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Take Five With Vinson Valega

AAJ Staff By

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Meet Vinson Valega:

Vinson grew up in a musical family near Washington, D.C., studying classical piano from age seven until switching to the drums when he was 12. He played drums for three years in the All-County Jazz Ensemble during high school and subsequently held the drum chair in the University of Pennsylvania Big Band during college. After graduating from UPENN with a B.A. in Economics, Vinson came to New York City in the early 90's to study music at the Mannes College of Music in Manhattan, where he studied with Marvin "Smitty" Smith (of The Tonight Show Band), Vernel Fournier, and Norm Freeman (of the New York Philharmonic).

Vinson has performed in many clubs in the New York Metropolitan area, including the Blue Note, Smoke, The Jazz Gallery, 55 Bar, Birdland, Smalls, Cornelia Street Cafe, Cleopatra's Needle, and Trumpets of Montclair, NJ. An avid composer, Vinson also teaches privately and served on the staff of the Stanford Jazz Workshop in California from 1999-2001. He has toured throughout North America and Europe with his groups and others and has four CDs out as a leader, Live@147, Consilience, Awake and Biophilia.

In addition, Vinson has also worked with or played alongside with many of the great musicians in jazz, such as Grover Washington Jr., Dakota Staton, Clark Terry, James Williams, Donald Brown, Harold Mabern, Jr., }}Jamil Nasser}}, Ron McClure, Bob Mintzer, Peter Bernstein, Terell Stafford, Eric Alexander, Jim Rotondi, David Hazeltine, Joel Frahm, Dena DeRose, and Vincent Herring, and Candido Camero Camero, among others.

Instrument(s): drums

Teachers and/or influences? My very first drum teacher, Johnny Smith, from Washington, DC, was instrumental in igniting the jazz flame within me. From 6th to 12th grade I studied with him in Maryland, outside of DC, and his generous enthusiasm and vast knowledge touched me and many, many other drummers back then.

When I came to NYC, I continued my studies, going back to the roots of this music with Kenny Washington and Lewis Nash in the early 90's and continuing with the incomparable Vernel Fournier at The New School. These wonderful teachers showed me the way it's done! And I cannot speak highly enough about Vernel, who was just a beautiful spirit and swinging musician. I never stop thinking of what Vernel taught me!

As far as other drummer influences, you can't play this music without going through Kenny Clarke, Papa Joe Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones, Elvin Jones, Jimmy Cobb, Joe Chambers, Albert Heath, Ed Thigpen, Louis Hayes, Tony Williams, Jack DeJohnette, Ed Blackwell, Victor Lewis, Bill Stewart and Brian Blade, to name just a few.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when... When there was no other alternative.

Your sound and approach to music: Years ago I read an interview of the great drummer, Billy Drummond, who remarked that he wanted his drums to sound "pretty" and "beautiful." That approach resonated with me ever since and I am always trying to draw those qualities out of my instrument. This music is all about SOUND, and that HAS to be the number one focus of any musician playing this music.

In addition, because technique is a life-long endeavor, I am constantly trying to improve it in a way that serves my musical ideas. For me, it's all about musical phrasing that is inspired from a beautiful sound. Colors, shapes, forms, passages...these are the things I like to think about in both my drumming and composing.

Your teaching approach: Because every student has different needs, you have to approach each one uniquely. Certainly, technique is a must, but also sound and music are even more important. The #1 issue, though, is getting the music off the recordings and into their heads and hands and feet. This music is an oral tradition first and foremost. Breaking it down into its parts is essential, but the music must come first.

Your dream band: My dream band is the one I have now, although I am always seeking to get my butt kicked by those in front of me!

Road story: Your best or worst experience: The first time I ever played at Birdland here in New York City was a pretty horrendous experience, at least in the beginning of the gig.

I was almost finished setting up my drums when I realized that there was a horrible odor emanating from somewhere. After searching around, I realized that when I took out my drums from the cab, I had placed them in a pile of vomit on the street, which was then transferred to my pants!!

Beat THAT one for the most disgusting story up here!!

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