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Cornellian's Jam out to Jazz

Tessa Lark (Left) and Frank Vignola (Right) playing their respective instruments (Photo by Collomore Concerts).

With the 120th Anniversary of The Cornell Concert Series this year, it continues to provide opportunities for students and locals to engage with professionals of their particular genres. 

With Frank Vignola and Tessa Lark set to perform on November 10th, they unpacked their engagement with jazz and how their relationship has warranted such a unique dynamic. 

How it started 

Frank Vignola with his guitar (Photo by Bec Legato/Ithaca Week)

The duo first met when Lark was a student at The Julliard School. Vignola was a jazz ensemble coach and Lark sat in for a session and performed with the group that night. After working together, he said that she should give him a call if she ever needed a rhythm guitarist for her upcoming performances. 

“So sure enough, you know, years later she called for a little performance on The Violin Channel,” Vignola said. “And that was kind of the birth of these shows.” 

The video Vignola referred to is a rendition of “Liebelsleid,” composed by Austrian-American composer Fritz Kreisler, that was rearranged by the pair to replace the piano with the guitar. The two instruments are an atypical pair though especially so when paired for jazz.

“Seeing Frank play guitar and the different sounds that come from a guitar…I’m just always looking from other sources to figure out how to expand what I’m bringing,” Lark said.“By the nature of the duo, it’s unique. So we’re both having to figure out how to fill the bass role or the percussion role, all those things. By nature, it’s an innovative duo.”

While the two have known each other for a while, they have performed less frequently with one another as Vignola primarily performs at the Birdland Jazz Club where he holds a residence. 

“It was funny, somebody asked us how long we had been playing together,” Lark said. “And we both were kind of saying, well, depending on how you look at it, either three shows or three years.”

The Cornell Concert Series

Photo of the exterior of Bailey Hall (Photo by Bec Legato/Ithaca Week)

While most find choosing artists and acts to be a difficult one, Dr. Deborah Justice, concert manager of The Cornell Concert Series, welcomes the challenge. She said she loves talking with agents and learning about what music is out there for programming. 

“It was a lot of listening to different music, to make value judgments about it, but also just to hear and to see, like, where are we going?” Justice said. “What areas are getting popular, what is not as much, or, what’s hot this year.” 

Deborah Justice in her office (Photo by Bec Legato/Ithaca Week).

http:// Cornell Concert Series has been uniting the campus for 120 years. Since 1903 they have showcased many different genres and subgenres, though their history is notably white. Justice made a push to move away from the classical label that was being places on the group, presenting musical traditions from around the world, not just euro-centric classical music. 

Justice said she is dedicated to including more people of color during her time as concert manager due to her background in ethnomusicology. The concept is interpreting music from all around the world to get a better view of the history behind the music.

The Performance

Frank Vignola and Tessa Lark will be performing on November 10th at Bailey Hall on Cornell University’s campus. There will be no microphones, allowing for a more raw performance. 

Tickets are available to purchase for members of the public and students. Justice said one of her favorite things is getting to see when the audience members get invested in the music, saying it affirms the impact that live events have on the people. 

“These beautiful concert halls are designed for this kind of special music… It’s just the guitar, the violin, the people, and it’s a very intimate evening,” Vignola said.

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