Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: The Vegas Strip

There have been many famous streets in the U.S. that have been synonymous with a style of music. In New Orleans it was Basin Street for the nascent sounds of jazz, Beale Street in Memphis for the blues, 18th and Vine for swinging jazz in Kansas City, Central Avenue in L.A. and 52nd Street in New York City for bebop, and of course, Broadway in NYC for what else but “Broadway music.”

Howard Stone

In Las Vegas, N.V. there is the Strip, a 4-plus-mile-long desert road, not associated with a particular style of music, but instead the entertainment capital of the world. Nevada was the first state to legalize gambling in 1931, but with the Depression underway, Vegas had to wait for better economic times and the end of World War II before it could become Sin City. By the early 1950s, the mob controlled the hotels with their extremely profitable casinos and much of the vice in the city as well, and Vegas took off. Gambling, bookmaking, prostitution (ultimately banned from Clark County where Vegas is located), 24-hour entertainment, food and booze, easy marriages and divorces, strip shows and much more, all of which ultimately led to the famous slogan: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

With gambling at the heart of the economy, entertainment became the “hook” to bring in the “losers” and the best way to attract them was to present the greatest entertainment of the day. Beginning in the 1950s the competition among hotels to feature the biggest draws in their respective “showrooms” was fierce and headliners that could draw a full house were handsomely rewarded. With Hollywood nearby, Vegas developed a connection to the world of celebrities and they were frequent visitors and performers on the Strip. Initially, the entertainment offerings were centered on lavish floorshows and reviews, comedians and vocalists. Whether singing pop, country, rock, or jazz, the greatest singers of the past 70 years have appeared on the Strip and in the 1950s and 60s many of my then favorites regularly appeared: Frank Sinatra, Nate “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Lena HorneTony Bennett and Peggy Lee, to name just a few. In 1956, a 21-year old Elvis had a two-week engagement in Vegas and bombed, but ultimately returned for many successful engagements and the filming of “Viva Las Vegas.” Today, Elvis impersonators can still be seen wandering on the Strip.

Many observers believe the golden age of the Strip was a period roughly half a decade long in the 60s when “The Rat Pack” held court in the Copa Room (400 seats) in the Sands Hotel. The iconic leader of the quintet was Frank Sinatra, joined by Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, all donning tuxedos with drinks in their hands, smoking on stage and generally projecting the image of being cool, ’60s style. The combination of great vocal talent (Frank, Dean and Sammy) with off-color humor, dancing (Sammy) and a swagger that was the personification of hipness, made their performances the “main event” and the biggest draw in Vegas. Backed by top bands, vocalists reigned supreme during this period and there was a magical atmosphere in the Copa Room where audiences were able to see the best perform in an intimate environment that defined the era. In 1966, Sinatra appeared in the Copa as a solo act and recorded his first ever live album, “Sinatra at the Sands,” with Count Basie and his 20-member band, conducted by Quincy Jones. The album is the definitive recording of this epoch and it captures what a night on the Strip was all about, with some of the swingiest music ever recorded, including Sinatra classics “Come Fly with Me” and “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” and a comedy monologue by Sinatra, known as the “tea break.”

As the 60s unfolded, rock musicians began to eclipse the jazz/pop stars of the day – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, the Who, Simon and Garfunkel and many others took center stage. In 1964, The Beatles made their only appearance in Vegas. Originally planned as a one-off concert on the Strip in the 700-seat Conga Room in the Sahara Hotel, the overwhelming demand for tickets ($2, $3, $4 and $5) caused the promoters to move the show to the Las Vegas Convention Center with a second show added. Approximately 17,000 screaming fans attended and it changed the Strip forever. Rock concerts came of age and it became clear that Vegas would have to compete for the best talent with the promoters of arena/stadium shows, something that a 500-1,000-seat venue on the Strip couldn’t do.

The Strip had to change to meet the new competition and it did. Public corporations began to take over the hotel/gaming industry, replacing the mob, and a new economic model was developed. The “old” hotels were replaced with megaresorts (of the 25 largest hotels in the world, 23 are in Vegas) themed as ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, as well as NY, Paris, Venice and Hollywood, and of course the Old West. These hotel/gambling palaces contained arena-like performance venues requiring much more variety in entertainment to draw larger crowds, including the new generation of entertainers, lavish spectacles, Broadway shows, impersonators, magicians and animal and circus acts (at one point, seven productions of Cirque Du Soleil were running on the Strip).

The Copa Room and the Vegas Strip of old are now just memories, but Sinatra’s album remains a testament to an era when great vocalists and great musicians could always be seen and heard on the Strip in an intimate showroom.

At 5 and 7:30 p.m. on July 25 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on July 2 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead, the great pianist and vocalist Tony DeSare will pay tribute to Frank, Sammy, Elton John and many other crooners who helped establish the Vegas Strip as the entertainment capital of the world.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: Django Style

At latest count on a worldwide basis there are close to five billion videos watched every day. A YouTube video can go viral and propel an unknown entertainer from total obscurity to literally world fame in a matter of days. A case in point is the Korean pop singer/rapper PSY (Park Jae-Sang). His 2012 music video “Gangnam Style” rocketed around the world with over one billion views in less than five months (now at three billion and counting), propelling him to world fame with President Obama flashing his Gangnam Style dance moves on TV within months of the first viewings of the music video. Of course, PSY has been pushed aside to make way for the next YouTube phenome, and then the next, and then the next … and the question arises whether this type of fame can ever be sustained? Apparently, Andy Warhol understood this issue in 1968, well before YouTube existed, when he famously predicted that culturally speaking, fame would be limited to 15 minutes.

Contrast this viewpoint with the career and music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt. A Belgian-born (1910) Gypsy musician who was largely self-taught, Django would go on to become the most important European jazz musician ever and a guitarist who would influence successive generations of guitar-greats. Django moved to Paris as a child and earned a living as a teenager playing on the streets of the City of Lights before playing in dance halls, where he performed a style of music known as musette, a combination of French folk music, polka, waltz and jazz. Never receiving a formal education, it is doubtful that Django ever learned to read, books or music. In 1928 at the age of 18, he was severely burned by a fire in his caravan and after a prolonged period of recovery, he returned to making music, but unfortunately the fourth and fifth fingers on his left hand were paralyzed and he never recovered the full use of them. Not able to use all the fingers on his left hand to play chords on his guitar, he created new chords using his contorted figures where possible, while rapidly moves his good fingers up and down the neck of the guitar, inventing a truly unique technique. In 1934, he joined forces with Stéphane Grappelli, a French-Italian violinist, and they formed the “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” that synthesized the music of Django’s Gypsy heritage with jazz to create a ground breaking sound that would have worldwide impact, making both of them internationally famous. 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, Django created what became known as Gypsy Jazz (Jazz Marouche) and is now known as Django Jazz. Tragically, Django died of a brain hemorrhage in 1953 at the age of 43, having had only a short time to make his musical mark.

Howard Stone

The passage of time fades our memories and fashions change, especially in music, and once Django passed, his music was forgotten, as bebop jazz took hold and the tsunami of rock washed over the world of music. However, nostalgia is a remarkable emotion driven by the strong desire to regain our youth, so music revivals are commonplace today. In some cases, it leads to a replay that generally doesn’t last very long. A decade after Django’s passing, his music began to be revived, but here is where the story gets interesting. Instead of a short-term revival based upon reminiscence, the music of Django began to take hold and build momentum and for the past five decades there has been a phenomenon aptly described as “Djangomania,” with Django Jazz played and enjoyed throughout the world and with jazz festivals dedicated to Django and his music held annually in the U.S. and Europe.

There was, of course, no Internet, so Django Jazz couldn’t go viral, but that really didn’t matter, because ultimately, Django and his music have passed the “test of time.” Greatness is not based upon a viral video, no matter how many views, but instead the creation of something of lasting value – a musical legacy – something that will be handed down to future generations. “Gangnam Style,” on the other hand, will be, at best, a historic footnote about the first video to have more than a billion views. Django and his music have entered the pantheon of popular music of the Western world and Django Style (contrasted with “Gangnam Style”) is now part of the classical music of the last century. Much like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Django Style has something special that will endure.

Vail Jazz will celebrate the musical legacy of Django at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on July 18 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on July 19 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead when it presents the Django Festival All-Stars. The music will be exuberant and played in a flamboyant manner, sizzling, infectious, and swinging, just as Django performed it over 85 years ago.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

Putting Spice in Jazz, Afro-Cuban Style

Jazz is very much like a tree with many roots (musical influences) and numerous branches (styles). Without doubt, the jazz tree took root in the fertile musical soil of New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th century, but 90 miles away, another musical tree had began to grow in the very rich musical soil of Cuba and it spread its branches in a very different way.

Let’s start with the tree growing in New Orleans. The Crescent City was initially ruled by France, then Spain. Then France reacquired it, before selling it (and a lot more – all or parts of 15 future states) to the U.S., as Napoleon was short on cash for his military adventures. The Louisiana Purchase (the second of the “big three real estate deals” in American history (Manhattan and Alaska being the other two) was completed in 1803. As a result, New Orleans was then conjoined with the U.S. and became the largest port in the South and its largest and most important city. With a rich music tradition tied to its French and Spanish roots, it was an important transportation hub, thus allowing many additional musical traditions to be brought to this very cosmopolitan city. In contrast, Havana (and Cuba) had a culture almost exclusively informed by Spanish customs with formal and well-defined forms of music and dance traditions.

Howard Stone

This is the European part of the musical equation, but of course, there was an African component as well. While we tend to think about slavery as a uniquely American enterprise, less than 10 percent of all the slaves brought to the new world landed in what is now the southern U.S. In fact, many more slaves were taken to Cuba to work the sugar plantations. Therefore, while each colonial power brought a distinct European musical tradition to it colonies in the new world, because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, they also brought the polyrhythmic (two or more rhythms played simultaneously) music of the West Africa slaves to each locale where they ruled. Because of the politics, commerce, climate, geography, access to musical instruments and formal music education, and many other influences in each locale, the European and African musical roots combined in different ways creating new and locally divergent musical styles. In New Orleans, this symbiosis led to jazz, and in Cuba, it led to an Afro-Cuban popular dance music – the rhumba, mambo and cha-cha-cha, with a major emphasis on the polyrhythmic traditions of West African music at its core.

With two distinctive musical styles only 90 miles apart, it was only a matter of time before the two were connected. Fostering this musical exchange were among other factors, the U.S. Army’s three separate occupations of Cuba in the first part of the last century, and the free movement of Cuban and American musicians by ferry between Havana and New Orleans during this period. It therefore wasn’t very long until the jazz tree in the U.S. had tapped into Afro-Cuban music. “Jelly Roll” Morton, one of the early New Orleans jazz innovators, famously noted that with the addition of what he called the “Spanish tinge,” you could spice up the then prevailing 4/4 rhythm of jazz and add “the right seasoning…for jazz.”

Jelly Roll wasn’t referring to Spanish music, but in fact the dance music of Cuba, with an essence that was pure pulsating rhythm, that made the listener want to move to the music. The Afro-Cuban beat wasn’t the predictable four beats to the bar of jazz, but a delightful exotic seasoning that added a unique flavor to the musical stew. This new rhythm that was the foundation of the music is known as the clave (2/3 and 3/2 alternating beats), and really wasn’t new at all, but could be traced to religious ceremonies in Africa centuries before. This was the “secret sauce” that spiced up the music with a zest of exotic percussion instruments added. The musical menu called for the rhythm to be played by Cuban percussion instruments: congas, timbales, güiros (gourds played with a stick), bongos, and two hardwood sticks, also called claves, with each assigned a distinctive rhythmic pattern to play. The combination of all of the ingredients provided an intoxicating rhythmic experience differentiating it from American jazz that instead evolved into a music of improvisation.

So what happens when you combine jazz and Afro-Cuban music, you end up with Afro-Cuban jazz. Take the polyrhythms and rhythm-centric nature of Afro-Cuban music out of Afro-Cuban jazz and you are left with jazz, which is not a problem, but I like to spice things up every now and then.

On July 11 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and on July 12 in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead, Vail Jazz will present the great Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera and his band in a pair of club shows and concert, respectively. Add a little spice to your life and join us for what promises to be explosive evenings of Afro-Cuban jazz.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz. 

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: A Musical Affair

When most of us think about Brazilian music, we think about the bossa nova (the “new thing”). Nine times out of 10, the song “The Girl from Ipanema” comes to mind. What most people don’t know is there really was a girl from Ipanema. Her name was Heloisa Pinheiro and in the early 60s she would regularly pass by Veloso, a bar near Ipanema beach outside of Rio. As fate would have it, two young men were regulars at the bar and were captivated by her sensuality as they watched her each day “sway like a samba” on her way to the nearby beach. In 1962, inspired by her sexy charm, Antônio Carlos Jobim wrote the music and Vinícius de Moraes composed the lyrics of the song that put bossa nova on the world musical map. Describing her as “tall and tan and young and lovely,” they lamented that they watched her “so sadly” and would give their “heart gladly…but each day, when she walks to the sea, she looks straight ahead, not at me.”

Howard Stone

Well, that love affair was not destined to be, but the song set in motion forces that changed the course of lives, created careers, ended a marriage, fostered an affair and changed the world of music forever.

At about the time the lovesick composers were writing “The Girl from Ipanema,” Stan Getz, a well-known American jazz tenor saxophonist, and Charlie Byrd, an American jazz guitarist, recorded the hugely successful album “Jazz Samba.” Two of the tracks from the album, “Desafinado” and “Samba de Uma Nota So” were written by Jobim (the “Gershwin of Brazil” as he became known), and were also released as singles. They garnered large radio play in the U.S. and generally are acknowledged to have started the bossa nova craze in the U.S. and ultimately the world. The two musicians had been in Brazil, had heard the sounds of bossa nova and returned to the U.S. to record an album that would feature the new music played by American musicians. The bossa nova sound can best be described as a merging of the Brazilian samba with American jazz to create a very distinctive lyrical and melodic music.

By 1963, Getz would go on to win a Grammy for “Desafinado” and the commercial success of the bossa nova sound began to gain momentum. In order to capitalize on the success of the new music, Verve Records decided to follow-up the success of “Jazz Samba” with a project featuring Getz once again (but not Byrd, as the two were feuding over the royalties from the “Jazz Samba”) and a band comprised of all Brazilian musicians that were recruited and brought to New York City. The album entitled “Getz/Gilberto” featured João Gilberto, a then rising Brazilian singer, songwriter and guitarist, with Jobim on piano. Also joining them in the recording studio was João’s 23-year-old wife, Astrud, who was there as an interpreter and his companion.

One of the tunes that was to be recorded was “The Girl from Ipanema” with João singing the lyrics in Portuguese. The story gets somewhat fuzzy at this point, since there are four separate versions of what happened next. The album producer, the legendary Creed Taylor, reported that he wanted some of the music sung in English in order to create the potential for a broader “cross-over” appeal. Since João’s English was very limited, Taylor asked Astrud to sing a verse of the song in English. The lyrics were in Portuguese, but a rushed translation was provided to Astrud. Since she spoke a heavily accented English and had never sung professionally before, she was hesitant to try, but she did.

Astrud instead reported that it was João’s idea that she sing. Getz claimed that he was the one who asked her to sing. The recording engineer Phil Ramone told a different story, saying that Astrud volunteered to sing the song when Sarah Vaughan wasn’t available as planned.

Whatever the truth, the album was released in 1964 and when the track featuring João and Astrud became the focus of radio airplay, Verve quickly decided to release it as a single and chose to edit João’s vocal portion entirely out of the cut, so it was only Astrud singing in English. What is undisputed is “The Girl from Ipanema” was a huge international hit that in fact, “crossed-over” and launched Astrud’s almost four-decade-long vocal career during which she sang in Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, French, German and even Japanese.

The album charted for 96 weeks and won four Grammys.

With the bossa nova craze spreading to Europe after the phenomenal success of the album, Getz arranged a six-month tour of the Continent and Astrud was asked to join him, but not João. By that time, Getz and Astrud were having an affair. By 1965, she and João were divorced.

On July 9, Vail Jazz presents its annual Gala at the Sebastian Hotel with the celebrated vocalist Carol Bach-y-Rita presenting an evening of the magical music of Brazil in a show entitled Bossa Nova Nights.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Jazz and the 18th Amendment

In the 1930s, sociologist Robert K. Merton observed that attempts by well-meaning crusaders to bring about social change for the good of society had in many instances instead caused a perverse result. Known as the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” it is usually cited to support the notion that even the best intentions can cause negative, unanticipated outcomes.

A case in point is the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It became the law of the land on Jan. 17, 1920 and ushered in the era of Prohibition. Known as the “noble experiment,” its proponents claimed that the banning of alcohol would bring about a reduction in crime and corruption, solve social problems related to alcoholism, improve Americans’ health and lessen the needs for prisons and poorhouses. Here was the textbook example of the law of unintended consequences. Crime soared along with the corruption of public officials as the “mob” took over the liquor industry, tax revenue declined (liquor sales had been previously heavily taxed), people died from drinking adulterated alcohol and while social problems weren’t solved, a whole new set of problems arose.

However, Merton also noted that not all unintended consequences had to be negative. In fact, there was one very beneficial outcome of Prohibition, at least from my prospective; it caused the popularity of jazz to skyrocket. How so? The 18th Amendment may have outlawed the sale of liquor, but it didn’t legislate again thirst and the desire to have a good time. With bars and saloons closing in January 1920, a completely new set of establishments began to open to meet the demands of a thirsty public determined to drink and have a good time. These clandestine bars became known as speakeasies (you had to whisper to gain access and when you were in public you were supposed to “speak easy” about their location) and they were everywhere. It is estimated that there were many more illegal drinking dens operating during Prohibition than there were legal drinking establishments before Prohibition.

Competition for customers was fierce and it was the first time in the U.S. that races were allowed to intermingle. A customer’s race, class or social standing being immaterial, as long as the customer could pay the tab. With so much competition, bar operators had to differentiate themselves to attract new customers and they began to feature musical entertainment. Since frequenting an illegal bar had a certain cachet, what better music to present than something illicit and sinful like jazz. The so-called “devil’s music” that originated in the “sporting houses” of Storyville in New Orleans, was compelling and captivating and fit the “outlaw” vibe of these establishments. Jazz broke all the rules, musically and socially – improvisation over structure, the mixing of the races, forbidden venues vs. concert halls – the perfect music for a rapidly changing America. Speakeasies became the places where jazz was presented and the mob was more than willing to hire black jazz musicians, so long as the customers kept coming back, and they did, to see Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Paul Whiteman, and many more. Jazz became the popular music of the day, putting the “sin in syncopation,” as one critic noted.

While prohibition was enacted at the beginning of the decade of the “Roaring Twenties,” it was also the beginning of a tumultuous period of cultural revolution in America and F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly named the era the “Jazz Age.” Change was underway with Americans leaving rural areas to settle in urban centers, including hundreds of thousands of African Americans leaving the South for the cities of the North in what became known as the “Great Migration.” Women had just secured the right to vote and were rebelling against the conservatism of the Victorian era. With new clothing, hairstyles, smoking cigarettes in public and driving their own cars, these “flappers” were declaring their independence with a “modern” view of morals and had new music to listen to and dance to. Dancing became an entirely new endeavor and jazz was the music that was danced to. No longer were partners held in a formal way, instead, there was a no “holds barred” approach with the new seductive dances such as the Charleston, Lindy, Shimmy, Cake Walk, Black Bottom and Turkey Trot all in vogue. Jazz became the soundtrack of a rebellion and speakeasies were the venues where this exciting music was played and swayed to.

The Roaring Twenties was also a time of remarkable technological advances – the phonograph, radio and talking movies spread the sound of jazz. The first radio station opened in Pittsburgh in 1920 and soon thereafter, there were stations throughout the country broadcasting jazz. It is estimated that there were only 60,000 households with radios in 1922, but 10 million by 1929. In 1917 the first jazz record was made and by the end of the Roaring Twenties, records had spread the sound of jazz to every corner of the nation. The first “talkie” movie was made in 1927, “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was first performed in 1927 blending jazz with the sound of a symphony. It clearly was the “Jazz Age.”

On Dec. 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted repealing Prohibition. By then the stock market had crashed and the Great Depression was underway … but jazz was everywhere.

At 6 p.m. on July 5 Vail Jazz presents The Hot Sardines in Lionshead. This 8-piece band will take the audience back to the speakeasies of the Prohibition era in a very hip and modern adaptation of the hot jazz of the Roaring 20s and beyond.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Let’s Dance

“Let’s dance” may be a call to action, but it was also the name of a short-lived, but very popular radio program (Dec. 1934-May 1935) that launched the career of Benny Goodman. The format of the New York show was unique in that it was five hours long with three rotating bands, but only three hours of music were “aired” in each time zone. Starting at 10:30 p.m. on the East Coast, the last three hours of the program were heard on the West Coast beginning at 9:30 p.m. and it actually had a much larger audience in the Pacific time zone due to its earlier start time.

While the program was extremely popular, a labor dispute at Nabisco, the show’s sponsor, caused it to cease all sponsorships, and the show was canceled. That summer Goodman took his band on the road, but was met with limited success, as the audiences were indifferent to the band’s performances because they played “stock arrangements” that were not all that “swinging.” Goodman was broke and close to quitting, but that all that changed on the night of Aug. 21, 1935, when the band opened at the Palomar Ballroom, a famous dancehall in Hollywood. The crowd came to dance, but when the band played the same material they had been playing that summer, the dancers were non-responsive and it looked like the end was in sight for the band. However, it was Goodman’s drummer, Gene Kruppa, that turned it all around. Between sets that night he said to Goodman, “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing.” Goodman went “all-in,” opening the next set with Fletcher Henderson’s swinging arrangements of “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “King Porter Stomp.” The dancers went wild, bursting into applause and gathering around the bandstand to watch the band play. What Goodman learned that night was that the crowd was there because they had been listening to Goodman on “Let’s Dance” and they were waiting for the opportunity to do just that … to swing dance. At the end of the three-week engagement, Goodman’s position as the “King of Swing” was firmly established.

So what is swing dancing? Well, let us start with the music that is danced to: “swing” is jazz that has a propulsive drive with musical accents related to a fixed beat. When you hear it, you know it, as you instinctively want to click your fingers and tap your feet and the music has that “swing feel.”

The origins of swing dancing can be traced to Harlem in the 1920’s and 30’s. Known variously as the Jitterbug, Balboa, Shag and Boogie Woogie, and many more colorful names, the most widely adopted of which was the “Lindy Hop.” Its roots go back to African rhythms meddled to European dance conventions – partner dancing. Besides providing sheer joy to the participants, it allowed the dancers to improvise with aerials and other techniques that captured the imagination of young people who did not want to dance like their elders. Sound familiar?

The Lindy Hop got its name from the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, whose 1927 solo flight from NY to Paris brought “Lindy” world fame for his “hop” across the Atlantic. Shortly thereafter, a newspaper reporter asked a dancer what was the name of the wild dance the crowd was performing, he responded, “the Lindy Hop,” and the name stuck.

Ground zero for the Lindy Hop was the Savoy Ballroom, located at 141st and Lenox Ave. in Harlem. Known as the “Home of Happy Feet,” the cavernous dancehall could accommodate 4,000 dancers and was opened seven nights a week with an admission charge of $.60 after 6 p.m. and $.85 after 8 p.m. It had an elongated dancefloor anchored by two bandstands – one at each end of the dance floor. When one band stopped to take a break, the dancers moved to the other end of the floor and without missing a beat, the next band began to play. The Savoy was the scene of many band competitions, or “cutting contests,” as they were known. The most famous swing-era bands led by Count Basie, Chick Webb, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and many more, did battle at the Savoy and it was the inspiration for the great swing-era tune, “Stompin’ at the Savoy.”

Most importantly, the Lindy Hop and the Savoy played an important role in the beginning of the desegregation of the races in America. Annual attendance was 700,000 with an estimated mix of 85% black patrons and 15% white patrons, but some evenings it was 50-50. White dancers went uptown to the Savoy to be part of an evolving dance scene, which would ultimately become a dance craze that would sweep the nation and lead to the tearing down of barriers between the races. The Savoy was in reality a social experiment, not just a dancehall, especially when contrasted with another very famous Harlem establishment only a few blocks away, The Cotton Club, a “whites-only” venue. It was controlled by the “mob” and catered to the wealthy, featuring top black entertainers with an all-black service staff. Decorated with a jungle motif, it reeked of overt racism and the best that can be said for it was that it launched the careers of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Lena Horne.

So let’s dance!

Vail Jazz presents “Swing! Swing! Swing!” at 8 p.m. Friday, March 30 at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch. The evening of swinging dance and live music from the Tony Gulizia Sextet celebrates the 20th anniversary of Vail Jazz Goes to School.  

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Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Winter Series and the Vail Jazz Festival. 

 

Jazz and the Coffee Connection

The first beverage that comes to mind when thinking about jazz is not coffee but alcohol. The two have been served in taverns, bars, juke joints, nightclubs and dance halls since jazz’s inception in the early 20th century and the pair have been the main ingredients of a good time ever since.

While alcohol can be traced to pre-history, coffee didn’t appeared in the New World until the mid-1600s in the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (New York). The British, of course, ultimately ruled the colonies and tea was the drink of choice, but that all changed after the Boston Tea Party. Since then, coffee has been the non-alcoholic drink of choice in the U.S., with coffeehouses/coffee shops proliferating.

Fast forward to the 1940s, jazz was the popular music of the day. However, after World War II, jazz took a turn and bebop was born – a new style of jazz. Jazz was not for dancing anymore, but for listening, a thought-provoking art form, the music of the oppressed, the underdog and a vehicle to protest injustice. Bebop innovators Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie were seen as musical revolutionaries and social change was beginning to gather momentum.

In 1948, Jack Kerouac, poet and writer, was in the forefront of the “Beat” generation – the name given to a group of disillusioned youth that embraced anti-materialism with a disdain for a conventional life style. Living in New York City, Kerouac frequented jazz clubs and was greatly influenced by the beboppers’ musical revolution. His classic book “On the Road,” celebrated jazz, the musicians that were turning the jazz world upside down and the Beat generation.

Many youths were drawn to the new lifestyle and gathering places for them sprang up in urban centers: coffeehouses. These dark, seedy establishments had, in many cases, the look of an opium den, with funny names (Hungry I, Pandora’s Box, Bitter End and Fickle Pickle), where jazz, folk music (the beginning of the folk revival), poetry and comedy could be heard. Alcohol certainly didn’t disappear, but it was now cool to drink coffee while listening to jazz.

By 1958, members of the Beat generation were known as “beatniks,” the suffix of “nik” from “Sputnik” added by a newspaper columnist and it stuck. The media took over and a beatnik stereotype was created: an unkempt, sandal-wearing male, who rolled his own cigarettes, was attired in a black turtleneck sweater and a beret, with a goatee, wearing dark glasses, speaking in hipster slang, while beating out rhythms on his bongos, spouting poetry without provocation and ultimately crashing in his one-room pad. TV and movies jumped on the bandwagon and beatniks were everywhere (remember Maynard G. Krebs – actor Bob Denver – in the TV show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis?).

Actually, the beatnik look can be traced to Gillespie and Monk, who in the 1940s were often seen wearing dark glasses and berets, had goatees, spoke hipster-ese and were counter-cultural to the max.

By the mid 1960s, beatniks along with the coffeehouse craze began to fade as the moral righteousness of the Civil Rights movement took center stage and became the focus of protests against the establishment.

Today, most of the old coffeehouses are gone, having been replaced by the monotone, lookalike boxes, serving up drinks that are so outrageous that a ”venti, light-iced, skinny, hazelnut, macchiato, sugar-free syrup, extra shot, no whip” is a drink of choice. Starbucks now has over 27,000 locations worldwide, serving over 4 billion cups of “joe” a year. The name “joe” for coffee can be traced to Secretary of the Navy Josephus “Joe” Daniels, who in 1914 banned alcohol on US Navy ships. Thereafter the strongest beverage available on a ship of war was a cup of joe – black coffee.

But a funny thing happened on the way to coffee Armageddon, jazz became the soundtrack of coffee quaffing. Starbucks, Peets Coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts, three of the biggest players in the market, all now prominently feature jazz soundtracks in their establishments. Ted Gioia, a jazz historian suggests that, “Jazz is now a code word for sophistication and classiness, even affluence.” Whatever the new perception is, jazz is now part of the world of coffee.

Since I was a kid, I always loved jazz, but coffee came much later out of necessity – the all-night cram sessions before finals. Over time, I have realized that jazz and coffee have magical qualities. Both have connected me to so many people and had a remarkable impact on my life. Sitting with friends conversing and sharing thoughts over coffee has become a daily ritual for my wife and me and has enriched our lives immensely. Even solitary cups of coffees have had an amazing impact on me, as they have afforded me those private moments of introspection that are so enlightening. Whether in a group or solo, the coffee always tastes better when jazz is playing in the background.

COFFEE AND LIVE JAZZ IN MINTURN:

Vail Jazz will celebrate the recent opening of the hippest coffeehouse in the Vail Valley by presenting the Kathy Morrow Trio from 4 to 6 p.m. March 23 at Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea in Minturn. This is a free show with opportunities to sample coffees and teas along with munchies.

 

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Winter Series and the Vail Jazz Festival. 

 

The Singing and Guitar Playing Miracle

Born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Ark., Sister Rosetta Tharpe (as she became known) was the child of African American cotton pickers. Little is known about her father, but her mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was an extremely important figure in her life. Katie was a congregant of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), a black Pentecostal church, where she sang and preached in services that encouraged rhythmic music and “dancing in praise.” At age 4, Rosetta was celebrated in her community as a music prodigy, singing and playing guitar in church alongside her mother. By age 6, Rosetta was billed as the “Singing and Guitar Playing Miracle” and mother and daughter traveled throughout the South as part of a touring gospel and sermonizing group.

They settled in Chicago in the mid-1920s and performed at the 40th Street COGIC. Rosetta’s extraordinary talent created quite a stir in gospel circles and her fame began to grow. At 19, she married a COGIC preacher and by all accounts the only thing she got out of the marriage, which only lasted a few years, was her husband’s last name, “Thorpe,” which she altered to “Tharpe” and adopted it as her stage name.

In 1938, Katie and Rosetta settled in New York City and that year Rosetta recorded for the first time. The four sides on Decca were smash hits, including “This Train,” which propelled her to instant stardom and a long-term recording contract. Unfortunately, her combination of gospel-inspired lyrics with more profane music infuriated many of her core gospel audience, black churchgoers, who refused to support her as they found the non-gospel material blasphemous and were angered that Rosetta sang gospel lyrics in nightclubs that were “dens of sin.” Her cross-over to the secular side, however, greatly enlarged her overall audience, as many of her new white fans and had never heard black gospel music. She began to play an electric guitar and her playing took on more of a blues influence. Rosetta combined a driving rhythm with guitar licks that had an “attitude” and a commanding visual presence that presaged the guitar antics of rock musicians in the 1950s, while she sang gospel lyrics. She toured with gospel singer Marie Knight during the 1940s and they were billed as “The Saint and The Sinner.” Guess who was the Sinner. She claimed that she was contractually obligated to perform the type of material she was then performing, but the truth was a little more complicated than that. While Rosetta was deeply religious, she was also someone who loved the “swinging feel” of the blues and when performing, her exuberant manner and radiant smile transmitted an aura of heavenly pleasure, whether she was performing sacred or more worldly music.   

She had an extensive performance, recording and touring career well into the late 1960s, with a few ups and downs along the way. In some ways her life was not unlike the struggles described in the bible that she sang about – between good (sacred music) and evil (jazz/blues/R & B) and during most of her career she lurched back and forth between the two musically, and some would say, the same applied to the choices she made with respect to her personal life. She had a second failed marriage and there were rumors that she was bisexual and only married for appearance sake. As a publicity stunt in 1951 she married her third husband who was her manager before 25,000 people who paid to view her wedding at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. and then stayed for the concert that followed.

By the late 1950s her career appeared to be coming to an end, but she was given a reprieve in the 1960s when European audiences began to embrace American blues and she toured extensively on the Continent during that decade.  Suffering a stroke in 1970, Rosetta never fully recovered, performing sporadically until her death at the age of 58 in 1973.

Tragically buried in an unmarked grave, totally forgotten by her fans who had moved on to R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, Rosetta’s legacy appeared to have been buried with her. A black female guitar playing gospel singer didn’t easily fit the narrative of what the mainstream media was focused on in the 1970s.  However, in the 1980s and 1990s when the early rockers such as Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis began to tell the world that they had been greatly influenced by Rosetta, the media took notice. By 1998, the U.S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp in Rosetta’s honor. NPR broadcast several segments honoring her. She was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame. Her biography was written and a documentary film followed.  Thirty five years after her passing, a benefit concert in Rosetta’s memory was organized and funds were raised to place a headstone on her grave.  

Today Rosetta is not forgotten as she is now acknowledged as a pioneer who brought black gospel music to the masses in the 1930s and 1940s and most importantly that she was a women who broke down gender barriers as a guitarist who is now saluted as the “godmother of rock ‘n’ roll,” establishing herself as one of the most influential gospel/blues singers and guitarists of the mid-20th Century.

At 9 a.m. on Sept. 3 at Vail Square in Lionshead, Vail Jazz will once again present Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’. Niki will be joined by a gospel choir and an all-star band and will perform songs by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and other gospel greats in what promises to be an inspiring gospel show.

Jimmy and the Beast

Most of us associate a pipe organ with church, but well before the Ninth Century when pipe organs were first used in Western liturgical music, they were played while gladiators battled in the arenas of the Roman Empire. By the Middle Ages, large pipe organs were installed in important cathedrals in the West, but due to their size, complexity and cost it was centuries before they were commonly found in churches and even later in theaters and concert halls. That all changed in 1935, when the Hammond electric organ was invented by Laurens Hammond as a low-cost alternative to the wind-driven pipe organ.  

Initially Hammond’s company sold organs to churches and his Model A soon could also be heard at skating rinks, movie theaters, baseball parks and on the radio as the soundtrack for soap operas. Extremely popular in black churches in the South, it quickly became a mainstay of black gospel music. Over time, the Hammond organ became a staple in jazz, blues, soul, rock, reggae and even country. Although many different models of Hammond organs were produced, the B-3 model (only manufactured between 1955 and 1974) became the gold standard when an organ was called for. Today a “mint” condition B-3 sells for three to four times its original list price of $2,365 in 1955, which doesn’t sound like much now. But at the time, you could buy a new Chevy Bel Air for $2,200.  

B-3s are usually paired with a Leslie (named after its inventor, Don Leslie), which is an amplifier in a sound cabinet placed next to the organ. Ironically, Laurens Hammond opposed the combination, but it was jazz players that decided that using the Leslie was what gave the B-3 its distinctive whirling/swirling sound, known as the Doppler effect – the sound you hear as the source of a sound moves towards you and then passed you. The Leslie is able to create this unique effect by employing spinning treble horns and a stationary woofer with a spinning rotor.

B-3s have two keyboards called manuals (the upper one, the “swell” and the lower one, the “great”), each containing 61 keys, 36 drawbars and each with eight separate stops. By pulling out combinations of drawbars, the tone emitted when a key is struck can be altered. What may have sounded like a flute with one setting would then sound like a marimba with another setting. A player therefore can create millions of sounds.  Paul Shaffer of David Letterman fame succinctly said, “Within the drawbars of the B3 lies the secrets of the universe.” Many B-3 players agree and go to great lengths to conceal their drawbar settings.

There are additional keys, switches and pedals that empower the organist to add in special effects, adjust vibrato, control the volume, and employ many other sonic qualities. Finally, there is the pedalboard on the floor for playing bass notes. Containing 25 wooden keys arrayed like a keyboard, it is played by the organist’s feet. It is often joked that the pedalboard has put many bass players out of work!

Even though keyboards and synthesizers now dominate the world of music making, nothing sounds quite like a B-3, which among organ fans has taken on an aurora of an iconic symbol of a rich musical past. It’s similar to the way Harley-Davidson disciples wax poetically about their hogs. Altogether, the B-3, pedalboard, bench and Leslie weighs in at 525 pounds. Known as the Beast among organ fans who liken it to “a pipe organ on steroids,” it takes a master to tame the Beast, but in the hands (and feet) of a great player, it can be made to sound like a big band, a dozen horns, a flute, growl and squeal. And of course, it can make you feel like you are in church.

It took a while for jazz musicians to embrace the Hammond organ, but several well-known jazzmen began to play it in the 1930s. In the world of jazz organ, there is the Pre-Jimmy era and the Post-Jimmy era. The former was the period before 1955, when “organ jazz” was not that popular … with one exception. Wild Bill Davis, a jazz pianist and organist, began to explore the music possibilities of the B-3. Davis was the bridge and inspiration for James Oscar Smith, a Philadelphian pianist turned organist who burst onto the scene in 1955.  Self-taught, Jimmy explored the myriad possibilities of the B-3 and developed a technical command of the instrument and a musical approach that allowed him to combine gospel, blues and bebop and singlehandedly (actually he used both hands and feet) create a jazz genre that inspired generations of musicians that followed, whether they played jazz, blues, R&B, pop or acid jazz. Known as “God” by jazz organists, Miles Davis called Jimmy “the eighth wonder of the world.” Some called his music “soul jazz” and others called it “grits and gravy,” but it didn’t matter what it was called. It had an unmistakable groove and for the next five decades, Jimmy was the master that tamed the Beast. A true innovator, Jimmy received the NEA Jazz Master Award, the highest honor that an American jazz musician can be bestowed. He was a prolific performer, who played with most of the jazz greats of the last half of the 20th century. When he died in 2005, he left behind an extensive catalog of recordings that are musical treasures.  

Jimmy inspired many players, but one in particular – Joey DeFrancesco, also from Philadelphia – was fortunate enough to meet Jimmy when he was only 7 years old and already playing the organ. Jimmy became a life-long mentor to Joey and in turn, Joey has carried on the great B-3 tradition and imparted a Post-Jimmy era of the B-3. Vail Jazz will present Joey in concert at 6 p.m. on Aug. 24 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. Come hear the B-3 in all its glory!

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.