VAIL — When Frank Vignola shares his aspirations of someday playing guitar in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade or becoming a game show host, he is only half-joking.
The world-renowned guitarist returns to Vail today with six-string sidekick Vinny Raniolo to open the Jazz @ Vail Square series, part of the 20th anniversary season of the Vail Jazz Festival. But on Friday, he comes close to touching his dream, performing on the Vail Jazz Festival float in Vail’s famed Fourth of July parade.
As for going from award-winning guitarist to game show host, it’s not too far a stretch. After all, Vignola comes armed with an onslaught of belly laugh-inducing jokes and stage antics with every performance, and his musical prowess could allow for his very own eclectic niche in the game show world.
“I think it might be great to have a guitar between trivia questions,” Vignola said, laughing.
Humor is a key part of the Frank & Vinny show. Just when you are blown away at the speed and precision of the duo’s fingers during a powerful string rendition of “Swan Lake,” the two will suddenly take to their tiptoes and pitter patter across the stage, never missing a stroke.
“It’s great to hear people laugh,” Vignola said. “Now people request that. They say, ‘Are you going to do the ballet?’”
Vignola’s guitar career took off in the 1980s, working with the likes of Ringo Starr and Madonna before sharing the stage with Les Paul for many years, then going solo and writing an extensive series of instructional guitar books. He and Raniolo — a fellow New Yorker — joined forces about nine years ago when the younger half of the duo auditioned on bass for a Vignola-led band.
“Then he picked up the guitar and started playing. He was really a guitar player,” Vignola recalls.
They began playing bluegrass in Nashville, and then discovered they were a genuinely dynamic duo with a knack for telepathy and building off of each other’s energy.
“We got so good at developing material as a duo, we’ve done over 1,000 shows together,” Vignola said. “It’s easy to travel together because there’s a lot of mutual respect.”
Once they reach the bandstand, expect to hear Frank & Vinny’s own entertaining take on everything from Gershwin classics to Simon & Garfunkel hits, Beethoven’s “Fifth” to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven.” Expect to clap. Expect to laugh.
“I always walk away feeling people are so happy — happier than when they walked in,” Vignola said. “That’s the key to feel like we did our job. Our job is to make people feel good, to have sing-a-longs and make people laugh.”
Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer contracted by the Vail Jazz Festival. Email comments about this story to firstname.lastname@example.org.