Norma Deloris … a.k.a Peggy Lee

On May 26, 1920, in a small remote farm town in North Dakota a baby girl, Norma Deloris Egstrom, was born, the seventh of eight children. Her mother would die when she was 4 and her father, an alcoholic railroad worker, remarried shortly thereafter. Raised by her stepmother who was cold and abusive, she stayed away from home as much as possible.

Her parents were of Scandinavian ancestry and her fair skin, blonde hair and striking appearance in her youth set her apart from her peers. She began singing in church and the glee club in high school and resolved to become a singer. She left home for Hollywood at 17 to pursue her singing career, but was unsuccessful and quickly returned home; however, she wasn’t defeated and she began singing on the radio in Fargo, ND. Shortly thereafter, she returned to Calif., where a defining moment in her journey to stardom and fame would take place. Singing before an extremely boisterous crowd in a club, she could not be heard and instead of attempting to raise her voice to compete with the din in the club, she began lowering her voice. Years later she explained, “When they discovered they couldn’t hear me, they began to look at me. Then they began to listen. As I sang, I kept thinking, ‘Softly, with feeling.’ ”

Howard Stone

Not quite a “Eureka” moment, but this approach became an essential career defining stylistic technique and led to her “trademark sultry purr.” Paying her dues, she gained experience by traveling and singing with small bands in the late 30s. When she was 21 there was another “Eureka” moment, except this time it wasn’t her problem that was solved, but Benny Goodman’s. The King of Swing had just lost his lead singer and he urgently needed a replacement “girl” singer. He heard Norma Deloris sing in Chicago and hired her on the spot, a stint that would last 20 months, during which she would launch her career as a vocalist (selling several million records) and appear in two movies with Benny and his band. When she wasn’t singing with the band, she was falling in love with the band’s guitarist. Benny had a rule that his musicians could not “fraternize with the girl singer,” so he fired the guitarist, whereupon Norma Deloris quit the band. The two married in March 1943 and moved to L.A. where they began collaborating as composers and lyricists.

A string of hits followed, some performed by others, but many performed by Norma Deloris that became big sellers. By the late ‘40s, she was on top, performing in the biggest superclubs in the U.S. and Europe, but there was a problem. Her husband was an alcoholic and by 1951, their marriage ended in divorce. Norma Deloris would marry three more times, all of which ended in divorce, as she searched for the love and security that eluded her as a child. “They weren’t really weddings, just long costume parties,” she quipped later. Between her marriage interludes, there were affairs with musicians, including Frank Sinatra and Quincy Jones.

While her personal life was beginning to spiral downward in the late ‘50s, she continued to have extraordinary success in all the facets of her career well into the 1960s. She had already ascended to “star” status as a vocalist with a defining glamorous and seductive “look,” but this was a façade to conceal her personal pain. Her musicianship was unrivaled among the singers of the day and only Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra were worthy of comparison. Equally comfortable interpreting the Great American Songbook, singing jazz, pop tunes or the blues, she delivered all with her unique style and phrasing and a wonderful sense of rhythm. She continued to compose music and lyrics for songs, penning many hits and even wrote film scores. Nominated for an Oscar for her performance in “Pete’s Kelly’s Blues,” she was one of the highest paid performers of the era.

But all that success couldn’t fill the hole in her soul and is often the case, children of alcoholics don’t escape the curse of their parents’ addiction. Norma Deloris was no exception. Eventually, she succumbed to the pain of her childhood and excessive alcohol and prescription drug abuse followed, along with binge eating, all of which took its toll. By the time Norma Deloris was in her 50s her talents were severely diminished by her pathological behavior. Episodes of double pneumonia, diabetes, and heart trouble followed and exacerbated her declining fortunes. Sadly, many top entertainers continue to perform well past their “prime,” tarnishing their image and disappointing their fans and Norma Deloris was guilty of this failing. It appeared that she couldn’t accept that she no longer had “it” and she sorrowfully continued to perform, in a wheelchair and with a respirator, a shadow of her former greatness. She died at the age of 81.

However, she left behind a musical legacy, recording over 650 songs and 60 albums. She was nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, winning one and receiving the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. She composed music and lyrics for hundreds of songs that have entered the canon of our musical heritage and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

So who was Norma Deloris? Duke Ellington said it best: “If I’m the Duke, man, Peggy Lee is Queen.”  The list of her hits is beyond the scope of this article, but a very few highlights are her breakout recording of “Why Don’t You Do Right?” in 1943; her biggest hit, “Fever” in 1958 and a last hurrah in 1969 that tragically asked “Is That All There Is?”

At 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 8 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on Aug. 9 at Vail Square in Lionshead, the wonderfully talented Nicki Parrott will pay tribute to Peggy Lee, singing all of the songs that Peggy Lee (a.k.a Norma Deloris) made famous. The performance on Aug. 9 will include screenings of photos and classic video of Peggy that capture her essence in a unique multimedia format.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

Seven Questions with Andrea Motis

In her own words, Spanish musician Andrea Motis provides insight on her background and inspirations

At 23 years old, Spanish-born Andrea Motis has already notched a lengthy career as a professional musician. When she was 7 she took on the role of lead trumpeter and also saxophonist at the Municipal School of Music of Sant Andreu in Barcelona. Playing with the Saint Andreu Jazz Band for another nine years, Motis performed and recording with the likes of Wycliffe Gordon, Jesse Davis, Bobby Gordon and Dick Oatts, to name just a few. By the time she was 15, she released her first album of jazz standards and after a couple more album recordings, she released last year’s Emotional Dance on major label Impulse! Records, highlighting her incredible range and deftness on trumpet as well as her alluring vocal talent. She has taken the European jazz scene by storm.Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone can also attest to the jaw-dropping caliber of her talent, having first seen her perform as a teenager.

“I see a 14-year-old performing at a major jazz festival and I said, ‘what the hell? This is unbelievable.’ I think I have to keep an eye on this gal. When she was 22, I worked with another organization to bring her to the states. They were willing to sponsor her and her band to come. She went to Stanford and they put out an email asking if anyone was interested in booking her. Of course I said yes. She’s not a household name, but she’s really a big deal in Europe.

Making her Vail debut, Andrea Motis joins one of New York City’s most lauded tenor sax players, Vail Jazz favorite Joel Frahm, for a trio of Vail Jazz performances. Catching up with Motis last week, we picked her brain about her inspirations and goals.

  1. Vail Jazz: What was the initial allure of the trumpet and why you were drawn to it at such a young age?

Andrea Motis: It was a causality, as I, at age 7, only knew some instruments like violins or pianos. In my neighborhood’s municipal school of music there were no more places for students of these instruments, only more “rare” instruments. So my father had a trumpet from when he was playing it at about 15 years old. He told me to at least get into the school with his instrument and, after that in one year or so, changing if I wanted. But I had a really good teacher and person – Toni Gallart – and I never left.

2. VJ: What was your initial impression of Joel Frahm and why did you choose him for your album and collaborative projects? How would you describe your on-stage dynamic?

AM: I first knew about Joel Frahm through the recording, Live at Smalls by singer Cyrille Aimée. I love that recording and all the musicians playing on it. It is such fresh music and standards that I love playing [played] so naturally and well. For me, his sound on this CD was some kind of “perfect” and I thought I would love having him on the CD. On stage, there isn’t any mystery. It is so easy to work with such a great musician like Joel who knows about all the standards. We just pick the ones we know better and he can perfectly play whatever new music we give him. We’ve also played originals. In fact, he’s playing on my originals on the CD, Emotional Dance.

3. VJ: What would you say are the most important elements necessary for a musician to successfully play by ear (as you do so well)?

AM: 1. Listening to music (jazz), 2. Learning by heart lots of melodies, 3. Transcribing some solos, 4. Playing as much as you can

4. VJ: As a young artist, what have been your most memorable performance/audience experiences to date?

AM: There are so many! One of the more special [experiences] to date was last August when I performed for the first time at the big outdoor theater – Grec – in Barcelona under my name. I prepared a three-part-show with jazz and songs with contemporary dance and funk. With so many great musicians and dancers, it was, for me, like a dream come true.

5. VJ: What are your ultimate goals as a musician?

AM: To be able to play every [type of] music I love, being able to improvise musically as I feel it without technical or theoretical troubles and to work more for playing it easily. Also composing and arranging more in the future and feeling free to do whatever appears in my mind.

6. VJ: Who are other artists with whom you’d like to collaborate in the future and why?

AM: Cécile Mc Lorin Salvant. I admire her so much. Ingrid Jensen … I feel I like can play by her side. Many others that are just great people, friends and musicians. That’s so important. Also people I’ve already played with and I’ve discovered how well could we work together, such as Pasquale Grasso and Federico Dannemann on guitars.

7. VJ: What artists are you listening to at the moment and why do you find them inspiring?

AM: Freddie Hubbard, Mingus, Monk, Avishai Cohen, Parker, Tom Harrell, Esperanza Spalding, John Erik-Kellso, Luigi Grasso, to just saying people that come to my mind. It’s better to hear it [yourself] and take what you feel about it. I think that will be much better than trying to explain what I take from all that …

Andrea Motis and Joel Frahm live in Vail

Vail Jazz Club Series

Aug. 1

Andrea Motis and Joel Frahm perform a pair of intimate loung performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, Aug. 1. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Tickets at $40. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies. Get tickets here.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

Aug. 2

The pair take their talent to the big stage in the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 2. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seats. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. Get tickets here.

 

Learning by Listening

Something extraordinary has occurred in Barcelona, Spain that is proving that the old adage, “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke,” is applicable when applied to teaching jazz. Over the past 12 years the Sant Andreu Jazz Band (SABJ), comprised of boys and girls aged 7 to 20 years old, has been organized and led by Joan Chamorro, a Spanish jazz multi-instrumentalist and educator. During this period, 60 youngsters have played in the SABJ and have demonstrated a remarkable level of musicianship and an incredible ability to improvise, well beyond their years, playing together like seasoned pros with a joy and energy that has captivated their audiences. Before we explore why this amazing ensemble has had so much success, let us explore how jazz has been taught in the past and then we can compare Joan’s teaching techniques with the current approach in the U.S.

In the first two decades of the last century, as jazz evolved into a recognizable form of music, it did so without the use of written music … because most of the players couldn’t read music. Also, with improvisation at the heart of jazz, written music wasn’t relevant. Instead of studying written music, jazz was learned by “ear,” also known as “aurally,” from the Latin word that refers to the ear or hearing. Learning music aurally enables a player to develop the capacity to hear pitches, chords, melodies, rhythms and intervals without reference to written music. This ability to recognize and internalize sound, very much like how an infant hears words spoken and learns to speak them back, was how jazz was passed on from player to player and generation to generation.

Howard Stone

Listening to music is a passive activity. Many of us listen to music, but never really hear it. You drive along in your car listening to music, but do you really hear it? This is the key; you must actively stay focused to train you ear to hear the music. You then hear the music in an entirely different way.

When a jazz musician takes a solo and begins to improvise, he is akin to a storyteller, only he uses musical notes and phrases instead of words to tell his story. Simultaneously, he has to play his instrument and compose his story and his ability to know what the notes will sound like before he plays them is crucial, if he is to successfully improvise. Choosing the right notes, harmonies, rhythms and more is what separates the pros from the amateurs in jazz and the pros can do it because they have great “ears.”

As the formalization of jazz education began to take place in the latter half of the last century, reliance on reading music and understanding the theory of the music, pushed ear training aside, as it was judged not a very intellectual approach to music. Today, young musicians are taught scales and to learn to read music as a starting point. Practice books abound and the focus is to learn to faithfully play the notes that are on the page. Jazz musicians today are educated at conservatories where the technical side of the music is emphasized and virtuosity is prized. This is now the “approved” approach to teaching kids and aspiring professional musicians all types of music, not just jazz.

So what teaching methodology does Joan use to create such astounding results? Joan is “old school” and believes that starting a youngster’s musical education by teaching scales and to read music is too mechanical. He believes that it is more important for a novice to learn what a given note will sound like, than to know how to read the note. He therefore focuses on connecting his students to the music by having them listen to the music they will play, so they can hear what it sounds like. He encourages the students to sing the notes of a tune so that they can internalize the melody. In short, this is the early jazz tradition of playing by ear and 100 years later, the SABJ is proof positive that it works.

As an aside, Vail Jazz annually brings 12 of the most talented high school jazz musicians in North America to Vail to participate in our award-winning Workshop and for the past 23 years our teaching staff has exclusively relied on ear training with no written music allowed during the students’ 10-day residency. I can attest to its effectiveness, as many of our alumni are now professional jazz musicians.

At 5 and 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 1 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on Aug. 2 in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead, Vail Jazz is very pleased to present from Spain, Joan Chamorro and 23-year-old Andrea Motis, a vocalist, trumpet player and former member of SABJ, who is now an internationally touring professional. They will be joined by the marvelously talented American tenor saxophonist Joe Frahm and other Spanish musicians rounding out a sextet. Come listen … and hear.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

Tony DeSare sets his own definition of jazz

Singer and pianist Tony DeSare has often been regarded as a young Frank Sinatra. Although he can swing with the best of them on all the classic jazz numbers, the 42-year-old New York native puts his bright and totally unique stamp on pretty much everything he produces. Take, for example, the Justin Bieber pop hit, “Despacito.” In an effort to raise funds for last year’s Puerto Rico hurricane victims, DeSare teamed up with Hamilton star Mandy Gonzalez and Postmodern Jukebox for a hypnotizing rendition of the pop tune that has to date yielded well over 4 million views on YouTube. Also last year, DeSare created the entire score for the Lifetime movie, Hush Little Baby and released his sixth full-length album, One For My Baby.

Before returning to Vail this week for a pair of intimate solo performances Wednesday at The Sonnenalp and “Vegas-style swing” with the H2 Big Band Thursday at Vail Square, DeSare took a stab at the definition of “jazz.” Here’s what he had to say about why the genre, especially his own version of it, might surprise people.

1) It has transcended generations

“I think jazz has become a kind of all encompassing term for hard-to- classify types of music that tend to use more sophisticated harmony and have some element of improvisation. For Baby Boomers and Millennials, jazz seems to have become somewhat of a four-letter word, at least in the mainstream culture.” 

2) Jazz has no borders

“As far what the boundaries of jazz are today, there don’t seem to be any, as jazz festivals commonly include even rock, blues and pop acts among more traditional jazz acts. There still certainly exists a culture of people who have followed and stay up to date on the art form of jazz and its history. In that culture, the definition of jazz is definitely more narrow. I would say what I do has usually been on the outskirts of that niche, though I certainly appreciate it myself.”

3) Pop music and jazz share some of the same genes

“I fell in love with pop music and love classic pop, which was truly was all about a great melody and lyric. Those songwriters and artists drew from the vocabulary of jazz music and I consider myself part of that tradition.”

4) The magic all comes down to each song

“I present songs that swing, have sophisticated melodies and jazz chords and will improvise solos here and there, but for me, the most important thing is the feeling and content of the song itself. A more ‘purist’ view of jazz would favor the improvisation as the selling point of the performance with the song being more the vehicle through which it’s delivered. In other words, if I sing a song like ‘All the Things You Are’ by Kern and Hammerstein, my goal would be to deliver the tender emotion of the song and present it more like the songwriters intended whereas a modern jazz group will use the melody and chord changes more as a jumping off point to make a new statement that often is an interesting contrast to the original standard.”

5) It’s all about what’s real and in the moment

“All in all, I think the definition of what encompasses jazz is ever widening and more and more people are understanding that the label of jazz is not really specifically pointing to any one style in particular. I feel like the term jazz suggests the idea that the music is organic, real and of the moment, not that it necessarily has to swing, have lots of solos, feel serious, etc.”

See Tony DeSare live in Vail

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 25 – 2ND SET SOLD OUT!

Tony DeSare returns to Vail with a pair of intimate solo performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 25. In his words, it’s going to be a “spontaneous and intimate night where the set will vary depending on the audience and how I’m feeling. We’ll cover a lot of musical ground.” Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Tickets at $40 or $136 for a subscription to the remaining Club Series performances through Aug. 8. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies. Find tickets here.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

July 26 – SOLD OUT!

DeSare is joined by H2 Big Band in the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 26. He says to expect “that one and only feeling you can get hearing a live big band with a singer. I’ll be performing everything from Sinatra, Khachaturian, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles and Prince as well as a few originals. The whole night, though, would feel right at home at the Sands Hotel in Vegas in 1966.” Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Subscriptions are also available for multiple performances. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase.

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: The Vegas Strip

There have been many famous streets in the U.S. that have been synonymous with a style of music. In New Orleans it was Basin Street for the nascent sounds of jazz, Beale Street in Memphis for the blues, 18th and Vine for swinging jazz in Kansas City, Central Avenue in L.A. and 52nd Street in New York City for bebop, and of course, Broadway in NYC for what else but “Broadway music.”

Howard Stone

In Las Vegas, N.V. there is the Strip, a 4-plus-mile-long desert road, not associated with a particular style of music, but instead the entertainment capital of the world. Nevada was the first state to legalize gambling in 1931, but with the Depression underway, Vegas had to wait for better economic times and the end of World War II before it could become Sin City. By the early 1950s, the mob controlled the hotels with their extremely profitable casinos and much of the vice in the city as well, and Vegas took off. Gambling, bookmaking, prostitution (ultimately banned from Clark County where Vegas is located), 24-hour entertainment, food and booze, easy marriages and divorces, strip shows and much more, all of which ultimately led to the famous slogan: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

With gambling at the heart of the economy, entertainment became the “hook” to bring in the “losers” and the best way to attract them was to present the greatest entertainment of the day. Beginning in the 1950s the competition among hotels to feature the biggest draws in their respective “showrooms” was fierce and headliners that could draw a full house were handsomely rewarded. With Hollywood nearby, Vegas developed a connection to the world of celebrities and they were frequent visitors and performers on the Strip. Initially, the entertainment offerings were centered on lavish floorshows and reviews, comedians and vocalists. Whether singing pop, country, rock, or jazz, the greatest singers of the past 70 years have appeared on the Strip and in the 1950s and 60s many of my then favorites regularly appeared: Frank Sinatra, Nate “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Lena HorneTony Bennett and Peggy Lee, to name just a few. In 1956, a 21-year old Elvis had a two-week engagement in Vegas and bombed, but ultimately returned for many successful engagements and the filming of “Viva Las Vegas.” Today, Elvis impersonators can still be seen wandering on the Strip.

Many observers believe the golden age of the Strip was a period roughly half a decade long in the 60s when “The Rat Pack” held court in the Copa Room (400 seats) in the Sands Hotel. The iconic leader of the quintet was Frank Sinatra, joined by Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, all donning tuxedos with drinks in their hands, smoking on stage and generally projecting the image of being cool, ’60s style. The combination of great vocal talent (Frank, Dean and Sammy) with off-color humor, dancing (Sammy) and a swagger that was the personification of hipness, made their performances the “main event” and the biggest draw in Vegas. Backed by top bands, vocalists reigned supreme during this period and there was a magical atmosphere in the Copa Room where audiences were able to see the best perform in an intimate environment that defined the era. In 1966, Sinatra appeared in the Copa as a solo act and recorded his first ever live album, “Sinatra at the Sands,” with Count Basie and his 20-member band, conducted by Quincy Jones. The album is the definitive recording of this epoch and it captures what a night on the Strip was all about, with some of the swingiest music ever recorded, including Sinatra classics “Come Fly with Me” and “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” and a comedy monologue by Sinatra, known as the “tea break.”

As the 60s unfolded, rock musicians began to eclipse the jazz/pop stars of the day – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, the Who, Simon and Garfunkel and many others took center stage. In 1964, The Beatles made their only appearance in Vegas. Originally planned as a one-off concert on the Strip in the 700-seat Conga Room in the Sahara Hotel, the overwhelming demand for tickets ($2, $3, $4 and $5) caused the promoters to move the show to the Las Vegas Convention Center with a second show added. Approximately 17,000 screaming fans attended and it changed the Strip forever. Rock concerts came of age and it became clear that Vegas would have to compete for the best talent with the promoters of arena/stadium shows, something that a 500-1,000-seat venue on the Strip couldn’t do.

The Strip had to change to meet the new competition and it did. Public corporations began to take over the hotel/gaming industry, replacing the mob, and a new economic model was developed. The “old” hotels were replaced with megaresorts (of the 25 largest hotels in the world, 23 are in Vegas) themed as ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, as well as NY, Paris, Venice and Hollywood, and of course the Old West. These hotel/gambling palaces contained arena-like performance venues requiring much more variety in entertainment to draw larger crowds, including the new generation of entertainers, lavish spectacles, Broadway shows, impersonators, magicians and animal and circus acts (at one point, seven productions of Cirque Du Soleil were running on the Strip).

The Copa Room and the Vegas Strip of old are now just memories, but Sinatra’s album remains a testament to an era when great vocalists and great musicians could always be seen and heard on the Strip in an intimate showroom.

At 5 and 7:30 p.m. on July 25 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on July 2 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead, the great pianist and vocalist Tony DeSare will pay tribute to Frank, Sammy, Elton John and many other crooners who helped establish the Vegas Strip as the entertainment capital of the world.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

The infectious draw of gypsy jazz

Samson Schmitt was playing guitar before most toddlers knew how to bounce a ball. Hailing from the Moselle region of eastern France, Schmitt’s father, Dorado Schmitt, introduced his son to the music of Django Reinhardt and had him noodling on the neck of a guitar when he was just 3 years old. Schmitt names his father as the “master” of his musical education. He concedes that Dorado taught him “the necessary basics to play gypsy jazz” but “then later told me that I had to find my style of music with a personal touch.”

Today, the refined embodiment of gypsy jazz with a personal touch – not just Schmitt’s but each of his band mate’s – is the Django Festival All-Stars.

Comprised of Schmitt and DouDou Cuillerier on guitar, Antonio Licusati on bass, Pierre Blanchard on violin and Ludovic Beier on accordion, the All-Stars deliver a romping, high-energy blast of gypsy jazz. They play Django Reinhart classics as well as original compositions and countless surprises with what Schmitt describes as a “chemistry” that “has grown over the years to be fantastic.”

Beier, who grew up in Paris among a family of musicians and gravitated to the accordion after first learning the keyboard and drums, insists that the All-Stars’ chemistry is “not a rational fact.”

“Sometimes the magic appears without explanation,” he says. “The alchemy sometimes between musicians can create extraordinary things, and that’s the case in our group. But one of the keys of that is the listening. Everyone has a role and a precise function that blends the music without interfering with ego. When all those facts are put together, it works. And of course the friendship and common passion for this music is very important.”

The passion is tangible. During an All-Stars performance, each musician attacks his instrument with a ravenous but precise force that Schmitt claims is possible only by understanding three key ingredients – “heart, sensitivity and energy.”

That said, playing music in the Django tradition is not something just anyone can do.

“Besides virtuosity, harmony and swing, which are the ‘technical’ skills to master, I can clearly identify the most challenging aspect as the respect of the tradition with a kind of ‘opening’ on something from our modern times. Tradition is so inclusive that you cannot change the basics of this music, but adding new influences from the years after Django, you can make a creative answer to Django’s legacy.”

According to the accordionist, this is why gypsy jazz is so popular not only in France but throughout the world, among people of all ages who love every genre of music. But the genre wasn’t so popular when he first discovered it in the 1980s, when new music was largely electronic-based pop.

“But in the late ‘90s the appeal for world music revealed the Django legacy to the public and became popular among all kinds of people from young heavy-metal fans to white-collars businessmen,” Beier says, adding that in France today, Gypsy jazz is one of “the strongest” forms of music.

Beier began playing with Schmitt when the guitarist was still performing with his father and the two bonded immediately when it was clear that they both relished what Beier calls “the new side of Django’s music.” They have been playing together as the Django Festival All-Stars for 16 years.

“We have plenty of music to share from fast tempos to lyric ballads,” Beier says. “I need to keep the surprises for the concert, but our music is easy to understand and brings a lot of happiness.”

Django Festival All-Stars live in Vail

Vail Jazz Club Series: July 18

The quintet returns to Vail with a pair of intimate performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 18. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Tickets at $40 or $136 for a subscription to the remaining Club Series performances through Aug. 8. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies. Get tickets here.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square: July 19

The All-Stars deliver a fiery big stage performance in the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 19. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Subscriptions are also available for multiple performances. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. Also, don’t miss the after party with local pianist Kathy Morrow at the Vail Chophouse from 8 to 10 p.m. Get tickets here.

 

 

 

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: Django Style

At latest count on a worldwide basis there are close to five billion videos watched every day. A YouTube video can go viral and propel an unknown entertainer from total obscurity to literally world fame in a matter of days. A case in point is the Korean pop singer/rapper PSY (Park Jae-Sang). His 2012 music video “Gangnam Style” rocketed around the world with over one billion views in less than five months (now at three billion and counting), propelling him to world fame with President Obama flashing his Gangnam Style dance moves on TV within months of the first viewings of the music video. Of course, PSY has been pushed aside to make way for the next YouTube phenome, and then the next, and then the next … and the question arises whether this type of fame can ever be sustained? Apparently, Andy Warhol understood this issue in 1968, well before YouTube existed, when he famously predicted that culturally speaking, fame would be limited to 15 minutes.

Contrast this viewpoint with the career and music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt. A Belgian-born (1910) Gypsy musician who was largely self-taught, Django would go on to become the most important European jazz musician ever and a guitarist who would influence successive generations of guitar-greats. Django moved to Paris as a child and earned a living as a teenager playing on the streets of the City of Lights before playing in dance halls, where he performed a style of music known as musette, a combination of French folk music, polka, waltz and jazz. Never receiving a formal education, it is doubtful that Django ever learned to read, books or music. In 1928 at the age of 18, he was severely burned by a fire in his caravan and after a prolonged period of recovery, he returned to making music, but unfortunately the fourth and fifth fingers on his left hand were paralyzed and he never recovered the full use of them. Not able to use all the fingers on his left hand to play chords on his guitar, he created new chords using his contorted figures where possible, while rapidly moves his good fingers up and down the neck of the guitar, inventing a truly unique technique. In 1934, he joined forces with Stéphane Grappelli, a French-Italian violinist, and they formed the “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” that synthesized the music of Django’s Gypsy heritage with jazz to create a ground breaking sound that would have worldwide impact, making both of them internationally famous. By combining three guitars with a violin and bass at a time when American jazz was dominated by the sounds of piano, drums and horns, Django created what became known as Gypsy Jazz (Jazz Marouche) and is now known as Django Jazz. Tragically, Django died of a brain hemorrhage in 1953 at the age of 43, having had only a short time to make his musical mark.

Howard Stone

The passage of time fades our memories and fashions change, especially in music, and once Django passed, his music was forgotten, as bebop jazz took hold and the tsunami of rock washed over the world of music. However, nostalgia is a remarkable emotion driven by the strong desire to regain our youth, so music revivals are commonplace today. In some cases, it leads to a replay that generally doesn’t last very long. A decade after Django’s passing, his music began to be revived, but here is where the story gets interesting. Instead of a short-term revival based upon reminiscence, the music of Django began to take hold and build momentum and for the past five decades there has been a phenomenon aptly described as “Djangomania,” with Django Jazz played and enjoyed throughout the world and with jazz festivals dedicated to Django and his music held annually in the U.S. and Europe.

There was, of course, no Internet, so Django Jazz couldn’t go viral, but that really didn’t matter, because ultimately, Django and his music have passed the “test of time.” Greatness is not based upon a viral video, no matter how many views, but instead the creation of something of lasting value – a musical legacy – something that will be handed down to future generations. “Gangnam Style,” on the other hand, will be, at best, a historic footnote about the first video to have more than a billion views. Django and his music have entered the pantheon of popular music of the Western world and Django Style (contrasted with “Gangnam Style”) is now part of the classical music of the last century. Much like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Django Style has something special that will endure.

Vail Jazz will celebrate the musical legacy of Django at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on July 18 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on July 19 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead when it presents the Django Festival All-Stars. The music will be exuberant and played in a flamboyant manner, sizzling, infectious, and swinging, just as Django performed it over 85 years ago.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

Putting Spice in Jazz, Afro-Cuban Style

Jazz is very much like a tree with many roots (musical influences) and numerous branches (styles). Without doubt, the jazz tree took root in the fertile musical soil of New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th century, but 90 miles away, another musical tree had began to grow in the very rich musical soil of Cuba and it spread its branches in a very different way.

Let’s start with the tree growing in New Orleans. The Crescent City was initially ruled by France, then Spain. Then France reacquired it, before selling it (and a lot more – all or parts of 15 future states) to the U.S., as Napoleon was short on cash for his military adventures. The Louisiana Purchase (the second of the “big three real estate deals” in American history (Manhattan and Alaska being the other two) was completed in 1803. As a result, New Orleans was then conjoined with the U.S. and became the largest port in the South and its largest and most important city. With a rich music tradition tied to its French and Spanish roots, it was an important transportation hub, thus allowing many additional musical traditions to be brought to this very cosmopolitan city. In contrast, Havana (and Cuba) had a culture almost exclusively informed by Spanish customs with formal and well-defined forms of music and dance traditions.

Howard Stone

This is the European part of the musical equation, but of course, there was an African component as well. While we tend to think about slavery as a uniquely American enterprise, less than 10 percent of all the slaves brought to the new world landed in what is now the southern U.S. In fact, many more slaves were taken to Cuba to work the sugar plantations. Therefore, while each colonial power brought a distinct European musical tradition to it colonies in the new world, because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, they also brought the polyrhythmic (two or more rhythms played simultaneously) music of the West Africa slaves to each locale where they ruled. Because of the politics, commerce, climate, geography, access to musical instruments and formal music education, and many other influences in each locale, the European and African musical roots combined in different ways creating new and locally divergent musical styles. In New Orleans, this symbiosis led to jazz, and in Cuba, it led to an Afro-Cuban popular dance music – the rhumba, mambo and cha-cha-cha, with a major emphasis on the polyrhythmic traditions of West African music at its core.

With two distinctive musical styles only 90 miles apart, it was only a matter of time before the two were connected. Fostering this musical exchange were among other factors, the U.S. Army’s three separate occupations of Cuba in the first part of the last century, and the free movement of Cuban and American musicians by ferry between Havana and New Orleans during this period. It therefore wasn’t very long until the jazz tree in the U.S. had tapped into Afro-Cuban music. “Jelly Roll” Morton, one of the early New Orleans jazz innovators, famously noted that with the addition of what he called the “Spanish tinge,” you could spice up the then prevailing 4/4 rhythm of jazz and add “the right seasoning…for jazz.”

Jelly Roll wasn’t referring to Spanish music, but in fact the dance music of Cuba, with an essence that was pure pulsating rhythm, that made the listener want to move to the music. The Afro-Cuban beat wasn’t the predictable four beats to the bar of jazz, but a delightful exotic seasoning that added a unique flavor to the musical stew. This new rhythm that was the foundation of the music is known as the clave (2/3 and 3/2 alternating beats), and really wasn’t new at all, but could be traced to religious ceremonies in Africa centuries before. This was the “secret sauce” that spiced up the music with a zest of exotic percussion instruments added. The musical menu called for the rhythm to be played by Cuban percussion instruments: congas, timbales, güiros (gourds played with a stick), bongos, and two hardwood sticks, also called claves, with each assigned a distinctive rhythmic pattern to play. The combination of all of the ingredients provided an intoxicating rhythmic experience differentiating it from American jazz that instead evolved into a music of improvisation.

So what happens when you combine jazz and Afro-Cuban music, you end up with Afro-Cuban jazz. Take the polyrhythms and rhythm-centric nature of Afro-Cuban music out of Afro-Cuban jazz and you are left with jazz, which is not a problem, but I like to spice things up every now and then.

On July 11 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and on July 12 in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead, Vail Jazz will present the great Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera and his band in a pair of club shows and concert, respectively. Add a little spice to your life and join us for what promises to be explosive evenings of Afro-Cuban jazz.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz. 

Cuban pianist committed to cachet of musical styles

If you can imagine what kind of dedication it takes for a 12-year-old to develop the musical talent required to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Havana Symphony Orchestra, you can only guess what sort of skill that kid possesses several decades later after devoting every day in the meantime to his keyboard.

Nachito Herrera’s resume reads like a list of headlines. He’s won a Grammy, an American Heritage Award, an Immigrants of Distinction Award and has even been nominated for an Emmy. He’s directed, conducted and performed in numerous high-caliber symphonies and orchestras all over the globe, composed scores and tunes for Hollywood films and led a variety of his own bands, composing and performing everything from classical to Afro-Cuban jazz.

His first memory of the piano was his father – also a professional pianist – practicing with his big band in the family’s garage in Cuba. He began playing at the age of 4. By age 7, his classical piano career was already in motion.

“I remember when I started playing simple notes. My dad was teaching me. Then I went to the classical musical school in Cuba. It takes about 16 years to get your PHD and I did it all the way through. Then I took an extra five years to get my PHD as an orchestra conductor. Right when I was a teenager I started to also be interested in other styles like jazz and Cuban music,” Herrera says.

It’s his passion for these three types of music – Cuban, classical and jazz, arguably the most difficult genres to master – that motivates the musician to spend the majority of his time on the piano. Even if he’s not performing or rehearsing, he practices eight to nine hours a day.

“I decided to keep myself playing all kinds of music. That’s something that is a blessing when you have the possibility to do it. I’m showing that music isn’t just one, that you can go from classical to jazz to Cuban. People ask me, ‘do you consider yourself a jazz pianist or a classical pianist?’ I say, I’m just a musician. I want to keep doing that, if it can give me good health and [keep] my fingers in good shape. It’s something like you’re free, like you’re doing what you want. It is the kind of payment of the investment of many years to get into the type of shape where you are capable of all kinds of music.”

Herrera relocated to the United States many years ago and now calls Minnesota home. He has firmly established himself among the nation’s top jazz and Cuban pianists but also returned to his “classical training” 10 years ago when he performed with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba as soloist. Before last week’s phone interview with Vail Jazz, Herrera had just returned from Spain, where he served as guest soloist for the Valencia Jazz Festival and was honored to receive “multiple ovations.”

“Respecting each audience is the most important thing for me. I practice every day as [if it’s] my first time practicing as a student,” he says.

Herrera’s all-day practice sessions involve at least a couple of hours of finger-strengthening exercises as well as trying out improvisation scenarios with a variety of musicians. A large block of time is dedicated, of course, to technique training.

“Any instrument you want to learn – not just piano – you have to have something special in technique,” he says. “I always like to explore the different possibilities. If you’re playing a piano concerto, they say it’s always the same notes, but the soloist wants to put that little flavor and feeling of yourself. With improvisation, it’s 50-50, half different motives you can practice and another 50 percent improvising. You need different elements to put together. I like to put myself in different situations … hard situations. It’s a lot to work with, but it’s always based on respect for the audience. I don’t want them to get out and say, ‘Oh well. That was OK.’ I always want to do my best.”

Essentially, the Cuban’s aim, regardless of performing on a huge stage with 30 musicians or in an intimate club with his trio, is to enrapture.

“In those two or three hours of a performance, I want that they completely get rid of their problems and bad situations,” he says. “I want people to get out of my concert completely satisfied.”

Vail Jazz Club Series: Nachito Herrera

Nachito Herrera and his trio make their Vail debut with a pair of intimate performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 11. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Tickets at $40 or $136 for a subscription to four of the five Club Series performances through Aug. 8. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square: A Night in Havana

Nachito Herrera ramps up to a septet for the big stage at the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 12. Herrera says his intention in designing the Night in Havana performance was “to show to the audience the versatility of the music we have in our country. It’s making a musical tour around all different styles, Latin jazz, cha, cha cha and classical. From east to west, when you visit my country, it’s unbelievable how you can absorb the different styles of everything from food to music. They’re all about celebrating that we’re alive and we’re together.” Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Subscriptions are also available for multiple performances. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase.

Get tickets here.

   Reasons to Support Vail Jazz

The 2018 Vail Jazz Gala lands at The Sebastian in Vail this Monday night. There are countless reasons to go, but these five are on the short list.

  • An amazing dinner and Brazilian musical performance.

Let’s start with the hedonistic reasons. The annual Vail Jazz Gala is not only the organization’s most significant fundraiser but also an opportunity to catch highly acclaimed vocalist Carol Bach-Y-Rita and indulge in a classy evening of cocktails, appetizers and a gourmet meal. In the words of Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone, Bach-Y-Rita (whose fascinating Catalan name is a reason enough to pique your interest) is “a singer who really presents the song, putting it out there in a way that totally draws you in.” In one of the unique pairings that is characteristic of the Vail Jazz Festival’s musical chemistry, the singer will be accompanied by long-time favorite pianist Bill Cunliffe along with Vail Jazz Workshop alumni, Hitomi Oba and Jon Challoner for a passionate program of “infectious Brazilian rhythms,” including one-of-a-kind interpretations of the Brazilian Songbook, Bossa Nova, Samba and Choro.

  • Securing more free live music throughout summer in Vail

In addition to the Vail Jazz Gala and the slew of ticketed live performances throughout the year, Vail Jazz delivers free performances from 12 to 3 p.m. every Sunday all summer at the Vail Farmer’s Market, featuring a variety of regional artists ranging from energetic salsa ensembles to locally beloved piano-playing songstresses (we’re looking at you, Kathy Morrow). There’s also local piano-drum duo BLT joined by a guest artist at 8 p.m. every Sunday at The Remedy in Vail’s Four Seasons. Lastly, the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater in Edwards is poppin’ every Friday evening with free regional artists whose styles go well beyond jazz – funk, bluegrass, soul and R&B.

  • Nurturing the future of jazz

Obliterating the myth that jazz is a style for old timers, young prodigies all over the country and world are still dedicating their free time – like, all of it – to creating and playing music. Not only is this evidenced by this summer’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square lineup, which features a number of rising national and international stars under the age of 30, but also by the 140-plus teenagers from across the country who apply for a spot in the prestigious annual Vail Jazz Workshop. After a thoughtful and difficult vetting process, just 12 are selected. These students are shepherded through an intensive, week-long journey of playing-by-ear, improvisation, group dynamics and general magic by the Vail Jazz Party House Band – John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, Bill Cunliffe, Lewis Nash, Wycliffe Gordon and Lewis Nash. The Workshop culminates with numerous live performances during the Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. Also, every year, local piano icon Tony Gulizia and fellow musical educators make the rounds through every elementary school in the valley for Jazz Goes to School, a four-part education program that guides fifth graders through the history of American jazz, where and how it falls into the international music almanac. They learn not only how to play instruments but also master the 12-bar blues and are even writing their own songs by the final session. Gulizia and his team also provide an interactive crash course (a distinctly harmonious crash, that is) in jazz dynamics for younger children during the free Sunday morning Jammin’ Jazz programs throughout July in Vail. All told, Vail Jazz instills the art (and in many cases, the passion) of music to more than 2,000 young minds every year.

  • Help weave the cultural tapestry of the community

Let’s face it. The Vail Valley would not be what it is without its rich offerings of art and performances. The Vail Jazz Festival has been a part of that for 24 years. Beginning as a one-off event in which Howard Stone invited a collection of the modern world’s most prominent jazz artists to convene and make music together over Labor Day Weekend, the Vail Jazz Festival became the highlight of many people’s summer and has evolved into its current incarnation of more than 70 performances throughout the year. As mentioned above, many of these events are free. In addition to the wall-to-wall blowout Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party that has grown to be considered the “who’s who” of jazz events, Vail Jazz brings in the touring greats every Wednesday in July with its intimate Club Series, every Thursday all summer at Vail Square and every month throughout the winter with the Vail Jazz Winter Series.

  • Be inspired.

Ask anyone who has attended a performance and even if you know nothing about jazz or suspect that you might not like it, you will surprise yourself. The berth of world musical styles that fall under the genre’s umbrella and the sheer, jaw-dropping talent and energy of the artists never fail to blow people away. Jazz is a genre with something for everyone.

2018 Vail Jazz Gala

5:30 p.m. July 9 at The Sebastian in Vail.

Vocalist Carol Bach-y-Rita is joined by pianist Bill Cunliffe and Vail Jazz Workshop alumni Jon Challoner and Hitomi Oba for a lively evening of Brazilian rhythms – Bossa nova, Samba, Choro and more. Cocktails, appetizers and silent auction begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. and performance at 8:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $250, table for eight is $2,000. All proceeds benefit Vail Jazz educational programs. 

To support Vail Jazz, or for information on donating, go here.