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. 

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: A Musical Affair

When most of us think about Brazilian music, we think about the bossa nova (the “new thing”). Nine times out of 10, the song “The Girl from Ipanema” comes to mind. What most people don’t know is there really was a girl from Ipanema. Her name was Heloisa Pinheiro and in the early 60s she would regularly pass by Veloso, a bar near Ipanema beach outside of Rio. As fate would have it, two young men were regulars at the bar and were captivated by her sensuality as they watched her each day “sway like a samba” on her way to the nearby beach. In 1962, inspired by her sexy charm, Antônio Carlos Jobim wrote the music and Vinícius de Moraes composed the lyrics of the song that put bossa nova on the world musical map. Describing her as “tall and tan and young and lovely,” they lamented that they watched her “so sadly” and would give their “heart gladly…but each day, when she walks to the sea, she looks straight ahead, not at me.”

Howard Stone

Well, that love affair was not destined to be, but the song set in motion forces that changed the course of lives, created careers, ended a marriage, fostered an affair and changed the world of music forever.

At about the time the lovesick composers were writing “The Girl from Ipanema,” Stan Getz, a well-known American jazz tenor saxophonist, and Charlie Byrd, an American jazz guitarist, recorded the hugely successful album “Jazz Samba.” Two of the tracks from the album, “Desafinado” and “Samba de Uma Nota So” were written by Jobim (the “Gershwin of Brazil” as he became known), and were also released as singles. They garnered large radio play in the U.S. and generally are acknowledged to have started the bossa nova craze in the U.S. and ultimately the world. The two musicians had been in Brazil, had heard the sounds of bossa nova and returned to the U.S. to record an album that would feature the new music played by American musicians. The bossa nova sound can best be described as a merging of the Brazilian samba with American jazz to create a very distinctive lyrical and melodic music.

By 1963, Getz would go on to win a Grammy for “Desafinado” and the commercial success of the bossa nova sound began to gain momentum. In order to capitalize on the success of the new music, Verve Records decided to follow-up the success of “Jazz Samba” with a project featuring Getz once again (but not Byrd, as the two were feuding over the royalties from the “Jazz Samba”) and a band comprised of all Brazilian musicians that were recruited and brought to New York City. The album entitled “Getz/Gilberto” featured João Gilberto, a then rising Brazilian singer, songwriter and guitarist, with Jobim on piano. Also joining them in the recording studio was João’s 23-year-old wife, Astrud, who was there as an interpreter and his companion.

One of the tunes that was to be recorded was “The Girl from Ipanema” with João singing the lyrics in Portuguese. The story gets somewhat fuzzy at this point, since there are four separate versions of what happened next. The album producer, the legendary Creed Taylor, reported that he wanted some of the music sung in English in order to create the potential for a broader “cross-over” appeal. Since João’s English was very limited, Taylor asked Astrud to sing a verse of the song in English. The lyrics were in Portuguese, but a rushed translation was provided to Astrud. Since she spoke a heavily accented English and had never sung professionally before, she was hesitant to try, but she did.

Astrud instead reported that it was João’s idea that she sing. Getz claimed that he was the one who asked her to sing. The recording engineer Phil Ramone told a different story, saying that Astrud volunteered to sing the song when Sarah Vaughan wasn’t available as planned.

Whatever the truth, the album was released in 1964 and when the track featuring João and Astrud became the focus of radio airplay, Verve quickly decided to release it as a single and chose to edit João’s vocal portion entirely out of the cut, so it was only Astrud singing in English. What is undisputed is “The Girl from Ipanema” was a huge international hit that in fact, “crossed-over” and launched Astrud’s almost four-decade-long vocal career during which she sang in Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, French, German and even Japanese.

The album charted for 96 weeks and won four Grammys.

With the bossa nova craze spreading to Europe after the phenomenal success of the album, Getz arranged a six-month tour of the Continent and Astrud was asked to join him, but not João. By that time, Getz and Astrud were having an affair. By 1965, she and João were divorced.

On July 9, Vail Jazz presents its annual Gala at the Sebastian Hotel with the celebrated vocalist Carol Bach-y-Rita presenting an evening of the magical music of Brazil in a show entitled Bossa Nova Nights.

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. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Jazz and the 18th Amendment

In the 1930s, sociologist Robert K. Merton observed that attempts by well-meaning crusaders to bring about social change for the good of society had in many instances instead caused a perverse result. Known as the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” it is usually cited to support the notion that even the best intentions can cause negative, unanticipated outcomes.

A case in point is the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It became the law of the land on Jan. 17, 1920 and ushered in the era of Prohibition. Known as the “noble experiment,” its proponents claimed that the banning of alcohol would bring about a reduction in crime and corruption, solve social problems related to alcoholism, improve Americans’ health and lessen the needs for prisons and poorhouses. Here was the textbook example of the law of unintended consequences. Crime soared along with the corruption of public officials as the “mob” took over the liquor industry, tax revenue declined (liquor sales had been previously heavily taxed), people died from drinking adulterated alcohol and while social problems weren’t solved, a whole new set of problems arose.

However, Merton also noted that not all unintended consequences had to be negative. In fact, there was one very beneficial outcome of Prohibition, at least from my prospective; it caused the popularity of jazz to skyrocket. How so? The 18th Amendment may have outlawed the sale of liquor, but it didn’t legislate again thirst and the desire to have a good time. With bars and saloons closing in January 1920, a completely new set of establishments began to open to meet the demands of a thirsty public determined to drink and have a good time. These clandestine bars became known as speakeasies (you had to whisper to gain access and when you were in public you were supposed to “speak easy” about their location) and they were everywhere. It is estimated that there were many more illegal drinking dens operating during Prohibition than there were legal drinking establishments before Prohibition.

Competition for customers was fierce and it was the first time in the U.S. that races were allowed to intermingle. A customer’s race, class or social standing being immaterial, as long as the customer could pay the tab. With so much competition, bar operators had to differentiate themselves to attract new customers and they began to feature musical entertainment. Since frequenting an illegal bar had a certain cachet, what better music to present than something illicit and sinful like jazz. The so-called “devil’s music” that originated in the “sporting houses” of Storyville in New Orleans, was compelling and captivating and fit the “outlaw” vibe of these establishments. Jazz broke all the rules, musically and socially – improvisation over structure, the mixing of the races, forbidden venues vs. concert halls – the perfect music for a rapidly changing America. Speakeasies became the places where jazz was presented and the mob was more than willing to hire black jazz musicians, so long as the customers kept coming back, and they did, to see Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Paul Whiteman, and many more. Jazz became the popular music of the day, putting the “sin in syncopation,” as one critic noted.

While prohibition was enacted at the beginning of the decade of the “Roaring Twenties,” it was also the beginning of a tumultuous period of cultural revolution in America and F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly named the era the “Jazz Age.” Change was underway with Americans leaving rural areas to settle in urban centers, including hundreds of thousands of African Americans leaving the South for the cities of the North in what became known as the “Great Migration.” Women had just secured the right to vote and were rebelling against the conservatism of the Victorian era. With new clothing, hairstyles, smoking cigarettes in public and driving their own cars, these “flappers” were declaring their independence with a “modern” view of morals and had new music to listen to and dance to. Dancing became an entirely new endeavor and jazz was the music that was danced to. No longer were partners held in a formal way, instead, there was a no “holds barred” approach with the new seductive dances such as the Charleston, Lindy, Shimmy, Cake Walk, Black Bottom and Turkey Trot all in vogue. Jazz became the soundtrack of a rebellion and speakeasies were the venues where this exciting music was played and swayed to.

The Roaring Twenties was also a time of remarkable technological advances – the phonograph, radio and talking movies spread the sound of jazz. The first radio station opened in Pittsburgh in 1920 and soon thereafter, there were stations throughout the country broadcasting jazz. It is estimated that there were only 60,000 households with radios in 1922, but 10 million by 1929. In 1917 the first jazz record was made and by the end of the Roaring Twenties, records had spread the sound of jazz to every corner of the nation. The first “talkie” movie was made in 1927, “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was first performed in 1927 blending jazz with the sound of a symphony. It clearly was the “Jazz Age.”

On Dec. 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted repealing Prohibition. By then the stock market had crashed and the Great Depression was underway … but jazz was everywhere.

At 6 p.m. on July 5 Vail Jazz presents The Hot Sardines in Lionshead. This 8-piece band will take the audience back to the speakeasies of the Prohibition era in a very hip and modern adaptation of the hot jazz of the Roaring 20s and beyond.

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. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Seven questions with soul queen Hazel Miller

Catch the charismatic singer for a free outdoor performance July 6 in Edwards

No excuses are necessary to make a celebration out of Friday afternoon, especially when it means extending the Independence Day celebrations over what will surely be one of the most hopping weekends of the summer. In the spirit of weekend celebrations, the 2018 Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk series is expanding to every Friday this summer, kicking off July 6 with statewide soul sweetheart Hazel Miller, wrapping up Aug. 24 with organ-rich funk trio Claxton, Kovalcheck and Amend and packed with a broad gamut of energetic, eclectic artists in between.

If you missed Miller at Blues, Brews and BBQ, here’s your big chance to see her up close in all of her glory. Vail Jazz caught up with Hazel Miller for a little insight on her proclivity for getting the good times rollin’.

Vail Jazz: How did you learn that singing was your calling in life?

Hazel Miller: I think it hit me around 8. I wanted to sing. My family watched Ed Sullivan EVERY Sunday night. Seeing Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline, Lannie Kazan, Sarah Vaughn and so many more gave my imagination all it needed to dream. I know that singing fed my heart. Singing also set me apart from my six brothers and sisters. That’s always a good thing for one in so many. It was a thrill when someone remembered my name.

VJ: Who are your vocal inspirations?

HM: I like big voices. I love singers that take risks. I love singers that can reach you with their emotion. Aretha Franklin, Sara Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Bonnie Raitt and many more have helped me find my voice. I admit that I’ve borrowed style, expression and content from several singers, female and male. Nat King Cole, Steve Linwood, Stevie Wonder, Billy Eckstine … these are just a few of the singers that have sent my head spinning with new ideas.

VJ: What is your absolute favorite number to perform and what makes it special? 

HM: I don’t have an absolute favorite. Each performance is different and each audience is different. A favorite song is the song that moves my audience that night.

 

VJ: How do you go about selecting the songs you’ll perform?

HM: I will prepare a set list and proceed to change it on stage to accommodate where the audience is at that time. This habit has become a great inside joke in the band. We will make the changes instantly to fit the mood of the audience. We get very excited when we can keep the energy rising and the audience dancing. We offer excitement … a release for a little while. It’s a real charge for all of us to be able to reach out and touch the audience.

VJ: How do you know which selections will light up certain audiences?

HM: No one knows the answer to this question. You can only anticipate so much. You have a game plan of what to play then you fine-tune it as the performance continues.

VJ: You have a unique ability to get people on their feet and hypnotized by your energy. Your voice has been described as a ‘force of nature.’ What do you love most about performing?  

HM: The smiling faces, the little kids dancing with their families and friends. Singing is like flying. This is the best band I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. We all support the others’ flight of fancy when we perform. It’s a group effort to find the right groove and right expression for each song.

VJ: Of all the memorable feedback you’ve received over the years, has there been a standout comment from a fan or audience member?  

HM: Audience members offer the nicest compliments. It’s always appreciated and absorbed into my memory. Once my granddaughter told me I was her Aretha Franklin. I think that one warms me the most. It is humbling and exciting at the same time. When the band compliments me after a show it is special because it means that I went to a special place that I don’t always reach every night.

Don’t miss Hazel Miller’s free outdoor performance on July 6 for Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk in Edwards. Music kicks off at 6 p.m. and food/drink vendors open at 5 p.m. Picnics are welcome at Vail Jazz @ The Riverwalk, but no pets are allowed and the event is non-smoking. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Sizzling sounds of the swing revivalists

Fiery and slick, The Hot Sardines open Vail Square series

Growing up in France, attending school in London and settling in New York City, Elizabeth Bougerol had arrived into the corporate world with every intention to “be the girl with the steady job.” Then Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong began beckoning her from the past … toward the future.

“I listened obsessively to this stuff, kind of in secret,” Bougerol says. “There was no grand plan of starting a band and touring.”

Bougerol and New York City native Evan Palazzo met after responding to a Craigslist ad for a jazz jam session. The two immediately bonded over their love for early jazz.

“Each of us had an itch to find others to play this music with. We started going to open mic nights, adding musicians and developing material,” Bougerol says.

The Hot Sardines were born. It was 2007. With Palazzo on stride piano and Bougerol on vocals after “secretly” refining her voice to the unique inflections of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday, it wasn’t long before the band was headlining at Lincoln Center and heralded as one of the greatest jazz acts to come out of New York City.

Typically recording and performing as an eight-piece ensemble, The Hot Sardines dish out sizzling renditions of The Andrews Sisters’ “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” and have even partnered actor Alan Cumming, a devout Hot Sardines fan, for a sultry cabaret version of “When I Get Low, I Get High.” While the Sardines have produced numerous originals that range from rollicking instrumental masterpieces to country western-twanged romance numbers and have doctored up rock classics with fiery brass flare and swinging verses, they specialize in the 100-year-old jazz sound. Coming at it with impeccably tight musicianship from every individual on stage – including the lightning-fast marionette moves of the live tap dancer – the band breathes new life into the early jazz style.

When asked why it means so much to her to bring back the old jazz sound, Bougerol says she finds the question “deeply philosophical.”

“I haven’t arrived at a definitive theory,” she says. “This music is about connection. It’s very welcoming music. If you think of some of the more recent jazz or later jazz, it can appeal to a more intellectual experience of music … it’s not about connecting everyone in the room necessarily.”

She points out that in its historical incubation phase, jazz music and pop music were one and the same.

“It was pop music for a reason. It’s a joyous, connective experience. And these days people are starved for that sense of connection more than they know.”

The Hot Sardines have performed all over the world, notching more than 100 gigs a year, making connections and gathering new fans everywhere they go. Their 2014 self-titled album debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard Jazz Chart and remained there for more than a year and 2016’s French Fries and Champagne debuted at No. 5 on Billboard’s Jazz Traditional Chart, No. 6 on Jazz Current & Top 20 Heatseekers Chart and was No. 1 on both iTunes & Amazon jazz charts. Roll into any of their gigs and you will find an audience comprised mostly of the young and the young at heart, passionate and committed to this energetic collective of swing revivalists, looking every bit like a jazz club might have in 1920.

“Everyone has some working knowledge of this music,” Bougerol says. They heard it in a commercial. Their grandmother played it. The stories in this music are so universal and timeless. When it’s live, there is something in it. To be in a room [or tent] with a three-piece brass section, there is something new every time.”

To better exemplify the connective power of a Hot Sardines performance, Bougerol relays a compliment she was recently paid by an audience member.

“One person came up and said, ‘while you were playing, I thought of every person I love.’ That gives you a clue about the connection. It’s really special.”

The Hot Sardines in Vail

Don’t miss the eight-piece force of swinging vigor, tap dancer and all, that is The Hot Sardines. The New York City-based ensemble performs at 6 p.m. July 5 at Vail Square in Lionshead. General admission tickets are $25, preferred seats $40 and premium seats $50. Presented by The Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea, the performance kicks off the 2018 Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series, which takes place every Thursday evening through Aug. 23 in the all-weather Jazz Tent in The Arrabelle courtyard in Lionshead. Drinks are available for purchase.

GET TICKETS HERE.

Five free ways to enjoy jazz this summer

While Ludwig’s at The Sonnenalp channels a big city jazz club with intimate dinner performances starring internationally heralded artists on Wednesdays for the Vail Jazz Club Series and the Jazz Tent in Lionshead pulsates with the power of those artists backed by full bands on Thursdays for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square, Fridays and Sundays are the not-so-secret times to sample an array of high energy live music for free.

Sundays

For everyone: Unquestionably the place to be every Sunday, the Vail Farmers’ Market & Art Show wouldn’t be the colorful, all-sensory experience it is without its soundtrack of live jazz. Proving the vast breadth of sounds that fit under the jazz umbrella, Vail Jazz @ The Market showcases regional artists specializing in everything from dance-compelling salsa, harmonica-driven blues, electric violin and spiced up jazz standards. Follow your ears to the shaded tent at Solaris from 12 to 3 p.m. every Sunday from July 1 to Aug. 26. Take a load off for five minutes or three hours and soak up the invigorating sounds of Los Chicos Malos (July 1), blues duo Delta Sonics (July 8), BLT with Bob Rebholz + Liliane Murdoch (July 15), electric violin virtuoso Joe Deninzon + Friends (July 22), a special collaboration with the Vail International Dance Festival (July 29), R&B-flavored Robert Johnson & The Mark Diamond trio (Aug. 5), local vocal/piano force Kathy Morrow + DZ (Aug. 12), the worldly sounds of Fortunato (Aug. 19) and progressive blues with Wayne Wilkinson Trio (Aug. 26).

For kids: Do you have a tyke that’s been displaying telltale signs of musical talent? Bring her/him to the Jazz Tent at Solaris at 11 a.m. for a 45-minute interactive course in simple harmony. Under the instruction of legendary local pianist and educator Tony Gulizia, Jammin’ Jazz Kids invites children between ages 4 and 12 to tap out rhythms and beats on xylophones, drums and a host of other fun instruments.

For adults: If it’s more of a lounge-y, cocktail sipping vibe you’re after, local duo Tony Gulizia and Brian Loftus are joined by a host of guest artists every Sunday evening at 8 p.m. for free live music by the name of Vail Jazz @ The Remedy in Four Seasons Resort Vail. The swanky sounds of BLT have a two-decade track record of enriching evenings no matter where you are.

Fridays

For everyone: Because it proven to be such a wildly popular way for TGIFers of all ages to kick off their weekend, Vail Jazz @ The Riverwalk is happening every Friday this summer in Edwards. Food and drink vendors open at 5 p.m. and free live music kicks off on the lawn at 6 p.m. The red hot lineup brings in an eclectic mix of award-winning regional acts that span numerous genres but are all proven party starters: gospel queen Hazel Miller (July 6) Brazilian rhythm kings Ginga (July 13), swinging vintage band Joe Smith & The Spicy Pickles (July 20), soulful songstress Ayo Awosika (July 27), brassy blues swingers Red Young & His Hot Horns (Aug. 3), West African funk with Paa Kow (Aug. 10), 12-piece salsa Quemando (Aug. 17) and swing-funk organ trio Claxton, Kovalcheck and Amend (Aug. 24). It’s the perfect excuse for a picnic … and/or an outdoor dance party.

Fourth of July parade

Ignited by the theme of America’s Great Outdoors, Tony Gulizia, Brian Loftus and revolving guests fire off the tune of jazz’s hottest trailblazers from atop the Vail Jazz float. Expect to hear classics from Louis Armstrong, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra and a slew of other pioneers who paved the path of musicians worldwide over the last 100 years.

Vail Jazz turns on the hot jets for a full summer of shows

National and international artists on tap for Sonnenalp, Vail Square and Labor Day Weekend performances

Launching into its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival’s summer’s lineup is stacked with young songstresses, established Grammy winners and sky-rocketing new talent.

The summer kicks off with an eclectic variety of national and internationally acclaimed artists for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square every Thursday beginning July 5, the Vail Jazz Gala July 9 and five intimate evenings of intimate club performances in July and August. There are more free performances than ever, happening in Edwards every Friday in July and August and every Sunday all summer at the Vail Farmer’s Market as well as at The Remedy in Vail. Of course, the festival culminates with the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day Weekend – five days of live music featuring the modern jazz world’s top talent with more than 35 headliners.

Here’s a little more about what/who’s to come this summer:

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square:

Taking place in the all-weather Jazz Tent in Lionshead, performances kick off at 6 p.m. and feature three tiers of seating/pricing: general admission $25, preferred seat $40 and premium seat $50. Four-pack subscriptions are also available for a 15-percent savings. Drinks are available for purchase. 

July 5 – Hot Sardines – Touted as one of the most energetic jazz ensembles out of New York City, the lively vocals of Elizabeth Bougerol fuel this eight-piece musical force that will inevitably incite some dancing.

July 12 – Nachito Herrera: A Night in Havana – Performing with the Havana Symphony Orchestra at age 12, the fiery Cuban pianist is joined by his high-energy ensemble for a spell-binding performance with plenty of Afro-Cuban flare.

July 19 – Django Festival All-Stars – Following the fast-finger phenomena of Gypsy jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt, this sparkling five-piece swings back into town by popular demand, delivering an extra dose of lightning pace for the big stage.

July 26 – Tony DeSare and H2 Big Band – Tony DeSare is famous for infusing a jazz twist on modern pop songs as well as mirroring a young version of Frank Sinatra. Whether belting out zippy originals, putting his own flavor on Songbook favorites or adding a swing beat to a Prince tune, the appeal of this keyboard-playing crooner is only magnified by the melodic thunder of the H2 Big Band Band.

Aug. 2 – Andrea Motis featuring Joel Frahm – Barcelona-born vocalist and trumpeter Andrea Motis has made short work etching her place in the international jazz world. At age 23, she has seven albums under her belt and a propensity to swing and bop with the best of them. Along with the renowned saxophone talent of New York mainstay Joel Frahm, this duet, backed by a quintet, is a rare treat.

Aug. 9 – Nicki Parrott’s Tribute to Peggy Lee – Having sold out both shows at Ludwig’s during her last visit to Vail, The Australian vocalist and bassist returns to once again pay tribute to Peggy Lee, tapping into a variety set of the late, great singer’s most revered and rarest tunes.

Aug. 16 – Veronica Swift – As a testament to her long-standing vocal talent, Veronica Swift was performing at Lincoln Center by age 11. At 23, her skill set has only amplified. Her American Songbook renditions have brought audiences to tears and with the backing of pianist Emmet Cohen and his trio, emotions will surely swell.

Aug. 23 – Akiko/Hamilton/Dechter – Among the top touring jazz trios in the nation, organ phenom Akiko Tsuruga, guitar virtuoso Graham Dechter and drummer extraordinaire Jeff Hamilton never fail to impress with high energy, innovative arrangements and world-class musicianship, always leaving rave reviews in their wake. Playing together for years, this ace trio combines the exceptional talents of three singular pros into a greater-than-the-parts amalgam of tasteful, creative, straight-ahead jazz.

Vail Jazz Club Series

These performances present rare opportunities for up close and elegant musical evenings with the high caliber Vail Square artists. The events take place on Wednesdays in the intimate setting of Ludwig’s at The Sonnenalp. The evenings comprise of two seatings, the first at 5 p.m. with music beginning at 5:30 p.m. and the second at 7:30 p.m. with music beginning at 8 p.m. Seating is jazz club style at small tables with dinner service available. Tickets are $40 per show or $136 for a four-pack subscription. A $30 food and beverage minimum applies.

July 11 – Nachito Herrera Trio
July 18 – Django Festival All-Star

July 25 – Tony DeSare

Aug. 1 – Andrea Motis featuring Joel Frahm

Aug. 8 – Nicki Parrott

July 9

Gala Performance

Bossa Nova Nights Vail Jazz Gala features Carol Bach-y-Rita, fusing her Brazilian-inspired vocals and fervor for Bossa Nova, Samba and Choro with the piano talents of Grammy winner Bill Cunliffe and a slew of Vail Jazz Workshop alumni for eclectic renditions of American Songbook favorites. This one-off performance is an annual fundraiser for Vail Jazz’s vast educational programs, which instill the art and wisdom of jazz to more than 1,400 young learners every year. The event takes place at The Sebastian in Vail and begins at 5:30 pm. Tickets begin at $250 and include a gourmet dinner, cocktails and appetizers.

Free performances:

Vail Jazz @ The Market

Follow your ears to more free live music every Sunday beginning July 1 at the Vail Farmers Market with a rotating lineup of acclaimed regional acts at Vail Jazz @ The Market from 12 to 3 p.m. in the Solaris tent. Showcasing a variety of regional talent ranging from the Cuban jazz of Los Chicos Malos (July 1) to blues duo Delta Sonics (July 8), R&B-flavored Robert Johnson & The Mark Diamond trio (Aug. 5) or local vocal icon Kathy Morrow’s (Aug. 12) unique takes on jazz classics or the across-the-world upbeat and ever-changing sounds of Fortunato (Aug. 19), the performances are worth hanging out for.

Vail Jazz @ The Remedy

Tony Gulizia and Brian Loftus (BLT) are joined by a rotating cast of visiting musicians for Vail Jazz @ The Remedy, which kicks off at 8 p.m. Sunday, July 1 at The Remedy in the Four Seasons Resort, Vail. The performances are free and take place every Sunday evening through Aug. 26.

Vail Jazz @Riverwalk

Having established itself as the ultimate way to end a week, Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk will launch the weekend in Edwards every Friday in July and August. The series brings free live music to the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater in Edwards beginning July 6 with Colorado’s gospel queen, Hazel Miller. Brazilian rhythm kings Ginga land on July 13, the swinging big band sounds of Joe Smith & The Spicy Pickles July 20 and the pop-inspired vocals of soulful songstress Ayo Awosika July 27. The sizzling, highly varied mix of artists continues in August with brass swingers Red Young & His Hot Horns Aug. 3, Afro funk by Paa Kow Aug. 10, the return of saucy 12-piece Quemando Aug. 17 and the swing-funk sounds of trio Claxton, Kovalcheck and Amend Aug. 24.

EC3, Niki Haris, Ken Walker, and Dick Oatts (photo: Jack Affleck)

 

2018 Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party

The 24th Annual Vail Jazz Party serves as the grand finale of the season from Aug. 30 to Sept 3 (Labor Day Weekend). The nearly nonstop indoor and outdoor performances (at Vail Marriott and Vail Square) include more than 35 headliners including, of course, the Vail Jazz Party House Band, return favorites Niki Haris, Jeff Hamilton and Adrian Cunningham as well as Byron Stripling, Benny Green and René Marie, to name just a few, performing in one-off multi-artist jam sessions and multimedia tributes to musical legends. It’s a life-changing long weekend.

Go here for tickets.

Dave Tull Refines his Fresh Jazz Formula

Dave Tull is a perfectionist. As evidence, consider the reason his recent album was nearly 10 years in the making.

He really wanted to get it right.

“It takes me forever to write something,” says the musician, who has been playing drums since he was 10 years old and added singing to his repertoire when he discovered that the coordination required of both was oddly seamless. “When I deal with other people’s writing, sometimes I wonder if they were thrown off course. I wonder if they took another half hour, if they could have come up with another, much better line. I don’t call something finished until the song is absolutely what it needs to be. When an idea or a chord progression comes to me, it’s very organic. But hopefully there is honesty there, legitimacy and a certain amount of quality. That’s why I take such a long time.”

There’s no question that each track on the recently released “Texting and Driving,” checks all the boxes on that list.

Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Tull’s journey as a jazz musician began on a well-trodden path.

“I was lucky I was given a lot of great influences, not the least of which were in my household,” he says. “I was paired with great teachers and there were all the right influences along the way to keep me energized. The big band thing came naturally growing as a drummer. The Bay area was a great place to grow up for jazz. I kept taking that next step.”

Before and after his time training at California State Northridge, Tull clocked hours upon hours listening to standards and memorizing solos.

“I would listen to jazz records, sometimes a hundred times. If you have a favorite record, you start memorizing solos and lyrics. It was so natural to me to sing and make up my own solos. I found I was walking down the street and had chord changes in my head. I was making up choruses and melodies,” Tull says.

Still, the drummer was more focused on his chosen instrument and never intended to showcase any vocal talent to actual audiences.

“The singing kind of developed on its own, but never like I would do it in public. It was just an outlet for me playing a non-pitched instrument,” he says. “By the time I wanted to sing tunes in clubs, I was doing gigs. The foundations of drumming were so solidly in place, it wasn’t that hard to add singing on top of it.”

Although he has a stacked resume as a sideman, including contributions on numerous Michael Bublé albums and touring with Barbara Streisand, Tull discovered that he was a natural bandleader. In addition to his keen ear, sense of harmony and uncanny ability to keep beats while creating compositions, Tull realized he possessed a handful of additional traits not always prominent in traditionally trained jazz artists.

“I think there’s a lot more humor in jazz than people realize and I like to find it,” he says. “Sometimes we as jazz musicians take ourselves too seriously. I’ll write any song that occurs to me. It’s not necessarily funny. Sometimes it’s a story song. Sometimes it’s a sad song. I bring the people in with a range of emotion.”

Even traditionalists who have approached Tull’s originals as naysayers have soon been converted.

“I’m a crusader against that attitude we sometimes find in jazz audiences that they don’t want to hear anything new,” he says. “I try to write so they’ll be drawn into the story, or the humor in some cases. If it is well written, they’ll go, ‘I normally don’t like original tunes, but I like this one.’”

Also, let’s not forget that Tull loves the standards as much as the next guy.

“I’m with those people who say ‘they used to do it so good.’ But I don’t see how someone can’t write them how they used to, structure the melody so it builds to that stop with such power,” he says. “I believe the older school audience will embrace my songs as soon as they hear they’re good like the classics. When I perform for a younger audience used to simpler tunes who say, ‘I don’t like jazz, jazz is too much,’ I love winning them over, too.”

The 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series returns to Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on March 14 with Dave Tull’s CD release party “Texting and Driving.” The evening features two 75-minute performances with Dave Tull, Jeff Jenkins and Ken Walker. Doors open at 5:30 and the first performance launches at 6 p.m. The second seating takes place at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service featuring favorites from the Bully Ranch and a full bar will be available at both seatings.

Click here for tickets to the 6 p.m. seating.

Click here for tickets to the 8:30 p.m. seating.