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.

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

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

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

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

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

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vail Jazz Club Series

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

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

July 25 – Tony DeSare

Aug. 1 – Andrea Motis featuring Joel Frahm

Aug. 8 – Nicki Parrott

July 9

Gala Performance

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

Free performances:

Vail Jazz @ The Market

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

Vail Jazz @ The Remedy

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

Vail Jazz @Riverwalk

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

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

 

2018 Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party

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

Go here for tickets.

At Vail, Stellar Jazz Faculty Fosters Exceptional Young Talent (Downbeat Magazine)

By Paul de Barros for DownBeat Magazine, 9/25/17

“It’s something you hear about a lot,” said Georgia-based pianist Clay Eshleman of the Vail Jazz Workshop, standing beside the white tent in Vail Square, where he and the other 11 Vail Jazz All-Stars had delivered a crisp performance to a cheering crowd. “It is so special to be here.”

Indeed. Eshleman joins the ranks of pianist Robert Glasper, saxophonist Grace Kelly and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire as an alumnus of a workshop festival that stands out for its superior musical quality, extraordinary level of intimacy—six instructors for 12 students (a pair of sextets)—and for the way students are generously integrated into performances. Student groups played almost every day this year and also sat in at nightly jams with the likes of guest artists Ken Peplowski and Dick Oatts on reeds and Butch Miles and Jeff Hamilton on drums.

The culmination of a weeklong workshop, the Vail Jazz Party runs over Labor Day Weekend (Aug. 31–Sept. 4). Inspired by Colorado’s intimate Gibson’s jazz gatherings of yore, where artists and audience would mix and mingle, the Jazz Party is part of the area’s summer-long Vail Jazz Festival, produced by founder Howard Stone, the recipient of this year’s DownBeat Jazz Education Achievement Award. Performances took place in the grand ballroom of the Vail Marriott and at the outdoor tent in Vail Square, in the area called Lionshead, surrounded by the gigantic, evergreen- and aspen-painted shoulders of the Rocky Mountains, where ski runs serve as a summer magnet for mountain bikers and hikers.

The stellar faculty—workshop leader John Clayton (bass), Lewis Nash (drums) Terell Stafford (trumpet), Jeff Clayton (alto saxophone), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone) and Bill Cunliffe (piano)—served as the party house band and was abetted by guests that included, among others, the captivating Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg and by a quintet of workshop alums that included the remarkable, 22-year-old pianist James Francies.

Francies (thunderous, fearless, outside-the-lines) and  Peplowski (artful, fleet and dulcet-toned) were often at the center of the party’s many musical highlights, which hewed to the mainstream.

On a Sunday session devoted to Latin and Brazilian rhythms, Peplowski and Australian reedist Adrian Cunningham gamboled through a dazzling clarinet-flute duo by Pixinguinha. It was also a pleasure to watch how Peplowski warmly welcomed young Denver-area reed player Chris Ferrari to one of the late-night jams.

Houston native Francies, a 2012 alum who recently signed with Blue Note, took the crowd’s breath away as his cascades of substitute chords and machine-gun runs illuminated Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia In Times Square.”  Other delights included the outsized organ trio of the diminutive Akiko Tsuruga, powered by Hamilton, who, along with Miles, gave textbook demonstrations in big band drumming as they took turns anchoring Denver’s H2 Big Band in a tribute to Buddy Rich.

The Rich program was accompanied by vivid film excerpts of the drummer, including closeups of his incredible left hand, and concluded with a Q&A in which Hamilton talked about Rich’s extraordinary prowess. This was one of three audience-education programs—others focused on Cole Porter and Mongo Santamaria—that dovetailed nicely with the jazz party’s instructional mission.

It was a privilege to see that mission accomplished in real time. At a debriefing session one morning, Clayton delivered a stirring, no-nonsense sermon to his young charges about how to navigate the jazz life, after which Nash, during a rehearsal of a New Orleans-style medley arranged by Gordon, called out one of the drummers for not giving his all. You can bet that during the performance the next day, everyone on stage was “all in.”

As Clayton said, only semi-facetiously, on stage one afternoon, teachers spent the week putting their “foot on the necks” of the students. It was a grueling workout, and no one seemed to mind.

“Just to hang out all week with these masters gives you an amazing amount of energy,” said drummer Kofi Shepsu, of Richmond, Virginia.

Alexandria, Virginia, trumpeter Geoffrey Gallante, the most musically mature player, agreed that the collective wisdom of the instructors delivered a message of “humility.”

In addition to Gallante, Shepsu, Ferrari and Eshleman, the 2017 class included Seattle bassist Ben Feldman, Brooklyn alto saxophonist Marvin Carter, Israeli-born pianist Ari Chais, New Jersey drummer Peter Glynn, Colorado bassist Anthony Golden, Las Vegas trombonist Zach Guzman Mejia, Brooklyn trumpet James Haddad and Colorado trombonist Sam Keedy.

Make a note of those names. And put the 2018 Vail Jazz Party on your calendar. It’s going to be around a while. A record 3,500 seats were filled this year by the predominantly older crowd, which contributed $87,000 to the festival’s fundraising drive. And don’t be put off by the exclusive-sounding locale. Summer hotel rates are surprisingly low and reasonable restaurants can be found. As student Eshleman said, Vail is a very special occasion. DB

From the 2017 Vail Jazz Party… A fly on the wall

A review of Friday’s performances by Shauna Farnell

The 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Party is off and running, the first two nights of performances thundering forth one barrage of talent and energy after another.

The highlights thus far have twinkled in a blinding array of sparkles too numerous to name.

Among them though, the unblinking, rapt attention of the 12 teenage musical prodigies while watching their mentors – the Vail Jazz Party House Band – perform for the first time, was a spectacle to behold. The teens are mainstays among the packed audiences at the evening and late night Vail Marriott sessions along with majority of nationally acclaimed professional musicians – more than 70 performing throughout the weekend. Many of the artists have been friends for decades and the Vail Jazz Party presents a happy reunion and rare opportunity for musicians to soak up one another’s power when not on stage.

The glow sticks handed out at Adrian Cunningham’s CD Release Party Friday night were a fun touch, as the Australian called upon the audience for a mass color wave at the end of his set, following an amusing lesson in “speaking Australian.” Cunningham’s set featured a lively demonstration of “bluegrass clarinet” in his original tune, “Appalachia,” which was accompanied by some impressive walking bass from the imitable John Clayton as Bill Cunliffe added light flourishes on the piano and Jeff Hamilton kept a steady, lightning fast beat.

Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone brought out a birthday cake for Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg, whose set hypnotized the full crowd with some cleverly shifted lyrics on Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and a powerful rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might as Well Be Spring.” She elicited a round of affirmative (and ironic) laughter from the audience in pointing out that “heartache is a gift for a musician.” Indeed.

The fusion of forces was show-stopping as Akiko Tsuruga, Jeff Hamilton, Graham Dechter and Terell Stafford took the stage, each rolling their combined magic into perfectly timed halts to let one another carry the light via solos.

Friday’s evening session, with set after set of powerhouse artists and world-class musicianship,  is just the beginning of a jam-packed weekend. If you haven’t checked it out yet, get to the Jazz Tent at Vail Square for an afternoon session or to the Vail Marriott . The Party goes all weekend.

To purchase tickets to the Vail Jazz Party click here, call 888.VAIL.JAM, or find us on-site at Vail Square in the afternoons and the Vail Marriott in the evenings.

The Singing and Guitar Playing Miracle

Born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Ark., Sister Rosetta Tharpe (as she became known) was the child of African American cotton pickers. Little is known about her father, but her mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was an extremely important figure in her life. Katie was a congregant of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), a black Pentecostal church, where she sang and preached in services that encouraged rhythmic music and “dancing in praise.” At age 4, Rosetta was celebrated in her community as a music prodigy, singing and playing guitar in church alongside her mother. By age 6, Rosetta was billed as the “Singing and Guitar Playing Miracle” and mother and daughter traveled throughout the South as part of a touring gospel and sermonizing group.

They settled in Chicago in the mid-1920s and performed at the 40th Street COGIC. Rosetta’s extraordinary talent created quite a stir in gospel circles and her fame began to grow. At 19, she married a COGIC preacher and by all accounts the only thing she got out of the marriage, which only lasted a few years, was her husband’s last name, “Thorpe,” which she altered to “Tharpe” and adopted it as her stage name.

In 1938, Katie and Rosetta settled in New York City and that year Rosetta recorded for the first time. The four sides on Decca were smash hits, including “This Train,” which propelled her to instant stardom and a long-term recording contract. Unfortunately, her combination of gospel-inspired lyrics with more profane music infuriated many of her core gospel audience, black churchgoers, who refused to support her as they found the non-gospel material blasphemous and were angered that Rosetta sang gospel lyrics in nightclubs that were “dens of sin.” Her cross-over to the secular side, however, greatly enlarged her overall audience, as many of her new white fans and had never heard black gospel music. She began to play an electric guitar and her playing took on more of a blues influence. Rosetta combined a driving rhythm with guitar licks that had an “attitude” and a commanding visual presence that presaged the guitar antics of rock musicians in the 1950s, while she sang gospel lyrics. She toured with gospel singer Marie Knight during the 1940s and they were billed as “The Saint and The Sinner.” Guess who was the Sinner. She claimed that she was contractually obligated to perform the type of material she was then performing, but the truth was a little more complicated than that. While Rosetta was deeply religious, she was also someone who loved the “swinging feel” of the blues and when performing, her exuberant manner and radiant smile transmitted an aura of heavenly pleasure, whether she was performing sacred or more worldly music.   

She had an extensive performance, recording and touring career well into the late 1960s, with a few ups and downs along the way. In some ways her life was not unlike the struggles described in the bible that she sang about – between good (sacred music) and evil (jazz/blues/R & B) and during most of her career she lurched back and forth between the two musically, and some would say, the same applied to the choices she made with respect to her personal life. She had a second failed marriage and there were rumors that she was bisexual and only married for appearance sake. As a publicity stunt in 1951 she married her third husband who was her manager before 25,000 people who paid to view her wedding at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. and then stayed for the concert that followed.

By the late 1950s her career appeared to be coming to an end, but she was given a reprieve in the 1960s when European audiences began to embrace American blues and she toured extensively on the Continent during that decade.  Suffering a stroke in 1970, Rosetta never fully recovered, performing sporadically until her death at the age of 58 in 1973.

Tragically buried in an unmarked grave, totally forgotten by her fans who had moved on to R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, Rosetta’s legacy appeared to have been buried with her. A black female guitar playing gospel singer didn’t easily fit the narrative of what the mainstream media was focused on in the 1970s.  However, in the 1980s and 1990s when the early rockers such as Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis began to tell the world that they had been greatly influenced by Rosetta, the media took notice. By 1998, the U.S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp in Rosetta’s honor. NPR broadcast several segments honoring her. She was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame. Her biography was written and a documentary film followed.  Thirty five years after her passing, a benefit concert in Rosetta’s memory was organized and funds were raised to place a headstone on her grave.  

Today Rosetta is not forgotten as she is now acknowledged as a pioneer who brought black gospel music to the masses in the 1930s and 1940s and most importantly that she was a women who broke down gender barriers as a guitarist who is now saluted as the “godmother of rock ‘n’ roll,” establishing herself as one of the most influential gospel/blues singers and guitarists of the mid-20th Century.

At 9 a.m. on Sept. 3 at Vail Square in Lionshead, Vail Jazz will once again present Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’. Niki will be joined by a gospel choir and an all-star band and will perform songs by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and other gospel greats in what promises to be an inspiring gospel show.

The art of the jam session

The Vail Jazz Party is a breeding ground for spontaneous and sometimes unlikely musical magic

Howard Stone likens a jazz jam session to a fantastic conversation. Sometimes you fall into a vibrant discussion that surprises you. It not only makes you feel alive with cognitive and creative power, but introduces  ideas and perspectives you’d never heard before. It causes you to walk away feeling inspired, even a better person. Such is the magic of the 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Jazz Party.

The beauty of the Vail Jazz Party is that in addition to the fact that every session features a collection of world-class musicians, each ensemble delivers a one-off spontaneous masterpiece that never be exactly reproduced or repeated.

“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, Vail Jazz founder. “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’s a very creative moment. It takes someone – everyone – to places they’ve never gone before.”

From Friday through Monday, in addition to numerous multi-media performances, the Vail Jazz Party is comprised of morning, afternoon, evening and late-night sessions fusing soloists and band members who, in some cases, have never played together before. Combining individuals is a complex jigsaw puzzle for Stone to solve year after year, placing not only the necessary instruments for a complete ensemble, but matching talent and personalities who likely to sync and, hopefully soar.

“Chemistry is chemistry,” Stone says. “One time I put a jam session together with a guy who’d slept with another’s wife. They wouldn’t look at each other. You have to understand who will make music well, also who will work well from a personality standpoint. You want to put people together who will make a great conversation and will fascinate an audience with the conversation.”

Award-winning drummer and long-time Vail Jazz Party favorite Jeff Hamilton has experienced the magic of Stone’s match-making to the point that the sessions have led to lifelong friendships, tours and recording collaborations. A couple of years ago, Stone persuaded the drummer to share the stage with Japanese-born pianist Akiko Tsuruga. Hamilton was initially reluctant because he didn’t think their styles and approaches would pair well. The two have since performed numerous times and recorded two? Albums together. A similar bond emerged last year between Hamilton clarinet sensation Adrian Cunningham, whom collaborated on Cunningham’s forthcoming record (the release part is Sept. 1 during the Vail Jazz Party).

“In Adrian’s case and Akiko’s, we’ve listened to the same recordings and have the same vocabulary musically. You’ll go into this mode of playing, making everyone sound as incredible as they possibly can,” Hamilton says. “The other thing that happened last year … I was a last minute add-in with Diego Figueiredo. He realized I knew all the material he was going to play and he made a medley. It was like a five-tune medley. Neither of us knew it was going to happen, but the mutual trust … a sixth sense …  we just knew what to do. You feel like you could play forever.”

There is indeed a type of telepathy at work at the Vail Jazz Party. Adrian Cunningham calls it intuition. Of course, there is a lot of background and know-how involved, too.

“The thing about jazz, it uses a language and framework that is pretty universal,” Cunningham says. “Jazz is inclusive, embracing all levels and cultures and I think that’s why it’s so popular around the world. Even if you don’t speak the same language, you can connect musically.”

Whether it’s an American Songbook classic or a rare tune passed down from generations in a distant land, the Vail Jazz sessions deliver numbers with volcanic energy as if each ensemble had played and practiced together for weeks.

“You can wander from there, and the further you wander, the more exciting it is, because if you trust that it’ll work out, it always does,” Cunningham says. “As a musician, that gets so exciting. It’s like, what’s gonna happen? What are these guys gonna do?”

The affect of a successful Vail Jazz session is an epiphany. The Vail Jazz Party, if all goes well, leads to one epiphany after another, not just for the musicians, but for the audiences.

“The combination of all these musicians being in the same place at the same time doesn’t happen very often. Even when these guys are playing at a typical festival, they go on stage, they play, they may hear the next act or the act before them. Then they get on a plane and go someplace else,” Stone says. “Here, there’s this sense of, ‘wow, we’re all together making music.’ They’ve mastered the art of conversation. They know a lot about a lot of topics. It’s nirvana.”

The 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Party

From Aug. 31 to Sept. 4, the Vail Jazz Party features more than 70 musicians delivering special performances, tributes and jam sessions. Tickets to sessions (which include multiple performances) start at $55. Weekend passes are also available. For full lineup of artists, performance schedule and tickets, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

Young musical talent is about to be amplified

Meet members of the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop

Growing up listening to his Caribbean mother’s Calypso music, Marvin Carter knew that music was his calling. The high school senior spends five to six hours a day playing the alto saxophone, and it never feels like a chore.

“It’s a way of life, me playing the saxophone,” says the teenager from Brooklyn, New York, who is one of 12 students selected nationwide from a sea of 150 incredibly qualified applicants for the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop. “I play as much as I can. It’s something I wake up to do.”

Over the last 22 years, the teenage musical prodigies that comprise the Workshop arrive in Vail with resumes more stacked than most adults at the end of their careers. Carter, for example, began playing the sax in fourth grade and performs with the Performance Music Workshop Big Band, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Band, Arturo O’Farrill’s Fat Cat Band, the LaGuardia New Music Ensemble and the Brooklyn College Big Band.

He is himself an instructor to young musicians and has also taught the occasional adult. Before he was 12 years old, Carter began playing in a community band and met a retired police officer whom he began teaching.

“I was fortunate to meet David Coleman when he was working at perfecting his craft,” Carter says. “I helped him out with rhythms. For my 12th birthday he surprised me and gave me my saxophone that I’m using to this day. He’s still pretty much my best friend.”

Friendships certainly abound from the Vail Jazz Workshop, but first and foremost come the skills that the young musicians often don’t realize they possess. The Workshop hones in on intensive play-by-ear training with a team of award-winning musician mentors – John Clayton, who has led the program since its inception 22 years ago, Jeff Clayton, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford and Lewis Nash.

“It’s about balance,” John Clayton says of the Workshop, which has cultivated more than 200 young musicians since its inception, many of whom have gone on to become Grammy winners and successful professional musicians. “The person who can play by ear and read music and understand theory has more choices.”

Chris Ferrari, a tenor sax player in the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop group, is eager to expand the choices of his repertoire. About to start his junior year at Denver School of the Arts, Ferrari has won multiple Downbeat Student Music Awards and was turned onto Vail after watching his friend, 2016 Vail Jazz Workshop alumni Gabe Rupe perform last year.

“Gabe was always one of those people to blow me away. Just seeing the level of talent that came out of the program, I was like, this is no joke. It’s ridiculous to be able to work with John Clayton and all the mentors with such intensity. There is no doubt it will change your outlook and ability as a musician,” Ferrari says.

Ferrari believes that the most important aspect of performing and particularly of improvising on stage is “creating a beautiful story.”

“A lot of times there’s so much vocabulary, patterns and scales … technical aspects to incorporate into our playing, far too often it gets overplayed,” the teen says.

Ferrari anticipates that the Vail Jazz Workshop will serve as a springboard for a flourishing profession of Lincoln Center and Blue Note performances.

“I think it’s always good to dream big. I’ve always had goals of playing on big stages,” he says. “I’ve been able to see people not much older than me doing that. You have to dedicate yourself. If you’re into music and it’s something you want to do, you should be able to share that with the world.”

In addition to Carter and Ferrari, the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop is comprised of bass players Ben Feldman from Seattle and Colorado native Anthony Golden. Drummers include Kofi Shepsu from Richmond, VA and Peter Glynn from Maplewood, NJ. Clay Eshleman from Marietta, GA and Ari Chais from Tel Aviv, Israel are the group’s pianists, Geoffrey Gallante from Alexandria, VA and James Haddad from Brooklyn the trumpeters and Zach Guzman Mejia of Las Vegas and Sam Keedy of Greeley on trombone.

 

“On that first day at the Workshop when we get a feel for their level, through the years, our eyebrows go up higher and higher,” John Clayton says. “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.’”

 

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square Aug. 31

To kick off the 2017 Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party, it’s a triple bill grand finale of Vail Jazz @ Vail Square begins at 6 p.m. on Aug. 31 with the Vail Jazz Workshop All-Stars followed by the Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni Quintet (?). The extravaganza wraps up with the mentors themselves, the star-studded Vail Jazz Party House Band – John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon and Lewis Nash. For tickets, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.