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Vinny Valentino

Although Vinny Valentino is a guitar virtuoso, his talent with six strings often overshadows his insight and genius as a composer. "I think that it is very difficult in our world to wear many different hats and for people to be accepting of those different hats. If you are a guitar player, you are not really thought of as a great composer," says Valentino. He continues the thought with, "(Take) Pat Metheny, nobody really thinks of Pat as a great composer. Well, I guess some people do, but not as many as think of him as a great guitar player. George Benson is another one who is a great composer, although he doesn't do it that often."

"In the piano world, there are a lot more (composers). In terms of composition, people view the piano as more of a tool for composing than they do the guitar. That may be another reason why those two (guitar and composition) don't necessarily go hand in hand," he says.

Valentino says, "In my opinion, the greatest improvisers were also great composers, no matter what instrument they played." He then goes on to list Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Duke Ellington. "Composing and improvising go hand-in-hand," he says.

"I have always wanted to be a great improviser so the composing part is very important to me. I definitely have studied it and continue to study it. I know when I first got to know George Benson,he told me his concept for improvisation was to tell a story. He does that so completely. I find that great compositions do the same thing. They take you out of your every day normality and put you in a place that is the composer's idea. It might not be the same idea the composer has in mind,but it definitely takes you to a different place," he says. The colorful murals that Valentino paints with his arrangements take you to peaceful bliss one moment, while other times you find yourself in the midst of a dimly lit jazz lounge in New York City. His music will sedate you one minute and energize you the next with lively beats.

In speaking about the source of inspiration for his writing, Valentino says, "I think definitely the mood acts as the catalyst more than anything else for the composition." Well he was certainly in the mood when he first felt inspired to write "Her Eyes." "That was a piece that I wrote when I first met my wife. I was in a little café in western Virginia with my back to the door, as often did when I played this particular gig. For some reason, I turned around and watched my (future) wife walk in the door. The first thing I noticed was her eyes and that she was looking at me," he says.

There have been other times when inspiration has not come quite so easily. "There have been periods of time in my life when it has been difficult to compose what I considered to be good (music). Sometimes I came up with good ideas but when I listened to it I would say, ' That's just a bunch of good ideas put together and it's not telling the story that I want it to," he says. In contrast Valentino says there are other times when he sits down to write and everything comes easily.

The composer's love for Latin grooves is evident with "54th Street East" from the She Said CD. It possesses an awesome drum duet by Gilad Dobrecky on percussion and Joel Rosenblatt keeping the beat with his sticks. The Latin influences on "Neuvo Montuno" are not as overt as those on "54th Street East" but they are still present.

Valentino says concerning "Neuvo Montuno", "That was inspired by the great bassist John Benitez (Puerto Rican Grammy Award winner). He asked me to write a composition that used this new concept of montuno that he was developing. I remember he would go around to different musicians whom he was playing and say, 'Play the montuno like this. This is what I hear is going to be the new thing.' He would ask them to change the way that they played the montuno. Most of the time it was met with a certain amount of distance and defensiveness but now it is the standard. That tune is really a new montuno. A montuno is really an ostinato that is played over and over again. It creates a two bar groove that follows the clause." For those not familiar with the term ostinato or montuno think of a guitar riff that drives a pop song and then put it into a Latin context with other instruments.

Valentino provides the background for his Latin influences, "I love so many different types of music and specifically I listened to Brazilian music so I really dug into that in my compositions. Then there was a time when I listened to a lot of Cuban music. With both those forms of Latin music I really wanted to learn the traditional part of it first before I put it into my own thing." He wants you to know however these are influences and we are not witnessing a Vinny Valentino makeover. "I am not going to be a Brazilian musician like Gilberto Gilles or (Cuban) Chucho Valdes. I am Vinny Valentino from the Washington DC area," he says.

Valentino also confesses an admiration for the sounds emanating from Adam Klipple's organ as evident on the song "Color Funk" and the Rhodes work of Bennett Paster. If you enjoy the sound of these two instruments you will love "Color Funk". He agrees with my perception about his fondness for the instruments, "You are absolutely right. It is kind of like a right of passage for a jazz guitarist," he says as he lists other guitar/organ combinations, George Benson and Jack McDuff, Grant Green and Larry Young , Wes Montgomery did so many great records with Jimmy Smith." Valentino contends that most of the good jazz guitarists spent time with an organ-based group.

It was while growing up in Virginia in the shadows of DC and Duke Ellington that the seeds of jazz were first sown in Valentino's heart. As a teenager a friend introduced him to the music of George Benson and it wasn't long before he discovered Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery.

Valentino is headed back to the studio in early December to record with the jazz/fusion group Vital Information. The new CD still to be named will likely be released early in 2007. There will be a European tour in support of the album. He says he things this will be one of Vital Information's best CD's to date. "I call it jazz with an edge," he says.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Vinny Valentino
  • Interview Date: 9/1/2006
  • Subtitle: What Color Is Funk?... Answer: Vinny Valentino
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