Jazz guitar master Vic Juris died: Videos

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Vic Juris, a jazz guitarist of astounding abilities perhaps best known for his tenure in David Liebman’s band, died Tuesday morning, according to a message on his Facebook page attributed to his friend and fellow guitarist Dave Stryker.

The New Jersey-based Juris, was 66. He was diagnosed six months ago, after unexplainable fatigue on his gigs, with metastatic liver cancer. A GoFundMe campaign launched soon after raised more than $110,00 from fans and friends to help cover his treatment and living expenses.

Juris played in Ottawa in 2008 with Liebman’s group at the now-shuttered Cafe Paradiso on Bank Street, and that appearance led to further gigs and concerts here with Ottawa musicians John Geggie and Roddy Ellias.

In 2009, before his National Arts Centre Fourth Stage concert Juris, Geggie said: “Lots of people are aware of guitarists like John Scofield, John Abercrombie, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell and Kurt Rosenwinkel,” Geggie says. “I feel Vic should be added to that exclusive list.

Geggie said that Juris’s playing at Paradiso with Liebman had completely knocked him out. “The fluid lyricism, the subtle phrasing, the engaging harmonies, the way he used his pedals as well as the classical guitar. They were revelations for me.”

Juris, who was as humble and down-to-earth as he was talented, simply told this newspaper in 2009: “I’ve played with just about everybody I wanted to play with, which is really a good thing. And, you know, there’s not room for everybody at the forefront.”

Juris’s peers had the highest respect for him. The late John Abercrombie called him “the greatest … there is none better anywhere.” Metheny credited Juris for “inventing new ways of thinking about jazz, harmonically and melodically.” Frisell called him “a total monster.”

On Juris’s Facebook page, Stryker wrote: “I am sorry to report that Vic Juris passed away this morning. Vic will live on through his music, as a beautiful person and through his many students.” Here are Stryker, on the left, and Juris, on the right, playing a duet a few years ago:

Geggie says he decided to invite Juris to be part of his series after hearing the guitarist perform last April as part of saxophonist Dave Liebman’s dynamic quartet at Café Paradiso. “The whole band was stunning … a life-changing event for a lot of people,” the bassist says.

When my former colleague Doug Fischer interviewed Juris in 2009, he put it to the guitarist that his stylistic versatility and range kept him from acquiring the profile of his more famous contemporaries.

Juris replied: “There might be something to that theory. have always been interested in all kinds of music and styles. I like crossing boundaries.”

Born Victor Jurusz in Jersey City, New Jersey, Juris took up the guitar in the early 1960s after listening to his father’s Chuck Berry and Howlin’ Wolf records. Soon he was swept up in the rock explosion, especially the British invasion, and like many teenagers of the era he played in rock bands. He listed Beatles’ songs among his favourites.

In the early ’70s, he landed a jazz gig with bop-rooted organist Don Patterson, an encounter that led to work with Jimmy Smith, Wild Bill Davis and eventually regular stints in the bands of Phil Woods, Dizzy Gillespie and Chico Hamilton.

By the mid-’70s, he was juggling jazz with fusion, performing with Barry Miles and Eric Kloss, and first encountering Liebman, who was also heavy into fusion.

In the mid-’80s, Juris had a year-long stint in a guitar duo with Larry Coryell, and later teamed up with the young gypsy guitar improviser Biréli Lagrène for a European tour and a recording. Among many other projects, he was a member of the Gary Peacock Quartet and musical director of a guitar quintet devoted to the music of Charles Mingus.

He joined Liebman’s band in 1991, and taught at Rutgers and Lehigh universities.

Juris continued to gig despite his cancer, and he performed a few days before Christmas at Zinc Bar in New York with his trio. On Christmas Day, he posted a photo of himself with the gift that his wife, vocalist Kate Baker, gave to him — a beautiful guitar, of course — and wrote: ” I have been blessed by overwhelming support by you as I continue to fight the evil giant. He ain’t gonna get me!”

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