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.

Chief of the Congueros

In 1917, Ramón Santamaría Rodriquez was born into poverty in a slum in Havana, Cuba. Nicknamed “Mongo” (a tribal chief in Senegal) by his father, he began to play the violin but switched to drums at an early age, settling on the conga drum as his primary instrument. As a teen, Mongo Santamaría (as he was known) dropped out of school hoping to become a professional musician and began a long journey that would take him from the slums of Havana to Mexico City and finally, in 1950, to New York City.
Fame, if it happens at all, doesn’t happen overnight. Mongo had to pay his dues.

During the 1950s, he played in the bands of Latin jazz luminaries Perez Prado, Tito Puente and Cal Tjader and in 1958 recorded his first album. The next year he wrote “Afro Blue,” a tune that eventually became a jazz standard.

As an aside, in the 1950s the audience for Latin (Afro-Cuban) jazz was relatively small in the U.S., with the early fans of the music being dancers who wanted to mambo (which has morphed into today’s salsa), a dance craze that swept the U.S. in the 1950s. For many of the dancers it was their first exposure to conga drums and it wasn’t long before conga dance lines were mandatory at weddings and Ricky Ricardo (Desi Arnaz) was on TV as the conga playing husband of Lucille Ball in “I Love Lucy.”

By late 1962, Mongo was 45 years old and was regularly fronting his own band. He had developed a unique sound and phrasing on the congas, but Mongo was still a relatively unknown conguero (conga player). But on a fateful night, his regular piano player couldn’t make a gig in the Bronx and instead a young substitute, Herbie Hancock, sat-in and the band played his new composition, “Watermelon Man.” The small audience went ballistic and Mongo sensed he had a potential hit on his hands, which he quickly recorded and the tune became a top 10 pop hit. The success of “Watermelon Man” placed Mongo in the spotlight for the first time, a position he would occupy for the next 30 years. During that period he recorded seven Grammy® nominated albums, won one, traveled the international jazz festival circuit and became an internationally famous conguero.

One of the distinguishing components of Afro-Cuban jazz, when compared to its American cousin, is best illustrated by comparing the instruments regularly employed by the percussionists in each genre. In the U.S. there is usually one drummer with a drum kit (drums, cymbals and maybe a wood block, cow bell and tambourine). In Cuban jazz there are multiple percussionists, playing not only a drum kit, but also congas, bongos, timbales, clave, guiro, maracas, shekere and many more. Since rhythm is one of the essential ingredients of jazz, whether American or Afro-Cuban, the difference in instrumentation is significant and can be explained by the fact that the slaves in Cuba were allowed to play their tribal instruments, while slaves in the South were generally denied the right to play drums and the American jazz tradition evolved with less emphasis on percussive elements.

So what is a conga drum? Known in Cuba as the tumbadora, it is a tall, narrow, conical barrel shaped drum with an open bottom and a drum head on top. The drum can be traced back to Africa where it was played in religious ceremonies by the ancestors of Cuban slaves. The drum made its way to the U.S. in the 1930s when Cuban dance music first began to be performed in NYC. In fact, the tumbadora is not just one drum, but like so many musical instruments, it comes in many different sizes and therefore different pitches. In the U.S., all of the drums are generically known as “congas,” but among the cognoscenti, each drum has a name. The five most popular sizes (from small to large and therefore higher pitch to lower pitch) are: requinto, quinto, conga, tumba and supertumba. Initially congas were played individually, but today congueros play two or more at the same time, using their fingers and palms (and sometimes their elbows) to create the polyrhythms that are fundamental to Afro-Cuban jazz.

Many jazz greats have gained fame by interpreting the music that came before them in a new and unique way, moving the music in a specific direction. Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk come to mind. And then there are innovators who fuse distinctively different styles of music into something entirely new. Mongo had one foot firmly placed in the musical soil of Cuba (and therefore the music traditions of West Africa) and the other foot was planted in the music of his adopted home, the U.S. Over the last three decades of his life he fused Afro-Cuban music with American jazz, R&B, rock and soul, creating a “Latin groove” that was the beginning of the “boogaloo” era. Always flavored with the sound of his congas playing Afro-Cuban rhythms, his music was something entirely new , a “Latin-soul” sound that has endured ever since. In the process, Mongo popularized the conga drum to the point where it is now played in many different musical genres throughout the world. He truly was Chief of the Congueros.

To celebrate Mongo’s 100th birthday, Vail Jazz joins The Vail Symposium on at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 9 at the Sonnenalp Hotel to present Professor Michael Davison and members of the internationally famous Afro-Cuban band ¡Cubanismo! In a performance and demonstration of the fundamentals of Afro-Cuban jazz. Click here for tickets. At 6 p.m. on Aug. 10, Vail Jazz presents the entire 11-piece power of ¡Cubanismo! in concert in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. Click here for tickets. Lastly, as part of the Labor Day Weekend Jazz Party, Vail Jazz presents the Tommy Igoe Sextet’s Tribute to Mongo and More on Sept. 4. Click here for tickets.

Happy Birthday, Mongo!

Vail Jazz Festival delivering biggest summer lineup in history

Tickets are officially on sale for the 23rd annual Vail Jazz Festival’s summer of sizzling live performances, which includes a broad lineup of international, national and regional acts spanning the gamut from blues and soul to swing, bebop, gypsy jazz, Latin and more.

 

Vail Jazz Club Series
The Vail Jazz Club Series, takes place every Wednesday evening from July 12 to Aug. 9, at its new home, Ludwig’s Terrace at The Sonnenalp Hotel, which hosted the sold-out Vail Jazz Winter Series last winter. The 2017 Vail Jazz Club Series features intimate, lounge-style performances with Vail Square artists, including Henry Butler on July 12, Frank Vignola July 19, Carmen Bradford and Byron Stripling’s tribute to Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong on July 26, Rene Marie on Aug. 2 and Dr. Michael Davison on Aug. 9 for a special lecture-performance on the history of Afro-Cuban jazz. The series will feature two performances on each of these nights, an early seating at 6:30 p.m. and a second seating at 9 p.m. view more…

July 10 Vail Jazz Gala: From Bridge Street to Bourbon Street
The Vail Jazz Gala is the annual fundraiser for Vail Jazz’s educational programs, which include Vail Jazz Goes to School, the Vail Jazz Workshop and Jammin’ Jazz Kids, cultivating more than 1,400 young minds in the art and beauty of jazz music every year. The 2017 Gala is set to blow the doors off with “The Voice of New Orleans,” jazz legend John Boutté, teaming up with Vail Jazz Workshop alumni. Bringing Bridge Street to Bourbon Street, the event begins at 6 p.m. on July 10 at The Sebastian and includes cocktails, hors d’houevres, dinner and a spectacular performance. view more…

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square
The 2017 Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series totals a whopping nine performances this summer – every Thursday evening at 6 p.m. beginning July 6 in the all-weather Vail Square tent in Lionshead. For the first time this summer, there will be assigned seating (selected online), and all-new Premium seating featuring cushioned chairs and more elbow room. Preferred and Premium tickets are available in a discounted four-pack subscription on sale through July 6. General admission seating is first come, first seated, available online as well. view more…

July 6 Marcia Ball
From rollicking roadhouse to bouncing blues to tear-inducing ballads, Marcia Ball hits the keys of her piano with a heartfelt, harmonious slam on every note. The award-winning storyteller from Texas returns to Vail with her alternately steppy and soulful, Louisiana-inspired tunes.

July 13 Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9
If this doesn’t sound like a big deck party, we don’t know what does. The New Orleans theme blows up 10-fold (11-fold, actually) with this electric, brass-heavy collaboration. Pianist and vocalist Henry Butler and trumpeter Steven Bernstein lead an explosive ensemble through sounds of pop, R&B, Caribbean, classical and traditional, fiery, impromptu jazz.

July 20 Frank Vignola’s Hot Club of France Tribute
Six-string phenom Frank Vignola is no stranger to Vail, but this summer he channels the hypnotic mystique of gypsy jazz legend Django Reinhardt. Tapping into the era of Reinhardt’s Hot Club of France, Vignola leads his own international quintet in a smoking hot tribute.

July 27 Ella and Louis Together Again featuring Carmen Bradford and Byron Stripling
Step out of a time machine to take in one of jazz history’s most show-stopping duos. Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong are brought back to life via the magic trumpet and vocals of Byron Stripling and Count Basie Big Band singer Carmen Bradford.

Aug. 3 René Marie and Experiment in Truth
The songwriter and swanky singer brings her seductive, larger-than-life vocals to Vail Square, tapping into flavors of folk, swing, classical and R&B. Whatever the selection of original numbers, the two-time Grammy nominee’s 10-year anniversary rendition of her sixth album, Experiment in Truth, will hypnotize.

Aug. 10 ¡Cubanismo!
The pulse created by this 11-piece ensemble reaches earthquake proportions as you glide through the deep river of Cuban rhythms. With plenty of horns, percussion beats and two vocalists, the lively tour takes you through dance tunes and wild polyrhythms of traditional rumba, cha-cha and classic Cuban “Son.”

Aug. 17 Eliane Elias: Samba Brazil
Combining sultry vocals with enchanting piano, Grammy winner Eliane Elias schools audiences in the art of Samba. Digging into her Brazilian roots, the celebrated composer makes her highly anticipated return to Vail, as is considered one of the top highlights of the 23rd Annual Festival.

Aug. 24 Joey DeFrancesco & The People
If ever there were a way to describe the B-3 organ as “light and infectious,” it would be due to the unique talent of showman Joey DeFrancesco. The prolific, Grammy-nominated musician also belts out some big vocals, toe-tapping trumpet and knows every in and out of bebop.

Aug. 31 Vail Jazz All-Stars, Alumni Quintet and House Band
Kicking off the 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Party and five days of wall-to-wall live music featuring the world’s top names in jazz, this triple bill brings a freshly tuned lineup of 12 teenage rising stars, star alumni and shining jazz stars – deeply established mentor musicians John and Jeff Clayton, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe and Lewis Nash.

Vail Jazz Party Aug. 31 – Sept. 4
The Vail Jazz Festival culminates with its marquee event, the 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. More than 35 nationally and internationally acclaimed headlining artists descend on Vail for nonstop indoor and outdoor performances. Highlights for 2017 include Jeff Clayton’s Tribute to Cannonball Adderly, Jeff Hamilton’ and Butch Miles’ multimedia Tribute to Buddy Rich, Byron Stripling’s multimedia presentation of Cole Porter & The Jazz Connection, Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’ and Adrian Cunningham’s CD Release Party. Tickets are available for individual sessions as well as for the entire multi-day event in the form of Performance and Patron Passes.

FREE SHOWS

Vail Jazz @Riverwalk
Back by popular demand, Alpine Bank and Kaiser Permanente present Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk, expanding this summer to six events. The series brings free live music to the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater in Edwards twice monthly on Friday afternoons beginning June 9 with energetic nine-piece soul rockers, The Burroughs. Vendors include Eat! Drink! of Edwards, serving delectable paninis and salads and rotisserie-themed Revolution, bringing barbeque with international flair. The family-friendly, picnic-style atmosphere continues June 23 with New Orleans flavored Otone Brass Brand, rhythm and blues group Phil Wiggins and George Kilby Jr. on July 7, contemporary jazz saxophonist Nelson Rangell on July 21, the U.S. Air Force Academy Falconaires Big Band Aug. 4 and sizzling salsa 12-piece Quemando on Aug. 18. With arts and crafts activities provided by Alpine Arts Center, entertainment options abound for every age group.

Vail Jazz @ The Market
Follow your ears to more free live music every Sunday beginning June 25 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 home-grown, Colorado talent, the series features longtime favorites like the Max Wagner Quartet (June 25), the Chuck Lamb Quartet (July 30), while also introducing new acts like Los Chicos Malos (July 2) and Joe Smith & the Spicy Pickles (Aug. 20).

Vail Jazz @ The Remedy
The swanky club-scene of The Remedy and Vail valley jazz legends, Tony Gulizia and Brian Loftus (“BLT”) come together every Sunday night at 8 p.m. for Vail Jazz @ The Remedy. Held at the Four Seasons Resort, guest artists join BLT each week for memorable jam sessions beginning on June 25.

Tickets on sale:

All Vail Jazz Festival tickets are on sale now at vailjazz.org. For more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

The 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Festival is generously supported by the Town of Vail, Alpine Bank, The Lion Vail, The Jazz Cruise & Blue Note at Sea, Colorado Mountain Express, Kaiser Permanente, Anheuser-Busch, The Vail Daily, and a variety of Community Sponsors. For a complete list of events sponsors, visit vailjazz.org.

 

2016 Vail Jazz All-Stars CD available for preorder

The pre-order of the 2016 Vail Jazz All-Stars double CD is now available for purchase! CDs will be shipped no later than December 1, 2016.After 10 days of intensive study, the 12 students that are selected every year to participate in the Vail Jazz Workshop are proudly billed as the “Vail Jazz All-Stars.” This double cd features the 2016 Vail Jazz All-Stars, and their performances from Thursday, September 1 – Sunday, September 5 at the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Party.

Listen to a preview of the tracks here!

Pre-order your CD today:

ALTO COMBO

Austin Zhang (alto sax), Joe Giordano (trombone), Zaq Davis (trumpet), Jake Sasfai (piano), Philip Morris (bass), Nick Kepron (drums)

TENOR COMBO

Alex Yuwen (tenor sax), Jasim Perales (trombone), David Sneider (trumpet), Carter Brodkorb (piano), Gabe Rupe (bass), Brian Richburg Jr. (drums)

TRACK LIST INCLUDES:

Shaw ‘Nuff (Dizzy Gillespie)
I Mean You (Thelonious Monk)
How Deep is the Ocean (Irving Berlin)
Stone Age Shuffle (John Clayton)
Driftin’ (Herbie Hancock)
12’s It (Ellis Marsalis)
Hymn to Freedom (Oscar Peterson)
Flee, as a Bird, to Your Mountain/When the Saints Go Marching In (Mary Dana Schindler/traditional)
You Do Something to Me (Cole Porter)
Body and Soul, in the style of John Coltrane (Johnny Green)

It’s time to throw down with the Vail Jazz Party!

Five day music extravaganza features both refined and improvised sets by more than 50 of the world’s greatest jazz artists

Herbie Hancock once famously said that “jazz translates the moment into a sense of inspiration for not only the musicians but for the listeners.” During the five days of live music throughout the Vail Jazz Party, all of the moments become a throbbing cloud of inspiration, palpable to all within earshot.

Spontaneity and improvisation are key ingredients to great jazz, a big part of why the world places jazz artists on the tippy top of the music’s overall talent pool.

In its 22nd year, the Vail Jazz Party exemplifies the skills of its musicians not only through its feature performances but also in grouping them together for a fusion experience that is truly one-of-a-kind, building ensembles that have never before come together and a live set that will never again be repeated.

While these primordial lineups and their consequent off-the-cuff musical masterpieces might look and sound natural to the artists, even the most established and experienced stars at the Vail Jazz Party will attest to the fact that improvising exquisitely is no simple task.

“That’s where I’m really clear that I’m the baby in the bunch,” says singer Niki Haris, leader of the Vail Jazz Party’s Gospel Prayer Meetin’, arguably the most popular performance of the entire weekend. Although the Gospel Prayer Meetin’ doesn’t necessarily fall under the “improvised” umbrella, Haris, like every other star with a feature performance during the weekend party, is once again slated to appear with a changing lineup of artists in a handful of breakout sessions. A long-time back-up vocalist for the likes of Madonna and Anita Baker, Haris is more accustomed to super-produced stadium shows with well-timed lighting and pyrotechnics than on-the-spot improv.

“Because of my history, I know how to put shows together. I know big productions. I know rehearsal. The closest I got to improv was in a church session,” Haris says. “You let the spirit move you – yours and the audiences – on what song you would choose. I’m not a pro at that. That’s where I tip my hat to those amazing musicians.”

Haris has managed to make a convincing case of improvising over the years at the Vail Jazz Party, largely because her expression, as she herself describes it, is “honest.” Like other artists at the jazz party, Haris is not only a jazz singer, but also wanders into the realms of gospel, soul, rock, pop, R&B, funk and just about every other genre you can put a label on. Regardless of the category, when she performs in Vail, particularly at the Gospel Prayer Meetin,’ her mission is to convey one thing  … “good news.”

“When I sing, I’m as honest as I can be, so it doesn’t come just from a place to sing a bunch of songs but to delve into where I want to be in the world,” she says. “For those 90 minutes, I want to create a more loving, compassionate and peaceful world, bringing the good news –  the gospel – to many different faiths. That’s the fun part of Vail. I know I have Christians there and people who probably don’t go to church. But it’s palpable, the energetic change that happens. People are reaching out hugging each other. I see tears, people hand-holding. Then to play in the square, with all of these mountains around, that’s the most beautiful thing.”

Audience members at Vail Jazz Party performances have referred to performances as gifts.

“I’m so glad I’m the one who gets to deliver the gift,” Haris says.

Step into a session

The Vail Jazz Party is designed to impart an armful of gifts all in one long block of back-to-back deliverables. When you buy a ticket to the party, it lands you three to five hours of music during a particular time slot Friday throughMonday.

Evening sessions

The evening sessions are reminiscent of a traditional indoor stage performance in which the crowd collects in theater-style seats around a large stage with superb acoustics, in this case, in the Grand Ballroom at the Vail Marriott. As with all of the sessions, a selection of artists – the king or queen of his or her given instrument – are teamed up to kick off the session with one musician selected as leader of the set. Niki Haris gets an early crack as head honcho duringFriday’s first evening session. Each evening session also offers one if not two special performances, including a group of contemporary jazz stars paying homage to a musical legend as inspiring footage of the legend takes over the backdrop. The lineup includes supersonic bassist John Clayton paying homage to another master of four strings, Milt Hinton, a tribute to the Texas Tenors starring saxophonist Joel Frahm, Byron Stripling playing his heart out in tribute to the blues and Terell Stafford’s Brotherlee Love, a tribute to iconic trumpeter Lee Morgan. In true jazz club tradition, each evening finishes with a Late Night Jam Session, included with the evening ticket, in which a powerhouse ensemble of seven to eight musicians who have never played together are teamed up improv-style in the intimate setting of First Chair Café in the Vail Marriott. The unplanned music flows like liquid ear candy from around7 p.m. to well after midnight.

Afternoon sessions

With the Rocky Mountains and blue sky as a backdrop, from 11:30 a.m. to early evening Saturday through Monday, the live soundtrack ranges from enchanting instrumental quintets to high-energy piano duos to small orchestra-sized teams of soloists. You name the instrument and one of the world’s leading masters is on the stage playing it – drums, bass, guitar, piano, trombone, clarinet, trumpet, flute, bass … The sets fuse two to 10 musicians at a time, each one bringing his or her own thick stack of accomplishments, many of them GRAMMY and Downbeat Music awards. Highlights include the Vail Jazz All-Stars free performances on Saturday and Sunday, Piano Duos in which six pianists rotate through a dueling set on the keys and an all-in, blowout set on Monday with a ten-piece horn section. The nonstop strains of hypnotizing harmonies originate from the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead’s Vail Square.

All told, the Vail Jazz Party amounts to a five-day explosion of world-class live music, refined feature performances and unpredictable combinations all in rapid succession. The one predictable factor is that like any good party, it’s bound to bring a bounty of delightful surprises. Bill Cunliffe, multi-GRAMMY award-winning pianist of the Vail Jazz Party House Band sums up the experience like this:

“It merges musicians presenting their own original material but also thrown together in unexpected ways to see what happens,” he says. “You get a whole difference sense of what the musicians can do.”

For tickets and detailed Vail Jazz Party schedule, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Vail Jazz launches Vail Jazz Party with Thursday triple bill at Vail Square

“There is no better audience than the Vail audience. You can hear a pin drop, they are listening so intently.” -Workshop piano instructor Bill Cunliffe

The musical experience in Lionshead on Thursday is as full-circle as it gets. The triple bill serves as the grand finale of the summer’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series but is also the mighty kickoff of The 22nd annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. It begins with 12 of the country’s top teenage jazz musicians, freshly minted “Vail Jazz All-Stars” having just graduated from a workshop with six of the world’s most respected and established jazz pros. A selection of Workshop alumni, now professional artists themselves, take the stage after the teenagers. The ultimate culmination of talent wraps up the evening with a performance by the mentors themselves, the Vail Jazz Party House Band.

“There is a healthy understanding of the importance of giving back, moving things forward and investing in the future,” says John Clayton, leader of the Vail Jazz Party House Band and Workshop. “The Vail Jazz Party has committed to simultaneously presenting first-class performances as well as being responsible for a high level of jazz education.”

Besides helping launch the inaugural Vail Jazz Party 22 years ago and the educational workshop a year later, Clayton’s repertoire of positive impact and star-mingling spans decades. Like the 250-plus students he has mentored in Vail (and thousands of others across the globe), Clayton tapped into his musical talent as a small child. By the time he was 16, he was playing bass at UCLA in a class taught by Ray Brown. In the 1970s, he joined the Monty Alexander Trio, then the Count Basie Orchestra before crossing the Atlantic to settle into a decade in Amsterdam as principal bassist for the Amsterdam Philharmonic Orchestra and instructor at Holland’s Royal Conservatory. He returned to California to juggle a number of successful touring ensembles, educational workshops and jazz festivals as well as arranging, conducting, performing and recording with a long list of big name artists. It was Clayton who arranged Whitney Houston’s rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” at the 1990 Super Bowl. He has collaborated with Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and Whitney Houston. He won a GRAMMY for Instrumental Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist for Queen Latifah’s “I’m Gonna Live Til I Die” and seven additional nominations.

Regardless of which hat he’s wearing – be it composer, arranger, mentor, or performer – Clayton claims that the most rewarding interactions he has are the variety that confirm a powerful connection is made.

“When an audience member lets me know that my music touched them, made them feel great or made them cry, it makes me feel like I was successful in sharing my expression,” he says.
But Clayton’s certainly not the only member of the Vail Jazz Party House band who’s been places. New to the Vail Jazz Party House Band as of last year, saxophonist Dick Oatts has performed and recorded with an amazing array of stars, including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn and Mel Tormé. He is a former faculty member at the Manhattan School of Music and a professor alongside trumpeter Terell Stafford at Temple University.

Stafford is Director of Jazz Studies at Temple University in Philadelphia and leads his own quintet, which will perform this weekend in Vail. He’s performed and recorded with many GRAMMY winning artists, including Diana Krall, Bobby Watson and Herbie Mann.

A Vail Jazz Workshop mentor for many years, Stafford views the triple bill Vail Jazz Party kickoff performance as “a big reunion” and says that there is something unquestionably validating about such a “family affair.”

“One particular year, the parents of a student came up to me and let me know their son had a rough year and that the Vail Workshop was the highlight of his year. You always hear growing up that music is powerful and healing, not just from a listening standpoint, but from a mentoring one,” Stafford says.

Wycliffe Gordon, who has won Downbeat Magazine’s Critic’s Choice award for Best Trombone numerous times and has performed with the likes of Wynston Marsalis, Dizzy Gillespie and Tommy Flanagan describes the triple bill experience as “playing it forward.”

“It’s a great opportunity for us to meet the next bandleaders, composers, arrangers and conductors,” he says.

Not only are the students and musicians focused on the energy afoot when the Vail Jazz circle of past, present and future comes together, but the audience is completely enraptured.

“There is no better audience than the Vail audience. You can hear a pin drop, they are listening so intently,” says GRAMMY-winning composer and pianist Bill Cunliffe, who is a Professor of Music at California State University Fullerton and has shared the stage with Frank Sinatra, James Moody and Freddie Hubbard.

Lewis Nash, the most recorded jazz drummer of all time, has performed and recorded with everyone from Clark Terry to George Michael, Hank Jones to Bette Midler. He says he was once approached by a Vail fan who told him, “I never liked drum solos before hearing you play.”

So again, the fire of talent burns in a complete ring, heated up by the 12-piece ensemble of teenage protégés – the Vail Jazz All-Stars, comprised of pianists Carter Brodkorb and Jake Sasfai, trumpeters Zaq Davis and David Sneider, bassists Philip Norris and Gabe Rupe, saxophonists Alex Yuwen and Austin Zhang, trombonists Joseph Giordano and Jasim Perales and drummers Nick Kepron and Brian Richburg. The Vail Jazz Alumni Quintet then ramps up the flames, featuring pianist Adam Bravo, bassist Russell Hall, drummer Lucianna Padmore, trumpeter Benny Benack III and saxophonist Braxton Cook. The fire reaches inferno proportions as Clayton, Stafford, Cunliffe, Oatts, Nash and Gordon take the stage as the Vail Jazz Party House Band.


Catch the triple bill of the past, present and future, featuring the Vail Jazz All-Stars, Alumni Quintet and House Band at Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8 p.m. Sept. 1 inside the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. General admission tickets are sold out but premium seating is $40 in advance. The All-Stars also perform FREE sets at Vail Square at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.