Veronica Swift and Emmet Cohen Return to Vail

Young jazz stars bring spontaneity and exploration to musical storytelling

If you think it’s an exaggeration to say that a talented singer’s vocal chords can do acrobatics, you have not heard Veronica Swift. Yet, the 25-year-old rising jazz star does not describe herself as a vocal acrobat. She doesn’t even refer to herself as a singer or a musician.

“What am I? I’m a storyteller,” she says. “A jazz singer is a storyteller. I aim to put the music and lyrics in perfect marriage. I have to sing lyrics that will apply to a large range of ages and races. That’s what jazz does.”

Hailing from Charlottesville, VA and now residing in New York City, Swift returns to Vail with the Emmet Cohen Trio just before the release of her Mack Avenue Records debut album, Confessions, on which she belts forth creative interpretations of obscure gems (eg:“Gypsy in My Soul” ) with the accompaniment of the Emmet Cohen Trio as well as the acclaimed Benny Green Trio.

In her young career, Swift’s vocal skills have also landed her gigs as a featured vocalist with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Chris Botti and Michael Feinstein. Inspired by singers and strong musical personalities ranging from Anita O’Day to Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson, Swift’s earliest influences were her talented parents.

An only child, Swift began performing with her father, the late jazz pianist Hod O’Brien, and her mother, singer Stephanie Nakasian, before she reached double digits. Playing the piano and the trumpet from a young age, music has always been second nature to Swift.

“My first serious instrument was trumpet. I was playing trumpet before I was singing jazz. I played the piano. I marched drum corps. I was always. I played in the all-state orchestra. There wasn’t ever a certain sense of duty,” Swift says. “I was always surrounded by some of the greatest legends of jazz, getting bootleg recordings, here in this environment. It wasn’t until I guess, high school, even though I’d been touring already at that point, where I felt a purpose. Until then, it was more like speaking a language, like speaking English … something I did without thinking.”

By the time she was 10, Swift was recording with and sharing the stage with saxophonist Richie Cole and at age 11, landing a spot in the Women in Jazz series at Lincoln Center.

She attended the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami and then landed second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. Gaining quick traction in the jazz world, Swift has also dabbled in opera and theater … which brings us back to her aforementioned identity as a storyteller above all else.

For her, expanding her musical repertoire is the same as a poet expanding her lexicon.

“The more songs you know, the more vocabulary you have. I’m always learning songs and listening,” she says. “When I’m picking tunes, I’m always asking, ‘does this make sense with the story?’ I have a concept for every show. The story has to make sense. I like to mix it up between American Songbook and obscure tunes. It’s the lyrics that draw me in. It’s like poetry.”

Swift refers to the Emmet Cohen Trio, which is comprised of Emmet Cohen on piano, Russell Hall on bass and Kyle Poole on drums, as “the best young musicians on the scene today,” rife with elegance, sophistication and most importantly, spontaneity.

“People will say to us, ‘oh you’re born in the wrong era.’ We are the culmination of our ancestors and our peers. We are constantly learning from each other. They’re all such creative people and it’s inspiring to constantly be moving forward together,” Swift says.

Cohen, who returns to Vail on the heels of winning the prestigious Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association, describes his trio’s role in the storytelling as “explorative.”

“We follow the energy of the room, that’s part of the magic of our presentation,” Cohen says. “We play in the style of all of our favorite bands, spanning a hundred years of jazz, from Jelly Roll, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, to beboppers and some of our favorite, modern composers. We’ve taken a lot from the history of jazz and our own take on the way our music can be presented.”

Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio

Vail Jazz Club Series

Aug. 7

Soaring vocalist Veronica Swift and The Emmet Cohen Trio (Emmet Cohen on piano, Russell Hall on bass and Kyle Poole on drums) deliver a pair of intimate solo performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, Aug. 7. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30 (get tickets here). Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. (get tickets here). Tickets at $40. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

 

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

Aug. 8

Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio take their musical stories up a few octaves at the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 8. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. GET TICKETS HERE.

Howard Stone: The Jezebel of Jazz

This year is the centennial of the birth of Anita O’Day (Anita Belle Colton), a daring jazz vocalist who developed her own style and created a vast body of innovative vocals while being tagged “The Jezebel of Jazz,” for her nonconformist ways. At mid-20th century, she was considered to be one of the top female jazz singers along with Ella, Billie and Sarah. In a career spanning seven decades, Anita rode the proverbial elevator of fame to the top, only to descend to the depths of hell on earth on more than one occasion. Somehow, she was always able to rise again.

Raised in an impoverished, broken home in Chicago, Anita left at age 14 in order to make a living competing in the marathon dance contests that were popular during the Depression. At 16, while dancing with a partner, she was asked if she could sing and responded by breaking out in song. The crowd showered her with money … and her destiny was revealed.

Howard Stone (above: Anita O’Day).

Anita returned to Chicago determined to be a singer and adopted her stage name. She sang wherever she could find a gig, developing unique timing and phrasing, mastering scat singing and trying new interpretations of the established repertoire. By 1941, the 21-year-old was hailed as the “New Star of the Year” by DownBeat magazine and joined Gene Krupa’s big band.

Bands weren’t integrated then, but Gene’s band featured the great African-American trumpeter Roy Eldridge. When Anita and Roy performed in a duet, the mixed racial pairing was considered scandalous. However, their “Let Me Off Uptown,” was a hit, making Anita a star. (See the video here)

Other hits followed and for the better part of the 1940s, Anita would sing with prominent big bands, including Woody Herman’s and Stan Kenton’s. This was the big band era and each band had a “girl singer,” conspicuously seated in front of the band, projecting a glamorous image dressed in a strapless gown, while she waited for her turn to perform. Anita rebelled against the stereotype and wore a band jacket and a skirt to show that she was one of the band. Her attire was considered shocking and she was once again judged guilty of outrageous conduct.

By the end of the decade, she left the world of big band singing and went out on her own. She began performing at major venues with many jazz greats, culminating with her appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. The epitome of cool, flamboyantly attired in a black dress, white gloves and a wide brimmed hat with ostrich feathers, Anita projected a stunning visual appearance that appeared on the covers of national magazines, catapulting her to international fame.

From 1955 to the mid-60s, she recorded 17 LPs that confirmed her reputation as a unique song stylist, using an inventive technique fueled by the freedom to improvise, to sing before and after the beat. She combined a great wit with a fearlessness that led her to places others dared not go. “Given a choice, I wanted to be where the action was,” is the way she explained it. While this approach paid dividends musically, she paid dearly for it in her personal life, as there were failed marriages and affairs, no children and numerous abortions. After her triumph at Newport, the elevator ride up continued a while longer, but the seeds had been sown for a change in direction. Starting in the late 1940s, Anita had begun smoking marijuana and became addicted to heroin. She was jailed for possession and use of both marijuana and heroin on several occasions and regularly abused alcohol. She nearly died from an overdose in 1967, but she quit cold turkey in 1968 and made a miraculous comeback in 1970. She continued to perform and record into the 1990s, but in 1996, she had a terrible accident, suffering life-threatening injuries. Once again, at the age of 80 in 1999, Anita resumed her career, performing sporadically, but died in her sleep at the age of 87 in 2006. Her life story was brilliantly told in her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times, as well as in a compelling documentary film, Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer.

It is clear when reflecting on Anita’s life, that well before the #MeToo era, she was an extraordinarily talented, independent woman who was unwilling to be just “the girl singer in the band.” In the process, she inspired many young women jazz singers to do it their way. Veronica Swift, the remarkably talented 25-year-old, is one of the next generation jazz singers inspired by Anita. Veronica possesses perfect pitch, a stylish sense of phrasing and timing and can scat with the best of them. Whether she is interpreting the Great American Songbook or bebop classics, she says “I try not to imitate, but to emulate.” Vail Jazz is pleased to present Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio on Aug. 7 in two shows at the Sonnenalp Hotel (Get Sonnenalp tickets here) and at 6 p.m. Aug. 8 in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (Get tickets here).

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival. This summer Vail Jazz is celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season with performances by internationally renowned artists in multiple venues throughout the Vail Valley. In addition, Vail Jazz presents throughout the year jazz educational programs with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge.

 

 

 

A Brit’s Deep Slice of New Orleans

Grammy winner Jon Cleary recounts his journey to and through The Crescent City

Growing up in a small village in England, Jon Cleary made a b-line for New Orleans the minute he hit adulthood.

The 56-year-old Grammy Award winner took up the guitar when he was a small child, but added the piano – and New Orleans piano-playing sensibilities – to his repertoire when he initially moved to The Big Easy as a teenager.

“Everyone in my family, if they weren’t musicians, they were music lovers,” Cleary says. “They’d always turn up with bags of records. My grandma’s generation was the ‘30s and ‘40s – the Fats Waller era. My dad’s was Lead Belly blues. My mom loves New Orleans jazz. One of my uncles was into blues and gospel. That kind of stuff was always around. The men in my family all played musical instruments for as long as I can remember. My uncle lived in New Orleans for a few years in the early 70s. He brought hundreds and hundreds of 45s. I’d stay with him and soak it up like a sponge.”

After working a job moving sheet rock and saving enough money for the trip, Cleary set foot in NOLA himself. He hadn’t planned on staying for more than a few weeks and certainly didn’t envision a successful musical career taking shape. But he landed a room in an old house next to the Mississippi River (equipped with a piano) and a slapdash (not musical) job at the iconic Maple Leaf Bar and it all came to gather serendipitously.

“I was a scruffy 18-year-old who could play four or five tunes. Me and a mate from school started digging up banana trees for work and the guy who owned the bar asked if I needed a job. He said, ‘the bar needs a paint job. Do you know how to paint?’ We said yeah. We had never painted in our lives. It took us six months to paint the bar. We got to see all of the bands for free. We’d show up and I’d sit and play the piano. When my boss came in, he’d shout at us that we were supposed to be painting. For hours every day I played the old piano in the house I was living in. It was my university of funk. I spent most of my time just listening and learning.”

One of the Maple Leaf’s regular acts was R & B keyboard king James Booker. One night Booker was in no condition to perform and Cleary was asked to sit in. It marked his first public performance. He was hooked.

“I was getting to play with the guys I’d pay to go see – Jessie Hill, Earl King … These were the legends still playing,” Cleary says.

It wasn’t long before Cleary’s own talents as a multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer joined NOLA’s legendary ranks. He went on to share the stage with everyone from B.B. King to Eric Burdon and write compositions for Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal and John Scofield. He’s recorded eight albums, 2016’s Go-Go Juice winning a Grammy for Best Regional Roots Album. For the last 20 years, he’s traveled the world delivering the spirit of New Orleans with his own distinctive stamp.

“There’s nowhere like New Orleans,” he says. “The spirit, it’s an intangible thing. Music is synonymous with New Orleans. Everything about this place screams good music. For over a century, they’ve been honing it down and getting it right. The ethnic folk music of New Orleans – R & B, jazz and funk – it’s so good it’s been taken and used as a template for all music across the world.”

Those decades of honing have led to a New Orleans musical tradition that is boundless, running an endless gamut of styles and sounds. When asked to describe what sets the approach to piano apart, Cleary said it’s something that can’t necessarily be put to words.

“The beauty of music is it transcends the limitations of language,” he says. “I suppose one thing is that the piano style is percussive. When you hit a piano key, it can be played in a percussive way. It’s strong when you’re part of the rhythm section, but it’s a chord instrument, too, so you’re dealing with the harmonic structure, the grace notes, the slurred notes. They are carefully played and selected, so it’s also subtle, something that tickles the ear. It’s sparkly. The big thing is that it’s medicine. It makes people feel good.”

Jon Cleary’s Tribute to the New Orleans Piano Tradition

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 31

Jon Cleary takes audiences through the history of New Orleans piano, highlighting icons such as Henry Butler, Dr. John and Allen Toussaint in a pair of intimate solo performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 31. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Tickets are $40. Get first set tickets HERE. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Get second set tickets HERE.  Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

 

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

Aug. 1

Cleary’s lively piano and vocals-driven New Orleans tribute show hits the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 1. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. Get tickets HERE.

 

For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Howard Stone: New Orleans Piano

If you were to ask most jazz fans what instrument most epitomizes New Orleans jazz, the trumpet would most likely be the answer. Actually, it should be the cornet, which Louis Armstrong and other early New Orleans jazzmen initially played, switching to the trumpet later. Another answer might be the trombone, most famously played in the “tailgating” style by Edward “Kid” Ory, who played with Satchmo (Armstrong). So, while it was brass instruments in The Big Easy around the turn of the 20th century that were initially associated with the new sound that became known as jazz, the clarinet also arrived on the scene and played a prominent role in early “Dixieland” jazz. However, by mid-century, it was the piano players of The Crescent City that had birthed a new style of music: rhythm and blues, or as it became known, R & B.

Howard Stone. (above: Jelly Roll Morton).

But I have gotten ahead of my story and must return to the 19th and early 20th century for some important details. At that time, New Orleans was a major port city and as such, received countless immigrants and visitors from places like Cuba, the Caribbean and South America. Many of the new arrivals brought with them their musical traditions and over time, their musical ingredients were added to the jazz recipe, creating a new musical multi-culturalism that furthered the jazz tradition. This is where the piano players of New Orleans took over.

It all started with the legendary Creole piano man Jelly Roll Morton (Ferdinand Joseph Lamothe), who in 1902 at the age of 12, began playing piano in the bordellos of Storyville, the red light district of New Orleans. While Jelly Roll claimed to have invented jazz (something that no one person can take credit for), he did move the music forward by fusing ragtime with the blues and added elements of the habanera from Cuba and the tango from Argentina. His extraordinary talent and new approach to the music elevated the piano to a position where it could vie for attention in a music that had up to then been dominated by brass bands, which even today remain an important part of the New Orleans jazz tradition.

What Jelly Roll set in motion ultimately lead to an approach whereby jazz pianists melded Caribbean and Latin American musical idioms that previously had not been combined with jazz or the blues. Subsequent New Orleans piano players continued this approach. Over the last 100 years, giants like Isidore “Tuts” Washington, Henry Roeland “Professor Longhair” Byrd, Champion Jack Dupree, James Carrol Booker III, Antoine “Fats” Domino, Allen Toussaint, Mac “Dr. John” Rebennack and Henry Butler created a music that can best be described as “New Orleans piano.”

While each of these piano titans had his own unique style, at the heart was a thumping bass line played with the left hand while a rollicking right hand played melodic lines. It is much like boogie-woogie and stride piano, except you can feel the rhythms of the habanera and rumba from Cuba, the Caribbean calypso beats and the hypnotic pulse of the tango from Argentina, all combined with jazz in a captivating way.

As mentioned above, one of the greats of New Orleans piano was Henry Butler. When Henry’s home in New Orleans was destroyed by Katrina in 2005, he took up residence in Colorado and performed on a number of occasions at the Vail Jazz Festival over the ensuing years, the last of which was in 2017. Tragically, Henry passed last year. To pay homage to him and many of the other greats of New Orleans piano, Vail Jazz will present Jon Cleary and his trio in a multi-media tribute to Henry and the other legendary piano men of New Orleans on July 31 at the Sonnenalp Hotel (get tickets here) and Aug. 1 at the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (get tickets here). Jon is a master of all the styles of New Orleans piano and will also share classic videos and tip his hat to some of NOLA’s legendary players.

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival. This summer Vail Jazz is celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season with performances by internationally renowned artists in multiple venues throughout the Vail Valley. In addition, Vail Jazz presents throughout the year jazz educational programs with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge.

7 things to know about Ann Hampton Callaway

Yes, she’s a songwriter, singer, composer, actress and pianist, but there’s more …

Having juggled singing, song writing and acting throughout her storied career, it makes sense that Ann Hampton Callaway would dedicate an album to some of her favorite (well … everyone’s favorite) tunes from classic motion pictures.

Jazz Goes to the Movies, Callaway’s 16th studio album, pays homage to hits like “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca, “The Way You Look Tonight” from Swing Time, “S wonderful” from An American in Paris and “Blue Skies” from The Jazz Singer.

Her live performances often also feature jazz tunes Callaway herself has sung on film soundtracks: “Come Rain or Come Shine” from The Good Shepherd, “The Nearness of You,” from Last Holiday and “Pourquoi,” an original song she wrote for Blind.

As a Theatre World Award and New York Cabaret Award winner, plus a Tony Award nominee, Callaway says the fusion of music and film has “enchanted” her all of her life. In kind, the multi-talented artist has been enchanting audiences for decades with her rich vocal delivery of originals, Great American Songbook classics and theater, film and TV numbers. Having composed and performed hundreds of songs for everyone from Barbra Streisand to Robert De Niro, Callaway returns to Vail on July 24 and 25. She’s bringing “Jazz Goes to the Movies.”

Here are a few things that set Callaway apart from other artists:

1) She views The Great American Songbook as the soundtrack of her life.

“These songs came in a golden age of writers who were writing mostly for Broadway and film. So they were writing for real situations, songs that had to advance the plot of a character in a timely, important, universal situation. I feel like these songs become more beautiful with time. They’ve become to me the things that understand us better than each other sometimes. They give me great comfort and I’ve learned a lot about life through them.”

2) She presents each song like a story.

My musical approach begins with the story and the lyric and where I’m going to be singing it – with a symphony orchestra, in a jazz club, in a foreign country. Usually the feeling I get from a story, from the words, dictate what I do with it. Since we’ve heard so many renditions of the [same] songs by great artists, to me it’s important to help people not take the words for granted and not take the story for granted. When my sister and I were putting our show Boom! together and songs from the 60s and 70s, people were so used to singing along that they didn’t even think about them any more. We had fun finding ways to articulate the lyric in a way that people felt moved by it.”

3) She feels extra inspired when she performs in Vail.

I just love the people. I love how much they love this music. It’s a great community of people who have come to support jazz. The beauty of the mountains inspires my performance, even though it’s harder to sing because of the oxygen situation. I usually take a couple hits of oxygen before I go on stage.”

4) Her personal play list runs the gamut.

“I have a very eclectic record collection. I listen to jazz. I love Brazilian music. I listen to a lot of instrumental music, singer/songwriters, some of the old songs I grew up with – Joni Mitchell, Carole King, James Taylor …. I’m broadening my list all the time.”

5) She always aims to surprise.

“When I perform, I want every song to be something I can’t wait to sing. If I’m going to sing a love song, I want it to be one of the most beautiful, powerful love songs anyone has ever heard. I want it to surprise people a little bit. I want people to feel brand new when they leave a night of music … refreshed and human all over again.”

 6) Being all of the things – songwriter, singer, actress and composer – makes her feel complete.

“I think my dad once told me that if you want to live a happy, fulfilling life the more you can combine all the things you’re good at, the happier you will be. I think that’s what’s been especially rewarding about my career. I’ve been able to interpret music, create music and my philosophical side as a person, my humorous, silly side, the side that wants to enter different personalities … all of these interests lend themselves to a career in music. Singing has been the most natural, but writing is how I think. Acting to me – I was an acting major – it’s been a great part of my foundation as a singer to step into a story of a song and make it come alive. All of these parts of me are important.”

7) She made her surprise feature film debut in Robert De Niro’s The Good Shepherd.

First of all, I didn’t expect to be in the movie. I thought I was just going to be on the soundtrack. Working with Robert de Niro recording the song, he directed me in every take and I did a large amount of takes because he’s so meticulous. We had fun in the green room talking about The Great American Songbook. When I got the call the next day that he wanted me in the movie, I was just beside myself. I loved working on the set with Matt Damon and Angelina Jolie. Robert de Niro insisted I call him ‘Bob.’ He took a special moment to introduce me to the stars.

Ann Hampton Callaway’s “Jazz Goes to the Movies”

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 24

Ann Hampton Callaway returns to Vail to present silver screen song favorites in two intimate shows at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 24. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30 (Get tickets for 5:30 performance here). Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m (Get tickets for 8 p.m. performance here). Tickets at $40. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

 

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

July 25

The “Jazz Goes to the Movies” golden age tunes hit the big stage inside the all-weather Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 25. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat (Get tickets here). Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase.

 

 

Howard Stone: Jazz and The Movies

The 1927 film, The Jazz Singer, was the first feature-length (not a short) “talkie” (a film with synchronized speech, singing, instrumental score and sound effects). While the title suggests that it was about a jazz crooner, the story is about a young man who wants to sing pop music instead of following in his father’s footsteps as a cantor. The film was a great commercial success, which revolutionized entertainment. By the end of the decade, 50 percent of the U.S. populace went to the movies weekly. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s track record when depicting the world of jazz has not been very good, as most films have relied on clichés and commercial themes that have strayed from reality. Periodically though, filmmakers have captured the essence of the music and the musicians. Forest Whitaker‘s portrayal of Charlie Parker in Bird and jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s Oscar-nominated role in ’Round Midnight were thoughtful explorations of the jazz life.

Howard Stone.

In the past few years, two jazz-themed movies – Green Book (2018) and La La Land (2016) have taken home Oscars for Best Picture and in 2014, JK Simmons won an Oscar for his performance as a demonic jazz educator in Whiplash. While winning critical acclaim and box office success, many in the jazz community were less than pleased with these offerings. The most recent jazz film, Bolden, was panned by the critics and failed at the box office as well. On the other hand, there have been some wonderful documentary films about jazz in the last several years. Keep On Keepin’ On, I Called Him Morgan, Chasing Trane and What Happened, Miss Simone? are a few noteworthy offerings.

So, while in recent years some filmmakers have done a better job depicting the world of jazz, it hasn’t been films about jazz (or even jazz soundtracks) that have been that important to the art form. Instead, it has been the music in movies that has had an outsized impact on jazz. A little history is in order. The explosion in popularity of the cinema in the 1920s through the 1950s (when television viewing began to skyrocket and attendance at movie theaters began to decline) coincided with the period when composers and lyricists began writing songs that became known as “The Great American Songbook.” Many of these songs were written for the movies and even when they were first performed on Broadway, found their way into the movies, where the audiences were much larger. It was a time when the likes of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter and Harold Arlen, to name just a few, were writing the songs that jazz performers embraced and have been performing ever since, to the point that these songs are now “jazz standards.”

In 2004, the American Film Institute published its poll of the “100 Greatest Songs In American Movies,” Topping the list was “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz (1939), with “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca (1942) next. On July 24 at the Sonnenalp Hotel (get tickets here) and again on July 25 at the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (get tickets here), Vail Jazz will present the great Ann Hampton Callaway, performing those two jazz classics and many more as she takes the audience on a walk down memory lane in her show entitled “Jazz Goes To The Movies.” I hope to see you all at these shows. As the character Sam (Humphrey Bogart) said in Casablanca … “here’s looking at you, kid.”

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival. This summer Vail Jazz is celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season with performances by internationally renowned artists in multiple venues throughout the Vail Valley. In addition, Vail Jazz presents throughout the year jazz educational programs with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge.

John Pizzarelli Pays Tribute to Nat ‘King’ Cole

The charismatic guitarist turns up his vocal chords to honor one of the 20th Century’s most beloved jazz stars

One of the most memorable compliments John Pizzarelli ever received was, “I don’t really like jazz music, but I like what you do.”

Upon hearing this, the guitarist stopped in his tracks for a moment, wondering how anyone could truly dislike jazz. Then he realized that some people simply don’t understand the vast musical umbrella the genre covers.

“People get so scared by the word ‘jazz,’ says Pizzarelli, who grew up surrounded by music thanks to his famous father, Bucky Pizzarelli. “Some people think you play jazz for yourself and not for people around you. Growing up, jazz for me was sometimes the same group of guys playing the same sort of music. Now you have bebop, swing, Latin jazz … there are so many different variations. It’s really exciting. It’s almost impossible that some variation wouldn’t appeal to every kind of person.”

One particular artist under that vast jazz umbrella has made an especially life-changing impression on Pizzarelli. This is Nat “King” Cole. Pizzarelli’s latest album, For Centennial Reasons, is his third tribute to the legendary musician whose timeless songs landed on the top of the pop charts (“pop” at the time was often synonymous with “jazz”), more than a hundred times during his day and remain among the most recognizable of tunes in The Great American Songbook.

 

In a career that began as a small boy playing with his father 35 years ago, Pizzarelli has long connected with Cole’s tunes. In turn, he has developed a knack for cultivating a solid communication pipeline between himself and every audience.

 

“A lot of artists from my father’s generation would get up on stage and play song after song after song,” Pizzarelli says. “Some guys can rely on their artistry so they don’t have to speak. So afterward you’d say, ‘I didn’t get much about the person, but he can really play the saxophone.’ I like to know why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

With his intricate guitar playing and engaging singing style, there is a unique charisma Pizzarelli brings to the stage that stretches beyond the jazz genre.

“It was around 1983 that I saw Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra in the same venue,” he recalls. “Each guy had a different way of communicating. When Billy told stories between songs, it really added something to the whole experience and when Sinatra sang, there would always be a theatrical aspect. I don’t try to bring that to the show, necessarily, but I keep everybody at ease and let them know what’s going on. I like to keep people informed and entertained.”

Although he is famous for putting his own stamp on Cole’s classics and a slew of others from The Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli is known to sprinkle his style onto pop hits from the likes of Neil Young, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and The Allman Brothers.

“When we get there, we feel it out. I like that,” he says. “We ask ourselves, what record do we want to highlight? Do we want to play more Sinatra? More bossa nova? I could do more Nat Cole. I may play some Ellington. It’s nice to have these problems.”

In the end, Pizzarelli relishes knowing that something in his repertoire will strike some memorable chord with every single member of the audience.

“The best thing about any performance is introducing music to new fans and have people tell you what the music meant to them,” Pizzarelli says.

John Pizzarelli’s 100-Year Salute to Nat “King Cole

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 17

John Pizzarelli along with Mike Karn on double bass and Konrad Paszkudzki on piano deliver a pair of intimate solo performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 17. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30 (get tickets here). Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m (get tickets here). Tickets are $40. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

July 18

The trio’s tribute show amps up for the big stage/multimedia performance in the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 18. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. Get tickets HERE.

For more information,  call 970-479-6146.

 

Preview of the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Festival: Unforgettable

“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” The life of Nathaniel Adams Coles bears witness to these words of wisdom from none other than Albert Einstein. Nat “King” Cole, as he became known, was born into an African-American family in Montgomery, Alabama, 100 years ago this year, and this adage served him well during a lifelong struggle with racism.

Nat’s father was a Baptist minister and his mother led the choir at his father’s church. The family relocated to Chicago when he was 4 years old and during his early years, he played the organ at his father’s church. Nat’s mother taught him to play the piano, providing him with the only formal music training he ever received, and as a teen he would sneak out of the house late at night to listen to jazz at local clubs. By 15, Nat had quit high school, determined to become a jazz pianist. At 17, he joined an all-black touring musical show, but was stranded in Los Angeles when the show folded on the road. True to Einstein’s maxim, in the middle of a difficult situation, he saw opportunity and began playing in local bars, all the while honing his jazz chops. When his reputation began to grow, he was offered the opportunity to organize a quartet (piano, bass, drums and guitar) to play at a more upscale venue.

Howard Stone.

The band worked hard to prepare for the gig, as Nat understood this was the breakout moment he had been waiting for. But it appeared that fate would intervene. On opening night, his drummer failed to show up. This is when Einstein’s direction to find simplicity and harmony out of clutter and discord would save the day, along with the mantra of all great jazz players: when all else fails, improvise. Nat found simplicity and harmony with a drummer-less trio, forging a new way to present swinging jazz. It caught on, but as he put it, “for years the Trio did nothing but play for musicians and other hip people. We practically starved to death.”

He was not yet 21 and with all of his success, Nat was still unknown outside the world of jazz. Money was an issue and he was struggling. However, that was about to change, for as legend tells it, on a fateful night, the trio was playing in a club when a drunk began harassing him and demanding that he sing a specific song. At first, he tried to ignore the man as he didn’t know the tune and singing wasn’t part of his act. When that failed, he decided to try to shut up the drunk by singing “Sweet Lorraine,” a song that he knew. The audience loved his smooth baritone voice and his unique phrasing and enunciation. That night, out of an extremely difficult situation, he once again proved that when opportunity knocks, you need to open the door.

Nat went on to record the song in 1940, which would become his first hit record and started him on the road to success and fame. During the ensuing two-plus decades, he would record hit after hit, including “Unforgettable,” that aptly described him as a remarkably gifted entertainer. He became one of the most famous singers of the era, moving away from jazz to the broader audience of pop, and in the process selling over 50 million records and successfully touring throughout the world. In 1946, he had his own radio program – a first for a black musician – and in 1956, he had his own network TV program, another first for a black musician.

But unfortunately, in mid-20th century America, Einstein’s axiom proved to be no match for the “discord” and “difficulty” of racism and no matter how hard Nat tried to seize the opportunities that potentially existed for him, there were barriers for blacks that he could not break down.

A case in point, in 1948 he purchased a home in an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles and was greeted by a burning cross on his front lawn. The family dog was poisoned and neighbors confronted him and told him that they did not want “undesirables” in the neighborhood. Nat responded, “neither do I. And if I see anybody undesirable coming in here, I’ll be the first to complain.”

His TV show, which was lauded by the critics, only aired for a year because a national sponsor could not be found. As Nat said at the time, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.

At the height of his popularity in 1956, he decided to return to his home state of Alabama and perform in Birmingham. Playing for an all-white audience (audiences were segregated in the South at that time), he was “welcomed home” by four white members of the audience who vaulted onto the stage and attacked him. He survived, but he would never return to the South to perform again.

While racism threatened his very existence, it was Nat’s three-pack-a-day smoking habit that killed him, as he tragically succumbed to lung cancer in 1965 at age 45. And while he died way too young, his musical legacy was renewed for a new generation of fans in 1991, when his daughter, Natalie, recorded a Grammy-winning virtual duet with Nat of “Unforgettable.”

Vail Jazz is extremely pleased to present the John Pizzarelli Trio “For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole” on July 17 at the Sonnenalp Hotel (get tickets here) and July 18 at the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (Get tickets here). These shows will be multi-media presentations combining a live performance by John and his trio with classic video of Nat King Cole performing some of his greatest hits.

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival. This summer Vail Jazz is celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season with performances by internationally renowned artists in multiple venues throughout the Vail Valley. In addition, Vail Jazz presents throughout the year jazz educational programs with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge.

Howard Stone: The DNA of Jazz

Genetic ancestry testing is skyrocketing in popularity with more and more people attempting to learn about their genealogy. Recently there was a story in the news about Korean-American identical twin sisters that had been separated for adoption at birth. Thirty three years later they were reunited after their connection was confirmed, when each had their DNA tested by 23andMe. That doesn’t happen very often, but the connection between relatives is being discovered regularly now and it is a common occurrence to discover the identity of second and third cousins through the testing.

Howard Stone.

In a way, the genealogy of jazz has been undergoing similar testing for years, not by geneticists, but instead by musicologists who have been examining various styles of music, trying to locate jazz’s “musical relatives.” At the heart of jazz, I’ll call it its musical DNA, are three distinctive “genes”: African rhythms; the blending of multiple music traditions, and improvisation. Many musicologists have concluded that the festive and exuberant music known as choro (pronounced SHOH-roh), which began evolving around 1870 in Rio de Janeiro, is one such relative. However, it would be decades later when jazz emerged in New Orleans, but both forms of music would share many similarities since they sprang from the same musical DNA. Both were A), built upon a foundation of Afro-centric rhythms, B), nurtured in a cosmopolitan center where there was a meddling of cultures and multiple European musical influences and C), heavily relied upon improvisation.

Not unlike jazz in the U.S., choro was at first played by unschooled musicians from the underclasses and with its earthy roots, was regarded with contempt by the white and wealthy establishment. However, by the decade of the 1920s, choro was the popular music of Brazil, while at the same time in the U.S., the decade was known as the “Jazz Age.” In essence, each music grew from the same musical DNA, but in different locales at different times. Each reflected the changing societies it inhabited, but grew into something new and different. And just as successive generations of jazz musicians have reinterpreted the so-called “standards” over time, so too, have choro players reinterpreted composition from an earlier time.

As a jazz fan, my first exposure to Brazilian music was the bossa nova, the musical DNA of which is traceable to the Brazilian samba and American jazz. A close examination of the samba shows that its musical DNA is traceable to choro. So if you were constructing a musical family tree for Brazil, choro would be the father of the samba and one of the grandparents of bossa nova, with the other grandparent being American jazz. The great grandparent would be the rhythms of Africa.

While jazz and choro share much in common, there are, of course, many differences as well. One significant difference is the prominent use in choro of acoustic stringed instruments (mostly guitars, mandolins and related instruments), with the Brazilian 7-string acoustic guitar often featured. Brass and reed instruments are also featured, but no piano or drum set. Percussion sounds are played on the pandeiro, a Brazilian tambourine. In jazz, the most common guitar played is a 6-string instrument; however, there are a few jazz guitarists that play a 7-string instrument. The addition of another string allows the guitarist to play a bass line and add depth to the music, but adds complexity that requires a high level of virtuosity if the player is going to master the instrument. In the hands of a passionate and brilliant player, the instrument can be played in a stunning and thrilling manner that defies description. One such player is Yamandu Costa, considered to be one of the greatest Brazilian guitarists of all time. A remarkable interpreter of choro, samba and the music of Brazil, Yamandu will be in Vail performing with his trio Wednesday at the Sonnenalp Hotel (get tickets here) and Thursday at the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (get tickets here). You won’t want to miss this rare opportunity to see and hear one of the finest guitarists in the world play the music of Brazil.

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival. This summer Vail Jazz is celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season with performances by internationally renowned artists in multiple venues throughout the Vail Valley. In addition, Vail Jazz presents throughout the year jazz educational programs with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge.

7 Reasons Why Yamandu Costa Loves His Job

Yamandu Costa embraces the music of his entire continent

Growing up in a musical family in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul near the borders of Argentina and Uruguay, Yamandu Costa took up the guitar when he was only seven years old. By the time he was a teenager, he had developed a deep passion for numerous classical styles of Brazil – bossa nova, samba, choro, etc. – and also for the seven-string version of the instrument popular in his country. He was also influenced by the unique folk genres (ie: tangos, milonga, chacera) of bordering countries and began winning awards for his one-of-a-kind playing style, which is characterized by all 10 fingers moving at such a lightning fast pace that the resulting sound resembles that of 200 strings rather than seven.

To watch him play – his fluttering eyelids and head rolling along to each strain – is evidence enough that he lives to play, but here are a few other reasons why Costa’s musical journey is clearly the one he’s meant to make.

1) He gets to represent his country and leverage Latin musical influence.

“The choice I made to take this path was really worth it,” he says. “Growing my career slowly, calmly, without any exaggerated haste, just letting things happen, I realized that I could be a representative of a music genre from a whole continent, the South American continent. So I’m a Brazilian who tries to get closer and closer to Latin American music from the neighboring countries we have here. Over time, I have seen that it really makes a difference. I carry some of my continent through my musical creation. This artistic responsibility is a very important thing. This is part of a career that intends to be a calm and solid story. When I see that the rewards come in a natural, gradual way, this makes me very happy.”

2) Presenting the music of South America provides listeners with a glimpse into the continent’s cultural melting pot.

“I think Brazilian music, like Cuban music, North American music, gypsy music, like various cultures of the world, [has] in some way the will to represent the people, to represent a certain lifestyle. This influence comes in several ways, in the environment, in the climate, in the cuisine and from human culture. The music of Brazil, the music of Latin America, it represents the people that are very mixed, that are very diversified. I think that’s why there is so much interest in our music. When I say this, I mean this whole side of the world – the Americas – that [has] caused the world to blend more and more. I think that is why this interest is so profound, because the mixture of cultures happened here.”

3) He can carry on his father’s musical legacy.

“The memories I have of the guitar are from when I was very young. My father played the guitar very well. So it’s a natural thing for me to have followed this path and to become interested in this instrument. From an early age, my house was a gathering place for musicians. We have always had a culture of hosting serenades, musical encounters and such. This is something that I carry [on] today within my way of life. It turns out to be something that is always recurrent in my story.”

4) The guitar is his baby.

“The guitar is an instrument that I love deeply … because it is such a portable instrument, because it is an easy instrument to carry around everywhere. It is an instrument that adapts to all cultures, one way or another. Where it’s moving, it’s adapting. The people in each place can take from the guitar their own sounds that represent their own culture.”

5) He introduces his seven-string guitar to fans as if he were introducing a best friend … or a new language.

“One very interesting comment I received some time ago was when a guy came to me after the show and said, ‘look, I really enjoyed getting to know this instrument that you play.’ Somehow, he was making a parenthesis as if I did not play the guitar, as if the guitar was not so important to the music I do, but focused on the content, the final result of the music. I found it interesting to have such a comment, a guy who really liked the way I make music taking much more into account the musical discourse that was presented than the instrument that I play. The way he said, ‘I really enjoyed getting to know the instrument that you play,’ would be my expression through the guitar arriving in the universe of music.”

6) He has the opportunity to make special connections with diverse audiences all over the world.

“This connection with the audience is a very interesting thing. I travel the world and notice, of course, the differences with the audience, the preparation of the audience. This is a very subjective thing. How do you feel you have a good connection to the audience? That depends a lot on the day. Usually there are audiences who are more welcoming, more warm. I think [a connection is made] when you have good energy and when everything is helping – the sound, the acoustics of the room and also the sound engineer.”

7) Every time he performs he feels he’s delivering his best truth.

“What I like the most about performing live is that it’s the moment of truth. It’s a time that puts you in a very delicate situation, a moment that you have to prove yourself and your abilities. At the same time, you have to somehow conquer the audience. You have to have good taste, not exaggerate your performance. The truth of the artist is the moment he presents himself. I have a relationship of total dedication to the stage and I always hope for this to happen in the best way. In Brazil, we say that ‘practice is practice and the game is the game.’ At the moment of performance, everything must be prepared – all the energy that I built up to be able to play for the people. This is the most important moment, a moment of redemption. It is also a moment of balance that is difficult to achieve … a lot of concentration and a lot of relaxation at the same time so that the music can reach and touch the hearts of all people.”

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 10

Yamandu Costa makes his Vail debut, kicking off the 2019 Vail Jazz Club Series at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 10. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Get first set tickets here. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Get second set tickets here. Tickets at $40. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

July 11

The Brazilian guitarist’s performance gets fast and furious for the big stage in the all-weather Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 11. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. Get tickets here.

For more information, call 970-479-6146.