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Vic Juris: Endless Pursuit of Perfection



Bob Bakert, Editor of Jazz Guitar Today: We are so proud to have Vic Juris on our cover this month. I will let some of the top professionals tell the story… 

Vic Juris - Jazz Guitar Today - December 2019

Vic Juris

Photo credit: Roger Sadowsky

Introduction by Corey Christiansen

In the early 2000s, I was senior editor at Mel Bay Publications, Inc. and I was immersed in the guitar scene. I had high exposure to every genre but jazz was my passion and frankly, my focus. While I was starting to embark on my own touring and recording career I was also on the quest to find the best players and teachers in the world in hopes that we could publish their materials at Mel Bay. I kept hearing the name “Vic Juris” from all the players I respected but (embarrassingly) was not familiar with him. In 2002, I heard Vic was playing with Dave Liebman in St. Louis, where I was living at the time. I ran down to Jazz at the Bistro to hear him play. In short, my jaw was on the ground after the first set. I remember another STL guitarist asking me what I thought, and I told him I thought we all needed to get to work. 

Vic’s melodic, harmonic and rhythmic prowess just simply blew me away. I felt like I’d heard the guitar the way I had wanted to hear it played for years. He had everything in his sound.  The history of jazz guitar was in his playing with depth but with a modern esthetic and original vibe, all while being supported by one of the most gorgeous tones I’d ever heard. I introduced myself to Vic at the bar and long story short, offered him a contract to start writing and publishing some of his ideas. 

That night could have been one of the most important nights for me in a number of ways. Vic and I not only worked on educational curriculum together, but he also recorded A Second Look for Mel Bay Records which led to us collaborating on a number of projects together. While we were collaborators, I did not ever consider us colleagues. He was the master and I was an apprentice. He became one of, if not THE, most important mentors of my professional career. He was so supportive and encouraging of my efforts and offered at least one piece of advice after each gig. These were well-thought out nuggets of information that profoundly affected my approach to the music. Vic was simply an inspiration on every level. On stage, he did things that I’ve never heard another guitarist do. In the studio, his insight was deep and based on decades of mastery. As we traveled, the nuggets of life advice were inspirational. 

Vic’s playing is fiery, and tender, and everything in between. His composing and arranging is nothing short of compelling. And all of this is wrapped up in a calmness that is unique. Everything his plays is clear and always executed with precision. Simply put, Vic is just Superbad. SUPERBAD. For those who know Vic and/or his playing, you know what I mean and are already drinking the Kool-Aid. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Vic and his music, you need to be familiar. To me he represents all that is good in the music. 


Corey Christiansen:  How did you get started playing the guitar? What made you curious about the instrument? Who were your first teachers and how were they influential to you? Also, how did you get into playing jazz? 

Vic:  I began playing the guitar in the summer of 1963. The first time I held a guitar was at my first lesson. My teacher was named Ed Berg. My first guitar was a Harmony Monterey acoustic with F Holes and heavy strings and high action. Just to get a clean sounding C Chord for a ten year old was a major event. I got interested in the guitar through my friends in my neighborhood who were playing tunes by The Ventures, Chuck Berry and Duane Eddy. These were pre Beatle days. My Dad was dabbling in a home stereo system and kept bringing home amazing Guitar related Vinyl, Chess label recordings by Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf. Also recordings by Tony Mottola on the Command Label. Watching Jimmy Burton play at the end of Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet backing up Ricky Nelson was really inspiring.

My teacher Ed Berg owned the music shop where I took lessons. By the way, there were more accordion students than guitar in those days. One day we got a call from Ed that there was a serious fire at the shop and I would have to go to his house for lessons. Every time I went to his house he’d have a recording of Django, Barney Kessel, Johnny Smith, etc. playing. I loved the jazz guitar sound from the onset. Ed was a jazz player and started lending me records and off we went.

Vic Juris with bassist Jay Anderson (left) and drummer Adam Nussbaum (right)

Corey:  What were some of the professional experiences that really shaped you?

Vic:  I was fortunate to grow up in the New York area and had listening access to the greatest living Guitarists. There was a great club in New Jersey, “Gullivers” that had a weekly Monday Guitar Night. I heard Jim Hall, Gene Bertoncini, Pat Martino, Chuck Wayne, George Barnes, Joe Puma, And many more. I met Saxophonist Eric Kloss when I was eighteen and soon after was working opposite Kenny Burrell at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago. My jazz education was totally from the bandstand. Soon after I was working with organists Don Patterson and Wild Bill Davis. 

Corey:  Would you talk a little about your work with Dave Liebman? How did his music and compositional style influence you as a guitarist?

Vic:  My association with David Liebman began in 1990. I was contemplating changing to photography as my vocation. The 80s were such a sterile decade. Not much creativity happening. Getting the call from Lieb to be in his new band lasted for 20 years. The first ten years were with piano, the second ten without keyboard. I had to handle all the harmony and electronics. An extremely challenging opportunity. He was and is a great bandleader. We used to sit at the piano for hours and figure out all kinds of voicings. He brought out the best in me for which I am eternally grateful.

Vic Juris the educator at a teaching workshop.

Corey:  As an educator, what do you think students should be working on if they want a career as a professional musician?

Vic:  I got into Jazz Education in the mid-’80s. I currently teach part-time at Rutgers University and The New School. I have also taught at William Patterson College and SUNY Purchase. I am proud to say that many of my former students have moved on to great careers…..Learning to become a good reader is mandatory to becoming a working musician. A lot of one rehearsal, then the gig is protocol these days. Learn to play in odd meters also. It seems to be the youthful obsession these days. Learn as many standards as you can. People still play them and they are the basis of everything else. Try to play with others as much as possible! Live performance is the best teacher you will ever have.

Corey:  What guitarists are you checking out lately? Who is playing music you find interesting?

Vic:  I constantly listen to recordings of other jazz and rock and blues guitarists. There are so many good ones today. I try to keep up. When I was coming up on the scene I listened to everything I could get my hands on. I enjoy all kinds of music but have more of a jazz reputation.

Corey:  What projects are you currently working on that you are excited about?

Vic:  I am currently working on a new book which should be available in 2020. All kinds of single line ideas and improv. I also put out a new CD every year, usually on the Steeplechase Label. My latest “Two Guitars” is now available and “Let’s Cool One” drops in the spring of 2020.

Frank Vignola about Vic...

In my humble opinion, Vic Juris is one of the greatest guitarists I have ever heard. His playing is like no one else and swings like mad. Melodic and creative ideas flowing like a faucet. Just unbelievable. I look forward to having Vic at my guitar night at Birdland many more times.

Frank Vignola – 2019

Roger Sadowsky talks about Vic...

Roger:  I had known of Vic for many years, but it was not until 2015 that I reached out to him and invited him to the workshop to check out our archtop guitars.   The first guitar Vic fell in love with was our Semi-Hollow.  Vic is a devoted pedal user and the Semi-Hollow enabled him to play at higher volumes than a fully acoustic archtop, yet still gets a great classic “jazz guitar sound” from the neck pickup.  

The second guitar Vic chose was the Jim Hall 16” archtop model, for a traditional size jazz guitar.   The first time Vic came to the shop after we introduced our LS-15 archtop (25.5” scale with 2 pickups), it was love at first sight, and then he acquired guitar number 3.   Finally, he asked me to make him a Tele style guitar with humbuckers, and that was number 4.

It is a pleasure to have Vic in the Sadowsky family.  Well regarded and respected as both a player and an educator, he is one of those guys that everyone loves.    I love his playing and I love him as a friend. 

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