Classicalite Catches Up With Jazz Guitarist Hristo Vitchev
Hristo Vitchev deserves to be heard. His website describes him as an impressionistic, modern jazz guitarist. However, one listen of his new CD In Search of Wonders, you are struck by the timelessness of Mr. Vitchev's music. The guitarist fronts a tightly structured quartet that features him on guitar, Jasnam Daya Singh on piano, Dan Robbins on bass and Mike Shannon on the drums. In real life, they are four different individuals but, as a band, they are one, as Mr. Vitchev will be the first to tell you.
Classicalite sat down with our new friend from Bulgaria to talk to Hristo about his band, jazz and playing guitar.
(Photo : Photo Courtesy Hristo Vitchev)
Classicalite - Give Classicalite readers a little bit of your background. Where you were born? What interested you most about guitar? How you started out?
Hristo Vitchev - I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. Since a very young age I always had a fascination with music, but only as a listener. I was really into all the rock bands of the 70s and 80s and pretty much spent all my free time listening to music. However, it was not until I was 12 that the first desires to play a musical instrument were born. I remember that my grandma decided to sign me up for guitar lessons at the local music school in the neighborhood and my life really changed at that point. I knew right away that I wanted to be a musician. My family relocated to Caracas, Venezuela (where we spent 10 years) and I continued my guitar studies there, getting more and more into progressive rock, as well as guitar inventive instrumental music. In 1996 my family moved to the USA and it was here where I first discovered jazz and really got intrigued by the multicolored tonal hues and textures of this great American art form. I decided to pursue music in university and decided to devote my life to jazz music. During my studies I got so interested in composition and arranging and started writing my own compositions and trying to put bands together and record them. That eventually evolved into my quartet and now a discography of around 12 albums.
Classicalite - On your new CD, In Search of Wonders, most of the songs are over five minutes long, yet there is no excessive soloing by anyone, how do you manage to keep the group so tightly structured?
Hristo Vitchev - The group has been together for 8 years or so and we truly connect at an emotional level. We are best friends in music and life and when we start playing (from the first to the last note) there is a telepathy between us that is so special and magical. Somehow that free and very spontaneous spirit of the group makes everything take care of itself in a very natural way.
Classicalite - How would you describe your guitar style?
Hristo Vitchev - I am very much influenced by the great modern jazz guitar players - Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, and John Scofield. However, throughout my musical studies I was mainly fascinated with the piano and the very complex harmonic palette that was possible on this instrument. A lot of my teachers were piano players and all the concepts we covered I tried to adapt to my guitar playing on my own. I will definitely have to say that the harmonic aspect of guitar playing is what intrigues and interests me the most.A lot of the media has dubbed me as an Impressionistic jazz guitar player over the years.
Classicalite - Guitar never really overtly dominates your new CD, would you consider yourself a composer first and then a guitarist seconds? Talk about how you compose songs? How do they come to you?
Hristo Vitchev - Yes, I do consider myself a composer first and foremost and that is exactly how I approach the writing and arranging process for the band. The primary goal is always to figure out what does the music require from us (the musicians) and try to realize it to my best ability. Just because I play guitar that does not mean that my albums have to feature the guitar as the primary instrument. Sometimes I write passages and melodies that do not require a guitar at all. Most of the time my compositions always start with the exploration of different harmonic textures, concepts, and movements. I try to express all the feelings and emotions with combinations of pitches and intervals. Almost like assigning them a flavor in a harmonic way. Then as I get to the right flavor and right sensation a lot of the other aspects of the music start to emerge naturally; melodies, rhythms, grooves, etc. I do all of my composition work on the piano.
Classicalite - Talk about the kind of guitar you play and why you prefer it? Your tone on the CD sounds pretty clean. I'm guessing you don't use any effects or pedals?
Hristo Vitchev - For all the acoustic jazz playing I use arch top hollow-body guitars. I am very honored to endorse a custom builder based in Northern California. The guitar company is called DMT Guitars and they made two very beautiful instruments for me. If people are interested they can visit my website and find more information about them as well as see photos, etc. I usually use only a few clean boost pedals to add a little more brilliance to the sound as well as a touch of analog delay to the signal in order to achieve a reverb like effect without sounding in the back of the mix.
Classicalite - What is the first thing a person must know about a guitar before ever picking it up that will be an invaluable aid?
Hristo Vitchev - It is one of the most expressive instruments out there and everyone can learn how to play it. In general I do not believe in talent. I only believe in hard work, passion, discipline, dedication, and love for what you do.
Classicalite - Lastly, who are your guitar idols?
Hristo Vitchev - Definitely, Pat Metheny, Julian Lage, to name a few...the list is really long.