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.

Afro-Cuban Jazz is all sugar, drums and clave

This is the story of how sugar, drums and clave shaped the development of Afro-Cuban jazz … but a little history first. Columbus’ discovery of Cuba in 1492 led to Spain’s colonization of the island. Over the next 150 years, Havana became the way-station for ships carrying the wealth of Mexico back to Spain, while receiving the rich music and dance traditions of Spain. Becoming the first great music capital of the Western Hemisphere, Havana, along with New Orleans and New York City, were the only cities in the Western Hemisphere with opera companies in the 19th century. By 1900, it was the third largest city in the Western Hemisphere.

During the 19th and early 20th century people moved freely between Havana and New Orleans via daily ferryboat service. It was a time of musical cross-pollination as musicians soaked up the rich musical traditions of each culture. Not to be forgotten, the U.S. invaded Cuba to expel the Spanish and between 1898 and 1922 there were three separate extended periods of U.S. military occupations of Cuba with troops mustered in New Orleans at a time when ragtime music was evolving into jazz in the Crescent City.

The story of Afro-Cuban jazz, however, actually begins in Haiti in 1791 when the Haitian slaves revolted against their slave masters. The French colony was then producing 40 percent of the world’s sugar output, but by 1804, with the revolution successful, the sugar industry was in shambles. Cuba and Louisiana (not then part of the U.S.) jumped in to fill the void and dramatically increased the number of slaves brought to each area, with Cuba becoming the largest producer of sugar in the world by 1840. As a footnote, during the period of slavery in the Americas, more than 1 million slaves were brought to the small island of Cuba, twice the number of slaves brought to the U.S.

Both Spanish and U.S. slave masters lived in fear of revolt by their slaves and operated their plantations like prisons. However, they diverged in their approach by allowing slaves to make music. In the U.S., African drumming was prohibited for fear of the drummers communicating plans of an insurrection. An exception was in New Orleans’ “Congo Square,” where the slaves could play African drums on Sundays only. Cuban slaves on the other hand were allowed to play African drums and the clave, a pair of rounded hardwood sticks (dowels used in ship building) used to play polyrhythms that came from Africa. The primary rhythm is also known as clave, a five beat pattern (3-2 or 2-3) which is the foundation of Afro-Cuban jazz.

This is the proverbial “fork in the road.” Cuban slaves, significantly greater in number than U.S. slaves, retained a strong connection to their African drumming and polyrhythmic roots and melded them with a Spanish music tradition. The result wasn’t the same “gumbo” as in New Orleans, where a much broader and diverse European music tradition was fused with the slaves’ emphasis, out of necessity due to the lack of access to drums, to a music shaped by simpler African rhythmic patterns and vocal traditions. Also consider that Cuba didn’t abolish slavery until 1886, 21 years after the US and therefore the rhythms of Africa continued to be renewed in the slave population of Cuba much later in time than in the U.S.

“Jelly Roll” Morton, a New Orleans ragtime and early jazz piano player, was clearly influenced by the music of Cuba and the habanera (literally Havana) rhythm, which was one of the African polyrhythm patterns brought to Cuba by the slaves. He famously referred to it when he said: “You got to have that Spanish tinge” in the music. Without question, the Afro-Cuban musical motifs were influences as jazz began to evolve in New Orleans, but the branches of the jazz tree grew in different directions.

Fast forward to the early 1940s, Cuban bands are established in NYC playing popular Cuban dance music (mambo). Mario Bauzá, a Cuban trumpet player living in NYC since the 1930s, composes in 1943 the first true Afro-Cuban jazz tune, “Tangá” (African for marijuana), blending American jazz with clave. By the mid-40s, Afro-Cuban jazz is taking off and Dizzy Gillespie, the great bebop trumpeter, is searching for a new sound for his music. Dizzy is good friends with Bauzá, and in 1947 on Bauza’s recommendation, Dizzy hires Chano Pozo, a Cuban conguero (conga) virtuoso. Chano joins Dizzy’s world famous band as the first “Latin” percussionist and they jointly write the classics “Manteca” and “Tin Tine Deo,” fusing bebop and Afro-Cuban music. Unfortunately, their musical collaboration is short lived as Chano is killed at the age of 33 in a bar fight in 1948.

It is impossible to single out any one musician that should be credited with the development of Afro-Cuban jazz, but Bauzá, Dizzy and Chano, notwithstanding his early death, were seminal figures in the music’s creation.

An article about Afro-Cuban jazz would not be complete without a brief mention of the key percussion instrument used to make the distinctive sounds of Afro-Cuban jazz: congas, timbales, güiros (gourds played with a stick), bongos, and claves. Cuban musicians often joke that they get to play all of the above, but American jazz musicians only get to play the drum kit.

With the lifting of the embargo of Cuba by the U.S., Vail Jazz is pleased to present in concert Maraca and his Latin Jazz All-Stars lead by Cuban flutist Orlando Maraca on Aug. 18 at 6 p.m. in Lionshead as part of the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Festival.

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.

Celebrating the one and only Milt Hinton

As part of the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Festival, Vail Jazz is celebrating the life, music and art of the legendary bass player

A famous bass player and prolific photographer, not to mention a man of many nicknames, Milt Hinton chronicled jazz through the ages from the 1920s up until his death in 2000. Revealing a colorful sample of the mark he made, a digital exhibit of Hinton’s work and music will be presented at the Lionshead Welcome Center four times daily, from Aug. 3 to Sept. 5. It will air on the big screen at10 a.m. 12 p.m. 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

 

But that’s just the teaser for Vail Jazz’s ongoing Hinton tribute this summer.

 

In addition to the display at the Lionshead Welcome Center, the digital exhibit will be shown each night of the Vail Jazz Party (Sept. 2-4) in the lower lobby of Vail Mountain Marriott Resort, where the evening sessions take place. The riveting documentary, “Keeping Time: The life, music and photographs of Milt Hinton,” will be shown at the Marriott’s Grand Ballroom on Friday, Sept. 2 at 2 p.m. The documentary chronicles the storied 70-year career of Milt Hinton, embracing the rich life of a remarkable musician who recognized and recorded history as he was playing it. Tickets are $20 or included in the weekend passes.

 

Vail Jazz’s grand finale spotlight on the famed bass player is John Clayton’s Multi-Media Tribute to Milt Hinton, which includes narration by Clayton, who is himself one of today’s leading jazz bassists. He will share anecdotes and stories, video clips and stills along with what are sure to be powerful live renditions of Milt’s favorites with a quartet on stage. This is one of four sets that make up the Friday Evening Session of the Vail Jazz Party. Tickets are $75 in advance.

 

“Milt Hinton embodies the core of our mission at Vail Jazz,” says Vail Jazz Executive Director Robin Litt. “His whole essence, like ours, is a dynamic formula of educating while entertaining as well as broadening the audience for jazz, which stretches among numerous musical genres.”

Keep an eye and ear out for Milt Hinton in Vail this summer.

 

For more information and tickets to the documentary or John Clayton Tribute to Hinton, visitwww.vailjazz.org or by calling 888.VAIL.JAM. The Milt Hinton digital exhibit is made possible through a partnership with the Town of Vail’s Art in Public Places board and with the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection, directed by David G. Berger and Holly Maxson.

Jazz Cats and Their Hats

A hat has great utility. It can keep the sun out of your eyes and protect your head. With flaps attached, it can even keep your ears warm. But we live in a society where hats really aren’t about utility anymore, instead they create the opportunity for us to show the world which causes/organizations we support and, of course, our favorite teams. The cowboy hat worn by non-cowboys is entirely another subject … but then I don’t understand quantum physics either.

The ever-present baseball cap which has morphed into a traveling billboard is a marketing manager’s dream come true. Many of us will actually pay to advertise someone’s brand. When I was a kid, adults wore hats not only for utility, but as fashion statements, to signify their social standing. Instead of announcing to the world the identity of your favorite team, your hat could say, “I can afford season tickets.” Down through history people have wanted to communicate their wealth and social status and hats have served them well. I happened upon a picture of Abe Lincoln wearing his famous stovepipe (top) hat. He was our tallest president at 6-foot-4 and the crown of his hat was seven inches high.  Rail thin, standing erect with his hat on, there was almost seven feet of vertical to observe. Some say it was his way to be seen in a crowd. Whatever his motivation, his top hat was his trademark and the top hat continued to symbolize authority and prestige well into the 1930s.

Lester Young

In 1934 a dapper Duke Ellington was photographed wearing a top hat, rakishly tilted to the side (as pictured above). The iconic image projected elegance and sophistication and in a very racist society, it was Duke’s way of saying “I am one of you.” The brand image worked. Duke was accepted by white audiences.

However, in the 1930s to 1960s, most other African American jazz musicians were seen as undesirable outsiders. Jazz had been labeled as the devil’s music, so jazz musicians took the path of least resistance, developing their brand based upon the concept of being part of a subculture – the hipster – outside of the cultural mainstream, but stylish and at the cutting edge of what was happening. They succeeded by talking in a hip way (“the cat wants his bread before he blows his axe”) and by wearing jazzy clothes, the oversized zoot suit, for one, to signify their hipness.  But it was their lids (initially, jazz slang for hats, not grass) where jazz musicians were able to set themselves apart.

The legendary tenor saxophonist Lester “Prez” Young invented much of the hipsters’ jargon and was known for his ever present pork pie hat – circular low crown, flat on top with a brim slightly turned up. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” was written as an elegy upon Prez’ death and has become a jazz standard.  Prez was so synonymous with being hip that Frank Sinatra wore a pork pie hat and today Marcus Miller’s trademark is the same style.

One of the most celebrated jazz musicians of all time was world famous trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, one of the “inventors” of be-bop and Afro-Cuban jazz.  In the 1940s, his trademark look was the bent trumpet, horn-rimmed glasses, goatee, puffed cheeks when playing … and a beret. The beret is a soft, round, flat-crowned hat with modern origins in the Basque country and France. The adoption by the beatniks in the 1950s of jazz jargon and the look of the hipster with a goatee and beret can be traced back to Dizzy.

Thelonius Monk

And then there was Thelonious Sphere Monk, an eccentric but brilliant jazz giant whose piano playing and compositions changed the course of jazz.  He had a cult following and was one of the few jazz musicians to ever be on the cover of “Time” magazine. Monk had a distinctive look with a goatee, sunglasses (worn in indoors) and was almost always wearing a unique hat.  Hats were his trademark and early photos show Monk sporting a beret, but the crown on his lid was taller than Dizzy’s and the jazz tune “Hat and Beard” was written in his honor. He, too, influenced the beatniks and was seem as an arty bohemian. He was once photographed wearing a Chinese coolie hat, but he went through periods when he wore fedoras, trilbies (a fedora with small brim and higher crown), fur hats and skullcaps. Monk wasn’t the only musician to wear a skullcap. Many jazz musicians who have converted to Islam wear skullcaps. NEA Jazz Master pianist Ahmad Jamal (Fritz Jones) is a convert and has worn a skullcap for decades.  The skullcap and the African kufi (brimless, short and rounded) are also worn by many African American jazz musicians who aren’t Muslims as a way to symbolize their connection to Africa.

Then there is Dr. Lonnie Smith, who wears a turban. He isn’t a doctor and he is not from India, but he sure can play the Hammond B-3 organ. What a trademark.

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.
 

Jazzing up the pop and rock

Seminal guitarist John Pizzarelli returns to Vail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

INFO BOX:

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

 

The bass groove

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

inventor Paul Tutmarc

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

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

the iconic Fender bass

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

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

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

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

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

Marcus Miller interviewed on TV8 Vail

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

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

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

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

Jazz Ghosts and Yellowjackets

Jazz is truly a unique form of music, the hallmark of which is improvisation. But this article is not about what sets jazz apart from other forms of popular music. Instead, we focus on what it has in common with all popular music.

No, it is not melody, harmony and rhythm; it is the need for an audience. Yes, many musicians play music for the love of it, but let’s face it, if you are going to dedicate your life to making music, you need an audience. You can be a virtuoso and possess a compelling stage presence, but for better or worse, you need to have an audience, and they better dig what you do, so you can have a career, or you need a back-up plan, usually a day job.

Ah, the commercial side of things. How mundane and disappointing, but so important! In the 18th century, Franz Joseph Haydn was fortunate to connect with the wealthy royal Esterhazy family; he found patrons that provided him lifetime employment as a composer. Today, you need loyal (not royal) support — an audience that sticks with you.

FINDING AN AUDIENCE

So how do dedicated, talented musicians find and keep their audience? If you Google “finding your audience music,” you will get more than 19,000,000 entries of sure-fire, can’t-miss self-help guides and advice. Let’s say you are one of the fortuitous ones: You have the talent and perseverance to succeed, and you connect with like-minded, great musicians to form a band that rises to the top. Long odds, but doable, right?

Every day new names and faces, playing “new and old” music, enter our consciousness and vie for our attention in the hyper-competitive world of music. We marvel at their talent as they entertain us, and if they are truly special, they can have more than 15 minutes of fame, but it is extremely hard to stay at the top.

And yet for graying audiences, nostalgia is a powerful emotion and the number of bands that have lived off the glory of their past is testament to the powerful desire to reconnect with our youth. But to live off the past, you first need to have been very successful at building an audience — no past, no future.

In jazz, there are the “ghost bands” — the leader is deceased, but the band carries on in his name. Glen Miller went missing more than 70 years ago, but the band plays on. So, too, for the Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Harry James ghost bands and many, many more. And, of course, there are the innumerable tribute bands that play the music of (insert the name of your favorite deceased jazz musician).

But we live in the here and now, and the question is: How does a successful jazz band keep its audience?

YELLOWJACKETS KEEP EVOLVING

For the answer we turn our attention to the Yellowjackets, the iconic, multiple Grammy Award-winning jazz quartet that has flourished over a 35-year period, recording 22 albums, while successfully touring the world and enjoying unparalleled critical acclaim — quite a run for a band, jazz or otherwise.

Founding member Russell Ferrante on piano and keys anchors the band. Bob Mintzer is on saxophone and joined the band 25 years ago. William “Will” Kennedy holds down the drum and percussion throne, having had two stints with the band — 1987 to 1999 and 2010 to present. And the newest addition is Australian bass player Dane Alderson, who joined the band in 2015.

So how have the Yellowjackets been able to stay on top all these years? By combining extraordinary musicianship with superb new compositions, while performing music that spans the worlds of jazz — straight ahead and smooth, R&B, funk, fusion and more — the band has continued to successfully reinvent itself, thereby staying connected to its fan base while continuously attracting new fans. Quite a feat!

As for the band’s name: Pressed to come up with a catchy name during the band’s first recording session, Russell Ferrante recalls being presented with a list of “just awful” names. Forced to pick one, the band members agreed upon Yellowjackets since it seemed to communicate “something lively, energetic and something with a ‘sting.’ That’s really about as deep as it went. Once you choose a name, you’re stuck with it.”

While the name has stayed the same for 35 years, the music keeps on evolving, allowing the Yellowjackets the opportunity to take their audience to new and compelling musical places. The Yellowjackets will appear at the Vilar Performing Arts Center on Wednesday at 7:30 pm. You won’t want to miss this opportunity to be part of the audience to see and hear this great band!

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which is partnering with the Vilar Performing Arts Center to present the Yellowjackets in concert.

Remembering Mezz, the Muggles King

Early this year I was in New York and dropped by Mezzrow, a new jazz club in Greenwich Village. It is the sister club to the very hip Smalls Jazz Club, located less than a block away. When I am in New York, Smalls is one of my go-to spots for great jazz with an appreciative audience that comes to listen. Mezzrow bills itself as a listening room and “a place for music lovers to have an intimate experience, … a musical environment run by musicians for musicians.” I thoroughly enjoyed the experience at the club and it got me thinking about the name “Mezzrow.”

I knew there was a musician by the name of Mezz Mezzrow who had played the clarinet, and my curiosity got the better of me, so I spent some wonderful time learning about one of the more fascinating characters in jazz who epitomized the early years of the genre and the legendary hipster image of long ago.

Milton “Mezz” Mezzrow was born into a middle class (some say impoverished) Jewish immigrant family in Chicago before the turn of the last century and died in 1972. His teen years were marked by brushes with the law and he was in and out of reform schools and prisons, where he first was exposed to jazz and blues. Inspired to take up the clarinet (he also played the alto and tenor saxophone), Mezz immersed himself in the jazz scene of Chicago in the ’20s.

Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Mezz Mezzrow and others at jam session

Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Mezz Mezzrow and others at jam session (photo Gjon Mili)

Hanging out with many of the giants of jazz, his circle of musician friends included King Oliver, Sidney Bechet, Louis Armstrong and many other people of color. Embracing the culture of his African-American friends, he married an African-American woman and moved to Harlem. He explained later in his autobiography, “Really The Blues” (1946), that when he first heard jazz he knew what his calling in life would be. He “was going to be a Negro musician, hipping (teaching) the world about the blues the way only Negroes can.” He declared himself to be a “voluntary Negro.” Mezz can also be heard on six recordings with the legendary Fats Waller and many others greats.

THE MUGGLES KING

In a career that was probably more noted for off-the-band-stand activities than accomplishments with his horn, his friendship with Louis Armstrong led him to become Armstrong’s assistant and for a time his manager.

He organized, played in and financed many historic recording sessions with the black titans of jazz in the 1930s and 1940s and helped reignite an interest in New Orleans-style jazz. Ultimately, Mezz founded King Jazz Records in the mid-’40s, recording multiple “sides” with his friend Sidney Bechet, who is considered to be one of the greatest soprano sax players of all time.

Mezz can also be heard on six recordings with the legendary Fats Waller and many others greats. Notwithstanding the company he kept and recorded with, the consensus is that he wasn’t one of the top clarinetist of the day, but it was his devotion to the music and generosity with his musician friends that earned him their respect.

I would be leaving out an important detail of this story if I didn’t tell you about Mezz’s activities as a marijuana dealer. He was an advocate of marijuana as an alternative to alcohol and other drugs and he was a reliable supplier to many musicians. In fact, “mezz,” “the mighty mezz” and “mess-rolls” all became slang for marijuana in the jazz community. Mezz himself was known as the “Muggles King,” another slang term for marijuana at the time. In 1940, he was busted for his drug selling activities and sentenced to jail. When he was about to be placed in a cell block with other white prisoners he protested that he was black and was ultimately placed in the prison’s segregated black section.

Mezz was an outspoken critic of segregation and a proponent of equal rights for all, well before the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s. Mezz was truly a complex one-of-a-kind character who lived at a time when the values and mores of the U.S. were undergoing a dramatic change and he was right in the forefront of it all.

After appearing at the 1948 Nice Jazz Festival, he joined many other ex-pat American jazz musicians living in France, making Paris his home during the last 20 years of his life, playing jazz and being Mezz.

Four in one … the story of how drummers came to be

Lowering your cost per unit of output is the goal of the savvy businessman. Why pay four people to do a job when with some equipment, one can do all the work? So this is the story of how one musician ended up doing the work of four and changed jazz forever.

After the Civil War, freed slaves in New Orleans organized marching bands to play at funerals and other events. Inspired by the marching bands of the Civil War era, they used brass instruments, a bass drum, often with a cymbal attached, and a snare drum. By the early 20th century, the bands had moved indoors and were playing for parties and dances and so-called “Dixieland” jazz was in its infancy. No longer marching, band members were seated and because of indoor space constraints, bands had fewer musicians. It is unknown whether someone had the “eureka” moment and said, “since our drummer is seated, let’s cut our payroll and have him play two drums at once,” but that’s what happened. The snare drum was placed on a chair or stand and the bass drum put on the floor with a cymbal attached, allowing one musician to play all of them.

Drumming techniques had to change because striking a bass drum is nothing like playing a roll on a snare drum and these new techniques began to influence the way the band played. It wasn’t too long until drummers were trying to figure out how to use one of their feet to play the bass drum and ultimately the bass drum pedal was perfected. Next came the “snowshoe cymbal beater” – two small cymbals each attached to a board and hinged together so that they could be compressed (clashed) by a downward foot motion to make the desired sound. Ultimately, the “beater” was enhanced by adding a pedal device to work the cymbals (the “low-boy”). By the 1920s, drummers were searching for new ways to express themselves and the modern “hi-hat” became (and has remained) one of the staples of a drum kit.  By raising the level of the cymbals on the low-boy, the drummer could strike the cymbals of a hi-hat with his sticks, while his foot caused the cymbals to clash or held the cymbals together or apart, thereby creating a whole new series of sounds that pushed jazz forward.

The result of all these innovations was the simple fact that the drummer was now capable of simultaneously using both of his feet and hands to play the kit.  Bingo – one musician instead of four! As drummers were gaining the ability to in essence, play four instruments at once, they began switching from being a simple time-keeper for the band to a more integral part of the music making. The musical possibilities were greatly expanded by adding to their drum sets other drums, notably various sized tom-toms (round drums without snares) and percussion instruments, including multiple cymbals (see below), as well as woodblocks, tambourines, slapsticks, cow bells and other “contraptions” (as these sound-effect instruments were known) and in fact, the word “contraptions” ultimately morphed into “traps” and today many people refer to a drum set as a “trap set.”

Along with the hi-hat, drummers added combinations of cymbals – crash, ride, splash, swish, sizzle, Spanish and Chinese – to create their own sound. Each cymbal had a distinctive sound and by varying its size (diameter), thickness, alloys used, appendages attached and where it was struck, a drummer could create a signature sound.

As jazz has evolved, drummers have been ready. With additional drums arrayed before the seated drummer (it is interesting to note that the drummer sits on a “throne,” which may be an insight into the personalities of many drummers) and many contraptions in the drummers arsenal within easy reach, the drummer has become a central interactive part of a small jazz ensemble, supporting the improvising soloist and in turn soloing and improvising.

But it isn’t the equipment that makes the music, it is the drummer of course and many drummers, including “Baby” Dodds, “Papa Jo” Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey, “Philly Joe” Jones, Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones, to name a few, have made important contributions along the way as jazz moved forward through the 20th Century and the new millennium has seen a new generation of drummers advancing the music with new and exciting sounds and rhythms.

On the evening of Sept. 5 at the Marriott Hotel, as part of the 21st Annual Vail Jazz Festival, the incomparable drummer Lewis Nash will present his Multi-Media Tribute to His Drum Influences, exploring the contributions that some of the greatest drummers have made to jazz. To read more about this performance, view pg. 63 of the Vail Jazz Festival Program online. Tickets are $75, to buy click here.

French vocalist returns to Vail in dynamic new duo

Cyrille Aimée and Michael Valeanu are poised to hypnotize Vail Jazz audiences with one-of-a-kind stage magic

Genetically speaking, Cyrille Aimée is not a gypsy. But she always has been at heart. The 30-year-old grew up in the small town of Samois-sur-Seine in northern France and was constantly intrigued by the caravans of musicians and gypsies that would plant themselves in her neighborhood every summer for the annual Django Reinhardt festival.

“The Django festival was part of my life even before I wanted to be a musician. I’d go run around in the street for the festival. It was free for little kids … all the other kids were running around. But little by little I started to be interested in the music part of it,” she says.

Stemming from a spontaneous but circus-like episode when Aimée found herself pedaling down the street on her bike with three gypsy girls packed on it, it wasn’t long before she became an honorary member of the visiting clan.

“A couple of gypsies came over and said I had a nice bike. Three of them hopped on the bike with me, riding down a hill – one on the handlebars, one on the seat, one on the back. They became my friends. I started going into the campsite. The guys were always there playing the guitar. My friend’s brother would teach me how to play and I would teach him how to read.”

Aimée started sneaking out of the house late at night to join the gypsies around their musical campfire and developed a love for singing. By the time she was 18, she was invited to perform on Star Academy, the French equivalent of American Idol. At that point however, she had already decided to head to New York to study Jazz At Purchase College. She did not, however, grow out of her affinity for the gypsy lifestyle. Between semesters, she would bring Jazz Studies friends back to Europe and they toured around performing on street corners for cash.

“We did a tour through Europe, slept on benches for a whole summer,” she says. “We really didn’t have anything. We’d have to play so we could buy food. We had two guitars. My sister was playing the shakers. There was a sax player playing duets with me.”

In Italy, the crew performed at a club during a jam session. The manager was impressed.

“The guy from the club said, ‘If you play for the lunchtime crowd we’ll feed you. Play for dinner and we’ll feed you.’” Aimée ventured to Montreux, Switzerland on her own as her friends waited in Italy to try her vocal chords in a vocal competition at the Montreuz Jazz Festival. She won.

After this adventurous summer, Aimée and her friends returned to Purchase, where she graduated and relocated to Brooklyn, her new base, from which she travels the world performing with orchestras, ensembles and guitar quartets. One of her favorite stage appearance setups is performing as a duet.

“I do love the duo setting,” she says. “It’s kind of like a dance. There’s just the one other person. I like when you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if mind-reading is the correct word … it’s more like a connection. It’s not trying to know what the person is thinking, but what the person is feeling.”

Aimée discovered compatriot and fellow NYC transplant Michael Valeanu at a rehearsal in the city and the two immediately connected.

“The first time I ever heard Michael was at a little club in Paris. He was playing in an organ trio, playing a Michael Jackson tune. I loved it. I thought, ‘I have to play with this guy.’”

Aimée had a vision of creating a collection of songs with three guitars and all original material. Thus her collaboration with Valeanu began, and the two released “It’s a Good Day,” a collection of dazzling arrangements featuring Aimée’s gypsy guitar roots as well as hypnotizing accompaniments of Brazilian island string guitar. When Aimée and Valeanu perform, it’s an eclectic, energetic blend of every flavor the French couple has come to know and love.

“We do a lot of standards, but also songs we wrote together – French songs, Spanish songs, we do a little mix. When it’s just the two of us, there’s a lot of freedom to choose whatever we want. Whatever we feel.”

Don’t miss Cyrille Aimée and Michael Valeanu at 9 p.m. July 15 in the intimate lounge dinner setting of Cucina at the Lodge at Vail for the Vail Jazz Club Series. The duo then takes to the big stage from 6 to 8 p.m. for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on Thursday, July 16 in the Vail Jazz Tent in Lionshead. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.