Q+A with the Vail Jazz Workshop Instructors: Dick Oatts

Brand new to the Vail Jazz Festival and the Vail Jazz Workshop, Iowa native Dick Oatts will replace veteran Jeff Clayton this year in the Vail Jazz Party House Band. In 1977 Dick moved to New York City and joined the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra. Since then he has recorded and toured with an amazing array of stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Tito Puente, and Mel Tormé, and has appeared on over 100 albums as a sideman. He has been an artist-in-residence at the Amsterdam Conservatory since 1997.

Formerly a faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music, he is now the artistic director and a professor (alongside Terell Stafford) at Temple University. Vail Jazz is proud to welcome him to the Vail Jazz Workshop faculty!

 

Q+A WITH DICK OATTS

What is your connection to Vail Jazz? 

I have had students attend the Workshop and have worked with several members of its great teaching faculty over the years.

 

What is your favorite pre-gig beverage?

Water or decaf coffee.

Do you have a pre-gig ritual?

Having a good reed that can vibrate the air I can put into the saxophone. Also, not eating too much in order to have enough air for the gig.

What’s your favorite post-gig meal?

I’m a vegan so my meals are usually boring—something with a little salt or spice added.

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

Village Vanguard in NYC and some of the beautiful outside festivals in Italy, Spain or Greece.

 

 

Stay tuned for next week’s “Q+A with: Terell Stafford”!

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.

Q+A with the Vail Jazz Workshop Instructors: Lewis Nash

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Lewis developed an early interest in music and began playing drums at age 10. By age 18, he was performing with local jazz groups. Hitting 21, Nash had become the “first call” jazz drummer in Phoenix, working with Sonny Stitt, Art Pepper, Red Garland, Lee Konitz, Barey Kessell, and Slide Hampton during their engagements in the city. In 1981, Nash moved to New York City where he joined the trio of the great jazz vocalist Betty Carter. For nearly four years, he toured internationally with Ms. Carter. He is featured on three of her recordings, including the Grammy winning “Look What I got.”

His impressive discography (over 300 recordings) includes projects with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Benny Carter, Hank Jones and John Lewis, as well as new jazz stars Diana Krall, Joe Lovano and Roy Hargrove. In fact, Nash was labeled the “Jazz’s Most Valuable Player” in the drumming world by Modern Drummer Magazine.

On Saturday September 5, Lewis will present a special multimedia tribute at this year’s Vail Jazz Party to his own drum influences, including Art Blakey, “Philly Joe” Jones, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Cobb. Lewis, in great demand for his mastery of virtually all drumming styles, is the perfect host for exploring past drum masters. Buy tickets here. {Saturday Evening Session}

 

Q+A WITH LEWIS NASH

What is the best aspect of the Vail Jazz Festival? 

The Vail Jazz Festival is participant friendly. The “icing on the cake,” is that the audiences for the Vail Jazz Festival are some of the most enthusiastic and appreciative to be found anywhere!

What is the most memorable comment you’ve received from a fan?

A Vail fan once approached me after a performance and said, “I never liked drum solos before hearing you play!”

What is your favorite on-stage or pre-gig beverage?

Fresh, cool water. Sometimes a protein shake.

What’s your favorite post-gig meal?

I like pasta or rice dishes since I burn a lot of calories when I play.

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

A bullfighting ring in Spain, a castle in France, a coliseum in Greece, at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, an opera house in the Amazon in Manaus, Brazil, a cave in Italy, ruins near Beirut, Lebanon.

 

 

 

Stay tuned for next week’s “Q+A with: Dick Oatts”!

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.

Internationally renowned pianist Hiromi sits down with Vail Jazz

Although her head is swaying and her eyes are closed, Hiromi Uehara’s fingers are a blur as she thunders out a one-woman symphony every time she sits down at the piano. As far as how she explains what’s happening, she says playing the piano is like digging for emotional treasure.

Since the age of 6, the Japanese-born composer, now 36, has been using the piano as her voice, the complex sound piece for her many emotions. At the age of 14 her unique talent earned her a spot performing with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and at 17, famed jazz pianist Chick Corea invited her to play with him after a chance meeting the previous day. She went on to study under Ahmad Jamal at the Berklee College of Music. Her original tunes can be heard promoting massive international brands such as Nissan and, more importantly, channeling each note directly from her heart.

For the last decade, the pianist has toured the world, enrapturing audiences with her sound, which has the quality of boisterous laughter, intense sadness, contentment, unrest and pure joy, all within the course of a single song.

Making her Vail debut as the Trio Project with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Steve Smith, Hiromi took a few moments to answer some questions for Vail Jazz.

Vail Jazz: Many children are introduced to the piano at an early age, but few connect with it the way you did. What allured you to the piano as a small child and how does it continue to inspire you?

Hiromi: I was very lucky to have met a great teacher at age of 6 years old. She was a piano teacher in my hometown and she was a big jazz fan as well. She introduced me to the recordings of Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson. When she taught me the classical music, she always colored the score with colored pencils and said “Play Red” instead of playing with the dynamics of forte, “Play Blue” instead of playing with the dynamics pianissimo [soft touch].

Vail Jazz: What were the most important points your piano teacher taught you at that age?

Hiromi: She tried to always explain that music comes from heart to heart, not from fingers to the brain and she encouraged me to see the music visually.

Vail Jazz: Of all the individuals who have influenced your musical career, who has made the most resounding impact?

Hiromi: It is impossible to list one. If I have to name a few, Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson who I listened to when I was 8 years old, Chick Corea who I first met at 17 years old, Ahmad Jamal who has always been the big inspiration and support to my career, and Frank Zappa, my musical hero.

Vail Jazz: In watching your studio video clip of Alive, you look as if you’re lost in a different world, completely possessed by emotion as you play. Can you describe the energy coursing through you?

Hiromi: When I am playing the piano, I feel so alive, I feel so energized.

Vail Jazz: How does it help your performance to close your eyes as you play?

Hiromi: I never even thought about it, it is something very natural..

Vail Jazz: How do you measure the success of a performance? When do you know you’ve crossed the threshold of really becoming one with the music?

Hiromi: When I find something new when I play, that’s the most exciting moment. It is like treasure hunting. I am trying to look for

new landscape in music everyday.

 

Hiromi Uehara makes her Vail debut from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 6 for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square in Lionshead. Jazz Tent tickets are $15 or $30 for VIP seats (including front of the tent seating and a drink ticket). Ticket prices go up an hour before showtime. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

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.