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.

 

7 Questions with members of the US Air Force Academy Band

7 Questions with the USAF Falconaires’ Tour Manager, Marcel Marchetti TSgt USAF

 

1. How much time do you spend practicing together? Practicing together depends on the job coming up and how it works into our busy schedule. Using the Vail Jazz Festival as an example, I see a total of 8 about hours to learn and work up for about 1.5 hours of music performed. That’s if we get all the time allotted in between other performances such as cadet parades at the USAF Academy, plus the admin time to preparing for tour. We don’t have a separate admin staff, so each person in the band is assigned an additional duty and some folks have multiple duties to prepare everything. Let’s not forget last minute performances can come up like a military funeral. That’s something you never can plan ahead, they just come up.

2. How is the program chosen for each show? The program is chosen by what type of audience we THINK will be at the venue. The Vail performance is part of the Vail Jazz Festival, so we will have a strong emphasis on big band jazz versus a performance for USAF recruiting at a high school, for example.

3. Which song seems to connect the most with all audiences? There is no certain song, but instead it’s how we program a performance that ends with patriotic music! This lets people leave feeling proud of our country and helps unit communities.

4. How much luggage does your group pack on tour? There’s a difference between luggage and musical equipment. Luggage is driven by how many days on the road we will travel, if there is a hotel with laundry facilities and whether the climate is hot or cold that we’re visiting. As to equipment, depends on the venues where we’re performing – what they have provided already and what we need to bring. It can be as little as half a 24ft truck or as much as a fullyloaded semi.

5. How are overseas audiences similar or different to American audiences? Overseas audiences are more appreciative to Americans performing jazz, because the origin of jazz American.

6. How long does it take to learn a new song? With the Falconaires having such top musicians, we can pretty much read a tune for the first time, talk over what we need to do, run it once again and then it’s about ready to be performed. This does depend on the difficulty of the tune, but for standard music that’s published, we can get it ready pretty fast.

7. What can we expect to see at the Vail performance? An exciting band that will leave you saying, “WOW!! I had no idea those guys were so good.”

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