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"Jazz Monthly Feature Interview" Jerry Vivino
interview by Joe Caroselli

Jerry VivinoJazz Monthly: It is a real joy for us to welcome as our special guest an extremely talented and versatile musician, performer, and entertainer, Jerry Vivino. Calling Jerry Vivino a “multi- reed” musician still isn’t quite descriptive enough to describe his amazing talents! Jerry plays: tenor,alto, soprano, baritone and bass saxophones,
b flat, e flat, and bass clarinets, flute, alto flute, bass flute, piccolo, ocarina, recorder, and Irish penny whistle! In fact, I think that if Jerry picked up one of those paper New Year’s Eve noisemaker horns, well… he could probably even make some great music on that too!!! Jerry has played with Bruce Springsteen, James Taylor, Bette Midler, Wynton Marsalis, Tony Bennett, Frankie Valli, Dr. John, and the legendary Keely Smith- just to name a few. Jerry’s latest CD, “Walkin’ with the Wazmo” is a musical buffet of great listening. Jerry was a long time member of the Max Weinberg 7( the band on the original Conan O’Brien Show, and plays in The Basic Cable Band on Conan’s current show on TBS . Jerry is busy gigging, doing studio work, playing on commercials, and being a devoted husband and dad. Welcome to, Jerry.

Jerry Vivino (JV): What a welcome! Wow, you know Joe, you and I go way back. We did gigs together and were in the ”trenches” together back in the heyday when there were three, four hundred gigs a year for freelance musicians like us. I’ll never forget that. Your introduction… well, I’m humbled by it.

Jazz Monthly: Well you deserve every word of it. You know Jerry, I mentioned in my intro, all of the many instruments that you play, and I’d like to nickname you: ”Horns of Plenty!!!”  You’ve heard of the Thanksgiving “Horn of Plenty? Well, Jerry Vivino is a musical “Cornucopia!!!”  (both laugh)

JV: (Laughing) Well thank you. You know, I tried to get it right. I remember years ago, when I was a teenager, I read an article about Charlie Parker and they said the guy could play anything. He could get a sound on a can of corn! (both laugh). You know, you basically paid an homage to me. I don’t know how to put it. I’m humbled by it. It was unbelievable! Joe, you kidded about NewYear’s Eve noisemakers. Do you know in my live show when I get a
little crazy, I actually hand them out to the audience and have them play along with us?! It’s amazing. I know you’re not aware of that, because you haven’t seen my live show recently.

Jazz Monthly:  We want to invite all of the people in the areas where you’re playing to go to see you. You know Jerry, you talked about handing these things out and making people have fun, and it sort of leads me into this question. You know I like your description of your live show because you said: “it’s pretty much Louie Prima meets Sonny Rollins.” I like that,
because sometimes Jerry, and you know this as well as I …sometimes Jazz musicians forget that while the music of course should always be at the forefront and on a high level… it’s still about entertaining people, right?

JV: Well I’m totally in agreement with that. In fact the musicianship of Louie Prima, Sam Butera, and so many others was usually overlooked. I mean, even Louis Armstrong played to the people. You know, these are great, great musicians. In all due respect to the jazz purists… yes, the music always comes first, but my quest with music is to reach as many people as I can. Sometimes I think that if you go over the listener’s head, you lose a
potential jazz audience. To develop a jazz audience is a very difficult thing. A musician will always want to go out and hear Sonny Rollins, but the average hard working ”nine- to- five” guy would go hear Louie Prima and walk out and say: “Wow, I really love that music!” On the same token, I came to the conclusion that there’s so much to offer an audience with music and with just joy… you know when you see people’s faces and you see a reaction. I’ll
put it to you this way: if you can get an audience to put down their fork and spoon and listen… it’s a success!  Creative process is at the forefront and it should be, but you know, it’s nice to make people feel good and say: “You know, I never liked… I never really listened to jazz before, but this is great!” I don’t know, I’m rambling on here, but I think you understand where I’m coming from.

Jazz Monthly: Oh no, you’re not rambling on. You’re making some great points.

JV: I’ve read so many articles about the great Illinois Jacquet - for instance, or Lou Donaldson; I’ve spoken to these people. Lou is still around but Illinois - for instance… he had records and he played the exact solos that were on those records, because I heard him say countless times that this is what the audience wants to hear. They buy this record… they want this solo. That’s what I’m going to play for them. You know, Benny Goodman did the same. It’s a great thing. You play to the public. There’s no shame in it; there’s always a time to expand and play for musicians as well, but to play to the public, I think… is the key.

Jazz Monthly: Yeah, but I think that a fine musician will even respect that, and say: “Yes, Jerry is entertaining to people and the people are enjoying it, but you know what, he could also back it up with fine musicianship. In other words… it’s not just jive or shtick! You certainly do that, you’re a fine showman, but you also are a great musician FIRST.

JV: Well, thank you.

Jazz Monthly: You know, my analogy is, and you might get a kick out of this… at the Japanese steakhouses, you know with the hibachi stoves, with the Japanese chef there. He’s twirling the knives, and flipping it, and catching it behind his back, catching the utensils and all that; and there’s nothing wrong with that, as long as he or she is a great cook or chef FIRST,

JV: (laughing) Exactly, well you know when I was a teenager and I started realizing that I wanted to be a musician when I grew up… you know that attitude. You know 15, 16, 17 years old, you start developing, really developing and you might decide: “Gee, I want to continue this or I really love this, and this is what I want to do.” I would listen to a flute player
like Hubert Laws and I would say: “Oh my gosh, this is the best jazz flutist I’ve ever heard in my life!” I’m sixteen… I’d buy his records, I’d listen, and… you know how kids beat themselves up, and  say: “Oh my gosh, can I be Coltrane? Can I be Parker? Can I be Hubert Laws? Can I be Sonny Rollins?” When you say to yourself: “I’ll NEVER be Charlie Parker, I’ll NEVER be John Coltrane, I’ll NEVER be Hubert Laws… that’s part of the growing process.

That’s part of the respect. So I gained respect for these guys, and ofcourse like any aspiring musician, you bow your head down to these true geniuses.  Michael Brecker for instance- a lot of young saxophonists would want to be on that level. So you strive for it and you go for it; and then you develop your own thing, and that’s the key. Not to be Charlie Parker,
not to be Hubert Laws, not to be John Coltrane, but to be Jerry Vivino, or to be John Smith. You follow the gist? If you have that attitude you know something will come of it from yourself and that’s all I try to do, I just try to be myself at this point, and I like to entertain and I like to get it right; so the music and entertainment are just as important to me.

Jazz Monthly: Absolutely, and I know you came out of a musical and showbiz family.  You share the same birthday as Elvis. Is that right?

JV: Yeah, very good, Joe- you got that right! I know you’re a music historian, so you probably saw my bio and saw “January eighth,” and immediately that clicked with you.

Jazz Monthly: Yep,  that date- January 8th- just “shot out” at me!

JV: Oh… also David Bowie is in there too if you want to find another one!
(both laugh)

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