Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: The Vegas Strip

There have been many famous streets in the U.S. that have been synonymous with a style of music. In New Orleans it was Basin Street for the nascent sounds of jazz, Beale Street in Memphis for the blues, 18th and Vine for swinging jazz in Kansas City, Central Avenue in L.A. and 52nd Street in New York City for bebop, and of course, Broadway in NYC for what else but “Broadway music.”

Howard Stone

In Las Vegas, N.V. there is the Strip, a 4-plus-mile-long desert road, not associated with a particular style of music, but instead the entertainment capital of the world. Nevada was the first state to legalize gambling in 1931, but with the Depression underway, Vegas had to wait for better economic times and the end of World War II before it could become Sin City. By the early 1950s, the mob controlled the hotels with their extremely profitable casinos and much of the vice in the city as well, and Vegas took off. Gambling, bookmaking, prostitution (ultimately banned from Clark County where Vegas is located), 24-hour entertainment, food and booze, easy marriages and divorces, strip shows and much more, all of which ultimately led to the famous slogan: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

With gambling at the heart of the economy, entertainment became the “hook” to bring in the “losers” and the best way to attract them was to present the greatest entertainment of the day. Beginning in the 1950s the competition among hotels to feature the biggest draws in their respective “showrooms” was fierce and headliners that could draw a full house were handsomely rewarded. With Hollywood nearby, Vegas developed a connection to the world of celebrities and they were frequent visitors and performers on the Strip. Initially, the entertainment offerings were centered on lavish floorshows and reviews, comedians and vocalists. Whether singing pop, country, rock, or jazz, the greatest singers of the past 70 years have appeared on the Strip and in the 1950s and 60s many of my then favorites regularly appeared: Frank Sinatra, Nate “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Lena HorneTony Bennett and Peggy Lee, to name just a few. In 1956, a 21-year old Elvis had a two-week engagement in Vegas and bombed, but ultimately returned for many successful engagements and the filming of “Viva Las Vegas.” Today, Elvis impersonators can still be seen wandering on the Strip.

Many observers believe the golden age of the Strip was a period roughly half a decade long in the 60s when “The Rat Pack” held court in the Copa Room (400 seats) in the Sands Hotel. The iconic leader of the quintet was Frank Sinatra, joined by Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, all donning tuxedos with drinks in their hands, smoking on stage and generally projecting the image of being cool, ’60s style. The combination of great vocal talent (Frank, Dean and Sammy) with off-color humor, dancing (Sammy) and a swagger that was the personification of hipness, made their performances the “main event” and the biggest draw in Vegas. Backed by top bands, vocalists reigned supreme during this period and there was a magical atmosphere in the Copa Room where audiences were able to see the best perform in an intimate environment that defined the era. In 1966, Sinatra appeared in the Copa as a solo act and recorded his first ever live album, “Sinatra at the Sands,” with Count Basie and his 20-member band, conducted by Quincy Jones. The album is the definitive recording of this epoch and it captures what a night on the Strip was all about, with some of the swingiest music ever recorded, including Sinatra classics “Come Fly with Me” and “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” and a comedy monologue by Sinatra, known as the “tea break.”

As the 60s unfolded, rock musicians began to eclipse the jazz/pop stars of the day – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, the Who, Simon and Garfunkel and many others took center stage. In 1964, The Beatles made their only appearance in Vegas. Originally planned as a one-off concert on the Strip in the 700-seat Conga Room in the Sahara Hotel, the overwhelming demand for tickets ($2, $3, $4 and $5) caused the promoters to move the show to the Las Vegas Convention Center with a second show added. Approximately 17,000 screaming fans attended and it changed the Strip forever. Rock concerts came of age and it became clear that Vegas would have to compete for the best talent with the promoters of arena/stadium shows, something that a 500-1,000-seat venue on the Strip couldn’t do.

The Strip had to change to meet the new competition and it did. Public corporations began to take over the hotel/gaming industry, replacing the mob, and a new economic model was developed. The “old” hotels were replaced with megaresorts (of the 25 largest hotels in the world, 23 are in Vegas) themed as ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, as well as NY, Paris, Venice and Hollywood, and of course the Old West. These hotel/gambling palaces contained arena-like performance venues requiring much more variety in entertainment to draw larger crowds, including the new generation of entertainers, lavish spectacles, Broadway shows, impersonators, magicians and animal and circus acts (at one point, seven productions of Cirque Du Soleil were running on the Strip).

The Copa Room and the Vegas Strip of old are now just memories, but Sinatra’s album remains a testament to an era when great vocalists and great musicians could always be seen and heard on the Strip in an intimate showroom.

At 5 and 7:30 p.m. on July 25 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on July 2 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead, the great pianist and vocalist Tony DeSare will pay tribute to Frank, Sammy, Elton John and many other crooners who helped establish the Vegas Strip as the entertainment capital of the world.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: Django Style

At latest count on a worldwide basis there are close to five billion videos watched every day. A YouTube video can go viral and propel an unknown entertainer from total obscurity to literally world fame in a matter of days. A case in point is the Korean pop singer/rapper PSY (Park Jae-Sang). His 2012 music video “Gangnam Style” rocketed around the world with over one billion views in less than five months (now at three billion and counting), propelling him to world fame with President Obama flashing his Gangnam Style dance moves on TV within months of the first viewings of the music video. Of course, PSY has been pushed aside to make way for the next YouTube phenome, and then the next, and then the next … and the question arises whether this type of fame can ever be sustained? Apparently, Andy Warhol understood this issue in 1968, well before YouTube existed, when he famously predicted that culturally speaking, fame would be limited to 15 minutes.

Contrast this viewpoint with the career and music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt. A Belgian-born (1910) Gypsy musician who was largely self-taught, Django would go on to become the most important European jazz musician ever and a guitarist who would influence successive generations of guitar-greats. Django moved to Paris as a child and earned a living as a teenager playing on the streets of the City of Lights before playing in dance halls, where he performed a style of music known as musette, a combination of French folk music, polka, waltz and jazz. Never receiving a formal education, it is doubtful that Django ever learned to read, books or music. In 1928 at the age of 18, he was severely burned by a fire in his caravan and after a prolonged period of recovery, he returned to making music, but unfortunately the fourth and fifth fingers on his left hand were paralyzed and he never recovered the full use of them. Not able to use all the fingers on his left hand to play chords on his guitar, he created new chords using his contorted figures where possible, while rapidly moves his good fingers up and down the neck of the guitar, inventing a truly unique technique. In 1934, he joined forces with Stéphane Grappelli, a French-Italian violinist, and they formed the “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” that synthesized the music of Django’s Gypsy heritage with jazz to create a ground breaking sound that would have worldwide impact, making both of them internationally famous. By combining three guitars with a violin and bass at a time when American jazz was dominated by the sounds of piano, drums and horns, Django created what became known as Gypsy Jazz (Jazz Marouche) and is now known as Django Jazz. Tragically, Django died of a brain hemorrhage in 1953 at the age of 43, having had only a short time to make his musical mark.

Howard Stone

The passage of time fades our memories and fashions change, especially in music, and once Django passed, his music was forgotten, as bebop jazz took hold and the tsunami of rock washed over the world of music. However, nostalgia is a remarkable emotion driven by the strong desire to regain our youth, so music revivals are commonplace today. In some cases, it leads to a replay that generally doesn’t last very long. A decade after Django’s passing, his music began to be revived, but here is where the story gets interesting. Instead of a short-term revival based upon reminiscence, the music of Django began to take hold and build momentum and for the past five decades there has been a phenomenon aptly described as “Djangomania,” with Django Jazz played and enjoyed throughout the world and with jazz festivals dedicated to Django and his music held annually in the U.S. and Europe.

There was, of course, no Internet, so Django Jazz couldn’t go viral, but that really didn’t matter, because ultimately, Django and his music have passed the “test of time.” Greatness is not based upon a viral video, no matter how many views, but instead the creation of something of lasting value – a musical legacy – something that will be handed down to future generations. “Gangnam Style,” on the other hand, will be, at best, a historic footnote about the first video to have more than a billion views. Django and his music have entered the pantheon of popular music of the Western world and Django Style (contrasted with “Gangnam Style”) is now part of the classical music of the last century. Much like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Django Style has something special that will endure.

Vail Jazz will celebrate the musical legacy of Django at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on July 18 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on July 19 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead when it presents the Django Festival All-Stars. The music will be exuberant and played in a flamboyant manner, sizzling, infectious, and swinging, just as Django performed it over 85 years ago.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

Putting Spice in Jazz, Afro-Cuban Style

Jazz is very much like a tree with many roots (musical influences) and numerous branches (styles). Without doubt, the jazz tree took root in the fertile musical soil of New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th century, but 90 miles away, another musical tree had began to grow in the very rich musical soil of Cuba and it spread its branches in a very different way.

Let’s start with the tree growing in New Orleans. The Crescent City was initially ruled by France, then Spain. Then France reacquired it, before selling it (and a lot more – all or parts of 15 future states) to the U.S., as Napoleon was short on cash for his military adventures. The Louisiana Purchase (the second of the “big three real estate deals” in American history (Manhattan and Alaska being the other two) was completed in 1803. As a result, New Orleans was then conjoined with the U.S. and became the largest port in the South and its largest and most important city. With a rich music tradition tied to its French and Spanish roots, it was an important transportation hub, thus allowing many additional musical traditions to be brought to this very cosmopolitan city. In contrast, Havana (and Cuba) had a culture almost exclusively informed by Spanish customs with formal and well-defined forms of music and dance traditions.

Howard Stone

This is the European part of the musical equation, but of course, there was an African component as well. While we tend to think about slavery as a uniquely American enterprise, less than 10 percent of all the slaves brought to the new world landed in what is now the southern U.S. In fact, many more slaves were taken to Cuba to work the sugar plantations. Therefore, while each colonial power brought a distinct European musical tradition to it colonies in the new world, because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, they also brought the polyrhythmic (two or more rhythms played simultaneously) music of the West Africa slaves to each locale where they ruled. Because of the politics, commerce, climate, geography, access to musical instruments and formal music education, and many other influences in each locale, the European and African musical roots combined in different ways creating new and locally divergent musical styles. In New Orleans, this symbiosis led to jazz, and in Cuba, it led to an Afro-Cuban popular dance music – the rhumba, mambo and cha-cha-cha, with a major emphasis on the polyrhythmic traditions of West African music at its core.

With two distinctive musical styles only 90 miles apart, it was only a matter of time before the two were connected. Fostering this musical exchange were among other factors, the U.S. Army’s three separate occupations of Cuba in the first part of the last century, and the free movement of Cuban and American musicians by ferry between Havana and New Orleans during this period. It therefore wasn’t very long until the jazz tree in the U.S. had tapped into Afro-Cuban music. “Jelly Roll” Morton, one of the early New Orleans jazz innovators, famously noted that with the addition of what he called the “Spanish tinge,” you could spice up the then prevailing 4/4 rhythm of jazz and add “the right seasoning…for jazz.”

Jelly Roll wasn’t referring to Spanish music, but in fact the dance music of Cuba, with an essence that was pure pulsating rhythm, that made the listener want to move to the music. The Afro-Cuban beat wasn’t the predictable four beats to the bar of jazz, but a delightful exotic seasoning that added a unique flavor to the musical stew. This new rhythm that was the foundation of the music is known as the clave (2/3 and 3/2 alternating beats), and really wasn’t new at all, but could be traced to religious ceremonies in Africa centuries before. This was the “secret sauce” that spiced up the music with a zest of exotic percussion instruments added. The musical menu called for the rhythm to be played by Cuban percussion instruments: congas, timbales, güiros (gourds played with a stick), bongos, and two hardwood sticks, also called claves, with each assigned a distinctive rhythmic pattern to play. The combination of all of the ingredients provided an intoxicating rhythmic experience differentiating it from American jazz that instead evolved into a music of improvisation.

So what happens when you combine jazz and Afro-Cuban music, you end up with Afro-Cuban jazz. Take the polyrhythms and rhythm-centric nature of Afro-Cuban music out of Afro-Cuban jazz and you are left with jazz, which is not a problem, but I like to spice things up every now and then.

On July 11 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and on July 12 in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead, Vail Jazz will present the great Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera and his band in a pair of club shows and concert, respectively. Add a little spice to your life and join us for what promises to be explosive evenings of Afro-Cuban jazz.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz. 

   Reasons to Support Vail Jazz

The 2018 Vail Jazz Gala lands at The Sebastian in Vail this Monday night. There are countless reasons to go, but these five are on the short list.

  • An amazing dinner and Brazilian musical performance.

Let’s start with the hedonistic reasons. The annual Vail Jazz Gala is not only the organization’s most significant fundraiser but also an opportunity to catch highly acclaimed vocalist Carol Bach-Y-Rita and indulge in a classy evening of cocktails, appetizers and a gourmet meal. In the words of Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone, Bach-Y-Rita (whose fascinating Catalan name is a reason enough to pique your interest) is “a singer who really presents the song, putting it out there in a way that totally draws you in.” In one of the unique pairings that is characteristic of the Vail Jazz Festival’s musical chemistry, the singer will be accompanied by long-time favorite pianist Bill Cunliffe along with Vail Jazz Workshop alumni, Hitomi Oba and Jon Challoner for a passionate program of “infectious Brazilian rhythms,” including one-of-a-kind interpretations of the Brazilian Songbook, Bossa Nova, Samba and Choro.

  • Securing more free live music throughout summer in Vail

In addition to the Vail Jazz Gala and the slew of ticketed live performances throughout the year, Vail Jazz delivers free performances from 12 to 3 p.m. every Sunday all summer at the Vail Farmer’s Market, featuring a variety of regional artists ranging from energetic salsa ensembles to locally beloved piano-playing songstresses (we’re looking at you, Kathy Morrow). There’s also local piano-drum duo BLT joined by a guest artist at 8 p.m. every Sunday at The Remedy in Vail’s Four Seasons. Lastly, the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater in Edwards is poppin’ every Friday evening with free regional artists whose styles go well beyond jazz – funk, bluegrass, soul and R&B.

  • Nurturing the future of jazz

Obliterating the myth that jazz is a style for old timers, young prodigies all over the country and world are still dedicating their free time – like, all of it – to creating and playing music. Not only is this evidenced by this summer’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square lineup, which features a number of rising national and international stars under the age of 30, but also by the 140-plus teenagers from across the country who apply for a spot in the prestigious annual Vail Jazz Workshop. After a thoughtful and difficult vetting process, just 12 are selected. These students are shepherded through an intensive, week-long journey of playing-by-ear, improvisation, group dynamics and general magic by the Vail Jazz Party House Band – John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, Bill Cunliffe, Lewis Nash, Wycliffe Gordon and Lewis Nash. The Workshop culminates with numerous live performances during the Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. Also, every year, local piano icon Tony Gulizia and fellow musical educators make the rounds through every elementary school in the valley for Jazz Goes to School, a four-part education program that guides fifth graders through the history of American jazz, where and how it falls into the international music almanac. They learn not only how to play instruments but also master the 12-bar blues and are even writing their own songs by the final session. Gulizia and his team also provide an interactive crash course (a distinctly harmonious crash, that is) in jazz dynamics for younger children during the free Sunday morning Jammin’ Jazz programs throughout July in Vail. All told, Vail Jazz instills the art (and in many cases, the passion) of music to more than 2,000 young minds every year.

  • Help weave the cultural tapestry of the community

Let’s face it. The Vail Valley would not be what it is without its rich offerings of art and performances. The Vail Jazz Festival has been a part of that for 24 years. Beginning as a one-off event in which Howard Stone invited a collection of the modern world’s most prominent jazz artists to convene and make music together over Labor Day Weekend, the Vail Jazz Festival became the highlight of many people’s summer and has evolved into its current incarnation of more than 70 performances throughout the year. As mentioned above, many of these events are free. In addition to the wall-to-wall blowout Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party that has grown to be considered the “who’s who” of jazz events, Vail Jazz brings in the touring greats every Wednesday in July with its intimate Club Series, every Thursday all summer at Vail Square and every month throughout the winter with the Vail Jazz Winter Series.

  • Be inspired.

Ask anyone who has attended a performance and even if you know nothing about jazz or suspect that you might not like it, you will surprise yourself. The berth of world musical styles that fall under the genre’s umbrella and the sheer, jaw-dropping talent and energy of the artists never fail to blow people away. Jazz is a genre with something for everyone.

2018 Vail Jazz Gala

5:30 p.m. July 9 at The Sebastian in Vail.

Vocalist Carol Bach-y-Rita is joined by pianist Bill Cunliffe and Vail Jazz Workshop alumni Jon Challoner and Hitomi Oba for a lively evening of Brazilian rhythms – Bossa nova, Samba, Choro and more. Cocktails, appetizers and silent auction begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. and performance at 8:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $250, table for eight is $2,000. All proceeds benefit Vail Jazz educational programs. 

To support Vail Jazz, or for information on donating, go here. 

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: A Musical Affair

When most of us think about Brazilian music, we think about the bossa nova (the “new thing”). Nine times out of 10, the song “The Girl from Ipanema” comes to mind. What most people don’t know is there really was a girl from Ipanema. Her name was Heloisa Pinheiro and in the early 60s she would regularly pass by Veloso, a bar near Ipanema beach outside of Rio. As fate would have it, two young men were regulars at the bar and were captivated by her sensuality as they watched her each day “sway like a samba” on her way to the nearby beach. In 1962, inspired by her sexy charm, Antônio Carlos Jobim wrote the music and Vinícius de Moraes composed the lyrics of the song that put bossa nova on the world musical map. Describing her as “tall and tan and young and lovely,” they lamented that they watched her “so sadly” and would give their “heart gladly…but each day, when she walks to the sea, she looks straight ahead, not at me.”

Howard Stone

Well, that love affair was not destined to be, but the song set in motion forces that changed the course of lives, created careers, ended a marriage, fostered an affair and changed the world of music forever.

At about the time the lovesick composers were writing “The Girl from Ipanema,” Stan Getz, a well-known American jazz tenor saxophonist, and Charlie Byrd, an American jazz guitarist, recorded the hugely successful album “Jazz Samba.” Two of the tracks from the album, “Desafinado” and “Samba de Uma Nota So” were written by Jobim (the “Gershwin of Brazil” as he became known), and were also released as singles. They garnered large radio play in the U.S. and generally are acknowledged to have started the bossa nova craze in the U.S. and ultimately the world. The two musicians had been in Brazil, had heard the sounds of bossa nova and returned to the U.S. to record an album that would feature the new music played by American musicians. The bossa nova sound can best be described as a merging of the Brazilian samba with American jazz to create a very distinctive lyrical and melodic music.

By 1963, Getz would go on to win a Grammy for “Desafinado” and the commercial success of the bossa nova sound began to gain momentum. In order to capitalize on the success of the new music, Verve Records decided to follow-up the success of “Jazz Samba” with a project featuring Getz once again (but not Byrd, as the two were feuding over the royalties from the “Jazz Samba”) and a band comprised of all Brazilian musicians that were recruited and brought to New York City. The album entitled “Getz/Gilberto” featured João Gilberto, a then rising Brazilian singer, songwriter and guitarist, with Jobim on piano. Also joining them in the recording studio was João’s 23-year-old wife, Astrud, who was there as an interpreter and his companion.

One of the tunes that was to be recorded was “The Girl from Ipanema” with João singing the lyrics in Portuguese. The story gets somewhat fuzzy at this point, since there are four separate versions of what happened next. The album producer, the legendary Creed Taylor, reported that he wanted some of the music sung in English in order to create the potential for a broader “cross-over” appeal. Since João’s English was very limited, Taylor asked Astrud to sing a verse of the song in English. The lyrics were in Portuguese, but a rushed translation was provided to Astrud. Since she spoke a heavily accented English and had never sung professionally before, she was hesitant to try, but she did.

Astrud instead reported that it was João’s idea that she sing. Getz claimed that he was the one who asked her to sing. The recording engineer Phil Ramone told a different story, saying that Astrud volunteered to sing the song when Sarah Vaughan wasn’t available as planned.

Whatever the truth, the album was released in 1964 and when the track featuring João and Astrud became the focus of radio airplay, Verve quickly decided to release it as a single and chose to edit João’s vocal portion entirely out of the cut, so it was only Astrud singing in English. What is undisputed is “The Girl from Ipanema” was a huge international hit that in fact, “crossed-over” and launched Astrud’s almost four-decade-long vocal career during which she sang in Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, French, German and even Japanese.

The album charted for 96 weeks and won four Grammys.

With the bossa nova craze spreading to Europe after the phenomenal success of the album, Getz arranged a six-month tour of the Continent and Astrud was asked to join him, but not João. By that time, Getz and Astrud were having an affair. By 1965, she and João were divorced.

On July 9, Vail Jazz presents its annual Gala at the Sebastian Hotel with the celebrated vocalist Carol Bach-y-Rita presenting an evening of the magical music of Brazil in a show entitled Bossa Nova Nights.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Jazz and the 18th Amendment

In the 1930s, sociologist Robert K. Merton observed that attempts by well-meaning crusaders to bring about social change for the good of society had in many instances instead caused a perverse result. Known as the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” it is usually cited to support the notion that even the best intentions can cause negative, unanticipated outcomes.

A case in point is the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It became the law of the land on Jan. 17, 1920 and ushered in the era of Prohibition. Known as the “noble experiment,” its proponents claimed that the banning of alcohol would bring about a reduction in crime and corruption, solve social problems related to alcoholism, improve Americans’ health and lessen the needs for prisons and poorhouses. Here was the textbook example of the law of unintended consequences. Crime soared along with the corruption of public officials as the “mob” took over the liquor industry, tax revenue declined (liquor sales had been previously heavily taxed), people died from drinking adulterated alcohol and while social problems weren’t solved, a whole new set of problems arose.

However, Merton also noted that not all unintended consequences had to be negative. In fact, there was one very beneficial outcome of Prohibition, at least from my prospective; it caused the popularity of jazz to skyrocket. How so? The 18th Amendment may have outlawed the sale of liquor, but it didn’t legislate again thirst and the desire to have a good time. With bars and saloons closing in January 1920, a completely new set of establishments began to open to meet the demands of a thirsty public determined to drink and have a good time. These clandestine bars became known as speakeasies (you had to whisper to gain access and when you were in public you were supposed to “speak easy” about their location) and they were everywhere. It is estimated that there were many more illegal drinking dens operating during Prohibition than there were legal drinking establishments before Prohibition.

Competition for customers was fierce and it was the first time in the U.S. that races were allowed to intermingle. A customer’s race, class or social standing being immaterial, as long as the customer could pay the tab. With so much competition, bar operators had to differentiate themselves to attract new customers and they began to feature musical entertainment. Since frequenting an illegal bar had a certain cachet, what better music to present than something illicit and sinful like jazz. The so-called “devil’s music” that originated in the “sporting houses” of Storyville in New Orleans, was compelling and captivating and fit the “outlaw” vibe of these establishments. Jazz broke all the rules, musically and socially – improvisation over structure, the mixing of the races, forbidden venues vs. concert halls – the perfect music for a rapidly changing America. Speakeasies became the places where jazz was presented and the mob was more than willing to hire black jazz musicians, so long as the customers kept coming back, and they did, to see Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Paul Whiteman, and many more. Jazz became the popular music of the day, putting the “sin in syncopation,” as one critic noted.

While prohibition was enacted at the beginning of the decade of the “Roaring Twenties,” it was also the beginning of a tumultuous period of cultural revolution in America and F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly named the era the “Jazz Age.” Change was underway with Americans leaving rural areas to settle in urban centers, including hundreds of thousands of African Americans leaving the South for the cities of the North in what became known as the “Great Migration.” Women had just secured the right to vote and were rebelling against the conservatism of the Victorian era. With new clothing, hairstyles, smoking cigarettes in public and driving their own cars, these “flappers” were declaring their independence with a “modern” view of morals and had new music to listen to and dance to. Dancing became an entirely new endeavor and jazz was the music that was danced to. No longer were partners held in a formal way, instead, there was a no “holds barred” approach with the new seductive dances such as the Charleston, Lindy, Shimmy, Cake Walk, Black Bottom and Turkey Trot all in vogue. Jazz became the soundtrack of a rebellion and speakeasies were the venues where this exciting music was played and swayed to.

The Roaring Twenties was also a time of remarkable technological advances – the phonograph, radio and talking movies spread the sound of jazz. The first radio station opened in Pittsburgh in 1920 and soon thereafter, there were stations throughout the country broadcasting jazz. It is estimated that there were only 60,000 households with radios in 1922, but 10 million by 1929. In 1917 the first jazz record was made and by the end of the Roaring Twenties, records had spread the sound of jazz to every corner of the nation. The first “talkie” movie was made in 1927, “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was first performed in 1927 blending jazz with the sound of a symphony. It clearly was the “Jazz Age.”

On Dec. 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted repealing Prohibition. By then the stock market had crashed and the Great Depression was underway … but jazz was everywhere.

At 6 p.m. on July 5 Vail Jazz presents The Hot Sardines in Lionshead. This 8-piece band will take the audience back to the speakeasies of the Prohibition era in a very hip and modern adaptation of the hot jazz of the Roaring 20s and beyond.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Five free ways to enjoy jazz this summer

While Ludwig’s at The Sonnenalp channels a big city jazz club with intimate dinner performances starring internationally heralded artists on Wednesdays for the Vail Jazz Club Series and the Jazz Tent in Lionshead pulsates with the power of those artists backed by full bands on Thursdays for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square, Fridays and Sundays are the not-so-secret times to sample an array of high energy live music for free.

Sundays

For everyone: Unquestionably the place to be every Sunday, the Vail Farmers’ Market & Art Show wouldn’t be the colorful, all-sensory experience it is without its soundtrack of live jazz. Proving the vast breadth of sounds that fit under the jazz umbrella, Vail Jazz @ The Market showcases regional artists specializing in everything from dance-compelling salsa, harmonica-driven blues, electric violin and spiced up jazz standards. Follow your ears to the shaded tent at Solaris from 12 to 3 p.m. every Sunday from July 1 to Aug. 26. Take a load off for five minutes or three hours and soak up the invigorating sounds of Los Chicos Malos (July 1), blues duo Delta Sonics (July 8), BLT with Bob Rebholz + Liliane Murdoch (July 15), electric violin virtuoso Joe Deninzon + Friends (July 22), a special collaboration with the Vail International Dance Festival (July 29), R&B-flavored Robert Johnson & The Mark Diamond trio (Aug. 5), local vocal/piano force Kathy Morrow + DZ (Aug. 12), the worldly sounds of Fortunato (Aug. 19) and progressive blues with Wayne Wilkinson Trio (Aug. 26).

For kids: Do you have a tyke that’s been displaying telltale signs of musical talent? Bring her/him to the Jazz Tent at Solaris at 11 a.m. for a 45-minute interactive course in simple harmony. Under the instruction of legendary local pianist and educator Tony Gulizia, Jammin’ Jazz Kids invites children between ages 4 and 12 to tap out rhythms and beats on xylophones, drums and a host of other fun instruments.

For adults: If it’s more of a lounge-y, cocktail sipping vibe you’re after, local duo Tony Gulizia and Brian Loftus are joined by a host of guest artists every Sunday evening at 8 p.m. for free live music by the name of Vail Jazz @ The Remedy in Four Seasons Resort Vail. The swanky sounds of BLT have a two-decade track record of enriching evenings no matter where you are.

Fridays

For everyone: Because it proven to be such a wildly popular way for TGIFers of all ages to kick off their weekend, Vail Jazz @ The Riverwalk is happening every Friday this summer in Edwards. Food and drink vendors open at 5 p.m. and free live music kicks off on the lawn at 6 p.m. The red hot lineup brings in an eclectic mix of award-winning regional acts that span numerous genres but are all proven party starters: gospel queen Hazel Miller (July 6) Brazilian rhythm kings Ginga (July 13), swinging vintage band Joe Smith & The Spicy Pickles (July 20), soulful songstress Ayo Awosika (July 27), brassy blues swingers Red Young & His Hot Horns (Aug. 3), West African funk with Paa Kow (Aug. 10), 12-piece salsa Quemando (Aug. 17) and swing-funk organ trio Claxton, Kovalcheck and Amend (Aug. 24). It’s the perfect excuse for a picnic … and/or an outdoor dance party.

Fourth of July parade

Ignited by the theme of America’s Great Outdoors, Tony Gulizia, Brian Loftus and revolving guests fire off the tune of jazz’s hottest trailblazers from atop the Vail Jazz float. Expect to hear classics from Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and a slew of other pioneers who paved the path of musicians worldwide over the last 100 years.

Vail Jazz Goes to School celebrates 20 years with Vilar sessions

Wrapping up its 20th year in Eagle County, Vail Jazz Goes to School rolls out its grand finale on the big stage with two performances at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek.

The fourth and final session of the Vail Jazz Goes to School educational features the Vail Jazz Goes to School Sextet performing a selection of tunes that have shaped the history of jazz in America. Vail Jazz Goes to School educator Tony Gulizia (keyboard and vocals) will lead the Sextet through legendary jazz tunes from Duke Ellington & Billy Strayhorn, Benny Goodman, Sonny Rollins, George Gershwin, Dave Brubeck & Paul Desmond, Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk and Dizzy Gillespie.

“We also perform a medley of blues compositions authored by the fifth graders as part of the concert. Their lyrics are priceless,” Gulizia says.

 

Drummer Joey Gulizia joins brother Tony on stage, as do Andy Hall (bass), Roger Neumann (woodwinds), Mike Gurciullo (trumpet) and Michael Pujado (congas and percussion). The Sextet presents a dynamic, foot stompin’ show that pulls together all of the concepts taught in the first three classroom sessions, in which Tony and his educating team visited every elementary school in the valley imparting hands-on musical lessons to fourth and fifth grade classes.

As part of their education during the previous sessions, students were taught the 12 Bar Blues and during the Vilar concerts, a winning student (or group of students) will be announced for their innovative lyrics and ability to follow the rhythm and rhyming pattern they were taught.

Concerts take place at 9:30 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Monday, April 30 and at 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 1. The concerts last approximately one hour and will be attended by local fourth and fifth graders. Tickets are not available online but seats are available at the door to the general public.

Vail Jazz Goes to School educates more than 1,100 local fourth and fifth graders annually and new in the last year, began visiting a handful of elementary schools on the Front Range. Since its inception 20 years ago, Vail Jazz Goes to School has introduced jazz music to nearly 22,000 school children.

Let’s Dance

“Let’s dance” may be a call to action, but it was also the name of a short-lived, but very popular radio program (Dec. 1934-May 1935) that launched the career of Benny Goodman. The format of the New York show was unique in that it was five hours long with three rotating bands, but only three hours of music were “aired” in each time zone. Starting at 10:30 p.m. on the East Coast, the last three hours of the program were heard on the West Coast beginning at 9:30 p.m. and it actually had a much larger audience in the Pacific time zone due to its earlier start time.

While the program was extremely popular, a labor dispute at Nabisco, the show’s sponsor, caused it to cease all sponsorships, and the show was canceled. That summer Goodman took his band on the road, but was met with limited success, as the audiences were indifferent to the band’s performances because they played “stock arrangements” that were not all that “swinging.” Goodman was broke and close to quitting, but that all that changed on the night of Aug. 21, 1935, when the band opened at the Palomar Ballroom, a famous dancehall in Hollywood. The crowd came to dance, but when the band played the same material they had been playing that summer, the dancers were non-responsive and it looked like the end was in sight for the band. However, it was Goodman’s drummer, Gene Kruppa, that turned it all around. Between sets that night he said to Goodman, “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing.” Goodman went “all-in,” opening the next set with Fletcher Henderson’s swinging arrangements of “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “King Porter Stomp.” The dancers went wild, bursting into applause and gathering around the bandstand to watch the band play. What Goodman learned that night was that the crowd was there because they had been listening to Goodman on “Let’s Dance” and they were waiting for the opportunity to do just that … to swing dance. At the end of the three-week engagement, Goodman’s position as the “King of Swing” was firmly established.

So what is swing dancing? Well, let us start with the music that is danced to: “swing” is jazz that has a propulsive drive with musical accents related to a fixed beat. When you hear it, you know it, as you instinctively want to click your fingers and tap your feet and the music has that “swing feel.”

The origins of swing dancing can be traced to Harlem in the 1920’s and 30’s. Known variously as the Jitterbug, Balboa, Shag and Boogie Woogie, and many more colorful names, the most widely adopted of which was the “Lindy Hop.” Its roots go back to African rhythms meddled to European dance conventions – partner dancing. Besides providing sheer joy to the participants, it allowed the dancers to improvise with aerials and other techniques that captured the imagination of young people who did not want to dance like their elders. Sound familiar?

The Lindy Hop got its name from the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, whose 1927 solo flight from NY to Paris brought “Lindy” world fame for his “hop” across the Atlantic. Shortly thereafter, a newspaper reporter asked a dancer what was the name of the wild dance the crowd was performing, he responded, “the Lindy Hop,” and the name stuck.

Ground zero for the Lindy Hop was the Savoy Ballroom, located at 141st and Lenox Ave. in Harlem. Known as the “Home of Happy Feet,” the cavernous dancehall could accommodate 4,000 dancers and was opened seven nights a week with an admission charge of $.60 after 6 p.m. and $.85 after 8 p.m. It had an elongated dancefloor anchored by two bandstands – one at each end of the dance floor. When one band stopped to take a break, the dancers moved to the other end of the floor and without missing a beat, the next band began to play. The Savoy was the scene of many band competitions, or “cutting contests,” as they were known. The most famous swing-era bands led by Count Basie, Chick Webb, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and many more, did battle at the Savoy and it was the inspiration for the great swing-era tune, “Stompin’ at the Savoy.”

Most importantly, the Lindy Hop and the Savoy played an important role in the beginning of the desegregation of the races in America. Annual attendance was 700,000 with an estimated mix of 85% black patrons and 15% white patrons, but some evenings it was 50-50. White dancers went uptown to the Savoy to be part of an evolving dance scene, which would ultimately become a dance craze that would sweep the nation and lead to the tearing down of barriers between the races. The Savoy was in reality a social experiment, not just a dancehall, especially when contrasted with another very famous Harlem establishment only a few blocks away, The Cotton Club, a “whites-only” venue. It was controlled by the “mob” and catered to the wealthy, featuring top black entertainers with an all-black service staff. Decorated with a jungle motif, it reeked of overt racism and the best that can be said for it was that it launched the careers of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Lena Horne.

So let’s dance!

Vail Jazz presents “Swing! Swing! Swing!” at 8 p.m. Friday, March 30 at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch. The evening of swinging dance and live music from the Tony Gulizia Sextet celebrates the 20th anniversary of Vail Jazz Goes to School.  

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Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Winter Series and the Vail Jazz Festival. 

 

Vail Jazz Goes Swingin’ at The Ritz

The Tony Gulizia Sextet set to deliver a rare evening of swinging dance tunes

Ah, the 1950s … poodle skirts, big bands and unabashed swing dancing in ballrooms. Here’s your chance for a taste of it. Blast back to the best of the big band era on Friday, March 30 at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch with Swing! Swing! Swing!

Pianist Tony Gulizia heads up the evening of powerhouse live music and dancing, performing big band classics from Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, to name just a few.

“It’s going to be a great night of American jazz dance music from the big band era,” Gulizia says. “I get a lot of comments from folks saying there is no place to go dance in the valley, especially swing dance. You’d be surprised how often couples jump up to dance in a restaurant or bar. They’ll have all kinds of space for this event. It’ll be a fun night.”

In anticipation, local musician Kathy Morrow has been shining her dancing shoes along with some of her students at Avon Recreation Center, where she co-instructs a ballroom dance class of East and West Coast swing, foxtrot, waltz, rumba and cha cha with Scott Hopkins.

“We never get the chance to dance to big band music,” Morrow says. “I think I was born 50 years too late, but I dream of being part of that scene. It’s kind of a bygone era and not easy to bring back, since ballrooms are hard to come by. I love to move, love to dance. Tony can really, really swing. This is a great opportunity.”

In addition to Gulizia on piano, the sextet includes his brother Joey Gulizia on drums, Mike Gurciullo on trumpet, Andy Hall on bass, Michael Pujado on percussion and Roger Neumann on saxophone.

The high-energy set list will span the gamut of big band and swing favorites from the 1920s through today. Don’t be surprised to hear classics that beg for the Charleston an tunes from jazz giants like Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima and more.

All told, the live music extravaganza will roll through 100 years of jazz classics.

Swing! Swing! Swing! marks the 20th anniversary of Vail Jazz Goes to School, a Vail Jazz educational program that enlightens fourth and fifth graders about the art and history of jazz music as well as providing an opportunity to actually play and create music.

Since its inception 20 years ago, Tony Gulizia and members of his sextet have served as faculty for Vail Jazz Goes to School, imparting musical wisdom to roughly 22,000 local boys and girls. The program has served as a springboard for musical studies and professional careers for numerous students.

“I’ll bump into kids who are adults now. They’ll say, ‘I remember you from Vail Jazz Goes to School. You really opened my eyes to music and to how diverse jazz is,’” Gulizia says.

Swing! Swing! Swing

Friday, March 30

Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch

The Tony Gulizia Sextet (Joey Gulizia on drums, Mike Gurciullo on trumpet, Andy Hall on bass, Michael Pujado on percussion and Roger Neumann on saxophone) delivers an explosive live performance featuring American jazz from the big band and swing eras at 8 p.m. March 30 at The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch. Pre-show dinner specials will be offered at Ritz-Carlton eatery (970.343.1168 for reservations). Free parking and complimentary shuttle service is provided for all attendees to and from the Bear Lot at the base of Beaver Creek. Tickets are $40, or $75 for VIP, which includes a pre-show champagne toast and premiere seating with table service. All proceeds benefit Vail Jazz Goes to School. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Click here for tickets.