so right that we just kind of have to roll the dice and work as hard as we can. We played at Border’s Bookstore for 12 people this afternoon. We’re just doing anything we can to get the music out there, because we know. We’re 40-year-old men, you think we’d be, like, “nah...” But it just feels so right.
AAJ: A lot of musicians are down on things. They try to stay optimistic, but...
Frank: Well, it’s not easy being a musician, number one. And it’s not easy being a jazz musician, number two. Especially nowadays. Because if you get a gig in a club for 20 bucks, you get excited. Well, I got three kids. How am I going to support them? So, I’ve been fortunate I’ve been able to eek out a living. But, at the same time, you’re either a musician, or you’re not a musician. People who are musicians are going to remain in the business. People who really weren’t given that talent or that gift or that drive or whatever you want to call it, won’t last.
Joe: It weeds you out. You either say, “I'm going to do this” or “I’m not going to do this.” That’s your choice. But what I’ve experienced is that it continually draws you in. You’re almost compelled to do it.
Frank: [Joe] was an engineer with McDonald-Douglas. Living on the beach in Huntington Beach, California.
Joe: Living like a big shot. I used to throw my checks on my desk. I didn’t even need them. After a month, I was like this. [drums his fingers on the table in boredom]. With all those checks. I was like, “what am I doing?” I always make a joke: I took an $80,000 pay cut. Went back to New York with my sticks. I sat in and it was: “Ah. I’m home!”
Frank: Even with music teaching, I think it’s the same thing. I went out to Arizona for two years on a grant to start the jazz guitar program at Arizona State University. The best thing that happened to me was I met Ken. We became good friends. He was one of my students. Believe it or not, I heard him play for the first time and said, “OK, forget about this student-teacher thing because you’re too good. Let’s go get you some gigs so you can get out and play.” So after two years I was ready to hang myself out there, seeing a therapist. Finally I said, “You got to cool back to New York.” The next thing I know... back and feeling better than ever being a musician.
Joe: Everything’s in a constant state of change. Life is not static. So [older musicians] say, “Years ago, we used to do 40 sessions a day.” Well, it’s not like that today. And people are going to come up and we’re going to say, “We got to play with Billy Mitchell and John Lewis...” It’s cyclical, and every dog has his day.
Frank: A group like the Bad Plus comes out and there you go. A couple of new kids on the block. The new Medeski, Martin and Wood, if you will. Now people are talking about, “they’re doing pop music in jazz.”
[Mazzaroppi and Zukor enter the room and ball-busting jokes abound; good-natured ribbing... Rich shows off his Kiss shirt, “the greatest jazz band of all time,” he grins.]
AAJ: I’ve got one thing from both your backgrounds to ask you about. Joe, you were a roadie for Buddy Rich as a teenager. What was that like?
Joe: I was right out of high school. A friend of mine and I used his red van to travel around the northeastern portion of the United States and show up at Buddy’s gigs, informally. And every night we’d ogle the band and hang around and start helping them lug the gear and put it in the bus, and I gravitated toward the drums and gravitated toward the next gig. They’d say, “You here again?” The next thing you know, I was setting up the drums and breaking them down; setting up the drums and breaking them down. It started out as something very informal, out of sheer joy and enthusiasm to hear Buddy Rich, and then I was sitting this far away [a matter of a few feet] every night hearing him and was mesmerized. Just like somebody said to Frank, “You didn’t get the chance to play with Connie Kay?” Well, I can tell anybody in my life I got the chance, night after night, to sit this far away from Buddy Rich and experience that intensity. And that’s something that will stick with me. There’s nothing like it. That was an experience.
Frank: [tongue in cheek] Is that that singer with the white hair? That Rich guy? Who was that?
Joe: Charlie Rich?
Frank: I had the wrong guy.