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Will Vinson: Planted and Growing in New York

R.J. DeLuke By

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There's no better motivator than the knowledge that there's all these other people within a few miles (in New York)--that are dedicated to the music and working on something new all the time.
Like many musicians of his generation, growing up in the rock-and pop-dominated 1980s, saxophonist Will Vinson got his indoctrination to jazz from the sounds emanating from the stereo system in his home, hearing the likes of Dave Brubeck, Duke Ellington and Count Basie from his father's record collection. He took a liking to them. Especially Basie, as Vinson started out playing the piano as a youngster.

But there were a few obstacles. Vinson, 33, is a native of London, and looking around his immediate surroundings, he felt practically alone among his peers. There were few comrades-in-arms for Vinson with regard to his "eccentric interest." Nonetheless, by the age of about 12, he knew that he wanted to make music a career, albeit unsure of what form that would actually take.

The jazz thing was a bit of a puzzle. Schools in the United Kingdom didn't have jazz band programs. "There was no tradition having any kind of jazz exposure," says Vinson. "But there did happen to be a very enthusiastic, very encouraging music teacher at my school who, even though she didn't know anything about jazz and didn't have any background in it whatsoever, she recognized very early on that I was interested in it. She was very encouraging. That was a big help, to have somebody to validate this eccentric interest of mine. Because it really did feel like something that nobody else in the world, certainly of my generation, was ever going to be interested in."

Illustrative is a Chick Corea concert he attended in London, at age 13. The budding pianist/saxophonist ("I actually wanted to be a pianist—well, I still want to be a pianist, but I think it's probably time to let that go now," he quips) was into Chick, and was looking forward to the opportunity. "I thought I must be the only person within 50 miles that's even heard of this guy. At the time, I didn't know anything about what was happening in the jazz world. I just had some recordings. I went to the concert hall in London and there were about 3,000 people there, going nuts. I thought, 'Maybe I'm not the only person in the world who likes jazz.' That was a nice realization. But up until then I was pretty much the only one in school. I managed to persuade a few other people I was in school with to expand their interest to Hendrix, to get them as far as Weather Report or something like that. As a result, I have a few friends from my high school days who are kind of peripherally into jazz."

Pointedly, he notes "But I wasn't around people who were into jazz until I got to New York." As his musicianship grew at home, Vinson never became part of the London jazz scene. He didn't go to local jam sessions. With none of that in his dossier, it must have been some leap of faith to uproot to New York City, the center of all things jazz, in 1999. But it was there that he found kindred spirits. He relished it.

More than that, Vinson, who now calls Brooklyn his home, thrives there. "The fact that, by a million miles, it's the biggest and deepest and broadest and best jazz scene anywhere in the world. That was definitely a reason [for uprooting to the Big Apple]," Vinson says chuckling. "When I was a kid, I had a feeling that I was the only person of my age on earth who was interested in jazz. By the time I got to New York, I felt like I had entered the opposite world. All of a sudden everyone around me was as passionate as I was—often more knowledgeable. It was overwhelming, but purely in a good way. There was nothing that wasn't good about it. It was amazing and inspiring to be surrounded by people like that and be able to go out every night and see maybe three different examples of great music."

He adds, "I still am amazed at the fact that it's still possible for me, after 11 years, to go out and see someone that I've never even heard of, whose name I've never even heard mentioned, who's amazing. It still happens occasionally. It happened every night for the first couple years. I felt like a proverbial kid in a candy store."

As well as being in a candy store, he was at Manhattan School of Music, where he encountered the likes of Aaron Parks, Ambrose Akinmusire, Miguel Zenon and Jaleel Shaw. Not only that, this cat could play. Really play. Since his arrival on American soil, he has played or recorded with some of the brightest musicians on the New York scene, like Jonathan Kreisberg, Ari Hoenig, Kendrick Scott, Mark Turner, Ingrid Jensen, Chris Potter, Geoffrey Keezer, Lage Lund, Seamus Blake, Aaron Parks and more. He's scored gigs with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and with pop/rock artist and songwriter Rufus Wainright.


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