John Pizzarelli Pays Tribute to Nat ‘King’ Cole

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 17

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

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

July 18

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

For more information,  call 970-479-6146.

 

Preview of the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Festival: Unforgettable

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

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

Howard Stone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Howard Stone: The DNA of Jazz

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

Howard Stone.

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

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

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

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

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

7 Reasons Why Yamandu Costa Loves His Job

Yamandu Costa embraces the music of his entire continent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4) The guitar is his baby.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 10

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

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

July 11

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

For more information, call 970-479-6146.

 

 

Howard Stone: Jazz and Freedom

With July 4th rapidly approaching, I thought I would write an article about the connection between jazz and Independence Day. While I was inspired by the subject matter, I drew a blank and I was about to give up, when just like fireworks exploding in the sky over Vail Mountain, it came to me. What do jazz and the Fourth have in common? Freedom.

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, but it would take the Revolutionary War and another 27 years before the U.S. would complete the Louisiana Purchase, thereby acquiring what would become the “birthplace” of jazz: New Orleans. And it would be another century until jazz was “born” in the Crescent City, brought into existence by African-American musicians whose grandparents and parents had been freed from slavery only 50 years before. So jazz’s first connection with freedom was a direct result of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. What followed musically speaking was the creation of a new form of music that has flourished over the next 100 years because of a fundamental difference between jazz and other music – the freedom to improvise and to evolve. Yes, in the world of classical music, a soloist like Mozart could improvise when playing the cadenza to a concerto, but in jazz, everyone gets to improvise. So, just as the colonists had wanted freedom from the tyranny of King George, and just as the slaves had wanted freedom from their slave masters, so too did the early jazz musicians want the freedom to create their own music, and they did.

However, in jazz nothing lasts forever, and by the 1930s, the brass bands and New Orleans style of jazz were toppled by a revolutionary approach to the music. The Swing Era began with big bands playing jazz to dance to and it became the most popular music of the day, rapidly spreading throughout the country. And yet, the story doesn’t end here, because with the freedom to improvise and to innovate, jazz musicians have always been pushing the envelope. By the mid-1940s, a group of musicians led by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk began to play in a completely different manner that became known as bebop. The groups they played in were no longer big bands, but instead small combos. The structure of the music was much freer with all the musicians allowed to improvise simultaneously. Tempos were generally much faster than in swing music and melody gave way to harmonic complexity and rhythm changes. The music was for listening, not dancing. The Swing Era was over. Long live Bebop! Moreover, in the decades that followed there have been many more revolutions in jazz.

The journalist J.A. Rogers may have summed it up best when he observed, “the true spirit of jazz is a joyous revolt from convention, custom, authority, boredom, even sorrow…” Jazz was a musical revolution that set it apart from other genres of music. The fact that a musician could spontaneously express himself while being a member of a group was a remarkable idea and a technical feat, but also had implications far beyond the music itself.

The great Duke Ellington said it best: “…. jazz is a good barometer of freedom… In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.”

July 4 performances

For a number of years, beginning in 1999, Vail Jazz brought a high school jazz and marching band from Los Angeles to celebrate the Fourth with our community and this year to celebrate our nation’s birth and the 25th anniversary of Vail Jazz, we will once again bring L.A.-based Fernando Pullum and his award-winning jazz band to play in the Vail America’s Day Parade on July 4th and to perform a free concert in Lionshead at 1 p.m. Since this is a very special year for Vail Jazz, we are in a particularly celebratory mood and we will cap our Independence Day celebration by presenting one of Vail’s favorite performers, Marcia Ball, in a show entitled, “Vail Jazz Celebrates the Red, White and the Blues,” at 6 p.m. in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (Get tickets here).

So, as we all celebrate the birth of our country this Fourth of July and the freedom that has been bestowed upon us, please join us as we enjoy the uniquely American music that is the epitome of freedom: jazz. Happy Fourth of July!

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

Celebrate The Fourth with Marcia Ball

The charismatic storyteller rolls into town to open summer series

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marcia Ball @ Vail Square

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

GET TICKETS HERE.

For more information call 970-479-6146.

 

Vail Jazz to Launch Busy Summer for 25th

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free events:

Vail Jazz @ The Market

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

Vail Jazz @ The Remedy

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

Jammin’ Jazz Kids

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

Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk

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

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

Ticketed shows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vail Jazz 25th Anniversary special anniversary gala celebration

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

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

The 25th Annual Vail Jazz Party

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

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

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

Magic on tap for 2018 Vail Jazz Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights of the 2018 Vail Jazz Party:

Bill Cunliffe’s tribute to Leonard Bernstein – Friday

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

Tony Monaco’s Tribute to Jimmy Smith – Saturday

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

Wycliffe Gordon’s Nu Funk Machine Dance Party – Sunday

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

The Sessions – Friday through Monday

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

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

The 24th Annual Vail Jazz Party

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

Get tickets to all sessions here.

A moment in the life of a musical prodigy

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

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

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

He won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop students

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

Live in Vail Aug. 30

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

Go here for tickets.

The key ingredients to musical chemistry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GET TICKETS HERE.