Q+A with the Vail Jazz Workshop instructors: Wycliffe Gordon

Born in Waynesboro, Georgia, Wycliffe Gordon was raised in a musical family so it’s no wonder he first picked up the trombone at the age of 12. Wycliffe has dedicated his life to jazz on many levels; beyond interpretation and performance, he has served as a musical ambassador of America’s original art form, as a U.S. Statesman of Jazz and ambassador for the U.S. State Department. He is also a committed educator, and is a founding faculty member of the Jazz Studies Program at the Juilliard School.

Professionally Wycliffe has enjoyed a highly successful career as a soloist and in groups, playing with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Tommy Flanagan, and Wynton and Branford Marsalis, to name a few. He was recently featured on the cover of Downbeat Magazine, and has won the Critic’s Choice award for Best Trombonist three years running.

 

Q+A WITH WYCLIFFE GORDON

What is the best aspect of Vail Jazz? 

It’s about bringing great things to the community but playing it forward by having a program that allows select students to come study with masters of the art form. It’s a great opportunity for them and also great for us to meet the next bandleaders, composers, arrangers, and conductors.

What is the most memorable comment or compliment you’ve received?

All of the audience members who come up with tears in their eyes saying I played something that helped them get up through something. It’s what music does. It brings us all together.

What is your favorite pre-gig sipper?

A very dry martini, a little dirty with a blue cheese olive.

What is the most striking venue you have ever performed at?

Vail is certainly up there, looking at those mountains. Australia: the open land, Sydney, Melbourne… Australia might be number one.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for next week’s “Q+A with: Lewis Nash”!

This article is part of a 6-part series highlighting the Vail Jazz Workshop instructors, who comprise the Vail Jazz Party House Band. In it’s 20th year, the Vail Jazz Workshop recruits 12 of the nation’s most talented teenage jazz musicians who travel to Vail for a week of intensive, two-to-one learning with the instructors. The students refine their skills, learn the art of playing by ear and most importantly, come to own and hone their special talents. Thanks to their Vail Jazz mentors, nearly all of the students have gone on to become professional musicians.

Girl-powered jazz comes to Vail

VAIL — When it comes to talent, gender has nothing to do with it. DIVA, the 15-piece all-female jazz orchestra from New York, delivers a jaw-dropping wall of sound that puts many all-male acts to shame. That each ironclad musician looks like she’s having the time of her life at every performance makes for incomparable, swinging and gripping entertainment.

DIVA drummer Sherrie Maricle became the first member of DIVA when the band was formed more than 23 years ago by fellow drummer and artist manager Stanley Kay. As Maricle tells it, she was performing in the pick-up orchestra at a Maurice Hines concert that Kay was conducting for the Shubert Theater’s 75th anniversary. After the show, Kay approached Maricle and “asked if I knew other women who played as well as I did.”

Of course, she knew plenty. After an audition bringing in 40 top musicians from all over the world, the group was whittled down to 15 and DIVA was born.

“Over the last 23-plus years of leading the band and playing with dozens of others, I can tell you with 100-percent certainty that there is absolutely NO difference in talent, skill, passion or creativity between DIVA and any other world-class concert jazz orchestra,” Maricle said, naming Jazz at Lincoln Center, Maria Schneider, Clayton-Hamilton, Count Basie, Vanguard and Gordon Goodwin as examples. “The only thing I have noticed is that the DIVA performance dynamic – collectively and individually – is one that is fully engaged, aware, supportive and wildly enthusiastic regarding the music, each other and the audience. I don’t always experience that with other groups.”

“The most fun for me is being in the center of the band — literally and metaphorically — and leading from the inside, creating a pulse like a heart beat. Drummers naturally have a lot of control, leader or not, over the band dynamics, energy and phrasing … so that’s exciting. I also aspire to always inspire, highlight and support my bandmates.”Sherrie MaricleDrummer, DIVA

The highlights

When asked to name highlights in DIVA’s decorated career, Maricle says “Oh My Gosh…there have been soooo many!”

Among them, the first of DIVA’s many featured performances with The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, the 25th Anniversary of the Kennedy Center’s TV Special and the band’s first tours of Finland, Japan and Vietnam. Then there was the feature on NPR’s “Piano Jazz,” and creating the soundtrack for New York City’s (NBC and Macy’s) enormous fireworks display. Oh yes, there was also that pivotal appearance in the award-winning documentary “The Girls in the Band” (which will be presented at this Labor Day Weekend’s Vail Jazz Party). Maricle says that her band’s (DIVA and also the jazz quintet Five Play, each of which produces and performs all original compositions and arrangements) 13 albums, including a couple of new additions coming soon, “are like my children.”

Since attending parades as a small child and singling out the drummers as the coolest members of the band because they never stopped playing, Maricle has been drawn to the drums. But “the true enlightenment moment” came when she was 11 and saw Buddy Rich perform with His Killer Force Orchestra.

“When the band played their first note, I got goose bumps and was riveted the entire night,” she recalled. “I had never heard or seen anything like that before – the intense power, force, energy, swing and sophistication of a big band … music played with such fire and passion. I ran home and told my mother I was going to be professional drummer. Since that night I never wanted to do anything else with my life.”

As a bandleader, Maricle has aimed to follow in Rich’s footsteps, as well as those of Mel Lewis, Louis Bellson, Jeff Hamilton, Gene Krupa and Chick Webb.

“The most fun for me is being in the center of the band — literally and metaphorically — and leading from the inside, creating a pulse like a heart beat. Drummers naturally have a lot of control, leader or not, over the band dynamics, energy and phrasing … so that’s exciting. I also aspire to always inspire, highlight and support my bandmates, as well as listen to their musical opinions. Each and every one of them is a stellar musician and creative artist,” she said. “I’m very honored to share the stage with them.”

Moved to tears

The inspiration goes well beyond the stage. Over the last two decades, Maricle and DIVA artists have provided “life-changing” instruction for dozens of young and up-and-coming musicians, and several audience members have experienced such sheer awe at performances that they’ve been brought to tears.

“I remember an older woman coming up to us sobbing with joy, saying she always wanted to be a musician, but wasn’t allowed. She just couldn’t believe how great we played. It made me cry, too,” Maricle said.

The 15-piece, all-female powerhouse DIVA jazz orchestra performs for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday in the Vail Jazz Tent in Lionshead. General admission tickets are $15 and VIP tickets are $30. Ticket prices increase an hour before showtime. For tickets or more information, visit www.vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer contracted by the Vail Jazz Foundation. Email comments about this story to mwong@vaildaily.com.

Jazz as a religious experience

When my wife Cathy and I began dating, I explained to her that I had loved jazz since I was kid and that something inside of me intuitively responded to the music in a way that I couldn’t explain. She in turn advised me that she had grown up with opera and classical music and she was equally as passionate about them as I was about jazz.

We agreed that if the relationship was going to survive (it has, 50-plus years and counting), each of us had to be willing to enter the other’s musical world. I remember one of our first dates when she took me to see and hear one of the greatest pianists of the mid-20th century, Rudolf Serkin. “Groovy Rudy,” as I instantly renamed him, played a concert of Beethoven sonatas on a Steinway 9 foot concert grand piano. When I left the concert hall I recall thinking that I had died and gone to heaven. Here was another world of music that I knew nothing about and was eager to learn about. Yes, I knew that the world of classical music existed. But I also knew that ice fishing existed and I, to this day, haven’t tried it yet and probably won’t in this lifetime.

Over the years Cathy has shared her vast knowledge and passion for opera and classical music with me and my life has been enriched beyond anything I could have imagined that faithful night when I heard Groovy Rudy play so sublimely. While I have grown to love opera and classical music, I am first and foremost a “jazzer.” I have to confess (pun intended) that when I hear jazz it is a religious experience.

Over the ensuing years, I have been extremely fortunate to have heard many different genres of music which have opened my ears and expanded my world and with each new listening experience I am so grateful to have entered a new domain full of exciting sounds and melodies. I now understand that music is a universal calling that transcends time and place.

When I am listening to music, especially jazz, my sub-conscious mind allows me to feel a sense of well-being and pleasure that transports me to another place. Is this a religious experience? I don’t know, but I know I love going there. On a conscious level, I constantly marvel at the creative processes of the geniuses that compose the music and I am in awe of the technical wizardry of the players who appear to effortlessly command their instruments to deliver up exquisite sounds. For me, when great music is being played, the supreme being is present.

I should confess at this juncture that I have tried and failed miserably to play an instrument. Actually I am a two-time loser. Starting with the piano as a kid, I actually advanced to Piano Book No. 6 by the age of 9. I had to abort my brief career as a pianist immediately following my debut in a recital with the other students of Miss Ione V. Fencestead. Unfortunately my lack of talent was all too obvious as I destroyed “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Re-starting with the alto sax when I was an adult, I had visions of standing shoulder to shoulder with Charlie Parker in the pantheon of great jazz musicians. I was not put off by the numerous requests from my family and our neighbors to practice at another location, but when our dog ran away from home, I knew I had to put my alto sax down for good. The truth is that I really loved that dog.

Ultimately, therefore, I have resigned myself to be a dedicated listener. Unfortunately in this world of multi-tasking I am afraid that this is becoming a lost art. When I attend a music performance and see someone in the darkened room with their eyes glued to the glowing screen of a cell phone, reading and texting away, I feel sorry for them. As the great Art Blakey said: “Music washes away the dust of everyday life.”

Amen!

This year the 21st Annual Vail Jazz Festival will present 52 separate jazz performances with hundreds of musician creating music for our audiences. Come join us and get the religion!

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.

Five Play set to shine for intimate Wednesday, DIVA will deliver big band Thursday

From the early days straight to the big time, band leader Sherrie Maricle tells the story

When it comes to talent, gender has nothing to do with it. DIVA, the 15-piece all-female jazz orchestra from New York, delivers a jaw-dropping wall of sound that puts many all-male acts to shame. That each ironclad musician looks like she’s having the time of her life at every performance makes for incomparable, swinging and gripping entertainment.

DIVA drummer Sherrie Maricle became the first member of DIVA when the band was formed more than 23 years ago by fellow drummer and artist manager Stanley Kay. As Maricle tells it, she was performing in the pick-up orchestra at a Maurice Hines concert  that Kay was conducting for the Shubert Theater’s 75th anniversary. After the showA, Kay approached Maricle and “asked if I knew other women who played as well  as I did.” Of course, she knew plenty. After an audition bringing in 40 top musicians from all over the world, the group was whittled down to 15 and DIVA was born.

“Over the last 23-plus years of leading the band and playing with dozens of others, I can tell you with 100-percent certainty that there is absolutely NO difference in talent, skill, passion or creativity between DIVA and any other world-class concert jazz orchestra,” Maricle says, naming Jazz at Lincoln Center, Maria Schneider, Clayton-Hamilton, Count Basie, Vanguard and Gordon Goodwin as examples. “The only thing I have noticed is that the DIVA performance dynamic – collectively and individually – is one that is fully engaged, aware, supportive and wildly enthusiastic regarding the music, each other and the audience. I don’t always experience that with other groups.”

When asked to name highlights in DIVA’s decorated career, Maricle says “Oh My Gosh…there have been soooo many!”

Among them, the first of DIVA’s many featured performances with The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, the 25th Anniversary of the Kennedy Center’s TV Special and the band’s first tours of Finland, Japan and Vietnam. Then there was the feature on NPR’s “Piano Jazz,” and creating the soundtrack for New York City’s (NBC and Macy’s) enormous fireworks display. Oh yes, there was also that pivotal appearance in the award-winning documentary “The Girls in the Band” (which will be presented at this Labor Day Weekend’s Vail Jazz Party). Maricle says that her band’s (DIVA and also the jazz quintet Five Play, each of which produces and performs all original compositions and arrangements) 13 albums including a couple of new additions coming soon “are like my children.”

Since attending parades as a small child and singling out the drummers as the coolest members of the band because they never stopped playing, Maricle has been drawn to the drums. But “the true enlightenment moment” came when she was 11 and saw Buddy Rich perform with His Killer Force Orchestra.

“When the band played their first note I got goose bumps and was riveted the entire night,” she recalls. “I had never heard or seen anything like that before –  the intense power, force, energy, swing and sophistication of a big band … music played with such fire and passion. I ran home and told my mother I was going to be professional drummer. Since that night I never wanted to do anything else with my life.”

As a bandleader, Maricle has aimed to follow in Rich’s footsteps, as well as those of Mel Lewis, Louis Bellson, Jeff Hamilton, Gene Krupa and Chick Webb.

“The most fun for me is being in the center of the band  – literally and metaphorically – and leading from the inside, creating a pulse like a heart beat. Drummers naturally have a lot of control, leader or not, over the band dynamics, energy and phrasing … so that’s exciting. I also aspire to always inspire, highlight and support my band mates, as well as listen to their musical opinions. Each and every one of them is a stellar musician and creative artist,” she says. “I’m very honored to share the stage with them.”

The inspiration goes well beyond the stage. Over the last two decades, Maricle and DIVA artists have provided “life-changing” instruction for dozens of young and up-and-coming musicians and several audience members have experienced such sheer awe at performances that they’ve been brought to tears.

“I remember an older woman coming up to us sobbing with joy, saying she always wanted to be a musician, but wasn’t allowed. She just couldn’t believe how great we played. It made me cry, too,” Maricle says.

Don’t miss Sherrie Maricle and jazz quintet Five Play at 9 p.m. July 29 in the intimate lounge dinner setting of Cucina at the Lodge at Vail for the Vail Jazz Club Series. The talent pool multiplies into 15-piece jazz orchestra DIVA from 6 to 8 p.m. for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on Thursday, July 30 in the Vail Jazz Tent in Lionshead. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

ABOUT THE VAIL JAZZ FOUNDATION

 

In 1995 life-long jazz fan Howard Stone launched the inaugural Labor Day Weekend Vail Jazz Party. A resounding success, the Weekend Party spawned the Vail Jazz Foundation, its mission to showcase the talent of prominent and up-and-coming jazz musicians as well as educate and nurture the genre’s next generation of greats. Vail Jazz has grown to include year-round programming such as Vail Jazz Goes to School and 12 weeks of live performances every summer with The Vail Jazz Festival’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square, Vail Jazz @ The Market, Vail Jazz @ Sweet Basil, Jammin’ Jazz Kids and The Vail Jazz Workshop for a total of 52 live performances and 10 educational programs.

 

ABOUT THE TOWN OF VAIL

 

There’s no place like Vail for year-round recreation, outdoor pursuits and cultural activities in the heart of the Rockies. Located just two hours west of Denver, Vail’s fresh air, rugged beauty and charming pedestrian village await visitors. Discover a quaint mountain town where outdoor activities abound and the performing arts flourish. Matching the incredible winter mountain experience, Vail from May through October is characterized by a rich culinary scene, family activities, a world-class events schedule and everything in between. This summer guests can experience events like the new Vail Summer Bluegrass Series, GoPro Mountain Games, Vail Jazz Festival, the Vail International Dance Festival, BRAVO! Vail, USA Pro Challenge, Gourmet on Gore culinary festival and much more. Vail offers a diverse range of lodging options from luxury brands to boutique hotels, condominiums and vacation rentals. For more information on a Vail vacation, please visit www.vail.com. For more information on the community, please visit www.vailgov.com

Q+A with the Vail Jazz Workshop Instructors: Bill Cunliffe

 

 

Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist and composer Bill Cunliffe is known for his innovative and swinging recordings and compositions. Originally from Andover, Massachusetts, Cunliffe attended Duke University and studied jazz with pianist Mary Lou Williams and later received his master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music.

In addition to receiving five Grammy nominations, he is a two-time Emmy nominee. Cunliffe was awarded a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement for “West Side Story Medley,” on the album “Resonance Big Band Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson” (Resonance Records, 2009). On top of his other awards, Cunliffe’s other accomplishments include works with the great Frank Sinatra, James Moody, and Freddie Hubbard. He has also composed numbers for major orchestras as well as TV soundtracks.

The jazz pianist now calls Southern California home and is a Professor of Music at California State University Fullerton. Bill currently plays with his trio; his big band; his Latin band, Imaginación; and his classical-jazz ensemble, Trimotif. He performs in the U.S. and around the world as a leader and sideman as well as a soloist with symphony orchestras.

 

Q+A WITH BILL CUNLIFFE

What is the best aspect of the Vail Jazz Party? 

It merges musicians presenting their own original material but also thrown together in unexpected ways to see what happens. You get a whole different sense of what the musicians can do.

Any on-stage or pre-gig sippers? 

I’ve seen many pianos fall victim to spilled beverages. We pianists tend to shy away from on-stage drinking. I always have water before I go up.

What about a post-gig beverage?

I have been known to engage in an occasional glass of wine. I like bigger reds.

And your favorite post-gig meal?

 Italian

What is the most striking venue you’ve ever played?

The Vail Jazz Festival outdoor tent. There is no better audience than the Vail audience. You can hear a pin drop, they are listening so intently. They really care about the music.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for next week’s “Q+A with: Wycliffe Gordon”!

This article is part of a 6-part series highlighting the Vail Jazz Workshop instructors, who comprise the Vail Jazz Party House Band. In it’s 20th year, the Vail Jazz Workshop recruits 12 of the nation’s most talented teenage jazz musicians who travel to Vail for a week of intensive, two-to-one learning with the instructors. The students refine their skills, learn the art of playing by ear and most importantly, come to own and hone their special talents. Thanks to their Vail Jazz mentors, nearly all of the students have gone on to become professional musicians.

Tony DeSare returns for two energetic nights of Vail Jazz

Fresh off of an elite Carnegie Hall Sinatra celebration, the dynamic pianist is charged to charm with classics, originals and current pop hits

Since making his Vail Jazz debut last summer, New York’s Tony DeSare has been etching his name onto the world map in some pretty high places.

The young pianist has been dubbed “the next Harry Connick Jr.” but truly has a sound and style all of his own. He dives into the keys with unique gusto whether he’s covering a classic from the Great American Songbook or jazzing up the latest Billboard pop hit. He is also a successful songwriter and composer. His tune “Chemistry” won the USA Songwriting Competition’s No. 1 jazz award and was second overall among all genres. Three of his recordings were ranked among Billboard’s top 10 jazz albums and his original songs have made their way into a number of film soundtracks.

His charismatic and unquestionably charming stage presence earned him an invitation to perform with the Philadelphia Pops this spring and then with the New York Pops for an elite group of celebrities attending Carnegie Hall’s special centennial tribute to Frank Sinatra. A huge Sinatra fan, DeSare went on to perform two sold out tribute gigs at the Kennedy Center earlier this summer.

“I’m loving what I get to do these days,” DeSare says. “One night I’ll be with a world class orchestra, another in a small theater and another at an outdoor festival. I find that I love all those different setups and it always comes down to making music for an audience and trying my best to convey how much I love the material and make them feel what I’m feeling when I perform it.”

Judging by the laughter, clap-a-longs, multiple standing ovations and and impromptu dances that break out among his audiences, the 38-year-old is accomplishing that mission.

A born improviser, DeSare has a unique gauge of the ambiance of each venue and the energy of any given audience. He is known to shift gears frequently, never failing to make each performance fresh and surprising.

“I will change my set based on how things sound in the room and also adapt during the show to what the audience seems to be really into,” he says. “Some audiences like more jazz improv, some respond more to ballads and some want to party.”

DeSare grew up listening to his father sing and play the guitar every night and took up the violin at the age of 8. By the time he was 10, he’d fallen in love with the piano and was scarcely of legal drinking age when he was hired to perform at bars and hotels around New York. His joy for playing everything from jazz classics to Prince was so apparent to everyone who heard him sing and play that it was and still is uncontrollably contagious.

Of the many popular videos on Desare’s YouTube channel, including his entertaining mash-ups of famous songs from a variety of eras, one of the most striking pieces is the documentary he filmed two years ago in which he traveled around New York City performing on painted pianos placed by art charity organization Sing For Hope. DeSare hit about 15 of the 88 pianos in every borough playing the Irving Berlin classic “I Love a Piano.” The crowds that compulsively gathered around him – jumping children, slow-dancing elderly couples, joggers, tourists and onlookers running the colorful gamut found only in New York City – were all entranced by his mini performances. He called it “an excellent reminder of the power of song.”

“The process of music should be entertaining and have enough to it along with the presentation of music to make it fun,” he says.

Like so much of the musical world, this year DeSare is on a Sinatra kick, naming Ol’ Blue Eyes as the one performer who has, in unparalleled fashion, “influenced everyone from Miles Davis to rock bands and rappers.”

“This summer I’m planning on bringing some of the Sinatra material that I have been doing all over the country in celebration of the Sinatra centennial this year,” DeSare says. “I’ll still mix in some of my originals and pop jazz classics from other eras but will definitely take some time to pay homage. I’m looking forward to being back in Vail.”

Tony DeSare and his trio perform at 9 p.m. July 21 in the intimate lounge dinner setting of Cucina at the Lodge at Vail for the Vail Jazz Club Series. Then he and his quartet (Edward Decker on guitar, Steve Doyle on bass and Allan Finney on drums) return to the big state in the weather-friendly jazz tent in Lionshead from 6 to 8 p.m. for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on Thursday, July 22. For more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

French vocalist returns to Vail in dynamic new duo

Cyrille Aimée and Michael Valeanu are poised to hypnotize Vail Jazz audiences with one-of-a-kind stage magic

Genetically speaking, Cyrille Aimée is not a gypsy. But she always has been at heart. The 30-year-old grew up in the small town of Samois-sur-Seine in northern France and was constantly intrigued by the caravans of musicians and gypsies that would plant themselves in her neighborhood every summer for the annual Django Reinhardt festival.

“The Django festival was part of my life even before I wanted to be a musician. I’d go run around in the street for the festival. It was free for little kids … all the other kids were running around. But little by little I started to be interested in the music part of it,” she says.

Stemming from a spontaneous but circus-like episode when Aimée found herself pedaling down the street on her bike with three gypsy girls packed on it, it wasn’t long before she became an honorary member of the visiting clan.

“A couple of gypsies came over and said I had a nice bike. Three of them hopped on the bike with me, riding down a hill – one on the handlebars, one on the seat, one on the back. They became my friends. I started going into the campsite. The guys were always there playing the guitar. My friend’s brother would teach me how to play and I would teach him how to read.”

Aimée started sneaking out of the house late at night to join the gypsies around their musical campfire and developed a love for singing. By the time she was 18, she was invited to perform on Star Academy, the French equivalent of American Idol. At that point however, she had already decided to head to New York to study Jazz At Purchase College. She did not, however, grow out of her affinity for the gypsy lifestyle. Between semesters, she would bring Jazz Studies friends back to Europe and they toured around performing on street corners for cash.

“We did a tour through Europe, slept on benches for a whole summer,” she says. “We really didn’t have anything. We’d have to play so we could buy food. We had two guitars. My sister was playing the shakers. There was a sax player playing duets with me.”

In Italy, the crew performed at a club during a jam session. The manager was impressed.

“The guy from the club said, ‘If you play for the lunchtime crowd we’ll feed you. Play for dinner and we’ll feed you.’” Aimée ventured to Montreux, Switzerland on her own as her friends waited in Italy to try her vocal chords in a vocal competition at the Montreuz Jazz Festival. She won.

After this adventurous summer, Aimée and her friends returned to Purchase, where she graduated and relocated to Brooklyn, her new base, from which she travels the world performing with orchestras, ensembles and guitar quartets. One of her favorite stage appearance setups is performing as a duet.

“I do love the duo setting,” she says. “It’s kind of like a dance. There’s just the one other person. I like when you never know what’s going to happen. I don’t know if mind-reading is the correct word … it’s more like a connection. It’s not trying to know what the person is thinking, but what the person is feeling.”

Aimée discovered compatriot and fellow NYC transplant Michael Valeanu at a rehearsal in the city and the two immediately connected.

“The first time I ever heard Michael was at a little club in Paris. He was playing in an organ trio, playing a Michael Jackson tune. I loved it. I thought, ‘I have to play with this guy.’”

Aimée had a vision of creating a collection of songs with three guitars and all original material. Thus her collaboration with Valeanu began, and the two released “It’s a Good Day,” a collection of dazzling arrangements featuring Aimée’s gypsy guitar roots as well as hypnotizing accompaniments of Brazilian island string guitar. When Aimée and Valeanu perform, it’s an eclectic, energetic blend of every flavor the French couple has come to know and love.

“We do a lot of standards, but also songs we wrote together – French songs, Spanish songs, we do a little mix. When it’s just the two of us, there’s a lot of freedom to choose whatever we want. Whatever we feel.”

Don’t miss Cyrille Aimée and Michael Valeanu at 9 p.m. July 15 in the intimate lounge dinner setting of Cucina at the Lodge at Vail for the Vail Jazz Club Series. The duo then takes to the big stage from 6 to 8 p.m. for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on Thursday, July 16 in the Vail Jazz Tent in Lionshead. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

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.

 

Swingin’ Affair celebrates Sinatra’s 100th birthday

The material form of Frank Sinatra isn’t around to celebrate his 100th birthday this year, but his legacy is embodied in a force that will impact the music and entertainment industry for centuries to come.

Revered by many as the most popular entertainer in history, Sinatra kicked off his career as a big band singer in the 1930s with the Tommy Dorsey and Harry James bands. His hypnotizing voice first won its way into the world’s hearts crooning classics like “New York, New York” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.” His unmistakable, swinging vocal style has become gospel for these hits. Sinatra was quickly appointed a master of song and, among other nicknames, The Chairman of the Board. He went solo in 1942 and broke ground for a steady, nonstop string of solo artists that continues today.

The Voice

Sinatra was the first to draw attention to the fact that the voice is a complex and specialized instrument. (Another of his nicknames, after all, is The Voice). He used it in a way that crossed musical genres, strategically creating a catalogue that not only dominated the musical charts (“Only the Lonely,” “My Way” and “Strangers in the Night,”) but also resonated with pop fans, big band purists and even classical music lovers. Of course, the man could also act, and he won an Academy Award and a Golden Globe for his role in “From Here to Eternity” and landed leads and much acclaim in classics like “The Man with the Golden Arm” and “The Manchurian Candidate.”

Even into old age, Sinatra swooned audiences before passing away in 1998 at the age of 82. This December, The Sultan of Swoon would be 100 years old, but his legacy is eternal.

Sinatra’s influence and inspiration lives on, which is why the world will celebrate his 100th. Several documentaries and historical exhibits have popped up throughout the country, sports teams have been acknowledging Ol’ Blue Eyes with a tribute night, Jack Daniels has made a select Sinatra whiskey blend and, yes, there is even a free mobile app (search for “Frank Sinatra 100” in the App Store). This spring, dozens of musicians gathered in New York City for a tribute at Carnegie Hall. In one form or other, his style has influenced every musician.

Curtis Stigers on Frank Sinatra

One artist unquestionably inspired by Sinatra is Curtis Stigers, who will star in the Vail Jazz Festival’s A Swingin’ Affair on July 13, Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday celebration, in which he will perform a rare lineup of Nelson Riddle arrangements written expressly for Sinatra. While Stigers cites a variety of artists as inspiration — Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan — he said “Frank wins out as my favorite.”

“Sinatra’s ability to tell a story with a song’s lyrics is second to none,” Stigers said. “He also had an incredible ability to swing and to move in and out of a song’s time with ease and mastery. I’ve studied his records like textbooks, trying to absorb his technique and style and put it into my music.”

Stigers’ goal in the upcoming Vail performance is not to channel Sinatra but to pay homage to The Chairman’s talent with his own flare.

“The trick to singing Sinatra arrangements for me is to find a way to be true to what Frank did and still sing in my own voice,” he said. “I want to celebrate Sinatra without doing an impression of him. These arrangements are so much fun to sing.”

More than etching his one-of-a-kind sound and style into the world, Sinatra’s incomparable ability to continuously rise to the top over a career that spanned a whopping six decades resonates with other artists.

“Every time it looked like he was washed up as a pop star, he managed to evolve and grow, make a great album or series of albums, and suddenly he was back on top again,” Stigers said. “Frank Sinatra is the best pop singer in the history of recorded music. He combined pop and jazz and show music to create a way of singing that has influenced several generations of singers.”

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.