Monday, July 11, 2011
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in St. Louis, Mo., which is a town with a lot of great blues, jazz and country music. I attended the Interlochen School for the Arts for my early musical training. In college I was a double major receiving a bachelor’s degree in music from the Oberlin Conservatory and a bachelor’s degree in history from Oberlin College. Following graduation I moved to New York City, spending 10 years there as a freelance musician. I had known about the Navy Music Program ever since college, but I also knew how difficult it was to get the job. When I read in the (American Federation of Musicians) Local 802 newsletter that there was a spot available in the Navy’s country/bluegrass band, I was determined to get the gig. When I came to my audition everyone was extremely nice to me, but for a civilian to perform in front of all those officers and enlisted personnel in uniform was quite intimidating! The caliber of the musicians in the band was amazing and I was so flattered when they offered me the job.
Tell us about your experiences in New York.
I came to New York City to “make it” as a jazz guitar player. My dream was to play guitar in the style of George Benson. After a few years of playing jazz in clubs and teaching a LOT of music lessons I started to get frustrated and wondered where all this was going. It was about that time that I received a request to audition as a guitarist/actor/singer for an off-Broadway rock musical. I figured it was worth a shot, so I auditioned and was hired on the basis of my guitar playing (they later hired a real actor to cover the acting and singing portion). Suddenly, I was working every night and making more money than I had ever made. Playing rock guitar was new to me, but it was exciting. At the same time I ran into an old buddy from high school who was now a pop music producer. He offered to pay me a small salary to be on his staff at his music studio to write and record for his artists. Through that connection I started getting hired as a studio musician. It became clear to me that playing a variety of guitar styles and being open to new experiences was a bankable commodity in the music world.
During my time in New York I performed on several shows, such as the “The Lion King,” “Grease” and “The Full Monty.” I had the opportunity to perform on recordings for numerous artists including Katy Perry, Fergie, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake, Jordin Sparks, David Archuleta, Lady Antebellum, the Backstreet Boys, Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift. I also performed on the Disney High School Musical album and on the Michael Jackson anniversary compilation!
Ultimately I did get the chance to tour with some major jazz artists such as Fred Wesley, Javon Jackson, Ruth Brown, Freda Payne and Bobby Caldwell – but my favorite gig was with the legendary diva, Eartha Kitt. I spent the last five years of my time in New York touring and recording with Eartha Kitt until she passed away in 2008. She was an amazing artist, a great boss and I miss her a lot!
After Eartha passed away I heard about the opening with Country Current and even though I didn’t have much experience with country music, I was intrigued by the challenge of something new and open to a different musical experience. It has been awesome to have all these amazing country/bluegrass musicians around to teach and inspire me.
What do you enjoy doing when not working?
Well, that is a tough question for me, because I spend so much time working on music. I guess that I am trying to learn how to cook. In another life I would have loved to pursue this – it’s a lot like music – a symphony in chicken!
Senior Chief Musician Juan Vazquez is principal percussionist in the Concert Band.