Larry Vuckovich has won acclaim from critics and jazz audiences for his deeply imaginative style and repertoire heard at prestigious North American and European jazz clubs, concert halls and festivals. He is equally at home in world music/classically influenced modal jazz as he is with hard-swinging bebop, post-bop, contemporary jazz, and down-home blues. The New York Times notes that his unique outlook and collection of influences “set him apart from most pianists who are heard regularly in New York”. The Village Voice comments on his “book of piano gems that will keep you guessing.” The Toronto Globe and Mail calls him “a musician who sits apart from the rest by virtue...of his taste for both the exotic and the exquisite.”
Cited by piano legend Barry Harris as “one of the premier West Coast pianists, Mr. Vuckovich brought his Jazz-Latin Trio/Quartet, featured on his two current piano trio/quartet CDs, to Lincoln Center’s Dizzy’s Club in New York on a recent East Coast tour. On the same tour, he performed with Marian McPartland on her Piano Jazz show, broadcast to national and global NPR affiliates. Mr. Vuckovich has appeared as soloist at the Fazioli piano series in San Francisco, New York and Chicago, and also leads an 18-piece band that sold out the 600-seat 2007 Jazz at Filoli show in Woodside, CA.
His two latest recordings, High Wall: Real Life Film Noir and Street Scene, on his Tetrachord Music label, placed in the Top 10 of the JazzWeek national radio reporting charts, and are heard regularly on XM Satellite Radio. They have won praise from top critics:
“He’s a passionate exponent of what most people call straight-ahead jazz ... there is a consistently tasteful quality to his music that makes it very appealing to the ear. "
– Leonard Maltin, Movie Crazy
“… he creates an earthy post-bop style of richly varied improvisational expression.”
- Jazz Podium (Germany)
"... a pianist whose evocative touch and poetic (but unsentimental) sensibility convey the wisdom of deep musical life experience"
– Thomas Conrad, Jazz Times
"A true musician's musician...originality, elegance, dexterity and most of all great sense of swing, time, space and phrasing. For those who are keen on a superior jazz trio, Street Scene is highly recommended."
- Gilbert Mathieu, Jazz Improv
"... any discussion of the best jazz piano players in the world must now include Larry Vuckovich!"
-Brad Stone, Music Director, KSJS, San Jose, CA
"A MONSTER of a player who should be much more well known.”
- Gary Walker, Music Director, WBGO, NJ/NYC
His Blue Balkan ensemble has won praise from critics as a pioneer in world music jazz fusion. The CD reissue with new material of his acclaimed 1980 recording (Downbeat 4 1/2 stars), was named one of the top CDs of 2002 by critic Gary Giddins in The Village Voice. The ensemble combines modal modern jazz of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Randy Weston, Duke Ellington, and Balkan/Roma (gypsy) elements. His other bands include the two-tenor Young at Heart sextet, which played at the San Francisco Jazz Festival, and was called “one of the happier surprises” of the Monterey Jazz Festival by Scott Yanow in L.A. Scene. He also leads a Dexter Gordon-Sonny Clark tribute quintet and the Latin-based La Orquesta El Vuko. He has developed several clinics, including: the History of Jazz Piano, the Art of the Ballad, and a Study of Bebop and Post-bop Pianists, featuring the styles of Bill Evans, Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk, and Red Garland, that was successfully presented at the 2005 IAJE (International Association for Jazz Education) conference in Long Beach.
Born in Kotor, a small Montenegrin coastal town in the former Yugoslavia, the pianist was classically trained as a child, but was also drawn to jazz music he heard on Armed Forces Radio and Voice of America during World War II and the Communist regime that followed. After the war, Tito’s communists took his home, including the family piano, and imprisoned his father and brother. Jazz came to symbolize freedom. Finally, in 1951, when he was 14, his family was granted political asylum in the United States, arriving in San Francisco at the height of a flourishing jazz scene. The young pianist began listening to local KJAZ radio, hanging out at record shops and later frequenting legendary clubs to hear visiting jazz giants, such as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, and others. He also heard and sat in with locally based masters, such as John Handy and Brew Moore with whom he later began his professional career. Among the famous clubs he visited was the Black Hawk, where he met Cal Tjader pianist, Vince Guaraldi, who agreed to engage him as his only piano student. Mr. Guaraldi later featured Mr. Vuckovich in a two-piano quintet and sent him to substitute as accompanist for vocalists Irene Kral, David Allyn, and Mel Tormé, for whom Mr. Vuckovich became first-call pianist in San Francisco.
He began a 25-year on and off association with vocalist-lyricist Jon Hendricks, which included performances in Hendricks’ long-running musical Evolution of the Blues and two Hendricks recordings. (The famous scat master later appeared on Mr. Vuckovich’s Reunion CD, released in 2004, placing in the top 25 on JazzWeek charts.) He toured with Mr. Hendricks throughout North America and Europe, where he also led the house band at Germany's top jazz club, The Domicile, in Munich, playing with such artists as Lucky Thompson, Slide Hampton, Pony Poindexter, Clifford Jordan, and others. He worked with European trumpeter Dusko Goykoyich and became a member of his International Quintet, recording a live album with the band at The Domicile. He also performed with drum master Philly Joe Jones, at the club and later toured Europe with him. He met Dexter Gordon and toured with him in Austria and in Copenhagen, appearing at the famous Montmartre jazz club. He performed at festivals at Jazz Ost/West Nurnberg, Cologne, Berlin, Vienna, Bologna, Lugano, Pescara, and Ljublijana (Yugoslavia)
Mr. Vuckovich worked with Philly Joe again in San Francisco as house pianist for five years at Todd Barkan’s Keystone Korner, where he also played with jazz legends Arnett Cobb, Buddy Tate, Charles McPherson, Leon Thomas, Scott Hamilton and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, with whom he appears on a Savant Records CD from a live Keystone recording. He has also recorded for Concord Records, Hot House, Inner City Records, and Palo Alto Jazz, and originated his own label Tetrachord Music in 2000, producing six highly successful CDs.
Mr. Vuckovich worked for five years on the New York scene where he appeared at all major jazz clubs, including Village Vanguard, Blue Note, Bradley's Zinno, West End, Hanratty's, and others, working with Billy Higgins, Cecil Payne, Al Cohn, Curtis Fuller, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis, Michael Moore, Tom Harrell, and Charles McPherson; the latter two have appeared on Mr. Vuckovich’s CDs. His two shows in the PBS Club Date jazz series, both with Tom Harrell in 1982 and 1991, received a New York Times critique as being “well worth tuning in for.” The series is archived in the U.S. Library of Congress.
He returned to San Francisco for a second long-term engagement as house pianist and music director of Club 36 atop the Grand Hyatt Hotel from 1990 to 1997, having first presided there from 1980 to 1984. He featured visiting musicians from New York and Europe, presented concerts showcasing distinguished San Francisco-based musicians, including a popular “Bop City Night”, and hosted San Francisco Jazz Festival events there. He also presented several West Coast Jazz Festival performances and served as music director of the Napa Valley Jazz Festival for six years. He has performed at San Francisco, Monterey and San Jose jazz festivals, Aspen/Sonoma Jazz Festival and the Palo Alto Jazz Alliance, as well as major Bay Area concert venues, such as Yoshi’s, Jazz at Pearl’s, Herbst Theater, The Bach Beach House, Napa Valley Opera House, COPIA, Kimball’s East and Kimball’s West, and recent European festivals at La Teste de Buch (France), Silda (Norway), Basel (Switzerland), Belgrade (Serbia) and Bankiya (Bulgaria). .
Larry was acknowledged as a "Jazz Legend" for the Fillmore Jazz Heritage Center in San Francisco. Larry was honored along with Eddy and Vernon Alley, Willie Bobo, Vince Guaraldi, Paul Desmond, Bop City’s Jimbo Edwards, John Handy, Noel Jewkes, Frank Jackson, Jon Hendricks, Bobby Hutcherson, Pat Nacey, Cal Tjader, Allen Smith, and others who contributed to the greatness of the San Francisco jazz scene. Larry Vuckovich Day, December 8th was proclaimed in San Francisco on his birthday.
Larry was the first jazz musician to discover and record Bronislaw Kaper's obscure, haunting High Wall theme. He performed in New York at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca Cola and was Marian McPartland's guest on her NPR Piano Jazz program. His other performances include tours with Legends of Jazz featuring Hadley Caliman, Curtis Fuller, Julian Priester, John Heard, Jeff Chambers, and Eddie Marshall. Larry, who worked with Dexter Gordon, recently collaborated with the Napa Valley Jazz Society to present a tribute to Dexter Gordon in a two tenor front line quintet format. His teaching and clinical projects include a solo piano format of the History of Jazz Piano, ranging from Jelly Roll Morton, Fatha Hines, Teddy Wilson, and Bud Powell, to Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, and various free jazz styles.
Mr. Vuckovich lives in Northern California with his wife, Sanna Craig, vocalist-percussionist, and producer with him on the couple’s Tetrachord Music label. Besides his own recordings, he has released a recording of Sanna’s son, guitarist Josh Workman’s Jumpin’ at the Border, named one of the top four instrumentals of 2004 in the IAJE journal. His son Alexi Vuckovich is a classical pianist finishing his master’s degree at San Francisco State University, where Mr. Vuckovich received a B.A. in music.
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