Clarinetist Mike Vaccaro - Journeyman - watch the interview
Listen to Nick Venden's Circumsdance-5
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Los Angeles-based maestro of woodwinds Mike Vaccaro is a clarinetist, the foundation instrument from which his doubling career in the highly competitive world of Los Angeles film and TV studio gigs began. A musical polyglot, Vaccaro has mastered several wind instruments over the course of his impressive career as a professional musician, beginning in his late teens with road trips playing in the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton bands. After stints playing shows in Las Vegas, Vaccaro returned to his home town of Los Angeles as his portfolio grew to include C clarinet, Bb clarinet, A clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, piccolo, Eb flute, alto flute, soprano sax, alto sax, tenor sax, baritone sax, oboe, English horn, bansuri flutes, alto recorder, tenor recorder, sax synthesizer, and likely a handful more.
The astonishing and fun result of this wide-ranging woodwind expertise is Vaccaro’s 1996 MVP Recordings CD Journeyman. Six works on the album offer a unique opportunity for listeners to enjoy a little sampler of chamber music Hollywood film and TV composers create in their spare time for friends. Mark Davidson (Prologue); Nick Venden (Circumsdance-5); Richard Bowden (Whimsey); Allen Davis (The Celestial Ascension and In A Quiet Place); and Don Harper (Carnival 2000) contribute music to Vaccaro’s multi-track - he plays all the wind parts - Journeyman disc. LA colleagues on the CD include a knockout cameo performance by vocalist Judith Dunlore, who lends magical color and otherworldly non-verbal vocal magic to the transcendent conclusion of The Celestial Ascension, and LA-perfect professional ensemble support provided by co-journeymen Allen Davis synthesizer, Peter Woodford guitar, Larry Walters bass, Brian Miller drums, Victor Peterson percussion, and Tom Ranier keyboards who jam with Vaccaro on the last two tracks, In A Quiet Place and Carnival 2000.
There is plenty of challenging technical material to keep Vaccaro busy in Mark Davidson’s Prologue for bass clarinet, clarinet, and flute, the playful opening track on the CD. Terpsichore is the take away from this delightful opener. Multi-track editing by Vaccaro is superb, the blend of these three instrumental colors delicious, intonation spot-on. Nick Venden’s Circumsdance-5 shows off Vaccaro’s English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, and piccolo chops. A moody, bluesy attitude, including a wonderful oboe solo and accented rhythms, gives the opening section of the work a delightful sense of laid back urbanity. A minimalist middle section is masterfully constructed, thoughtful, and rhythmically intoxicating. A completely unexpected postlude for solo English horn is a wonderful surprise and demonstrates Venden’s coy compositional tomfoolery. The piece ends with a smiling flourish. Wonderful writing.
Richard Bowden’s Whimsey is also masterfully conceived and constructed. Clarinet, Eb clarinet, baritone sax, soprano sax, tenor sax, oboe, bass clarinet, piccolo, flute, English horn are the most readily recognizable instruments in Vaccaro’s monumental track stack for this thickly orchestrated wind piece. Episodic, Whimsey explores among other things, sounds and memories. Twists and turns in the narrative – a playful street dance, a Stravinsky-like moment for winds, an extended duo for clarinet and oboe, a clever jazz homage, a nod to Laurel and Hardy, and a wild alto sax improve solo - delight the ear and tickle the imagination.
Allen Davis’ mystical 17- minute masterpiece The Celestial Ascension features flute, clarinet, and recorder choirs, all performed and edited masterfully by Vaccaro. A tone poem, the piece begins amorphously then becomes more focused as it samples medieval polyphony (recorder choir), mid-nineteenth century romantic angst (clarinet choir), and an array of colorful woodwind conversations in various styles. High and low winds chatting and occasionally finding sweet accord in rich wind sonority, the work reaches a calm in its last minutes, setting the scene for a magical ascension effect; vocal colorizations, tone drifts, and echoes sung by Vaccaro colleague Judith Dunlore.
Composer Davis sits down at the synthesizer to join Vaccaro, this time playing tenor sax, for an amazing ensemble performance of Davis’ In a Quiet Place, a straight up and luxuriant jazz gem. Colleagues Larry Walters bass, Brian Miller drums, Victor Peterson percussion, Peter Woodford guitar, and Tom Ranier keyboards join the others for Don Harper’s rock/jazz delight, Carnival 2000, a fun piece that shows off Vaccaro's flute skills in particular and brings this unique disc, handsomely produced by Peter Woodford, to a happy close.
Daniel Kepl | Performing Arts Review
An interview with Los Angeles-based master of wind instruments Mike Vaccaro