New York Blues Hall of Famer Chris Vitarello talks about his experiences and the satisfaction of blues

"I feel I have all the freedom in the world when I improvise in a blues setting. I feel the most satisfied after a blues gig."

Chris Vitarello: The Blues Satisfaction

Blues Hall of Famer Chris Vitarello was born and raised in Mount Vernon, New York; Chris has played and recorded with many well known musicians such as: Jimmy McGriff, Bruce Katz, Graham Kendrick, Robin Mark, The Organiks, Floyd Miles, Tad Robinson, Kevin Anker, Joe Beard, Tam White, Dennis Gruenling, Gina Fox, Shane Kirsch and the Fuzzy Flow, Mitch Woods and the Rocket 88s, Goeff Hartwell, Jeremy Baum, David Maxwell, Michelle Willson, Per Hanson, Nicole Hart, Jerry Jemmot, Lorne Entress, Marty Ballou, Joel Frahm, Rod Carrey, Ralph Rosen, Roxy Perry, Jeff Ganz, Don Guinta, Arlen Roth, Eric Mingus, Randy Ciarlante, Jay Collins, The Jon Bates Band, The Curtis Winchester Band, The Blue Rays, Michael Bram, Felix Cabrera, Little Melvin, Jim Payne, Jerry Z., The Chris O'Leary Band, Alex Haven, Moose and the Bulletproof Blues Band, Michael Torsone, Big Joe Fitz, Brian and Heather Wolfe, Steve Guyger, Ryan Hart, Mat Jordan All Stars, Marty Bender, Jason Devlin, Liviu Pop, Billy Bileca, Buzzy Fulstrom, Roy Rodriguez, Lonnie Gasperini, Diane Blue and many more. 

Chris has playing internationally at Edinburgh Blues Festival (Scotland), Notodden Blues Festival(Norway), Montreux Jazz Festival(Switzerland), Pori (Finland) Jazz Festival, Nova Scotia (Canada), Live in Bermuda, Waterfront Blues Festival (Toronto), Blues Now (Bassel Switzerland),Harvest Time Blues (Monahagn, Ireland). Jazz and Blues festivals such as The King Biscuit Blues Festival ,New York State Blues Festival, The 2011 Blues Music Awards, Sarasota Blues Festival, Mississippi Valley Blues Festival, Summerfest, Rochester International Jazz Festival, WC Handy Blues Festival in Kentucky, Cincy Blues Festival, White Mountain Blues and Boogie Festival, Black Potato Festival, Bourbon St. Blues Festival, Ribberfest (Madison, IN), Oswego Harbor Festival, King Biscuit Blues Festival, are of the many Festivals that Chris has performed at.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

The Blues to me is a way I make a living, or should I say a part of my living. I play all styles of music. My favorite is the Blues. I love the simplicity of the harmony. That being said it’s the most expressive and creative music out there. I feel I have all the freedom in the world when I improvise in a blues setting. I feel the most satisfied after a blues gig.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

I guess I have experienced a lot in my 42 years. I have been playing music for 25 years now. I have had heartbreak, sickness and just lots of life experience. I think the blues gives me a good outlet to get out all my frustrations.

"I miss the consistency of work. It seemed I had more gigs in the past. Then again the qualities of my gigs are better so I shouldn't complain. I hope the young people continue to listen to the blues and keep it alive."

How do you describe Chris Vitarello sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

My sound can be described as a blues, jazz kind of mix. I always say I am a blues guitarist that can sound jazzy at times. Not the other way around. I am always thinking of new jazzy ways I can approach soloing. Deep down I am a blues guy. My philosophy is that you put your heart into every note, learn the songs, show up on time and don't complain.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

The best part of my career is when I got to meet and play with Bruce Katz. It was the highlight of my career. I used to go and see him play with Ronnie Earl when I was young. When he called me to play in his band I was like starstruck. His style is perfect for me. A mix of blues and jazz. From meeting him I also got to play with Tad Robinson. He was another favorite of mine. I play in his band frequently. Playing with Jimmy McGriff was also amazing. I also love my good buddy Chris O'Leary who used to play with Levon Helm.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Because it is a timeless music that gets in your soul.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

The best jam I was involved in was playing with Alex Schultz in Switzerland. He was a guest on The Chris O’Leary Band's (photo) new live release that will come out soon. I loved his playing since I started playing blues. The best gigs I have been on were Basel Switzerland (COB), The Mississippi Valley Blues Festival (Bruce Katz Band), Summer Fest in Madison Indiana (Tad Robinson) Blues Alley (Jimmy McGriff).

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

I got to meet Jimmy Vaughn, Ronnie Earl, Duke Robilard. I used to teach Chevy Chase's kids. I got to hang out and play with him as well. He was a great guy.

Are there any memories from recording and show time which you’d like to share with us?

My favorite recording session was with The Project A Band. It consisted of Joel Frahm, Bruce Katz, Jerry Jemmot, Marty Balou, Ralph Rosen and Lorn Entres. It was a Aretha Franklin Tribute. I felt so blessed and unworthy to be playing, let alone recording with those guys. They treated me with such respect. I played a track called "It Ain't Fair". I felt it was the best thing I ever played on because of how the rest of the band treated me.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss the consistency of work. It seemed I had more gigs in the past. Then again the qualities of my gigs are better so I shouldn't complain. I hope the young people continue to listen to the blues and keep it alive.

Which memory from Floyd Miles, Joe Beard, Mitch Woods, and Felix Cabrera makes you smile?

Playing with Floyd Myles and Joe Beard were great experiences. Those guys are as old school as you can get. Pure soul that I think I will never be able to achieve but am much closer now that I met and played with them. When they count off a song they are in command of an audience. A true gift.

"The Blues to me is a way I make a living, or should I say a part of my living."

(Photo: Chris & Floyd Myles 

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the blues circuits?

I just love the being on the road with my band mates. Its hard work driving all over the country and world. We make it fun constantly goofing around and joking. I get to meet and hang out with so many people every year. All of them have been so nice to me. Some of the hospitality that I get is amazing. I like playing this kind of music because there is no rockstar mentality. We get to play for people and also hang out with people. We are all on the same level. It’s one big family.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

I would love to go back in time and be at a show with Grant Green. I love his stuff.

Chris Vitarello - official website

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