Veteran Bay Area pianist Larry Vuckovich is finally getting his music back on the national radio charts. His CD, “Somethin’ Special,” has hit the top ten lists for numerous weeks in a row.
While Vuckovich is best known as a pianist, he’s also a talented composer. The first album he did as a leader was “Blue Balkan.” “Coming from the Balkans and hearing that music on records, in person, and playing some of it on accordion – it stays in your system,” Vuckovich explains. “I came here in 1951, but it took until late 70s for me to get an inner urge to get to the piano and put some of these things down.” Vuckovich says the inspiration for the title track on the album came from Gipsy Roma music. Though much of his music was founded in various ethnic traditions, Vockovich’s compositions gradually became experimental.
Vuckovich, like many musicians, says he can hear a tune once and remember it. That may seem magical to us non-musicians, but he explains that most jazz tunes stick to a common form.
“You have to photograph it in your ear. You can see a pattern. It goes through those changes, that key, then it comes back,” he explains. “Most of the great tunes are sophisticated, but they are not complicated. To be complicated does not mean that it is intellectually better. Complications can sometimes be an ego game.”
On “Somethin’ Special”, Vuckovich and his band don’t just play the notes. They add an extra level of swing, as demonstrated on their version of Dexter Gordon’s classic “Cheese Cake.”
Their latest album features Scott Hamilton, who usually records jazz standards from the 30s and 40s. “He never played these bebop tunes,” says Vuckovich, “but because he’s a great musician, for him it was an inspirational adventure.”
Vuckovich describes how the band worked together to interpret older melodies. “Scott was playing on top of a rhythm section that was looser and more open to adventure. We were all inspired hearing great guys playing their solos. We just ran the tune over and played it. It was pretty relaxed.”
The CD combines some bebop standards, original tunes and a driving rendition of the early 1960s R&B song “Coming Home.”