The Star Ledger (Jazz Review) by Zan Stewart
THE STAR LEDGER – “A life in tune: Jerry Vezza feels the vibrations” Jerry Vezza plays resplendent jazz piano, employing a mainstream approach that is packed with choice notes and propelling rhythms. A pianist since age 7 whose talents are captured on his 2006 album, “You Are There” (Bridgepin CD), the Madison-based Vezza has found an aesthetic home in his instrument.
“I love the orchestral aspect of the piano,” says Vezza, a 58-year-old native of East Orange who was raised in Springfield. “A good instrument presents so many possibilities.”
Vezza, who will appear Friday in a trio at Shanghai Jazz in Madison, performs as often as he can. But, like many musicians, he’s needed additional avenues to make ends meet, so he also tunes pianos. An approved Steinway technician who has worked on instruments for the likes of Herbie Hancock and classical dynamo Emmanuel Ax, Vezza has been tuning for more than 30 years.
“In tuning a piano, you’re playing with the vibrations of the universe, bringing things into harmony, into a place where the instrument sounds good, feels good,” says Vezza from the Madison home he shares with his wife of 17 years and their two teenage children. “A good tuning can put a smile on someone’s face, from a little kid to a serious musician.”
Performing, though, is Vezza’s true calling. “In performing, I’m participating in the art process,” says the pianist, who studied jazz with noted teachers Mike Melillo and Adolph Sandoli. “There’s the communicative value of expressing my musical feelings to other people and hopefully getting a positive response, that they enjoyed it as I did. And there’s the camaraderie of the other musicians involved in the magical process that is jazz improvisation.”
At Shanghai Jazz, Vezza will team with two area stalwarts he reveres: bassist Martin Wind and drummer Eliot Zigmund.
“Martin is a great bassist, a musician who does whatever he can to make the band sound its best,” Vezza says. “And Eliot, who played with my idol, Bill Evans, always swings, finds the rhythmic pocket. These guys make it easy to play.”
With the pair, Vezza will address a program of standards that he has arranged, and he’ll also include a few originals. The standards might include “Gone with the Wind” or “Summer Night,” both in a 6/8, waltzlike feeling. “I like the dance aspect of the waltz. It’s beautiful,” he says. Or maybe he’ll go with an upbeat “How About You.” “I can’t get enough of that swing feel,” he says. One more might be Miles Davis’ “Solar” — “a tune that you can really open and explore.”
Of his own tunes, Vezza might call on “Capo Testa,” another jazz waltz that paints a musical portrait of an area in Sardinia, Italy, where the composer goes each summer to perform. “The song is like the place — beautiful and mysterious,” he says.
Balancing his daily tuning efforts with his desire to play is challenging, but Vezza has found his way to manage, and to thrive.
“Tuning is not the same as playing. You’re not listening to the piano in same way,” he says. “And tuning can be fatiguing, so that at night, practicing or performing requires discipline. But when I start playing, I love it.”
Zan Stewart is The Star-Ledger’s jazz writer. He is also a musician who occasionally performs at local clubs. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (973) 951-3821.