Name: Jason Vieaux
Current Release: Jason Vieaux and the Escher Quartet's new album, Dance, is out now on Azica Records.
Recommendations: Ahmad Jamal (artist)… “Live at the Pershing”, Chess, 1958
Shudder To Think (artist) … “Pony Express Record”, Sony, 1994
If you enjoyed this interview with Jason Vieaux, you can find out more about him and his work on his personal website.
When did you start playing your instrument, and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started at 7 or 8 on classical guitar lessons and classical music training with Jeremy Sparks. My early influences on classical guitar were Julian Bream and David Russell, but in more “popular” guitar, Eddie Van Halen also made an impact on me, and so as a guitarist I have to mention that. I loved music from the time I remember anything ... my mother’s soul, rock, R&B records, and my dad’s jazz records.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
Originality is always preceded by learning or emulation for any artist. One has to emulate, in order to learn how to speak a music or instrumental language, just the same way a child has to emulate the sound, timbre, even cadence of their parents’ voices, in order to learn how to speak individually on their own. When I was a teenager, I was such a huge Julian Bream fan that I probably copped a lot of his style here and there. The transition to one’s own “voice” or communication style happens very gradually. As you mature into an adult, you begin to form your own opinions on things musically, just the same way you begin to form your own opinions on life, arts and entertainment, sports, people, politics, everything.
What were some of your main artistic challenges when starting out as an artist and in which way have they changed over the years?
I never struggled all that much with musical decisions or artistic decisions, because in hindsight I never really gave that much thought to them. My two primary struggles were definitely about improving my technique to achieve musical goals/details, and how the heck I was going to make a living in music – not due to my musical situations, but due to my “background” and financial situations. I had zero connection to entertainment or business or music or anything.
Musical *details* were always a big thing (and actually fun thing) for me, even as a teenager; everything was, and is, about music for me, on a pretty visceral level. Any technical goals that needed to be achieved, say, over a 1-2 year period, I coveted, in order to play with greater musical or emotional detail. So, the process of every piece involved making decisions on details. Whatever technical means were necessary in order to achieve those musical details, either in articulation, form, structure, color, etc., I addressed those technical issues one at a time, over a long period of time ... and lots and lots of repetitions, which I am very happy to demonstrate to my students.
Tell us about your studio/work space, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
Well, this is not going to be a very interesting answer ... but I’m on the road most of the year, so hotels are very common work spaces for me, especially with kids now. I can get a lot of work done in a broom closet (I had some experience doing just that on the 1993 GFA tour, actually). Mood can definitely affect things, but nothing gets work done efficiently like a deadline does.
Tell me about your instrument, please. What was your first instrument like and how did you progress to your current one? How would you describe the relationship with it? What are its most important qualities and how do they influence the musical results, including your own performance?
My first “good” guitar was a student model Ramirez from 1974, that my parents bought for me somehow from Eli and Ann Kassner in Toronto in 1986. That guitar allowed me to really explore color, and help me as a 13-year-old to take care of my sound. After that, I have played many concerts with guitars by Dake Traphagen, German Vazquez Rubio, Paul Fischer, and now, for the last 15 years, Gernot Wagner.
They’re honestly little more than a block of wood to me; I have little emotional attachment to a guitar. One has to be sensitive to what a guitar can do well, and what it cannot do as well, much the same way that a coach of an NFL or MLB coach/manager must discern what their current players are good at, and what they are not so good at, in order to coach/manage for the greater good of the team and its game-to-game results.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I wish I could have a fixed schedule, but every day is pretty different. And I fit the practicing in around a lot of scheduled events or appointments, especially these last few years with young kids and aging parents. This learning process has made me a better practicer, and thus a better guitarist and performer. My time organization was good in college, but it’s on a pretty high level right now, at least it seems so to me. I try to keep my personal and family life separate from my professional life.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that’s particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
I don’t really start with a concept or an idea … that’s never really how I work. Some of the musicians that I’ve worked with over the years do start with a concept or idea, and I am amazed and inspired by them, because I don’t really do things that way. Maybe someday I will. I just like to play and work on music, for performance really. I’m very much a live performer ... and then I have to think about a project idea, package, marketing, etc., later. The Metheny record, for example, was really just Pat heads (melodies) I was arranging and playing for my own enjoyment, and then it dawned on Azica Records and me one day to flesh it out into an album. That’s how the “solos” and “baroque suite” took shape – to meet a deadline.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
The only thing I really need to be productive as a musician, or to start something artistically, is to practice or improvise on my guitar ... to play some musical result or situation, involving the guitar or something buzzing around in my head. Of course, there are many distractions in life, but I have a pretty significant pallet of items to work on every day, between music and family. If I wasn’t a classical musician professionally, I would have spent the time on improvising and composing more ... that’s just the way it turned out for me; I had to pay rent and eat.
Time organization and prioritization have always been very big things with me since I was a teen, and I am readily available to teach those things to my students whenever the opportunity arises.