From country to complex jazz, Chris Vitas’s violin has a strange range.
Chris Vitas was still attending Monte Vista High in 1969 when he started playing electric fiddle in Montezuma’s Revenge. Locals remember them as the wacky (the name referenced diarrhea) country band that packed the Del Mar Fair beer garden in the ’70s. Over the years his violin proficiency led him to play in the tuxedoed Continental Strings at La Costa, in SeaWorld’s onetime bluegrass band Crawfish Pie, and backing headliners such as Tony Bennett, Johnny Mathis, and Smokey Robinson in “pickup orchestras” when they came in concert. “I backed Robert Plant and Jimmy Page in ’89 at the Sports Arena. Playing ‘Knights in White Satin’ with the Moody Blues...doesn’t get any better than that.”
His 46-year local music career, which also included turns playing Irish jigs in Keltic Karma and performing in productions at the Old Globe and Starlight Bowl, takes yet another twist this week.
- Friday, January 30, 2015, 8 p.m.
2400 Kettner Boulevard,
$12 - $15
On Friday, Vitas introduces his tribute to the fiery jazz-fusion icon Jean-Luc Ponty at 98 Bottles.
“If he isn’t jazz, I don’t know who is.” Vitas says he doesn’t mind practicing every day to remain true to Ponty’s intense and intricate style. He says he took lessons from local jazz standouts Peter Sprague and Lori Bell to help him make the jump to more complex jazz.
Vitas was more in the background when he played country. “In Montezuma’s Revenge we would play at some bar and at the end of the night they’d say we can’t afford to pay you, but we’ll give you all you can drink. Can you imagine how in-the-bag you’d be? Once I drove off leaving my violin in the parking lot.”
Vitas then got his teaching credentials and taught music in five Santee-area elementary schools.
“I would walk around during recess and lunch breaks and play for kids just to get them to sign up for a music class.” Vitas said the ploy worked and he had developed a healthy music program that thrived until cutbacks decimated music classes countywide.
Vitas says the music cutbacks nudged him into traditional teaching, which lasted until a vocal chord disorder kept him from talking. “I had to stop teaching. After that I just played music.”