Vail Jazz Festival delivering biggest summer lineup in history

Tickets are officially on sale for the 23rd annual Vail Jazz Festival’s summer of sizzling live performances, which includes a broad lineup of international, national and regional acts spanning the gamut from blues and soul to swing, bebop, gypsy jazz, Latin and more.

 

Vail Jazz Club Series
The Vail Jazz Club Series, takes place every Wednesday evening from July 12 to Aug. 9, at its new home, Ludwig’s Terrace at The Sonnenalp Hotel, which hosted the sold-out Vail Jazz Winter Series last winter. The 2017 Vail Jazz Club Series features intimate, lounge-style performances with Vail Square artists, including Henry Butler on July 12, Frank Vignola July 19, Carmen Bradford and Byron Stripling’s tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on July 26, Rene Marie on Aug. 2 and Dr. Michael Davison on Aug. 9 for a special lecture-performance on the history of Afro-Cuban jazz. The series will feature two performances on each of these nights, an early seating at 6:30 p.m. and a second seating at 9 p.m. view more…

July 10 Vail Jazz Gala: From Bridge Street to Bourbon Street
The Vail Jazz Gala is the annual fundraiser for Vail Jazz’s educational programs, which include Vail Jazz Goes to School, the Vail Jazz Workshop and Jammin’ Jazz Kids, cultivating more than 1,400 young minds in the art and beauty of jazz music every year. The 2017 Gala is set to blow the doors off with “The Voice of New Orleans,” jazz legend John Boutté, teaming up with Vail Jazz Workshop alumni. Bringing Bridge Street to Bourbon Street, the event begins at 6 p.m. on July 10 at The Sebastian and includes cocktails, hors d’houevres, dinner and a spectacular performance. view more…

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square
The 2017 Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series totals a whopping nine performances this summer – every Thursday evening at 6 p.m. beginning July 6 in the all-weather Vail Square tent in Lionshead. For the first time this summer, there will be assigned seating (selected online), and all-new Premium seating featuring cushioned chairs and more elbow room. Preferred and Premium tickets are available in a discounted four-pack subscription on sale through July 6. General admission seating is first come, first seated, available online as well. view more…

July 6 Marcia Ball
From rollicking roadhouse to bouncing blues to tear-inducing ballads, Marcia Ball hits the keys of her piano with a heartfelt, harmonious slam on every note. The award-winning storyteller from Texas returns to Vail with her alternately steppy and soulful, Louisiana-inspired tunes.

July 13 Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9
If this doesn’t sound like a big deck party, we don’t know what does. The New Orleans theme blows up 10-fold (11-fold, actually) with this electric, brass-heavy collaboration. Pianist and vocalist Henry Butler and trumpeter Steven Bernstein lead an explosive ensemble through sounds of pop, R&B, Caribbean, classical and traditional, fiery, impromptu jazz.

July 20 Frank Vignola’s Hot Club of France Tribute
Six-string phenom Frank Vignola is no stranger to Vail, but this summer he channels the hypnotic mystique of gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt. Tapping into the era of Reinhardt’s Hot Club of France, Vignola leads his own international quintet in a smoking hot tribute.

July 27 Ella and Louis Together Again featuring Carmen Bradford and Byron Stripling
Step out of a time machine to take in one of jazz history’s most show-stopping duos. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are brought back to life via the magic trumpet and vocals of Byron Stripling and Count Basie Big Band singer Carmen Bradford.

Aug. 3 René Marie and Experiment in Truth
The songwriter and swanky singer brings her seductive, larger-than-life vocals to Vail Square, tapping into flavors of folk, swing, classical and R&B. Whatever the selection of original numbers, the two-time Grammy nominee’s 10-year anniversary rendition of her sixth album, Experiment in Truth, will hypnotize.

Aug. 10 ¡Cubanismo!
The pulse created by this 11-piece ensemble reaches earthquake proportions as you glide through the deep river of Cuban rhythms. With plenty of horns, percussion beats and two vocalists, the lively tour takes you through dance tunes and wild polyrhythms of traditional rumba, cha-cha and classic Cuban “Son.”

Aug. 17 Eliane Elias: Samba Brazil
Combining sultry vocals with enchanting piano, Grammy winner Eliane Elias schools audiences in the art of Samba. Digging into her Brazilian roots, the celebrated composer makes her highly anticipated return to Vail, as is considered one of the top highlights of the 23rd Annual Festival.

Aug. 24 Joey DeFrancesco & The People
If ever there were a way to describe the B-3 organ as “light and infectious,” it would be due to the unique talent of showman Joey DeFrancesco. The prolific, Grammy-nominated musician also belts out some big vocals, toe-tapping trumpet and knows every in and out of bebop.

Aug. 31 Vail Jazz All-Stars, Alumni Quintet and House Band
Kicking off the 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Party and five days of wall-to-wall live music featuring the world’s top names in jazz, this triple bill brings a freshly tuned lineup of 12 teenage rising stars, star alumni and shining jazz stars – deeply established mentor musicians John and Jeff Clayton, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe and Lewis Nash.

Vail Jazz Party Aug. 31 – Sept. 4
The Vail Jazz Festival culminates with its marquee event, the 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. More than 35 nationally and internationally acclaimed headlining artists descend on Vail for nonstop indoor and outdoor performances. Highlights for 2017 include Jeff Clayton’s Tribute to Cannonball Adderly, Jeff Hamilton’ and Butch Miles’ multimedia Tribute to Buddy Rich, Byron Stripling’s multimedia presentation of Cole Porter & The Jazz Connection, Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’ and Adrian Cunningham’s CD Release Party. Tickets are available for individual sessions as well as for the entire multi-day event in the form of Performance and Patron Passes.

FREE SHOWS

Vail Jazz @Riverwalk
Back by popular demand, Alpine Bank and Kaiser Permanente present Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk, expanding this summer to six events. The series brings free live music to the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater in Edwards twice monthly on Friday afternoons beginning June 9 with energetic nine-piece soul rockers, The Burroughs. Vendors include Eat! Drink! of Edwards, serving delectable paninis and salads and rotisserie-themed Revolution, bringing barbeque with international flair. The family-friendly, picnic-style atmosphere continues June 23 with New Orleans flavored Otone Brass Brand, rhythm and blues group Phil Wiggins and George Kilby Jr. on July 7, contemporary jazz saxophonist Nelson Rangell on July 21, the U.S. Air Force Academy Falconaires Big Band Aug. 4 and sizzling salsa 12-piece Quemando on Aug. 18. With arts and crafts activities provided by Alpine Arts Center, entertainment options abound for every age group.

Vail Jazz @ The Market
Follow your ears to more free live music every Sunday beginning June 25 at the Vail Farmers Market with a rotating lineup of acclaimed regional acts at Vail Jazz @ The Market from 12 to 3 p.m. in the Solaris tent. Showcasing home-grown, Colorado talent, the series features longtime favorites like the Max Wagner Quartet (June 25), the Chuck Lamb Quartet (July 30), while also introducing new acts like Los Chicos Malos (July 2) and Joe Smith & the Spicy Pickles (Aug. 20).

Vail Jazz @ The Remedy
The swanky club-scene of The Remedy and Vail valley jazz legends, Tony Gulizia and Brian Loftus (“BLT”) come together every Sunday night at 8 p.m. for Vail Jazz @ The Remedy. Held at the Four Seasons Resort, guest artists join BLT each week for memorable jam sessions beginning on June 25.

Tickets on sale:

All Vail Jazz Festival tickets are on sale now at vailjazz.org. For more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

The 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Festival is generously supported by the Town of Vail, Alpine Bank, The Lion Vail, The Jazz Cruise & Blue Note at Sea, Colorado Mountain Express, Kaiser Permanente, Anheuser-Busch, The Vail Daily, and a variety of Community Sponsors. For a complete list of events sponsors, visit vailjazz.org.

 

Piano talent, unbridled

Continuing a vibrant Cuban dynasty, Chuchito Valdés closes the 2017 Vail Jazz Winter Series

If any artist were to enter the world with music already in their blood, it would be Chuchito Valdés. Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, Chuchito, like his father, the great Chucho Valdés and grandfather, Bebo Valdés, possessed an uncanny knack for playing the piano. Nearly 50 years later, he remains inseparable from the instrument. When not touring or performing, not a day goes by in which Chuchito isn’t thirsty for some time on the keys.

Bebo Valdés was one of the most prominent musicians in Cuba during the 1940s and ‘50s before relocating (for political reasons) to Sweden in the 1960s and teaching his son, Chucho Valdés, a few secrets on the piano from the age of 3 onward. Chucho, who is about to celebrate his 75 th birthday, is considered one of the most influential figures in Afro-Cuban jazz and has won six Grammy awards and three Latin Grammies.

After early coaching from his father, Chuchito’s foray into the profession began after attending the musical school of Cuban legend Ignacio Cervantes, whom Chuchito names along with his father and grandfather as an inspiration. He began performing at age 16 with Cuban vocalists Pello el Afrokan, Anibel Lopez and Jamaican-born trumpeter/vocalist Bobby Carcasses. After his father left Irakere, the iconic Cuban jazz ensemble he’d founded, Chuchito replaced him as leader and arranger.

Eventually, Chuchito launched his own band, composing spicy Afro-Cuban jazz numbers and earning one Latin Grammy nomination after another, beginning in 2002. He continues touring the world, performing fast-paced, feel-good numbers, most recently from his 2015 release, Horizontes.

Freshly landed in the U.S. for a round of gigs across the Midwest, Chuchito’s first comment during a phone interview is a warning that his English is not so good. But his passion is crystal clear.

“My inspiration is the music,” he says. “For me, the music is everything.”

Chuchito’s style is distinctly Afro-Cuban in nature, capturing the spirits of several unique genres cultivated throughout the history of his native country, including Son, Cuban Timba, Danzon and Guaguanco. His sizzling harmonies also take on flavors of Caribbean, bebop and cha-cha- cha. The foundation of his musical artillery, however, is classical.

“My teacher, he told me I need play first classical music and later jazz,” Chuchito says. “For the jazz, the piano is muy importante to everything.”

What’s it like to witness Chuchito Valdés on stage? Picture this: He’s so enraptured in the sound emanating from the keys he’s furiously slapping that his hands become a blur. Without a microphone, he’ll call out and sing throughout his set. His fingers not skipping a beat, he’ll sporadically launch onto his feet and sit back down as if his own rhythms have him attached to marionette strings. His head bobs and rolls with every note. If anything is obvious – besides the ecstatic nature of his performance – it’s that Chuchito takes his role in the Valdés musical dynasty seriously.

“My grandfather prepared the future for my father and my father for me. The sound is different but it’s still the style, the Cuban music,” he says. “The future because of me is one direction on the piano – different sounds but with my [father and grandfather’s] education.”

When he’s not touring the world, Chuchito resides in Cancún, Mexico, with his family. There is no such thing as a day off for him when it comes to the piano, because that would be like a day without food. He says that playing to him is like breathing.

“Every day, every day, I play every day,” he says. “If I no play … I no happy.”

Catch Cuban pianist Chuchito Valdes in the final performance of the 2017 Vail Jazz Winter Series at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on April 13. The evening features two 60-minute performances; the first seating takes place at 6 p.m. (doors at 5:15 p.m.) and the second seating at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $35 in advance. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service and a full bar will be available at an additional cost. For tickets or more information, click here or call 888-VAIL- JAM.

Reserve your summer Thursdays for bumpin’ live jazz

The umbrella of jazz spans several genres and nowhere is its vast reach more spectacularly exemplified than in the varied lineup of artists on tap for this summer’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series.

One of six performance series that make up the summer-long Vail Jazz Festival, the Vail Square lineup for 2017 is confirmed, including established favorites as well as internationally acclaimed talent taking the Vail stage for the first time. Other highlights of the Festival include the Vail Jazz Club Series, which lands at The Sonnenalp every Wednesday evening from July 12 to Aug. 2, featuring more intimate performances with Vail Square artists. Plus, back by popular demand, Vail Jazz’s First Fridays shows in Edwards will be upgraded this summer to an expanded series, Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk, bringing free live music to the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater on alternating Fridays beginning June 9.

The 2017 Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series, totaling nine performances, kicks off July 6, and will ignite Lionshead with head-bobbing energy every Thursday evening leading up to the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Party on Aug. 31.

July 6 Marcia Ball

From rollicking roadhouse to bouncing blues to tear-inducing ballads, Marcia Ball hits the keys of her piano with a heartfelt, harmonious slam on every note. The award-winning storyteller from Texas returns to Vail with her alternately steppy and soulful, Louisiana-inspired tunes.

July 13 Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9

If this doesn’t sound like a big deck party, we don’t know what does. The New Orleans theme blows up 10-fold (11-fold, actually) with this electric, brass-heavy collaboration. Pianist and vocalist Henry Butler and trumpeter Steven Bernstein lead an explosive ensemble through sounds of pop, R&B, Caribbean, classical and traditional, fiery, impromptu jazz.

July 20 Frank Vignola’s Hot Club of France Tribute Band

Six-string phenom Frank Vignola is no stranger to Vail, but this summer he channels the hypnotic mystique of gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt. Tapping into the era of Reinhardt’s Hot Club of France, Vignola leads his own international quintet in a smoking hot tribute.

July 27 Ella and Louis Together Again feat. Carmen Bradford and Byron Stripling

Step out of a time machine to take in one of jazz history’s most show-stopping duos. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are brought back to life via the magic trumpet and vocals of Byron Stripling and Count Basie Big Band singer Carmen Bradford.

Aug. 3 René Marie and Experiment in Truth

The songwriter and swanky singer brings her seductive, bigger-than-life vocals to Vail Square, tapping into flavors of folk, swing, classical and R&B. Whatever the selection of original numbers, the two-time Grammy nominee’s 10-year anniversary rendition of her sixth album, Experiment in Truth, will hypnotize.

Aug. 10 ¡Cubanismo!

The pulse created by this 11-piece ensemble reaches earthquake proportions as you glide through the deep river of Cuban rhythms. With plenty of horns, percussion beats and two vocalists, the lively tour takes you through dance tunes and wild polyrhythms of traditional rumba, cha-cha and classic Cuban “son.”

Aug. 17 Eliane Elias: Samba Brazil

Combining sultry vocals with enchanting piano, Grammy winner Eliane Elias schools audiences in the art of Samba. Digging into her Brazilian roots, the celebrated composer makes her hotly anticipated return to Vail.

Aug. 24 Joey DeFrancesco & The People

If ever there were a way to describe the B-3 organ as “light and infectious,” it would be due to the unique talent of showman Joey DeFrancesco. The prolific, Grammy-nominated musician also belts out some big vocals, toe-tapping trumpet and knows every in and out of bebop.

Aug. 31 Vail Jazz All-Stars, Alumni Quintet and House Band

Kicking off the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Party and five days of wall-to-wall live music featuring the world’s top names in jazz, this triple bill brings a freshly tuned lineup of 12 teenage rising stars, star alumni and shining jazz stars – deeply established mentor musicians John and Jeff Clayton, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe and Lewis Nash.

The where and how:

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square performances take place in the all-weather Vail Square tent in Lionshead, which for the first time this summer, features assigned seating (selected online) for Preferred seating and the all-new Premium seating sectioned comprised of cushioned chairs and more space. Preferred and Premium tickets are also available in a discounted four-pack subscription on sale through July 6. General admission seating is available on a first come basis. All Vail Jazz Festival ticket sales begin May 1. For more information, view the Vail Jazz @ Vail Square page or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

A cool combo of bass and vocals

Award-winning Australian artist pays tribute to Peggy Lee at Vail Jazz Winter Series

Nicki Parrott probably never would have discovered her vocal talent if not for the late, great Les Paul. Parrott had been a Monday night mainstay with Paul at New York City’s Club Iridium when one evening he stopped her suddenly in the middle of a set and suggested she start singing.

“He stopped me in the middle of a bass solo on stage and said, ‘is that all you’re going to do is play the bass?’ I had never sung in public,” Parrott says. “But Les was like that. He liked to put people on the spot and make them think on their feet. He liked having a female vocalist on stage.”

Parrott launched into Ella Fitzgerald’s “Deed I do” that night and her vocal career was born.

“He pressured me to do it, but then I fell in love with it,” Parrott says. “He seemed to have a lot of faith. You never knew what to expect with Les. He was always in the moment. He thought it was funny to catch me in the middle of a bass solo. He loved to be funny. He was all about the show.”

From composing, recording and collaborating on nearly 30 albums to performing in jazz festivals across the world, playing Broadway ensembles to winning numerous awards and sharing the stage with Clark Terry, Patti Labelle, Bucky Pizzarelli and countless other greats, Parrott knows a thing or two about “the show.”

Hailing from New South Wales, Australia, Parrott grew up constantly listening to classical music and started playing piano before she was 5 years old. She added the flute to her repertoire a few years later, “got serious and had some lessons,” then joined concert bands at school. Her older sister started bringing home Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker records when she was a teenager and both girls began cultivating a love for jazz. Playing clarinet and saxophone, her older sister started a band and asked Parrott if she’d be interested in playing bass.

“I wanted to be part of everything, so I got a bass from school. It had only three strings on it, but I didn’t think that as a problem at the time,” Parrott recalls. “I could read music and transcribe. I did fall in love with jazz and the bass pretty quickly.”

By the time she was 16, Parrott had moved to Sydney to study jazz and began touring Australia. One of the compositions for her debut album with her sister landed her first place in Jazz Action Society’s Annual Song Competition. Then The Arts Council of Australia sent her to New York to study with famed bassist Rufus Reid in 1994 when she was 18. By 2000, she had caught Les Paul’s eye and ear and joined the Les Paul Trio.

Of her many career achievements to date, it’s her role in the guitarist’s legacy that she names first as a standout highlight.

“We played the 90th birthday of Carnegie Hall – to be part of that was a real honor. But every Monday night with Les Paul was a new show. It was a very, very interesting gig. Any chance you get to work with jazz legends like Clark Terry and Skitch Henderson, all of these wonderful musicians. Now they’re not here, but that I got some time talking with them was really special.”

As far as honoring legendary artists, Parrott loves putting her personal stamp on Peggy Lee tunes. Lee’s “Fever” has been a bastion of her set list for years, dating back to her first gigs after Paul summoned her vocal talent.

“She was one of the first voices that really struck home for me,” Parrott says. “I started to try to find new ways to do some of her classics. What I found interesting about her is how much of a musician she was. She was a composer – she composed a lot of songs – not many singers compose their own songs. She was a great performer with a very unique, sassy style. I always loved her voice. She had a wonderful delivery, with this cool, understated way of singing.”

As far as what to expect for her upcoming Tribute to Peggy Lee on March 2, Parrott says the classics aren’t the only tunes in the lineup.

“I like to have a varied repertoire. The audience is going to know some songs, but they won’t know every song. I want to enlighten them about facts and songs they might not have heard. Above all, I want people to enjoy themselves.”

Don’t miss Nicki Parrott’s Tribute to Peggy Lee for the 2017 Vail Jazz Winter Series at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on March 2. The evening features two 60-minute performances; the first seating takes place at 6 p.m. (doors at 5:30 p.m.) and the second seating at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $35 in advance. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service and a full bar will be available. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

Brazilian guitarist specializes in ‘putting music into your heart’

Diego Figueiredo teams up with Chiara Izzi for Vail Jazz performance

Even before he starts strumming the guitar, a warm and inviting vibe emanates from Diego Figueiredo. Maybe it’s his large, disheveled hairdo of tight curls or his genuine and nearly constant ear-to-ear smile. Maybe it’s the prominent fingernails on his right hand that serve as natural guitar picks and immediately identify him as someone who not only plays music, but embodies it.

Once the Brazilian strikes his first note – slowly and thoughtfully passing each finger over its targeted string – his allure takes on a level of near-hypnosis.

Add the enchanting voice of Italian singer Chiara Izzi to the mix and the swoon is complete.

Introduced to the guitar and to Brazilian samba music at a very young age, Figueiredo has fused the traditional sounds of his mother country with his own infectious style. He has produced 23 albums and performed on major stages throughout the world, including the Montreux Jazz Festival, the Hong Kong Jazz Festival, the Copenhagen Jazz Festival, and of course, the Vail Jazz Festival.

Although he’s on the road most of the year, back home in Brazil, where he’s considered one of the greatest guitarists ever born, Figueiredo is always freshly inspired for new arrangements.

“I feel when I’m at home, I’m completely relaxed. I get the old vinyls that my father gave me when I was nine or 10 years old and listen to the traditional Brazilian samba. It is the base of my heart and my style. I can get more ideas for this and when I’m traveling, I discover things that I add to it,” he says.

Of his many performances in Vail over the years, the 36-year-old once performed with award-winning French vocalist Cyrille Aimée, to whom he likens Izzi’s tone and style. A Montreux Jazz Festival Vocalist winner (2011), Izzi’s vocal approach blends jazz, pop and world music.

“Two years ago I met her in New York,” Figueiredo says of Izzi. “She has a very nice accent in jazz for Latin music and can sing in English, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. I love when she sings in Spanish, because she has the balera, the strong Latin accent. I grew up with my mom and grandmother who loved the balera and I have a lot of reference to this style. She sings hundreds of traditional Brazilian songs, the old ones. She can sing anything. We have played many concerts together and are preparing a special repertoire for Vail.”

In addition to their very unique take on jazz standards, Figueiredo and Izzi will perform some original Brazilian Samba tunes as well as Bossa nova and a few other rare treats at their Feb. 2 performance in Vail.

Although Figueiredo has performed and recorded with musical icons throughout the world – including Al Di Meola, John Scofield , Yellowjackets, Hermeto Paschoal and Geraldo Azevedo to name a few – and played for massive audiences, it’s the intimate shows that he appreciates the most.

“I am more comfortable in small venues,” he says. “Sometimes I play New York for people who really know and really understand jazz, sometimes in places [where] there are all kinds of people – people with families and dogs, people who like country and rock and come for fun, not for the music. But everywhere, when people stop to listen, their reaction is the same.”

Among the most memorable reactions Figueiredo has elicited from a crowd was at a performance in the small town of Rexburg, Idaho a few years back.

“I played for 800 people in a nice theater and after there was a standing ovation for 10 minutes,” he recalls. “Signing the CDs, there was a huge line of 200 people. Moments like that make me more strong. Even at small concerts for 50 people, the reaction is so nice and so close. I’m very happy when I can see how I put my music in their hearts.”

Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo and Italian vocalist Chiara Izzi perform at the 2017 Vail Jazz Winter Series at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on Feb. 2. The evening features two 60-minute performances, the first seating takes place at 6 p.m. (doors at 5:30 p.m.) and the second seating at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $35 in advance. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service and a full bar will be available.

 

For tickets or more information, click here or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Professor Cunningham and His Old School open Vail Jazz Winter Series

The Australian-born vocalist and multi-instrumentalist reflects on his musical journey from piano player to swing star

Adrian “Professor” Cunningham didn’t set out to be the master of many instruments. Growing up in Sydney, Australia, he took up the piano at age 11. He was steadily perfecting his prowess on the keys when he realized in high school that adding the saxophone to his repertoire might be “a nice way to get the chicks.” It was the early 90s, after all, and every pop band of recent years had staked their claim to cool with a sax player.

But then Cunningham’s father introduced him to jazz.

“He loved Louis Armstrong and we had all of these great 78s that we listened to together,” he recalls. “I started playing clarinet and fell in love. It became my baby.”

It wasn’t until his 20s that Cunningham added the flute to his skill set.

“I love that each instrument has a personality,” he says. “Each one is able to express music in a different way … in a different voice. With that given personality, I like to be able to change a song.”

With each echelon of talent, Cunningham moved up the musical ranks in his mother country, joining the house band for the hit television show, Australian Idol, the Sydney All Star Big Band and being nominated for Mo Awards as Jazz Instrumentalist of the Year and Best Jazz Group.

Eager to further expand his horizon, Cunningham relocated to New York City in 2008. In addition to the long list of Australian luminaries with whom he’d performed, he began sharing the stage with American stars like Wynton Marsalis, Bucky Pizzarelli, Debbie Reynolds and Wycliffe Gordon, to name just a few.

Performing in cities across the globe, on every continent besides Antarctica with his Australian-based quartet as well as His Old School ensemble, Cunningham has played Switzerland’s famed Montreux Jazz Festival on three separate occasions and has led the saxophone section of Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks, the Grammy- winning, New York-based swing group. Now 39, Cunningham has made major strides as a composer and has recorded seven albums. His performances are typically blended with energetic instrumental and vocal numbers.

Although he doesn’t have a precise formula for writing music, when the mood strikes him, he can’t shake it.

“I go through phases. When I get into a composition mode, it takes over. I was just back in Australia with my long-time quartet and I was obsessively doing it. It’s very much an emotional place I have to be in. A lot of what I write is inspired by my travel.”

As far as said travel, Cunningham’s most memorable gig is surprisingly not one of his Montreux Festival performances or a big night at Lincoln Center, but an impromptu set in Africa before he was even a professional musician.

“We were backpacking and camping in Botswana and our tour guide said, ‘I have a place to show you.’ We went into this jazz club in the middle of bushy Africa. The band playing was all African guys. Somehow they got the notion that I was a musician. We couldn’t communicate with words but played jazz tunes. We could communicate through music. These guys weren’t polished musicians. They didn’t have the techniques that First World countries have. But it was amazing. The spirit was just magical.”

When it comes to connecting with people these days, Cunningham – Professor Cunningham, that is – has kindled a fiery energy with His Old School, a New York City-based, New Orleans-inspired ensemble that has firmly etched its mark on the international swing scene, winning Best Band, Best Horn Section and Best Rhythm Section awards at the 2016 International Swing Band competition in Madrid, Spain.

Swing dancing has become a natural supplement to Cunningham’s shows, and of course, a skill that the Professor himself has notched onto his resume.

“Connecting with dancers on a musical level is one of the highest [rewards] you can have playing jazz,” he says. “It’s such a great compliment to this music. Not only is it great to watch them get affected by what we do, but how I play has changed. I’ve learned to swing dance myself and I’m pretty good.”

That’s not to say it’s easy, though. Cunningham admits that his dance moves max out at two songs.

“I can tell you, what they do is so hard. But it’s made me more attentive to the rhythm, how I play rhythms as a soloist,” Cunningham says. “If you’re improvising in terms of ‘how would I react to this if I were dancing?’ you’re trying to connect with people on a physical level with the tempos and what feels good on the dance floor and also on a listening level.”

Whether playing to a room of swing dancing couples or a rapt seated audience, Cunningham revels in speaking through his common, cosmic language.

“Jazz seems to have a recurring life of its own,” he says. “It’s accessible to everyone, the older crowds, the younger crowds, the swing audience. The language has become more sophisticated. It’s not as easy to get straight away, but it’s something that we all understand.”

 

Kick off 2017 with hot jazz

The Sonnenalp sets the stage for a spicy jazz club scene on cold winter nights!

Go to a jazz club in any of the world’s major cities and it’s abuzz with an unmistakable sizzling magic on show nights. There is not one, but two performances – one for the earlier crowd and one for the later crowd. The acoustics envelope the intimate audience and the artist delivers something special to each crowd.

This scene is coming to Vail, Colo. this winter with the all-new 2017 Vail Jazz Winter Series. The Series features four artists, each filling a diverse corner of the vast jazz umbrella. For the first time in Vail Jazz’s 22-year life span, the Winter Series will take place at Ludwig’s Terrace in the Sonnenalp Hotel.

Surrounded by glass on three sides and the roof with the stars shining through, the space checks every characteristic off the list as far as an elegant and classic jazz lounge setting with the added benefit of its distinctly alpine appeal perched in the woods at the base of Vail Mountain. Seating will be club style, around small tables offering a special menu featuring a full bar and scrumptious small and large plates available for both performances – the 6 p.m. set and the 8:30 p.m. set. Doors open 30 minutes before set time, enabling guests to pick seats and place orders.

Here’s what’s on the musical menu:

Jan. 12 – Professor Cunningham and his Old School

Interestingly, the Professor – Adrian Cunningham – is not old at all but is certainly well-schooled when it comes to playing instruments. Growing up in Sydney, Australia, Cunningham started out on the piano before taking on the clarinet, flute and saxophone. After establishing himself as a standout talent in his mother country, the Aussi relocated to New York City where he began performing with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Wycliffe Gordon, Chris Potter, Renée Marie, George Coleman Jr. and Bucky Pizzarelli, becoming a regular at the Blue Note, Birdland and Apollo Theatre. In 2012, Cunningham donned the Professor hat and took up with Old School, a rotating ensemble of high-energy, NYC-based musicians specializing in the New Orleans tradition but also known to steam up the room with R&B, hot jazz and swing. This performance marks the return of the Professor after he established a strong following at the 2016 Vail Jazz Party. The Vail sets will hone in on swing music from the 1920s, so be sure to bring your dancing shoes.

Feb. 2 – Diego Figueiredo with Chiara Izzi

No stranger to Vail, guitarist Diego Figueiredo has been a favorite among Rocky Mountain jazz fans for years. His lightning fingered virtuoso style flirts with classical, bossa nova and traditional jazz as he puts his own stamp on standards from the American Songbook as well as classics from his native Brazil. Teaming up with the upbeat, zinging deliveries of Italian vocalist/songwriter Chiara Izzi, the duo is a surefire recipe for star power. Winner of the Montreux Jazz Festival’s Vocal Competition in 2011, Izzi has since relocated to New York City and has begun raising eyebrows for her uncanny ability to interpret – in her own distinctive way – jazz traditions from all over the world. The energy emanating from this international pair is not to be missed.

March 2 – Nicki Parrott’s Tribute to Peggy Lee

Capturing the vibrant spirit of legendary vocalist Peggy Lee is no simple feat, but Nicki Parrott has been refining her versatile musical skills since the age of 4. Hailing from New Castle, Australia, Parrott moved from the piano to the flute to the double bass by age 15 and by the age of 16, was winning song composition contests. After moving to New York City, Parrott’s vocal talents were recognized by the one and only Les Paul and she became a mainstay at his Iridium Jazz Club Monday night session. Even when not channeling Peggy Lee, Parrott’s voice swings hypnotically and powerfully, even more so when she’s plugging away on the bass.

April 13 – Chuchito Valdés Quartet

Hailing from a bloodline of piano kings three generations deep, Jesus “Chuchito Valdés can make the keys smoke like no other but can also draw out deep sentiment in the rich veins of classical mixed with his native Afro-Cuban jazz. Possessing enormous talent for creating original compositions, Valdés’ tunes often drift into the swirling waters of Bebop, Cha-Cha-Cha and Danzon. He has been enrapturing audiences around the world and recording music for the last 15 years, doing his father and grandfather proud.

Tickets are on sale now for the 2017 Vail Jazz Winter Series, which also includes two invitation-only performances at private residences – in February with Eric Alexander playing the Great Songs of the Tenor Sax and in March with husky vocalist and guitarist Bob Margolin, former member of Muddy Waters’ band.

The Winter Series performances at Ludwig’s Terrace at the Sonnenalp take place at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Tickets are sold separately for $35. Prices increase at 5 p.m. day of show. For tickets or more information, please visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Vail Jazz Winter Series has arrived!

The Vail Jazz Winter Series is back! This year’s lineup boasts swinging bands, stunning vocalists, and exciting musical pairings, all hosted in an exciting new venue: the terrace at Ludwig’s. Ludwig’s terrace at the Sonnenalp hotel will transform into an elegant alpine jazz club, complete with dinner service.

The 2017 Vail Jazz Winter Series lineup features:

Professor Cunningham and His Old School | January 12th

Led by reedman and vocalist Adrian Cunningham, Professor Cunningham and His Old School consists of some of the most energetic and accomplished musicians on the New York scene, playing swinging and grooving music in the aesthetic of Sidney Bechet, Fats Waller, Professor Longhair and even Fats Domino! Their repertoire is deeply steeped in the New Orleans tradition, and is marked by hot jazz, growling horn, and grooving rhythms. The group has been a regular hit in the NYC underground party and swing dance scene since it’s formation in 2012; regularly performing to packed houses at swing venues and speakeasies throughout the city.

Diego Fiegueiredo with Chiara Izzi | February 2nd

Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo is a returning favorite at Vail Jazz, having wowed audiences this past Vail Jazz Party. Diego fuses jazz, bossa nova and classical music, blending his virtuoso technique with an infectious, joyful interpretation. He will be joined by award winning Italian singer and songwriter Chiara Izzi, “a talent to be heard, admired and anticipated” (Jazz Times). Chiara’s international debut took place at the Montreux Jazz Festival Vocal Competition in 2011 where she was awarded first prize by Quincy Jones. Together the duo will bring a unique blend of brazilian, mediterranean, and everything in between.

Nicki Parrott’s Tribute to Peggy Lee | March 2nd

Peggy Lee’s iconic sultry singing voice carried impeccable rhythmic subtlety and smoldering sexuality—in a world of belters, she was exquisitely understated. In this special show, hard-swinging bassist and gifted vocalist Nicki Parrott will pay tribute to Miss Lee. Originally from Australia, Parrott possesses a “bright, vibrant voice graced with clarity,” and her arrangements are breezy and alive (NPR).

Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin | March 29th (by invitation only)

As a former member of the Muddy Waters band, Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin plays his blues Chicago-style, naturally. After leaving the band in 1980, Margolin is now a bandleader, soloist, songwriter, vocalist and in-demand session player. He easily fuses the driving shuffle of his roots in Waters’ band with a high-energy approach, combining riveting slide guitar work, husky vocals, and powerful original songwriting.

Chuchito Valdés Quartet | April 13th

Born and raised in Havana, Cuba, pianist and composer Jesus “Chuchito” Valdés is the third-generation manifestation of a Cuban jazz piano dynasty that includes his father, Chucho Valdés, and grandfather, Bebo Valdés. Playing professionally since the age of 16, by the late ’90s he took his father’s spot in the world-renowned Irakere band. As a solo artist he displays fiery intensity and daredevil technique, with original compositions and arrangements drawing on a variety of style including Afro-Cuban, latin jazz, Beblop, classical, and many more.

For more information about the series, visit the Vail Jazz Winter Series page.

Tickets to the Vail Jazz Winter Series will go on sale on Friday, December 16th.

2016 Vail Jazz All-Stars CD available for preorder

The pre-order of the 2016 Vail Jazz All-Stars double CD is now available for purchase! CDs will be shipped no later than December 1, 2016.After 10 days of intensive study, the 12 students that are selected every year to participate in the Vail Jazz Workshop are proudly billed as the “Vail Jazz All-Stars.” This double cd features the 2016 Vail Jazz All-Stars, and their performances from Thursday, September 1 – Sunday, September 5 at the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Party.

Listen to a preview of the tracks here!

Pre-order your CD today:

ALTO COMBO

Austin Zhang (alto sax), Joe Giordano (trombone), Zaq Davis (trumpet), Jake Sasfai (piano), Philip Morris (bass), Nick Kepron (drums)

TENOR COMBO

Alex Yuwen (tenor sax), Jasim Perales (trombone), David Sneider (trumpet), Carter Brodkorb (piano), Gabe Rupe (bass), Brian Richburg Jr. (drums)

TRACK LIST INCLUDES:

Shaw ‘Nuff (Dizzy Gillespie)
I Mean You (Thelonious Monk)
How Deep is the Ocean (Irving Berlin)
Stone Age Shuffle (John Clayton)
Driftin’ (Herbie Hancock)
12’s It (Ellis Marsalis)
Hymn to Freedom (Oscar Peterson)
Flee, as a Bird, to Your Mountain/When the Saints Go Marching In (Mary Dana Schindler/traditional)
You Do Something to Me (Cole Porter)
Body and Soul, in the style of John Coltrane (Johnny Green)

It’s time to throw down with the Vail Jazz Party!

Five day music extravaganza features both refined and improvised sets by more than 50 of the world’s greatest jazz artists

Herbie Hancock once famously said that “jazz translates the moment into a sense of inspiration for not only the musicians but for the listeners.” During the five days of live music throughout the Vail Jazz Party, all of the moments become a throbbing cloud of inspiration, palpable to all within earshot.

Spontaneity and improvisation are key ingredients to great jazz, a big part of why the world places jazz artists on the tippy top of the music’s overall talent pool.

In its 22nd year, the Vail Jazz Party exemplifies the skills of its musicians not only through its feature performances but also in grouping them together for a fusion experience that is truly one-of-a-kind, building ensembles that have never before come together and a live set that will never again be repeated.

While these primordial lineups and their consequent off-the-cuff musical masterpieces might look and sound natural to the artists, even the most established and experienced stars at the Vail Jazz Party will attest to the fact that improvising exquisitely is no simple task.

“That’s where I’m really clear that I’m the baby in the bunch,” says singer Niki Haris, leader of the Vail Jazz Party’s Gospel Prayer Meetin’, arguably the most popular performance of the entire weekend. Although the Gospel Prayer Meetin’ doesn’t necessarily fall under the “improvised” umbrella, Haris, like every other star with a feature performance during the weekend party, is once again slated to appear with a changing lineup of artists in a handful of breakout sessions. A long-time back-up vocalist for the likes of Madonna and Anita Baker, Haris is more accustomed to super-produced stadium shows with well-timed lighting and pyrotechnics than on-the-spot improv.

“Because of my history, I know how to put shows together. I know big productions. I know rehearsal. The closest I got to improv was in a church session,” Haris says. “You let the spirit move you – yours and the audiences – on what song you would choose. I’m not a pro at that. That’s where I tip my hat to those amazing musicians.”

Haris has managed to make a convincing case of improvising over the years at the Vail Jazz Party, largely because her expression, as she herself describes it, is “honest.” Like other artists at the jazz party, Haris is not only a jazz singer, but also wanders into the realms of gospel, soul, rock, pop, R&B, funk and just about every other genre you can put a label on. Regardless of the category, when she performs in Vail, particularly at the Gospel Prayer Meetin,’ her mission is to convey one thing  … “good news.”

“When I sing, I’m as honest as I can be, so it doesn’t come just from a place to sing a bunch of songs but to delve into where I want to be in the world,” she says. “For those 90 minutes, I want to create a more loving, compassionate and peaceful world, bringing the good news –  the gospel – to many different faiths. That’s the fun part of Vail. I know I have Christians there and people who probably don’t go to church. But it’s palpable, the energetic change that happens. People are reaching out hugging each other. I see tears, people hand-holding. Then to play in the square, with all of these mountains around, that’s the most beautiful thing.”

Audience members at Vail Jazz Party performances have referred to performances as gifts.

“I’m so glad I’m the one who gets to deliver the gift,” Haris says.

Step into a session

The Vail Jazz Party is designed to impart an armful of gifts all in one long block of back-to-back deliverables. When you buy a ticket to the party, it lands you three to five hours of music during a particular time slot Friday throughMonday.

Evening sessions

The evening sessions are reminiscent of a traditional indoor stage performance in which the crowd collects in theater-style seats around a large stage with superb acoustics, in this case, in the Grand Ballroom at the Vail Marriott. As with all of the sessions, a selection of artists – the king or queen of his or her given instrument – are teamed up to kick off the session with one musician selected as leader of the set. Niki Haris gets an early crack as head honcho duringFriday’s first evening session. Each evening session also offers one if not two special performances, including a group of contemporary jazz stars paying homage to a musical legend as inspiring footage of the legend takes over the backdrop. The lineup includes supersonic bassist John Clayton paying homage to another master of four strings, Milt Hinton, a tribute to the Texas Tenors starring saxophonist Joel Frahm, Byron Stripling playing his heart out in tribute to the blues and Terell Stafford’s Brotherlee Love, a tribute to iconic trumpeter Lee Morgan. In true jazz club tradition, each evening finishes with a Late Night Jam Session, included with the evening ticket, in which a powerhouse ensemble of seven to eight musicians who have never played together are teamed up improv-style in the intimate setting of First Chair Café in the Vail Marriott. The unplanned music flows like liquid ear candy from around7 p.m. to well after midnight.

Afternoon sessions

With the Rocky Mountains and blue sky as a backdrop, from 11:30 a.m. to early evening Saturday through Monday, the live soundtrack ranges from enchanting instrumental quintets to high-energy piano duos to small orchestra-sized teams of soloists. You name the instrument and one of the world’s leading masters is on the stage playing it – drums, bass, guitar, piano, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, flute, bass … The sets fuse two to 10 musicians at a time, each one bringing his or her own thick stack of accomplishments, many of them GRAMMY and Downbeat Music awards. Highlights include the Vail Jazz All-Stars free performances on Saturday and Sunday, Piano Duos in which six pianists rotate through a dueling set on the keys and an all-in, blowout set on Monday with a ten-piece horn section. The nonstop strains of hypnotizing harmonies originate from the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead’s Vail Square.

All told, the Vail Jazz Party amounts to a five-day explosion of world-class live music, refined feature performances and unpredictable combinations all in rapid succession. The one predictable factor is that like any good party, it’s bound to bring a bounty of delightful surprises. Bill Cunliffe, multi-GRAMMY award-winning pianist of the Vail Jazz Party House Band sums up the experience like this:

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

For tickets and detailed Vail Jazz Party schedule, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.