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People including music writers toss around the word "virtuoso" far too often. (I once apologized to the readers from my first newspaper job for calling Sid Vicious a virtuoso.)
But I mean it when I say that three virtuoso musicians, from different worlds, will grace the stages of Salt Lake City within the span of five days this week.
Mike Gordon, the endlessly creative bassist for the jam band Phish, will perform tonight; jazz guitarist Frank Vignola will display his prodigious talent while taking on Django Reinhardt's compositions on Monday, Nov. 15; and Italian classical pianist Alessio Bax will demonstrate his technical proficiency with Bach's complexities on Tuesday, Nov. 16.
In separate interviews, the musicians talked about how genius is 1 percent inspiration, 98 percent perspiration and, perhaps, 1 percent being born with at least five fingers.
Frank Vignola • At age 6 in Long Island, Vignola began playing guitar listening to his father's records of Django Reinhardt. He's the guitarist who pioneered the genre of "gypsy jazz" despite playing his solos with only two digits, using the badly burned third and fourth fingers of his left hand only for chord work.
One hundred years after Reinhardt's birth, Vignola repaid the Belgian-born musician with his 2010 album, "100 Years of Django," which he'll draw upon during the Nov. 15 JazzSLC series. "He wrote so many beautiful songs, as important as his guitar-playing," Vignola said from a European hotel room.
The mercurial Reinhardt is beloved by musicians. For example, David Crosby, Noddy Holder, Jerry Jeff Walker and Richard Durrant all named their sons Django, and local music fans will hear the Salt Lake City band The Red Rock Hot Club plan a Reinhardt-inspired concert on Nov. 20.
Yet many younger musicians aren't aware of the impact Reinhardt had on jazz and western European music in general. With the album and his shows this year, Vignola hopes to change that. What Reinhardt invented was "European bluegrass music," Vignola said.
In emphasizing Reinhardt's work, Vignola seems to be downplaying his own musicianship. A graduate of the Cultural Arts Center of Long Island, Vignola was an in-demand sideman in the 1980s (even accompanying Madonna at one point) and has written 18 instructional guitar books.
Alessio Bax • Growing up in Italy, Bax dreamed of one day being able to travel to Salt Lake City to compete in the Gina Bachauer International Piano Competition, but he never received the chance.
Bax and his impressive tonal strengths will finally play in Utah for the first time on Nov. 16 during a world tour supporting his album "Bach Transcribed."
"Bach was my first exposure to music," Bax said of the composer who was more recognized during his lifetime for his organ-playing than his composing. "I wanted to be an organist for a time."
Bax lives in New York City with his wife, the pianist Lucille Chung. He left his native country for Texas when he was 16 to attend Southern Methodist University, "a completely different environment," he said. One of his favorite instructors was an SMU professor. Bax stayed there for five years, eventually becoming an instructor.
His Utah concert will include works of Bach, Brahms, Granados and Bartók, and two days later he'll offer a free master class.
During his Utah performances, he'll demonstrate why he is the 2009 Avery Fisher Career Grant winner, with past winners including Joshua Bell and Hilary Hahn. He's also made guest appearances with more than 80 orchestras.
Mike Gordon • The Phish bassist is just off a tour that included a Halloween show in which the band played Little Feat's "Waiting for Columbus" in its entirety. In addition, the Vermont resident has been rehearsing the songs on "Moss," his just-released third solo album.
If the only thing the dexterous Gordon ever did was play with Phish, he would still be long remembered as a member of the band so gifted it inspired an ice cream flavor from Ben & Jerry's. But as a musician-of-all-trades, Gordon also plays banjo, piano, guitar, harmonica and percussion.
His brain is endlessly consumed by music, which is why he seeks a solo career as well as playing with Phish. "I need both," Gordon said. "If I had to choose one Phish or solo I don't know what I would choose. In Phish, I'm not the principal songwriter or decision-maker. I really need an outlet to express myself more."
When • Tonight at 9
Where • The State Room, 638 S. State St., Salt Lake City
Tickets • Sold out
When • Monday, Nov. 15, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Sheraton City Center, 150 W. 500 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $25 at door or 24Tix
When • Tuesday, Nov. 16, at 7:30 p.m.
Where • Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1395 Presidents Circle, University of Utah campus, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $15 for general admission or $5 for students with ID, at kingtix.org or by calling 801-581-7100
Also • Bax will offer a master class to the public on Thursday, Nov. 18, at 10:45 a.m.
Where • Dumke Recital Hall in Gardner Hall, U. campus