The storied life of Tucson drummer Arthur Vint

A rooster atop a weathervane, equally well-versed in modern jazz, salsa, country or rock, in 2007 drummer Arthur Vint left his home for the bright lights of New York City — the substratum for his musical evolution having formed early in life in the alluvium of his native Tucson.

In NYC, Vint built a career performing primarily as a sideman — most notably with Postmodern Jukebox, and many others — until 2022 when he assumed his present role as artistic director/general manager at a newly christened downtown venue, the Century Room at Hotel Congress, a borderlands jazz club and mezcal lounge.

Here, Vint brings us up to speed, in perfect cadence.

* * *

“My parents played lots of music in the house: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Neil Young or Linda Ronstadt were always on the record player,” he said.

By the age of six, Vint had his first concert experience.

“I’m not sure if it was Dylan or Ronstadt…” he said, struggling to remember.

“My dad is an architect and designed parts of Linda’s house. They became friends. So, whenever she would perform near Tucson we would go.”

“Elvis was the first music that I discovered on my own,” he told the Tucson Sentinel.

Shortly thereafter, Vint asked his parents for a drum set. Soon, at the tender age of six, he was playing along to recordings of “Hound Dog” and “King Creole.”

“When I started showing more of a serious interest in music, my mom signed me up for private lessons. I started taking lessons with Mark Leversedge at Beaver’s Band Box on Broadway, around age 12,” he said.

Coming from a marching band background, Leversedge emphasized the importance of rudiments and reading music to his students.

“All I wanted to do was play the drum set, but he made me play nothing but snare drum pieces on a practice pad for the first year. It paid off though and we eventually moved onto learning Led Zeppelin songs on the kit.”

With an eye to the future, Vint studied privately with Tucson notables Fred Hayes and Homero Cerón. With their help he auditioned into the Arizona Jazz Academy (now known as Tucson Jazz Institute) and the Tucson Philharmonia Youth Orchestra.

“I was determined to become a professional musician.”

Yet, Vint remained undecided as to which discipline to undertake.

“I was torn whether to go into the classical or jazz field. Both of which happen to be the least popular styles of music in the world,” he said.

After a visit to New York City in 2005 — a trip that included pilgrimages to Village Vanguard, Cornelia Street Cafe, and other venues where jazz history was written — Vint was bitten by a bug.

“I knew that is where I wanted to be.”

* * *

“My parents told me I could attend any school I wanted, as long as they gave me a full scholarship,” Vint remarked.

Having met his parents’ preconditions, he would attend William Paterson University of New Jersey.

“Their music program is legendary and was founded by jazz trumpeter Thad Jones.”

Jones has been called “one of the all-time greatest jazz trumpet soloists.”

“Several of my favorite drummers went there too. So, I figured it was probably worth the 45-minute commute into Manhattan.”

Even though it would mean forfeiting a steady Tuesday night gig at China Rose Restaurant on East Speedway, Vint moved to NYC in 2007.

* * *

During his first year at William Paterson, Vint lived on campus, spending most nights in the city listening to live music.

He and his friends made regular stops at Birdland, Jazz Gallery, Village Vanguard, and Cornelia Street Cafe. They also attended jam sessions at Cleopatra’s Needle and Fat Cat, testing their chops.

“I still remember when it hit me, the musty basement smell, the first time I walked down the steps at Village Vanguard. They were still doing three sets back then; at 9 p.m., then 11 p.m., and the last set at 12:30 a.m. You could stay for all three if you kept buying drinks. I ordered Chivas Regal. It was the only whiskey I knew about and because Ted DeGrazia used to drink it,” he said.

Vint would stay the whole night, switching tables between sets until he was sitting right in front of the drum set — a seat where Arthur Vint has always belonged.

“I was hooked on the energy of New York. Anything seemed possible there.”

* * *

Vint’s first NYC gig was at Fat Baby, a club in an area known as “Hell Square,” with fellow students from William Paterson in 2007.

“We played to a handful of people who were on the guest list. We ended up losing money on the gig after paying for the Lincoln Tunnel toll.”

After moving off-campus, the BPM of Vint’s life increased in tempo.

“When I moved to Brooklyn, I had bills to pay. I picked up a couple part time jobs.”

Vint sold women’s jewelry at flea markets and pickles at street fairs.

“I also worked as a teachers’ assistant at Jazz at Lincoln Center,” he said.

A job with great benefits for an aspiring musician.

“I got to attend shows at Lincoln Center for free; at Dizzy’s Club, the Allen Room, and Rose Theater. I saw a ton of great shows just by showing my employee ID.”

Moving to Brooklyn — NYC’s most populous borough — opened new windows of opportunity.

“I had a semi-steady gig in Koreatown (on 32nd Street) and a regular Saturday night gig at a Turkish restaurant (on 47th Street). It paid decently, had great food, and all-you-could-drink Efes Pilsen (a European pale lager brewed in Istanbul, Turkey).”

Navigating the subway was another matter.

“Schlepping my drum set from Times Square to Brooklyn on the subway at 1 a.m., surrounded by drunk people, was no fun at all,” he said.

During his third year in NYC, Vint started busking in Central Park.

“One of my friends Sam Trapchak had gotten in with a busking crew and started calling me on weekends and holidays to go play in the park. We were mostly a trio; sax, bass, and drums. We’d play 8+ hours a day. On a good day we would take home $200-250 each, mostly in dollar bills.”

Even so, competition for the best spot in the park was fierce.

“One of us would have to claim the spot early, around 6 or 7 a.m.”

Rival buskers included; an ill-disposed clown with an expired permit for a spot by the Central Park Zoo, a hotheaded violin player and her consort, and a badass hip-hop dance troupe.

“Any day above 50 degrees, we’d be out there, playing tunes, and passing the hat.”

Vint busked for almost three years, slowly phasing it out as he began to land more legitimate work.

“In 2010, I got a call to play for a burlesque show with a band called the Candy Shop Boys. We backed up singers, comedians, jugglers, sword swallowers, contortionists, and of course, exotic dancers. At one point, we were playing four nights a week at different venues across the city.”

“One night, two guys came up to us after our set and said, ‘You’re perfect for a scene in the movie we are making…’”

Directed by Chad Stahelski and David Leitch, “John Wick” is an action-thriller film starring Keanu Reeves as a hitman who comes out of retirement to seek revenge.

The next day, after receiving the script and shoot date from the film directors, the Candy Shop Boys set out to write a song for the scene they were cast in.

“The directors ended up choosing a song for us that they owned the rights to. But we still made it onto the soundtrack,” Vint said.

The Candy Shop Boys recorded “Evil Man Blues,” a song penned by jazz vibraphonist Lionel Hampton and pianist Leonard Feather.

“Which is pretty cool.”

Also in 2010, Vint started working at Village Vanguard — arguably the greatest jazz club in the world. The stage there has served as ground zero for modern jazz hosting a who’s who of jazz legends: Lester Young, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and many others.

“I started out by setting up/tearing down for the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, on Monday nights. I mopped the floors, stifled the beer, cleaned the toilets, and took out the trash.”

In a trice, Vint worked his way up to bartending.

”I got to know all the greatest living jazz musicians and their drink orders,” he said. “I also managed the club’s website, ticketing, social media, and learned a lot about the business of running a jazz club.”

Experience that would prove invaluable.

“I was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. Often I would just sit alone in the club — a hallowed space that has remained essentially unchanged since its inception in 1935 — and commiserate with the spirits.”

* * *

“In New York, I was very much a ‘blue collar’ musician. I made some amazing music there and played with some of the best musicians in the world, but most of them were not household names.”

Vint recorded with various jazz artists: Pianist Dan Rufolo, bassist Sam Trapchak, and violinist Scott Tixier. He appeared on soundtracks with singer-songwriter Kelli Scarr and jazz stylists the Candy Shop Boys. He recorded with country singer Zephaniah O’Hora, folk pop artist Melaena Cadiz, and indie rockers Me Not You, and others.

“I also got to play regularly with Vince Giordano & the Nighthawks, which was a big deal for me. Giordano is the keeper of the flame for jazz from the 1920s and ’30s.”

A musical shapeshifter, it is Vint’s passion for and interest in music of widely varying forms that underpins that description.

“When I play different styles I don’t want to sound like a tourist. I want to sound like I’m speaking my native dialect.”

During his time in New York, Vint performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, Jazz Standard, and numerous downtown jazz clubs of renown, many of which were unable to survive the lockdown of the pandemic.

“But in New York, that and $2.75 gets you on the bus.”

Serving as the band’s drummer and musical director, perhaps Vint’s most high-profile gig was touring the world with Postmodern Jukebox — a rotating musical collective known for retrofitting pop tunes with stylistic elements of swing and jazz.

“We played some big halls including the Hammersmith Apollo in London, the Olympia in Paris, Vivo Rio in Brazil, plus the Nashville Opera and many similar sized venues in the U.S.”

While he may have enjoyed the rush of performing to thousands of people, at the deepest level, Vint felt that the audiences were not there for the musicianship, but rather the allure of the singers and hype of being YouTube viral sensations.

”As a professional musician you are constantly switching between being an artist and an artisan. On those Postmodern Jukebox gigs I was definitely the latter.”

* * *

After working as a sideman for several years, Vint set off in a new direction.

“I wanted to play shows under my own name to build up a solo career. And do something that was more of an artistic effort.”

By this point, Vint had been composing original music on piano for several years. He called some friends to play a gig booked at Rockwood Music Hall (in the Lower East Side) — a beacon for emerging and established acts in New York City.

“In jazz, it’s always the ‘so-and-so quartet’ or the ‘so-and-so quintet.’”

“Since my dad has an architecture practice in Tucson called Bob Vint & Associates, I thought it would be funny if I named my band Arthur Vint & Associates.”

“Anyone that’s ever played with me is now an ‘Associate,’ whether they like it or not.”

* * *

After Arthur Vint & Associates polished their unique sound by gigging in New York clubs, it was time to enter the studio.

As a composer, Vint’s love for the desert Southwest holds a presence beyond question. Drawing together sounds from Vint’s childhood in Tucson — vintage country & western and elements of traditional Native American songscapes, evoking visions of picturesque cactus-strewn expanses — with modern jazz from his New York experience, the result is “Through The Badlands” (Ropeadope Records, 2016), Arthur Vint & Associates’ debut album.

“A friend of mine suggested I send it to Ropeadope Records. They loved it and released it on their label.”

“Naively, I thought that my life would somehow change after my first record came out… But it’s pretty much the same as it ever was.”

On the title track from “Through The Badlands,” Vint tips the hat to Ennio Morricone — legendary Italian maestro who fashioned the sound of spaghetti Westerns. A salutation that proved auspicious.

“I was asked to perform before a screening of the 50th anniversary of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” director Sergio Leone’s 1966 epic, at the Nighthawk Cinema — a Brooklyn movie theater that serves craft cocktails at patrons’ seats.

“I used the gig as an excuse to work up a bunch of Morricone songs.”

Exploring themes from Morricone’s oeuvre, the release of Vint’s second studio recording, “Death Rides A Horse” (Ropeadope Records, 2017), was met with critical-acclaim. The Huffington Post called it, “One of the most refreshing, melodic, and successfully themed albums this year.”

“I recorded a third album in October of 2019, but the pandemic derailed the production of it. It’s still on the shelf. I hope to get it out soon.”

* * *

When Vint moved to New York in 2007, he took a little box of creosote with him. Its dense earthy scent was a reminder of Tucson after a desert rain.

“Growing up in Tucson, I kind of took the desert for granted. It wasn’t really until I moved to the East Coast that I began to appreciate the desert for its unique beauty.”

Conspicuously, a significant tranche of his recorded output evinces a preoccupation with the Southwest.

“I lived in NYC for almost 15 years and started a family there. I actually never thought I would move away.”

That was until the COVID-19 pandemic imposed its will.

* * *

“During the spring of 2021, I was traveling back and forth between NYC and Tucson, teaching at UA and playing a few gigs here and there.”

In league with UA jazz faculty colleagues — pianist Angelo Versace, saxophonist Brice Winston, and trumpeter Jason Carder — Vint organized a concert on the Hotel Congress Plaza.

“We sold a bunch of tickets and played a really fun set for a very receptive audience.”

Richard and Shana Oseran — the owners of Hotel Congress — were in attendance.

“I talked with Shana afterwards. She said that she was interested in doing something new with Copper Hall, the banquet facility inside Hotel Congress,” Vint said.

The Copper Hall, typically, was booked once or twice a month for special events. During the pandemic it became a storage facility.

Now, Oseran was entertaining the idea of repurposing the inactive space into a mezcal tasting room and piano bar.

“l had been looking at some basement spaces on Congress Street dreaming about opening a jazz club. Knowing that I didn’t have the capital to open my own space, I jokingly suggested to Shana that she should turn Copper Hall into a jazz club.”

Much to Vint’s surprise, Oseran said, “Yes! Let’s do it.”

“Later that night, I scribbled out a layout of the Copper Hall as a jazz club and typed up a business proposal.”

The next day, Vint was invited to a meeting to discuss the idea further. The team immediately jumped on board.

* * *

During the lockdown — when the music industry ground to a halt — Vint put his idle hands to use and taught himself AutoCad (computer-aided design software), staying up late at night watching YouTube tutorial videos.

“Having learned those skills, I became a huge asset to the Copper Hall renovation. I did all the working drawings for the contractors, including all of the elevations and site plans.”

As the build-out reached completion — with strong roots set in NYC — Vint’s continuing role in the project was uncertain.

“My wife Lindsay and I owned a beautiful apartment in the Bronx. Our son was going to 1st grade. We were happy there with a great community and good jobs… So we were not convinced about moving back to the desert.”

At the beginning of 2022, Vint’s role at the new Century Room was revealed.

“While I don’t have any ownership stake in the club, I was given the title of general manager and artistic director — as it operates in my vision of a New York-style jazz club.”

The Century Room also houses some of Vint’s personal collections: Vintage jazz records, books, photos, ephemera, and drum sets.

“I handle all of the booking. We have hosted jazz legends like Bill Charlap, Kenny Washington, Buster Williams, Lenny White, Peter Washington, Geoff Keezer, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Greg Hutchinson… Plus, amazing next generation musicians like Joel Ross, Benny Benack III, Emmet Cohen, and Christian Sands.”

For concerts, The Century Room models itself after Village Vanguard; booking the same act for two separately ticketed sets — at 7 and 9 p.m.

“Our fall lineup is insane. More big names coming through; featuring a Grammy Award winner almost every week. These amazing musicians had nowhere to play in Tucson before The Century Room opened. I’m glad that I was able to help create a space for their music and for Tucson audiences to hear them without having to travel to New York City.”

“Another huge benefit to running a jazz club is that I get to play there all of the time.”