From the 2017 Vail Jazz Party… A fly on the wall

A review of Friday’s performances by Shauna Farnell

The 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Party is off and running, the first two nights of performances thundering forth one barrage of talent and energy after another.

The highlights thus far have twinkled in a blinding array of sparkles too numerous to name.

Among them though, the unblinking, rapt attention of the 12 teenage musical prodigies while watching their mentors – the Vail Jazz Party House Band – perform for the first time, was a spectacle to behold. The teens are mainstays among the packed audiences at the evening and late night Vail Marriott sessions along with majority of nationally acclaimed professional musicians – more than 70 performing throughout the weekend. Many of the artists have been friends for decades and the Vail Jazz Party presents a happy reunion and rare opportunity for musicians to soak up one another’s power when not on stage.

The glow sticks handed out at Adrian Cunningham’s CD Release Party Friday night were a fun touch, as the Australian called upon the audience for a mass color wave at the end of his set, following an amusing lesson in “speaking Australian.” Cunningham’s set featured a lively demonstration of “bluegrass clarinet” in his original tune, “Appalachia,” which was accompanied by some impressive walking bass from the imitable John Clayton as Bill Cunliffe added light flourishes on the piano and Jeff Hamilton kept a steady, lightning fast beat.

Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone brought out a birthday cake for Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg, whose set hypnotized the full crowd with some cleverly shifted lyrics on Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and a powerful rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might as Well Be Spring.” She elicited a round of affirmative (and ironic) laughter from the audience in pointing out that “heartache is a gift for a musician.” Indeed.

The fusion of forces was show-stopping as Akiko Tsuruga, Jeff Hamilton, Graham Dechter and Terell Stafford took the stage, each rolling their combined magic into perfectly timed halts to let one another carry the light via solos.

Friday’s evening session, with set after set of powerhouse artists and world-class musicianship,  is just the beginning of a jam-packed weekend. If you haven’t checked it out yet, get to the Jazz Tent at Vail Square for an afternoon session or to the Vail Marriott . The Party goes all weekend.

To purchase tickets to the Vail Jazz Party click here, call 888.VAIL.JAM, or find us on-site at Vail Square in the afternoons and the Vail Marriott in the evenings.

The Singing and Guitar Playing Miracle

Born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Ark., Sister Rosetta Tharpe (as she became known) was the child of African American cotton pickers. Little is known about her father, but her mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was an extremely important figure in her life. Katie was a congregant of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), a black Pentecostal church, where she sang and preached in services that encouraged rhythmic music and “dancing in praise.” At age 4, Rosetta was celebrated in her community as a music prodigy, singing and playing guitar in church alongside her mother. By age 6, Rosetta was billed as the “Singing and Guitar Playing Miracle” and mother and daughter traveled throughout the South as part of a touring gospel and sermonizing group.

They settled in Chicago in the mid-1920s and performed at the 40th Street COGIC. Rosetta’s extraordinary talent created quite a stir in gospel circles and her fame began to grow. At 19, she married a COGIC preacher and by all accounts the only thing she got out of the marriage, which only lasted a few years, was her husband’s last name, “Thorpe,” which she altered to “Tharpe” and adopted it as her stage name.

In 1938, Katie and Rosetta settled in New York City and that year Rosetta recorded for the first time. The four sides on Decca were smash hits, including “This Train,” which propelled her to instant stardom and a long-term recording contract. Unfortunately, her combination of gospel-inspired lyrics with more profane music infuriated many of her core gospel audience, black churchgoers, who refused to support her as they found the non-gospel material blasphemous and were angered that Rosetta sang gospel lyrics in nightclubs that were “dens of sin.” Her cross-over to the secular side, however, greatly enlarged her overall audience, as many of her new white fans and had never heard black gospel music. She began to play an electric guitar and her playing took on more of a blues influence. Rosetta combined a driving rhythm with guitar licks that had an “attitude” and a commanding visual presence that presaged the guitar antics of rock musicians in the 1950s, while she sang gospel lyrics. She toured with gospel singer Marie Knight during the 1940s and they were billed as “The Saint and The Sinner.” Guess who was the Sinner. She claimed that she was contractually obligated to perform the type of material she was then performing, but the truth was a little more complicated than that. While Rosetta was deeply religious, she was also someone who loved the “swinging feel” of the blues and when performing, her exuberant manner and radiant smile transmitted an aura of heavenly pleasure, whether she was performing sacred or more worldly music.   

She had an extensive performance, recording and touring career well into the late 1960s, with a few ups and downs along the way. In some ways her life was not unlike the struggles described in the bible that she sang about – between good (sacred music) and evil (jazz/blues/R & B) and during most of her career she lurched back and forth between the two musically, and some would say, the same applied to the choices she made with respect to her personal life. She had a second failed marriage and there were rumors that she was bisexual and only married for appearance sake. As a publicity stunt in 1951 she married her third husband who was her manager before 25,000 people who paid to view her wedding at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. and then stayed for the concert that followed.

By the late 1950s her career appeared to be coming to an end, but she was given a reprieve in the 1960s when European audiences began to embrace American blues and she toured extensively on the Continent during that decade.  Suffering a stroke in 1970, Rosetta never fully recovered, performing sporadically until her death at the age of 58 in 1973.

Tragically buried in an unmarked grave, totally forgotten by her fans who had moved on to R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, Rosetta’s legacy appeared to have been buried with her. A black female guitar playing gospel singer didn’t easily fit the narrative of what the mainstream media was focused on in the 1970s.  However, in the 1980s and 1990s when the early rockers such as Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis began to tell the world that they had been greatly influenced by Rosetta, the media took notice. By 1998, the U.S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp in Rosetta’s honor. NPR broadcast several segments honoring her. She was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame. Her biography was written and a documentary film followed.  Thirty five years after her passing, a benefit concert in Rosetta’s memory was organized and funds were raised to place a headstone on her grave.  

Today Rosetta is not forgotten as she is now acknowledged as a pioneer who brought black gospel music to the masses in the 1930s and 1940s and most importantly that she was a women who broke down gender barriers as a guitarist who is now saluted as the “godmother of rock ‘n’ roll,” establishing herself as one of the most influential gospel/blues singers and guitarists of the mid-20th Century.

At 9 a.m. on Sept. 3 at Vail Square in Lionshead, Vail Jazz will once again present Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’. Niki will be joined by a gospel choir and an all-star band and will perform songs by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and other gospel greats in what promises to be an inspiring gospel show.

Channeling Frank Sinatra

Curtis Stigers and the H2 Big Band bring The Chairman back to life in special Ritz Carlton performance

Revered by many as the most popular entertainer in history, Frank Sinatra kicked off his career as a big band singer in the 1930s with the Tommy Dorsey and Harry James bands. His hypnotizing voice first won its way into the world’s hearts crooning classics like “New York, New York” and “I’ve Got You Under my Skin.” His unmistakable, swinging vocal style has become gospel for these hits. Sinatra was quickly appointed a master of song, or, among other nicknames, “Chairman of the Board,” going solo in 1942 and breaking ground for a steady, nonstop string of solo artists that continues today.

Sinatra was the first to draw attention to the fact that the voice is a complex and specialized instrument (another of his nicknames after all … “The Voice”). He used it in a way that crossed musical genres, strategically creating a catalogue that not only dominated the musical charts (“Only the Lonely,” “My Way” and “Strangers in the Night,”) but also resonated with pop fans, big band purists and even classical music lovers. Of course, the man could also act, and won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his role in “From Here to Eternity” and landed leads and much acclaim in classics like “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”

Curtis Stigers is one of many successful contemporary artists who names Sinatra as a key inspiration behind his own musical career. From his numerous appearances on The Tonight Show and The Today Show and landing everything from BBC Radio’s Jazz Artist of the Year award to an Emmy nomination for his musical work on the hit TV show, “Sons of Anarchy,” Curtis has hypnotized millions with his own sultry vocals, songwriting and saxophone skills. While he cites a variety of artists as inspiration – from Ray Charles to Nat King Cole, Willie Nelson to Bob Dylan – he says “Frank wins out as my favorite.”

“Sinatra’s ability to tell a story with a song’s lyrics is second to none,” Stigers says. “He also had an incredible ability to swing and to move in and out of a song’s time with ease and mastery. I’ve studied his records like textbooks, trying to absorb his technique and style and put it into my music.”

Stigers’ goal in the upcoming Vail performance is not to overtly imitate Sinatra, but to pay homage to The Chairman’s talent with his own flare.

“The trick to singing Sinatra arrangements for me is to find a way to be true to what Frank did and still sing in my own voice,” he says. “I want to celebrate Sinatra without doing an impression of him. These arrangements are so much fun to sing.”

More than etching his one-of-a-kind sound and style into the world, Sinatra’s incomparable ability to continuously rise to the top – over a career that spanned a whopping six decades – resonates with other artists.

“Every time it looked like he was washed up as a pop star, he managed to evolve and grow, make a great album or series of albums, and suddenly he was back on top again,” Stigers says. “Frank Sinatra is the best pop singer in the history of recorded music.  He combined pop and jazz and show music to create a way of singing that has influenced several generations of singers.”

A Tribute to Frank Sinatra

Curtis Stigers and the 17-piece Denver-based jazz orchestra H2 Big Band perform a special tribute to Frank Sinatra at 8 p.m. Aug. 11 at The Ritz Carlton Ballroom in Bachelor Gulch. General Admission tickets are $60. Reserved premium tables (seating eight) are available for $800 and include a pre-show champagne toast with Curtis Stigers at 5 p.m. Doors open at 7:30 and the performances begins at 8 p.m.

Brace yourself for a free big band performance

The U.S. Air Force Academy Falconaires swing through Edwards

Has it been that kind of week … the kind whose ending you feel could only be appropriately celebrated with the seismic symbol crashing and sprightly horn blowing of a major big band?

Well you’re in luck, because Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk presents an extra special free performance this Friday by none other than the U.S. Air Force Academy Falconaires Big Band. The Falconaires consider jazz to be “America’s only indigenous musical genre” and will fire off one after another of favorite arrangements from the American Swing Era as they deliver their unique take on numerous contemporary tunes.

If you can’t wait to kiss goodbye to a tough week, you might as well do it with a 14-piece horn section and amid the bustling company of friends, neighbors and visitors splitting their time between eating, drinking, picnicking and dancing at the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater.

The powerful force of The Falconaires marks the second to last Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk performance of the summer. The series delivers free live music every other Friday along with local food and drink vendors, including paella from Revolution, paninis and salads from Eat! Drink! and cocktails from 10th Mountain Whiskey.

Following this Friday’s performance, the final Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk concert of 2017 will be a grand finale indeed starring 12-piece Latin and Salsa band, Quemando.

“It truly exemplifies the diversity of the jazz genre when Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk moves from our last solo gig with one of the world’s most talented flutists [Nelson Rangell] to the huge Big Band sound of the Falconaires,” says Vail Jazz Operations Director James Kenly. “For people who haven’t checked it out yet, bring your picnic blanket and get to Edwards. It’s going to be an incredible party this Friday.”

In addition to food and drink vendors, Alpine Arts Center offers unique arts and crafts projects for children throughout the evening.

Vendors open at 5 p.m. and music begins at 6 p.m. Picnics are welcome but no pets are allowed. The event is non-smoking. Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk is presented by Alpine Bank and Kaiser Permanente.

The sounds of New Orleans soar through Vail this week

In addition to tonight’s Vail Jazz Gala starring singer John Boutté, iconic pianist/vocalist Henry Butler throws down sizzling solo club shows Wednesday, then Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 light up Vail Square Thursday

Henry Butler compares his audience connection to making love. For the 67-year-old blind pianist, connections are all about communicating without words.

“The thing that I really like about performing, regardless of what kind of performance it is, is those energies going back and forth all the time,” he says. “It’s the same energy involved in loving somebody, the same energy involved in love making. It just manifests differently.”

Growing up in New Orleans, La., Henry Butler has been playing music since he was a small boy. Blinded by glaucoma in his infancy, his studies began at Louisiana State School for the Blind and continued at Southern University in Baton Rouge and Michigan State University. Since then, he’s recorded 12 full-length albums, performed in every large festival throughout the country and toured the world many times. He’s come to be regarded as one of the great pianists and vocalists of the ages, revered in both his hometown of New Orleans and his new town of New York City. But Butler says the learning never stops.

When asked what have been some of the more memorable compliments he’s been paid over the years, Butler says, “I’ve gotten all kinds of positive comments and I let people know I appreciate their sentiments. But I always say to myself, ‘hopefully the next time you hear me, I’ll be better.’”

He typically practices twice a day in his small apartment in Brooklyn.

“Part of it is an exercise regime, but that’s the base part. Within the exercise, you decide you have an idea of what you want to accomplish. That concept could be negotiating certain types of harmonic progressions. It could be working on a certain technical thing, or work on scales. It could be on working on proficiency,” he says. “Living in a place like New York, you have to portion your time. Once you get to a place where you know yourself pretty well, you can get a lot done in an hour or an hour and a half.”

Butler’s home was one of the many destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He lost nearly all of his possessions, including his most treasured piano. Following the disaster, he relocated to Colorado and then New York, but has yet to feel settled.

“I don’t know that I’ve completely gotten over Katrina,” he says. “I just haven’t felt home since. I haven’t felt I lived in a community that felt like home since Katrina. I may go back to New Orleans or I may go to California. I could live anywhere at this point. I might come back to Colorado… but it got a little quiet for me. I needed to hear a few more sirens.”

Bellowing out vocal notes that sound almost operatic against his racketing piano, Butler is a force in and of himself. Still, he has shared the stage and recording studio with everyone from Jeff Golub to Cyndi Lauper, James Carter to B.B. King. His latest collaboration has him fusing cosmic musical powers with famed trumpeter Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9, a boisterous crew including a six-piece horn section: Curtis Fowlkes, Doug Wieselman, Peter Apfelbaum and Eric Lawrence, as well as guitarist Matt Munisteri, bassist Brandi Disterheft, violinist Sam Bardfeld and drummer Donald Edwards.

The result is a hypnotic explosion of  delightful harmony and improvisation, each musician taking turns to launch ahead of the rhythm, catapulting it with fiery solos as the entire band will occasionally pause in awe of Butler’s escalating individual masterpieces, which wander a gamut of emotions from melancholy to ecstasy.

“Every time I go out and sit on stage in front of an audience my goal is to inspire, to uplift, to encourage, to inform. If in some way we can heal a little bit together, that’s great,” Butler says. “The audience usually lets you know if you’re on the way to achieving any of that.”

The message Butler gets from his audience transcends words or applause or anything that can be measured.

“It happens all the time in what we call nanoseconds, when the audience energy comes back to me,” Butler says. “I get more inspired. I realize more ideas to share. As that stuff goes back to the audience, the audience perhaps moves to a different place of different understanding. Maybe it lifts them a little bit.”

To Butler, this type of communication is the deepest type of human connection.

“I’ll tell you what it’s like,” he says. “You’re in a relationship and you’re sitting with that partner and you feel what you’re thinking is something special. And maybe even before the partner says anything, before you utter anything to the partner, before either one of you pronounces love, you’re feeling what you think is love. Wherever an audience is after receiving the music and receiving more and more music, they send that back to me. You feel it. I’m always feeling it.”

Vail Jazz performances

Wednesday, July 12

Henry Butler kicks off the summer’s Vail Jazz Club Series with his rich solo performances at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp Hotel. The first show begins at 6:30 p.m. (doors at 6 p.m.) and the second show begins at 9 p.m.(doors at 8:30 p.m.). Tickets are $40. Drink and dinner service are available for purchase.

Thursday, July 12

Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 bring their bouncing, New Orleans-inspired glee symphony to Vail Jazz @Vail Square at 6 p.m. General admission tickets are $25, preferred seats $40 and premium seats $50. Presented by The Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea, Vail Jazz @ Vail Square takes place every Thursday evening throughAug. 24 in the all-weather Jazz Tent in The Arrabelle courtyard in Lionshead. Drinks are available for purchase.

 

Vail Today: Vail Jazz Goes to School connects kids with the history of jazz

Jazz and the history of this American gift to the world of music was alive and well at the Vilar Performing Arts Center this week. The Jazz Goes to School program concluded their school series with a concert led by local Jazz Goes to School educator, Tony Gulizia.

Gulizia was joined by the Vail Jazz Goes to School Sextet, which consists of musicians from all over the nation. They get together for four sessions at local elementary schools each school year. Many of them have been doing this gig since it began 19 years ago.

“I really wanted to reach out to 4th and 5th graders to help spark the interest at that age, especially since they can join band in the 5th grade,” said Gulizia, who has been a music instructor at Eagle County Charter Academy for the past 24 years and is a fixture on the Vail music scene.

As part of their education during the previous sessions, students were taught the 12 Bar Blues. The kids had to come up with innovative lyrics and show their ability to follow the rhythm and rhyming pattern they were taught.

This is often the highlight of each performance as Tony Gulizia sings the lyrics in a bluesy fashion, crooning about things like having to move on from elementary to middle school, or an ice cream scoop falling to the floor and mom making you clean it up.

The lyrics are priceless and so is the experience. “I have so many former participants come up to me even 10 or 15 years later and say how much they remember what they learned in our program or how they went on to play an instrument,” said Gulizia. “It’s great to hear that we’ve made an impact and are keeping jazz alive for the next generation.”

To learn more visit http://www.vailjazz.org.
12-Bar Blues

The fifth-graders who participated in Vail Jazz Goes to School were challenged to write their own lyrics in sync with the jazz chord progression they had learned known as the 12-bar blues. Compositions were judged on innovative lyrics and the ability to follow the rhythm and rhyming pattern they were taught. Here are the winning lyrics:

1. Eagle County Charter Academy

One day I looked outside, it was a pretty day
One day I looked outside, it was a pretty day
I said, I want to go swimmin’ in the bay

Yesterday, I woke up in the middle of the night
Yesterday, I woke up in the middle of the night
I had a real bad dream, that gave me quite a fright

I woke up in the hospital, realized I cracked my head
I woke up in the hospital, realized I cracked my head
Even through it was a bummer, I was happy, I wasn’t dead

2. Stone Creek Charter

One fine day, I met a tabby cat
One fine day, I met a tabby cat
He stole my watch, my wallet, and my hat

I know a bearded man, his name is Baúl
I know a bearded man, his name is Baúl
He’s my Spanish teacher, he’s very cool

There was an alien, his name was Bob
There was an alien, his name was Bob
I grabbed 2 swords, now he’s a shish kebab

3. Brush Creek Elementary

This is, the Bobcat Blues
This is, the Bobcat Blues
If you don’t understand, you lose

This song, must be sung loud & proud
This song, must be sung loud & proud
Cause it was written by Ava, Caleigh and Rylee, who are so proud

It’s time to throw down with the Vail Jazz Party!

Five day music extravaganza features both refined and improvised sets by more than 50 of the world’s greatest jazz artists

Herbie Hancock once famously said that “jazz translates the moment into a sense of inspiration for not only the musicians but for the listeners.” During the five days of live music throughout the Vail Jazz Party, all of the moments become a throbbing cloud of inspiration, palpable to all within earshot.

Spontaneity and improvisation are key ingredients to great jazz, a big part of why the world places jazz artists on the tippy top of the music’s overall talent pool.

In its 22nd year, the Vail Jazz Party exemplifies the skills of its musicians not only through its feature performances but also in grouping them together for a fusion experience that is truly one-of-a-kind, building ensembles that have never before come together and a live set that will never again be repeated.

While these primordial lineups and their consequent off-the-cuff musical masterpieces might look and sound natural to the artists, even the most established and experienced stars at the Vail Jazz Party will attest to the fact that improvising exquisitely is no simple task.

“That’s where I’m really clear that I’m the baby in the bunch,” says singer Niki Haris, leader of the Vail Jazz Party’s Gospel Prayer Meetin’, arguably the most popular performance of the entire weekend. Although the Gospel Prayer Meetin’ doesn’t necessarily fall under the “improvised” umbrella, Haris, like every other star with a feature performance during the weekend party, is once again slated to appear with a changing lineup of artists in a handful of breakout sessions. A long-time back-up vocalist for the likes of Madonna and Anita Baker, Haris is more accustomed to super-produced stadium shows with well-timed lighting and pyrotechnics than on-the-spot improv.

“Because of my history, I know how to put shows together. I know big productions. I know rehearsal. The closest I got to improv was in a church session,” Haris says. “You let the spirit move you – yours and the audiences – on what song you would choose. I’m not a pro at that. That’s where I tip my hat to those amazing musicians.”

Haris has managed to make a convincing case of improvising over the years at the Vail Jazz Party, largely because her expression, as she herself describes it, is “honest.” Like other artists at the jazz party, Haris is not only a jazz singer, but also wanders into the realms of gospel, soul, rock, pop, R&B, funk and just about every other genre you can put a label on. Regardless of the category, when she performs in Vail, particularly at the Gospel Prayer Meetin,’ her mission is to convey one thing  … “good news.”

“When I sing, I’m as honest as I can be, so it doesn’t come just from a place to sing a bunch of songs but to delve into where I want to be in the world,” she says. “For those 90 minutes, I want to create a more loving, compassionate and peaceful world, bringing the good news –  the gospel – to many different faiths. That’s the fun part of Vail. I know I have Christians there and people who probably don’t go to church. But it’s palpable, the energetic change that happens. People are reaching out hugging each other. I see tears, people hand-holding. Then to play in the square, with all of these mountains around, that’s the most beautiful thing.”

Audience members at Vail Jazz Party performances have referred to performances as gifts.

“I’m so glad I’m the one who gets to deliver the gift,” Haris says.

Step into a session

The Vail Jazz Party is designed to impart an armful of gifts all in one long block of back-to-back deliverables. When you buy a ticket to the party, it lands you three to five hours of music during a particular time slot Friday throughMonday.

Evening sessions

The evening sessions are reminiscent of a traditional indoor stage performance in which the crowd collects in theater-style seats around a large stage with superb acoustics, in this case, in the Grand Ballroom at the Vail Marriott. As with all of the sessions, a selection of artists – the king or queen of his or her given instrument – are teamed up to kick off the session with one musician selected as leader of the set. Niki Haris gets an early crack as head honcho duringFriday’s first evening session. Each evening session also offers one if not two special performances, including a group of contemporary jazz stars paying homage to a musical legend as inspiring footage of the legend takes over the backdrop. The lineup includes supersonic bassist John Clayton paying homage to another master of four strings, Milt Hinton, a tribute to the Texas Tenors starring saxophonist Joel Frahm, Byron Stripling playing his heart out in tribute to the blues and Terell Stafford’s Brotherlee Love, a tribute to iconic trumpeter Lee Morgan. In true jazz club tradition, each evening finishes with a Late Night Jam Session, included with the evening ticket, in which a powerhouse ensemble of seven to eight musicians who have never played together are teamed up improv-style in the intimate setting of First Chair Café in the Vail Marriott. The unplanned music flows like liquid ear candy from around7 p.m. to well after midnight.

Afternoon sessions

With the Rocky Mountains and blue sky as a backdrop, from 11:30 a.m. to early evening Saturday through Monday, the live soundtrack ranges from enchanting instrumental quintets to high-energy piano duos to small orchestra-sized teams of soloists. You name the instrument and one of the world’s leading masters is on the stage playing it – drums, bass, guitar, piano, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, flute, bass … The sets fuse two to 10 musicians at a time, each one bringing his or her own thick stack of accomplishments, many of them GRAMMY and Downbeat Music awards. Highlights include the Vail Jazz All-Stars free performances on Saturday and Sunday, Piano Duos in which six pianists rotate through a dueling set on the keys and an all-in, blowout set on Monday with a ten-piece horn section. The nonstop strains of hypnotizing harmonies originate from the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead’s Vail Square.

All told, the Vail Jazz Party amounts to a five-day explosion of world-class live music, refined feature performances and unpredictable combinations all in rapid succession. The one predictable factor is that like any good party, it’s bound to bring a bounty of delightful surprises. Bill Cunliffe, multi-GRAMMY award-winning pianist of the Vail Jazz Party House Band sums up the experience like this:

“It merges musicians presenting their own original material but also thrown together in unexpected ways to see what happens,” he says. “You get a whole difference sense of what the musicians can do.”

For tickets and detailed Vail Jazz Party schedule, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Vail Jazz launches Vail Jazz Party with Thursday triple bill at Vail Square

“There is no better audience than the Vail audience. You can hear a pin drop, they are listening so intently.” -Workshop piano instructor Bill Cunliffe

The musical experience in Lionshead on Thursday is as full-circle as it gets. The triple bill serves as the grand finale of the summer’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series but is also the mighty kickoff of The 22nd annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. It begins with 12 of the country’s top teenage jazz musicians, freshly minted “Vail Jazz All-Stars” having just graduated from a workshop with six of the world’s most respected and established jazz pros. A selection of Workshop alumni, now professional artists themselves, take the stage after the teenagers. The ultimate culmination of talent wraps up the evening with a performance by the mentors themselves, the Vail Jazz Party House Band.

“There is a healthy understanding of the importance of giving back, moving things forward and investing in the future,” says John Clayton, leader of the Vail Jazz Party House Band and Workshop. “The Vail Jazz Party has committed to simultaneously presenting first-class performances as well as being responsible for a high level of jazz education.”

Besides helping launch the inaugural Vail Jazz Party 22 years ago and the educational workshop a year later, Clayton’s repertoire of positive impact and star-mingling spans decades. Like the 250-plus students he has mentored in Vail (and thousands of others across the globe), Clayton tapped into his musical talent as a small child. By the time he was 16, he was playing bass at UCLA in a class taught by Ray Brown. In the 1970s, he joined the Monty Alexander Trio, then the Count Basie Orchestra before crossing the Atlantic to settle into a decade in Amsterdam as principal bassist for the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and instructor at Holland’s Royal Conservatory. He returned to California to juggle a number of successful touring ensembles, educational workshops and jazz festivals as well as arranging, conducting, performing and recording with a long list of big name artists. It was Clayton who arranged Whitney Houston’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 1990 Super Bowl. He has collaborated with Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and Whitney Houston. He won a GRAMMY for Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for Queen Latifah’s “I’m Gonna Live Til I Die” and seven additional nominations.

Regardless of which hat he’s wearing – be it composer, arranger, mentor, or performer – Clayton claims that the most rewarding interactions he has are the variety that confirm a powerful connection is made.

“When an audience member lets me know that my music touched them, made them feel great or made them cry, it makes me feel like I was successful in sharing my expression,” he says.
But Clayton’s certainly not the only member of the Vail Jazz Party House band who’s been places. New to the Vail Jazz Party House Band as of last year, saxophonist Dick Oatts has performed and recorded with an amazing array of stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Mel Tormé. He is a former faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music and a professor alongside trumpeter Terell Stafford at Temple University.

Stafford is Director of Jazz Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia and leads his own quintet, which will perform this weekend in Vail. He’s performed and recorded with many GRAMMY winning artists, including Diana Krall, Bobby Watson and Herbie Mann.

A Vail Jazz Workshop mentor for many years, Stafford views the triple bill Vail Jazz Party kickoff performance as “a big reunion” and says that there is something unquestionably validating about such a “family affair.”

“One particular year, the parents of a student came up to me and let me know their son had a rough year and that the Vail Workshop was the highlight of his year. You always hear growing up that music is powerful and healing, not just from a listening standpoint, but from a mentoring one,” Stafford says.

Wycliffe Gordon, who has won Downbeat Magazine’s Critic’s Choice award for Best Trombone numerous times and has performed with the likes of Wynston Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie and Tommy Flanagan describes the triple bill experience as “playing it forward.”

“It’s a great opportunity for us to meet the next bandleaders, composers, arrangers and conductors,” he says.

Not only are the students and musicians focused on the energy afoot when the Vail Jazz circle of past, present and future comes together, but the audience is completely enraptured.

“There is no better audience than the Vail audience. You can hear a pin drop, they are listening so intently,” says GRAMMY-winning composer and pianist Bill Cunliffe, who is a Professor of Music at California State University Fullerton and has shared the stage with Frank Sinatra, James Moody and Freddie Hubbard.

Lewis Nash, the most recorded jazz drummer of all time, has performed and recorded with everyone from Clark Terry to George Michael, Hank Jones to Bette Midler. He says he was once approached by a Vail fan who told him, “I never liked drum solos before hearing you play.”

So again, the fire of talent burns in a complete ring, heated up by the 12-piece ensemble of teenage protégés – the Vail Jazz All-Stars, comprised of pianists Carter Brodkorb and Jake Sasfai, trumpeters Zaq Davis and David Sneider, bassists Philip Norris and Gabe Rupe, saxophonists Alex Yuwen and Austin Zhang, trombonists Joseph Giordano and Jasim Perales and drummers Nick Kepron and Brian Richburg. The Vail Jazz Alumni Quintet then ramps up the flames, featuring pianist Adam Bravo, bassist Russell Hall, drummer Lucianna Padmore, trumpeter Benny Benack III and saxophonist Braxton Cook. The fire reaches inferno proportions as Clayton, Stafford, Cunliffe, Oatts, Nash and Gordon take the stage as the Vail Jazz Party House Band.


Catch the triple bill of the past, present and future, featuring the Vail Jazz All-Stars, Alumni Quintet and House Band at Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 1 inside the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. General admission tickets are sold out but premium seating is $40 in advance. The All-Stars also perform FREE sets at Vail Square at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

The enchantment of Brazilian guitar

As an incredible summer of jazz slowly comes to an end with the arrival of the Vail Jazz Party, satisfying your Brazilian jazz craving on Saturday, September 2nd is the young, tender guitarist Diego Figueiredo. With fingers lightly touching just over the nylon strings, his harmony sets in over the frets. Known for leaving audiences all over the world feeling joyous, this young rising musician from Brazil brings the true essence and character of Brazilian music, while also bringing elements that are quite modern and innovative with his virtuoso playing.

With a casual and relaxed demeanor on stage (often playing barefoot!), he instantly transports you to the sounds of Brazil. The acoustic sounds of swing, samba, choro, bossa nova, and maracatu all soak in and make you embody the nature, nightlife, and tranquility of this culture. It’s no wonder with the latest Olympic games in Rio de Janeiro, why sports fans and musicians alike can’t seem to get enough of Brazil!

So why is Brazilian jazz so attractive and addicting? Is it the way the singer’s lyrics in Portuguese flow so smoothly? Or the catchy hooks made famous by Antonio Carlos Jobim? Or the groovy syncopated rhythms of Ivan Lins? Jazz listeners across the world today, are still captivated by the unique songs of Brazil, which are completely separate from Latin jazz. While many people may associate Latin and Brazilian jazz as one style of music altogether, there are in fact distinctions among the two. One being that Brazilian jazz was heavily influenced by Portugal and Africa, while Latin jazz blending the Spanish and Caribbean sounds together. Another difference is in instrumentation, Brazil known for its Agogo, Pandeiro, and the Berimbau while the claves, timbales and congas heat up Latin America. Each type of jazz having it’s own specific rhythms and harmonies reflecting of its own culture.

The quiet, yet sophisticated melodies Diego Figueiredo brings out on his guitar are enchanting, and enriching. With an exciting volume of videos on youtube, check out this unique interpretation of Stella by Starlight

 

At only 36 years old, his artist has received multiple awards at Montreaux, and has currently released over 23 CD’s and 3DVD’s. Admirers have included Pat Methany, Al Di Meola and George Benson praising his originality, skills, and presentation

Diego will perform throughout the Vail Jazz Party – Let the sweet, cool sounds of this exotic country and Brazilian guitar take you away this summer!

Best musical teens in the nation roll into town

Meet a couple of Vail Jazz’s latest teenage prodigies

There are some kids that show an early aptitude for athletics and end up the star of their sports team. Then there are kids that can master a trombone or a drum set before they barely outweigh the instrument and go on to be All-Stars.

In its 21st year, Vail Jazz welcomes 12 of the nation’s top teenage musicians, hand-picked from a pool of more than 150 uber-talented nominees. Since its inception, the Vail Jazz Workshop has produced 250 alumni, many of whom have gone on to soaring careers as professional musicians. There’s Tia Fuller, a long-time member of Beyonce’s notoriously talented all-female band. Obed Calvaire drums for the San Francisco Jazz Collective and has performed with Monty Alexander, Wynton Marsalis and many others. Saxophonist Grace Kelly has been featured on CNN, NPR and in Glamour Magazine, and of course there’s multi-GRAMMY award-winning pianist Robert Glasper.

Many of these musicians showed sign of greatness before they could even talk. Take Brian Richburg, for example. The 17-year-old drummer from New Orleans is one of the 12 selected prodigies for the 2016 Vail Jazz Workshop. As a baby, he not only banged on pots and pans in an oddly un-noisy fashion, but did so with obvious rhythm. By the time he was 5 years old, his parents got him his first drum set, and by age 8, he was performing with an adult ensemble at his family church, where his father was the pastor.

“Even before I was born my mom would say I was kicking – she would have to sit down because I was kicking so hard,” Richburg says. “Being part of the New Orleans gospel community, I’ve always been around music. I can’t say I went to school, picked up the sticks and decided this is what I wanted to do. The drums always spoke something to me.”

A junior in high school, Richburg is a scholarship winner to Skidmore Jazz Institute, a YoungArts finalist and member of New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, which has produced, among other stars, Wynton Marsalis.

Practicing at least two hours a day and having added piano composition to his repertoire, Richburg has to think for a moment before narrowing down what he would consider his greatest accomplishment to date. He settles on playing at the famed Snug Harbor with Delfeayo Marsalis and then being asked to play with Papa Ellis Marsalis. During his time in Vail, Richburg looks forward to working with “some of the greatest musicians and teachers in the world,” including his drum hero, Lewis Nash. As far as his outlook for the future, the New Orleans native keeps his goals pretty simple.

“I want to travel,” he says. “I’d like to play the drums.”

Another one of this year’s Vail Jazz Workshop students, 17-year-old Jasim Perales, hails from Oakland, Calif. Compared to Richburg, zeroing in on an instrument as a small child did not come as instinctually to him, but after starting out on piano, the trombone slowly worked its magic.

“I was in fourth grade and we had to chose an instrument. Trombone looked like an easy instrument to play. It didn’t have any buttons. I thought, this is an easy ‘A’ for me,” Perales recalls. “Then it was much more complicated then I thought. The slide is never exact. You have to memorize where every note is. You’re never going to get the same thing twice. It was a quirky little instrument that didn’t always make sense. But I liked figuring out all of its secrets.”

Perales is ahead of his time in the discovery department, as evidenced by his selection for the GRAMMY Band and Monterey Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, with which he recently toured Japan. His inspirations range from everyone between Duke Ellington and John Coltrane to Tribe Called Quest and Kendrick Lamar. Like Richburg, traveling professionally is Perales’ No. 1 musical goal but in the meantime, he plans to revel in the wave of energy that washes over him every time he performs.

“It’s like when you get endorphins from exercise,” he says. “It’s that emotional catharsis, diving into something so passion-oriented. It’s an art form you have to put a lot of yourself into. It’s an expression. I have a boisterous personality but sometimes I don’t express what I’m truly feeling. Music is a way to get out my anxiety, my worries, or if I’m excited or really happy. It’s a whole different level of conversation. It’s a primal and intellectual conversation at the same time.”

The 10-day-long intensive Vail Jazz Workshop is led by mentors John Clayton, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon, Dick Oatts and Lewis Nash, also known as the Vail Jazz Party House Band. After completing the Workshop, the students including Perales and Richburg plus pianists Carter Brodkorb and Jake Sasfai, trumpeters Zaq Davis and David Sneider, bassists Philip Norris and Gabe Rupe, saxophonists Alex Yuwen and Austin Zhang, trombonist Joseph Giordano and drummer Nick Kepron, graduate to the status of Vail Jazz All-Stars, and kick off the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Jazz Party on Sept. 1, opening the final Vail Jazz @ Vail Square performance, which features a triple bill with the Vail Jazz Alumni Quintet and the Vail Jazz Party House Band. The All-Stars then perform for free at the Jazz Tent at Vail Square at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, please visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.