Vic Juris: Tension and Release
AAJ: You've mentioned that, for you, the guitar is just a vehicle or a tool. Martino tends to agree with that assessment. For others, the guitar has a special meaning, sort of like a close friend, maybe romanticized a bit, perhaps mystical in what it "gives" the musician.
VJ: Well, for me, I'd probably be happy playing any instrumentI really just like music as such. I'm not really hung up on guitar that much. With the guitar specifically, I tried switching instruments a couple of years ago. I bought a bunch of guitars and tried them all, and I frankly couldn't tell the difference. You get your own sound. The thing is just to develop your own personality on an instrument.
AAJ: Yes. Trombonists were very preoccupied with what instrument and mouthpiece to use. And there were gimmicks like a tilted slide, even a string for reaching the lower notes. But the best players, while serious about such matters, pretty much got settled on a horn and mouthpiece and stuck with it.
VJ: The trombone is a very hard instrument to get a personal sound on.
AAJ: Tommy Dorsey, Janice "Ms. JJ" Johnson, Urbie Green, and Curtis Fuller all had distinct easily recognizable sounds that were very different from one another. Some players develop a very personal connection to their instrument.
VJ: Slide Hampton lives near me, and sometimes I see him walking down the street blowing on his mouthpiece.
AAJ: Well, he's just keeping his chops up. But for some people the guitar has a very special mystique.
VJ: It's a very difficult instrument to play jazz on, or even to read. Like for middle C, there are five options for it, while for the piano there's only one option for any note. And it's hard to get a personal sound on it because there are so many players. It seems that those who are most successful are those who can be easily identified by their sound and style. I think audiences really appreciate that.
AAJ: Absolutely. And you yourself have a wonderful and identifiable way of playing. Your sound is universal and brings in the traditions, but it is deeply personal and has a rich resonance. One particularly impressive thing about your playing is that you seem to hear and incorporate the whole composition and performance. Most guys are focused on a few bars behind and ahead of the beat, but you're like a painter who has an awareness of the whole canvas or landscape and makes each element fit into the whole in a balanced way. You seem to do something similar when you play.
VJ: Yes, I'm very conscious of the form of the piece. Like you say, it's sort of like a painter working towards the big picture on the canvas. That's not something you develop early on as a player. It takes years to get there. Just learning to improvise on chord changes is a life-long process.
Inside and Outside
AAJ: Many different things go on inside a musician when they're playing. For example, the singer JD Walter says he's often introspecting about emotions. Liebman sometimes has visual images going on internally. By contrast, pianist Jim Ridl says he thinks mostly about the sounds he's makingthe music itself. There's a different psychology for each musician. Where do you go mentally when you're playing?
VJ: I'm usually into the music itself, rather than images and associations. Sometimes I'm preoccupied with irrelevancieslike I'll think about my house on a road trip because I'm eager to return home. Mostly I'm thinking about the harmonies and listening a lot to the rhythm section. And when I play with someone as special as Liebman, I have to listen hard to him as well as the rhythm section while at the same time keeping my own part together. And I'm also thinking about the audience quite a bit. The audience is the most important thing in a waythey're the reason that you're there. It's an entertainment business. So I'm always conscious of trying to put on the best show that I can. Sometimes the audience notices that the musicians show up late or they're too casual about what they're doing. I try to be as professional as possible.
AAJ: To listeners, that makes a huge difference. The attitude of the musicians markedly affects the audience's satisfaction with what they're hearing.
VJ: A positive example is Houston Person's group. His band is impeccably dressed. The order of the set is perfectly in placewhere a ballad comes in, etc. He's a guy who all young people should go and check out. He wrote the book on being professionalI learned an awful lot from him. He's one of the elder statesmen that young people should go and hear. He's a perfect role model. I still go and ask his advice on things. He's also a good business person. He's been playing 30 or 40 years as a bandleader, and he's still working a lot.
AAJ: The business sense of musicians varies quite a bit.
VJ: Bucky Pizzarelli's in his 80s, and he's still booking gigs.
AAJ: On the other hand, there are some outstanding musicians who have trouble booking gigs and making a meaningful living.
VJ: If you don't have a business sense, you'd better get someone to do it for you. Plus a lot of clubs don't want to talk to musiciansthey'd rather talk to managers. The trouble is, a lesser known musician is going to have a hard time getting a manager.