Bria Skonberg returns to Vail for two sizzling performances

The New York City-based trumpeter and vocalist brings her dynamic sound for double nights at Vail Jazz.

It happened. Bria Skonberg is officially big time. The Canadian-born trumpeter and vocalist who has hit the jazz world like a supernova over the last few years was signed by Sony Music earlier this summer. Raise your hand if you’re surprised.

That’s what we thought.

The 32-year-old New York City resident blew the doors off during her Vail debut last year and is back by popular demand, performing an intimate show at the Vail Jazz Club Series July 20 and then taking the stage at Lionshead July 21 for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square.

Growing up in a farming community about an hour east of Vancouver, B.C., Skonberg dabbled on the piano, bass and clarinet before settling on the trumpet. She began singing in high school and by the time she graduated, was the star of the school band and choir, captain of the basketball team, president of student council and manager of several of her own bands, including a jazz ensemble, big band and marching band.

Skonberg has been working full-time as a professional musician for 10 years and moved to New York City in 2010. She has released three studio albums and performs regularly around Manhattan with Wycliffe Gordon and a slew of other jazz greats in between traveling the world with her own quintet. Rooted in traditional jazz but featuring world percussion and alluring melodies, her fourthcoming studio record was crowd funded last year. Oh, but how the framework has changed since then. After overwhelmingly meeting the crowd funding goal, producing the record and bringing it to several labels, the album will be released by Sony’s Portrait Records on Sept. 23, simply entitled, Bria.

“I was waiting,” she says. “It was six months of crossing my fingers and not being able to say much because I didn’t want to jinx it. It’s exciting on so many levels. I’d like to think mostly because now I can focus more on the musical experience.”

What can one expect of Skonberg’s musical experience? Let’s say that profound ambiance (and a little hypnosis, in case she’s performing her rendition of The Jungle Book’s “Trust in Me”) is what she’s going for.

“The vibe is what I’m honing in on,” she says. “I like the swampy, Duke Ellington, exotic-sounding stuff. That’s where my trumpet and voice meet and compliment each other.”

Always pragmatic, in spite of her big label status, Skonberg is not the type to envision her symphonic debut in front of hundreds of thousands or to dream of yachts and mansions.

“I live in reality. If somebody says, ‘what size is your dream band?’ I say, ‘I can fit five people in a minivan.’ I’m practical in a lot of ways, but this gives me the opportunity to dream a little bit. What I would love and what will happen more is getting people to help wrangle the details – interviews, media, tour logistics. My dream would be to spend more time playing trumpet and writing music.”

Skonberg also dedicates a fair share of time on musical education. She’s worked with youth outreach programs through Juilliard and Jazz at Lincoln Center. As co-founder of the New York Hot Jazz Festival, which recently partnered with Central Park’s Summer Stage and is now a major attraction, she hosted a New York Hot Jazz camp for adults this spring.

“We had people come in from Denver, Virginia, British Columbia … a great group of people. We had an 18-year-old and an 82-year-old. They came to learn how to play New Orleans-style jazz for a week. The camp gives people an opportunity to not just play by themselves, but play in a band setting around likeminded musicians,” she says. “I realized age has nothing to do with energy level, especially when it comes to playing music. There is no division for age, gender, race … any of that. It’s about bringing people together no matter what experiences you’ve had. That was a long-term dream. Next year we’ll have a youth camp and an adult camp.”

When asked if she could foresee herself still belting out trumpet solos or singing sultry tunes when she reaches the age of 82, she laughs.

“I hope I’m retired by 42,” she says.

But she’s joking. Or maybe not …

Don’t miss Bria Skonberg on July 20 at the Vail Jazz Club Series at its new location in Mountain Plaza Lounge. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40 in advance. Bria’s quintet, including Eric Wheeler on bass, Evan Arntzen on clarinet and saxophone, Ehud Asherie on piano and Jerome Jennings on drums, then takes the big stage for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8  p.m. on July 21 at the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. Tickets are $20 for general admission or $40 for premium seating. For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

Jazzing up the pop and rock

Seminal guitarist John Pizzarelli returns to Vail

When impersonating his father, famed guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pizzarelli adopts a raspy voice with a strong Jersey accent. He speaks of his father with a tone of equal parts humor and adoration.

Coming from one of the most talented, harmonious families in jazz history, there was never any pressure for John to take up music as a young boy. He was never pushed to follow in the footsteps of his father, but Bucky has certainly played a part in refining his son’s skills, even when it comes to hitting the most complicated bridges and transitions on the guitar.

“If you don’t do it right, he looks at you and makes that face and shakes his head,” John says.

Growing up surrounded by instruments and talent, playing music was pure fun for John and everyone else in the house. It didn’t hurt that the revolving door was frequented by folks like Benny Goodman and Clark Terry.

“It was very easy. We had all the guitars and all the equipment,” says John, who returns to Vail July 13 for an intimate performance at Vail Jazz Club Series and then takes the big stage in Lionshead July 14 for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square, performing with his brother Martin on bass, Konrad Paszudzki on piano and Kevin Kanner on drums.

“The house was one big instrument room. There was always some kind of music going on – my father playing, rock bands in high school … It’s always been enjoyable to me. Never like a job.”

Although he is known to sing and play hypnotizing renditions of classics from The Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli often performs pop songs by the likes of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello and The Allman Brothers, to name a few, infusing each selection with an effervescence of unique harmonies, mash-ups and frolicking string work. His latest studio album, Midnight McCartney, is a collection of lesser-known Paul McCartney songs and was co-produced by John’s wife, singer Jessica Molaskey, featuring contributions from Bucky. The brainchild behind the record was the ex-Beatle himself. Pizzarelli had collaborated with McCartney in the past, not to mention covered a portion of his repertoire on his 1996 release, John Pizzarelli Meets The Beatles. But when Sir Paul wrote to suggest (apologetically admitting that it might seem “immodest” or “pushy”) that perhaps Pizzarelli could lend his magic to some of his post-Beatles’ melodies, Pizzarelli could hardly say no. He dove into 45 years worth of McCartney’s discography and unearthed a selection of tunes he could re-harmonize with that special zing.

We started to realize how brilliant these songs are. He’s obviously a rock ‘n’ roller, but they were really easy to break down.

 

“When I did the Beatles record in 1996 (Meets the Beatles), I found you can really re-harmonize that stuff, find nice harmonies and not get too crazy. That’s the challenge and the fun of the whole thing.”

“We started to realize how brilliant these songs are,” Pizzarelli says. “We’re McCartney fans and this is our way of letting people know these are good songs.”

When it comes to performing with his brother and the rest of his quartet, Pizzarelli cherishes the band’s ability to instantly read one another.

“The thing I like about having the group is when you go, you can have a set booked and arrangements and you’re able to do whatever you want to do at a moment’s notice,” he says. “It’s nice to have music you’re always prepared for. It doesn’t have to be the same every night.”

Although Bucky still has his own performance schedule, John tries to play with his father whenever possible and when the holidays roll around at the Pizzarelli household, he says, “all hell breaks loose.”

Some of his most memorable moments on stage include performing with the likes of McCartney, James Taylor and Natalie Cole who Pizzarelli describes as “generous, beautiful people.” Of course one of his big breaks as an artist was opening for Frank Sinatra in the early 90s, when he took the stage to crowds of 15,000 to 20,000, an experience he described during his appearance on Voice of America’s Beyond Category series, as surreal.

“You’re just sitting out there thinking, where are these people coming from? Then you’re looking in the wings and there’s Sinatra snapping his fingers,” he said.

INFO BOX:

Don’t miss John Pizzarelli as he takes the Vail July 13 for an intimate performance at Vail Jazz Club Series at its new location in Mountain Plaza Lounge. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40 in advance. The quartet, including Pizzarelli on vocals and guitar, his brother Martin on bass, Konrad Paszudzki on piano and Kevin Kanner on drums then takes the big stage for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 14 at the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. Tickets are $20 for general admission or $40 for premium seating. For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

The Great Ladies of Song

VAIL JAZZ FESTIVAL PREVIEW: The Great Ladies of Song

 

This Monday (July 11), Vail Jazz will present the splendid vocalist Nicole Henry in her tribute to the “Great Ladies of Song.” On stage Nicole has a mesmerizing presence and is blessed with a unique gift as a performer that allows her to connect with her audience in a powerful way. When covering a classic tune, Nicole captures the essence of her predecessor’s brilliant treatment of the work, while telling the story in her own style.

At last year’s Vail Jazz Festival, she lit it up over two nights delivering tender ballads, up-tempo jazz standards, cabaret torch songs, down and dirty blues, soul stirring hits, awe inspiring gospel tunes and booty shaking R & B anthems. The audience was so taken by her extraordinary talent that we immediately made plans for her to return to Vail and it was agreed that she would pay homage to some of the great female vocalists who have shaped the music of today and whose collective body of work has entered all of our consciousness.

Before we explore the iconic singers Nicole will pay tribute to and why, it should be understood that Nicole’s goal wasn’t to create a “Top 10 List” of female vocalists. You can go to Google for that type of thing, but it is a foolish endeavor to compare singing voices, so that you can declare winners and losers in a popularity contest.

With that caveat in mind, Nicole has selected these Great Ladies of Song: Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday (Eleanora Fagan), Whitney Houston, Etta James (Jamesetta Hawkins), Nina Simone (Eunice Kathleen Waymon), Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington (Ruth Lee Jones) and Nancy Wilson. They were born between 1915 (Ella) and 1963 (Whitney), a period of time saw a great deal of change in American society, but nothing like the change that took place in the next 50 years. Unfortunately, many of them did not live to see the most recent changes in our culture, as only Aretha and Nancy are still with us.

Yes, they won Grammys and numerous awards, sold a lot of records, became world famous and performed for royalty and throughout the world. Some easily fit into categories such as jazz, R & B, soul, gospel and pop, but others defy classification as they effortlessly moved between different styles of music. Some amassed large fortunes, and in many cases lost those fortunes.

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol shaped many of their lives and careers (Billie, Dinah, Etta, Whitney and Aretha) and in some cases, ultimately caused their demise at an early age (Billie, Dinah and Whitney). Mental illness was a constant companion for Nina for a significant number of her years. Many of them had failed marriages with Dinah holding the unenviable record of seven times to the altar. They had an array of voices – some limited in range (Billie, not much more than an octave) and in other cases quite expansive with an unbelievable range (Sarah: three octaves). Some had perfect pitch and technique comparable to instrumentalists (Ella). Some were virtuosic while others were limited in that category, but made up for it with expression and passion (Billie). Several got their start by winning talent contests (Ella, Sarah and Dinah).

However you try to make comparisons, though, what you discover is the one constant … that each was an ORIGINAL and brought to her performances real emotion and authenticity that allowed her to connect with the audience. It’s the kind of emotion that isn’t practiced, but comes from within, when the lyrics of a song touch your soul. And speaking of soul, one unifying factor for all of these women (with the exception of Ella) was that they started singing as youngster in their churches and gospel music was their first step into the vocal world. All of them had a strong connection to the blues and all were Black. Think of it – American Black women singers, singing gospel and/or the blues, during a time period (all started singing professionally between the1930s and 1960s, except for Whitney who start focusing on singing in the early 80s), when men dominated the music business and blacks and women were struggling to assert themselves in a prejudiced and unjust society.

Now we think of concert halls as the venues where great singers work, but for many of them, they started out in smoked-filled nightclubs and saloons where working conditions for a woman were challenging to say the least. It was a time when the plight of blacks and women had yet to take center stage in our political discourse and cultural values were ever so slowly changing. Ultimately these women were not only great singers but trailblazers who fought for their place in the spotlight and went on to inspire future generations of singers. Their gift was not just to sing a song, but to reach within themselves to craft their own style and tell a story in a convincing way. The pain that each of them endured had to be balanced with something, and for these Great Ladies of Song, it was by the joy of their music making. These women endured and we are the beneficiaries of their musical legacies.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of Vail Jazz, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 22nd year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz music, culminating with the Labor Day weekend Vail Jazz Party. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

 

Nicole Henry Pays Tribute to the Great Ladies of Song

Join us for an evening of elegance on July 11th, at 6 PM as dynamic vocalist Nicole Henry leads the original “Great Ladies of Song” benefit concert with returning Vail Jazz Alumni. The elegant evening will pay tribute to legendary jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, and Whitney Houston.

 

Nicole is no stranger to the jazz world, with international performances in over 15 countries, and seven vocal jazz albums ranging from unique renditions of the Great American Songbook, to soulful hits of the 60s. Shortly after her debut in 2004, and she was awarded “Best New Jazz Artist”. More recently, Nicole was awarded by the Soul Train Awards for “Best Traditional Jazz Performance” in 2013. Vail Jazz is thrilled to welcome such a diverse, and humble artist to the stage.

 

Sharing her spirit while entertaining the audience, Nicole Henry is not afraid to tackle even the most well-known Jazz standards and popular songs. While many artists today can be hesitant to take on familiar songs by highly acclaimed artists, Nicole dives into the challenge and creates a brand new experience for the listener, which is not easy to do. Billboard Magazine has called her, “An artist who knows how to make a song her own.” (and it clearly shows)

 

Creating a brand new musical experience that is unique and engaging is not something that every artist in the industry can do today. Nicole seems to effortlessly establish an atmosphere that captures an original sound and mood at each performance. Nicole highly excels at this – whether performing a Cole Porter tune or a James Taylor cover, she is able to captivate an audience’s attention with her charming storytelling, and is able to convey powerful emotions through her vocals. Every song she sings is truly with her own interpretation and cannot be compared to others.

 

Taking these classic songs, and exploring new colors, rhythms, harmonies and instrumentation, She brings old jazz standards to life such as “At Last” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and pop songs such as “Landslide” and “Big Yellow Taxi” in renditions that are new and pleasing to the ear. Her warm voice makes you tune in to her performance instantly, and yearn for more after the performance has finished.

 

Not only does Nicole creatively experiment with covers, but with her own songwriting as well! On her most recent Summer Sessions EP released in 2015, Nicole collaborates with guitarist James Bryan, and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Glen Scott on new material together. The three compliment each other very well. Check out this video of their easy listening song “Joy” https://youtu.be/4yrHYknC4zc

 

With intriguing musical arrangements, joining on stage at this special event will be Nicole’s trio, Peter Wallace on piano, Eric England on bass, and David Chiverton on drums. Vail Jazz is excited to bring back alumni of the Vail Jazz Workshop, Jumaane Smith (’98 trumpet), Hailey Niswanger (’07 alto sax) and Kyle Tilstra (’13 trombone) to join in for this special performance.

 

The evening will take place in the beautiful International Ballroom at the Lodge of Vail, and will also include an exclusive high-end auction, spectacular three course meal dinner all while you witness this incredible performance! Funds raised at the event will go toward Vail Jazz education programs, which touch the lives of over 1,400 children each year. Individual tickets start at $250, and tables are available starting at $3000. For more details and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.vailjazz.org/performances/benefit-dinner/. It’s important to pay tribute to great artists, to not copy one another in the industry, but lead from inspiration, and that’s exactly what Nicole Henry does. To hear more inspiring recent music releases and video performances of Nicole Henry, be sure to visit http://www.nicolehenry.com

 

 

 

 

Iconic Jazz Trio coming in Hot for Two Spectacular Vail Performances

Tapping into their one-of-a-kind telepathy, Monty Alexander, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton celebrate 40 years this Wednesday and Thursday in Vail!

 

Completely self-taught on the piano, Monty Alexander moved from his native Jamaica to New York as a teenager. Much to his delight, he suddenly found himself playing at Frank Sinatra’s club.

 

“When I played at Jilly’s in early summer of ‘63 when I was 17, I realized I was in very fast company,” he recalls. “Not just in jazz, but in all the top entertainers in show business. Judy Garland is sitting at the piano bar. I look around and Sammy Davis is walking in. I played at private events at Frank Sinatra’s apartment. He was a good friend. That crowd, they wanted to hang out until 6 a.m. I would keep it going until then. Miles Davis would come in. Count Basie was sitting there with Frank. That’s where I met Milt Jackson. I was learning so much at this time.”

 

Alexander began touring all over America making a name for himself.

“Then something happened,” he says. “I call it serendipity.”

 

A pair of students in the Midwest had more than learned his name. Alexander met John Clayton as “this skinny guy in high school or college.” The two jammed together and kept in touch as Clayton enrolled at Indiana University to study music. A few years later, Alexander’s bass player became sick before a gig in Annapolis. The pianist needed to find a quick replacement. Clayton happened to have recently graduated. Alexander said to himself, “I’ll take a chance,” and invited Clayton to perform with him. Then there was a need for a new drummer and Clayton suggested a friend from school – Jeff Hamilton. They called him in for an audition.

 

“Here I am now on the bandstand with these two younger guys,” Alexander says. “It was this sense of communication … I don’t know what to call it, their willingness to go along with my shenanigans. Then this thing like a fireball, like an avalanche of enthusiasm developed. We developed this great thing that you couldn’t put your finger on. That’s 41 or 42 years ago now. I still can’t explain it.”

 

Clayton and Hamilton know exactly what Alexander is talking about, but they, too, struggle to articulate the dynamic.

 

“The best I can do is say that both John and I wanted to play with Monty when we were 19 and 20 years old. We got his albums and learned all we could,” Hamilton says. “We thought if we got good enough we could play with Monty Alexander. From that experience the week of the audition, we all knew we were on the same page. We all heard the beat the same. We were all intuitive to what each other were going to do. We knew where we were going and nobody else did.”

 

The trio performed together all over the world, 50 weeks a year, hypnotizing crowds everywhere with their uncanny magic.

 

“Communication is crucial to what we do. That will be immediately evident when anyone comes to our concert,” Clayton says. “Our communication style is one that relies on focused listening to one another, eye contact, peripheral vision, facial expressions, voiced instructions, intuition and probably a good dose of voodoo.”

 

These days, it’s a rare treat when the three get together. When they do, they kick in right where they left off.

 

“I like to compare it to a family reunion,” Hamilton says. “Like if you’re sitting at the kids’ table with your cousins, telling inside jokes and having a great time, then as adults you reconnect. It’s not at the kids’ table, but the feeling’s the same. It brings a lot of joy to all of us. The happiness that occurs in the reunion, it’s pure joy and people get that from the stage.”

 

Because the trio has individually performed with so many other top musicians over the last four decades – Diana Krall, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, etc – they sometimes tweak a song on stage in a momentary detour that Hamilton calls a “snafu” but which any average listener might call a blast of genius.

 

“There is so much knowledge being thrown around when great musicians share a bandstand. How do you hit that magical place? I’ve tapped into it in my life a few times. I seem to be able to do it all the time with Jeff and John,” Alexander says. “When John plays a note on the bass, it’s like all the colors in the rainbow. You have to tap your foot, shake your you-know-what. I love things when they have impact, when it has some oomph. There is no more oomph than Jeff Hamilton. If anybody does anything at any time, it’s a magical symphony. Going back to the early days, almost every time we hit the bandstand, it was this monumental moment. We’d knock ourselves out, but the people would go nuts. It’s like we’re coming with a big stick. We’re going to hit you over the head … in a nice way.”

 

Again, while each frequents the Vail Jazz Festival as a solo artist, it’s rare that this powerhouse trio comes together in Vail. Clayton, Vail Jazz’s Director of Education, has mentored 250 students in the famed Vail Jazz Workshop, but on these two special nights, he’ll be tapping into a unique talent portal with Alexander and Hamilton.

 

INFO BOX:

 

Don’t miss Monty Alexander, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton celebrating 40 years in an intimate lounge performance on July 6 to kick off the 2016 Vail Jazz Club Series at its new location in Mountain Plaza Lounge. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40. The trio then opens the Vail Jazz @ Vail Square season from 6 to 8  p.m. on July 7 at the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. Tickets are $20 for general admission or $40 for premium seating. For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

Jazz Trio Monty Alexander, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton celebrates over forty years together at the Vail Jazz Festival

By Liz Turner

This Grammy ® winning jazz swinging trio of piano, bass and drums celebrates their 40+ years as a trio this summer at the Vail Jazz Festival! On Wednesday, July 6th , don’t miss Monty Alexander, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton light up the Mountain Plaza Lounge (near Gondola One) in this exciting monumental performance in Vail Village! On Thursday, July 7th, they’ll grace the stage at the Vail Jazz @ Vail Square performance in Lionshead.

 

These dynamos are no strangers to the Vail Jazz Festival, and will continue to bring their collaborations of swinging favorites, soulful hymns and marches, and moving ballads, that also bring in a touch of Jamaican flair, from Monty’s native roots. Monty’s numerous appearance are always sell-out events. John’s participation in the Festival started in the very first year, 1996, and he has continued as the Foundation’s Director of Education, while Jeff returns nearly annually as a huge fan favorite. Always a crowd pleaser, one can only leave these show feeling joyous, and exhilarated!

 

Playing since 1976, this trio has gelled together over four decades to create a comfortable, and light-hearted approach to their performances that all audiences can enjoy. Seeing how they create conversations through their music, is truly a unique experience! Having played leading festivals and venues around the world with memorable performances at Montreux, Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, The Blue Note and Jazz at Lincoln Center these virtuosos are not afraid to dive into the rhythms, and melodies of American Jazz.

 

The trio sets the bar high in terms of Jazz standards, and continues to do so while each working on musical projects of their own. Tickets are now available at https://www.vailjazz.org/tickets/ for $40.

 

A perfect way to celebrate the start of summer!

Riverwalk comes alive with soulful nine-piece band The Burroughs

There is no better way to kick off the busiest weekend of the summer than with a big party featuring a sizzling, live soundtrack. Ushering in the holiday weekend, Riverwalk First Fridays return to the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheatre in Edwards beginning at 5 p.m. July 1 with free live music and a vendor booth bonanza featuring Crazy Mountain beer, wine and tasty specialties from Taco Rico and Loaded Joe’s.

Music kicks off at 6 p.m. with Colorado-grown powerhouse The Burroughs. The nine-piece ensemble touts itself as “sweaty soul” and includes a four-piece horn section. The Burroughs follow the musical vein of Ottis Redding and Ray Charles and their thunderous performances include an energetic selection of crowd-pleasing favorites as well as danceable originals.

The June Riverwalk First Fridays concert featuring fellow Colorado favorite Hazel Miller drew the largest crowd in the history of the event – hundreds of dancers, picnickers and passers by ranging from families with young children, to couples, work groups and visitors of all ages.

Picnics are welcome at Riverwalk First Fridays but no pets are allowed and the event is non-smoking. Riverwalk First Fridays are presented by Alpine Bank and Kaiser Permanente. The event is a project of  KZYR 97.7 The Zephyr and Vail Jazz. For more information, call 1-800-VAIL-JAM or visit riverwalkfirstfridays.com. To check out the incredible 2016 lineup of Grammy winners and musical icons at the summer-long 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Festival, visit vailjazz.org.

 

ABOUT VAIL JAZZ

In 1995 life-long jazz fan Howard Stone launched the inaugural Labor Day Weekend Vail Jazz Party. A resounding success, the Weekend Party spawned the Vail Jazz Foundation, its mission to showcase the talent of prominent and up-and-coming jazz musicians as well as educate and nurture the genre’s next generation of greats. Vail Jazz has grown to include year-round programming such as Vail Jazz Goes to School and 12 weeks of live performances every summer with The 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Festival’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square, Vail Jazz @ The Market, Jammin’ Jazz Kids and The Vail Jazz Workshop for a total of more than 60 live performances and educational programs.

The bass groove

Once sound amplification started to take hold in jazz, the acoustic (upright) bass started losing ground to the other instruments in the band. While most instruments could be effectively amplified, not so with the bass. When amplified the bass produced sound that was distorted with undesirable “feedback” and produced “muddy” sounds without distinctive pitch. So during the 1930s and 1940s while the bass was present, establishing the beat, you really couldn’t make out what it was playing – it was being felt, but not really heard.

inventor Paul Tutmarc

In the 1930s Paul Tutmarc, a musician and inventor, tackled some of the shortcomings of the bass. Big and bulky, it had to be played in a stationary vertical position and was hard to play in tune. Voila!, the electric bass (bass guitar) was born – bigger than a guitar, but portable and easy to hold, it could be played horizontally and the player didn’t have to be stationary. By adding frets, it was easier to play in tune and with a long neck, the musical range was greatly expanded. Most importantly, with electronic pickups used to capture the sound produced by the vibrating strings, the electric bass could be plugged into an amplifier to produce sound without distortion or feedback.

Tutmarc may have invented the electric bass (and the electric guitar), but it was Clarence Lionidas “Leo” Fender who capitalized on the electrification of these instruments. Perfecting the “Telecaster” guitar in 1950, as well as the “Precision Bass” in 1951, Fender never looked back. The Precision Bass revolutionized bass playing and its sonic characteristics. Fender is arguably one of the most important people in the history of popular music in the last half of the 20th century – a rather remarkable achievement considering that he never learned to play the instruments he created.

the iconic Fender bass

Monk Montgomery (brother of jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery) is credited with being the first jazz electric bass player – playing and touring with Lionel Hampton in 1953. Around 1957 Bill Black, Elvis Presley’s bass player, switched to the electric bass and as they say, “the rest is history.” With the explosion in popularity of rock music in the 1960s, the electric bass came of age and has had an outsized impact on popular music, leading to the popularity of genres such as metal, punk, reggae, funk, gospel, blues, hip-hop and jazz fusion.

Jazz musicians reluctantly adopted the electric bass in the 1950s, but it wasn’t until the late 1960s when rock was blended with jazz to create the music known as jazz fusion that the electric bass found a home in the world of jazz. In a fusion setting, the bassist has become a prominent soloist because the electric bass is much more suited ergonomically speaking for a player to play faster and more lyrically than the upright bass. Most importantly, the bassist can lock-in with the drummer and create a “groove” that is at the heart of fusion and funk.

What is a groove? Not easily defined, it is a rhythmic feel created by variations in the timing of the beat. Playing ever so slightly ahead or behind the metronomic beat shifts the rhythmic pulse of the music in a way that connects the listener to the music and makes the listener want to MOVE to the music. Hear a marching band play, you tap your foot in time to the music, but when there is a groove established, you FEEL it and involuntarily move to the music.

Like the guitar, the electric bass can be strummed, plucked or picked, but in the hands of a virtuoso, when a groove is called for, slapping it and thumping it creates an overpowering FEELING that can make you want to sway, move your head from side to side and dance.

No discussion of the electric bass would be complete without paying homage to Jaco Pastorius. The self-proclaimed “world’s greatest bass player” was audacious, but his virtuosic command of the electric bass ultimately caused many to agree with his pronouncement and while he died prematurely at the age of 35 in 1987, his impact on the world of music and the technical approach of how to play the electric bass and integrate it into a jazz setting is beyond dispute.

Marcus Miller interviewed on TV8 Vail

When discussing the greats of the electric bass, especially fusion and funk players, the name of Marcus Miller is always mentioned. The multi-Grammy® award winner not only has mastered the electric bass, but is a multi-instrumentalist (bass, guitar, clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophone and piano), composer and producer who has played and recorded with the who’s who of the music business over the last 40 years, appearing on over 500 albums with musicians like Eric Clapton, Michael Jackson, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, George Benson, David Sanborn, Wayne Shorter, Luther Vandross, Frank Sinatra and Elton John, to name just a few.

On June 24 Marcus will be in Vail as the headliner at Vail SummerFest, where Vail celebrates the summer season’s cultural offerings and activities, with food, drink and three bands performing. One thing is for sure, when Marcus plays in Vail there will be a groove, especially when he slaps and thumps his bass.

The event is sponsored by The Jazz Cruise, the Contemporary Jazz Cruise and the Town of Vail and produced by Vail Jazz.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of Vail Jazz, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 22nd year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz music, culminating with the Labor Day weekend Vail Jazz Party. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Ritmo Jazz Latino opens Vail Jazz @ The Market on Sunday

Heating up the Vail Jazz Festival this June, is Denver’s finest Latin jazz ensemble-Ritmo Jazz Latino! On June 26th, at 12 pm, please join us for the first Vail Jazz @ The Market event – a weekly free series in the Jazz tent at Vail’s Farmer’s Market- for an exotic blend of Latin Jazz!

This talented group includes Grammy® winners, award-winning arrangers, popular Cuban and Puerto Rican percussionists, and Latin luminaries who have performed throughout the Americas with Dizzy Gillespie, Julio Iglesias, Gato Barbiere, Eddie Palmieri, Ray Charles, Henry Mancini and Ella Fitzgerald.

Featuring an entertaining collaboration between Dr. Walter Barr (trumpet, flugelhorn, flute, arranger), Fransisco Mejias (congas, bata, coro), Victor Mestas (keyboard, arranger), Paul McDaniel (bass), Cristine Barbosa (vocalist, piano, composer), and Howard Hernandez (timbalero, Latin percussionist).

Certainly not afraid to divulge into fascinating rhythms, and melodies of Latin America, this group truly brings an energetic, and groovy flair to the stage this summer!

Ritmo Jazz Latino has decades of experience put together, and performs traditional and contemporary Latin jazz. Often traveling through the country presenting engaging music education workshops and seminars on Latin music to youth. Their motto being “Salsa music is for everyone”, and they actively work to engage youth to truly embody the feeling, and spirit of Latin American music.

Today young students growing up particularly in the States lack a strong exposure to this enriching style. Ritmo Jazz Latino demonstrates why this is so important in today’s arts and culture, exposing the youth to Latin jazz. Honoring the founding fathers of Latin jazz, they dive into the history of Afro-Cuban players, styles, and songs (salsa, merengue, songo, mambo, timba, bolero, charanaga and cha cha cha) and Brazilian jazz including (bossa nova and samba).

If musicians do not take the time to explore this style of music with audiences across the globe today, generations to come will miss out on this prominent style of music. You don’t have to be a perfect Spanish speaker, or a highly coordinated percussionist to enjoy Latin jazz, and Ritmo Jazz Latino shows that everyone in the world can take in and be a part of this art form! Whether through dancing, vocalizing, improvisation, or poetry.

Come hear how these influential Latin sounds and language come across today but be ready to groove, dance, jam and sing along to one of Colorado’s most remarkable ensembles today! Truly a summer delight!

Visit the Vail Jazz @ The Market series page for more information, and to check out more of this group’s fabulous music, go to http://ritmojazzlatino.com!

Sunday Jazz Kicks off the Festival Season

Vail Jazz kicks off its solid summer of free live music programs this Sunday

For live music lovers, Sunday is about to become the best day of the week. Beginning this Sunday (June 26), the extravaganza of free jazz kicks off for the summer.

If you’ve strolled through the sea of stimulation that is the Vail Farmer’s Market, amid the colorful booths, cute dogs, long-lost friends and sweet aromas, your ears have probably perked up to the soundtrack of energetic live tunes.

Vail Jazz @ The Market

These Pied Piper-like melodies are emitted from the Jazz Tent at Solaris Plaza, home of Vail Jazz @ The Market. Beginning June 26, a rotation of popular, Colorado-grown artists perform for free from 12 to 3 p.m. A spicy six-piece ensemble of bass, percussion, horns, keyboards and vocals, Ritmo Jazz Latino kicks off the summer with infectious Latin rhythms while the peppy, Brazilian melodies of Ginga with percussionist ensemble Bateria Alegria light up the Market stage on July 3. The eclectic lineup continues throughout the summer with The Girshevich Trio, Dexter Payne Quintet, Joe Deninzon with The Mark Diamond Trio, The Hennessy 6, Kathy Morrow Quartet, BLT and Bob Rebholz, Katie Glassman and Snapshot and wrapping up with Chuck Lamb JazzFusion Quartet.

Vail Jazz @ The Market offers a refreshing respite from the sun and crowds, with dozens of seats available in the tent. Audience members come and go as they please and a sashay around the tent is always welcomed.

Jammin’ Jazz Kids

Your kids have a unique opportunity to uncover and unleash their musical talent for free on four Sundays in July as Vail Jazz once again offers Jammin’ Jazz Kids. An engaging, interactive workshop, Jammin’ Jazz Kids puts the instruments (congas, xylophones and more) directly into the hands of the kids and with a little professional instruction from experts Tony Gulizia and Brian Loftus, strike up surprisingly melodious harmonies within minutes. The free workshops are open to children between the ages of 4 and 12, with registration at 10:45 a.m. on July 3, 10, 17 and 24 at the Vail Jazz Tent at Solaris in Vail. Workshops are scheduled for 11 a.m. and last 45 minutes.

Colorado High School band showcase

Speaking of young talent, these teenagers have obviously already spent years refining their craft. Top musicians from high school jazz programs in Denver hit the Solaris stage for a free performance at 11 a.m. for four Sundays straight, from July 31 to Aug. 28. Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts, directed by Paul Romaine, kicks off the inaugural showcase of high school band stars on July 31, followed by the Kent Denver Jazz Combo, directed by Stephen Hailey onAug. 7. Then comes East High School 6th Hour Jazz Combo Aug. 14 and Denver School of Arts, directed by Dave Hammond to wrap up the showcase on Aug. 21. Again, all performances are free and begin at 11 a.m. at the Vail Jazz Tent on the Solaris Plaza in Vail Village for four Sundays beginning July 31.

Vail Jazz @ The Remedy

If there is any question as to where to find the swankiest, most happening bar scene in Vail on Sunday nights, look no further than The Remedy Bar at the Four Seasons Resort. Local piano star Tony Gulizia and drummer Brian Loftus lead a rotating line up of visiting musicians in feel-good dining and drinking vibes. The Remedy delivers exactly what it promises, a reparative combination of classic and creative cocktails, dazzling wine list, scrumptious selection of culinary concoctions, expansive patio with stunning mountain views and the frolicsome sounds of live jazz every Sunday beginning at 8 p.m. July 3.

These free Sunday offerings are part of the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Festival, which kicks off on June 24 with Vail Summerfest and wraps up 60-plus shows later with the Labor Day Weekend Vail Jazz Party. The Festival brings international touring artists to Vail for free and ticketed performances each week over a 12-week period.

For more information or questions please call Vail Jazz at 888-VAIL-JAM