Celebrate The Fourth with Marcia Ball

The charismatic storyteller rolls into town to open summer series

Last year Americana songstress/pianist Marcia Ball joined the ranks of Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and George Strait as an official Texas State Musician. The honor is bestowed each year upon a solitary artist selected by the Texas State Legislature, a team of local politicians and committee members. Ball is only the third female musician to receive the status (after Shelley King in 2008 and Sara Hickman in 2010).

Although she is most often categorized as a blues artist, Marcia Ball fits under many musical umbrellas. It’s true that the Austin Music Hall of Famer has earned Grammy nominations and countless blues awards throughout her storied professional career, dating back to her first record in 1972. But the Texas native also knocks out her fair share of New Orleans-inspired jazz rife with lively, steppy piano. Above all, Ball considers herself a storyteller.

“That’s one of the most striking aspects of my music. There are stories behind the songs, stories in the songs. I like to tell stories,” she says. “I like to balance what we record so there’s some up-tempo and fun songs and also some serious things to think about.”

In her most recent release, 2018 Shine Bright, the 12th studio album to her name, Ball set out to celebrate positivity and U.S. movers and shakers – both current and past – whom she admires, calling out individuals such as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Ann Richards, Jackie Robinson, Stephen Hawking and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“I don’t write from an angst-filled standpoint,” Ball has always said, although her song-writing repertoire has been known to include emotional power ballads and touch on topics such as economic disparity, unfair imprisonment and oppressive politics. Some songs address global topics such as environmental devastation and hunger, while others speak of her own personal experiences and as-told-to unique sagas of people she meets. With the help of quick, upbeat instrumentation, all tunes manage take on an uplifting, feel-good quality.

“I write a lot when I’m happy and less when I’m not,” she says. “I write things down constantly. I’m a terrible eavesdropper. I’ll write down a snippet here, a snippet there, sometimes on paper scraps. When it gets down to the real point of putting a record together, I go back into my stack of notebooks and legal pads.”

The pianist’s stories have provided release and drawn deep connections with fans, too. Given that her subject matter sparks an emotional gamut, Ball’s fans have told her that the songs have not only stayed with them, but buoyed them through rough times.

“The energy we expend is given back to us multifold,” Ball says. “Somebody will come up after a show and say, ‘that made me so happy. It helped me so much.’ One woman wrote recently, ‘I work with you all the time.’ I am keeping her company – my music is keeping her company – as she works.”

Although she has been producing and performing music for nearly 50 years, not a day has ever passed in which the 70-year-old musician could see herself doing anything else.

“I never take for granted the fact that I’m getting to do what I love to do, what people dream about doing –traveling around and playing music. If you can’t have fun doing this, you need to re-examine your priorities,” she says.

Marcia Ball @ Vail Square

Marcia Ball returns for the 25th Anniversary Vail Jazz Festival season at 6 p.m. July 4 in Lionshead for the 2019 opening performance of Vail Jazz @ Vail Square. She’s joined by Don Bennett on bass, Corey Keller on drums, Mike Schermer on guitar, Eric Bernhardt on saxophone and Johnny Medina doing sound. General admission tickets are $25, $40 for preferred seats and $50 for premium seats. Preferred and Premium seat subscriptions are also available for multiple performances. Vail Jazz @ Vail Square takes place every Thursday evening through Aug. 29 in the all-weather Jazz Tent in The Arrabelle courtyard in Lionshead. Drinks are available for purchase.

GET TICKETS HERE.

For more information call 970-479-6146.

 

Vail Jazz to Launch Busy Summer for 25th

Ticketed performances are on sale now and free live music abounds all summer long

On a whim back in 1995, lifelong jazz fan and part-time Vail resident Howard Stone brought in a who’s who cast of the world’s greatest jazz artists for a long weekend live music extravaganza. Intended originally to be a one-off event, a mind-blown Stone walked away saying, “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Thus, the Vail Jazz Festival was born and has since blossomed into its current incarnation, a year-round exhibition of top musical talent from across the globe, hands on, in-depth educational programming and free performances.

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Vail Jazz will launch into its biggest summer ever, with free and ticketed performances throughout the week from the end of June through Labor Day weekend. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, respectively, the Vail Jazz Club and Vail Square series feature a lineup of the biggest names in jazz today. The Club Series emulates a true jazz club experience with intimate performances in the luxurious setting of Ludwig’s Terrace in the Vail Sonnenalp Hotel, while the Vail Square series allows artists to let loose on the big stage in the spacious, all-weather Jazz Tent in Lionshead. The grand finale of the festival is, of course, the original main event – the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend, bigger than it’s ever been for year 25.

“Over 25 years, Howard has curated a community of artists that span the globe. This summer, fan favorites return alongside the rising stars of tomorrow to present jazz in all its forms, from the American Songbook to Gypsy jazz, big band to blues, and salsa to straight ahead,” says Vail Jazz Executive Director James Kenly. “This lineup delivers the joy of jazz throughout the summer and across the valley.”

Tickets for all summer performances are on sale as of this week. Here’s the breakdown of what’s in store this summer, so be sure to mark your calendars.

Free events:

Vail Jazz @ The Market

Every Sunday from June 30 through Aug. 25 – Vail Jazz presents free live music from a rotating lineup of highly acclaimed regional musicians, 12-3 p.m. at The Jazz Tent at Solaris during the Vail Farmers Market & Art Show.

Vail Jazz @ The Remedy

Every Sunday night from July 7 through Aug. 25 at 8 p.m., a rotating cast of musical talent joins pianist Tony Gulizia and drummer Brian Loftus for free live music at The Remedy Bar in the Four Seasons Vail.

Jammin’ Jazz Kids

Every Sunday in July (July 7 through 28) from 11:00-11:45 a.m., the Jazz Tent at Solaris in Vail calls all kids from 4 to 12 years old. Vail Jazz’s Tony Gulizia and a team of musical educators lead a FREE hands-on workshop teaching the basics of rhythm and melody. Instruments provided.

Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk

Every Friday at 6 p.m. from July 5 – Aug. 23, Vail Jazz kicks off the weekend with a variety of acclaimed blues, funk, rock, bluegrass and jazz artists performing live at the outdoor amphitheater at The Riverwalk in Edwards. Bring a blanket, picnic and an urge to dance. Food and alcohol are available for purchase.

Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio return to Vail Aug. 7 and 8.

Ticketed shows:

The Vail Jazz @ Vail Square fires up the all-weather Jazz Tent in Lionshead from 6 to 8 p.m. every Thursday from July 4 to Aug. 29. General admission seats are $25, preferred seats are $40 and premium seats are $50. Drinks are available for purchase. The Vail Jazz Club Series features the same artists who take the big stage at Vail Square, but performing two intimate dinner club sets at 5:30 and 8 p.m. every Wednesday from July 10 to Aug. 7 at Ludwig’s Terrace at The Vail Sonnenalp Hotel. Tickets are $40. Full dinner and drink service are available for purchase.

July 4 (Vail Square) Fiery pianist Marcia Ball returns to Vail to unleash upbeat musical storytelling

July 10 (Club) 11(VS) – Seven-string guitarist Yamanda Costa plays Brazilian samba, bossa nova

July 17 (Club) 18 (VS) – Iconic guitarist John Pizzarelli pays Tribute to Nat King Cole

July 24 (Club) 25 (VS) – Sultry vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway presents Jazz Goes to the Movies

July 31 (Club) Aug. 1 (VS) – Hailing from the Crescent City, keyboardist and soulful vocalist Jon Cleary pays Tribute to Henry Butler and the Great New Orleans Piano Tradition

Aug. 7 (Club) 8 (VS) – Hypnotic young vocalist Veronica Swift & The Emmet Cohen Trio return by popular demand

Aug. 15 (VS) – Acclaimed jazz and blues vocalist Catherine Russell makes Vail debut

Aug. 22 (VS) – Latin Jazz and salsa extraordinaire Pancho Sanchez ignites dance tunes

Go here for tickets and more information about the Vail Square series.

Go here for tickets and more information about the Club series.

Vail Jazz 25th Anniversary special anniversary gala celebration

July 8 – This one-of-a-kind event features internationally lauded trombonist Wycliffe Gordon displaying his funk stylings at Larkspur Restaurant. Expect a night of dancing, amazing food and an open bar. General admission tickets are $250, VIP Experience $300.

Get tickets here for the Wycliffe Gordon 25th Anniversary event.

The 25th Annual Vail Jazz Party

From Aug. 29 to Sept. 2, more than 40 of the world’s most talented jazz artists (including the iconic Vail Jazz House Band) converge at the Vail Marriott and in Vail Square for a Labor Day weekend stacked with explosive indoor and outdoor performances. In the same format as that first fateful event 25 years ago, artists rotate from stage to stage, some in unlikely combinations that result in a flurry of unique and previously untapped talent and improvisational masterpieces. To witness these shows are truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. New this summer, Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’ – historically the Vail Jazz Party’s most popular performance and always the first to sell out – will take place at the Gerald Ford Amphitheatre on Sunday, Sept. 1.

Get tickets here for the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Party.

For more information about Vail Jazz, call 970-479-6146.

A Letter from our new Executive Director, James Kenly

Dear Friends of Vail Jazz,

It is with deep gratitude and excitement that I write this letter as the newly appointed Executive Director of the Vail Jazz Foundation. While the valley quiets down for the off-season, the Vail Jazz staff is gearing up for the biggest summer of music yet! Featuring artists from more than 10 countries and spanning the jazz world from swing to salsa and from the American Songbook to straight ahead, the Vail Jazz Festival comprises more than 80 performances from June 30 – September 2!

We are proud to announce that tickets for the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Festival are now on sale! This summer, we will celebrate Howard Stone’s legacy of entertainment and education with a unique lineup of world class performers that bridge the past and the future. We will pay tribute to Nat King Cole, reminisce to the soundtracks of films from The Jazz Singer to Casablanca, honor New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, explore the relationship between jazz and the civil rights movement, and remember the legendary Ray Brown.

This celebration will be one for the history books and we sincerely hope you’ll join the community from around the globe that support it through attendance, donations, and sponsorship. We are preparing for a remarkable summer in Vail and we can’t wait to share it with you.

Happy Spring,

 

 

 

 

James Kenly

Joe McBride brings ‘timeless’ R&B back to Vail

Soulful singer/pianist returns for two intimate performances at The Sonnenalp

 

From the first time Joe McBride touched a keyboard at age 4, he was hooked … as in, he could not let it go.

“I had gone to a Christmas party at my cousin’s house. I found my cousin’s keyboard and started playing it. I didn’t want to leave,” said the Fulton, Missouri native. “I cried for three, four days when we left. My parents broke down and bought me a keyboard.”

Four years later, the gift was a piano, purchased for an 8-year-old McBride by his church.

“From the beginning, I knew I loved it,” he says. “I always knew I loved music. I had a radio next to my ear, a transistor radio next to my ear in bed every night.”

As a teenager, McBride contracted a degenerative eye disease that would eventually take his eyesight. But that did nothing to slow musical pursuits.

“There are always those with greater than or lesser than,” he says. “I don’t think because I was blind I concentrated more on music. It’s because I love it. There’s plenty of blind people, a lot of adversities that a lot of people have, it doesn’t have to be physical. Your passions have to do with who you are as a person.”

After studying at Webster University in St. Louis and then in North Texas, McBride spent the next three decades creating and recording music and touring the world as a bandleader.

“As I grew older, I’d fall into my own groups, getting out in St. Louis and meeting other musicians. The more I got to interact with people, the more I realized how many different kinds of music I love.”

McBride made his way to San Diego and Dallas, quickly establishing himself as a respected and sought after singer/pianist in each city’s jazz scene. From 1992 to 1998, he recorded four albums – Grace, A Gift for Tomorrow, Keys to Your Heart and Double Take, featuring contributions from greats such as Larry Carlton, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Peter White and Grover Washington, Jr., to name a few.

He’s opened for stars such as Whitney Houston and The Yellowjackets and recorded a total of nine full-length albums, including 2009’s Lookin’ for a Change, a testament to his musical versatility, as he infuses a broad gamut of popular tunes from numerous genres (Coldplay, John Mayer, Gnarls Barkley) with his own vocal and harmonic style. Whether personally revamping a contemporary pop tune or performing a Ray Charles classic with a smooth and distinctive flare that’s all his, McBride embraces every opportunity to grow.

“I have so many different influences – Ray Charles, definitely – but also Beethoven, Bach, Jimmy Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald and even Green Day,” McBride says. “As a kid I was exposed mostly to rock n roll. At my grandmother’s, she’d always have Ray Charles in the background. In college, it would be part of my assignment to learn about different artist. I’m old now … but I’m timeless, baby.”

McBride is often compared to Ray Charles, though anyone who’s heard and witnessed his performance – including last summer’s Vail debut, a charismatic tribute to Brother Ray – knows that McBride takes the stage with his own distinctive energy and presence.

“I’m not acting to perform as Ray would. People can get caught up in the stereotype … yes, I’m a black, blind person who sings and plays the piano,” McBride says. “I’m more influenced by Ray as a style, being able to cross over and play with so many kinds of musicians. He came on the scene back in the early 50s, when he pretty much just kept to gospel. Then came the R & B and the big band stuff with Count Basie. He even did country with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. He influenced a lot of styles. I probably have a hundred influences. All of them are with me, but my show is always my own.”

Feb. 26 Joe McBride at The Vail Sonnenalp

Joe McBride returns to Vail for back-to-back performances at The Sonnenalp Hotel on Feb. 26, highlighting classics by the likes of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder as well as McBride originals. Seating is jazz club style at Ludwig’s Terrace, with doors opening at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. performance and at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. Full dinner and bar service will be available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Tickets to each performance are $40. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

BUY TICKETS HERE FOR 5:30 P.M. SHOW.

BUY TICKETS HERE FOR 8 P.M SHOW.

 

 

Hot Sardines Heat Up the Holidays

The eight-piece throwback jazz band likely to get feet moving in special Ritz-Carlton performance

Why is the sound of old jazz making new waves? Elizabeth Bougerol of The Hot Sardines has a simple explanation.

“It’s a joyous, connective experience,” said the Sardines’ singer. “And these days people are starved for that sense of connection more than they know.”

Launched in 2007 when Bougerol and co-founder Evan Palazzo were drawn together over a mutual love for jazz icons such as Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong, The Hot Sardines have established themselves as one of the hottest jazz ensembles in New York City.

Coming at the classic sound as a livewire of impeccably tight musicianship, The Hot Sardines dish out sizzling renditions of tunes like The Andrews Sister’s “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” and have even partnered with actor Alan Cumming, a devout Hot Sardines fan, for a sexy cabaret version of “When I Get Low, I Get High.”

A Sardines’ performance is both an auditory and visual feast of energy, all eight members of the band hitting individual bright notes that fit into the rich flow while the marionette moves of tap dancer AC Lincoln are so oddly cool and hypnotizing that one cannot help but become entranced, tapping one’s own toes if not leaping up and grabbing a dance partner.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square: The Hot Sardines (photo: Steve Pope)

The Hot Sardines have performed all over the world, notching more than 100 gigs a year, gathering enthusiastic ballrooms full of 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 one of their local NYC gigs and find an audience comprised mostly of millennials, passionate and committed to this energetic collective of swing revivalists, looking every bit like a jazz club might have in 1920. The crowds at their road performances comprise of every generation of jazz fan – from high schoolers to life-long connoisseurs who may have eye-witnessed a performance by Ray Charles or Ella Fitgerald in their younger years.

“Everyone has some working knowledge of this music,” Bougerol said. “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.”

As a testament to this and also to The Hot Sardines’ unerring improvisation skills, during their Vail debut last summer, the electricity went out for several minutes, cutting the volume level into a whisper while the band did not miss a stride or a note. Palazzo, whose voice has unbelievable carrying capacity, seamlessly moved from piano to vocals, turning in his seat and projecting his voice out to the crowd as the horn section ramped up its blows. A pair of acoustic numbers took on fresh excitement until the power was restored and the band’s harmony and fiery movement locked smoothly back into full volume.

Not only did this make for truly impressive entertainment, but it also proves Bougerol’s point about the music’s potential for connecting people, which is certainly not a quality possessed by all artists, genres or even subsets of jazz.

“If you think of some of the more recent jazz, it can appeal to a more intellectual experience of music,” Bougerol said. “So it’s not about connecting everyone in the room necessarily. There’s something in this music. Every so often someone will pay us a compliment that reminds me of how special it is. One person came up after a gig and said, ‘while you were playing, I thought of every person I love.’ That was pretty cool.”

Vail Jazz Holiday Dance Party with The Hot Sardines – Dec. 27

The Hot Sardines return to the Vail Valley for the holiday event of the season – a live performance and dance party at The Ritz-Carton Bachelor Gulch on Dec. 27. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and performance/dance begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $90 and include two drinks each. For more information, visit the event page or call 970-479-6146.

GET TICKETS HERE.

Magic on tap for 2018 Vail Jazz Party

In its 24th year, the summer grand finale over Labor Day weekend has become famous for its rare fusion of talent.

When you see an artist perform live you’re naturally moved by their talent – by the way they’re able to mix up their regular numbers, extend solos, improvise. How about if you rotated 35 of the world’s most talented musicians on and off of stages with one another for four days and nights of live performance? There would be some unforgettable sparks.

Such is the format of the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend. In its 24th year, the multi-day live music experience was originally cast on the extravagant, one-off whim of Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone.

“It all started with too much wine in 1995,” Stone recalls. “We had some of the greatest musicians on the planet there. It was pure … spontaneous.”

The original lineup of Grammy Award winners and internationally acclaimed jazz stars included John Clayton and his brother Jeff Clayton, Phil Woods, Tommy Flanagan, Jack McDuff, Slide Hampton, Bobby Hutcherson, James Moody, Joe Wilder and Jeff Hamilton.

Niki Harris belts it out during the 2017 Gospel Prayer Meetin’. Photo by Jack Affleck

At the end of the weekend, a happy hangover of inspiration and euphoria prevailed. John Clayton asked Stone if he would ever do it again. Before the idea had even solidified in his own head, Stone answered, “this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

Now, 24 years later, the Vail Jazz Party has established itself as one of the world’s premier jazz gatherings, still replete with star-studded lineup (more than 35 headlining artists) and a contagious aura of exaltation that participating musicians swear taps into some sort of higher power.

“At the party last year from beginning to end I felt like somebody gave me magic,” says Japanese organ virtuoso Akiko Tsuruga, who recently closed out the 2018 Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series. “I felt very strong energy from so many musicians. I was always crying … it was a very, very great vibe. I’ve never had that experience before. That four days in Vail was the best I’ve ever played; the best experience of my life.”

Highlights of the 2018 Vail Jazz Party:

Bill Cunliffe’s tribute to Leonard Bernstein – Friday

As the creator of the score to West Side Story and musical director of the New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein stands as one of America’s most revered conductors and composers. His legacy has been honored by numerous fellow musical greats. One of these is Vail Jazz Party House Band pianist Bill Cunliffe, who won a Grammy Award for his arrangement of Oscar Peterson’s “West Side Story Medley.” Cunliffe will be joined by fellow House Band members John Clayton and Lewis Nash as well as guitarist Peter Bernstein (no relation to Leonard) for what is sure to be a lively, one-of-a-kind exploration of the Leonard Bernstein songbook.

Tony Monaco’s Tribute to Jimmy Smith – Saturday

Master of groove, Jimmy Smith single-handedly rendered the B-3 organ a cool instrument, especially in the world of jazz and blues. Viewed by many as the world’s organ king, he mentored contemporary keys king Tony Monaco, who has gone on to become recognized as one of the top five international jazz organists himself. Don’t miss the soaring and swelling melodies on tap for this heart-felt tribute.

Wycliffe Gordon’s Nu Funk Machine Dance Party – Sunday

Did someone say dance party? What better way to spend Sunday afternoon on Labor Day Weekend … Nu Funk is a movement that originated in Brooklyn in the 1980s, blending hip hop and deep funk with danceable riffs and climatic breaks. Internationally lauded (not to mention Vail favorite) trombonist pegs Nu Funk to hits from James Brown, Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye. It’s bound to be a party.

The Sessions – Friday through Monday

The morning, afternoon and late-night sessions throughout the Vail Jazz Party feature unlikely fusions of artists who have often never met, much less performed on stage together. This is when the real magic happens.

“It’s an opportunity for each player to express themselves in a way that leads to something else, that leaves room for self-expression from every player,” explains Stone, whose musical matchmaking skills have become legendary at this point. “It’s a breakthrough moment in a jam session when someone is musically communicating and the other person says, ‘wow, I never thought of that.’ It takes someone – everyone – to places they’ve never gone before.”

The 24th Annual Vail Jazz Party

From Aug. 31 to Sept. 3, the Vail Jazz Party features more than 70 musicians delivering special performances, tributes and jam sessions. Tickets to individual sessions start at $55 and weekend passes are available. Performances take place at the Vail Marriott and in the all-weather Jazz Tent in Lionshead’s Vail Square.

Get tickets to all sessions here.

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: Organ Donors

Hammond, Leslie, Cobbs & Smith … do the names sound like a law firm? Actually, the first two men were inventors, the third was a man of the cloth and the fourth was a musician. Collectively, their respective contributions to organ music shaped the future of the sounds of Gospel, jazz and much more. So who were these organ donors? Let’s start with the inventors. Laurens Hammond invented the Hammond electric organ revolutionizing the world of organ music. Prior to Hammond’s invention, if you wanted an organ your only option was to purchase a very large and very expensive mechanical pipe organ and therefore they were generally only found in cathedrals and concert halls. However, when Hammond’s Model A made its debut in 1935, it transformed the world of organ music because for the first time, relatively inexpensive and small instruments could be purchased for home use and by small churches. The availability of the Model A (and subsequent models) greatly increased the number of people playing the organ and in the decades that followed its introduction, Hammond organs could be found in the living rooms of homes across the U.S. and in many churches.

Howard Stone

While the Model A sounded good in a large venue, to Donald Leslie, another inventor, it sounded “dull, shrill and still” in a confined space, so Leslie set out to improve the sonic qualities of the Hammond organ. In 1937, Leslie approached Hammond with his new invention, the Leslie, special speakers and amplifier housed in a separate cabinet that was to be connected to, and placed next to, the organ. The Leslie gave the Model A a distinctive whirling/swirling sound, known as the Doppler effect – the sound you hear as the source of a sound moves towards you and then past you.

To Leslie’s ears, his invention was what the Hammond organ needed to sound like a symphony in a box. Leslie suggested to Hammond that they join forces, but Hammond was indignant that Leslie was critical of the Model A’s sound, so Leslie decided to manufacture and sell his invention himself. Hammond was extremely hostile to the idea and redesigned subsequent models of his organ so that they couldn’t be easily connected to a Leslie. Ultimately, consumers decide which products succeed and which fail. Notwithstanding Hammond’s aggressive posture with Leslie, the organ buying public made it clear that the combination of the two was what they wanted and Hammond organ buyers bought Leslies and connected them to their instruments.

Two years later in 1939, the African-American founder of the First Church of Deliverance in Chicago, the charismatic and dynamic Rev. Clarence H. Cobbs, decided to purchase a Hammond organ and Leslie for his church. Cobbs was one of the first preachers to broadcast his services on the radio; he had a large congregation and a gift for promoting his ministry. It is speculated that the purchase of the Hammond organ and Leslie was a shrewd marketing move by Cobbs, but whatever the motivation, congregants flocked to his church after hearing them played on the radio and many black churches, particularly in the South, began to emulate the new Gospel music that was being beamed from the First Church of Deliverance. The Hammond organ and Leslie had forever changed Black Gospel music and it would never be the same. The passion, joy and earthy expressiveness of Black Gospel music were now joined with a rollicking exuberant sound of the Hammond organ and Leslie, and the result was a seismic shift in the music. Eighty years later, it is still going strong.

Now to the musician: James Oscar Smith. Growing up in Philadelphia in the 1930s, Jimmy played piano as a young boy, winning a radio talent contest when he was 9. In 1947 after service in the Navy, Jimmy studied music for two years with the assistance of the G.I. bill. By the early 1950s, he was playing piano in an R&B band, but on a fateful night in Philly, he met Wild Bill Davis, a jazz organist, and decided he wanted to become an organ player. Playing piano at night and practicing the organ during the day, Jimmy, totally self-taught, explored the myriad possibilities of the newest Hammond organ, the Model B-3 (and of course Leslie). He developed a technical command of the instrument and a musical approach that allowed him to combine Gospel, blues and bebop. Singlehandedly (actually he used both hands and feet), he created a jazz genre that inspired generations of musicians that followed, whether they played jazz, blues, R&B, pop, acid jazz and many others.

Miles Davis called Jimmy “the eighth wonder of the world.” Some called his music “soul jazz” and others called it “grits and gravy,” but it didn’t matter what it was called, it had an unmistakable groove and for the next five decades Jimmy was a major force in jazz influencing generations of organ players. A true innovator, Jimmy received the NEA Jazz Master Award, the highest honor that an American jazz musician can be bestowed. He was a prolific performer, who played with most of the jazz greats of the last half of the 20th century and when he died in 2005, he left behind an extensive catalog of recordings that are musical treasures. It is now generally agreed when reviewing the history of jazz organ playing, there was the period prior to 1955, the pre-Jimmy Smith era, and for the five decades following 1955, the Jimmy Smith era.

Vail Jazz will present the great Hammond B-3 wizard, Tony Monaco, a disciple of Jimmy’s, in a multi-media tribute concert to Jimmy at 8:55 p.m. Saturday in the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in Lionshead. Come hear why Jimmy Smith was the master of the B-3!

Get tickets here.

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.

A moment in the life of a musical prodigy

Esteban Castro was running to escape the rain before the biggest experience of his young life, performing in the prestigious Montreux Jazz Piano Competition in Switzerland. Only 13, he was the youngest pianist in the history of the contest and was up against extraordinarily talented adults from all over the world. He’d been practicing a steady 13 hours a day back home in New Jersey leading up to the competition. It was two days before his performance and he was outside enjoying the stunning Swiss landscapes when it started pouring. He ran toward cover, slipped, fell and landed on his right hand.

“It was swollen; looked and felt terrible. I think it may have been broken. It hurt more than I put on. I didn’t say how much it hurt because I still wanted to participate,” recalls Castro.

In a cinematic feat of overcoming adversity, Castro entered the contest and powered through the pain. Uninhibited, his hands fluttered up and down the keys.

He won.

“It was one probably the most rewarding experience I’d ever had,” he says. “I was completely shocked when I won.”

This tenacity – not to mention modesty – is characteristic of the teenage musical prodigies that participate in the Vail Jazz Workshop, the 2018 edition of which is underway this week, featuring 12 carefully selected young musicians from across the country.

The group was vetted from more than 150 highly qualified applicants for the 23rd edition of the workshop. Led since its inception by iconic jazz bassist John Clayton, the Vail Jazz Workshop has cultivated some of the nation’s top professional jazz musicians and features fellow Vail Jazz Party House Band members and mentors Jeff Clayton, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford and Lewis Nash. The week-long workshop is comprised of intimate and intensive training – two students to one mentor – focusing on the art of improvisation and playing by ear. Upon “graduation,” the group of students becomes the Vail Jazz All-Stars, performing on the same stage as their mentors in the 24th Annual Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend.

“We look at each other and say, ‘Wow. Not only are they doing stuff we could never do at their age, but they’re doing stuff we can’t even do now’” John Clayton says of the students.

Turning 16 during his time in Vail, Castro is very much looking forward to the workshop with his musical heroes. In addition to the Montreux Jazz victory, he’s won numerous other major awards in his young career, recorded three albums and has been performing around New York City for the last several years – making his Blue Note debut at age 10. He wrote his first composition at age 6 and began tinkering on a toy piano as an infant, his parents renting him his first real piano at age 4. When asked how much of his free time he spends at the piano these days, Castro is momentarily confused by the question.

“It’s pretty much all of my free time,” he says.

“I find that my best stuff comes out in a natural way,” he says. “It’s less of a meticulous process and more of a creative process. The stuff I’ve written I’m most proud of, I’ve written in a short amount of time, maybe 30 minutes. I love the feeling of connecting with an audience. I want to play all over the world and make people happy with my music. That’s what it’s all about.”

Meet the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop students

In addition to Castro, the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop includes fellow pianist Eugene Kim. The 17-year-old South Korean was invited to play at the Newport Jazz Festival and has attended the New England Conservatory’s preparatory school and Jazz Lab, winning numerous awards including the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education’s gold medal, first place at the UNH Clark Terry Jazz Festival, first place at the Berklee High School Jazz Festival and Downbeat Magazine’s Student Music Award for Outstanding High School Jazz Soloist Performance. Bassists include Rhode Island native and Grammy Band finalist Ian Banno, 17, who was selected for the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Workshop at the Newport Jazz Festival. Also, Los Angeles native and bassist Dario Bizio, 16, has played in a variety of school-based bands, orchestras, combos and ensembles. Trumpet players include 17-year-old Florida native Summer Camargo, who has been principal trumpet and section leader for the Dillard Center for the Arts Jazz Band and Wind Orchestra, lead trumpet for the All Jazz Band of America, lead trumpet of the All-County Jazz Band and has played in Florida’s All-State Jazz Band. California resident Joey Curreri, 18, won the National YoungArts competition and has been a member of several Grammy bands, played in the Monk Peer-to-Peer All-Star Sextet and received the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s Shelly Manne New Talent Award. From Massachusetts, trombonist Nate Jones, 16, believes in bringing personality to his music and has won numerous awards from the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education, five Stanford Jazz Awards including Outstanding Soloist and three Outstanding Musicianship Awards from the Clark Terry Jazz Festival. After his father introduced him to trombone as a small child, Arlington, VA’s Zach Niess, 18, has played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Summer Jazz Academy Milt Hinton Big Band, the Grammy Band, a YoungArts combo, the Arlington Youth Symphony and will be attending the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Traveling from Olympia, Wash., saxophonist Willie Bays, 16, was accepted into the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, has performed in Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in NYC, the Montreal Jazz Festival, Toronto Jazz Festival and the Rochester International Jazz Festival and has his own quartet. New York native and sax player Coby Petricone-Berg, 17, has played in numerous bands, including the Manhattan School of Music PreCollege Jazz and Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Newport Jazz Festival, was as a Grammy® Jazz Camp Finalist and a National YoungArts Merit Award winner. Also a Precollege Jazz Student at Manhattan School of Music, drummer Varun Das studies with greats Tony Moreno and Tommy Igoe, has played in the Grammy Jazz Band, the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Big Band, the Princeton Symphonic Brass Group and has toured Europe with the New Jersey Youth Symphony. Last but not least, 17-year-old drummer Michael Manasseh of Massachusetts incorporates a myriad of styles into his rhythms – rock, funk, Latin, Afro-Cuban, Indian and West African. He was a Grammy® Band Finalist and has won many awards, including Outstanding Soloist in the Charles Mingus High School Competition, the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education Outstanding Musicianship Award (twice), and Berklee High School Jazz Festival Outstanding Musicianship Award.

Live in Vail Aug. 30

See the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop students in their newly found stardom. To kick off the 2018 Vail Jazz Party, it’s a triple bill at the all-weather Jazz Tent in Lionshead’s Vail Square beginning at 6 p.m. with the Vail Jazz All-Stars followed by the Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni Quintet at 7 p.m. and wrapping up with an 8 p.m. performance by the mentors themselves, the star-studded Vail Jazz Party House Band – John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon and Lewis Nash. 

Go here for tickets.

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: James Morrison, one-man band

Recently I wrote a column about the joy of discovering new musicians. This is another story of a fabulous “find” – Australian James Morrison. It wasn’t until the 90s that I first heard about James, although he had already performed in the U.S. in the late 80s at the Monterey Jazz Festival when he was only 16. James grew up in a musical family in a rural area of Australia and started playing his brother’s cornet at the age of 7. By the time he was 13, he was playing professionally. He focused his early playing on brass instruments, the trumpet and the trombone primarily, as well as the piano. He studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and became a member of the faculty before he was 21 and by the time he was in his mid-twenties he had established himself as an international jazz star.

Before I tell you more about James, a little background is in order. Having unsuccessfully tried on several occasions to play music (piano and alto sax), I am resigned to the fact that in this life I won’t be making music. I am not prepared to make a pact with the Devil to master a musical instrument, but I have given it some serious thought. So when I discover a great musician, I am thrilled and when that musician is a virtuoso on more than one instrument, I am in awe of his/her prowess. I think, I can’t play the alto and this musician can play all the saxophones. It isn’t fair.

Howard Stone

Fair or not, I get it and I am resigned to the fact that you have to have an innate musical talent to play an instrument and I don’t. Further, I understand that once you have mastered the “technical” aspects of playing an instrument, a talented player can master a related instrument. But what about an unrelated instrument? When you contrast the expertise that is required to play the various popular instruments (piano, reeds, brass, stringed instruments and percussion instruments), you start to realize each group of instruments requires a specialized skill. The saxophonist uses his/her breath to create sound by blowing across a reed, while a trumpeter needs to blow into a cup-shaped metal mouth piece to vibrate his/her lips, “buzzing” them to create sound. Contrast that with the skill and talent of a drummer who can musically strike the heads of drums with drumsticks while using his/her feet to work drum pedals. Or the guitarist or bassist that needs to use both hands in a coordinate way to pluck and press down on strings to make his/her instrument sing. In addition, let’s not forget the pianist who has to use all ten digits to depress the keys on the keyboard while using his/her feet on the pedals of the piano.

Why the above segue way into an exploration of what it takes to become a multi-instrumentalist? Because that is what James is and I know of no other jazzman who can do what he does so well. By way of example, in 1990, James recorded an album with the legendary Ray Brown and Herb Ellis on bass and guitar, respectively, and with the rising drum star Jeff Hamilton. The album Snappy Doo had James playing piano, trumpet, trombone and saxophone (soprano, alto, tenor and baritone) along with clarinet, flute, flugelhorn and euphonium. On a follow-up album years later, he played all of the above plus guitar and bass. One thing is to play a multitude of musical instruments, but another is to play them in a virtuosic manner. He did. After recording Snappy Doo with James, Ray Brown referred to James as “The Genius.”

To say that James is a musical genius may be an understatement. In a three-decade-long career he has played with the who’s who of the world of jazz and pop, including Dave Brubeck, Chick Corea, Phil Collins and Chaka Khan, to name just a few. All the while bringing joy to audiences throughout the world and performing with many of the world’s greatest orchestras, including the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Berlin Philharmonic, and many more. James has appeared in some of the most famous venues in the world, including Hollywood Bowl, Royal Albert Hall and Covent Garden, plus two command performances for Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and for Presidents Bush and Clinton.

Everything James does, he does in a big way. He is an accomplished film and music composer (he did the opening fanfare for the Sydney 2000 Olympics), a conductor (he once conducted an orchestra composed of 7,224 musicians in a Guinness World Record Book performance), an educator (the founder of the James Morrison Academy of Music in Australia), and an instrument innovator (the Morrison Digital Trumpet). James and his wife of 30 years, the former Miss Australia, Judie Green, have three sons and the family resides in Australia.

Vail Jazz is extremely pleased to present James in concert at 1:50 p.m. on Sept. 1 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead as part of the Vail Jazz Party. James has billed his performance as “James Morrison Plays The Lot.” Come see and hear James play the bugle, cornet, pocket trumpet, slide trombone, piccolo trumpet, tuba, euphonium, bass trombone, tenor trombone (both slide and valve versions), trumpet, bass trumpet and flugelhorn in what promises to be a performance for the ages.

Get tickets here.

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

The key ingredients to musical chemistry

Take it from a world-class organist, drummer and guitarist … the jazz miracle doesn’t happen every day

Akiko Tsuruga likens the feeling of perfect musical chemistry to a heavenly experience in the beauty salon.

“Sometimes the person cutting my hair is so nervous. They’ve never cut Asian hair and they don’t know what to do and it makes me nervous. But sometimes it feels so great. They wash my hair and give me a massage and I don’t have to do anything. I don’t have to worry about anything. I feel like I’m in heaven. It’s the same with musicians.”

The Japanese B3 organ player experiences this salon-style luxury every time she takes the stage with drummer Jeff Hamilton and guitarist Graham Dechter, with whom she recorded the live album, 2017’s So Cute, So Bad, which was streamed from New York’s Lincoln Center.

“Both of them are geniuses,” says Tsuruga, who has shared the stage with many of jazz’s top international artists and was named 2017 Best Jazz Organ by Hot House Magazine. “Every time I play with them or I listen to them playing, I feel like God gave them special talent. I respect them so much. Their rhythm is so driving. When we play together, it’s chemistry. It’s just fun. My brain, my whole body are so full of heart. I feel full joy.”

Hamilton and Dechter describe the trio’s dynamic in similar words.

“We have A LOT of fun while playing together,” Dechter says. “Jeff Hamilton talks about musicians who are ‘serious about what they do, but don’t take themselves too seriously.’ Being that all of us come from that mindset, it definitely creates a serious yet joyful vibe.”

Widely considered one of the greatest jazz drummers of the modern age, Hamilton mentored Dechter and has performed or recorded with some of the biggest names in music, from Ella Fitzgerald to Diana Krall, Barbara Streisand to Mel Tormé. But sometimes when a combo clicks, it truly locks. Such was the case between Hamilton and Tsuruga, whom were first brought together by Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone.

Tsuruga has a clear recollection of Stone’s phone call after the first time he saw her perform many years ago.

“He called me and said, ‘I have a really good drummer for you.’ I asked him who and he said Jeff Hamilton. I said, ‘wow.’” Tsuruga recalls.

Within the first seconds of their first performance together at the Vail Jazz Festival, the lock was sealed.

“In the first eight measures, Akiko and I looked at each other. We were both thinking, ‘uh oh … we have something really special here,’” Hamilton says, adding that Dechter finishes the package to a T. “I think Graham is one of the greatest improvisers going today. I’ve played with great guitarists in my day and have a pretty high standard. I knew he’d be the perfect fit.”

The joy the three find together is obvious when they perform, each one wearing an ear-to-ear smile and a joy so thick it forms a palpable aura.

“I believe that it’s a combination of getting along together both on and off the bandstand. Jeff, Akiko and I come from very similar places in terms of how we hear and feel music but we also share many common traits outside of music – food, wine, humor …You can put three great musicians together but if they don’t jive well as people, it’s very difficult for the music to reach that next level,” Dechter says, agreeing with Tsuruga that his bandmates’ talent appears effortless.

“Jeff and Akiko both play instruments that require so much coordination and independence, both physically and mentally, yet they make it look so easy,” he says. “It’s something I’m always aspiring to in my own playing – playing something incredibly complicated and making it look simple.”

A skillful ear and a solid background of sacrifice are also key ingredients to amazing musical chemistry, according to Hamilton.

“Hearing the music the same so you have that common language makes it easier to play together,” the drummer says. “The determination and the sacrifice from a young age are a big part of it … not being able to play baseball when you’re 10 years old because you have to practice, in some cases relationships throughout your life, in the jazz world … there are sacrifices you have to make to do it properly.”

Also, these artists certainly don’t forget that the winning mix can’t be made without a generous dash or three of love.

“I have been thinking, what is chemistry? I have been living in New York and there are so many good musicians here, so many great musicians, but nobody like Jeff and Graham. They are so loveable. They have so much love,” Tsuruga says.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square Aug. 23: Akiko/Hamilton/Dechter

Don’t miss the magical musical force that is Akiko Tsuruga, Jeff Hamilton and Graham Dechter. The trio closes out the 2018 Vail Jazz @ Vail Square season at 6 p.m. Aug. 23 in the all-weather jazz tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seating and $50 for premium seats. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. 

GET TICKETS HERE.