Norman and Ella

Ella Fitzgerald, the “First Lady of Song,” recorded over 1,100 songs during a career that spanned more than half a century. She sold more than 40 million albums, won 13 Grammy® awards, and performed to adoring fans throughout the world. This year is the centennial of Ella’s birth and celebrations abound in the world of jazz and beyond, paying tribute to her and reminding us all of her contribution to not only jazz, but to popular music of the Western World. Long after her passing in 1996, her musical legacy lives on.

From the beginning of her career in the mid-1930s until the mid-1950s she was generally confined to performing in jazz clubs with segregated audiences. Concert halls and upscale venues were out of reach. The upward trajectory of her career had stalled and she was stuck in a niche with a loyal jazz audience at a time when jazz was being overtaken by the popular music of the day – rock n’ roll. Ella had all the qualities needed to succeed but lacked the vision of how she could broaden her audience and overcome the barriers facing an African American jazz singer.

That vision appeared in 1956, when the son of Russian immigrants, Norman Granz, changed the arc of Ella’s career, catapulting her to top of the music world, where she would remain for the rest of her life. Norman was a concert promoter, talent manager, record producer and record label owner. One of the most important figures in the history of jazz, he was an innovator that changed the course of jazz, all the while championing the cause of civil rights.  

Norman grew up during the Depression and fell in love with jazz. Starting out promoting nightclub shows during WWII he hit upon the idea of taking the jam sessions that regularly took place “after hours” in jazz clubs and presenting them in a concert setting, thereby exposing the brilliance of improvising jazz musicians to a much larger audience. The first concert he presented was in 1944 at the home of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, billing it “Jazz at the Philharmonic” (JATP). The concert was a remarkable success and led Norman to regularly present JATP concerts in L.A. and quickly thereafter, throughout the U.S. (but not the segregated South), and then touring  internationally. Not bad for a 25-year-old jazz fan. In addition to presenting unique programing, he understood the draw of the jam session and recorded the performances, thereby expanding the audience and building the JATP brand.  

By the 1950s, Norman’s meteoric rise as a concert promoter allowed him to build relationships with some of the most important jazz musicians of the era. Norman knew the sting of prejudice personally, having had an African American girlfriend. He was totally dedicated to not only presenting jazz but integrating the audience while elevating the genre from smoke-filled clubs to concert halls throughout the world. It is hard to believe today, but even after WWII, audiences were still segregated in the U.S. Norman vowed to change that and he did by requiring venue operators to allow an integrated audience when the musicians he managed and the concerts he promoted were presented in their venues.  

Ella toured with JATP and Norman wanted to manage her since he had a vision of how he could advance her career, not only broadening her audience but also elevating the venues she would perform in. She was hesitant, but Norman was very persistent and he offered to manage her for no fee and give her the right to terminate their relationship at any time. Ella reluctantly agreed in 1955, although she insisted that she pay his customary management fee. Years later, Norman confirmed that he never had a signed contract with Ella during their 40-year relationship, explaining that each had the right to terminate their relationship if either was unhappy.

Shortly after becoming Ella’s manager, Norman was able to extract Ella from her recording contract with Decca and signed her to his new record label, Verve. The catalog of Verve grew as jazz greats including Charlie Parker, Bill Evans, Stan Getz, Billie Holiday, Oscar Peterson, Ben Webster and Lester Young were added to the label. With Ella’s signing to Verve, Norman relaunched her career, taking her from a cult figure loved by jazz enthusiasts to the top of the world of pop music, while presenting her in a way that did not offend her hard-core jazz fans. How did he do it? Norman’s vision was for Ella to celebrate the Great American Songbook and she did in a series of eight recordings in eight years. Starting with “Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook” in 1956, Ella followed with tributes to Rogers and Hart, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, the Gershwins, Harold Arlen, Jerome Kern and Johnny Mercer. These recordings were artistically brilliant and commercially a bonanza. They confirmed that Ella was indeed “the First Lady of Song.” Asked about Ella’s Songbooks, Ira Gershwin was quoted as saying: “I never knew how good our songs were until I heard Ella Fitzgerald sing them.”  The rest of the world agreed and Ella never looked back.

At 6:30 and 9 p.m. on July 26 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on July 27 in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead, Vail Jazz presents Carmen Bradford and Byron Stripling in a tribute to Ella and Louis Armstrong, and their three great albums celebrating the American Songbook. Happy 100th birthday, Ella!

Don’t miss one of history’s most iconic pairings

Who would you say are the jazz king and queen of all time? With so many greats, it’s not easy to pin down just one pair whose names and music have transcended America’s decorated history. But there’s a good chance that Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald are at the top of most lists.

Legendary as each artist stands in his/her own right, the pairing of their talents was an unforgettable treat. To celebrate this rare and magical fusion as well as Fitzgerald’s 100th birthday, Vail Jazz presents Ella and Louis: Together Again, starring Count Basie singer Carmen Bradford and Vail Jazz favorite trumpeter Byron Stripling. The duo, both of which shares personal history with the American musical heroes, unites to deliver classics from Armstrong and Fitzgerald’s trio of albums for two intimate club shows on July 26 and a tent performance on July 27.

“These are some of the most important recordings in jazz history,” says Stripling, referring to 1956’s Ella and Louis, 1957’s Ella and Louis Again and 1959’s Porgy and Bess. “Certainly Carmen and I love the music of these two giants coming together.”

So what makes this pairing so special? Anyone can agree that Armstrong and Fitzgerald had not only two extremely different approaches to music, but highly contrastive personalities. Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone, the brainchild behind the upcoming Ella and Louis tribute concerts, understands the magic of this unique combination, as does Stripling, who actually shared the stage with Fitzgerald as part of her band in her later years.

“They are two contrasting characters, but what we have is a perfect match,” Stripling says. “The playfulness of Louis Armstrong, the humor and happiness to everything he does; combine that with Ella – there’s almost this innocence in everything she does. Everything she sings is perfectly in tune, even the most technically advanced songs. You have the innocence of Ella and the jovialness of Louis. You can see him pushing her and egging her on, because she was a little nervous sometimes.”

Stripling witnessed Fitzgerald’s nervousness first-hand before their first performance together when his band mates informed him that the famous singer needed a reassuring hug before their gig.

“We got off the bus and the guys told me, ‘when we go into the concert hall, we’ll go to her dressing room and knock. You’ll give her a hug.’ I said, ‘why? I’ve never met her. I revere this lady … I’m actually scared of her,’” Stripling recalls. “But it turns out, with each new guy, she wants to know everything is OK. She was so nervous … and I’ll add insecure. You never sense it until you’re behind the scenes. They called her ‘sis,’ for sister. She really liked that. It made her feel good.”

As for Bradford, in addition to being one of the few vocalists in history handpicked by Count Basie himself, her mother, Melba Joyce, was one of Armstrong’s backup singers and she recalls meeting the monumental musician numerous times in her childhood.

“Carmen and I met on the Count Basie Band. She was the last singer that Count Basie ever hired. He absolutely loved her,” Stripling says. “If you come to the shows, you’ll get plenty of stories from Carmen about Ella. She knew her and has several of her gowns. As a kid, she knew Louis’ voice really well. She has a picture of herself on his lap.”

Stripling tells the story of how Bradford visited Fitzgerald’s house after her passing and was overjoyed to find her own CD in Fitzgerald’s stereo. While Bradford not only owns some of Fitzgerald’s gowns and has been known to wear them at times, and Stripling has a long history of channeling Armstrong’s spirit in orchestral pops programs throughout the country, neither artist aims to embody the late jazz greats.

“Carmen and I are not impressionists. You have to go to Las Vegas for that,” Stripling says. “The spirit of jazz is in us, meaning we like to do it our own way. If I can speak for Louis Armstrong, I’d say, ‘I’m here for the cause of happiness.’ In Ella’s case, she had a lot of hard times in her love life and her audience became her true love. She could walk out every night in the most fabulous gown and she was the bride. Listening to the duets makes me feel good when I’m feeling bad. They make me feel even better when I’m feeling good.”

Ella and Louis: Together Again Vail Jazz performances

Vail Jazz presents Ella and Louis Together Again featuring Carmen Bradford and Byron Stripling, joined by pianist Eric Gunnison, bassist Ken Walker, guitarist Steve Kovalcheck and drummer Dru Heller.

Wednesday, July 26

The ensemble delivers a pair of intimate performances for the Vail Jazz Club Series at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp Hotel. The first show is SOLD OUT! 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 27

The Ella and Louis tribute comes to the big stage for an energetic Vail Jazz @Vail Square performance 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 through Aug. 24 in the all-weather Jazz Tent in The Arrabelle courtyard in Lionshead. Drinks are available for purchase.

 

To purchase tickets to Vail Jazz performances, click here:

Gypsy Jazz – Necessity is the Mother of Invention

We all know the famous proverb: necessity is the mother of invention. This is the story of how true that maxim is. We begin in Belgium in 1910 when Jean “Django” Reinhardt was born into a family of itinerant Romani (Gypsy) musicians that lived in poverty, moving their caravans back and forth between Belgium and France. Gypsies (a pejorative term that was based upon the false notion that the Romani people came from Egypt) have been viewed as outsiders in Western Europe for centuries and Django and his family were clearly outcasts.  His father and seven uncles were all musicians who eked out a living playing music. Django (“I awake” in Romani) was taught to play the violin by his father when he was 7. At 12 he was given a banjo-guitar – a banjo with six strings like a guitar, instead of four strings like a banjo. He quickly taught himself how to play it and he and his brother became buskers working the streets of Paris.  Django appeared to be a savant, capable of learning music just by hearing it once, and it was clear that he was a virtuoso on his instrument. He began to play with adults who were often intimated by the child prodigy’s musical prowess. As a teen he was exposed to jazz and began to incorporate it into his music. At 15, he switched from street musician to earning a living by playing music in the dance halls of Paris, where he performed a style of music known as musette, a combination of French folk music, polka, waltz and jazz. Hearing a recording by Louis Armstrong during this period, it had a transformative influence on him and he began to focus on playing jazz.

Married (common law) at 17, he never received a formal education. It is doubtful that he ever learned to read, books or music, although in his late 1920s he did learn to write. He played with many dance bands until he was 18, moving from band to band, while making several recordings as a member of various groups. His reputation began to grow among the musicians he played with and then beyond, and on a fateful night in late October 1928 Englishman Jack Hylton, the leader of Europe’s most well-known jazz band, traveled to France to hear Django play and offered him a job.

Django accepted the offer but within days tragedy struck when he was severely burned by a fire in his caravan. His injuries were extensive, over half of his body (the right side of his body and left hand) sustained first and second degrees burns. The doctors discussed amputating his right leg as it was paralyzed and advised him that he would never play again because his left hand was burned beyond repair. He refused to accept their prognosis, left the hospital and took up residence in a nursing home, beginning an 18-month long rehab. He ultimately regained his full mobility, but was scarred for life. Unfortunately, the two small fingers on his left hand were paralyzed and he never recovered the full use of them.

At the start of his convalescence his brother brought him a guitar and encouraged him to learn to play it. The neck of the guitar was bigger than on his banjo-guitar and with the limited use of his left hand he was not able to hold the neck of the guitar and press the strings down on the fretboard. He practiced relentlessly and in the process developed a unique way of fingering the fretboard. Not able to use all the fingers on his left to play chords in a horizontal manner, he fashioned new chords using his contorted figures where possible, while rapidly moving his two good fingers up and down the neck of the guitar forming chords in more of a vertical way, inventing a truly unique technique. A less talented musician would have given up but Django was determined to overcome his handicap and he began to play professionally again. If he had stopped there, this would be a wonderful story of inventiveness and perseverance in the face of adversity, but Django didn’t stop there.

Fortuitously, he played in an impromptu jam session with Stéphane Grappelli, a French-Italian violinist, and that encounter led him to synthesize the music of his Gypsy heritage with jazz to create a ground breaking sound that would have world-wide impact, making him the most important European jazz musician ever and a guitarist who would influence successive generations of guitar greats. 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, he created what became known as Gypsy Jazz (Jazz Marouche). He and Grappelli formed a band, “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” and they both became internationally famous musicians.

Tragically, Django died of a brain hemorrhage at 43 in 1953, but his legacy lives on as Gypsy Jazz is played throughout the world with jazz festivals dedicated to Django and his music held annually in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Scandinavia, South Africa, the UK, the U.S. and of course, Belgium and France.  

Vail Jazz celebrates the musical legacy of Django on July 19 at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Sonnenalp Hotel and on July 20 at 6 p.m. in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead when it presents the Hot Club of France Tribute Band lead by French virtuoso accordionist Julien Labro. The music will be exuberant and played in a flamboyant manner, sizzling, infectious, and swinging, just as Django performed it 80 years ago.   

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

Jazz Improv: Alive and Kickin’

Nothing will sweep you more off your feet like a sultry improvised jazz solo that flows out of the trumpet’s bell seamlessly. You watch the fingers go up and down on the piano keys, re-harmonizing chords on the spot in fact like you’ve never heard like quite before, and you hear a vocalist show off with an impressive use of range, and extensive syllabic vocabulary and intriguing rhythms. In 2016, the digital era may be taking over, where fancy new microphones and recording devices come out often, and programs on the computer that instantly transcribe music. However, there’s one thing that can never be replaced by technology, the art of jazz improvisation. Today jazz improvisation is still alive, well and kickin’!

 

Over 150 years ago, prominent jazz legends such as Louis Armstrong, Al Jolson, Jelly Roll Morton and Bing Crosby would pave the way for the art of jazz improvisation. Going beyond their comfort zones, exploring new articulations, phrasing, colors and chord progressions to create new and interesting sounds to the ear, sounds that you would not expect. Ella Fitzgerald, Bill Evans, and Duke Ellington would continue to experiment with this style throughout the years and would even become mainstream music. Today, jazz improvisation has reached entirely new levels and boundaries thanks to incredible performances and recordings by artists such as Kurt Elling, Keith Jarrett, Michel Camilo, and Gary Burton.

 

Jazz improvisation has now greatly influenced other musical genres with its spontaneity and groove, including pop, rock, and R&B. Jazz improvisation has also spread beyond vocalists, horn and keys players, and can now be heard on instruments such as the ukulele, harmonica, melodica, and the harp! Many artists today have combined elements of pop music with the technique and style of jazz improvisation including Diana Krall, Jamie Cullum, Chris Botti, Bobby McFerrin, and Hiromi. These artists have strived to make jazz improv sound cool and relevant to a younger generation of music listeners and a much wider audience than before.

 

While jazz album sales may be lower compared to the past, there’s now more ways than ever to experience jazz improvisation live. Including jazz cruises, festivals around the world such as (Vail and Montreaux,) music camps that offer weekly instruction specifically on improv such as ( Vail jazz workshop, Bob Stoloff vocal jazz academy and Jamey Aebersold jazz camp), and thousands of videos on youtube that capture real live performances, recordings and tutorials from new jazz breaking artists.

 

To some musicians and listeners, jazz improvisation may be a bit intimidating and overwhelming. Often young musicians trying to pick up jazz improv get discouraged, thinking “I’ll never be able to scat or solo”. While there are many credible techniques out there, and no right way to learn jazz improv, here are some tips that may help you understand and perform jazz improvisation.

-Listen to all the great innovators of improvisation (traditional and contemporary). Jazz improv stemmed from classically trained pianists, experimenting on the piano and in their compositions. Listen not only to the great jazz legends, but also artists that improvised in classical music, and even in country and folk songs. Take notes about the vocal timbres, color of the instruments, rhythmic patterns, chord progressions, and melodic lines. In a sense start transcribing what you hear, very slowly, and one step at a time.

 

 

  • Go see live jazz performances, witness this incredible talent firsthand, and wrap yourself in the moment. Because improv is such an “in the moment” experience, there’s no better way to really feel it and grasp it than to soak it all up in a live music setting.

 

  • Try it yourself! Start with the instrument you are most comfortable on, or simply with the voice. Think of it as rapping, or slam poetry, let the words, syllables, and notes come and flow through you. It may not be a perfect solo the first time you try, but the more you practice, you will train your ear to pick up certain rhythms, tensions and melodic lines. There are many jazz instrumental background tracks you can play along with, and even try teaming up with another musician and trade fours to really keep you on your toes!

 

  • Challenge yourself! Now if you are really serious about learning the techniques and mechanics of jazz improv, start by brushing up on your music theory. To feel most comfortable at taking a solo, these players know their chords, scales, modes, solfege and tensions all from memory. Study which notes belong to major and minor scales, chords, know your sharps, flats and accidentals, without having to look at sheet music. This will help provide you with the framework to solo confidentially.

 

 

Remember you can always apply the concepts of jazz improv to your daily life of originality, spontaneity, and quick thinking even if you yourself are not a musician.

Combining Jazz with Gospel

Setting the mood right at the Vail Jazz Party, for a most popular tradition is the Gospel Prayer Meetin’ led by the exhilarating Niki Haris and her gospel ensemble! Join us bright and early at 9 am on September 4th, for a wonderful celebration of worship through music. Featuring artists Niki Haris {v}, Bobby Floyd {p + b3}, Jerohn Garnett {b}, Lucianna Padmore {d}, Nate Radley {g}, Jeff Clayton {as}, Tim Warfield {ts}, Terell Stafford {t}, Byron Stripling {t}, Wycliffe Gordon {tb}, Mile Hi Gospel Ensemble.

 

You may ask what do gospel and jazz have exactly in common together? Why do these two genres have heavily influenced each other? Why gospel at a jazz festival? Well, these two genres have more in common probably than you think! Let’s look into how the blues have certainly served as a bridge between these two genres. Dating back to the 1800’s in America’s south, where call and response would establish itself as a form of expression. African-Americans would find a way to celebrate Christianity through the expression of music in a new, and soulful style that would touch hearts with powerful repetition both lyrically and melodically. Musician Thomas Dorsey would be known for the founding father of Gospel during the 1930’s.

 

We have seen many contemporary artists serve as a crossover artists within these genres such as Mahalia Jackson, Kirk Franklin, and Mary Mary all who have combined their strong faith, while applying jazz techniques, instrumentation and harmonies. Many talented artists who have a strong calling to serve their church and faith, but still wanted to pursue music full time, have found the time and the creative passion for blending the two together such as jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum. Over the years gospel music has influenced a large part of the jazz community, bringing musicians even closer together as trusted friends, and colleagues.

 

Niki Haris does a brilliant job at combining jazz and gospel together in a performance, through instrumentation, vocal delivery, and lyric commitment, she is able to reach through jazz and gospel audiences alike for a heart felt performance. Watch this recent performance of Niki Haris with full choir from the Mile Hi Gospel Ensemble and renown rhythm section: https://youtu.be/J_e7QhVMlyg

 

If you’ve never heard the way the organ resonates, how the tambourine jingles, or the syncopation of the drums, then you are truly missing out on this soulful experience! Grab your tickets today at https://www.vailjazz.org/events/gospel-prayer-meetin-2/

Texas Tenor … ‘A moan within the tone’

This is not a tale about a great opera singer from the Lone Star State, but the story of Jean-Baptiste “Illinois” Jacquet and how his unique sound on the tenor saxophone influenced jazz, blues, R&B and rock ‘n’ roll saxophonists for generations to come. Born in Louisiana in 1922, his family moved to Houston, Texas when he was an infant. He was given the nickname “Illinois” because his French name was too difficult for Texans to pronounce. There are several accounts of how “Illinois” was selected, but whatever the genesis, thereafter Jean-Baptiste was known as Illinois Jacquet in Texas and eventually throughout the world.

A little history of the saxophone is in order. Invented in the early 1840s by Belgian Antoine-Joseph “Adolphe” Sax, a musician and inventor, it was initially utilized in classical music and military bands. The woodwind instrument was not widely used in jazz until the 1920 with Coleman Hawkins generally credited as the first important jazz tenor saxophonist. The “Hawk” as he was known had a distinctive sound on his tenor and when he came on the scene, jazz was evolving away from strictly an ensemble style of music to instrumentalists being allowed to solo. And the Hawk could definitely solo. Players began to develop their own distinctive sounds on their instruments and regional differences in the styles of jazz began to appear. You could distinguish between the jazz being played in New Orleans and Texas. Yes, Texas, with its large size and population and its affection for saloons and honkey-tonk joints, developed its own distinctive style and sound and Illinois was the one who would take that sound out of Texas and share it with the world.

Illinois began playing the alto sax as a child and by 15 he had become a professional. In 1942 at the age of 19, Illinois switched to the tenor as a condition to joining the world famous Lionel Hampton Orchestra. As fate would have it, his solo on the band’s recording of “Flying Home” would change the trajectory of his career and establish the sound of the “Texas Tenor” in jazz.

The recording became a huge hit due to Illinois’ solo, which captured for one of the first times on record the sound of a Texas Tenor. What is the sound of a Texas Tenor? The great Cannonball Adderley famously defined it as “a moan within the tone.” Others have described it using adjectives such as wailing, wild, honking, howling, raucous, screeching, squealing and guttural. Drenched in the blues, it generally emanates from the use of the upper and lower registers of the saxophone and is delivered with a raw power and rhythmic connection to the beat. Illinois is also credited with perfecting the technique of “growling” on the sax – humming while blowing into the horn.

Image a “tough toned” tenor player walking the bar with an arched back while playing the blues and lifting the audience to a frenzy. That was Illinois. His solo on “Flying Home” became the signature sound for Hampton’s band and long after Illinois had left the band in 1943 (joining Cab Calloway and then Count Basie before leading his own band), subsequent tenor players in the band immortalized the solo by playing it almost note for note, night after night. While Illinois was known for his Texas Tenor sound it shouldn’t be forgotten that he was capable of playing a ballad in a warm and tender manner. Illinois died in 2004 and was playing right up to the time of his death.

There have been legions of jazz players associated with the Texas Tenor sound with Texans Buddy Tate and Arnett Cobb, Illinois’ contemporaries, prominent proponents of the style. While the Texas Tenor sound originated in jazz, by the 1950s it was adopted by players that were pushing jazz and the blues into new directions. Curtis Ousley, known as “King Curtis,” started out playing jazz as a teenager in Hampton’s band, a decade after Illinois had left. A Texas native, he was clearly influenced by Illinois’ sound but he moved to NY and took his Texas Tenor with him, doing studio work (performing, producing and directing bands) with Buddy Holly, the Coasters (playing the very famous solo on “Yakety Yak”) and Aretha Franklin, to name just a few. His career was tragically cut short when he was stabbed to death at the age of 37, but while Illinois introduced the Texas Tenor to jazz, it was King Curtis who popularized the sound in the world of R&B, rock, funk and soul.

Another Texan Tenor player that did much to disseminate the distinctive Texas sound was David “Fathead” Newman, who had a career that spanned over 50 years. He recorded and played with the who’s who of jazz and blues, but is best known for his dozen years as a sideman with Ray Charles during the 1950s and 1960s playing R&B and soul with a raw, earthy sound that communicated a heartfelt cry when he was heard soloing on Ray’s mega-hits.

On Sept. 3 at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort, as part of the Vail Jazz Party, the great tenor player Joel Frahm will pay tribute to Illinois and other great Texas Tenors in a captivating multi-media show combining a live performance with classic video performances of these great musicians in a once in a lifetime show.

 

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of The Vail Jazz Foundation, 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.

The Judge of Time

The Judge, as he was known, never went to law school, and he never took the bar exam. In fact, he never practiced law. What he practiced was music.

Milton John “Milt” Hinton was born on June 23, 1910 in Vicksburg, Miss. to African American parents who separated when he was an infant. His maternal grandmother had been a slave and when he was 8 he came upon a lynching. The vivid images of a black man “on fire, like a piece of bacon with a wire rope around his neck” would remain with him for the rest of his life.

At 9, Milt moved to Chicago and at 13 he began playing violin, but he switched to the tuba so he could be part of his high school’s marching band because it gave a boy with a name like Milton who was really skinny and carried a violin around all day a better chance with the girls. He switched once again to the acoustic bass and though largely self-taught, became a professional bassist upon graduation.

In 1929 the bass was beginning to replace the tuba as the “time keeper” in jazz and it was rarely featured in a solo. Milt would change all of that during the next seven decades as he became the undeniable dean of jazz bassists and one of the most beloved figures in the history jazz.

 

In 1936 he began a 15-year long association with Cab Calloway, becoming a featured soloist with the band and by 1951-52 Milt had embarked upon a new phase of his career playing with the who’s who of jazz giants such as: Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Benny Goodman and Billie Holiday and many more. In the world of popular music he played with Bing Crosby, Bobby Darin, Aretha Franklin, Johnny Mathis, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bette Midler and Paul McCartney. Also playing on early rock ‘n’ roll hits by The Coasters and The Drifters. In all, Milt was one of the most prolific musicians of the 20th century, playing on over 1,100 recordings.

His easygoing nature, graciousness, humility, willingness to musically complement other players, professionalism, flexibility and most importantly his “chops” on the bass – impeccable time and splendid intonation – propelled him in a career unmatched by any jazz musician in the history of the music.

 

He broke down racial barriers as he was one of the first African American musicians to be employed as a studio musician in New York City through the help of his friend comedian Jackie Gleason, who was then recording orchestral music. As luck would have it, Milt bumped into Jackie on a street in NY in 1953 and Jackie hired Milt on the spot for a recording session the next day. When told that a white bassist had already been hired for the session, Jackie said: “Well, now we have two.”

 

That was the beginning of a long and illustrious career as a studio musician and in radio and TV work. In the 1960s he began to play the “jazz party” circuit and was a regular performer in Colorado at the Dick Gibson Jazz Party for several decades where he always sang his theme song “Old Man Time.”

 

Milt had a generosity of spirit that matched his prodigious musical talent and it was demonstrated by selfless commitment to others, both as a mentor and a teacher. In the 1970s and 1980s he taught jazz at several colleges and established a scholarship fund for young bassists. His commitment to jazz and others was recognized with the bestowing of numerous awards, including the Jazz Master’s Award from the NEA and the receipt of 8 honorary doctorate degrees from major universities.

 

They say that behind every great man there is a great woman and Milt was no exception. Mona Clayton Hinton was Milt’s partner for 57 years. They were inseparable and Mona traveled extensively with Milt and successfully oversaw and managed his career.

 

Milt’s accomplishments as a musician, educator and mentor cannot be adequately chronicled here because of space limitations, but there is another facet to Milt’s talent that needs to be acknowledged and that is his parallel career as a photographer. Beginning as a hobby at 25, Milt became infatuated with photographing the “jazz life” – the everyday experience of jazz musicians – and for the next 60 years he captured in 60,000 images a monumental photographic record of jazz history and a changing America from the time when black musicians ate at “colored only” restaurants in the South to a time when jazz musicians led the way to an integrated society. Two books of his photographs and stories have been published and multiple exhibits of his photographs have been presented worldwide. After Milt’s passing in 2000 at the age of 90, a wonderful documentary film, “Keeping Time: The Life, Music & Photographs of Milt Hinton,” was made and has played at film festivals in the US and Europe to great acclaim.

 

So how did Milt become The Judge? Some say his colleagues pinned the name on him because of his requirement that they be on time to performances and recording dates, while others say it was instead his punctuality, since he was always the first to arrive and the other musicians would greet him with an old joke’s punch line, “Well, good morning, Judge!” The most likely explanation is because he was the ultimate time keeper.

 

As part of the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Festival, we will celebrate the life of Milt Hinton by: presenting a digital exhibit of his photos at the Lionshead Welcome Center through Sept. 5 at 10 a.m., 12 p.m., 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. daily and screening the documentary film “Keeping Time” on Sept. 2 at 2 p.m. followed by John Clayton’s Multi-Media Tribute to Milt at 8:10 p.m.

 

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of The Vail Jazz Foundation, 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.

H2 Big Band Tribute to Count Basie

 

There’s no jazz pioneer like the incredible William James “Count” Basie who graced the jazz scene in the 1930’s with his memorable and exhilarating performances and compositions. This summer the H2 Big Band will pay tribute to the monumental music of this jazz big band leader in an uplifting, and inspirational performance.

 

Back for a second year in a row, the H2 big band will perform with an outstanding 17 piece band led by trumpeter Al Hood and pianist Dave Hanson. They will tackle the greatest hits of Count Basie that the whole family can hum and dance along to! After all, there’s no big band sound like Count Basie’s arrangements. With Count Basie’s distinctive sounds and melodies, it’s hard not to fall in love with this sophisticated yet playful music.

 

Count Basie was indeed a founding father of the big band musical era, thriving through the decades of vaudeville, the swing era, the bebop era and the Soul/Blues era. In an era when African-Americans did not lead bands, Count Basie took the initiative to start his own orchestra, including the hottest jazz musicians of the day. With his remarkable leadership and jazz composition skills, it was no surprise his songs would instantly become household hits.

 

Over the span of his career, earning nine Grammy awards and a spot in the Grammy Hall of Fame, some of Basie’s most loved songs would include “One O’clock Jump”, “April in Paris”, “Alright, Okay You Win”, and “Everyday I Have the Blues”. Collaborating with different instrumentalists and notable jazz singers including Tony Bennett, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra, Count Basie performed for fans all over the world, and recorded over 480 albums.

 

Count Basie not only made an impact in jazz music, but also served as a humanitarian and philanthropist and received a Kennedy Center Honor. 2015 marked over 80 years of Count Basie’s music, and thanks to tribute bands such as the H2 Big Band, Basie’s music is still swinging today! While it is truly hard to replicate the exact sound of Basie’s music, the H2 Big Band creates an engaging and authentic representation that makes you feel like Basie is musically present.

 

Join us at the Vail Jazz Festival on August 25th at 6pm in Vail Jazz Square for an exciting evening with the H2 Big Band playing the music of Count Basie. Tickets range from $20-$40 and are available at https://www.vailjazz.org/events/h2-big-band-tribute-count-basie/

 

Check out this video of Count Basie’s “One O’clock Jump ” to get you in the mood, and we’ll see you at the show!

 

LOVE AND JEALOUSY: MORE DEADLY THAN HEROIN

Edward Lee Morgan was born in Philadelphia, PA on July 10, 1938. Lee as he was known, received a trumpet on his 13th birthday and for the rest of his life his identity would be bound up in the three valves and 4 feet 10 inches of tubing comprising his horn. Lee would become one of the greatest players in the history of jazz, combining a technical virtuosity that allowed him to play scorching and powerful passages, with each note precisely articulated, even in the highest register of his horn, with a sensibility that allowed him to play some of the most tender ballad solos in jazz. He would also go on to compose may great tunes and would transition from hard bop (bebop with influences from r&b, gospel and blues) to an avant-garde/modal style.

Lee began playing professionally at 15 and by 18 he was playing with the jazz giant Dizzy Gillespie and his big band and was signed to Blue Note Records, one of the top jazz labels of the day. Over the next 15 years he would record 25 albums as a leader for the label, many becoming jazz treasures that amply demonstrate his musical genius.

In 1958 Dizzy’s band broke-up and Lee made a faithful decision to join Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. Musically the decision was brilliant as the band was led by the legendary drummer Art Blakey who had an extraordinary track record of choosing raising stars as his sidemen and Lee was no exception. Being one of the most popular bands in all of jazz, Lee was able to play often as the Messengers toured the US and Europe, playing all of the great festivals and club dates everywhere. Lee rapidly developed into one of the most talented trumpet soloists in jazz and recorded numerous albums with the Messengers, several of which, “Moanin’” and “The Freedom Rider,” are in the jazz pantheon of greatest recordings.

However, the decision was to change the course of Lee’s life as Blakely was a heroin addict and he introduced many of his sidemen to heroin. Whether you call it horse, smack, dope, junk or the myriad other names it has been called, the opioid drug is highly addictive and Lee became an addict before he was 21. His addiction became so severe that in 1961 he had to leave the Messengers and return to his parents’ home in Philadelphia to try to kick the habit. He spent the next two years removed from the jazz scene in NY and in late 1963 he “took the cure” and was back in NY before yearend.

For the remainder of the decade he would perform and record, both as a leader and as a sideman, including with the Messengers. Many of the recordings were extremely well received and his biggest hit was his “comeback” album released in 1964. “The Sidewinder” crossed over into great commercial success and things were looking up for Lee, but the very sad reality was Lee wasn’t cured of anything, he just learned to manage his addiction and began substituting methadone and ultimately cocaine for the dope he had been addicted to.

By 1967 Lee was a junkie who had fallen so low that he was seen sleeping on the street outside Birdland without shoes and committing petty crimes so he could buy drugs. On one particularly wintery night that year Lee had sunk so low that he had pawned his horn and top coat for some drugs that he desperately craved and once again he came to a crossroads in his life. This time it was “Helen’s Place,” the apartment of Helen More, whose abode was a haven for strung out jazz musicians. Helen was a jazz fan who had a checkered past and had moved about the fringes of the jazz-drug culture for a number of years, working in Harlem for drug dealers, but a non-user. She was 22 years Lee’s senior and on that faithful evening she took Lee in, got his top coat and trumpet out of hock and for the better part of the next 5 years managed him professionally and personally. Eventually she would take the name Morgan and they were seen as husband and wife, although they never married. Part mother, part wife, part manager, Helen was the ever present force in his life, and although he continued to be an addict, she made sure that he showed up to his gigs and performed. Lee’s niece would later say: “It was like Helen was addicted to him.” Whatever the reasons the relationship became extremely toxic and Lee began to pull away from her and by 1971 he began to see another woman, staying away from Helen for prolonged periods of time and she stopped coming to his performances. Helen unsuccessfully attempted suicide and the relationship was clearly over.

In the early hours of February 19, 1972 Lee was performing at the NY club Slug’s, his new lady friend was seated at the table Helen previously had held court at. Helen entered the club and after an altercation with Lee she shot him once in the chest. He was 33 and in a fit of jealousy Helen had done what 15 years of drug addiction didn’t do, killed him, one of the greatest trumpet players in the history of jazz.

On Sunday evening, September 4 at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort as part of the Vail Jazz Party we are pleased to present the great trumpeter Terell Stafford in a performance in which Terell will reprise his critically acclaimed recording of the music of Lee Morgan,“BrotherLee Love.”

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of The Vail Jazz Foundation, 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.