Gypsy Jazz – Necessity is the Mother of Invention

We all know the famous proverb: necessity is the mother of invention. This is the story of how true that maxim is. We begin in Belgium in 1910 when Jean “Django” Reinhardt was born into a family of itinerant Romani (Gypsy) musicians that lived in poverty, moving their caravans back and forth between Belgium and France. Gypsies (a pejorative term that was based upon the false notion that the Romani people came from Egypt) have been viewed as outsiders in Western Europe for centuries and Django and his family were clearly outcasts.  His father and seven uncles were all musicians who eked out a living playing music. Django (“I awake” in Romani) was taught to play the violin by his father when he was 7. At 12 he was given a banjo-guitar – a banjo with six strings like a guitar, instead of four strings like a banjo. He quickly taught himself how to play it and he and his brother became buskers working the streets of Paris.  Django appeared to be a savant, capable of learning music just by hearing it once, and it was clear that he was a virtuoso on his instrument. He began to play with adults who were often intimated by the child prodigy’s musical prowess. As a teen he was exposed to jazz and began to incorporate it into his music. At 15, he switched from street musician to earning a living by playing music in the dance halls of Paris, where he performed a style of music known as musette, a combination of French folk music, polka, waltz and jazz. Hearing a recording by Louis Armstrong during this period, it had a transformative influence on him and he began to focus on playing jazz.

Married (common law) at 17, he never received a formal education. It is doubtful that he ever learned to read, books or music, although in his late 1920s he did learn to write. He played with many dance bands until he was 18, moving from band to band, while making several recordings as a member of various groups. His reputation began to grow among the musicians he played with and then beyond, and on a fateful night in late October 1928 Englishman Jack Hylton, the leader of Europe’s most well-known jazz band, traveled to France to hear Django play and offered him a job.

Django accepted the offer but within days tragedy struck when he was severely burned by a fire in his caravan. His injuries were extensive, over half of his body (the right side of his body and left hand) sustained first and second degrees burns. The doctors discussed amputating his right leg as it was paralyzed and advised him that he would never play again because his left hand was burned beyond repair. He refused to accept their prognosis, left the hospital and took up residence in a nursing home, beginning an 18-month long rehab. He ultimately regained his full mobility, but was scarred for life. Unfortunately, the two small fingers on his left hand were paralyzed and he never recovered the full use of them.

At the start of his convalescence his brother brought him a guitar and encouraged him to learn to play it. The neck of the guitar was bigger than on his banjo-guitar and with the limited use of his left hand he was not able to hold the neck of the guitar and press the strings down on the fretboard. He practiced relentlessly and in the process developed a unique way of fingering the fretboard. Not able to use all the fingers on his left to play chords in a horizontal manner, he fashioned new chords using his contorted figures where possible, while rapidly moving his two good fingers up and down the neck of the guitar forming chords in more of a vertical way, inventing a truly unique technique. A less talented musician would have given up but Django was determined to overcome his handicap and he began to play professionally again. If he had stopped there, this would be a wonderful story of inventiveness and perseverance in the face of adversity, but Django didn’t stop there.

Fortuitously, he played in an impromptu jam session with Stéphane Grappelli, a French-Italian violinist, and that encounter led him to synthesize the music of his Gypsy heritage with jazz to create a ground breaking sound that would have world-wide impact, making him the most important European jazz musician ever and a guitarist who would influence successive generations of guitar greats. By combining three guitars with a violin and bass, at a time when American jazz was dominated by the sounds of piano, drums and horns, he created what became known as Gypsy Jazz (Jazz Marouche). He and Grappelli formed a band, “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” and they both became internationally famous musicians.

Tragically, Django died of a brain hemorrhage at 43 in 1953, but his legacy lives on as Gypsy Jazz is played throughout the world with jazz festivals dedicated to Django and his music held annually in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Scandinavia, South Africa, the UK, the U.S. and of course, Belgium and France.  

Vail Jazz celebrates the musical legacy of Django on July 19 at 6:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. at the Sonnenalp Hotel and on July 20 at 6 p.m. in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead when it presents the Hot Club of France Tribute Band lead by French virtuoso accordionist Julien Labro. The music will be exuberant and played in a flamboyant manner, sizzling, infectious, and swinging, just as Django performed it 80 years ago.   

Hot Club of France Tribute heats up Vail

French-born accordionist channels the high energy of the Django Reinhardt tradition

It’s hard to say what resurrects the popularity of certain musical styles, but for whatever reason, the nearly 90-year- old Hot Club of France sound has become hotter than ever in 2017. Just ask French-born musician Julien Labro, who will lead the Hot Club of France Tribute Band that swings into Vail this week.

“Over the past 15 years or so, the Hot Club style has had some sort of resurgence, especially in North America,” says Labro, who’s won numerous international awards for his arrangements and compositions, has collaborated with everyone from Grammy winning pianist Fernando Otero to American jazz guitar icon Bucky Pizzarelli and has released 10 of his own studio albums.

Historically, the Hot Club de France was founded in 1930 by a group of student jazz enthusiasts who essentially put jazz music on the map in France and gave rise to international icon Django Reinhardt.

Labro believes the re-launched mainstream status of the Hot Club sound, particularly in the U.S., is likely due to its current use in numerous film and T.V. series soundtracks and commercials.

“Its acoustic instrumentation, European flavor and rhythmic drive make it very recognizable,” Labro says. “The strong presence of guitar pyrotechnics is compelling and can sometimes hint [at] ‘Americana’ with bluegrass, folk, and country-ish elements. The tunes are usually [played] at neck-breaking tempos – showy and virtuosic, which make for a very exciting performance. Of course, since it's part of our culture, I heard this type of music, but it’s not until I came to America that I really dug into it.”

Guitarist and Vail Jazz favorite Frank Vignola put the Hot Club of France Tribute band together, featuring his six-string partner in crime Vinny Raniolo and bassist Gary Mazzaroppi, who together with Vignola performed for a number of years with guitar legend Les Paul.

“Through his touring, Frank crosses paths with a lot of different musicians and he’s always up for playing and sharing the stage,” Labro says. “This is how he recruited guitarist Olli Soikkeli, violinist Jason Anick and myself on accordion to complete the rest of this tribute band.”

Recovering from a car accident this spring, Vignola will sadly not accompany his Hot Club of France Tribute on its tour through Vail. Labro will take the reins as bandleader.

As for Labro’s part, he has been playing the accordion since he was a small boy. He explains how the instrument’s allure instantly drew him in like a tractor beam.

“I grew up in France where the accordion is very much present in the culture and musical landscape. At age 9, I saw a TV program that featured an accordion player backing up a singer. I was really mesmerized at the sights and sounds of the instrument … all the shining buttons reflecting the light and the swaying back and forth of the bellows. I immediately wanted to get my hands on one to simulate what I saw,” he recalls.

Labro’s parents found their son a teacher who helped launch the young artist into what he refers to as his “life’s calling.”

He explains how the accordion etched its role in France in the 1920s and 30s as the centerpiece of the ‘Musette’ sound, in which it served as the centerpiece of a tune as the guitar, bass, drums and banjo carried the rhythm. According to Labro, the genre was most popular with blue-collar crowds in Parisian bars and dance halls. Then, Django Reinhardt entered the mix.

“Django Reinhardt, looking for work at the time, quickly became the favorite of the accordion bandleaders. His incredible abilities and formidable ear and technique allowed him to match the tricky accordion riffs,” Labro explains, adding that after Reinhardt and violinist Stéphane Grappelli were discovered by the Hot Club of France, they formed their famous quintet.

“While the quintet did not have an accordion in its instrumentation, you can clearly hear Django’s musical vocabulary influenced by his early years playing with accordion players,” Labro says.

The Hot Club of France Tribute quintet presents a retrospective of Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grappelli’s music as well as jazz standards in Hot Club style during two intimate club performances on Wednesday in Vail and then in energetic, breakneck fashion in Vail Square in Lionshead on Thursday.

Vail Jazz Hot Club of France Tribute performances

Wednesday, July 19

The Hot Club of France Tribute brings its intricate, intimate ballads to Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp Hotel. The first show begins at 6:30 p.m. (doors at 6 p.m.) and the second show begins at 9 p.m. (doors at 8:30 p.m.). Tickets are $40. Drink and dinner service are available for purchase.

Thursday, July 20

The Hot Club of France Tribute ramps up to the Django Reinhardt tradition of high- speed rhythms for an energetic performance for Vail Jazz @Vail Square at 6 p.m. General admission tickets are $25, preferred seats $40 and premium seats $50. Presented by The Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea, Vail Jazz @ Vail Square takes place every Thursday evening through Aug. 24 in the all-weather Jazz Tent in The Arrabelle courtyard in Lionshead. Drinks are available for purchase.

For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org/tickets or call 888-VAIL- JAM.

$10 Jass and Technology

The world of jazz is in a very festive mood as it celebrates a seminal year in the history of jazz: 1917. Four of the greatest masters of the art form were born that year – Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Buddy Rich.  It was also the year that the Original Dixieland Jass Band (ODJB) recorded what is generally considered to be the first jazz recording. “Livery Stable Blues” was the hit side of the record (you remember records, you actually turned them over to hear the music that was on the other side) and on the “flip” side was “Dixieland Jass Band One-Step.” The record became an instantaneous hit and sold over one million copies, setting off a craze for jazz that ushered in the Jazz Age (the 1920s).

Recording of music on cylinders was well established in the 1880s, so why was jazz not recorded before then? Because there wasn’t any jazz to record.  While musicologists like to debate when jazz was first performed and by whom, it should be understood that even the use of the term “jazz” to describe the music was not generally agreed upon until the early 1920s, when jazz became the preferred spelling.

Whatever the origins of its name, it is clear that for at least a decade prior to the recording, jazz was evolving, but it can’t be pinpointed with accuracy when the music was first performed. This is for a number of reasons, the most important of which is that jazz is an art form that has evolved (and continues to evolve) from a combination of musical traditions and there is no one point at which all the ingredients were first fused together in a “jazzy way.”  Some of the most important ingredients include: the music of the brass and marching bands from the post-civil war era; ragtime and boogie woogie music from the late 19th century; and the blues. So when were these and other musical traditions joined together to produce jazz? No one can be sure.

Today anyone can make a recording, and of course, music is easily notated and preserved in writing. In the early 20th Century, the recording industry was concentrated in NYC and jazz was centered in New Orleans and the South, although it had begun to spread to several other urban areas. The musicians were not conservatory trained and most couldn’t read music. The widespread availability of the radio was still more than five years away and the first talkie movie was over a decade away, so the best technology of the day was a two-sided disc that when turned at 78 rotations per minute (rpm), could spread jazz throughout the globe.  

But it took the ODJB, composed of five white men traveling from New Orleans to NYC, to light the fuse that set off the jazz explosion. It should be remembered that jazz was performed for dancing and therefore jazz bands were dance bands. While the ODJB claimed to be the “creators of jazz,” it is clear that jazz was generally created by blacks and creoles in New Orleans. For many jazz historians it is a sad fact that blacks weren’t the first to record a jazz record and that the band that did had copied the music of successful black musicians in New Orleans. There was of course no one creator of the music.  The fact is that early jazz greats such as Buddy Bolden and King Oliver stayed in New Orleans and were just some of the “chefs de cuisine” that prepared the musical gumbo that became jazz, along with many others, known and unknown, that added to the jazz recipe.  

The quality of the playing on the record, with its limited improvisation and its repetitive choruses, was not the best example of jazz at the time and there was a corny aspect to the music with instruments imitating the sounds of barnyard animals, but the record displayed a lively danceable beat and the importance of the record cannot be denied. In essence, the technology of sound recording gave a large number of Americans, who had never heard jazz, their first chance to hear the music and allowed for the rapid dissemination of a regional sound, which was then embraced in the four corners of the U.S. and then globally.

The famous bandleader Paul Whiteman explained it best: “One moment jazz was unknown, a low noise in a low dive. The next, it became a serious pastime of a hundred million people, the diversion of princes and millionaires.”

The ODJB was the first band to use “Dixieland” as part of its name. While there is no doubt “Dixieland” was regularly used to describe the Southern states that seceded from the Union, the origin of Dixie as the descriptor of the South is clouded in mystery. The most accepted explanation is that “Dixie” is the corruption of the French word for 10, “dix,” and when banks in the French Quarter of New Orleans (and ultimately in the surrounding areas) first issued their own $10 bank notes with Dix on the reverse side, English-speaking southerners starting calling the bills “Dixies.” Eventually all of the South became known as Dixieland. The fact that the ODJB adopted this name also created another first, the music of New Orleans became known as Dixieland Jass and finally Dixieland Jazz.

Vail Jazz will celebrate the rich history of the music of New Orleans on July 12 at 6:30 pm and 9 p.m. when it presents the legendary Henry Butler, New Orleans blues vocalist and pianist at the Sonnenalp Hotel. In addition, Vail Jazz will present Butler, Bernstein and the Hot 9 in concert on July 13 at 6 p.m. in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. You won’t want to miss that authentic ‘Nawlins vibe.

The sounds of New Orleans soar through Vail this week

In addition to tonight’s Vail Jazz Gala starring singer John Boutté, iconic pianist/vocalist Henry Butler throws down sizzling solo club shows Wednesday, then Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 light up Vail Square Thursday

Henry Butler compares his audience connection to making love. For the 67-year-old blind pianist, connections are all about communicating without words.

“The thing that I really like about performing, regardless of what kind of performance it is, is those energies going back and forth all the time,” he says. “It’s the same energy involved in loving somebody, the same energy involved in love making. It just manifests differently.”

Growing up in New Orleans, La., Henry Butler has been playing music since he was a small boy. Blinded by glaucoma in his infancy, his studies began at Louisiana State School for the Blind and continued at Southern University in Baton Rouge and Michigan State University. Since then, he’s recorded 12 full-length albums, performed in every large festival throughout the country and toured the world many times. He’s come to be regarded as one of the great pianists and vocalists of the ages, revered in both his hometown of New Orleans and his new town of New York City. But Butler says the learning never stops.

When asked what have been some of the more memorable compliments he’s been paid over the years, Butler says, “I’ve gotten all kinds of positive comments and I let people know I appreciate their sentiments. But I always say to myself, ‘hopefully the next time you hear me, I’ll be better.’”

He typically practices twice a day in his small apartment in Brooklyn.

“Part of it is an exercise regime, but that’s the base part. Within the exercise, you decide you have an idea of what you want to accomplish. That concept could be negotiating certain types of harmonic progressions. It could be working on a certain technical thing, or work on scales. It could be on working on proficiency,” he says. “Living in a place like New York, you have to portion your time. Once you get to a place where you know yourself pretty well, you can get a lot done in an hour or an hour and a half.”

Butler’s home was one of the many destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. He lost nearly all of his possessions, including his most treasured piano. Following the disaster, he relocated to Colorado and then New York, but has yet to feel settled.

“I don’t know that I’ve completely gotten over Katrina,” he says. “I just haven’t felt home since. I haven’t felt I lived in a community that felt like home since Katrina. I may go back to New Orleans or I may go to California. I could live anywhere at this point. I might come back to Colorado… but it got a little quiet for me. I needed to hear a few more sirens.”

Bellowing out vocal notes that sound almost operatic against his racketing piano, Butler is a force in and of himself. Still, he has shared the stage and recording studio with everyone from Jeff Golub to Cyndi Lauper, James Carter to B.B. King. His latest collaboration has him fusing cosmic musical powers with famed trumpeter Steven Bernstein & The Hot 9, a boisterous crew including a six-piece horn section: Curtis Fowlkes, Doug Wieselman, Peter Apfelbaum and Eric Lawrence, as well as guitarist Matt Munisteri, bassist Brandi Disterheft, violinist Sam Bardfeld and drummer Donald Edwards.

The result is a hypnotic explosion of  delightful harmony and improvisation, each musician taking turns to launch ahead of the rhythm, catapulting it with fiery solos as the entire band will occasionally pause in awe of Butler’s escalating individual masterpieces, which wander a gamut of emotions from melancholy to ecstasy.

“Every time I go out and sit on stage in front of an audience my goal is to inspire, to uplift, to encourage, to inform. If in some way we can heal a little bit together, that’s great,” Butler says. “The audience usually lets you know if you’re on the way to achieving any of that.”

The message Butler gets from his audience transcends words or applause or anything that can be measured.

“It happens all the time in what we call nanoseconds, when the audience energy comes back to me,” Butler says. “I get more inspired. I realize more ideas to share. As that stuff goes back to the audience, the audience perhaps moves to a different place of different understanding. Maybe it lifts them a little bit.”

To Butler, this type of communication is the deepest type of human connection.

“I’ll tell you what it’s like,” he says. “You’re in a relationship and you’re sitting with that partner and you feel what you’re thinking is something special. And maybe even before the partner says anything, before you utter anything to the partner, before either one of you pronounces love, you’re feeling what you think is love. Wherever an audience is after receiving the music and receiving more and more music, they send that back to me. You feel it. I’m always feeling it.”

Vail Jazz performances

Wednesday, July 12

Henry Butler kicks off the summer’s Vail Jazz Club Series with his rich solo performances at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp Hotel. The first show begins at 6:30 p.m. (doors at 6 p.m.) and the second show begins at 9 p.m.(doors at 8:30 p.m.). Tickets are $40. Drink and dinner service are available for purchase.

Thursday, July 12

Butler, Bernstein & The Hot 9 bring their bouncing, New Orleans-inspired glee symphony to Vail Jazz @Vail Square at 6 p.m. General admission tickets are $25, preferred seats $40 and premium seats $50. Presented by The Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea, Vail Jazz @ Vail Square takes place every Thursday evening throughAug. 24 in the all-weather Jazz Tent in The Arrabelle courtyard in Lionshead. Drinks are available for purchase.

 

Plan for more fireworks of the auditory variety when Marcia Ball returns to Vail this Thursday

The ‘saucy’ southerner discusses ‘two-fisted’ piano, eavesdropping and being the ‘fun’ influence on her grandchildren

Besides playing some of the most romping, two-fisted piano around, Marcia Ball also puts on a poppin’ summer camp. She calls it “Camp Granny” and the lucky campers are her 9- and 4-year-old grandsons.

It’s a hot day at home in Austin, TX and Camp Granny is in session, as evidenced by the boisterous piano notes in the background during a phone interview with Ball.

“He likes to pick things up by ear,” explains the five-time Grammy nominee about 9-year-old grandson, Lincoln. “He takes piano lessons from a real teacher but I’m showing him the left hand.”

Chances are, the kids possess a solid genetic predisposition for piano prowess.

And, by the way, “two-fisted,” is a slight misnomer when it’s used to describe Ball’s style.

“That phrase was coined a while back in reference to Katie Webster, a great piano player from Lake Charles, Louisiana – 20 miles from where I’m from. She’s got an album called Two-Fisted Mama! It means playing the piano by banging on it. I’m always ready to rumble, but mostly I use my fingers,” Ball says.

The 68-year-old then pauses a minute to review some other terms that have frequently been used to describe the style and image she’s etched over her musical career that’s spanned nearly five decades. Another descriptor that’s come up continuously is “saucy.”

“Saucy to me implies ‘with attitude, a bit of an edge, a bit of sassiness. It’s someone with a sassy attitude,” she says. “…That’s fairly accurate.”

Ball’s sauciness has been embraced and heralded by every audience she’s encountered in her decorated career, over which she has recorded 17 albums, made feature performances in every massive jazz and blues festival countrywide (including Monterey Jazz Festival, Chicago Blues Festival, Austin City Limits and of course, many years at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festivals), landed 10 Blues Music Awards, eight Living Blues Awards and inductions into both the Gulf Coast and Louisiana Music Hall of Fame. Just this spring she was deemed the 2018 Texas State Musician.

Ball is humble about her accomplishments, however. Getting back to Camp Granny, she takes zero credit for her grandchildren’s burgeoning musical abilities.

“It’s none of my doing, I assure you,” she says. “The older one is working on playing music right now and is autodidactic. He’s developed an interest in classical music and he’ll ask about a piece or hum me a piece and I’ll figure out what it is. I asked if he wanted to try piano lessons and he did.”
Ball, as it turns out, had no designs on being the kid’s teacher.

“Somebody else needs to teach your grandchildren things,” she insists. “I want to be the fun one, not the disciplinarian.”

It’s not easy to imagine Ball being anything but playful when it comes to the piano. Although she has written numerous moving ballads and love songs, most of her musical creations – both instrumentally and lyrically – are fueled with a distinct sense of adventure.

This is largely due to her wandering eye – or ear – for inspiration.

“I pick up a lot of my song ideas from eavesdropping,” she says. “That’s what happens. It happens in conversations with friends. You hear a word or phrase and write it down. I was with another musician the other day and we both overheard the same line in a conversation. It was a race to write it down.”

Ball is in the midst of a songwriting frenzy this summer, stringing together the follow up to her latest release, 2014’s The Tattooed Lady and The Alligator Man, the title track of which was inspired by the subjects themselves.

“They told me their story and I wrote it down. People like that story. I don’t have a reasonable explanation for what strikes me as good storytelling for each song. It’s just like it walked up to my porch and knocked on my door,” she says.

The most rewarding aspect of her musical career, says the Louisiana natve, is the way her stories resonate with audiences.

“I talk to people after the gigs almost every night and it’s a cool thing if a song has meant anything to them. I get to hear about who used ‘The Power of Love’ at weddings or ‘Human Kindness’ in presentations about ethics.”

When asked to speculate on what her songs or her presence – albeit not as a teacher – will mean to her piano-playing grandson, Ball finally acknowledges that there might be a place for her.

“I have thought about the fact that maybe they’ll ask him about his musical history one day and he’ll say, ‘my grandma played the piano.’ Yeah, thinking about that makes me feel pretty good.”

Marcia Ball @ Vail Square
Don’t miss Marcia Ball’s return to Vail at 6 p.m. July 6 in Lionshead for the 2017 opening performance of Vail Jazz @ Vail Square. General admission tickets are $25, $40 for preferred seats and $50 for premium seats. Preferred and Premium seat subscriptions are also available for multiple performances. Presented by The Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea, Vail Jazz @ Vail Square takes place every Thursday evening through Aug. 24 in the all-weather Jazz Tent in The Arrabelle courtyard in Lionshead. Drinks are available for purchase. For tickets or more information click here or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Boogie in the Barrelhouses of the Texas Backwoods

In East Texas before the Civil War, cotton was king and so was timber, as there were vast forests of longleaf pine trees covering eastern Texas. The lumber from the trees was an ideal building material and there was a great demand for it. So slaves were not only in bondage on cotton plantations but also in lumber camps in the backwoods of East Texas, with the greatest concentration in Harrison County, north-easterly Texas. When the Civil War ended, most of the freed slaves had little prospects for employment, so out of desperation they continued to work the cotton fields and lumber camps where they had previously toiled in involuntary servitude.

By the 1870s, railroads were established in and around Harrison County in order to efficiently bring the logs to market. For most of the loggers, this was the first time they had ever heard a steam locomotive with its accelerating “chug, chug” sound, which made its way into the music of Harrison County and beyond.

In many of the lumber camps and on the outskirts of towns where African Americans were living after being freed, “barrelhouses” began to be constructed as a place the former slaves could seek entertainment away from their white bosses. These sheds were stocked with barrels of whiskey and beer, a dance floor, and usually a tinny-sounding out-of-tune upright piano played by an itinerant piano player, so the patrons could dance. Gambling and fighting went with the territory, as well as a “back room” where “railroad ladies” earned their keep. Liquor was served directly from the barrels (hence, a barrelhouse) and a lot of partying went on. Beginning in the 1870s in the barrelhouses of Harrison County, a unique sound was heard emanating from these pianos, initially known as “Fast Western” and “Fast Texas” (probably derived from the local Texas Western Railroad). The music later became known as “Barrelhouse,” “Honky Tonk” and ultimately “Boogie Woogie” or the shorten version, “Boogie.” Over the next four decades as the music evolved, it was the trains that not only inspired the music, but also transported the itinerant piano players, first from lumber camp to lumber camp, and then to New Orleans, Chicago and beyond, thereby spreading the new music to a larger urban population of willing black dancers.

Boogie sprang from the blues and had all the elements of jazz – syncopation, improvisation and that “swinging feeling.” However, the blues were traditionally played in a slow tempo, while Boogie was a fast blues for dancing. The piano was played in a percussive manner, like a drum, beating out a rhythm (generally eight beats per bar played by the left hand, while the right hand played rhythmic variations of the bass line), so dancers could move aggressively with the music. Some say the pulsating and driving rhythm had sexual overtones and while the origin of the name is not clear, brothels were known as “boogie houses” and to “pitch a boogie” was to have a party or sex. Whatever your interpretation of the music and its name, to the churchgoing blacks it was clear that this was the music of the devil, even the name suggested an abomination.
Because initially both Boogie and Ragtime were played on a piano, exclusively, and evolved at roughly the same time, they are sometimes confused, but in fact are quite different. Both styles use the right hand to play syncopations, but the left hand in Ragtime plays a bass line that is a 2/4 “oompah” type rhythm, very much like a Sousa-style march. While the left hand in Boogie has a shuffling, walking and swinging quality that creates a tension and excitement, a sense of perpetual motion, with an explosive quality, that makes you want to dance. Ragtime, on the other hand, makes you want to tap your foot.
Alan Lomax, the famous ethnomusicologist, described the originals and sounds of Boogie as follows: “Anonymous black musicians, longing to grab a train and ride away from their troubles, incorporated the rhythms of the steam locomotive and the moan of their whistles into the new dance music they were playing in jukes and dance halls. Boogie Woogie forever changed piano players, as piano players transformed the instrument into a polyrhythmic railroad train.”
By the 1920s, Boogie was well established in urban centers with large African American populations, but few white Americans knew the music. That all changed on the evening of Dec. 23, 1938, when three African American Boogie masters, Meade “Lux” Lewis, Pete Johnson and Albert Ammons, performed at Carnegie Hall at the legendary “Spirituals to Swing” concert. Their performances set off a nationwide dance frenzy that continues to this day. How is that possible? Think back to the early music of Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Ray Charles and Jerry Lee Lewis, who famously said, “They called it blues. They called it Boogie Woogie. Then they changed the name of it to Rock and Roll.” So what started out in the barrelhouses of the backwoods of Texas as a fast blues, morphed into jazz and ultimately shaped the beat of rock and roll.

Vail Jazz is pleased to present Vail’s favorite “Boogie Queen,” Marcia Ball, in concert at 6 p.m. on July 6 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. Singing and playing barrelhouse piano and the blues, Marcia always leaves her audiences wanting more.

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.

 

Reserve your summer Thursdays for bumpin’ live jazz

The umbrella of jazz spans several genres and nowhere is its vast reach more spectacularly exemplified than in the varied lineup of artists on tap for this summer’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series.

One of six performance series that make up the summer-long Vail Jazz Festival, the Vail Square lineup for 2017 is confirmed, including established favorites as well as internationally acclaimed talent taking the Vail stage for the first time. Other highlights of the Festival include the Vail Jazz Club Series, which lands at The Sonnenalp every Wednesday evening from July 12 to Aug. 2, featuring more intimate performances with Vail Square artists. Plus, back by popular demand, Vail Jazz’s First Fridays shows in Edwards will be upgraded this summer to an expanded series, Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk, bringing free live music to the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater on alternating Fridays beginning June 9.

The 2017 Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series, totaling nine performances, kicks off July 6, and will ignite Lionshead with head-bobbing energy every Thursday evening leading up to the 22nd Annual Vail Jazz Party on Aug. 31.

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 Band

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 feat. 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, bigger-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 hotly anticipated return to Vail.

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 22nd 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.

The where and how:

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square performances take place in the all-weather Vail Square tent in Lionshead, which for the first time this summer, features assigned seating (selected online) for Preferred seating and the all-new Premium seating sectioned comprised of cushioned chairs and more space. Preferred and Premium tickets are also available in a discounted four-pack subscription on sale through July 6. General admission seating is available on a first come basis. All Vail Jazz Festival ticket sales begin May 1. For more information, view the Vail Jazz @ Vail Square page 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.

H2 Big Band leaders sum up the unique, danceable magic of Count Basie

The 17-piece ensemble channels generations of hits by the swing king on Thursday in Vail

From tapping your foot to bobbing your head to launching yourself into an all-out Lindy Hop, swing music simply makes you want to move. When it involves 17 musicians and originates with Count Basie, the dance formula is pretty much guaranteed.

“One thing is that there is a heavy swing feel that only the Basie band was able to create. All jazz players agree that the Basie band swung more than any big band ever. The thrill of the big band sound is unlike any other musical experience,” says Dave Hanson, pianist, composer and co-founder of H2 Big Band. “As a composer, I get a rush to hear what each musician offers. Nothing is more fun than playing the Basie arrangements.”

Hailing from Denver, H2 Big Band’s two albums have reached top 15 status on Jazz Week’s national play list and the band’s original target was set on the studio. Then they realized how exhilarating it was to perform, which they will do in Vail on Aug. 25, paying tribute to Count Basie. In addition to Hanson and co-leader/trumpet player Al Hood, the band features a rotating line-up of 15 acclaimed artists, including a massive brass section, which it turns out is pivotal to the Basie sound.

“The arrangers had a certain style characterized in a way that each section was complete within itself,” Hanson explains. “If you heard the Basie saxophone section, it would sound complete within itself, the trombone section, too. The unified way they work together is the formula for the sound. Every Basie chart has a shout chorus unique to the Basie big band.”

The explosive performance will cover Count Basie tunes from the 1940s through the 1970s as well as a handful of H2’s original compositions.

“The H2 Big Band is extremely well versed in the Basie tradition, particularly our well-oiled rhythm section of Dave on piano, playing the Count himself, Todd Reid on drums and Ken Walker gliding the band via streamlined swing on the bass,” Hood says. “The icing, of course, will be the Freddie Green stylings of rhythm guitarist Mike Abbott.”

Without seeing the Count in the flesh, die hard Basie fans with their eyes closed will be hard-pressed to distinguish H2 Big Band from the swing king’s original band, the sound is that authentic … not to mention infectious.

“The legacy of the Basie band, in my opinion, is steeped in feel good swing, uncompromising time feel, ‘in the pocket’ groove and exuberant solo episodes,” Hood says. “This is certainly the essence that we will bring to that night of tremendous music. Swing will most assuredly be king.”

Each member of the big band is faced with a complex task of timing, harmony and connecting with the audience, but for Hanson, who plays the role of Basie, nailing the formula is especially involved.

“As the piano chair, you have to know the very unique style of Count Basie,” he says. “If there were one word to describe the playing of Count Basie it is sparse. He would only play the notes that were necessary. He would only play if the wind instruments weren’t playing. The Basie ending is a piano fill – a ‘plink-plink-plink’ – on most of his charts. It’s so identified as his that any piano playing the ‘plink-plink-plink’ is acknowledging Count Basie. We think of him as playing simply because he played very few notes, but he could be a great stride pianist. He could go into amazing stride piano solos, based on ballroom stride piano players from the ‘20s.”

The broad gamut of Basie’s sound including many of the Count’s classic arrangers will be summoned by H2 big band during the Vail performance. Even for audiences not familiar with Basie’s legacy, the urge to dance will be undeniable. Hanson says that every live H2 Big Band performance is characterized by one fixed reality above all others and that’s to expect the unexpected … especially when Count Basie is the theme.

“It’s a chance for the band to really show off the musicians in a great way. Hearing us all firing up together is a great thrill,” Hanson says. “There’s an element of chance involved. Every concert is different. Every acoustic is different. There’s a chance for something to happen that’s never happened before.”

Catch the H2 Big Band Tribute to Count Basie at Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8 p.m. Aug. 25 inside the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. General admission tickets are $20 in advance and premium seating is $40 in advance. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.