Will Vinson: Planted and Growing in New York
Guitar is featured on all four of Vinson's recordings. "It is a sound that I love," he explains, "but the truth is that it has more to do with the fact that there are so many good guitarists around these days. Not that there aren't good piano players, obviously. Aaron has been on three of my records. But one of the great things about being in New York is you don't have to think so much about filling instrument chairs. If you're in a smaller scene, it's like: I've got to find a pianist or I've got to find a chord player. Someone to fill the roles you need to be filled in a band. In New York, everyone's so good and everyone's got their own musical personality. It's that which attracts me to a musician, not that they play a certain instrument. Having Kurt Rosenwinkel and Lage and Mike Moreno and Jonathan Kreisberg and other people around playing guitarthose guys all have a very distinctive sound. It means I can pick from that palette every time I do a gig. Sometimes, as a result, I don't even think of piano players. ... One of the real joys of New York is that there are these amazing voices on the scene that I can call."
So New York has taken a liking to him, just as the reverse is true. But it's been somewhat of a strange trip for this superb saxophonist. Prior to coming to the U.S., Vinson had some connection to America. His great grandfather worked in tin mines in North Dakota, and on the side he played trombone in a band. But his main music connection is his father, a British scientist who also dabbles in piano. "Everyone in my family has been, at one time or another, fairly active as amateur musicians. They're all music lovers," says Vinson.
He started playing piano at about the age of eight. "My dad used to play every Saturday morning, because that was his day off. He would also play jazz records around the house. When he was playing piano, sometimes I would go and sit on the bench and kind of tinkle along at the top end of the piano. I'm sure it made very little sense and sounded absolutely terrible," he recalls, chuckling at the memory. "I definitely had an interest in trying to make sense of that."
He started taking piano lessons at that age and took up the saxophone when he was 11. "But I was most serious about playing the piano until much later. ... I think it was pretty gradual, the realization that the sax was going to be my instrument. It had to do with various factors, including ... I got a little bit of tendinitis and I couldn't play the piano anymore, but I could play the saxophone for some reason. So that was one reason. I never really knew how I made the switch at one point, but I did. I became a saxophonist and that was that."
Again, his father's record collection was educational. "The first people I got interested in were Ben Webster, Lester Young, Stan Getz. It wasn't until a bit later that I got into bebop, because those weren't the records my dad had. They were swing era, big band stuff. As a result of that, I still have a great affection for those players. ... That was the sound that I associated with the saxophone. All of those guys are tenor players. Most of my favorite saxophone players have been tenor players. ... I'd heard Charlie Parker, but it didn't make sense to me until later. I then got stuck into that music, with a vengeance."
Vinson says he was too young to be connected with the jazz scene in London, when starting out. "I was also pretty shy. I never went to jam sessions or anything like that. So I was never part of the scene (in London), which is a bit weird. I think people find that curious."
Before his voyage across the ocean, he attended university in Bristol, about three hours from London, at age 18. His studies there were valuable, if not particularly jazz- focused. "It was classical music and musicology," explains Vinson. "I have to say that at school I learned quite a lot of things that I wouldn't have otherwise, about classical music, classical harmony, that sort of thing. I do think that's actually been a big help to me. I don't think it was necessarily fundamental or essential, even, but I do think it's found its way into my music, and I'm quite happy about that. I would have had no exposure to that, otherwise."
He knew from early on that music was his career path, "but I also didn't have any concept of how it was going to work. I knew from the age of about 12 that I wanted to be a musician, but it was really an abstract concept. Obviously, when you're 12 you're not really worrying about how you're going to pay the bills. Unlike a lot of musicians who go to school and enter the jazz scene while they're at school, I didn't do that because there wasn't really a jazz scene in Bristol."