Jeff Scheetz, TrueFire’s Educational Director Interviews Frank Vignola and his student Jan Knutson.

Jan Knutson may have only been playing guitar for 4 years as he hits the ripe old age of 16, but he has released his first CD “Out of Nowhere,” which showcases his amazing solo jazz chops. The record was produced by Jan’s teacher, TrueFire’s own Frank Vignola. Jan has been a student in Frank’s online TrueFire classroom, and the two have performed together onstage as well. I caught up with them to talk a little about the student/teacher relationship and learn about Jan’s plans for the future.

JS: Jan, what is it that you love about guitar?

JK: The thing about the guitar that hooked me from the start was the infinite possibilities of the sound. Around the time when I started playing in 5th grade, I was listening to a lot of Van Halen, Mike Stern, and “Discipline” era King Crimson. I didn’t really listen to music based on a particular genre when I started, all I knew was that all of the people I listened to utilized lots of guitar, and I loved it. I loved how each player sounded yet each was vastly different. When I first listened to Django Reinhardt, I was taken aback by the way he would build intensity by playing at different points on the guitar, as well as his use of passionate vibrato, similar to that of a violin player. There is a versatility on guitar that doesn’t seem as easy to come by on other instruments.

JS: So Frank, tell us what do you feel are the traits that make Jan a standout student?

FV: Jan’s practice habits are amazing. Every day he gets up before school, takes a walk and visualizes a new arrangement or an arrangement he is working on. Then he practices it after his walk. His ear is fantastic and his ability to play solo guitar just blew me away from day one of his entrance into my online classroom. His desire to learn is also what makes him a special and natural musician.

JS: Jan, what makes Frank a great teacher that resonates with you?

JK: Frank has a staggering repertoire, and has had me learn many new tunes that I probably never would have learned otherwise. He never limits the music that he plays – if it is good music it should be played – and he shares this music with his audience. As a teacher he is very concerned with helping me bring out the music in what I do. When I play with him, he always keeps me on my toes, helping me learn the necessity of communication and conversation within music. He is an extraordinary musician and teacher, and I am very lucky to learn from him.

JS: Frank, you have worked with many, many students. What has surprised you the most about Jan?

FV: His ability to get up on stage with me on occasion and play solo guitar in front of an audience without even seeming nervous. Also, his general attitude towards school and learning. He is high honor roll at a special science and math school where he lives, plays classical violin, trombone and piano. He is just a gifted kid who has a good stable family and in my opinion is destined to be one of the next generation great guitarists.

JS: Jan, as you look ahead, what are your ultimate goals as a musician?

JK: Ultimately, I want to express myself within my music and share it to as many people as I can. I don’t exactly know how I will do it yet, but I am keeping my mind open. I hope to go to a music school after I graduate from high school, and I want to play at as many places and with as many people as possible.

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