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Larry Vuckovich

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Larry Vuckovich was born in Kotor, Yugoslavia, on December 8, 1936. He came to San Francisco in 1951 at the height of the then flourishing bop jazz scene. Classically trained but an ardent jazz fan thanks to Armed Forces Radio, he began hanging out at clubs like the Blackhawk and the Jazz Workshop, where he heard such greats as Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bill Evans. At the Blackhawk he met Cal Tjader and Vince Guaraldi. He studied jazz piano as Guaraldi's only piano student. During this period he was also completing his music studies at San Francisco State University, where John Handy was a major influence on the school's jazz program. As well as collaborating with the students, Handy brought visiting greats who also performed with the classmates of Vuckovich, including Milt Jackson, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Mickey Roker, Bob Cranshaw, and Larry Gales. Vuckovich began his professional career in 1959 with tenor saxophonist Brew Moore. He began subbing for Guaraldi in 1960 accompanying singers David Allyn and Irene Kral. Around this time he also performed with such instrumentalists as Handy and Monk Montgomery. In 1963 while accompanying Mel Tormé, he developed a close musical rapport with the singer, and was his first-call pianist in San Francisco. Two years later, Vuckovich began a longstanding association with vocalist and lyricist Jon Hendricks, appearing at major festivals and clubs worldwide, as well as performing in the long-running and famous musical stage production Evolution of the Blues. In the late '60s, he led the house band at the Domicile in Munich, Germany. During that time, he backed visiting jazz greats including Lucky Thompson, Slide Hampton, Pony Poindexter, Clifford Jordan, Dusko Goykovich, Philly Joe Jones, and Dexter Gordon, Back in the U.S. in the late '70s, Vuckovich worked with Philly Joe Jones again in San Francisco when he was the house pianist at the Keystone Korner. There he accompanied notables Arnett Cobb, Buddy Tate, Charles McPherson, Leon Thomas, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, and Scott Hamilton until the club closed in 1983. In 1985, he moved to New York where he appeared at all the major jazz clubs, backing Billy Higgins, Cecil Payne, Al Cohn, Curtis Fuller, Milt Hinton, Mel Lewis, bassist Michael Moore, Tom Harrell, and Charles McPherson. In 1990, Vuckovich returned to San Francisco Bay area, where he is one of the mainstays of the jazz scene . He was the music director for the West Coast Jazz Festival and Napa Valley Jazz Festival, played at Pearl's and Yoshi's, and also performed in concerts at the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society near Half Moon Bay, the Herbst Theater, and the Palo Alto Jazz Alliance. Vuckovich also presented a very successful piano clinic featuring the styles of Bill Evans, Erroll Garner, Bud Powell, and Red Garland at the 2005 International Association for Jazz Education convention in Long Beach. He resides around the Napa Valley area in Calistoga, north of San Francisco, with his wife, vocalist and percussionist Sanna Craig. In addition to his trio, he fronts the groups Blue Balkan, Young at Heart, and La Orquesta el Vuko, and has collaborated with Bobby Hutcherson, John Heard, Noel Jewkes, Jules Broussard, Josh Workman, Harold Jones, Eric Golub, Eddie Marshall, Eddie Moore, Akira Tana, Larry Grenadier, Chuck McPherson, Paul Keller, Dottie Dodgion, John Santos, Omar Clay, and Orestes Vilató. ~ Michael G. Nastos

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