How a Three-Fingered Gypsy and Electricity Changed Jazz Guitar Forever

Long before the amplification and electrification of musical instruments, there was a simple truth: the louder you could play, the more likely you would be heard.

In jazz, tubas overwhelmed basses, trumpets trumped guitars, and so on. Brass bands dominated in early jazz and guitars were like children of the day, they could be seen but were not to be heard. Amplification leveled the playing field (pun intended). Amplify a bass and out goes the tuba, replaced by a more lyrical way of keeping time. Do the same for a guitar and it has a “voice” that can be heard alongside the other instruments in the band. Electrify the guitar or the bass and a star is born. And while the sound output of an instrument can be enhanced by amplification, the “electrification” of an instrument not only increases the potential volume of sound output, but in most cases, changes the sound the instrument is capable of making. With an acoustic guitar, the vibration of the strings resonate in the body of the guitar and we “hear” the guitar. In an electric guitar, a pickup converts the vibration of the strings into electrical impulses and with the advances in electronics all manner of sound can be created. An acoustic guitar has a sound that if properly amplified, still sounds like an acoustic instrument. An electric guitar can sound pretty much like anything you want it to sound like.

Initially the banjo was featured in small jazz ensembles, but over time the guitar replaced the banjo, joining the piano, drums and bass as a member of the rhythm section.The ability to strum a guitar in a rhythmic fashion allowed it to become an important instrument used to reinforce the beat and that is where the guitar sat for a long time. However in the 1930s things began to change, brought about by two of the most important early jazz guitar players of the today. Separated by an ocean and culture, each in his own way set in motion a dramatic shift in the role of the guitar in jazz. One was a three figured Gypsy from France, Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt, and the other, Charlie Christian, the African American son of a blind itinerant blues singer from Texas. Neither of them could read music, but that didn’t matter.

Django was badly burned in a camp fire at the age of 18, losing the use of two fingers on his left hand. He overcame the disability by inventing a unique fingering technique and by the ‘30s, he was touring internationally and becoming one of the most important jazz guitarists of all time. As a founding member of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, he invented a style of jazz that has been played for over 80 years and propelled the guitar to the top of the world of jazz before the invention of the electric guitar.

Charlie was one of the first jazz musicians to embrace the electric guitar as his instrument of choice. It is said that he was influenced by the use of the electric guitar in Western Swing music. Joining Benny Goodman as a member of his sextet in August of 1939, it was rare for an African American to play in a white band at the time, but Goodman had already broken the race barrier with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. Charlie was a prodigious improviser and an important participant in the transitioning of jazz from swing to bebop. Using his singlestring technique on an electric guitar to move the instrument to the front of the band, Charlie helped change the direction of jazz forever. Unfortunately for the world, he died at 25, less than 3 years after joining Goodman.

John Pizzarelli, Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo are three of the top jazz guitarists in the world today, each having been greatly influenced by Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, as have generations of guitarists before them. Vail Jazz is pleased to present these jazz giants in Vail during our 20th Anniversary Vail Jazz Festival. John Pizzarelli will be the guest soloist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater on June 27. Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo will be sitting in at the “Jazz After” jam with members of the DSO on the evening of July 2 at Larkspur, playing at the Jazz @ Vail Square show on the evening of July 3 and performing on the Vail Jazz float in the July 4th parade in Vail.

For tickets to any of these jazz guitar performances, visit vailjazz.org.

Turning 20 means going big: Summer lineup released for the Vail Jazz Festival’s 20th season

Twenty years ago, the Vail Jazz Festival planted its heels into Vail and with a soaring but humble brigade of trumpets, bass, drums and guitars, launching an event that nobody would envision snowballing to the proportions it has reached this season.

Growing from a Labor Day weekend lineup of performances to a summer-long event featuring weekly performances by some of the country and even world’s top jazz musicians, the Vail Jazz Festival is poised to blow the doors off in celebration of its 20th anniversary.

“Jazz started in New Orleans and it’s truly a gumbo. It’s a living music – a changing, breathing creature,” says Vail Jazz Festival founder Howard Stone. “For this 20th anniversary season, our lineup is not just a New Orleans gumbo, it’s a world gumbo with more energy and variety than we’ve ever had.”

Beginning at the end of June, twelve weeks of performances include free jazz every Sunday at the Vail Farmers’ Market and Restaurant Kelly Liken along with hands on, educational workshops – Jammin’ Jazz Kids. Then of course, there are the Thursday evening Jazz@ Vail Square performances with a line up that will have long-time jazz diehards brimming with anticipation and young jazz skeptics readily admitting that the genre is worth exploring.

The names immediately recognizable to the former group include iconic guitarist John Pizzarelli, who made his inaugural appearance at last summer’s Vail Jazz Festival and kicks off the season June 27 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as a collaboration with Bravo! Vail, a collaboration that also brings a series of three jam sessions – all of which sold out last season – on July 2, 12 and 23.

The Jazz @ Vail Square performances have truly evolved into an event of their own, filling the jazz tent in Lionshead with a brimming crowd every Thursday evening and the entire side of town with uplifting melodies. Advanced tickets to each show are $10 or $25 for VIP preferred seating.

 

Jazz @ Vail Square

July 3: The series kicks off with the return of hypnotizing guitar duo Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo. Appearing in Vail for the first time last summer, Frank & Vinny have a knack for enthralling a crowd with their lightning fast fingers covering a litany of tunes from classics like “Stardust” to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” all while conducting their own silly choreography and drawing laughs from the crowd. Keep an eye out for the duo on the best-sounding float in Vail’s Fourth of July parade.

July 10: Also returning by popular demand, the foot-stomping, dance-inspiring rhythms of conga drumming sensation Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band.

July 17: Young singer and jazz pianist Tony DeSare is quickly becoming known for making the keys dance while belting out original compositions as well as upbeat renditions of his favorites from a gamut that runs from Billy Joel to Harry Connick Jr. This marks the Vail debut of his quartet.

July 24: Jazz festival favorite Marcia Ball returns to Vail with her romping New Orleansinfused piano and vocals.

July 31: Imagine New Orleans Brass Band colliding with the strains of Eastern Indian horns and percussion. The young and energetic Red Baraat grabbed NPR’s attention for a Tiny Desk Concert and are sure to have Vail Square thumping.

Aug. 7: Jamaica’s one and only Monty Alexander brings his addictive jazz piano along with the classic grooves of his full band, the Harlem-Kingston Express, from their regular setup at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City to a very special show in Lionshead.

Aug. 14: Guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli returns for his own riveting performance along with his quartet, including brother Martin on bass.

Aug. 21: Defying the classic conventions, young, blonde and uber talented trumpeter Bria Skonberg makes her inaugural appearance in Vail. You’ve never heard a horn wail in such inspiring melody as this. Swing dance?

Aug. 28: The kings of Vail Jazz, The Vail Jazz Party House Band wrap up Jazz @ Vail Square with a white-hot performance followed by the future of jazz embodied in the nation’s very best, carefully selected ensemble of Vail Jazz All-Stars.

Vail Jazz Party Labor Day Weekend

The ultimate grand finale, the 20th anniversary party brings an onslaught of more than 40 of the world’s finest jazz musicians, including the genre’s most renowned pianists Benny Green along with the return of Monty Alexander, drummers Jeff Hamilton and Ernie Adams, trumpeter Byron Stripling, saxophonists Ken Peplowski and Grace Kelly and vocalists Curtis Stigers and Ann Hampton Callaway.

The weekend will include mind-blowing multimedia tributes to Benny Goodman, Clark Terry and Sarah Vaughn, singer Niki Haris at the helm for the wildly popular Gospel Prayer Meetin’ and a true star power lineup of Vail Jazz All-Star alums, including the remarkably talented blind pianist Justin Kauflin, featured in the gripping documentary “Keep on Keepin’ On.” To be viewed over the festival weekend.

“Each of these artists is a jazz powerhouse in his or her own right,” says Vail Jazz Foundation Executive Director Robin Litt. “To get this many of them in one place, on one weekend, is something that just doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

For more information or to purchase to any of the festival’s upcoming events, visit vailjazz.org.

9 Questions with ‘The American Diva,’ Ann Hampton Callaway

The ‘American Diva’ speaks candidly about her many hats, The Great American Songbook and working with Robert de Niro.

Hypnotizing audiences with her rich vocal delivery of the classics, Anne Hampton Callaway is a Tony Award-winning Broadway star, pianist, producer and songwriter who has composed hundreds of songs for everyone from Barbara Streisand to the hit TV series “The Nanny.”

In the Vail area, Callaway most recently leaps to memory for her stage-rattling tribute to Ella Fitzgerald at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in winter 2012.

This Thursday she is back in town, performing The Great American Songbook from 6 to 8 p.m. for Jazz @ Vail Square. Earlier this week she sat down to answer some exclusive questions

 

1. You’d been described as, and are a self-proclaimed “American Diva.” How exactly do you define/live up to that? The word diva has always been funny to me. I use it very tongue in cheek. It allows me to have a larger than life persona so I have more possibilities of reaching my audiences and have fun with them and sort of be a character. Not just me, Anne Hampton Callaway. I’m an introspective person and in certain ways, quiet and shy. No one would ever guess that about me. Because I love The American Songbook and I feel being a musician is like being an ambassador, it gives me a certain twinkle-in-the-eye leadership position to have fun with people.

2. Of all the song-writing collaborations you’ve been a part of with such a huge variety of artists, which ones stand out the most and why? Certainly writing songs for the great Barbara Streisand has been an extraordinary experience. She has reached 11 million people with the first song I wrote her at the same time – “Higher Ground.” That was uplifting to me because I’m a peace activist and that anthem for world peace was something I wanted people to hear and be inspired by.

3. What specific personal associations/emotions do you have tied in to certain tunes from The Great American Songbook? I feel The Great American Songbook has provided me an incredible sort of soundtrack to my life. These songs came in a golden age of writers who were writing mostly for Broadway and film. So they were writing for real situations, songs that had to advance the plot of a character in a timely, important, universal situation. I feel like these songs become more beautiful with time. They’ve become to me the things that understand us better than each other sometimes. They give me great comfort and I’ve learned a lot about life through them.

4. How is it difficult to perform the Songbook in distinctive fashion, unlike anything audiences have heard before? In your own words, describe your approach. My musical approach begins with the story and the lyric and where I’m going to be singing it – with a symphony orchestra, in a jazz club, in a foreign country. That might affect my approach a little bit. But usually the feeling I get from a story, from the words dictate what I do with it. Since we’ve heard so many renditions of the songs by great artists, to me it’s important to help people not take the words for granted and not take the story for granted. When my sister and I were putting our show ‘Boom!’ together and these songs from the 60s and 70s, people were so used to singing along that they didn’t even think about them any more. We had fun finding ways to articulate the lyric in a way that people felt moved by it. That is the challenge to every singer today, especially doing this material.

5. What was the most memorable aspect of your last visit to the Vail Valley? I just love the people. I love how much they love this music. It’s a great community of people who have come to support jazz. The beauty of the mountains inspires my performance, even though it’s harder to sing because of the oxygen situation. I usually take a couple hits of oxygen before I go on stage. Performing the wonderful songs of Ella Fitzgerald was a highlight in itself last time.

6. What songs are on your personal playlist? I have a very eclectic record collection. I listen to jazz. I love Brazilian music. To me, Brazilian music is so relaxing and beautiful. It puts me in a very happy mood. I listen to a lot of instrumental music, singer/songwriters, some of the old songs I grew up with – Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor …. I’m broadening my list all the time. My iTunes get bigger and bigger.

7. How do you go about narrowing down selections from the Great American Songbook for a performance? When I perform, I want every song to be something I can’t wait to sing. If I’m going to sing a love song, I want it to be one of the most beautiful, powerful love songs anyone has ever heard. I want it to surprise people a little bit. I want people to feel brand new when they leave a night of music – refreshed and human all over again.

8. In wearing so many hats as singer, pianist, composer, actress … does one or the other strike you as more rewarding? What is uniquely fulfilling about each? I think my dad once told me that if you want to live a happy, fulfilling life the more you can combine all the things you’re good at, the happier you will be. I think that’s what’s been especially rewarding about my career. I’ve been able to interpret music, create music and my philosophical side as a person, my humorous, silly side, the side that wants to enter different personalities, all of these interests lend themselves to a career in music. Singing has been the most natural, but writing is how I think. Acting to me – I was an acting major – it’s been a great part of my foundation as a singer to step into a story of a song and make it come alive. All of these parts of me are important.

9. Was your feature film debut – The Good Shepherd – all you hoped it would be? How was the experience working alongside stars like Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie? First of all, I didn’t expect to be on the set, in the movie, I thought I was just going to be on the soundtrack. Working with Robert de Niro recording the song, he directed me in every take and I did a large amount of takes because he’s so meticulous. We had fun in the green room talking about The Great American Songbook. When I got the call the next day that he wanted me in the movie I was just beside myself. I loved working on the set with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. Robert de Niro insisted I call him ‘Bob.’ He took a special moment to introduce me to the stars.

 

 

INFO:

When: 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday, July 18

Where: The all-weather jazz tent in Vail Square, Lionshead

Tickets: Tickets are $20 in advance or $25 day of show for preferred seating and general admission is FREE on a first-come basis. Vailjazz.org. 888-VAIL-JAM

The story behind a 50-year-old Colorado music tradition

There are certain things that naturally go together – Colorado and skiing, for example. However, there is another pairing that might not be so obvious – Colorado and jazz. When the Vail Jazz Festival presents its 18th annual Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend, it will continue a Colorado jazz tradition that is 50 years old and was nurtured right here in Vail.

The story begins in 1963 when Dick Gibson, a Denver businessman, gathered together jazz musicians and friends in an Aspen hotel over the three-day Labor Day weekend to have a party. That weekend, he created the first Jazz Party, a format that combined jazz musicians and fans in an intimate atmosphere with various combinations of musicians performing in jam sessions all weekend long.

Dick’s inaugural Jazz Party was a huge hit, and he presented an encore over the following Labor Day weekend in Vail. Dick was friends with Vail locals Marge and Larry Burdick, Bettan Laughlin and Billy Whiteford, who joined him to present the next edition at Casino Vail, the original “nightclub” in the heart of the Village. (In 1964 it was the largest venue in Vail.) Another great success was realized.

Dick ultimately moved the annual Jazz Party out of the mountains and down to the Front Range where Colorado Springs and Denver became the host cities for years. During his 30-year run, Dick presented an all-star lineup that featured some of the greatest musicians in the world. At a time when rock music began to overshadow jazz, these annual gatherings became a very important reunion of sorts between fans and players in the most relaxed and awe-inspiring venues one could imagine.

The fame of Dick Gibson’s Jazz Party spread with attendees traveling to Colorado from all around the world to attend the annual gathering. With limited seating at the party, jazz fans were often put on waiting lists. I was one of the lucky ones that attended many of these legendary Jazz Parties and when Dick retired, I was inspired to start the Vail Jazz Festival, motivated to carry on the great Colorado jazz tradition that he had created. The fame of the Jazz Party was so great, a documentary film was made about it called “The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party.”

Dick died in 1998 and the Mississippi Rag observed in his obituary, “The (jazz party) concept … reinvigorated the jazz scene and led to the creation of jazz parties elsewhere.” It is reported that there were as many as 150 other jazz parties throughout the United States in the 1990s and of course, Vail became home to one of the best.

This Labor Day weekend you will have the opportunity to come to the Vail Jazz Party to see and hear why, for 50 years, jazz fans have come to Colorado to hear and see the greatest jazz musicians on the planet.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Now in its 18th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summerlong celebration of jazz music. The festival culminates with the Labor Day weekend Vail Jazz Party. Visitwww.vailjazz.org.

 

Jazz Party Preview: The story behind a 50-year-old Colorado jazz music tradition

There are certain things that naturally go together — Colorado and skiing, for example. However, there is another pairing that might not be so obvious — Colorado and jazz. When the Vail Jazz Festival presents its 18th annual Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend, it will continue a Colorado jazz tradition that is 50 years old and was nurtured right here in Vail.

The story begins in 1963 when Dick Gibson, a Denver businessman, gathered together jazz musicians and friends in an Aspen hotel over the three-day Labor Day weekend to have a party. That weekend, he created the first Jazz Party, a format that combined jazz musicians and fans in an intimate atmosphere with various combinations of musicians performing in jam sessions all weekend long.

Dick’s inaugural Jazz Party was a huge hit, and he presented an encore over the following Labor Day weekend in Vail. Dick was friends with Vail locals Marge and Larry Burdick, Bettan Laughlin and Billy Whiteford, who joined him to present the next edition at Casino Vail, the original “nightclub” in the heart of the Village. (In 1964 it was the largest venue in Vail.) Another great success was realized.

Dick ultimately moved the annual Jazz Party out of the mountains and down to the Front Range where Colorado Springs and Denver became the host cities for years. During his 30-year run, Dick presented an all-star lineup that featured some of the greatest musicians in the world. At a time when rock music began to overshadow jazz, these annual gatherings became a very important reunion of sorts between fans and players in the most relaxed and awe-inspiring venues one could imagine.

The fame of Dick Gibson’s Jazz Party spread with attendees traveling to Colorado from all around the world to attend the annual gathering. With limited seating at the party, jazz fans were often put on waiting lists. I was one of the lucky ones that attended many of these legendary Jazz Parties and when Dick retired, I was inspired to start the Vail Jazz Festival, motivated to carry on the great Colorado jazz tradition that he had created. The fame of the Jazz Party was so great, a documentary film was made about it called “The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party.”

Dick died in 1998 and the Mississippi Rag (www.mississippirag.com) observed in his obituary, “The (jazz party) concept … reinvigorated the jazz scene and led to the creation of jazz parties elsewhere.” It is reported that there were as many as 150 other jazz parties throughout the United States in the 1990s and of course, Vail became home to one of the best.

This Labor Day weekend you will have the opportunity to come to the Vail Jazz Party to see and hear why, for 50 years, jazz fans have come to Colorado to hear and see the greatest jazz musicians on the planet.

 

Howard Stone