Vinnie Zummo talks jazz, reviving the Zummos and Joe Jackson: Something Else! Interview

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Vinnie Zummo already had a fascinating career as a sideman, notably with Joe Jackson, before launching a well-respected solo career. The guitarist joins Preston Frazier for a Something Else! Sitdown to discuss his decision to split off on his own, the prospects of returning to one of his earlier bands, and how it all got started.

PRESTON FRAZIER: When did you start playing with Joe Jackson?
VINNIE ZUMMO: I was first with him on the Body and Soul album. And then Big World, Tucker, Willpower, Blaze of Glory and, more recently, The Duke album. I did three world tours with Joe, and a few movie soundtracks and a lot of TV appearances.

PRESTON FRAZIER: You have an extensive discography. Were you considering a solo career when you were playing with Joe Jackson? Why did you decide to take the leap?
VINNIE ZUMMO: I always wanted do my own material, but did not have a clear path to how I wanted to do that. When the Joe gig came along, the timing was right. I needed that pro experience of playing huge concert venues, and touring to get a look at the music biz up close. Ironically, as I started Joe’s gig I was also starting to write and record with my wife Janice. We then got a record deal with A&M from our first three-song demo! We really did not have the experience to deal with a label like A&M. We recorded the one album, Modern Marriage, which I am proud of, and they did nothing with it. We called ourselves the Zummos and dressed alike and had a whole shtick planned, TV show, etc. We had it all planned out. It was a perfect quirky, ’80s pop album. A shame nothing much happened with it, but we had no support from the label. They were mainly interested in keeping me out on the road with Joe.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Your last release of original material was 2016’s Coyote, which made my Best Jazz Albums of 2017 list. Tell us about the concept around that album, and the recording process.
VINNIE ZUMMO: It was recorded all over the place. The basic concept was to take my solos and have the brilliant Gary Anderson harmonize them for four saxes, and then track the saxes as well. I was able to call in a lot of favors and get amazing players like Will Lee, Joe Jackson, Mike Manieri Mark Egan, Graham Maby, Matty Amendola, Gary Deinstadt, Charles McNeal, Ray Marchica, Todd Sucherman, Bashiri Johnson, Bill Stuart and Cameron Brown, and many more.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What were the guitars and basses you used for the album? How was the album recorded?
VINNIE ZUMMO: We did it to Pro Tools, mainly. Not sure what some of the musicians used who mailed in their tracks. I played mainly my Steinberger guitars for my tracks.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us a little about your background. Where are you from?
VINNIE ZUMMO: Staten Island, N.Y. – Though I have lived in New York City for a long, long time.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Were you parents musically inclined?
VINNIE ZUMMO: My Dad and much of the family around me were. There was always music. I started playing accordion at age 5.

PRESTON FRAZIER: When did you start playing guitar?
VINNIE ZUMMO: When I first heard the Beatles, the accordion went right into the closet. I combed the hair down, and grabbed Dad’s guitar. My parents were not happy about it. They felt accordion was a better instrument. Can you imagine?

PRESTON FRAZIER: Are you formally trained?
VINNIE ZUMMO: I started out playing by ear but in my late ’20s, I started to study with private teachers. I found myself in situations where I had to read music and could not, so that had to change.

PRESTON FRAZIER: Tell us about your first band.
VINNIE ZUMMO: In grammar school, I played accordion and I think we had a trumpet player and a drummer. From there, I went on to a rock band in high school. We had a “record deal” with a local Brooklyn studio, so I was going to the studio every day after high school classes. I got used to tracking and being comfortable in the studio from that experience. I never get nervous in a studio or recording.

PRESTON FRAZIER: What do you have planned for the rest of 2018 and into 2019?
VINNIE ZUMMO: I am kind of taking a breather and trying to figure out what to do next. Janice and I are tossing around the idea of doing a follow-up Zummos album. I’ve done 10 albums, eight of which are still available, so I think it’s good idea to take a break and think carefully about what is next. I am kind of up for another big time side-man gig. The timing is right. I wish Joe would see fit to using me again, but for some reason he does not. I’ve always thought I was a better fit than the guitar players he has chosen to play with the last few years. It’s his thing though. He can use who he likes.

I have always been lucky to have a very eclectic career. From my work with Joe or Art Garfunkel, or Paul Carrack or Shawn Colvin, my jazz trio, my Swinging Guitar Sounds of Young America homage albums and videos, my Beatle homage videos, or my series of hip hop projects that I’ve released over the years. We have a brand new one coming out called N.Y.C. LIT. I think it is my best work.

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