“How versatile is Frank Vignola? He’s collaborated with Lionel Hampton and Madonna, covers Mozart and Black Sabbath on the same record and is one of Les Paul’s favorite guitarists.” – Joan Anderman, Boston Globe
Frank Vignola, an accomplished Long Island-based jazz guitarist played at Brookhaven National Laboratory where I work a few weeks ago and flat out blew my socks off. The fact that I was unfamiliar with his music doesn’t mean much – Vignola is well seasoned: although a young looking 44 years old, he has been playing guitar since age 5 and after playing as a session musician for a number of years, got his first solo record contract at age 27. After doing a little homework I learned that most of the great jazz guitarists influenced him in some way – from the legendary three fingered king of Gypsy swing, Django Reinhardt to Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian and Joe Pass but Vignola is not effete in his tastes and also listened to rock grooving on the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton.
The venue (BNL’s Brookhaven Center) is cozy – not a bad seat in the house but not much for atmosphere as it’s a converted army building from the days when the site was Camp Upton more than 60 years ago, with folding tables, cheap chandeliers and a self-serve pub. But when the house lights went down, a cool blue spot illuminated the stage area and the music converted that place into a magical world. Vignola was accompanied by a 25 year old protégé, Vinnie Raniolo who provided crisp rhythm guitar but occasionally took a solo or played harmony on some incredibly difficult riffs and kept up note for note with his mentor. They played lots of different genres from Django (my favorite) to sweet versions of Killing me Softly and Sounds of Silence (so well done you forgave the cheesiness), shifting seamlessly to Bach, Mozart, Gillespie, and some original tunes.
Frank Vignola’s most recent CD entitled, Looking Up contains many of the tunes they played the other night. It definitely holds up to repeated listening and captures the vibe of his live show. They also took a few random requests – it seemed like they knew any song you could throw at them – and at one point he introduced Tommy Emmanual who came up to sing a few vocals and add a little more rhythm guitar. Vignola combines a most amazing technical skill (i.e., can play frenetically – no blindingly fast – without missing a beat) with a really mellow acoustic sound using just the right vibrato to make his custom built Thorell guitar sing so sweetly. On the album, in addition to Vinnie Raniolo he fills out the sound with Gary Mazzaroppi on the double bass… in retrospect this was a missing link in the live show but I am sure it’s just a matter of not getting enough from the gig to support additional musicians. The ajoining YouTube links include some different sidemen and configurations, demonstrating the breadth of Vignola’s sound and repertoire. For more info and descriptions of his albums, click here to visit Frank Vignola’s web site.