Not the Girl from Ipanema

Ask someone about Brazilian jazz and the likely response is bossa nova and “The Girl from Ipanema.” The 1964 recording was a smash hit for Brazilian vocalist Astrud Gilberto and American saxophonist Stan Getz and it propelled the bossa nova sound to world-wide popularity. Ipanema is a toney beach neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro and the lyrics of the song tell the story of a tall, tan, young and lovely girl who sways like a samba when she walks to the sea.  

While the song is a clearly in the bossa nova style, it refers to the samba, a music and dance traceable to the ancestors of the over four million African slaves brought to Brazil. A footnote here, it is generally not known that the number of African slaves taken to North America numbered approximately 400,000, but over 10 times that number were taken to Brazil and it was 25 years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 that Brazilian slaves were freed.

Overtime, the freed Brazilian slaves left the countryside seeking a better life in the cities of Brazil. Many settled in the hilly areas of Rio, creating favelas (slums) that became the epicenter of the samba earthquake. The freed slaves brought with them the musical and dance traditions of their forefathers and beginning in the late 19th century and continuing into the early 20th century, a unique music and dance evolved in the favelas that mixed African rhythms and dance with the polka, tango and other music and dance that primarily derived from Rio’s European descendants. The result was samba, not only a music style (instrumental and vocal), but also a dance with exciting rhythms, and most importantly to many poor Afro-Brazilians, it was a manifestation of their culture. Not unlike American jazz and swing dancing, the fusion of African and European music and dance traditions created something entirely new, but this time it was samba; a term that was used in the Afro-Brazilian community to denote praying and the summoning of one’s god or saint.

By the 1920s the white middle class of Rio had been exposed to samba and they fell prey to the seductive nature of the music. Samba dance schools/clubs with thousands of participants were opened in Rio as the masses wanted to dance the samba and to this day these institutions proliferate in Rio. The joyful nature of samba ultimately fused with the pageantry and merriment of Carnival, so that over time Brazil became known as the country of Carnival and samba. By government proclamation, Dec. 2 is National Samba Day.

Samba spread far beyond Brazil’s borders and reached the U.S. in 1939 when Carmen Miranda, a Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer, dancer and actress arrived in New York City to perform on Broadway. Known for her flamboyant dress and hats adorned with faux tropical fruit, Carmen sang in Portuguese and danced the samba in many major films of the 1940s, ultimately starring in over a dozen films. By 1945, she was the highest paid women in the U.S.      

Change is inevitable in our modern world, so even in samba-crazy Brazil it was not surprising that the musical “new, new thing” would one day appear and it did. By the mid-1950s, young musicians and college kids began to adopt bossa nova (Portuguese for “new trend”) as their generation’s music. So what is bossa nova? A less exuberant form of the samba that is more melodic with less percussion, mixed with American jazz in a lyrical way with rich harmonies. Bossa nova has been popular for more than a half century, but samba is still the quintessential music and dance of Brazil. In a way bossa nova is just a beautiful branch on the samba tree. New branches continue to grow on the samba tree with each stylistic change in the popular music of the day and today there are rock and funk-infused samba bands that are part of the Brazilian music scene.  

Just as samba had entered into the consciousness of Americans years earlier, now with bossa nova adding jazz elements to the music of Brazil, it is not surprising that jazz began to be known in Brazil in the late 1950s. And so it was that in 1960, Eliane Elias was born in São Paulo, a town approximately 250 miles from Rio. Eliane was exposed to jazz by her mother and encouraged to play the piano. As it turned out, she was a child prodigy, playing straight ahead jazz piano at the age of 12 and performing professionally in Brazil at 17. In 1981, she moved to NYC and the next year she became a member of one of the top jazz fusion bands of the day, “Steps Ahead,” ultimately playing with the who’s who of jazz. During her remarkable 35-year-long international career, Eliane has garnered seven Grammy® nominations, winning one, a multitude of awards and critical praise from jazz publications, including being the first women instrumentalist to be featured on the cover of Downbeat.

Eliane has returned to her musical roots and will be in Vail Square at 6 p.m. Aug. to present “100 Years of Samba.” You won’t want to miss Eliane Elias, the Girl from Sao Paul … not Ipanema.

Chief of the Congueros

In 1917, Ramón Santamaría Rodriquez was born into poverty in a slum in Havana, Cuba. Nicknamed “Mongo” (a tribal chief in Senegal) by his father, he began to play the violin but switched to drums at an early age, settling on the conga drum as his primary instrument. As a teen, Mongo Santamaría (as he was known) dropped out of school hoping to become a professional musician and began a long journey that would take him from the slums of Havana to Mexico City and finally, in 1950, to New York City.
Fame, if it happens at all, doesn’t happen overnight. Mongo had to pay his dues.

During the 1950s, he played in the bands of Latin jazz luminaries Perez Prado, Tito Puente and Cal Tjader and in 1958 recorded his first album. The next year he wrote “Afro Blue,” a tune that eventually became a jazz standard.

As an aside, in the 1950s the audience for Latin (Afro-Cuban) jazz was relatively small in the U.S., with the early fans of the music being dancers who wanted to mambo (which has morphed into today’s salsa), a dance craze that swept the U.S. in the 1950s. For many of the dancers it was their first exposure to conga drums and it wasn’t long before conga dance lines were mandatory at weddings and Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) was on TV as the conga playing husband of Lucille Ball in “I Love Lucy.”

By late 1962, Mongo was 45 years old and was regularly fronting his own band. He had developed a unique sound and phrasing on the congas, but Mongo was still a relatively unknown conguero (conga player). But on a fateful night, his regular piano player couldn’t make a gig in the Bronx and instead a young substitute, Herbie Hancock, sat-in and the band played his new composition, “Watermelon Man.” The small audience went ballistic and Mongo sensed he had a potential hit on his hands, which he quickly recorded and the tune became a top 10 pop hit. The success of “Watermelon Man” placed Mongo in the spotlight for the first time, a position he would occupy for the next 30 years. During that period he recorded seven Grammy® nominated albums, won one, traveled the international jazz festival circuit and became an internationally famous conguero.

One of the distinguishing components of Afro-Cuban jazz, when compared to its American cousin, is best illustrated by comparing the instruments regularly employed by the percussionists in each genre. In the U.S. there is usually one drummer with a drum kit (drums, cymbals and maybe a wood block, cow bell and tambourine). In Cuban jazz there are multiple percussionists, playing not only a drum kit, but also congas, bongos, timbales, clave, guiro, maracas, shekere and many more. Since rhythm is one of the essential ingredients of jazz, whether American or Afro-Cuban, the difference in instrumentation is significant and can be explained by the fact that the slaves in Cuba were allowed to play their tribal instruments, while slaves in the South were generally denied the right to play drums and the American jazz tradition evolved with less emphasis on percussive elements.

So what is a conga drum? Known in Cuba as the tumbadora, it is a tall, narrow, conical barrel shaped drum with an open bottom and a drum head on top. The drum can be traced back to Africa where it was played in religious ceremonies by the ancestors of Cuban slaves. The drum made its way to the U.S. in the 1930s when Cuban dance music first began to be performed in NYC. In fact, the tumbadora is not just one drum, but like so many musical instruments, it comes in many different sizes and therefore different pitches. In the U.S., all of the drums are generically known as “congas,” but among the cognoscenti, each drum has a name. The five most popular sizes (from small to large and therefore higher pitch to lower pitch) are: requinto, quinto, conga, tumba and supertumba. Initially congas were played individually, but today congueros play two or more at the same time, using their fingers and palms (and sometimes their elbows) to create the polyrhythms that are fundamental to Afro-Cuban jazz.

Many jazz greats have gained fame by interpreting the music that came before them in a new and unique way, moving the music in a specific direction. Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk come to mind. And then there are innovators who fuse distinctively different styles of music into something entirely new. Mongo had one foot firmly placed in the musical soil of Cuba (and therefore the music traditions of West Africa) and the other foot was planted in the music of his adopted home, the U.S. Over the last three decades of his life he fused Afro-Cuban music with American jazz, R&B, rock and soul, creating a “Latin groove” that was the beginning of the “boogaloo” era. Always flavored with the sound of his congas playing Afro-Cuban rhythms, his music was something entirely new , a “Latin-soul” sound that has endured ever since. In the process, Mongo popularized the conga drum to the point where it is now played in many different musical genres throughout the world. He truly was Chief of the Congueros.

To celebrate Mongo’s 100th birthday, Vail Jazz joins The Vail Symposium on at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 at the Sonnenalp Hotel to present Professor Michael Davison and members of the internationally famous Afro-Cuban band ¡Cubanismo! In a performance and demonstration of the fundamentals of Afro-Cuban jazz. Click here for tickets. At 6 p.m. on Aug. 10, Vail Jazz presents the entire 11-piece power of ¡Cubanismo! in concert in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. Click here for tickets. Lastly, as part of the Labor Day Weekend Jazz Party, Vail Jazz presents the Tommy Igoe Sextet’s Tribute to Mongo and More on Sept. 4. Click here for tickets.

Happy Birthday, Mongo!

The Jazz Singer as a Storyteller

In the digital world we inhabit, our ability to hear songs that we love is so effortless that we forget that it wasn’t always this easy. The other night I was in the mood to hear some Billie Holiday so I simply told Alexa to play “God Bless the Child” and voila, instantaneously I was hearing one of the greatest jazz recordings of all time. WHAT A TREAT! The jukebox in the sky. Before sound recording, if you wanted to hear a chosen tune, you either sung it yourself or had to be in the presence of someone who would sing it for you. So the default setting for most was to try to sing it themselves.  

Singing by humans is a natural instinct found in all cultures and in all corners of the world; however, there is no universal way to sing and idealized sounds that are produced by the human voice vary greatly from culture to culture. Since each culture reaches its own consensus on what stylistically a singer should sound like, over time cultural stereotypes develop and singers emerge that emulate and reinforce it. If you have ever heard a Tuvan throat-singer you know what I mean. Tuva is a Russian republic near Mongolia where singers use a circular breathing technique that allows them to produce two or more notes at the same time. In the U.S. on the other hand, we expect a singer to sing one note at a time with the ability to control the pitch of the singer’s voice, while possessing a pleasing tone/timbre and an extended vocal range with an ease of maneuverability throughout.  

Think of a singer’s voice like a musical instrument that can be precisely played.  Many singers have developed remarkable vocal instruments with jaw-dropping technical prowess. But I submit that a great voice and technique are only part of the package. In jazz to be a truly great vocalist, you also need to have special gifts. It starts with song selection. Let’s face it, some songs are better than others. Choosing your material wisely is therefore mandatory. You must be able to interpret the lyrics of a song and be a great storyteller, a musical communicator. Intentionally leaving space between notes and phrases to add emphasis to the lyrics, varying the rhythm to create suspense, and where appropriate, “scatting” a chorus (singing nonsense syllables which are improvised in order to imitate an instrument) to add drama to the performance are all part of the storytelling. In fact, the ability to communicate to the audience, to sell the lyrics of a song, to make them relevant and your own, is what “closes the deal” and allows certain singers to rise above the crowd. In some cases a vocalist that is a great storyteller can even overcome technical vocal shortcomings and still rise to the top.

Take for instance, Billie Holiday. Born Eleanore Fagan, she was one of the greatest jazz singers to ever perform. Her voice had limited range and was thin, fragile and raspy, but what she did possess was an incredible ability to communicate with her audience and she had the uncanny ability to pick the right songs to perform. Billie’s greatness was based upon her storytelling ability and whether the material was sad (most of her songs) or happy, Billie could invariably elicit a physical reaction in her listeners. When Billie performed sad songs, she communicated the song’s story in an honest, deeply felt emotional manner that was raw and exposed her vulnerabilities. When she sang happy songs, she sang with an exuberance and passion that filled the listener with joy. The results were always the same. When Billie sang, the audience responded.

To accomplish the above, Billie selected the material she sang with care.  She was a curator of song, selecting material that contained music and lyrics that allowed her to communicate ideas and emotions in a persuasive manner. A case in point is the song I mentioned above, “God Bless the Child,” which she co-wrote.  Considered to be one of the greatest songs of the 20th century, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Recording Industry Association of America included it in their list of “Songs of the Century” and her recording of the song received the Grammy Hall of Fame Award. The song was written after Billie and her mother Sadie clashed over money. Sadie had previously borrowed money from Billie to open a restaurant and several years later when Billie was down on her luck, she asked Sadie for a loan. When Sadie refused to help, Billie is quoted as saying to Sadie, “God bless the child that’s got his own” and then left.  The first verse of the song is particularly poignant:

Them that’s got shall get

Them that’s not shall lose
So the Bible said and it still is news

Mama may have, Papa may have
But God bless the child that’s got his own
That’s got his own

When you hear Billie sing these lyrics for the first time, you don’t need to know the above story to feel Billie’s pain, anger, sense of betrayal and helplessness.  That is what a good storyteller can do.

At 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. on Aug. 2 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on Aug. 3 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead next to the Arrabelle Hotel, Vail Jazz will present René Marie, one the finest jazz vocalists performing today, in her show “Experiment in Truth.”  A remarkable storyteller, René has received two Grammy® nominations for her unique blend of jazz, R&B and blues as she tells musical stories you’ll want to hear.

 

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.