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This Interview was recently published in www.Jazzguitar.be and we would like to thank Vince for sharing it with us. Please remember you can open up a score of his original composition Sue’s Waltz at the link on the close of the interview.
Dirk Laukens of www.Jazzguitar.be formulated these questions for Vince.
1. At what age did you start playing guitar and when did you start playing jazz?
I started playing guitar at 5 years of age and began my professional career at 14. I decided to focus on playing jazz my second year of High School when I began playing with an 8 piece band of much older musicians. That was the style that most of them played when they had the choice. They took me to late night jam sessions in Charleston, West Virginia where I learned to improvise from some fine players.
2. Which people influenced you as an improvising musician?
Wes Montgomery became the driving force for me from the time I first heard him. I also listened a lot to Herb Ellis, Joe Pass, Charlie Byrd, Mundell Lowe, Barney Kessel, and Tal Farlow. Trumpeter Miles Davis and pianists Oscar Peterson and Bill Evans were also high on my list, as I love their harmonic genius and emotional drive.
Did you take guitar lessons when you were young?
I started my lessons at 5 years of age with Bob Whitlock, a truly fine player. I worked with him weekly until I was 16 when he moved to Florida. It was a real blessing to have him as a teacher and role model and we remain close friends.
What do you listen to today?
I still listen to lot of the same people that I did when I was growing up. That music will never grow old or out of date and I am always finding recordings that I have not heard. I really enjoy good contemporary players like Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton. I am also very fortunate to hear a lot of new players in my position as reviewer for both Just Jazz Guitar Magazine and Modern Guitars Magazine, an online publication. There is quite a bit of talent out there and modern recording techniques and the Internet give them a chance for more exposure than ever before.
3. What gear do you use?
I play and record exclusively with Heritage guitars and play mainly on one of two custom-built 16-inch carved hollow bodies. I have been a Heritage performing artist since 1991 and they are perfect for what I need. I play through the new Heritage Amplification Freedom tube amp with a single 12-inch speaker.
What was your first guitar?
My first decent electric was a Fender Musicmaster. When I became more jazz oriented, I had a 1964 Gretsch single Anniversary. It was my first good hollow body guitar.
4. Do you get frustrated about your guitar playing sometimes?
I am actually very pleased with what I do at this point in my career. I try to challenge myself technique-wise and also incorporate new things into my playing whenever I pick up my guitar.
What aspects of guitar playing do you feel you need to improve on?
I try often to add new tunes to my repertoire. I also need to write more. My original music has been very well accepted. This summer I composed my first tune in 15 years. It is titled, “Sue’s Waltz” and is harmonically in the Bill Evans style.
5. What is your practice routine like?
I mostly play new music and refresh old standards that I have not played in a while. I keep a guitar out at home on a stand. When I see an instrument close by I pick it up and play a lot more than when they are in the case. I do not practice scales anymore and haven’t for years.
How much time do you devote to studying music and guitar?
I am always thinking about music and constantly hearing tunes in my head (they sometimes keep me up in the night). When the guitar is not actually in my hands I still visualize it there. There is always something new to learn from other players of all instruments. The most important part of learning is to listen as much as you can.
6. Do you teach music?
I have taught at the college level since 1973. I am presently at Liberty University as Assistant Professor of Guitar with 44 private students per week. The best thing about teaching is having the guitar in my hands every day.
What do you hope a student gets out of your teachings, besides the obvious?
I try to provide my students with the technical skills necessary to express their individual personality through the guitar. Note reading and chord knowledge is critical. I also stress professionalism and respect for other players.
7. What are your favorite standards to play?
I love the challenge of classics like “All The Things You Are” and “Bluesette.” Playing effectively through the chord progressions of these tunes requires a lot of thought and there is always something different that can be done.
8. Are you make a living as a professional musician?
I have been a full time player most of my life. Most players I know supplement their performance income with teaching privately or in a school setting.
What did you have to do to make this work for you?
Networking is critical to being able to book enough jobs to make a living. Giving referrals as well as accepting them is always appreciated, and the right thing to do. Being responsible and maintaining a professional appearance and attitude is something that many jazz players fall short of in today’s world.
What are the pros and cons of being a professional musician?
The main benefit is being able to do what you love and make other people happy while doing it. Making you own schedule and having time free for other pursuits also is a plus.
On the minus side there is the lack of a regular paycheck. The issues of health insurance and other normal benefits are also serious issues for any self-employed individual. There are many players now willing to give their music away just for the exposure. This makes it extremely difficult for the full time musician to make a living.
Do you have any tips for people starting in the music business?
Follow your heart and be realistic about your capabilities. Do not assume that the music business is something of which everyone is capable of making a career.
9. What projects are you working on at the moment?
I have a trio CD scheduled to be released in December 2005 titled, “The Vince Lewis Trio…Better Than Ever.” The title reflects my reunion with two players that I grew up with in Charleston, West Virginia. There is also a second collaboration with guitarist Steve Abshire on Noteworthy Jazz. It includes the regular Charlie Byrd rhythm section of Joe Byrd on bass and Chuck Redd on Drums. It is a live concert recording titled; “Live At The Mainstay” and it will be released shortly as well.
10. Do you have any advice for beginning jazz guitarists?
It is critical to equally develop technical skills and a good attitude. The player’s personality must show in the music they choose to play. It is important to listen to a variety of styles and players. Once a player determines their musical direction they should stick with it. High quality musical material is timeless and always will be appreciated by listeners.
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