Tony Vani – Using the blues to bridge the gap
By Greg Ceci
Not all musicians flower early in life and like many before him it took Tony Vani time to blossom into one of the most respected and beloved musicians in the region. His was a journey that was marred with much self doubt and earnest soul searching.
The son of Italian immigrants, Vani spent an introverted childhood feeling awkward and out of sorts. Having a learning disability, he abandoned scholastics early and headed west to find himself. It was in a Vancouver club where he had an epiphany that solidified his trajectory when he saw master harmonica player Charlie Musslewhite. Arthur Baxter, another pivotal figure out west, encouraged Vani and convinced him to join his band. That was the first of a slew of bands spanning his music career.
Playing in ensembles gave the self-taught Vani confidence and foundations in guitar, vocal, harmonica and performance to play any style of music including funk, reggae, rock and jazz, but his heart will always bleed blue. Vani remarked, “I especially dig playing the blues. There is something raw and earthy about it that really appeals to the inner soul. It saddens and excites me at the same time.”
Like many experienced performers, Vani endured unappreciative crowds, shifty venue owners, musician’s cliques and little or no pay. Through it all, Vani flourished by writing, producing and releasing five albums with another on the way, as well as opening for rock band Dr. Hook and performing at the Kingston Blues Festival. He has written over a hundred songs and his partner Debbie Hoskin helps with lyrics. Vani proudly beams, “Debbie is an amazing singer and musician in her own right but is now retired”
Eventually returning to scholastics, he emerged as an educator. Vani notes, “My training and background in education is broad. My degree is in Social Development Studies and in addition, I have four certifications in relation to my work with students with intellectual, emotional and developmental exceptionalities.”
Although now officially retired, Vani continues to work privately with adults with exceptionalities and often uses music to bridge the gap. He also continues to nurture relationships with former students by periodically taking them on fun outings and activities.
Vani was also the brainchild behind the first annual Belleville Blues Festival. An ongoing blues festival is a fitting legacy for a bluesman who loves developing and encouraging a new generation of musicians. He is enjoying retirement with his loves Hoskin and their six poodles, who he calls his muses. He practices every day and gigs for the sheer love of entertaining a crowd. His advice to other musicians, “Practice, practice, practice. It takes ten thousand hours to master your voice or instrument.”
Deeply rooted in the blues, Vani is a perennial performer pedalling an infectious smile and stage presence who also softly serves his community and humbly inspires an entire music scene.
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