Vincent Blasio - Lifetime Achievement
BMHOF Class of 2015
Vincent “Vince” Blasio has seen a lot.
- He played guitar with the big bands in their heyday.
- He met his idol, Andres Segovia, multiple times.
- He performed with the Buffalo Philharmonic on several occasions.
- He could play difficult avantgarde pieces if called upon, such as when he took on a David Del Tredici piece at the University at Buffalo – with Lukas Foss in the audience.
- Perhaps more important to him, he taught the likes of Paul Viapiano, one of the most prolific and skilled Los Angeles studio guitarists of the past 30 years.
And he’s still here to tell about it.
Blasio, who turned 102 in the fall of 2015, was born in New Jersey, but moved with his family to Buffalo when he was just a year old. He’s lived in the area since 1914.
Along the way he’s built a lifetime of memories, from a tough childhood in the Lovejoy neighborhood to performing on the first TV telethons to playing countless shows in Melody Fair’s early tent years.
Through it all, he says, the one constant is that he has kept on learning and is still doing so today. Although he no longer performs in public (giving that up in his 90s), he still plays show tunes in his apartment.
That doesn’t surprise people who know Blasio. Viapiano said that when he was taking lessons from Blasio, he always got a little extra.
“My half-hour lessons always turned into at least an hour. Vince was always enthusiastic about showing me something new that he had learned,” Viapiano said. “During these early years, Vince also traveled to New York for classical guitar lessons, and soon he was incorporating these concepts in our weekly meetings.”
“It’s the feeling that you have for the music,” Blasio said in a recent interview, “and also what you have learned going through all these processes. … And I love to play.”
Blasio started his music career as a teenager as part of a mandolin quartet, playing opera melodies in a barbershop on Lovejoy Avenue. He started out playing by ear but soon started picking up sight reading, using “solfeggio,” as taught to him by an Italian mandolin player from the old country.
Sight reading became a core part of Blasio’s approach to music. Viapiano said it was reflected in his teaching.
When he started with Blasio, “We read through material for the violin, flute and clarinet in addition to the meager music then available for the guitar,” Viapiano said. “Sight reading, the ability to see a piece of music for the first time and play it perfectly, was one of the goals he set for me. This set up a foundation that's allowed me to pursue a career in music here in Los Angeles for the last 33 years. I’m thrilled that he’s being inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame.”
Blasio followed the mandolin with learning the banjo. Then came the guitar, which took him into the big bands. In the early days, that meant strumming an acoustic instrument near a microphone in groups like the Joe Strada Band. Later it meant playing an electric for the Tony Tone Orchestra and the Alex Renee Big Band.
Some of the highlights of his career have been playing with the likes of the King Sisters and Roger Williams, but he has also played in any number of band configurations – including solo. He’s always been an instrumentalist.
During the 1950s, he started playing classical guitar and became one of the region’s best players and teachers. He relished the challenge of playing difficult pieces. He recalls playing the piece by Del Tredici on banjo because the composer – one of the most influential modern American composers – couldn’t find anybody else who could do it.
“They tried two banjo players; they couldn’t follow the conductor,” Blasio said. “I didn’t want to do it; I said this is not my kind of music, although I played with the Philharmonic three or four times.
“He said if he could find somebody to do it, I wouldn’t have to do it. But another guy, a good banjo player, couldn’t do it. So he said, ‘Vince, you’re stuck. You’ve got to do it.’ … There was no key signature. It started like ‘Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,’ and then after that, forget it. … The time signature changed almost every measure, 2/4 time, 6/8 time, 3/16, and I had to play the last note. I told him, ‘I’ll try to follow the best I could, but you’ll have to cue me in.’ And he did.”
In addition to Foss in the audience was Blasio’s nephew, PeterGena, who has gone on to his own career as a composer and teacher.
Another time, Blasio performed in a trio where each of the guitarists played single notes – essentially combining to create chords. It was the musical equivalent of walking a tightrope without a net.
And Blasio did it all with no college degree. His non-music job was at a worker for DuPont Industries.
“I did everything the hard way,” Blasio said. “That’s why I appreciate it so much.”
(Profile by Elmer Ploetz)