Was Sinatra a jazz singer?

On July 13, Vail Jazz celebrates the centennial of the birth of Francis Albert Sinatra in a special show entitled “A Swingin’ Affair,” featuring Curtis Stigers and the H2 Big Band. Sinatra, variously known as “The Voice,” “Ol’ Blue Eyes,” “The Chairman of the Board,” “Frankie” and “The Sultan of Swoon,” was by most accounts the greatest entertainer in the history of American pop culture, with a career that spanned more than five decades from the late 1930s to the 1990s. Dropping out of high school with no formal music training, he couldn’t read music, but he went from a teen idol to a living legend. His first hit, “All or Nothing at All,” foretold his future and summed up his philosophy and the arc of his career.

Much has been written about him as a cultural icon and the public has had an insatiable appetite for the salacious details of his personal life and all his exploits, womanizing, connections to the mob, leader of the Rat Pack and much more. It should not be forgotten that he was the winner of nine Grammy Awards, three Academy Awards, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Congressional Gold Medal. In addition, he spoke out against anti-Semitism and was involved in the civil rights movement as well as being very philanthropic.


Sinatra was no doubt a great pop singer, but I focus here on a simple question: Was he a jazz singer? I’ll answer that with another question: Does it snow in Vail? The unequivocal answer is YES!

Dropping out of high school with no formal music training, he couldn’t read music, but he went from a teen idol to a living legend.

So what is a “jazz singer”? While there is no rigid definition, the hallmark of jazz and therefore a jazz vocalist is to swing and improvise. Swing is hard to define, but according to jazzinamerica.org, a performance swings when it uses “a rhythmically coordinated way … to command a visceral response from the listener (to cause feet to tap and heads to nod).” If you still don’t get what swing is, listen to “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” from “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers,” one of Sinatra’s greatest recorded tunes. If you still don’t get it, I suggest that you focus your listening on polka music!

To improvise in the world of jazz is to compose on the spot. Techniques such as singing behind the beat, accenting words and changing the phrasing (grouping lyrics in a way that is different than the composer wrote them, but suits the vocalist’s sensibility of how the lyrics should be interpreted), altering (and substituting) lyrics, all allow a vocalist to make a song his own. In essence, by using these techniques (not just as techniques, but as a way of communicating with the listener), the vocalist becomes the composer of a new song (based of course on the original one) and if the vocalist can make the listener tap his feet, click his figures or nod his head, you have a jazz vocalist.

Sinatra had swagger, and his half-cocked hat said that he was a jazz musician, but attitude and attire are not enough. He sang and recorded with many jazz greats. His phrasing and music sensibility were admired by great jazz musicians such as Count Basie, Miles Davis and Lester “Prez” Young and many more, but it is not the company you keep or the admirers that you have, but how you sing that determines your bon fides as a jazz singer. He recorded albums with the great Nelson Riddle with titles such as “Swing Easy,” “Songs for Swingin’ Lovers” and “A Swingin’ Affair,” but branding is one thing and really swinging is another.


Ultimately, you have to be able to deliver the goods and The Chairman of the Board could. Learning early in his career how to sustain long unbroken phrases without pausing to catch his breath allowed him to be adventurous with the phrases of a song. Sinatra listened to the jazz instrumental soloists he admired and used similar phrasing in his performances. Students of Sinatra’s catalog can point to numerous renditions of Cole Porter and Johnny Mercer lyrics that Sinatra “tweaked,” remaking these standards into his own. His diction was impeccable but yet had a conversational quality. It has been said that he had an incredible sense of time which allowed him to alter a phrase so the beat didn’t always coincide with the ending of a rhyme, but created a sense of sincerity making the lyrics more personal and causing the listener to believe the story that was being told. In fact he was quoted as saying: “When I sing, I believe. I’m honest.”

How ‘Gypsy Jazz’ moved from India to France to Vail

Our story begins in northern India more than 1,500 years ago when a small group of Hindi people began migrating from their homeland. Over centuries they made their way through the Balkans to Eastern Europe and ultimately throughout the world. They are the Roma or Romani people, known as Gypsies, a term many feel is used pejoratively against a people who have been persecuted wherever they have settled. Being predominately dark skinned, they have not been welcomed in their host countries and have continuously been on the move with a nomadic lifestyle. Originally thought to have come from Egypt, the term “Gypsy” was derived from the mistaken belief that this was their country of origin, but geneticists using the DNA of the Romani have conclusively traced their origins to the Punjab region of India.

The critically-acclaimed Django Festival All-Stars, who will play at Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on July 2

Blessed with a rich musical tradition, many earned their living by being nomadic entertainers and wherever they took refuge, they greatly influenced the music traditions of their hosts. This outsized impact can be heard in the flamenco music of Spain, derived directly from Romani music. Turkish, Russian and Eastern European music has been greatly influenced by Romani music (e.g., Liszt’s famous “Hungarian Rhapsodies”) and there is now a well-established technique of violin playing known as Gypsy Violin.

Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt, the son of a traveling entertainer, was born in Belgium in 1910 but grew up in France in a Gypsy settlement outside of Paris. Django began to play music at an early age, but his left hand was severely burned in a campfire when he was 18. He overcame the disability by inventing a unique fingering technique on the guitar, and by the ’30s, he was touring internationally, becoming one of the most important jazz guitarists of all time. As a founding member of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, he invented a style of jazz known as “Gypsy Jazz” that has been played for more than 80 years throughout the world. Django could not read music, but that didn’t matter. By using a guitar as a rhythm instrument (the player strums it in a distinctive percussive manner), Django was able to dispense with the drums and was able to combine two guitars (one rhythm and one melody), a violin, an accordion and a bass to create the classic “hot club” sound. With the emphasis on the second and fourth beat of each measure, Gypsy Jazz has a “swinging” toe-tapping feel that never fails to entertain.

The vocal sensation Cyrille Aimée, who will play at Vail Jazz Club Series on July 15 and Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on July 16

Branding is everything today, and in the world of Gypsy Jazz, there is no shortage of “Hot Club” bands here in the U.S. — the Hot Club of Detroit, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and even Cowtown, to name a few. In addition, there are many Django festivals in cities throughout the U.S. and Europe, with some straying from the authentic into a more commercialized form of the music, which is sometimes jokingly referred to as “Gadjo Jazz” (Romani for “non-Romani jazz”).

Carrying on the true tradition of Django is the Festival de Jazz Django Reinhardt presented annually in Samois-sur-Seine, France (the town where Django lived at the end of his life — he died tragically of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 43). This lovely town is venerated by the Gypsy Jazz community as being the place where authentic Django music is presented each year. With devotees (listeners and performers alike) from throughout the world descending on this beautiful village not far from Fontainebleau, it becomes the center of Gypsy Jazz for one week each year in late June.

So now you know the part of the story of how a unique music made its way from India to France, but where does Vail fit into the story? This year, Vail Jazz is pleased to celebrate the music of Django in Vail during our 21st annual Vail Jazz Festival by presenting two of the most compelling internationally known interpreters of Gypsy Jazz: The Django Festival All-Stars (6 p.m. July 2 at Vail Jazz at Vail Square in Lionshead); and vocalist Cyrille Aimee (9 p.m. July 15 at Cucina at the Lodge at Vail and at 6 p.m. July 16 at Vail Jazz at Vail Square in Lionshead). The All-Stars are a quintet with classic instrumentation and a commitment to swing hard and faithfully play the music of Django. Aimee is a Vail Jazz Festival favorite who grew up in Samois-sur-Seine and fell in love with Gypsy Jazz as a young girl. She is now entertaining audiences with a wide range of vocal stylings, including Gypsy Jazz, that have propelled her to the top of the world of jazz.


2015 Vail Jazz Festival programs + merchandise now available!

Check it out! The 21st Annual Vail Jazz Festival programs are hot off the press! Be sure to pick up your own copy, at Vail Daily newsstands and throughout the Vail Valley, for information on this summer’s performances and events.

Can’t wait to get your own copy? Click the button below and you can view our program online now!

Vail Jazz would like to give a big thank you to our generous sponsors and advertisers who helped to make this years program such a success.


Also, 2015 Vail Jazz Festival merchandise is now officially on sale! Check out our new online shop, and grab your Vail Jazz gear before the Festival starts – only 4 days away!

Vail Square lineup, new Club Series and live tunes at Sweet Basil!

Cartwheeling into its 21st year, the Vail Jazz Festival is admittedly a full-grown adult, but as evidenced by its lineup for this summer’s Thursday evening Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series, not to mention the brand new Vail Jazz Club Series and Vail Jazz at Sweet Basil events, the festival is unquestionably keeping things young and fresh.


The lineup of national and internationally acclaimed artists has just been confirmed. Beginning July 2 and ending Sept. 3, there will be 10 total performances, all taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays — rain or shine — under the jazz tent at Vail Square in Lionshead Village. Tickets are $15 general admission, $30 VIP or $199 for the 10-show VIP pass. Each event includes beverage tastings featuring 10th Mountain Whiskey, Bonfire Brewing and Ironstone Winery. Tickets and information available at vailjazz.org or 888-VAIL-JAM. Here’s the lineup:

July 2: Django Festival All-Stars

In the lightning fingers style of legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt, the five members of Django Festival All-Stars are bonafide Frenchmen and include a pair of six-finger sensations, a romping accordion and bass, sweet strains on the violin and a touch of high-speed vocal instrumentation. The quintet are regulars at Birdland in New York City and are bound to make a swingin’ debut in Vail.

July 9: Nicole Henry

Referred to as America’s current First Lady of Jazz, vocalist Nicole Henry has spent the last decade hypnotizing audiences with her sultry, versatile take on traditional jazz with a touch of soul, blues and gospel. She makes her Vail debut with her regular, uber-talented quartet.

July 16: Cyrille Aimee and Michael Valeanu Duo

Though she’s barely 30 years old, Cyrille Aimee has won awards all over the world for her hypnotizing vocal abilities. Hailing from a small village in France where she was lulled into the magic sounds of gypsy jazz, she returns to Vail for an intimate performance with fellow French New York City transplant and guitar master Michael Valeanu.

July 23: Tony DeSare

Based in New York, young singer and jazz pianist Tony DeSare returns to the Vail Square stage with a sound lying somewhere between Harry Connick Jr. and Billy Joel. He’s one of the hottest up-and-comers in jazz and in addition to his award-winning original music is known to tackle anything from the American Songbook to mash-ups fusing old pop hits with current top 40 favorites.

July 30: DIVA

It’s not every day that you come across a 15-piece big band comprised expressly of women. Based in New York, DIVA is an unstoppable ensemble led by drummer Sherrie Maricle. Their classic big band thunder is punctuated by spontaneity and improvisation.

Aug. 6: Hiromi: The Trio Project

Hailing from Japan, pianist Hiromi lights up the keys in a virtuosic style that defies even the broad confines of jazz with hints of rock and classical. When she’s not dazzling audiences with original melodies, she’s creating jingles for Nissan.

Aug. 13: Tommy Igoe Sextet

Splitting his time between San Francisco and New York City, Tommy Igoe leads his sextet from behind the powerful, pounding harmony of his drum kit. You might recognize his sound from Broadway’s original “The Lion King.” His range of beats fall somewhere between Count Basie and The Beatles.

Aug. 20: Bria Skonberg Quartet

Again defying stereotypes, this Canadian-born vocalist resides in New York City, and her main act is the trumpet. One of modern jazz’s most rapidly ascending stars, Bria Skonberg can heat up the brass like Louis Armstrong but has been known to infuse some humor into her hot jazz, holding notes while hula hooping on stage. The 31-year-old is soon to be gobbled up by every huge jazz festival in the world.

Aug. 27: Gregory Porter

California-born, Brooklyn-based baritone Gregory Porter got a full-ride scholarship for football in college but traded his shoulder pads in for a show-stopping jazz career. He won a Grammy last year for Best Jazz Vocal Album and delivers a soaring, sincere performance with a booming voice that will be recognizable for decades to come.

Sept. 3: Vail Jazz All-Stars, Alumni Quintet and House Band

It’s a triple bill for the grand finale of Vail Jazz @ Vail Square and the opening blowout for the multi-day Vail Jazz Party. The All-Stars are 12 of the nation’s most up-and-coming jazz prodigies fresh off of their intense workshop week. Their show is followed by the spontaneous grooves of five former Vail students who are now sizzling professional musicians. John Clayton leads the star-studded Vail Jazz Party House Band — Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon, Lewis Nash and Dick Oatts — in an energetic, unforgettable set featuring the best of contemporary jazz.


Vail Jazz Club Series

Replacing the popular Jazz After series of the last two summers, this summer, Vail Jazz heats up Wednesday nights in July with an even more enticing, one-of-a-kind performance. The Lodge at Vail’s Cucina Rustica restaurant transforms into an intimate, New York City-style dinner lounge as select artists from the Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series take the stage for an indoor evening performance over cocktails and authentic Italian fare. Nicole Henry performs July 8, Cyrille Aimee on July 15, Tony DeSare July 22 and Five Play (two soloists and three rhythm members from DIVA) on July 29. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and music kicks off at 9 p.m. Tickets are limited and run $30 plus a $20 food and beverage minimum.

Vail Jazz at Sweet Basil

Most people were familiar with the famous Sunday evening Vail Jazz performances at Kelly Liken Restaurant starring local piano king Tony Gulizia. While Kelly Liken is gone, Gulizia’s gig is only going to be better as he brings in a rotating cast of jazz stars to accompany him at a delicious new venue: Sweet Basil. What better place to enjoy the sweet sounds of jazz over dinner, a cocktail or dessert than in Vail Village’s most beloved restaurant? Music begins at 9 p.m. every Sunday from June 28 to Aug. 30. Entry is free.

Frank Sinatra 100th birthday bash

In celebration of the late, great Frank Sinatra and what would be his 100th birthday, famed vocalist Curtis Stigers returns to Vail with the H2 Big Band for A Swingin’ Affair, a tribute performance covering Sinatra’s classic songbook’s original Nelson Riddle arrangements. This one-time event kicks off July 13 at 6 p.m. at the Lodge at Vail with cocktails, appetizers and silent auction, followed by dinner and what is sure to be an exceptionally moving performance. Prices start at $200 and all proceeds benefit Vail Jazz educational programs.


Vail Jazz Escalates to New Heights in 2015

Tickets are on sale now for a summer of iconic jazz stars, sizzling up-and-coming artists and plenty of female power 

Vail Jazz is sporting a brand new look just in time to show off its star-studded summer lineup, the tickets for which are now on sale via the revamped, user-friendly Website, vailjazz.org.

When long-time jazz fan Howard Stone first envisioned the Vail Jazz Festival in Vail, Colo.,  it came to fruition 21 years ago as a one-weekend extravaganza over Labor Day Weekend featuring a small but impressive lineup of the genre’s A-list artists. It was designed to be a one-time affair. The vibrant annual event, the dynamic, year-round organization, the product with robust lasting potential, the very concept of a brand … none of these things were on the table at all with Stone’s original vision.

But then the people spoke. The force of the music spread. Why not have a multi-day live music blowout every Labor Day weekend? How about weekly concerts throughout the summer? How about bringing in the country’s top teenage musical prodigies to groom, ensuring that jazz never dies?

Before Stone or anyone else knew it, the Vail Jazz Foundation was born and blossoming so quickly it soon became a solid, colorful, magnificent tree. It became a tree that, like the genre of jazz itself, has many, many branches, with new ones growing every year. Today the Foundation is a smooth-running vessel operated by a driven board of directors and a talented team of full-time staff members who bring live jazz and musical lessons of all variety to big and small stages, private homes and classrooms throughout the year. Vail Jazz is a brand. It is a brand that stands for quality … the highest quality of music there is.

“It’s real jazz, first and foremost,” Stone says. “Even some of the greatest jazz festivals have become much more pop music festivals with a jazz accent. Maybe it’s my stubbornness, maybe it’s my passion, I just feel like this music is so great it deserves to be heard by as many people as possible. Once we started down this road, we wanted to perpetuate the art form through performance and education. We’ve stayed totally true to that. The thing to emphasize about any one Vail Jazz event is that it’s a really, really good time.”

The 21st Annual Vail Jazz Festival displays the scope of the jazz tree’s broad reach – from swing to reggae, blues to country to soul – there are more colors to the tree’s every branch and more fresh blooms than ever before.

The festival kicks off with the Thursday Vail Jazz @Vail Square series on July 2 with newcomers Django Festival All-Stars featuring Samson Schmitt, Ludovic Beier and Pierre Blanchard, regulars on the New York City jazz circuit and hailed for having some of the “fastest fingers in music.” It’s a five-piece band fueled by  a pair of lightning-fast guitars, a fiddle, an accordion and a stand-up bass. The series continues every Thursday through Sept. 3, bringing in time-tested Vail favorites like the groovy, drum-driven tunes of the Tommy Igoe Sextet (whose name you might recognize from “The Lion King” Broadway musical) and young pianist/vocalist Tony DeSare with his award-winning original songs and creative fusions of jazz classics with current pop hits.

Vail Jazz is also famous for introducing up-and-coming artists right before they hit the global radar. This summer features sizzling sensations like Canadian trumpet player/vocalist Bria Skonberg and the all-women big band DIVA, both of which also speak to the 2015 Vail Jazz Festival’s ample representation of female talent.

As always, the summer culminates with the explosive grand finale, the 21st Annual Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day Weekend. Comprised of five nights and four days of wall-to-wall music, the Party stars the Vail Jazz House Band (John Clayton, Wycliffe Gordon, TerelLStafford, Lewis Nash, Bill Cunliffe and newcomer Dick Oatts), Roberta Gambarini and Her Trio, George Cables Trio, soloists Niki Haris, Jeff Hamilton, Howard Levy, Russell Malone, Shelley Berg and many, many more. Headliners for the weekend include the Vail Jazz Alumni Quintet, made up of graduates of the Vail Jazz Workshop.

The entire festival aims to honor the best of jazz, introducing and skyrocketing young artists, hosting one-of-a-kind performances by jazz icons and paying tribute to immortal legends. Every Wednesday evening in July, Vail Jazz brings the all-new Club Series to Cucina Rustica in the Lodge at Vail for an intimate, dinner lounge performance with nationally acclaimed artists such as Nicole Henry and Five Play. As far as tributes to legends, one standout event is A Swinging Affair, on July 13, Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday celebration, dinner and tribute concert starring renowned vocalist Curtis Stigers and the H2 Big Band at the Lodge at Vail.

Yes, it’s going to be a jaw-dropping, ear candy-indulging, girl-powered summer of music. Tickets are limited and on sale now.

The Vail Jazz Party brings non-stop music to Vail through Monday

Depending on how you feel about the genre, 35 hours of listening to jazz sounds like either a dream come true or a great way to cure insomnia.

“People think they don’t like jazz,” said part-time Vail resident and longtime jazz fan Rosemary Heller. “(But those) people have never really been to a jazz performance. I think it’s really important to see live jazz performed so that they can see the interaction between the musicians, see how exciting and dynamic it is to see music created right in front of them.”

This Labor Day weekend, jazz will be played and made live from early morning to late evening during the Vail Jazz Party, which closes out the Vail Jazz Festival’s 20th anniversary summer. The Vail Jazz Party lives up to its name with concerts, tributes, jam sessions and more for a five-day, non-stop jukebox of jazz music. There’s a song or a riff for everyone at the Vail Jazz Party, and for the hardcore fans, the difficult part isn’t deciding what to attend, but what one must leave out.

“People always say to me, ‘There’s so much’,” said Howard Stone, chairman of the board and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Festival. “They almost get crazed about it. I advise people to take the program and pick the stuff that really looks interesting to you. Out of the 35 hours of music over the weekend, you could choose to listen to 10 or 15 hours. A lot of people during the daytime will come to the tent and they’ll listen to an hour or two of music, then go for a hike, then come back and listen to more music.”

Jazz stars of today and tomorrow

The Vail Jazz Party got going with the Thursday evening session at the Jazz Tent in Vail Square with alumni from the Vail Jazz Workshop, which brings some of the most talented high school students to Vail every summer to learn and listen from professional jazz musicians. John Clayton, education director for the Vail Jazz Foundation, said these prodigious players might not be able to vote, but they’ve already won over many Vail Jazz Party crowds in the past.

“Standing ovations, almost every time,” Clayton said. “More than anything, (the audience) is just blown away by the level of the music, that just happens to be played by people under 20 years old.”

One workshop alumni who performed Thursday is Justin Kauflin, who’s made a big name for himself since his high school days. In his early 20s, Kauflin, a blind jazz pianist, found a mentor in legendary trumpeter Clark Terry. This relationship is chronicled in the documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On,” which will be screened today at 2 p.m. at Antlers at Vail. The film follows Terry, then in his late 80s, as he starts to lose his vision while teaching Kauflin. Because of this, the two begin to connect on a level deeper than music.

Clayton said Kauflin’s captivating key strokes were evident early on.

“(He) was quite shy, but he stepped up to the plate when it was time to perform,” Clayton said. “I don’t know if it’s so much about his style. If you stop and think about what draws you to music at a concert, it’s always the heart, it’s always the soul. So what if you hear really fast cool notes, so what if you hear something that’s really loud. But when someone moves you inside, you never forget that. I think that’s what people experience when they hear someone like Justin.”

Live, jammin’ and jivin’

After the “Keep On Keepin’ On” screening, tonight will feature a tribute to Terry. This is one of four tribute sessions throughout the weekend. Famed vocalist Sarah Vaughan will be honored Saturday night and Benny Goodman will be remembered in melody on Sunday evening. There will also be a drum session tipping the beat to drummer and bandleader Mel Lewis on Saturday. The tributes mix live music with video footage of the stars’ past performances.

“Current members of the jazz audience only know their names but never had a chance to see them perform live,” Stone said. “The tributes are a way to interact with the audience but at the same time educate them. … Everyone knows Benny Goodman, everyone knows he was the ‘King of Swing,’ but what’s the story behind that? What did he sound like live? What did he look like while he was performing?”

In between listening to jazz greats from the past and the potential future, the Vail Jazz Party offers plenty of opportunities to see some of the best jazz musicians of the present. Throughout the weekend there are morning, afternoon and evening sessions, and even late-night jam sessions that go into the wee hours just for the night owls. These jam sessions are a free-wheeling ride of improvised tunes and sonic surprises. Well-known jazz vocalist Curtis Stigers said when it comes to jazz, the singer isn’t always the one who gets the spotlight.

“In the jazz world, the jazz singer is like the red-headed stepchild,” Stigers said. “He doesn’t really fit into a bunch of players.”

Still, someone has to sing the words, and the jam sessions are a chance for Stigers to stretch those vocal chords in a new way. Oddly enough, Stigers said a vocalist practices scatting for jam sessions by mimicking other instruments, like the horn.

“The nice thing about jazz is we all share the same language,” Stigers said. “We can all speak jazz to each other on stage.”

For Clayton, a legendary jazz bassist in his own right, a jam session is a chance for musicians to “let their hair down,” he said.

“It’s not organized, it’s not calculated,” Clayton said. “Think of when you’re a child playing with other kids in the playground. You don’t have an agenda. You show up at the playground and there’s the jungle gym, there’s the swing, there’s the slide and there’s the sandbox. You just do your own thing. … That’s why they call it play, not work.”

Spiritual sounds in the mountains

Even if you stay up for the late night jam sessions, make sure to set your alarm for Sunday morning’s Gospel Prayer Meetin’, set for 9 a.m. at the Jazz Tent at Vail Square. Featuring vocalists Niki Haris and Ann Hampton Callaway, the gospel music session is often the most popular concert of the entire Labor Day weekend. Haris spent decades performing for pop audiences, both as a backup singer for Madonna and as a solo artist with her own club hits. Haris’ father was a jazz pianist and she initially returned to her jazz roots to be closer to him.

“Jazz was a way my father and I could bond again through music,” Haris said. “Whenever I’m on stage singing jazz, I’m so grateful that people still want to hear me. It was (first) a way for me to connect with my father and I happened to know the songs. Now it’s time for me to do the music justice and not have it just be an homage to my dad.”

Haris also grew up with gospel and calls it the “good news” spoken from a chorus of voices.

“I always took a spiritual approach to all the music I sing, including jazz,” Haris said. “If it’s not touching and reaching me on a real, visceral and cellular level, if it stays too much in my head, it doesn’t work for me. I sing from a place that’s from my heart.”

Haris said the best thing about the Vail Jazz Party is listening to jazz and gospel while surrounded by the mountains, which she calls “God’s natural music.”

“You can just walk in Vail and there’s music everywhere,” Haris said. “That’s the reason to go to this festival. You’ve got Mother Nature’s music and you’ve got Coltrane. (To me), that’s called heaven.”

The idea of music in your ear while looking out at the mountains does sound pretty heavenly. When you think about it, we can always listen in on the mountains, but hearing live jazz from some of the best musicians in the world only comes one weekend a year. Even if you only plan to listen for a song, a session or perhaps the whole 35 hours, the Vail Jazz Party will keep on playing until the last minute of summer. Just don’t party too hard; school starts up for some the day after.

Tony DeSare lights up the Vail Jazz stage twice this summer

Just as comfortable covering Pharrell as he is old standards from The Great American Songbook, Tony DeSare has a talent for putting his own style stamp on just about anything.

As evidenced by winning first place in the 2013 USA Songwriting Contest, the 37-year-old New Yorker is a solid composer, too.

En route to becoming the next Harry Connick Jr., DeSare cannot remember a time that he didn’t love music. “My dad played guitar and sang in the house every night. I started on violin when I was 8 years old. I fell in love with the piano at 10 years old. I started playing and then performing and before I knew it, I was getting paid to perform at bars and hotels,” says DeSare, who became a father himself last year.

DeSare constantly finds fresh ways to make the keys dance while belting out classics and originals, not to mention several unexpected covers, from Prince to current radio hit, Bastille’s Pompeii.

Three of his recordings were ranked among Billboard’s top 10 jazz albums and his original songs have been handpicked for a number of film soundtracks over the last few years. It was his tune “Chemistry” that won the USA Songwriting Competition, placing first in the jazz category and second overall.

Earlier this year he was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall (one of his regular haunts) with New York Pops for Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday Show.

Around this time last year, DeSare spent the day playing pianos all over the streets of New York City– in Central Park, Time Square, in Brooklyn and Queens. The pianos were scattered throughout the five boroughs for a project by Sing for Hope, a charity organization that strives to make art accessible to everyone. There was a total of 88 individually painted pianos on the streets for two weeks, after which the organization donated them to schools, hospitals and community centers. DeSare went out on his own early one Sunday morning with a couple of camera guys dressed like tourists and hit about 15 of the pianos, sitting down at each to play Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano.”

“The thing that struck me the most is how every place is such a different experience. Everyone was walking by and if the music caught them enough to stop, they did. All walks of life stopped and shared the moment together. That was the coolest thing,” DeSare says. “That song is almost 100 years old but it’s still enjoyable to old people, young people … all people. It’s an excellent reminder of the power of song.”

The video documenting the experience has gotten tens of thousands of views on DeSare’s YouTube channel, as have several of his other mashups and covers that cannot be found anywhere else.

When selecting a song to perform in a video – such as his jazzed up mesh of Pharrell’s “Happy” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” DeSare chooses only numbers he believes will take on new life once given his bonafide twist. “In the case of the ‘Happy’ video, it was the thought of putting those two songs together – Bobby McFerrin’s, which I loved when I was a kid, and the Pharrell hit. It’s a cultural match, which is the musical reason, but it’s also just the fun and joy of it,” he says.

Fun and enjoyment are unsurprisingly two of the characteristics that resonate during DeSare’s live performance, which typically include several jazz standards from the Great American Songbook as well the singer’s heartfelt, high-energy originals and perhaps a doo-wopped rock track by Bob Dylan, Elton John or Prince.

“I’ve got different stories to go with the songs. I come from a school that believes the process of music should be entertaining and have enough to it along with the presentation of music to make it fun,” he says.

Don’t miss DeSare’s Vail debut at 6 p.m. July 17 in Lionshead for Jazz @Vail Square. Jazz Tent tickets are $15 or $30 for VIP seats (including front of the tent seating, access to 1st Bank VIP Lounge and a drink ticket).

For more information, visit vailjazz.org.

Also, on July 16, DeSare and his trio will perform at the Vail Jazz 20thAnniversary Benefit Dinner. Tickets and tables for this special evening are available for $150 and $1,500, respectively.

Hot young artists on the bill for Vail jazz summer

The 20th anniversary festival lineup exemplifies that jazz is a genre embraced by all ages.

Anyone who thinks jazz is a fading breed of music embraced only by the older generations has obviously not witnessed the bouncing mass of revelers at a Red Baraat concert. The eight-piece “party band” from Brooklyn makes its local debut July 31 at Jazz @ Vail Square.

Pumping out an eclectic combination of brass funk, North Indian bhangra rhythms and go-go, in spite of forming just six years ago, Red Baraat has already landed gigs at the White House, the New Orleans and Montreal Jazz Festivals as well as big rock festivals such as Bonnaroo.

Band leader and Dhol player Sunny Jain believes his band’s quick success and presence at such a variety of large scale performances is due to the phenomenon that the very definition of “jazz” is its inherent knack for transformation.

“The idea of what jazz is has constantly developed and changed,” Jain says. “It’s really a main element of the band. Several of us come from a jazz background, bringing the idea of improvisation, in-the-moment spontaneity, the conversation and dialogue within the music.

In terms of what we do relating to the audience, it’s to make sure we’re passionate about what we’re doing onstage, producing joyous music that includes everyone. It’s a party regardless of how old, young or mixed the audience. It doesn’t matter if there’s 10 people or a thousand people out there. Our prime goal is to deliver the music and bring our passion.”

Passion is the overarching characteristic of the otherwise eclectic lineup of artists in this summer’s 20th Anniversary season of the Vail Jazz Festival, which kicks off July 3 with the six-string talent of guitar duet Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo, who also pride themselves on departing from the jazz tradition, intermixing their set of classic jazz tunes with say, a comical but amazingly precise rendition of Led Zeppelin’s “Flight of the Bumblebee.”

New York-based pianist Tony Desare, who performs at Jazz @ Vail Square on July 17, recently performed his personally stylized versions of American Songbook tunes for Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday show at Carnegie Hall, but also plays awardwinning originals and regularly posts his unique jazzed up renditions of current pop tunes (Bastille’s Pompeii, a clever fusion of Pharrell’s Happy and Bobby Ferrin’s Don’t Worry Be Happy) on his YouTube channel.

“I come from the school of thought that the process of music should be entertaining and moving. It should be fun,” Desare says.

The Vail Jazz Festival’s 20th anniversary begins June 22 with live performances every Sunday at the Vail Farmers Market and starting July 3 every Thursday, culminating in the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day Weekend.

For more information, visit vailjazz.org.

Thursday evenings are set for jazz this summer

VAIL — There’s no mistaking the sounds of a soulful summer in the air on Thursday evenings in Vail — the distinctice and familiar ring of world-class jazz music.

Beginning April 15, tickets are on sale for this summer’s Thursday night Jazz @ Vail Square concert series. Celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Vail Jazz Festival, the Thursday concerts offer an A-list lineup of artists.

New this year, Jazz @ Vail Square offers two-tiered pricing for seating under the tent. General Admission tickets are $15 per show or $30 for VIP seating, which includes priority seating, access to the VIP lounge area and a drink voucher. Information available at www.vailjazz.org or 888-824-5526. Passes for the nine-performance series are also available.

July 3

Kicking things off at Vail Square, guitar virtuoso duo Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo return with their quick-fingered, quick-witted performance covering everything from jazz classics to rock hits, all with a humorous flair.

July 10

Also returning by popular demand, the foot-stomping, dance-inspiring rhythms of conga drumming sensation Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band.

July 17

Young singer and jazz pianist Tony DeSare hits the stage with energy described to lie somewhere between that of Harry Connick Jr. and Billy Joel. He’s one of the hottest up-and-comers in jazz at the moment and plays Vail for the first time.

July 24

Long-time Vail Jazz favorite and world-renowned pianist Marcia Ball returns with New Orleans-infused, feel-good melodies. See why they call her “saucy.”

July 31

When a New Orleans brass band collides with the strains of Eastern Indian horns and percussion in the form of a large but harmonious ensemble, it looks and sounds something like Red Baraat. Also likely to instigate some dancing.

Aug. 7

Jamaica’s one and only Monty Alexander brings his addictive jazz piano and the classic grooves of a full band, the Harlem-Kingston Express, from their usual setup at New York City’s Lincoln Center to those lucky to witness the experience in the tent at Vail Square.

Aug. 14

Guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli returns for a rich and riveting performance along with his quartet, including brother Martin on bass.

Aug. 21

Expect to dance, swing-style. Artist TBA.

Aug. 28

It’s a triple bill for the series’ grand finale. Resident favorites, The Vail Jazz Party House Band wrap up Jazz @ Vail Square with a white-hot performance preceded by the nation’s top lineup of teenage protégés, the Vail Jazz All-Stars and also the now-famous All-Star alums. The performance, while closing the Thursday night series, kicks off the 20th annual Vail Jazz Party.

Turning 20 means going big: Summer lineup released for the Vail Jazz Festival’s 20th season

Twenty years ago, the Vail Jazz Festival planted its heels into Vail and with a soaring but humble brigade of trumpets, bass, drums and guitars, launching an event that nobody would envision snowballing to the proportions it has reached this season.

Growing from a Labor Day weekend lineup of performances to a summer-long event featuring weekly performances by some of the country and even world’s top jazz musicians, the Vail Jazz Festival is poised to blow the doors off in celebration of its 20th anniversary.

“Jazz started in New Orleans and it’s truly a gumbo. It’s a living music – a changing, breathing creature,” says Vail Jazz Festival founder Howard Stone. “For this 20th anniversary season, our lineup is not just a New Orleans gumbo, it’s a world gumbo with more energy and variety than we’ve ever had.”

Beginning at the end of June, twelve weeks of performances include free jazz every Sunday at the Vail Farmers’ Market and Restaurant Kelly Liken along with hands on, educational workshops – Jammin’ Jazz Kids. Then of course, there are the Thursday evening Jazz@ Vail Square performances with a line up that will have long-time jazz diehards brimming with anticipation and young jazz skeptics readily admitting that the genre is worth exploring.

The names immediately recognizable to the former group include iconic guitarist John Pizzarelli, who made his inaugural appearance at last summer’s Vail Jazz Festival and kicks off the season June 27 with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra as a collaboration with Bravo! Vail, a collaboration that also brings a series of three jam sessions – all of which sold out last season – on July 2, 12 and 23.

The Jazz @ Vail Square performances have truly evolved into an event of their own, filling the jazz tent in Lionshead with a brimming crowd every Thursday evening and the entire side of town with uplifting melodies. Advanced tickets to each show are $10 or $25 for VIP preferred seating.


Jazz @ Vail Square

July 3: The series kicks off with the return of hypnotizing guitar duo Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo. Appearing in Vail for the first time last summer, Frank & Vinny have a knack for enthralling a crowd with their lightning fast fingers covering a litany of tunes from classics like “Stardust” to Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” all while conducting their own silly choreography and drawing laughs from the crowd. Keep an eye out for the duo on the best-sounding float in Vail’s Fourth of July parade.

July 10: Also returning by popular demand, the foot-stomping, dance-inspiring rhythms of conga drumming sensation Poncho Sanchez and his Latin Jazz Band.

July 17: Young singer and jazz pianist Tony DeSare is quickly becoming known for making the keys dance while belting out original compositions as well as upbeat renditions of his favorites from a gamut that runs from Billy Joel to Harry Connick Jr. This marks the Vail debut of his quartet.

July 24: Jazz festival favorite Marcia Ball returns to Vail with her romping New Orleansinfused piano and vocals.

July 31: Imagine New Orleans Brass Band colliding with the strains of Eastern Indian horns and percussion. The young and energetic Red Baraat grabbed NPR’s attention for a Tiny Desk Concert and are sure to have Vail Square thumping.

Aug. 7: Jamaica’s one and only Monty Alexander brings his addictive jazz piano along with the classic grooves of his full band, the Harlem-Kingston Express, from their regular setup at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York City to a very special show in Lionshead.

Aug. 14: Guitarist/vocalist John Pizzarelli returns for his own riveting performance along with his quartet, including brother Martin on bass.

Aug. 21: Defying the classic conventions, young, blonde and uber talented trumpeter Bria Skonberg makes her inaugural appearance in Vail. You’ve never heard a horn wail in such inspiring melody as this. Swing dance?

Aug. 28: The kings of Vail Jazz, The Vail Jazz Party House Band wrap up Jazz @ Vail Square with a white-hot performance followed by the future of jazz embodied in the nation’s very best, carefully selected ensemble of Vail Jazz All-Stars.

Vail Jazz Party Labor Day Weekend

The ultimate grand finale, the 20th anniversary party brings an onslaught of more than 40 of the world’s finest jazz musicians, including the genre’s most renowned pianists Benny Green along with the return of Monty Alexander, drummers Jeff Hamilton and Ernie Adams, trumpeter Byron Stripling, saxophonists Ken Peplowski and Grace Kelly and vocalists Curtis Stigers and Ann Hampton Callaway.

The weekend will include mind-blowing multimedia tributes to Benny Goodman, Clark Terry and Sarah Vaughn, singer Niki Haris at the helm for the wildly popular Gospel Prayer Meetin’ and a true star power lineup of Vail Jazz All-Star alums, including the remarkably talented blind pianist Justin Kauflin, featured in the gripping documentary “Keep on Keepin’ On.” To be viewed over the festival weekend.

“Each of these artists is a jazz powerhouse in his or her own right,” says Vail Jazz Foundation Executive Director Robin Litt. “To get this many of them in one place, on one weekend, is something that just doesn’t happen anywhere else.”

For more information or to purchase to any of the festival’s upcoming events, visit vailjazz.org.