Gypsy Jazz – Necessity is the Mother of Invention

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

$10 Jass and Technology

The world of jazz is in a very festive mood as it celebrates a seminal year in the history of jazz: 1917. Four of the greatest masters of the art form were born that year – Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Buddy Rich.  It was also the year that the Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) recorded what is generally considered to be the first jazz recording. “Livery Stable Blues” was the hit side of the record (you remember records, you actually turned them over to hear the music that was on the other side) and on the “flip” side was “Dixieland Jass Band One-Step.” The record became an instantaneous hit and sold over one million copies, setting off a craze for jazz that ushered in the Jazz Age (the 1920s).

Recording of music on cylinders was well established in the 1880s, so why was jazz not recorded before then? Because there wasn’t any jazz to record.  While musicologists like to debate when jazz was first performed and by whom, it should be understood that even the use of the term “jazz” to describe the music was not generally agreed upon until the early 1920s, when jazz became the preferred spelling.

Whatever the origins of its name, it is clear that for at least a decade prior to the recording, jazz was evolving, but it can’t be pinpointed with accuracy when the music was first performed. This is for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that jazz is an art form that has evolved (and continues to evolve) from a combination of musical traditions and there is no one point at which all the ingredients were first fused together in a “jazzy way.”  Some of the most important ingredients include: the music of the brass and marching bands from the post-civil war era; ragtime and boogie woogie music from the late 19th century; and the blues. So when were these and other musical traditions joined together to produce jazz? No one can be sure.

Today anyone can make a recording, and of course, music is easily notated and preserved in writing. In the early 20th Century, the recording industry was concentrated in NYC and jazz was centered in New Orleans and the South, although it had begun to spread to several other urban areas. The musicians were not conservatory trained and most couldn’t read music. The widespread availability of the radio was still more than five years away and the first talkie movie was over a decade away, so the best technology of the day was a two-sided disc that when turned at 78 rotations per minute (rpm), could spread jazz throughout the globe.  

But it took the ODJB, composed of five white men traveling from New Orleans to NYC, to light the fuse that set off the jazz explosion. It should be remembered that jazz was performed for dancing and therefore jazz bands were dance bands. While the ODJB claimed to be the “creators of jazz,” it is clear that jazz was generally created by blacks and creoles in New Orleans. For many jazz historians it is a sad fact that blacks weren’t the first to record a jazz record and that the band that did had copied the music of successful black musicians in New Orleans. There was of course no one creator of the music.  The fact is that early jazz greats such as Buddy Bolden and King Oliver stayed in New Orleans and were just some of the “chefs de cuisine” that prepared the musical gumbo that became jazz, along with many others, known and unknown, that added to the jazz recipe.  

The quality of the playing on the record, with its limited improvisation and its repetitive choruses, was not the best example of jazz at the time and there was a corny aspect to the music with instruments imitating the sounds of barnyard animals, but the record displayed a lively danceable beat and the importance of the record cannot be denied. In essence, the technology of sound recording gave a large number of Americans, who had never heard jazz, their first chance to hear the music and allowed for the rapid dissemination of a regional sound, which was then embraced in the four corners of the U.S. and then globally.

The famous bandleader Paul Whiteman explained it best: “One moment jazz was unknown, a low noise in a low dive. The next, it became a serious pastime of a hundred million people, the diversion of princes and millionaires.”

The ODJB was the first band to use “Dixieland” as part of its name. While there is no doubt “Dixieland” was regularly used to describe the Southern states that seceded from the Union, the origin of Dixie as the descriptor of the South is clouded in mystery. The most accepted explanation is that “Dixie” is the corruption of the French word for 10, “dix,” and when banks in the French Quarter of New Orleans (and ultimately in the surrounding areas) first issued their own $10 bank notes with Dix on the reverse side, English-speaking southerners starting calling the bills “Dixies.” Eventually all of the South became known as Dixieland. The fact that the ODJB adopted this name also created another first, the music of New Orleans became known as Dixieland Jass and finally Dixieland Jazz.

Vail Jazz will celebrate the rich history of the music of New Orleans on July 12 at 6:30 pm and 9 p.m. when it presents the legendary Henry Butler, New Orleans blues vocalist and pianist at the Sonnenalp Hotel. In addition, Vail Jazz will present Butler, Bernstein and the Hot 9 in concert on July 13 at 6 p.m. in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. You won’t want to miss that authentic ‘Nawlins vibe.

Boogie in the Barrelhouses of the Texas Backwoods

In East Texas before the Civil War, cotton was king and so was timber, as there were vast forests of longleaf pine trees covering eastern Texas. The lumber from the trees was an ideal building material and there was a great demand for it. So slaves were not only in bondage on cotton plantations but also in lumber camps in the backwoods of East Texas, with the greatest concentration in Harrison County, north-easterly Texas. When the Civil War ended, most of the freed slaves had little prospects for employment, so out of desperation they continued to work the cotton fields and lumber camps where they had previously toiled in involuntary servitude.

By the 1870s, railroads were established in and around Harrison County in order to efficiently bring the logs to market. For most of the loggers, this was the first time they had ever heard a steam locomotive with its accelerating “chug, chug” sound, which made its way into the music of Harrison County and beyond.

In many of the lumber camps and on the outskirts of towns where African Americans were living after being freed, “barrelhouses” began to be constructed as a place the former slaves could seek entertainment away from their white bosses. These sheds were stocked with barrels of whiskey and beer, a dance floor, and usually a tinny-sounding out-of-tune upright piano played by an itinerant piano player, so the patrons could dance. Gambling and fighting went with the territory, as well as a “back room” where “railroad ladies” earned their keep. Liquor was served directly from the barrels (hence, a barrelhouse) and a lot of partying went on. Beginning in the 1870s in the barrelhouses of Harrison County, a unique sound was heard emanating from these pianos, initially known as “Fast Western” and “Fast Texas” (probably derived from the local Texas Western Railroad). The music later became known as “Barrelhouse,” “Honky Tonk” and ultimately “Boogie Woogie” or the shorten version, “Boogie.” Over the next four decades as the music evolved, it was the trains that not only inspired the music, but also transported the itinerant piano players, first from lumber camp to lumber camp, and then to New Orleans, Chicago and beyond, thereby spreading the new music to a larger urban population of willing black dancers.

Boogie sprang from the blues and had all the elements of jazz – syncopation, improvisation and that “swinging feeling.” However, the blues were traditionally played in a slow tempo, while Boogie was a fast blues for dancing. The piano was played in a percussive manner, like a drum, beating out a rhythm (generally eight beats per bar played by the left hand, while the right hand played rhythmic variations of the bass line), so dancers could move aggressively with the music. Some say the pulsating and driving rhythm had sexual overtones and while the origin of the name is not clear, brothels were known as “boogie houses” and to “pitch a boogie” was to have a party or sex. Whatever your interpretation of the music and its name, to the churchgoing blacks it was clear that this was the music of the devil, even the name suggested an abomination.
Because initially both Boogie and Ragtime were played on a piano, exclusively, and evolved at roughly the same time, they are sometimes confused, but in fact are quite different. Both styles use the right hand to play syncopations, but the left hand in Ragtime plays a bass line that is a 2/4 “oompah” type rhythm, very much like a Sousa-style march. While the left hand in Boogie has a shuffling, walking and swinging quality that creates a tension and excitement, a sense of perpetual motion, with an explosive quality, that makes you want to dance. Ragtime, on the other hand, makes you want to tap your foot.
Alan Lomax, the famous ethnomusicologist, described the originals and sounds of Boogie as follows: “Anonymous black musicians, longing to grab a train and ride away from their troubles, incorporated the rhythms of the steam locomotive and the moan of their whistles into the new dance music they were playing in jukes and dance halls. Boogie Woogie forever changed piano players, as piano players transformed the instrument into a polyrhythmic railroad train.”
By the 1920s, Boogie was well established in urban centers with large African American populations, but few white Americans knew the music. That all changed on the evening of Dec. 23, 1938, when three African American Boogie masters, Meade “Lux” Lewis, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, performed at Carnegie Hall at the legendary “Spirituals to Swing” concert. Their performances set off a nationwide dance frenzy that continues to this day. How is that possible? Think back to the early music of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis, who famously said, “They called it blues. They called it Boogie Woogie. Then they changed the name of it to Rock and Roll.” So what started out in the barrelhouses of the backwoods of Texas as a fast blues, morphed into jazz and ultimately shaped the beat of rock and roll.

Vail Jazz is pleased to present Vail’s favorite “Boogie Queen,” Marcia Ball, in concert at 6 p.m. on July 6 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. Singing and playing barrelhouse piano and the blues, Marcia always leaves her audiences wanting more.

Texas Tenor … ‘A moan within the tone’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

The Judge of Time

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

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.

Joey Alexander … Jazz Musician

A “child prodigy” is a young person endowed with extraordinary talent. When a well-respected music critic makes the pronouncement that a 6-year-old classical violinist is a child prodigy, he is opining that the young musician possesses the skills to produce a musical output comparable to what a very skilled adult violinist can produce. The critic is not saying that the prodigy is the best player the critic has ever heard (which would be a foolish statement about any musician, but it is regularly made), the critic is saying this kid is so good, he/she can enter the realm of adults who play classical music.

It should not be forgotten that possessing prodigious talent doesn’t necessarily lead to fame and fortune. The pressure placed on a youngster branded as a prodigy is enormous. The world of music (and other disciplines) is littered with kid virtuosos, who for various reasons didn’t make it in their chosen fields, or for that matter, didn’t live productive and balanced lives.

So, what if you are a true musical child prodigy, what does that lead to? It certainly puts you in the game at a very early age and many doors will be opened for you. Assuming you can successfully navigate puberty, stay focused, handle the media circus that swirls around you, deal with the expectations of family, friends, managers and agents, mature and develop as a person and definitively determine over time that you really enjoy making music, you then enter the challenging world of adulthood, where you are no longer a child, prodigy or otherwise. Hopefully the skills that you possessed when you were 6 have been honed and enhanced and you have “raised your game,” because the marketing edge of a being a wunderkind is gone.

Josiah “Joey” Alexander is a 13-year-old jazz piano player from Indonesia. Proclaimed by many to be a child prodigy, his meteoric rise to international fame is a compelling story. Born in Bali, not exactly the hotbed of jazz, he learned about jazz by listening to his father’s records. By the time he was 6, Joey had taught himself how to play piano on an electronic keyboard that his parents had purchased for him because he was hyperactive and they hoped that the keyboard would allow him to focus his outsized energy. Learning by ear the music of the giants of jazz, he also taught himself how to improvise.

He began playing in clubs in Bali while still 6 and shortly thereafter his family moved to the capital city of Jakarta, where he had greater opportunities to jam and begin formal jazz music studies. Home-schooled by his parents, his piano studies and the small world of jazz in Jakarta were the center of his universe. By the time he was 8, Herbie Hancock had heard him play and inspired him to continue. At 9, Joey competed against 43 musicians from 17 countries and won the Grand Prix at the 2013 Master-Jam Fest in the Ukraine. By 10, his fame had spread to the U.S. and in May 2014 he was invited to perform at Jazz at Lincoln Center in NYC. “Down Beat” critic Allen Morrison wrote after his performance: “If the word ‘genius’ still means anything, it applies to this prodigy.” Thereafter, he began touring throughout Asia, Europe and the U.S., performing at some of the most prestigious venues in the world of jazz, including the Newport Jazz Festival, where last summer he was the youngest performer in the history of the event.

In 2015 when Joey was 11, he released, to great critical acclaim, his debut album, My Favorite Things. The album contains jazz standards that are some of the most complicated and nuanced music in the jazz canon, all of which he arranged. Also included was Joey’s own composition “Ma Blues,” establishing his standing as a composer. The album and his performances to follow have demonstrated that Joey is no longer a child prodigy, but that he is evolving into a great jazz musician without regard to age. For you see, to truly be a jazz musician is not about technical virtuosity, but it is the ability to bring to the music a creativity that is beyond, and frankly unrelated to, technique. It requires a creativity that is based upon a form of self-expression that is separate and apart from any endowed gift and requires the musician to have the ability to communicate with the listener. This musicality generally comes from a love and understanding of the music built over years of study and performance and a maturation generally shaped by the vicissitudes of life.

How did Joey go from being a precious child with prodigious talent to an accomplished jazz musician by the time he was 13? I wish I knew and I doubt that anybody does, including Joey. But I do know what Joey wants: “I know many people call me a prodigy; I mean, OK, I thank you, but I still want to be called a jazz musician.”

Vail Jazz will present Joey Alexander in concert on Aug. 4 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.

Colorado High School Band Showcase kicks off this weekend

More free music to your ears is coming to Vail this Sunday. Every Sunday from July 31 to Aug.

21, Vail Jazz debuts a jazz band comprised of talented teens from around the state at 11 a.m.

Come early to the Vail Farmers’ Market and witness rising local talent from around the state.

 

The lineup of up-and- comers includes:

  • July 31 – Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts
  • Aug. 7 – Kent Denver School Jazz Band
  • Aug. 14 – East High School 6 th Hour Jazz Combo
  • Aug. 21 – Denver School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble

“Featuring high school-aged jazz musicians from our state is another way that Vail Jazz

showcases young musicians during the summer-long festival,” says Robin Litt, Vail Jazz

Executive Director. “Performing at the Farmers’ Market is the perfect opportunity for hundreds

of ears to soak up this pool of young talent.”

 

Performances take place at the Vail Jazz Tent, located on the west side of Solaris Plaza in Vail

Village.

 

Vail Jazz @ The Market continues through Aug. 28 each week, featuring Colorado-based

musicians and ensembles firing up a live soundtrack at the Vail Farmers Market from 12 to 3

p.m. The series continues on July 31 with The Hennessy 6, a talented sextet based in Denver.

The group, led by Sean Hennessy on trumpet, includes seamless interpretation of soulful

ballads, driving swing, Latin hard bop and more. The group has played together since 2012, but

collectively have appeared alongside Dave Liebman, Joe Walsh, Wycilffe Gordon, John Faddis,

Vince Gill and Amy Grant.

 

Also, Sunday nights never sounded so good. Local jazz legend, Tony Gulizia and drummer Brian

Loftus are joined by an exciting variety of visiting jazz musicians each week at the event’s new

home at the Four Seasons Resort. The series has been a big hit and takes place from 8 to 10

p.m. every Sunday through Aug. 28. On July 31, Sean Hennessy will join Gulizia and Loftus on

trumpet.

 

Free Sunday night performances and Vail Jazz @ The Market are part of the 22 nd Annual Vail

Jazz Festival, which offers more than 60 live shows in Vail throughout the summer and

culminates in the Vail Jazz Party, a five-day blowout of wall-to- wall performances over Labor

Day Weekend. For information, visit www.vailjazz.org or call 888.VAIL.JAM

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.