Brownie: A trumpet king uncrowned

The quickest way to fame today is to be outrageous. With social media and 24-7 news cycles, everyone has a shot at their 15 minutes of fame and the possibility that they can “cash in” on their celebrity status. What passes for “news” is yesteryear’s gossip. When I was a kid, drug addiction, infidelity and divorce didn’t make you famous, it made you infamous. The path to notoriety today is simple: do or say something stupid and make sure there is video of your antics and hope it goes viral. The more shocking your conduct, the more likely it will be noticed and you will be projected into the limelight (actually limelights were replaced by electric lights in theaters in the late 19th century).

In the 1940s to the 1960s many jazz musicians did a lot of stupid things, especially taking drugs, but their goal was to get high, not get caught. The last thing a jazz musician wanted was to get busted or be known as a drug user since drug use could lead to unemployment in NYC because of the revocation of your “cabaret card.” Many musicians did get busted and the public’s perception of the world of jazz, which was never very high due to its earthy origins and the early venues it was performed in (whorehouses and later speakeasies), suffered even more. It is true that many of the jazz musicians who became famous were drug addicts, but they didn’t become famous because they took drugs, they were great jazz artists. But just like today, shocking behavior got you noticed.

One of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, altoist Charlie “Bird” Parker, and his inner circle of jazz musicians, were drug addicts. Many of Bird’s followers wrongly believed that they had to get high so they could play like Bird. Bird would be dead at the age of 34 because of his drug abuse. Fats Navarro, one of the greatest jazz trumpeters, died at the age of 26 from tuberculosis and complications from his heroin addiction.

Bird and Fats are mentioned because they played a central role in the artistic life of Clifford Brown, fondly known as “Brownie,” one of the greatest jazz trumpeters that ever lived. Who you say? Yes, Brownie stands alongside the trumpet kings Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie in the pantheon of the greatest jazz trumpeters of all time. If you are mildly aware of jazz history, you probably at least have heard about the first three trumpeters, but unfortunately it is doubtful that you know who Brownie was.

From late 1951, before Brownie was 21, to mid-1956 Brownie played with the who’s who of jazz, many of whom were drug addicts. By 1953 he had extensively toured and recorded in the US and Europe and his reputation and fame were beginning to spread.

By early 1954 he was co-leader of one of the most respected groups in jazz, being hailed as the next Dizzy Gillespie and winning the “New Star Award” in the Down Beat Critics Poll. After a whirlwind courtship he married in 1954 and before the end of 1955 Clifford Brown Jr. was born.

By 1956 Brownie had it all, having ascended to the pinnacle of the world of jazz. Known as a caring, kind and warm person, both on and off the band stand, he was respected and admired by his peers and fans. He composed a number of tunes, two of which, “Joy Spring” and “Daahoud,” have become jazz standards, played and recorded by legions of great jazz musicians over the past 60 years.

Brownie has been described as a brilliant and profound musician who never played a wrong note. He emerged over a four and half year period as a complete musician who had a virtuosic command of the trumpet, with a warm and pure tone, whether playing in the lowest or highest register of his horn. His technical prowess was remarkable, as he could play in an understated lyrical way or a “burning” way, articulating every note.

He escaped the culture of drugs that surrounded him and that killed so many of his jazz contemporaries and always kept his focus on the music. So why don’t most people know who he was? Why didn’t he join Louis, Miles and Dizzy as a Trumpet King? He tragically died in a car accident before he was 26 and since there were no drugs, no scandals, no shameful or shocking behavior, he quickly disappeared from the front pages of the newspapers. His life was sadly cut short, but fortunately his music can still be heard and on the evening of Sept. 6, Vail Jazz will present Byron Stripling in his Multi-Media Tribute to Brownie at the Marriott Hotel as part of the 21st Annual Vail Jazz Festival.

Howard.mugShotHoward Stone is the founder and artistic director of The Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 21st 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.

 

Hazel Scott: To thy own self be true

This year as part of the 21st Annual Vail Jazz Festival, we pay tribute to the contributions that women have made to jazz, presenting some of the top performers in jazz today. The festival culminates with the screening of the wonderful documentary film “The Girls in the Band” and a special performance of a “Multi-Media Tribute to Women in Jazz” over Labor Day Weekend. Much has been written about the plight of women in jazz and how difficult their journey has been in the male dominated genre. While focusing on this issue in an upcoming article, today I want to pay tribute to Hazel Dorothy Scott, a jazz pianist, singer and entertainer, not because of her prodigious musical talents (she was a remarkably gifted and dedicated musician), but because of her dedication to her ideals that epitomized her strength of character and a commitment to honesty and integrity that we all too often pay lip-service to: “to thy own self be true.” Her story has rarely been told, but it deserves to be known by all as she was a remarkable person.

A music prodigy, Scott was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago in 1920, and was brought to New York City at the age of 4. By the time she was 8, she was attending the Juilliard School on scholarship and by her teens she was an accomplished pianist performing in a jazz band and on the radio. Among her early credits were performances at the Roseland Dance Hall with the Count Basie Orchestra, Café Society’s “ From Bach to Boogie-Woogie” in Carnegie Hall and theater appearances in the “Cotton Club Revue of 1938.” Scott was equally comfortable performing classical and jazz (including blues and boogie-woogie) repertoire on the piano and singing ballads and Broadway tunes.

Scott felt strongly about civil rights and as her star power grew she had the opportunity to become more of an activist. In the early 1940s Scott began making films in Hollywood and together with Lena Horne was the first African American woman to successfully demand that she not be cast as a singing maid or in other demeaning roles. Instead Scott played roles where she was cast as herself. Her film career with Columbia Pictures ended abruptly when she clashed with the studio over a costume which she felt “stereotyped blacks.”

By the mid-1940s she was a major star earning $75,000 per year – equivalent to $1,000,000 per annum today – and her commitment to her ideals and civil rights were even more at the forefront of her ambition. While touring in Texas, Scott refused to perform before a segregated audience and had to be escorted by Texas Rangers from the venue. After the incident she asked: “Why would anyone come to hear me, a Negro, and refuse to sit beside someone just like me?”

 

When she and a companion were refused service in a restaurant in Washington in 1949, Scott brought suit and inspired civil rights organizations to successfully pressure the state of Washington to pass legislation outlawing discrimination in public accommodations.

By 1950 she was the star of “The Hazel Scott Show,” becoming the first African American woman to have her own television show. By all accounts, she was sitting on top of the world, having conquered stage, screen, nightclubs and finally television, but storm clouds were gathering in the U.S. and Scott was one of many caught up by the Red Scare of Joseph McCarthy.

Called before the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee to testify, Scott’s lifetime of hard work was destroyed in one afternoon. The week following her testimony, Scott’s television show was cancelled and her career began to decline and work became harder and harder to get.

By the late 1950s with her career in shambles, Scott left the U.S. for Paris and for the next decade she struggled to maintain her career, appearing in French films and touring periodically in Europe. In 1967 with the Civil Rights movement well underway, she returned home but never regained the career she once had. Playing occasional nightclub gigs, Scott began appearing in daytime television soap operas until 1981, when she died of cancer at the age of 61.

Hazel Dorothy Scott paid a dreadful price for having the courage to stand up and fight for what she knew was right, but her commitment to her principles inspired countless others to defend their rights and paved the way for successive generations of people of color to have an equal opportunity in the film and entertainment industry and beyond.

Howard.mugShot Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of The Vail Jazz Foundation,   which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 21st 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.

 

Was Sinatra a jazz singer?

On July 13, Vail Jazz celebrates the centennial of the birth of Francis Albert Sinatra in a special show entitled “A Swingin’ Affair,” featuring Curtis Stigers and the H2 Big Band. Sinatra, variously known as “The Voice,” “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” “The Chairman of the Board,” “Frankie” and “The Sultan of Swoon,” was by most accounts the greatest entertainer in the history of American pop culture, with a career that spanned more than five decades from the late 1930s to the 1990s. Dropping out of high school with no formal music training, he couldn’t read music, but he went from a teen idol to a living legend. His first hit, “All or Nothing at All,” foretold his future and summed up his philosophy and the arc of his career.

Much has been written about him as a cultural icon and the public has had an insatiable appetite for the salacious details of his personal life and all his exploits, womanizing, connections to the mob, leader of the Rat Pack and much more. It should not be forgotten that he was the winner of nine Grammy Awards, three Academy Awards, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal. In addition, he spoke out against anti-Semitism and was involved in the civil rights movement as well as being very philanthropic.

DEFINING JAZZ

Sinatra was no doubt a great pop singer, but I focus here on a simple question: Was he a jazz singer? I’ll answer that with another question: Does it snow in Vail? The unequivocal answer is YES!

Dropping out of high school with no formal music training, he couldn’t read music, but he went from a teen idol to a living legend.

So what is a “jazz singer”? While there is no rigid definition, the hallmark of jazz and therefore a jazz vocalist is to swing and improvise. Swing is hard to define, but according to jazzinamerica.org, a performance swings when it uses “a rhythmically coordinated way … to command a visceral response from the listener (to cause feet to tap and heads to nod).” If you still don’t get what swing is, listen to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers,” one of Sinatra’s greatest recorded tunes. If you still don’t get it, I suggest that you focus your listening on polka music!

To improvise in the world of jazz is to compose on the spot. Techniques such as singing behind the beat, accenting words and changing the phrasing (grouping lyrics in a way that is different than the composer wrote them, but suits the vocalist’s sensibility of how the lyrics should be interpreted), altering (and substituting) lyrics, all allow a vocalist to make a song his own. In essence, by using these techniques (not just as techniques, but as a way of communicating with the listener), the vocalist becomes the composer of a new song (based of course on the original one) and if the vocalist can make the listener tap his feet, click his figures or nod his head, you have a jazz vocalist.

Sinatra had swagger, and his half-cocked hat said that he was a jazz musician, but attitude and attire are not enough. He sang and recorded with many jazz greats. His phrasing and music sensibility were admired by great jazz musicians such as Count Basie, Miles Davis and Lester “Prez” Young and many more, but it is not the company you keep or the admirers that you have, but how you sing that determines your bon fides as a jazz singer. He recorded albums with the great Nelson Riddle with titles such as “Swing Easy,” “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” and “A Swingin’ Affair,” but branding is one thing and really swinging is another.

AN ‘HONEST’ SINGER

Ultimately, you have to be able to deliver the goods and The Chairman of the Board could. Learning early in his career how to sustain long unbroken phrases without pausing to catch his breath allowed him to be adventurous with the phrases of a song. Sinatra listened to the jazz instrumental soloists he admired and used similar phrasing in his performances. Students of Sinatra’s catalog can point to numerous renditions of Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer lyrics that Sinatra “tweaked,” remaking these standards into his own. His diction was impeccable but yet had a conversational quality. It has been said that he had an incredible sense of time which allowed him to alter a phrase so the beat didn’t always coincide with the ending of a rhyme, but created a sense of sincerity making the lyrics more personal and causing the listener to believe the story that was being told. In fact he was quoted as saying: “When I sing, I believe. I’m honest.”

How ‘Gypsy Jazz’ moved from India to France to Vail

Our story begins in northern India more than 1,500 years ago when a small group of Hindi people began migrating from their homeland. Over centuries they made their way through the Balkans to Eastern Europe and ultimately throughout the world. They are the Roma or Romani people, known as Gypsies, a term many feel is used pejoratively against a people who have been persecuted wherever they have settled. Being predominately dark skinned, they have not been welcomed in their host countries and have continuously been on the move with a nomadic lifestyle. Originally thought to have come from Egypt, the term “Gypsy” was derived from the mistaken belief that this was their country of origin, but geneticists using the DNA of the Romani have conclusively traced their origins to the Punjab region of India.

The critically-acclaimed Django Festival All-Stars, who will play at Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on July 2

Blessed with a rich musical tradition, many earned their living by being nomadic entertainers and wherever they took refuge, they greatly influenced the music traditions of their hosts. This outsized impact can be heard in the flamenco music of Spain, derived directly from Romani music. Turkish, Russian and Eastern European music has been greatly influenced by Romani music (e.g., Liszt’s famous “Hungarian Rhapsodies”) and there is now a well-established technique of violin playing known as Gypsy Violin.

Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt, the son of a traveling entertainer, was born in Belgium in 1910 but grew up in France in a Gypsy settlement outside of Paris. Django began to play music at an early age, but his left hand was severely burned in a campfire when he was 18. He overcame the disability by inventing a unique fingering technique on the guitar, and by the ’30s, he was touring internationally, becoming one of the most important jazz guitarists of all time. As a founding member of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, he invented a style of jazz known as “Gypsy Jazz” that has been played for more than 80 years throughout the world. Django could not read music, but that didn’t matter. By using a guitar as a rhythm instrument (the player strums it in a distinctive percussive manner), Django was able to dispense with the drums and was able to combine two guitars (one rhythm and one melody), a violin, an accordion and a bass to create the classic “hot club” sound. With the emphasis on the second and fourth beat of each measure, Gypsy Jazz has a “swinging” toe-tapping feel that never fails to entertain.

The vocal sensation Cyrille Aimée, who will play at Vail Jazz Club Series on July 15 and Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on July 16

Branding is everything today, and in the world of Gypsy Jazz, there is no shortage of “Hot Club” bands here in the U.S. — the Hot Club of Detroit, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and even Cowtown, to name a few. In addition, there are many Django festivals in cities throughout the U.S. and Europe, with some straying from the authentic into a more commercialized form of the music, which is sometimes jokingly referred to as “Gadjo Jazz” (Romani for “non-Romani jazz”).

Carrying on the true tradition of Django is the Festival de Jazz Django Reinhardt presented annually in Samois-sur-Seine, France (the town where Django lived at the end of his life — he died tragically of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 43). This lovely town is venerated by the Gypsy Jazz community as being the place where authentic Django music is presented each year. With devotees (listeners and performers alike) from throughout the world descending on this beautiful village not far from Fontainebleau, it becomes the center of Gypsy Jazz for one week each year in late June.

So now you know the part of the story of how a unique music made its way from India to France, but where does Vail fit into the story? This year, Vail Jazz is pleased to celebrate the music of Django in Vail during our 21st annual Vail Jazz Festival by presenting two of the most compelling internationally known interpreters of Gypsy Jazz: The Django Festival All-Stars (6 p.m. July 2 at Vail Jazz at Vail Square in Lionshead); and vocalist Cyrille Aimee (9 p.m. July 15 at Cucina at the Lodge at Vail and at 6 p.m. July 16 at Vail Jazz at Vail Square in Lionshead). The All-Stars are a quintet with classic instrumentation and a commitment to swing hard and faithfully play the music of Django. Aimee is a Vail Jazz Festival favorite who grew up in Samois-sur-Seine and fell in love with Gypsy Jazz as a young girl. She is now entertaining audiences with a wide range of vocal stylings, including Gypsy Jazz, that have propelled her to the top of the world of jazz.

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Howard Stone