Artist Spotlight and Interview: Jason Vieaux

A consummate soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and teacher, Grammy Award-winning guitarist Jason Vieaux recently sat down to share some of his thoughts and insights with our readers. Hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I did and check out Jason’s new recording, Bach Volume 2: Violin Works.

photo: Tyler Boye


When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially? 

Initially I was drawn to the guitar and drums through listening to my parents record collection, which was mostly my mother’s soul, R&B and rock records. Seeing the Bay City Rollers on TV as a 5-year old, eg, was a very exciting thing to me, and I regularly drew pictures of drum kits and guitars as a kid. Seeing Roy Clark and Buck Owens on TV regularly at 3-4 years old, Owens’ red, white, and blue guitar is an iconic image for me. I was also a big fan of The Beatles music from age 3, and I heard a lot of my Dad’s jazz records. This keen interest prompted my mother to buy me a 3/4-size classical guitar one day when I was 5; she might have known it as a “Spanish Guitar”. The Buffalo Guitar Quartet did an outreach program at my school when I was 7, and my mother’s secretary work happened to be in the school library during that time. So that summer I began classical guitar training with Jeremy Sparks.

What repertoire do you enjoy playing the most? 

I don’t really have a preference for the style or period; just particular pieces that I’m working on at the time. It’s such a luxury for me when I get to actually work on something with any kind of regularity, since I professionally have always dealt in “volume”, if you will. With the way my career developed professionally, I don’t usually get to choose what or when, unless I’m preparing a recording. I just try to dive as deeply as I can into whatever I’m working on for live performance at the time – and I’ve enjoyed that rhythm or process. I’m very much geared/wired toward live performance, and so I feel blessed to have either performed or recorded some 60-70 hours or so of stuff. I perform a lot of pieces just once or twice every year, or every 5 years, like Castelnuovo-Tedesco Quintet, for example.

But Bach is the most satisfying when everything is going well, I’m almost always working on his music for something. And I never tire of playing Rodrigo Concierto de Aranjuez – mainly because I keep getting better every year at the passagework. Aranjuez is probably like Pebble Beach or Augusta National for a professional golfer, I suppose.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I only have one concert guitar, my hope is to acquire another. My guitar is by Gernot Wagner, who is based in Frankfurt. And I like Augustine Regal strings.

photo: Tyler Boye

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

As far as the guitar corner of things, the classical guitarists that had the biggest influence on me are probably Julian Bream, David Russell and Manuel Barrueco, mainly because I got to hear them live, although Bream’s records I enjoyed the most as a kid. And prior to age 15, “non-classical” guitar players like Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, Andy Summers were influences, mainly because you couldn’t really escape Van Halen, The Police, Led Zeppelin on the radio or TV then, especially if you were a drums-and-guitar fan like me. And every kid then had a clock radio to wake up to, so many guitar solos from the Top 40 in the 80s are burned into my memory.

But even more so, it’s specific pieces or albums that were impactful before age 20: Bach Chaconne, 3rd Cello Suite, Villa-Lobos etudes, “Drei Tentos” by Henze, all Fernando Sor, Beethoven Symphonies, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinsky, Copland, Ravel, Debussy, so many Spanish and Latin American guitar pieces. Getting to know Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” especially was a real experience (and temporary obsession) for me.

Hearing Cleveland Orchestra often in college at CIM, and being exposed to way more live orchestral and ensemble music had a big impact, particularly latter 19th C, and tons of modern music (Erb, Carter, Ives, Varese, Stockhausen, Glass, Reich, Sessions, Boulez). Also certain early hip-hop albums (Public Enemy, ATCQ), certain albums by Miles Davis, Weather Report, Joni Mitchell, Beatles, Steely Dan, Pat Metheny. Attending Cleveland Orchestra performances of Strauss “Metamorphosen”, and Mahler 2nd Symphony, eg, were kind of life-changing experiences for me.

What recording/s are you most proud of? 

I’m kinda enjoying my latest Bach recording. It’s nice to hear what I was doing at the time (2019) with the ornamentation, and how my Bach playing is less stiff/stuffy on this record. It’s a more accurate representation of what my live playing is like.

But it’s nice to see how particularly the Images of Metheny (2005), Ponce Sonatas (2001), Albeniz (2003), PLAY (2014), the 1996 Naxos CD, and the previous Bach record have been so well-received by people, and not just by guitar players. I’ve read so many notes over the years from people and musicians about how those records were influences or references for them.

I’m also really glad I got to make those ensemble and chamber recordings over the last 20 years with regular collaborators, like Gary Schocker, Julien Labro, Yolanda Kondonassis, the Eschers, and all the “one-offs”, like recording the Ginastera Sonata, Jeff Beal and Jonathan Leshnoff concertos, etc.

Are there any recordings that you consider have the finest recorded sound for guitar?

I don’t listen to many guitar records, unless I’m researching something, and that’s only because I’m always so “inside” of my own playing and musical work as a professional musician. And really I just prefer ensemble music or solo piano anyway, when I get free time to just listen for pleasure. But I have to say, especially since David Russell is now a label-mate on Azica Records, I recently heard his latest CD at their studios, and it sounds absolutely terrific – in my opinion, Azica has really captured the majesty of David’s sound. I did hear some early Bream Westminster LPs on a friend’s good stereo about 10 years ago, and that was kind of a revelation, the recorded guitar aspect. It’s like Bream playing in your living room.

What are some up and coming projects (recordings, concerts) you are excited about?

I’m looking forward to getting my re-tooled BWV 1001 and 1007 on the road again. The pandemic halted what was just starting to really cook. Also my new record with violinist Anne Akiko Meyers is out this May, so we’re hoping to play that material over the next 2 years. My next San Francisco residency concert will be with mezzo Sasha Cooke at Herbst Theater. We’ve been trying to play together again live for a few years. Also, Avner Dorman is making a concerto version of his quintet that I premiered in 2016, “How To Love”, and I’m performing that with Gerard Schwarz and the EMF (Eastern Music Festival) Orchestra this July. We’ve always done a guitar concerto together every summer at my guitar program there, really due to Maestro Schwarz’s efforts and support – that’s a really great thing for the guitar. (link?) And playing concerts with the great Escher Quartet is always a blast, we’re good friends.

Technique and Performance

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

I’d love to practice 4 hours a day, but it’s just not possible with all the other responsibilities. I get about 2 hours most days, sometimes 3 in a day.

Are there aspects of guitar technique or performance that you struggle with or that you find you are still working on?

Not really. The experience and hours of different challenges and situations in all the repertoire I’ve played ended up adding aspects to my technique, mechanics, performance comfort, etc., that I wouldn’t have had if I were just playing solo pieces. We’d all like to have faster scales and arpeggios, etc. We all want more. I actually have gigs where I wish I was more nervous, where there’s no nerves at all, and still some where I wish I was more relaxed.

photo: Tyler Boye

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

Memorization came fairly easily to me, although once the repertoire crunches came, I was able to teach students how I made up the deficits in time through visualization techniques, repetition strategies, fingerings, etc.

Have you published any editions or do you plan to publish your own editions in the future?

Not really, mainly because I’m often discovering new things and thus changing fingerings, every time I come back to those core repertoire pieces. My fingerings are often “weird” anyway, which is why I prescribe (and demonstrate) 2-4 different fingerings per questionable passage to my Curtis and CIM students. I don’t hand out a score photocopy with fingerings on it to a student. We work on them together, guitars on laps, playing.

Do you have a favorite drill or set of exercises you use to warm up?

I mainly use passagework from approaching deadlines, that works great to develop your technique over time. The more puzzles you put in front of your hands and brain, the better.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

I used to have no rituals for the longest time, because it was so often a disappointment to not be able to keep the ritual, if things went wrong or were disorganized beyond your control. So my takeaway from that in the early days was to have little to no ritual. I learned that from Gary Schocker. Nowadays, it’s better, more folks allow me to have some personal time. As long as I can have 90-120 minutes on everything I’m playing that evening, I’m happy.

Advice to Younger Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger aspiring players?

Practice as much as you can, without burning yourself out, because you have to WANT to do this, for yourself; not for anyone else.

What repertoire do you consider essential for young/conservatory students to assimilate? Why?

19th century stuff, especially Sor. He was the best musician we know of in that century that played guitar, except maybe Regondi, and he wrote almost entirely in parts/voices. His music is solvent, and it really isn’t all that “idiomatic” in terms of ease. So it prepares you for everything else written by a proper composer, except ornate Baroque transcriptions, or modern/dissonant textures. But when I hear guitarists joke about “easy Sor studies” it makes me laugh. Most guitarists play Sor very poorly, because you have to play his music with your ears, not your fingers. Your fingers have to follow.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

OK, this is a long answer. Classical Guitarists seem like they are already very familiar with Dyens, Morel, Assad, which is great, and important, but they should also at least familiarize themselves with player-composer-arranger-improvisers like Rabello, Yamandu, Lagrene, etc. And in jazz you can’t go wrong with Christian, Green, Montgomery, Pass, Hall, Bertoncini, Benson, McLaughlin, Metheny, Scofield. I lost track of almost all of the newer “cats” due to my professional and family life, but Rosenwinkel, Kreisberg, Hekselman, Monder – heavy. I love it.

In classical playing, can’t go wrong with the usual suspects, but it’s important to hear their best stuff: Segovia, Barrios, Díaz, Yepes, Presti, Bream, Ghiglia, Williams, Starobin, Barrueco, Russell, Fernandez, Galbraith, Holmquist, Tanenbaum, Isbin, Fisk, etc etc (maybe leaving out like 20-30 players). 

For me, Galbraith and Barrueco were crucial players for me to hear conceptually, and quite possibly had the biggest impact on me as a guitar player right now, even though many would rightly say I sound nothing like them at all. As many know already, my favorite contemporaries that are well-known are Micheli, Dukic, Dylla, Vidovic, Gallen, Desidrio, Azabagic, maybe some others I can’t remember now. But too many people are absolutely sleeping on Colin Davin, Petra Polackova, JiYeon Kim (Jiji), Hao Yang, and Jordan Dodson.

photo: Tyler Boye


What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

The autobiography of Larry Rivers, “What Did I Do?”, the Keith Richards autobiography.  

Do you try to stay healthy? Exercise? Have a favorite pre-concert food? 

I try. Getting better each year. I walk a lot. My weight is optimal, but I have to remind myself to strengthen my core. No real pre-concert foods (again, the road plus my background sort of taught me to not get too particular.)

Do you meditate in any way? 

In some different ways, even if it’s for 30 seconds. It’s like practicing an instrument, it’s often better to practice 45 minutes 6 times a day than to practice 4.5 hours in one stretch. Same with meditation. Unless you’re independently wealthy.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

Walking long distances in our neck of the woods or on the road. Watching sports, especially NFL, NHL, MLB, NBA, PGA – in that order (I almost never get to do this anymore). Being with my kids, helping them with school work, answering questions, board games, listening to their stories/musings. I take them to the park a lot on the days I’m home. Listening to music, although that’s mostly now during making school lunches and/or breakfast at home. That’s about it. I really need to see that Beatles “Get Back” Peter Jackson thing.

Any things else you’d like to add?

Bach Volume 2 is finally out. Go to live concerts if you love music; there’s no comparison between live and virtual, just like anything else in life. Don’t kid yourself.

Bach Volume 2: Works for Violin is now available on most music streaming and purchase services!
Apple Music:

New Release: Jason Vieaux – Bach Volume 2: Works for Violin

Jason Vieaux – Bach Volume 2: Works for Guitar reviewed by Leonardo Garcia

While Grammy Award winning guitarist extraordinaire Jason Vieaux needs no introduction here, it is worth posting when he releases a new solo recording, particularly when it is one by Johann Sebastian Bach. Released on the Azica label, Jason’s Bach Volume 2: Works for Violin includes Violin Partita in E Major, BWV1006, Sonata in C Major, BWV1005, and Sonata in G Minor, BWV1001. This recording comes almost a decade after the release of Bach Volume 1: Works for Lute. And, after listening to both, I can assure you it was worth the wait.

Jason’s strengths as a musician seem well channelled through Bach’s works. His fluidity in phrasing coupled with his rich and expressive sound solidify his interpretations as ones that are definitive. He is clearly up for the task after such a convincing and erudite reading of Bach’s Lute works.

Starting with Partita in E Major, BWV1006, Jason plays the often heard and recorded suite with a familiarity of an old friend. Clear, energetic, and expressive as always, the virtuosic playing in the prelude paves the way for the other dances. The Gavotte en Rondeau has some wonderful and original ornamentation which breathes new life into somewhat overplayed movements. The lines of the Bourree and Gigue are crafted beautifully as if Jason were highlighting a dance between the melodic and harmonic lines as would a master conductor. Though the exalted Partita in E Major follows the Sonata in C Major, BWV1005 in the series of violin sonatas and partitas, it does serve as a great opener for the recording.

The Sonata in C Major, BWV1005 has one of the most demanding fugues (or movements in general after the Ciaccona from BWV1004) for solo violin and though it is considerably easier to craft the counterpoint with the guitar, it makes the movement no less challenging as it opens yet another element to control and balance with the whole and contrapuntal motion of the lines. Jason’s comfortable tempo never relents but still manages to provide enough space to let voices breathe and sing while letting the harmonic architecture remain audible to the listener.

The Largo, one of my favorite movements of all the violin works, is approached simply and elegantly. Jason allows the purity of the melodic lines, always at the forefront of the interpretation, to sing openly. The end of this movement is magical with Jason’s ornamentation sounding more violinistic as it fades to the Allegro. While the E Major Partita was transcribed for Lute by Bach himself adding subtle harmonic support to the violin score, the Sonatas were not (with the exception of the Fugue in the G Minor Sonata). Jason has tastefully added supporting voices to the Allegro to enhance the sheer joy and rise of spirit as Bach approaches the end of the violin cycle of solo works.

What struck me first while listening to Jason’s interpretation of the Sonata in G Minor, BWV1001 was how relaxed it was – more like the telling of a story where the pace allows the energy to build versus one where everything is given away too soon. The exquisite ornamental lines of the Adagio, to the crispness of the voices in the Fugue, which is one of the finest renditions I have heard to date of this movement, all point to Jason’s natural ease with the complexity of what is truly before him. Clear, crisp, while also resonant and rich, this quality cannot be attributed to the wand alone. Jason’s playing sparkles here and to put it as my teenage sons often say, “it just vibes!”

And as a fantastic way to end the journey with Jason and Bach through this recording, he leaves us with the Presto. Virtuosically played with joy and intensity, a statement more than a suggestion, “This is how it is!”

To paraphrase Jason when he says that Bach is always there for us to explore, Jason’s explorations are of the highest kind – ones with a clear command of the instrument, a prodigious musical mind, and what sounds like a heart in the right place. Here’s hoping there is a Volume 3!

Bach Volume 2: Works for Violin is now available on most music streaming and purchase services!
Apple Music:

Artist Spotlight and Interview with Colin Davin

Praised for his deeply expressive musicianship, his musical intelligence, and virtuosic technique, Colin Davin seems to have it all. Colin is an active international soloist, chamber musician, recording artist, and teacher, with projects and performances from Aspen to Afghanistan to the Alhambra.

Colin took some time recently to sit down and share some of his insight, philosophies, and advice with Six String Journal. Hope it inspires you all.

When did you start playing and why? Or, what drew you to the guitar initially?

My study of the guitar began fairly early – I was 7 years old, and my father, himself an amateur guitarist, signed me up for lessons. In a way, it was not so different than the many other things I was doing as a kid, like little league or cub scouts. Taking advice from an interview with the folk-rock guitarist and singer-songwriter Richard Thompson, it was determined that classical guitar would give me the best chance at being able to play a wide range of styles. And while I’ve since branched out from time to time, at that early age, classical struck a chord with me, and I’ve never lost that enthusiasm.

What guitar or guitars do you perform on? Strings?

I play a guitar by Andrea Tacchi, from Florence, Italy, his model “Coclea Thucea”, made in 2004. For those who don’t know Andrea’s instruments, they are both of the highest quality in sound and craftsmanship, and a bit unusual. The name Coclea Thucea refers to the inner ear (coclea), both for its obvious connection to hearing music, and for its spiral design, in the ratio of a Fibonacci sequence. Andrea incorporates aspects of “sacred geometry” connected to this ratio in his design and construction. And the “thucea” is a portmanteau of the Latin names for spruce and cedar, as the top is a three-piece construction using both materials (two outer panels of cedar with a central panel of spruce). For years I’ve played Hannabach Silver 900/200 trebles, med-high tension…a perfect balance of warmth, color, and clarity, in my opinion. I have less devotion when it comes to basses, but most often settle on high tension Augustine or D’Addario.

Which guitarists/musicians have had the most influence on you?

My influences have been pretty wide ranging over the years, but early guitar heroes of mine were Julian Bream, John Williams, Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B. King, and Django Reinhardt. When I was 10, I heard Jason Vieaux play for the first time, and that pretty much cemented my desire to make music my life. A few years later, I was Jason’s student, and now I’m his colleague on the faculty at the Cleveland Institute of Music!

What are some up and coming projects you are excited about?

I play in a duo with the brilliant harpist Emily Levin, and we’re planning a live-concert recording in New York this February. The combination of guitar and harp is absolute magic, and deeply under-explored (they might be the two most intimidating instruments for composers, which explains the lack of repertoire). We’ll be recording transcriptions of ours of de Falla’s “El Amor Brujo” in its entirety, Ravel’s “Ma Mère l’Oye” (Mother Goose) and Philip Glass’s “Etude no. 6”, originally for piano. In addition, we’ll feature world premiere recordings of works we commissioned, by Dylan Mattingly and Will Stackpole.

Practicing and Performing

How much do you practice? And, do you structure your practice in any particular way?

Practice hours are variable day to day, and week to week. Such is the nature of a performing and teaching musician – the lack of a consistent schedule presents unique challenges to getting in the hours. I’d say I reliably get in 20-25 hours a week, possibly in a steady stream of 3-4 hours a day, possibly in a disjointed alternation of heavy days and light days. Because of this irregularity, it has become very important for me to structure my practice with specific goals in mind. I always start with some light warmups, then slurs, arpeggios (often selections from the Giuliani 120, or Villa-Lobos’ Etude no. 1), tremolo, and scales. I always have an eye on what projects are coming up, and try to balance my repertoire practice so that I stay on top of the varied things I have coming up at any given point in a season.

Do you deliberately memorize music or have a technique that helps assimilate music into memory?

The way I approach learning a piece, with an extremely deliberate approach using metronome charts and lots of repetitions, often results in memorization by default. That said, I do sometimes get hung up on a passage, or even an entire section….typically in music that is either very rhythmically complex (and thus requires a different approach than the typical metronome work), or music that is rather easy that I end up learning a bit too fast! For the former, I often break the piece down into digestible sections, trying to memorize, say, one line of music in a day. The next day, I’ll work on the next line, reviewing the previous day’s memory work, and seeing if I can string the two together…and so on. For an easier piece, I use some off-guitar techniques like visualization, singing/solfège, as well as forcing myself into practicing the piece in small- to medium-sized sections, more than I might think I need in order to successfully execute the piece.

Do you have any pre-concert rituals?

On concert days, I do try to keep a certain routine. The night before, I actually try to get a little less sleep than usual – for some reason, being just a little tired works for me, combining with natural performance adrenaline (what some might call “nerves”) to bring me to a nice level of focus and calm. Late morning or early afternoon, I tend to go for a walk; easier to do in certain locations and certain times of year than others! And I general try to eat light throughout the day. I arrive at the hall a little over an hour before showtime, play on stage for about 10 minutes, then head to the dressing room where I’ll intersperse light practicing/warmups with a snack (usually a banana) and some herbal tea (usually turmeric). I think everyone should establish some kind of consistent practice on concert days, whatever might work for a given individual; it really helps put your mind and body into the right space, focusing the energy toward inhabiting the performance space.

Advice to Young Players

What single most important piece of advice about practicing would you offer to younger players?

Be patient, and be thorough. The easiest way to practice is to run through pieces in their entirety, as best you can, flubbing through the hard parts, but kind of getting through it. But this merely reinforces bad habits, and gets you nothing but extra repetitions of mistake-filled playing. More repetitions will bake in those problems, the same way that repetitions of clean, musical playing will bake that in! So, take your time when learning a piece, don’t rush through the process; be deliberate, thoughtful, and careful. When all that early work happens, the final product will be far superior, easier and more enjoyable to play, and far more satisfying for your audience.

Recordings that every young guitarist should be familiar with and why?

There’s a whole library of Julian Bream recordings everyone should know. “Popular Classics for Spanish Guitar”, and “Twentieth Century Guitar I (from the Julian Bream Edition)” are two favorites of mine. Beyond that – I always tell students to listen well beyond the realm of the guitar. Some of my best musical lessons have come from listening to non-guitarists, classical or otherwise. A random assortment of influential artists: Toumani Diabate, Punch Brothers, Rachel Podger, Hilary Hahn, Mitsuko Uchida, Alfred Brendel, Joanna Newsom, Leonard Cohen, Roomful of Teeth.


What is the last book that you read? Favorite author/s?

I tend to read a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Probably my favorite author is the late Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago. His “Death with Interruptions” is among my favorite books; a fable that is funny, sad, and sweepingly beautiful. I’m also a devoted reader of the New Yorker magazine, especially the long-form investigative pieces, profiles, short stories, and arts writing. And of course, the cartoons.

What is your favorite way to spend time when not practicing?

When I’m not in the midst of working on music, I honestly just enjoy “being” wherever I am. Hiking is among my favorite activities (though the elevation changes in Northeast Ohio are a bit mild to qualify anything here as “hiking”); and it’s the ultimate in doing something that is very nearly doing nothing: walk, climb, look, smell, listen. Beyond that, I enjoy cooking, coffee, and the occasional night out with a good game to play; lately, I’ve been working on my pool game, though I have a long way to go before anyone would accuse me of actually being good!


For more information on Colin Davin visit his website: