Joe McBride brings ‘timeless’ R&B back to Vail

Soulful singer/pianist returns for two intimate performances at The Sonnenalp

 

From the first time Joe McBride touched a keyboard at age 4, he was hooked … as in, he could not let it go.

“I had gone to a Christmas party at my cousin’s house. I found my cousin’s keyboard and started playing it. I didn’t want to leave,” said the Fulton, Missouri native. “I cried for three, four days when we left. My parents broke down and bought me a keyboard.”

Four years later, the gift was a piano, purchased for an 8-year-old McBride by his church.

“From the beginning, I knew I loved it,” he says. “I always knew I loved music. I had a radio next to my ear, a transistor radio next to my ear in bed every night.”

As a teenager, McBride contracted a degenerative eye disease that would eventually take his eyesight. But that did nothing to slow musical pursuits.

“There are always those with greater than or lesser than,” he says. “I don’t think because I was blind I concentrated more on music. It’s because I love it. There’s plenty of blind people, a lot of adversities that a lot of people have, it doesn’t have to be physical. Your passions have to do with who you are as a person.”

After studying at Webster University in St. Louis and then in North Texas, McBride spent the next three decades creating and recording music and touring the world as a bandleader.

“As I grew older, I’d fall into my own groups, getting out in St. Louis and meeting other musicians. The more I got to interact with people, the more I realized how many different kinds of music I love.”

McBride made his way to San Diego and Dallas, quickly establishing himself as a respected and sought after singer/pianist in each city’s jazz scene. From 1992 to 1998, he recorded four albums – Grace, A Gift for Tomorrow, Keys to Your Heart and Double Take, featuring contributions from greats such as Larry Carlton, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Peter White and Grover Washington, Jr., to name a few.

He’s opened for stars such as Whitney Houston and The Yellowjackets and recorded a total of nine full-length albums, including 2009’s Lookin’ for a Change, a testament to his musical versatility, as he infuses a broad gamut of popular tunes from numerous genres (Coldplay, John Mayer, Gnarls Barkley) with his own vocal and harmonic style. Whether personally revamping a contemporary pop tune or performing a Ray Charles classic with a smooth and distinctive flare that’s all his, McBride embraces every opportunity to grow.

“I have so many different influences – Ray Charles, definitely – but also Beethoven, Bach, Jimmy Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald and even Green Day,” McBride says. “As a kid I was exposed mostly to rock n roll. At my grandmother’s, she’d always have Ray Charles in the background. In college, it would be part of my assignment to learn about different artist. I’m old now … but I’m timeless, baby.”

McBride is often compared to Ray Charles, though anyone who’s heard and witnessed his performance – including last summer’s Vail debut, a charismatic tribute to Brother Ray – knows that McBride takes the stage with his own distinctive energy and presence.

“I’m not acting to perform as Ray would. People can get caught up in the stereotype … yes, I’m a black, blind person who sings and plays the piano,” McBride says. “I’m more influenced by Ray as a style, being able to cross over and play with so many kinds of musicians. He came on the scene back in the early 50s, when he pretty much just kept to gospel. Then came the R & B and the big band stuff with Count Basie. He even did country with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. He influenced a lot of styles. I probably have a hundred influences. All of them are with me, but my show is always my own.”

Feb. 26 Joe McBride at The Vail Sonnenalp

Joe McBride returns to Vail for back-to-back performances at The Sonnenalp Hotel on Feb. 26, highlighting classics by the likes of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder as well as McBride originals. Seating is jazz club style at Ludwig’s Terrace, with doors opening at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. performance and at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. Full dinner and bar service will be available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Tickets to each performance are $40. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

BUY TICKETS HERE FOR 5:30 P.M. SHOW.

BUY TICKETS HERE FOR 8 P.M SHOW.

 

 

The Faces of Vail Jazz: Tony G

The valley’s piano man has made a musical impact on multiple generations

When Tony Gulizia shops for groceries, it’s rare that he’s not recognized by someone who remembers taking his class at Vail Jazz Goes to School. Sometimes he’s accosted by an 11-year-old who he taught earlier that week; sometimes it’s a parent who took his class two decades ago, sometimes it’s a college student from one decade back. At this point, Gulizia’s impact bridges generations.

For the last 21 years, the Nebraska native has imparted musical education to more than 15,000 local students.

“The whole philosophy of the program is to get kids to appreciate jazz music,” says Gulizia, who moved to the Vail Valley from Omaha, Neb. 26 years ago and has become an integral part of the area’s cultural tapestry. “Of course, over the years, you get some students who take that appreciation over the edge. My gosh, that’s been one of the highlights of my career, seeing students who started in the program and are now pursuing studies or their own careers in jazz.”

Gulizia has given many children their first glimpse of music, not to mention their first glimmer of passion toward pursuing it. Some of his students have gone on to study jazz in college, land scholarships at schools such as Juilliard and have followed his early lead into careers as professional musicians.

Tony Gulizia passes on the rhthm at a Jammin’ Jazz Kids session.

Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone hired Gulizia more than two decades ago to head up Vail Jazz Goes to School, a four-part program offered free to every fourth and fifth-grader in Eagle County. The sessions begin with the basics of jazz, including history and the influence of African rhythms. Students are then introduced to the families of jazz instruments – strings, woodwinds and percussion and learn about syncopation, improvisation and the 12-bar blues. The program culminates with a concert at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in which Gulizia and fellow mentors perform original songs composed by the students.

All classes are hands on and highly engaging, hence the clear memories that students carry years later when they run into Gulizia at City Market.

“We try to make the classes really educational, but also entertaining and enjoyable,” Gulizia says. “It’s amazing to be in Eagle County, a place you wouldn’t immediately think would be such a strong place for jazz education compared to big cities. But to see a class of 80 students at Edwards Elementary, kids who are leaving the classroom and saying, ‘thank you for what you did, I’m going to go home and listen to more jazz’… it’s really rewarding.”

In addition to Gulizia, the Vail Jazz Goes to School education team is comprised of drummer Joey Gulizia, a starring member of Mannheim Steamroller, Andy Hall on bass, Mike Gurciullo on trumpet and Michael Pujado on drums/percussion. After nearly two decades of dedicated instruction, beloved Vail Jazz educator and woodwinds specialist Roger Neumann passed away last November.

When he’s not wearing his instructor hat, Tony Gulizia can be found playing piano at various restaurants and bars throughout the valley nearly every day of the week. He performs Tuesdays at The Remedy in the Four Seasons Vail (where he is also a summertime Vail Jazz fixture along with drummer Brian Loftus – BLT – every Sunday evening), plus several days at The Westin Hotel in Avon and is in the midst of his 26th year at Grouse Mountain Grill.

“I definitely have a lot of love for what I do,” Gulizia says. “I love working with people. Music is something very special in anyone’s life, whether you’re an avid or an occasional listener. It literally soothes the soul. It was 26 years ago that I moved here with my wife and kids. Before you knew it, word got around that there’s a new crazy piano guy around. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had such a great run.”

 

10 Reasons to Catch the 2019 Vail Jazz Winter Series

It can be argued that live jazz is best enjoyed in a warm, classy lounge with snow falling outside. This is just one of many reasons to secure your spot at the 2019 Vail Jazz Winter Series.

It is widely known that jazz became popular in the 1930s, but its hey day in Vail has gone on for 25 years … with the best still to come. That’s yet another reason to look into what Vail Jazz has cooking this winter. But here are the key 10:

It’s Vail Jazz’s silver anniversary, so the Series is going big. Following the holiday kickoff extravaganza – a swing dance party at The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch with New York City’s sizzling eight-piece The Hot Sardines, the 2019 Winter Series is delivering more than ever before – seven evenings of live music throughout the winter. Five of these sparkling nights take place in the swanky lounge setting of Ludwig’s Terrace at Vail’s Sonnenalp Hotel.

Entertainment for both the après crowd and the late-nighters. World-class artists light up The Sonnenalp Hotel on Feb. 26, March 5, March 12, March 19 and March 26 in a true jazz club format of back-to-back performances. The first seating appeals to the après ski crowd at 5:30 p.m. and the second targets late-night live music seekers at 8 p.m. Full dinner and bar service are available at each seating.

When we say the 2019 lineup is “world-class,” we mean it. The Winter Series lineup is comprised of the most talented artists in today’s jazz world … lauded not only in the U.S., but across the globe. After his sold-out Vail debut last summer, American blues pianist and vocalist Joe McBride returns on Feb. 26, followed by French-born songstress Cyrille Aimée on March 5, the charismatic Emmet Cohen Trio on March 12, soulful gospel favorite Niki Haris on March 19 and finally Grammy-nominated pianist John Chin on March 26. That’s not to mention the savvy on intimate display at private residences for the Series’ invite-only gigs. Former Stevie Wonder band member and vocalist Robert Johnson performs with The Mark Diamond Trio on March 2 and Australian multi-instrumentalist Adrian Cunningham on March 30.

Jazz has many musical wings and R&B is one of them. Joe McBride has oft been compared to Ray Charles. While the two share many characteristics – losing their eyesight at a young age followed by rapid development of tremendous vocal and piano talent – McBride has a sound all his own, even when he’s rolling through America’s favorite blues tunes. The Missouri native has recorded and/or shared the stage with everyone from Whitney Houston to Larry Carlton. He channels the spirits of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and other R&B Songbook masters with his own smokin’ energy and style on Feb. 26.

A voice that will hypnotize. Anyone who has trouble believing that vocal cords are a serious instrument has never heard or witnessed the enchantment of Cyrille Aimée. The young singer’s versatile vocal skills have been noted worldwide, from her native France, where she won the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival Competition, to New York City, where she’s won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Her voice has been enthusiastically described as everything from “saucy” to “sweet” by the New York Times.

Lose yourself in musical passion. The power of The Emmet Cohen Trio is all-encompassing, like walking into a tunnel of sound where every one of your senses is simultaneously enlivened, yet relaxed. A musical prodigy from the age of 3, Emmet Cohen’s piano compositions and delivery run the gamut from fluid to explosive. The Trio hits every tone and color on the jazz palette on March 12.

The rare treat of experiencing Niki Haris on a small stage. Every year at the end-of-summer climax event, the Vail Jazz Party, the first tickets to sell out are for Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin.’ The incredible soul singer who spent years touring with Madonna might be making a rarefied appearance on a smaller, indoor stage, but you can rest assured that her output will be as large and in-charge as ever. She gambols through a potent gamut of romping numbers while saluting her fellow sisters of soul on March 19.

The opportunity to witness John Chin before he’s swept up in big-time stardom. Born in South Korea and raised in California before moving to New York City and becoming a fixture of the Big Apple’s deep talent pool, John Chin draws inspiration not only from traditional jazz, but from pop, western and classical genres in his unique compositions. He’s released four albums as a bandleader and was nominated for a Grammy for his work on René Marie’s 2017 “Sound of Red” release. If you caught him performing with Marie in her Vail debut a couple of summers ago, you know he’s on a skyward trajectory. Don’t miss him at The Sonnenalp on March 26.

Supporting the future of musical talent, locally and globally. In addition to bringing in some of the world’s finest artists for the Winter Series and the pageant of free and ticketed summer performances, Vail Jazz also does its part in fostering generations of musicians to come through unique educational programs. These include the year-round Vail Jazz Goes to School program as well as the free summertime Jammin’ Jazz Kids sessions and the Vail Jazz Workshop, which selects and finances 12 of America’s top teenage musical prodigies in an intensive, week-long study group that culminates with live performances at the Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. Every ticket purchased for a Vail Jazz performance or a donation made directly supports the nonprofit’s educational initiatives which, in turn, secures amazing talent for our children and their children to enjoy.

Classy date night. It’s a beautiful, cold, wintery night and there you are, cozied up with your loved one in the elegant Ludwig’s Terrace, a glass of wine and gourmet meal on the table and one of the planet’s most talented musicians providing a scintillating live soundtrack a few feet away. A night out in Vail doesn’t really get more romantic.

Learn more about Vail Jazz’s 25th Anniversary Winter Series.

 

The Night Jazz Became Legit

Historians tell us that many major turning points in history can be traced to a decisive victory in a single military battle; for example, Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar. Changes in musical preferences and specific events signaling those changes, while culturally important, certainly do not alter the course of history, although I am sure there are some who feel that Elvis Presley’s 1956 appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show signaled the decline of the Western World. While the world didn’t really change after that performance, the fortunes of Elvis certainly did.

Howard Stone

The difference between a cataclysmic defeat on a battlefield and a rock performance on TV doesn’t really merit an analysis. However, somewhere between these extremes are events that change peoples’ perceptions and therefore, the course of events thereafter. And so it was that a jazz performance in New York City on Jan. 16, 1938 forever altered the course of jazz history. The location was Carnegie Hall, the Mecca of classical music at that time, and some say the most important concert hall in the world. This was the citadel of high American culture – classical music.

To place the performance in the proper perspective, one has to remember that jazz was considered to be the stepchild of popular music. In the early 1920s, jazz was seen by many as the devil’s music, played by black musicians in bordellos and honky-tonk bars; it was perceived to be vulgar and low-class by the white establishment, but slowly it began making its way into the main stream of American life and culture. By the early 1930s, it had arrived with the Swing Era; young white kids were dancing to the music of the Big Band Era. Americans were beginning to take notice of the music, but no one would dare compare jazz to classical music. Jazz was PLAYED in clubs and in dance halls. Classical music was PERFORMED at concerts.

Today, many would agree that jazz is the American classical music of the 20th Century, but in 1938, to even mention jazz in the same breath as classical music was frowned upon by the purveyors of cultural correctness.

On that fateful night, Benny Goodman (the “King of Swing,” at the height of his popularity), his orchestra and some guests (Count Basie and members of Duke Ellington’s orchestra) made their Carnegie Hall debut. Tickets sold out weeks before the show ($.85 to $2.75) and the show was broadcast live nationally. The performers were racially integrated (not a first by any means, Goodman had hired Teddy Wilson, an African American in 1935), but this was a very important venue for a public display of integration. In the coming years, jazz would go on to continuously shine a light on the sad reality of the separation of the races and by example, establish that the creative process of making music could rise above bigotry.

The result of the concert was astonishing. Jazz was elevated to the upper reaches of American music, acknowledged as an art form that deserved to be given recognition with the improvisational skills and virtuosity of its players to be admired and respected. The performance has now come to be regarded as the single most important public performance of jazz in the history of the music – legitimizing it and celebrating it. It was jazz’s coming out party, not in a club or a dance hall, but at Carnegie Hall. And it was presented as a CONCERT.

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival each summer and an annual Winter Jazz Series, both of which feature internationally renowned artists. In addition, Vail Jazz presents educational programs throughout the year with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge. This column is readapted from the original archived edition, republished to commemorate Vail Jazz’s 25th Anniversary season in 2019. 

Remembering Roger Neumann

Woodwinds specialist imparted love and learning of music to thousands of Vail Jazz students

Roger Neumann played an integral role in delivering the art and joy of jazz music to more than 15,000 children in the Vail Valley. Based in Los Angeles, Eagle County was a second home to the renowned saxophonist, who, in addition to writing for, performing and recording with some of the biggest names in music, served as local educator over the last two decades through the Vail Jazz Goes to School (VJGTS) program.

He passed away on Nov. 28, 2018, at the age of 77.

“He was an outstanding educator, a jazz giant and a true friend,” said fellow VJGTS educator Tony Gulizia, who performed a tribute to Neumann at the saxophonist’s Celebration of Life on Dec. 15 in Los Angeles. “We’ve traveled the world together and had a history that goes back 38 years. He was an intricate part of our education program here in Vail. I can’t tell you how many thousands of kids knew him and loved him.”

A prolific composer and arranger, Neumann’s list of credits include work for/with Ray Charles, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Barbara Streisand and The Beach Boys (to name a few). In addition to his successful career penning chart hits for other musicians, Neumann himself never stopped playing. He formed Roger Neumann’s Rather Large Band in 1975, recording two highly acclaimed albums in 1983 and 1994 and playing to audiences across the globe through autumn 2018. He performed extensively with Tony Gulizia and his brother Joey Gulizia, Vail local Kathy Morrow as well as Katie Thiroux, a graduate of the 2005 Vail Jazz Workshop.

“I’m going to miss the one and only Roger Neumann. He knew how to have the best time ALWAYS. He was a great support to me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” Thiroux said.

Neumann taught jazz for most of his life, always finding ways to give back to the communities in which he lived in or visited. He served on the faculty for the Iowa Lakes community college jazz camp since 1984 and was an instructor for the Vail Jazz Goes to School program since its inception in 1997. In 2002, Neumann was honored as the jazz Composer/Arranger of the Year at the 20th Annual Jazz Tribute and Awards in Los Angeles, an event sponsored by the L.A. Jazz Society. At the 2012 tribute and awards, Neumann received the Jazz Educator of the Year Award, one of the greatest honors in the industry.

“The kids in our program looked up to him in the short period of time they got to know him kind of like a family member,” Gulizia said. “We approach the Vail Jazz Goes to School sessions that way – like a family. The kids looked at Roger like a big teddy bear who played the hell out of the saxophone. He was incredible as a musician and an educator. Just the love of this guy … it can’t be measured.”

Hot Sardines Heat Up the Holidays

The eight-piece throwback jazz band likely to get feet moving in special Ritz-Carlton performance

Why is the sound of old jazz making new waves? Elizabeth Bougerol of The Hot Sardines has a simple explanation.

“It’s a joyous, connective experience,” said the Sardines’ singer. “And these days people are starved for that sense of connection more than they know.”

Launched in 2007 when Bougerol and co-founder Evan Palazzo were drawn together over a mutual love for jazz icons such as Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong, The Hot Sardines have established themselves as one of the hottest jazz ensembles in New York City.

Coming at the classic sound as a livewire of impeccably tight musicianship, The Hot Sardines dish out sizzling renditions of tunes like The Andrews Sister’s “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” and have even partnered with actor Alan Cumming, a devout Hot Sardines fan, for a sexy cabaret version of “When I Get Low, I Get High.”

A Sardines’ performance is both an auditory and visual feast of energy, all eight members of the band hitting individual bright notes that fit into the rich flow while the marionette moves of tap dancer AC Lincoln are so oddly cool and hypnotizing that one cannot help but become entranced, tapping one’s own toes if not leaping up and grabbing a dance partner.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square: The Hot Sardines (photo: Steve Pope)

The Hot Sardines have performed all over the world, notching more than 100 gigs a year, gathering enthusiastic ballrooms full of new fans everywhere they go. Their 2014 self-titled album debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard Jazz Chart and remained there for more than a year and 2016’s French Fries and Champagne debuted at No. 5 on Billboard’s Jazz Traditional Chart, No. 6 on Jazz Current & Top 20 Heatseekers Chart and was No. 1 on both iTunes & Amazon jazz charts. Roll into one of their local NYC gigs and find an audience comprised mostly of millennials, passionate and committed to this energetic collective of swing revivalists, looking every bit like a jazz club might have in 1920. The crowds at their road performances comprise of every generation of jazz fan – from high schoolers to life-long connoisseurs who may have eye-witnessed a performance by Ray Charles or Ella Fitgerald in their younger years.

“Everyone has some working knowledge of this music,” Bougerol said. “They heard it in a commercial. Their grandmother played it. The stories in this music are so universal and timeless. When it’s live, there is something in it. To be in a room [or tent] with a three-piece brass section, there is something new every time.”

As a testament to this and also to The Hot Sardines’ unerring improvisation skills, during their Vail debut last summer, the electricity went out for several minutes, cutting the volume level into a whisper while the band did not miss a stride or a note. Palazzo, whose voice has unbelievable carrying capacity, seamlessly moved from piano to vocals, turning in his seat and projecting his voice out to the crowd as the horn section ramped up its blows. A pair of acoustic numbers took on fresh excitement until the power was restored and the band’s harmony and fiery movement locked smoothly back into full volume.

Not only did this make for truly impressive entertainment, but it also proves Bougerol’s point about the music’s potential for connecting people, which is certainly not a quality possessed by all artists, genres or even subsets of jazz.

“If you think of some of the more recent jazz, it can appeal to a more intellectual experience of music,” Bougerol said. “So it’s not about connecting everyone in the room necessarily. There’s something in this music. Every so often someone will pay us a compliment that reminds me of how special it is. One person came up after a gig and said, ‘while you were playing, I thought of every person I love.’ That was pretty cool.”

Vail Jazz Holiday Dance Party with The Hot Sardines – Dec. 27

The Hot Sardines return to the Vail Valley for the holiday event of the season – a live performance and dance party at The Ritz-Carton Bachelor Gulch on Dec. 27. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and performance/dance begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $90 and include two drinks each. For more information, visit the event page or call 970-479-6146.

GET TICKETS HERE.