Dave Tull Refines his Fresh Jazz Formula

Dave Tull is a perfectionist. As evidence, consider the reason his recent album was nearly 10 years in the making.

He really wanted to get it right.

“It takes me forever to write something,” says the musician, who has been playing drums since he was 10 years old and added singing to his repertoire when he discovered that the coordination required of both was oddly seamless. “When I deal with other people’s writing, sometimes I wonder if they were thrown off course. I wonder if they took another half hour, if they could have come up with another, much better line. I don’t call something finished until the song is absolutely what it needs to be. When an idea or a chord progression comes to me, it’s very organic. But hopefully there is honesty there, legitimacy and a certain amount of quality. That’s why I take such a long time.”

There’s no question that each track on the recently released “Texting and Driving,” checks all the boxes on that list.

Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Tull’s journey as a jazz musician began on a well-trodden path.

“I was lucky I was given a lot of great influences, not the least of which were in my household,” he says. “I was paired with great teachers and there were all the right influences along the way to keep me energized. The big band thing came naturally growing as a drummer. The Bay area was a great place to grow up for jazz. I kept taking that next step.”

Before and after his time training at California State Northridge, Tull clocked hours upon hours listening to standards and memorizing solos.

“I would listen to jazz records, sometimes a hundred times. If you have a favorite record, you start memorizing solos and lyrics. It was so natural to me to sing and make up my own solos. I found I was walking down the street and had chord changes in my head. I was making up choruses and melodies,” Tull says.

Still, the drummer was more focused on his chosen instrument and never intended to showcase any vocal talent to actual audiences.

“The singing kind of developed on its own, but never like I would do it in public. It was just an outlet for me playing a non-pitched instrument,” he says. “By the time I wanted to sing tunes in clubs, I was doing gigs. The foundations of drumming were so solidly in place, it wasn’t that hard to add singing on top of it.”

Although he has a stacked resume as a sideman, including contributions on numerous Michael Bublé albums and touring with Barbara Streisand, Tull discovered that he was a natural bandleader. In addition to his keen ear, sense of harmony and uncanny ability to keep beats while creating compositions, Tull realized he possessed a handful of additional traits not always prominent in traditionally trained jazz artists.

“I think there’s a lot more humor in jazz than people realize and I like to find it,” he says. “Sometimes we as jazz musicians take ourselves too seriously. I’ll write any song that occurs to me. It’s not necessarily funny. Sometimes it’s a story song. Sometimes it’s a sad song. I bring the people in with a range of emotion.”

Even traditionalists who have approached Tull’s originals as naysayers have soon been converted.

“I’m a crusader against that attitude we sometimes find in jazz audiences that they don’t want to hear anything new,” he says. “I try to write so they’ll be drawn into the story, or the humor in some cases. If it is well written, they’ll go, ‘I normally don’t like original tunes, but I like this one.’”

Also, let’s not forget that Tull loves the standards as much as the next guy.

“I’m with those people who say ‘they used to do it so good.’ But I don’t see how someone can’t write them how they used to, structure the melody so it builds to that stop with such power,” he says. “I believe the older school audience will embrace my songs as soon as they hear they’re good like the classics. When I perform for a younger audience used to simpler tunes who say, ‘I don’t like jazz, jazz is too much,’ I love winning them over, too.”

The 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series returns to Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on March 14 with Dave Tull’s CD release party “Texting and Driving.” The evening features two 75-minute performances with Dave Tull, Jeff Jenkins and Ken Walker. Doors open at 5:30 and the first performance launches at 6 p.m. The second seating takes place at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service featuring favorites from the Bully Ranch and a full bar will be available at both seatings.

Click here for tickets to the 6 p.m. seating.

Click here for tickets to the 8:30 p.m. seating.

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.

Milt Hilton celebrated at the Vail Jazz Festival

Vail Jazz is pleased to celebrate the remarkable work of legendary jazz bassist and photographer Milt Hinton. A three-part celebration includes a digital photography exhibit, to be displayed August 3rd – September 5th, a Documentary screening and a multi-Media Tribute to Hinton both on September 2nd .


One of the most recorded musicians of the 20th century, he also managed to take more than 60,000 photographs to document his career. Since his passing in 2000, Directors David G. Berger, Holly Maxson and Kate Hirson bring Milt Hinton’s music and photographs back to life as curators of the Milton J. Hinton Photographic Collection.


Born in 1910 in the deep south of Mississippi, Milt faced extreme poverty and racism, but turned to music where he would find his community. Showing incredible talent at a young age, Milt would find his break with Cab Calloway, touring across the country for almost fifteen years. While balancing family and professional life, Milt toured with Louis Armstrong and from the mid 1950s-70s, was among the first African-Americans to be called in for regular studio session work. Known for recording and performing with a diverse roster of artists including Billy Holiday, Johnny Mathis, Barbra Streisand, Benny Goodman or Bing Crosby, Milt soaked up the jazz scene up until the late 1990s.


While many people put session musicians in the background, it was hard for Milt Hinton to stay there. Mastering a profound musicianship and extensive harmonic knowledge, Milt blew other artists out of the water, where his technical diversity and strengths benefitted sessions greatly. It was in 1935 when Milt received his first camera for his 25th birthday and showed a love for photography, (a 35 mm Argus C3 back then) would spend the rest of his life documenting festivals, studio sessions, tour life, and iconic legends in a beautiful and sentimental way. Whether Milt knew at the time or not that his music and photography would one day play such an important part of American jazz history, is truly an answer many jazz heads want to know.


Watch Clips from the documentary here:




Don’t miss this rare documentary being shown at the Vail Jazz party in the Grand Ballroom at the Vail Marriott, tickets available for $20 https://www.vailjazz.org/tickets/vail-jazz-party-tickets/

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.


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.

Explore the roots of Cuban music with Maraca and his Latin Jazz All-stars

Join us August 18th, as Vail greets flutist Orlando “Maraca” Valle and his Latin Jazz All-Stars to Vail Jazz @ Vail Square starting at 6 pm. Performing with a seven piece band, you can already hear the exotic Latin beat of the congas and percussion, the warm sounds of salsa on the piano, the bright melodies of the trombone, groovy, fusion inspired bass lines, and the hot jazz sax making their way to Vail.


For over twenty years, Maraca and his Latin Jazz All-Stars have composed and arranged the authentic sounds and feelings from the Cuban culture. In 2003, Maraca received a Grammy nomination for Best Salsa Album with their album Tremenda Rumba, while also, topping the Billboard charts.


Having performed Afro-Cuban music in over 41 countries, the road has not been easy for this Cuban band. While politics have played a frustrating part in many Cuban musicians careers, as many Cuban bands have been restricted to travel and performing this rich music for fans abroad. However, Maraca continued to fight for Afro-Cuban music, and despite overwhelming visa and immigration laws, they encouraged listeners to not forget Cuban music and the Cuban people. In this time of turmoil, it was music that played a large part in bridging cultures together. It was musicians such as Maraca that started normalizing relations between countries, fighting for music to bring one another together.


Maraca’s music makes the listener feel intrigued and sparks conversation. With important messages and themes expressed in emotional vocals, this band practices what they preach, and have lived through incredible life experiences. Always giving a first class show, this band works extremely hard on stage to put on a spectacular show. Pouring their blood, sweat and tears into every salsa song.


Even today, Maraca plays with the traditional Cuban style and introduces contemporary harmonies and rhythms that sound energizing. Brining a little flair of Cuba to the audience, even here in Colorado! Music has truly shaped these musicians lives, and it’s evident as they perform with high enthusiasm night after night.



Catch this New Jazz Fronteirs Video:



See you at the show! General Admission tickets are $20 and Premium tickets are $40, tickets can be purchased at https://www.vailjazz.org/events/maraca-latin-jazz-stars/

Sensational GRAMMY performer Joey Alexander set to light up the keys in Vail

Young pianist and his trio bring masterful sound to Lionshead on Thursday

Living in the moment is a philosophy that Joey Alexander follows not only to his musical career but also in life.

Speaking on the phone with the Balinese pianist, it is nearly impossible to tell that he just turned 13. He is gracious and thoughtful when answering questions and amazingly articulate for a boy his age, especially given that he’s only been learning English for a couple of years.

But considering his eloquence on the piano – evidenced by the rapt attention of fellow musical stars at this year’s GRAMMY Awards performance and pretty much wherever else he plays – it’s really not that much of a surprise.

Joey taught himself how to play an electric keyboard at the age of 6. He received his first real piano at age 7 and by the time he was 8, was performing for the likes of Herbie Hancock.

“I don’t remember exactly when I felt like this is what I’m going to do, I was just playing,” Joey says. “I could just feel it. It’s such a big instrument and the keys, the mechanics … I just loved the big sound of it. It was kind of hard for me to reach the high notes – I was very small at the time – but I loved the big sound. That’s what interests me about the piano … it’s orchestra. It’s a complete instrument.”

At 10, thanks to a special invitation by Wynton Marsalis, he made his debut at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Shortly afterward, he and his family moved from Indonesia to New York City. He performed on two stages at the Newport Jazz Festival. Since moving to the U.S. he has played at major jazz festivals around the world as well as at the White House for President Obama. His debut album – 2015’s My Favorite Things – garnered two GRAMMY nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Solo (on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”). A forthcoming album – Countdown – is scheduled for a September release and Joey is excited to perform his new material in Vail this Thursday.

“On this record I explore more musically,” he says, adding that the album features three of his original compositions. “I compose something when I’m practicing but not really thinking about it. It just flows to me, almost [directly] to my hands. It just comes out.”

The young artist was performing in upstate New York on his 13th birthday this June. He says there was no place he’d rather be than on stage to celebrate his existence. The venue surprised him with a piano-shaped birthday cake and the entire audience singing, “Happy Birthday.”

“It was a surprise,” he says. “Everyone was clapping and singing. I was actually very happy that I was even playing. It was [enjoyable] for me to be on stage when I can share my day and the talent that god’s given me.”

When asked to name his most exciting or memorable experience so far in his young musical career, one would think Joey would immediately name his White House or GRAMMY performance, but no.

“For me a small stage, a big stage, everything is really important to me,” he says. “It’s the music I want to give. Every experience has a different vibe for sure. There are people that just want to listen. When I went to Europe, every city was a different vibe, which was great.”

As far as his future goals, the 13-year-old is not someone who looks ahead but who embraces what is right before him.

“I always want to be thankful. I’m really happy with what I’m doing now,” he says. “Of course I’m thinking forward about how I [can] better myself, but not thinking about the future. That’s the thing about jazz …it’s about the moment.”

Joey Alexander, 13-year-old piano sensation, performs with bassist Dan Chmielinski and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. this Thursday at Vail Square. The performance is from 6 to 8 p.m. inside the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. General admission tickets are sold out but premium seating is available for $40 in advance. For tickets or more information visit 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.

Seasoning & Spice: Hear Camilo Twice

Just as a Spanish kitchen heats up quickly, filling the air with aromas and flavors of hot peppers and savory rice into a sizzling dish, Michel Camilo takes the stage with zest, putting a dash of salt and pepper into his original piano compositions and arrangements. The Grammy award winning Pianist & Composer infuses Latin-Jazz and Classical music together right at his fingertips. Forming advanced and modern compositions and arrangements. Camilo takes the influences of big band music and transforms the style into vibrant solo piano.

On his latest album “What’s Up?” Camilo takes standards such as “Take Five” and “Love for Sale” and performs them in an explosive and unheard velocity. Camilo incorporates new originals “Paprika”, “On Fire” and “Island Beat” that intrigue the audience to internalize the music not just through the ears, but that make you want to dance from your head to your toes!

Michel Camilo is not afraid to show versatility, from collaborating with Latin-Jazz artists such as Paquito D’Rivera, Tomatito and Gary Burton to performing original piano concertos with some of the world’s biggest symphonies including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra of his home country Dominican Republic.

Vail Jazz is pleased to welcome to the stage this summer, Michel Camilo along with Cliff Almond on Drum & Percussion and Latin-Jazz Bassist Lincoln Goines. The three were recently featured together on the album Playing Lecuona and performances include the Blue Note Nyc/Tokyo, Ronnie Scott’s Newport Jazz Festival, and Copenhagen Jazz House.

See live performance video in Madrid here:

Tickets for Michel Camilo’s Jazz Trio Performance on July 27th, and July 28th,

are now available at www.vailjazz.org/tickets/

Bria Skonberg returns to Vail for two sizzling performances

The New York City-based trumpeter and vocalist brings her dynamic sound for double nights at Vail Jazz.

It happened. Bria Skonberg is officially big time. The Canadian-born trumpeter and vocalist who has hit the jazz world like a supernova over the last few years was signed by Sony Music earlier this summer. Raise your hand if you’re surprised.

That’s what we thought.

The 32-year-old New York City resident blew the doors off during her Vail debut last year and is back by popular demand, performing an intimate show at the Vail Jazz Club Series July 20 and then taking the stage at Lionshead July 21 for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square.

Growing up in a farming community about an hour east of Vancouver, B.C., Skonberg dabbled on the piano, bass and clarinet before settling on the trumpet. She began singing in high school and by the time she graduated, was the star of the school band and choir, captain of the basketball team, president of student council and manager of several of her own bands, including a jazz ensemble, big band and marching band.

Skonberg has been working full-time as a professional musician for 10 years and moved to New York City in 2010. She has released three studio albums and performs regularly around Manhattan with Wycliffe Gordon and a slew of other jazz greats in between traveling the world with her own quintet. Rooted in traditional jazz but featuring world percussion and alluring melodies, her fourthcoming studio record was crowd funded last year. Oh, but how the framework has changed since then. After overwhelmingly meeting the crowd funding goal, producing the record and bringing it to several labels, the album will be released by Sony’s Portrait Records on Sept. 23, simply entitled, Bria.

“I was waiting,” she says. “It was six months of crossing my fingers and not being able to say much because I didn’t want to jinx it. It’s exciting on so many levels. I’d like to think mostly because now I can focus more on the musical experience.”

What can one expect of Skonberg’s musical experience? Let’s say that profound ambiance (and a little hypnosis, in case she’s performing her rendition of The Jungle Book’s “Trust in Me”) is what she’s going for.

“The vibe is what I’m honing in on,” she says. “I like the swampy, Duke Ellington, exotic-sounding stuff. That’s where my trumpet and voice meet and compliment each other.”

Always pragmatic, in spite of her big label status, Skonberg is not the type to envision her symphonic debut in front of hundreds of thousands or to dream of yachts and mansions.

“I live in reality. If somebody says, ‘what size is your dream band?’ I say, ‘I can fit five people in a minivan.’ I’m practical in a lot of ways, but this gives me the opportunity to dream a little bit. What I would love and what will happen more is getting people to help wrangle the details – interviews, media, tour logistics. My dream would be to spend more time playing trumpet and writing music.”

Skonberg also dedicates a fair share of time on musical education. She’s worked with youth outreach programs through Juilliard and Jazz at Lincoln Center. As co-founder of the New York Hot Jazz Festival, which recently partnered with Central Park’s Summer Stage and is now a major attraction, she hosted a New York Hot Jazz camp for adults this spring.

“We had people come in from Denver, Virginia, British Columbia … a great group of people. We had an 18-year-old and an 82-year-old. They came to learn how to play New Orleans-style jazz for a week. The camp gives people an opportunity to not just play by themselves, but play in a band setting around likeminded musicians,” she says. “I realized age has nothing to do with energy level, especially when it comes to playing music. There is no division for age, gender, race … any of that. It’s about bringing people together no matter what experiences you’ve had. That was a long-term dream. Next year we’ll have a youth camp and an adult camp.”

When asked if she could foresee herself still belting out trumpet solos or singing sultry tunes when she reaches the age of 82, she laughs.

“I hope I’m retired by 42,” she says.

But she’s joking. Or maybe not …

Don’t miss Bria Skonberg on July 20 at the Vail Jazz Club Series at its new location in Mountain Plaza Lounge. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40 in advance. Bria’s quintet, including Eric Wheeler on bass, Evan Arntzen on clarinet and saxophone, Ehud Asherie on piano and Jerome Jennings on drums, then takes the big stage for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8  p.m. on July 21 at the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. Tickets are $20 for general admission or $40 for premium seating. For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.