Will Vinson: Planted and Growing in New York
He views that as a benefit, rather than a drawback. "If I'd really thought about it and been part of a jazz scene, the bewildering, daunting size of it might have put me off at the time. But I was young and I didn't really think or worry about that too much. I had a friend who was at university in Bristol doing a film music degreea guy from Italy, who had studied at Manhattan School of Music already. He suggested that I go there, so I just looked it up and followed the steps. I ended up applying and getting in, getting a scholarship and going. It happened quite quickly, actually. I went from not thinking about it at all to suddenly doing it, in the space of a couple months."
"I never spent any time as a professional musician in the UK. That was good for me, because I think if I had come to London and started to realize wheat was involved in being a professional musician and how hard it was, I might never have made the move to New York. I might have been too daunted by it. But somehow, in a moment of madness, I decided to go. ... Then the same thing happened to me which happens to just about everybody else who goes to New York, which is that they fall in love with it within five minutes and decide that's where they want to be. That was 11 years ago and I haven't left."
It took a little time to establish contacts and credentials, but gradually he entered New York's jazz scene. Entered and blossomed. The world of jazz became the proper landing spot.
"It's the improvisation, and as a result of that, the musical conversation that can happen with people who are really committed to the music," he says. "Again, in New York the level of musicianship is so high, the level of listening is so high. People listen to each other and they really do, on a good day, create things that haven't happened before. That's amazing. That's really a unique thing to jazz.
"Not that we've created what hasn't happened before, but that we do so just by getting together and taking out our instruments and playing. I think that's an amazing quality of jazz. That's why it's interesting to go and see a band you've already seen before. It's not going to be the same, even if they're playing the same music. That's why it's interesting to be on the road and to play the same music every night but, if you're in the right company, to have something new and different and amazing happen to it every night. ... In jazz, you can have wildly different things happen every night on the same music, which is just endless joy and an endless source of inspiration."
Over the last decade, Vinson has had other inspirations, among them musicians new and old. "One of my biggest early influences was Seamus Blake. Sometimes you hear someone and you think: 'This guy's doing what I want to be doing.' He's a perfect example of that because he has all the sophisticated harmonic and technical stuff that excellent players are going to develop. But he also has something that is much deeper than that, which is an amazing intuitive melodic sense and a beautiful sound. It's those two things that we need to strive for as saxophone players. There's so much daunting history of technical achievement on our instrument that it's very easy to get caught up with trying to reach the level of that bar that's been set. It is important for us to do that, but Seamus does all that, but he also has this effortless melodic sense that's just amazing to me."
Saxophonist Mark Turner is another musician Vinson has learned from. "I've always been pretty harmonically minded in my music and what I'm trying to do. Mark is just an amazing example of what can be achieved harmonically on a single instrument. The first time I heard him, I was completely devastated. I felt like I was exploring some things, harmonically, on a saxophone. Then I heard him and I was, like, 'Wow. He's knocked it out of the park.' So he's been a huge influence, too."
Other influences change periodically, he explains. "I've listened to a lot of Cannonball [Adderley] in my life, a lot of Lee Konitz, a lot of Bird and Coltrane and all the rest of it. Right now, I'm on a bit of a Paul Desmond kick. He has this amazing melodic imperative to the way he plays. When you hear him play a line, it's hard to imagine how anything else could ever have happened. He has an amazing, almost classical sense of what I would call melodic imperative. It sounds obvious, in a way, when you hear him set up a line and complete it. But then when you actually try to do it, it's incredibly impossible. What he's doing is playing something that's so melodically balanced and perfect in its imagery. It's the kind of thing Bach would come up with. The reason it sounds obvious is because it's just so perfect. When you actually look at what he's doing and try to play like that, it's one of the hardest things. So, yeah, I'm a big Paul Desmond fan."