Jon Vriesacker grew up in Reedsburg, Wisconsin. He recalls being thrilled at age five by a performance of a Ravel piece by the Pro Arte String Quartet. His father took him backstage to meet the musicians, one of whom recommended a teacher not too distant from Reedsburg. By the time he was ten years old, Jon was performing with adults as a fiddle prodigy. He recalls wishing that he could be one of the guys, a member of the band rather than a talented kid sitting in for a couple tunes. He would soon get his wish.
Around this time, Jon became very interested in percussion, teaching himself on a borrowed kit and eventually entering the University of Wisconsin as a percussion major who also played violin. Forced to choose, he went with the violin, and focused on jazz, inspired by Jean-Luc Ponty and Stuff Smith. After a semester off, and a stint at Berklee College of Music in Boston, he shifted his focus to classical music, and went on to graduate from the UW with a degree in classical performance.
Since then, Jon’s skill, versatility and easygoing manner have helped him build a career as a first-call violin player in Madison and beyond. He is a member of the Madison Symphony Orchestra and has soloed with the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra. Jon has worked with a wide range of collaborators, from the Pulitzer Prize-winner composer Gunther Schuller to violin legends Johnny Frigo and Johnny Gimble. His resume includes commercial clients like Lands’ End and Miller Brewing as well as rock sessions with Garbage, Freedy Johnston and Willy Porter, among many others. Jon also played on “Al Otro Lado del Rio” from the movie The Motorcycle Diaries, which won the Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2005.
Jon’s association with The Kissers came about through teaching gigs at the Madison Music Foundry, where Ken Fitzsimmons also works. Jon jumped in for a St. Patricks’ Day show and soon became a full-fledged member.
“It was a great show, and The Kissers are great people, fun to play with and to hang with,” he recalls. “I felt really comfortable, so we just kept doing it. Irish music and fiddle music are so intertwined. If you’re interested in the violin, Irish is going to be a part of that. It shares roots with bluegrass and similar types of music that I’d been into. Often, those styles get borrowed, with violin players giving an Irish lilt to music, even when it’s not strictly Irish tunes. And the melodies are beautiful and haunting.”
The Kissers’ new album was the first opportunity for Jon to contribute creatively to the band at the composition and arrangement stage, as opposed to performance. “I really dig the more acoustic nature of Three Sails,” he says. “I feel that with the more acoustic stuff, there’s more richness, more of the complexity and subtle details that sometimes get lost when everyone’s plugged in and amplified. There’s more sonic information, and that allows for greater expressiveness – the little nuances that people put into playing or plucking or hitting. Because it’s a more complex product, it still stays interesting after repeated listening, I think."