What kind of music does Frank Vignola's Hot Club play? Doesn't the name say it all? ... Unless, of course, you're not familiar with the expression "hot club."
"It's not jazz as we know jazz here in America," said Les Paul, after naming Vignola one of his "Five Most Admired Guitarists" for The Wall Street Journal.
"Hot Club" is a reference to the first of the hot clubs - the hot club of all times - Quintette du Hot Club de France. Formed in 1934 by guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stphane Grappelli, their distinct style helped popularize gypsy jazz, also known as gypsy swing. And this is what Vignola does best.
Frank Vignola, left, performs with Les Paul at the Iridium Jazz Club in New York. “Frank Vignola’s Hot Club” will be at Fairmont Opera House on Friday.
On Friday, Frank Vignola's Hot Club will be at Fairmont Opera House. The ensemble includes Vignola on guitar, along with an accordionist, bass player, violinist and another guitarist.
"We're going to be having some fun," Vignola said. "I think audiences sense that, when the musicians are actually having fun."
"Fun" and "jazz" are two words American audiences don't readily link. That's why Vignola prefers to avoid labeling himself as a jazz guitar player: "Because in these days, I think automatically when people hear 'jazz,' they think they are going to be bored," he said, laughing.
But the upbeat, crazy fast tempo he carries makes Vignola a lively performer to watch, and he wants the show to be accessible to listeners, so he plays what's familiar to them. That might be Mozart, or it might be Black Sabbath. Or both.
"As an instrumental artist, playing melody is so important," he said. "... Louis Armstrong is my all-time favorite musician. I always get a smile on my face listening to him. I hear the song, understand the lyrics, enjoy the solo on the trumpet. I think because it's all based on the melody."
Working with Les Paul, Vignola gleans from the music legend's experience, which dates back to the vaudeville days, "when musicians and bands would travel and ... build a fan base as you go. They would entertain people without the visual, without the high-tech stuff they have today, where you go to see a concert and you're lucky if the band is actually playing."
"We come from that kind of head space," Vignola said. "... We try to engage them, try to play stuff they know, try to have there be laughs, song and virtuosity on our instruments."
At the show in Fairmont, index cards will be available in the Opera House lobby for people to write down comments, jokes and requests. At intermission, the band will read through them and then return to the stage to play a few of those requests.
"There are always one or two cards that are unique every night," Vignola said. "It makes for a fun way to connect with the audience."
Developing that vast musical repertoire came with time. For 40 years, Vignola has been playing guitar, since first picking up the instrument when he was 6 years old living on Long Island. His father played the banjo in a band, and he taught his son chords and bought him records. Vignola was doing professional gigs by age 13, and by the time he was in high school, he performed five to six nights per week.
"I went to it every day, and practiced an hour a day and then went to Little League. Child prodigy? I don't quite understand what that means. I never understood what that meant. ... I just think you're kind of either born a musician or not. ... It calls you, more than you going after it."
That calling is why Vignola is on the road so much. His tour schedule has him bouncing all over the country and the Atlantic, with shows lined up in Sweden, then Toronto, then Italy and Germany, then returning to the States, then back to Italy for a tour, then back to the U.S. for more performances, then again crossing the ocean for a U.K. tour. And all of this takes place between now and October.
"It's been busy," Vignola said. "Last year we did probably 250 dates in 11 different countries. This year we're on track to do the same thing. It's fun bringing the music to the people. All the traveling sometimes gets to be a little much, but in the long run, I'd rather be doing this than going to an office every day."
Along the way, he's built up a resume that allows some impressive name dropping, if Vignola was that type of fellow. He's played with Les Paul and Tommy Emmanuel; he's recorded and toured with Madonna, Leon Redbone and Ringo Star; and he's made feature appearances with Donald Fagen, Queen Latifah and Wynton Marsalis.
Vignola also has written 18 guitar instruction books for Mel Bay Publications, recorded multiple albums of his own and performed for clinics and master classes at educational institutions throughout the country, including Julliard and Boston University.
Frank Vignola's Hot Club will perform 7:30-10 p.m. Friday at Fairmont Opera House. Tickets are $20 for adults, $5 for students. Call (507) 238-4900 for reservations.