Rising star Bria Skonberg makes Vail debut

Hailed by many as one of the modern jazz world’s most striking talents, the trumpet player/singer recounts her multi-faceted route toward self-expression

Impossible to guess while hypnotized by her sultry, 1950s- style vocals, red hot trumpet solos and commanding stage presence, Bria Skonberg is a “trained extrovert.” Growing up on a farm in the small town of Chilliwack outside of Vancouver, B.C., the 30-year-old fell in love with the trumpet as preteen after her parents encouraged her to play with a variety of instruments – the piano, bass and clarinet.

“I always understood that music is like food,” Skonberg says. “You should try everything.” That adventurous mindset has led the Canadian to her eclectic sound. Rooted in traditional jazz, Skonberg has not held back when it comes to experimenting with world percussion and electronic sounds on her first three records and promises that the fourth upcoming recording (crowdfunded here), will house her most dynamic original material to date.

This unconstrained drive that appears to define Skonberg’s style and character did not come naturally to the musician … or so she says. She claims that she was extremely shy as a child and didn’t truly come out of her shell until taking the lead role (Sandy) as a ninth grader in her school’s musical performance of Grease.

Clearly, the extrovert training became intensive because by the time Skonberg was midway through high school, she had worked her way up the ranks in school bands and choir, had instigated and managed her own jazz, ska, big bands and even a marching band. She was also captain of the basketball team and president of student council.

“I’m a product of great parents and teachers,” says the tall, striking blonde from a midtown diner near Manhattan’s famous Birdland Jazz Club, where Skonberg regularly performs with Wycliffe Gordon (Vail Jazz Workshop instructor) and a slew of other jazz greats in between traveling the world with her own band  “The play in ninth grade was where I started to sing openly. I was too shy before that. Now I can see the trajectory. The trumpet has been a great vehicle for letting that soul out,” she says.

Skonberg moved to New York City from Vancouver in 2010. It took her no time at all to find her stride and take up her cadre of activities, but these days, they’re all geared toward making, performing and teaching music. While she can’t exactly cut loose on the trumpet in her small Lower East Side apartment, the Canadian spends a significant chunk of every day she’s in town making faces at herself in the mirror in an effort to dial in her most efficient trumpet mouth. And she prefers to tackle all of her chores and training within a calculated time slot.

“If you can focus for 10 minutes and play something vigorous, it’s like heavy lifting. You need air in between. It’s this buzz that happens. But a lot of practice is me looking in the mirror going [makes a puckered lip face]. With the trumpet, you have to do whatever you can do to efficiently push air through the horn and make it vibrate. Working on dexterity, placement of the tongue … it’s the mechanical things that make the difference. You get one finger partially off and it starts to squeak.”

There’s not much squeaking that happens in Skonberg’s world, literally or figuratively. Whether she’s launching into a trumpet solo or belting out a verse, kindling a hot jazz camp for kids in the city, pledging for feedback and funds for a new record, testing a line for her next original tune, performing as a sidewoman (“at this point I’m one of the guys”) with an ensemble of big name veterans or conducting an honest interview in a Manhattan coffee shop, she is going all out.

But she says the extrovert training is still a work in progress. One key step Skonberg has unquestionably mastered is embracing her unique talent and letting it shine unobstructed, uncompromised by any doctoring or dolling up.

“In the jazz world, we call that a ‘hood ornament,’” she says. “When I moved to New York, I had this idea that if you’re too pretty, people won’t take you seriously. When I lived in British Columbia I was wearing sparkly dresses, singing for a big band. I plugged that into New York, and it didn’t have the same effect. So I cut through the … whatever the politically correct word is …. and it was a huge integrity check along the way. Now four or five years in, I’m more comfortable. I can say, this is what I look like. This is what I play like. Now what am I going to do that’s different?”

Bria Skonberg makes her Vail debut with quartet – Dalton Ridenhour on piano, Sean Cronin on bass, and Darrian Douglas on drums – at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 20 for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square in the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. Click here for tickets.

Drummer Tommy Igoe’s sextet returns to Vail Square

The coordination required of playing the drums is not ingrained in many of us, but Tommy Igoe’s father, legendary drummer Sonny Igoe, claimed his child was born with the beat.

“He always said I came out playing the drums. I was always drum crazy. I used to follow the drummers in the parades and learn their cadences. You couldn’t tear me away from the drums. And believe me, my father did try,” said Igoe, who has led the Birdland Big Band in New York City over the last several years and is responsible for the drum lines that give Broadway’s musical hit “The Lion King,” its thunder. He has also toured the world with the likes of Art Garfunkel, Stanley Jordan and Blood Sweat and Tears.

NOT MISSING A BEAT

Rather than being a typical kid who liked to beat on things, or even a kid that beat on things with an uncanny sense of rhythm, Igoe has always had an expert musical ear. He nurtured it not only by learning the drums since age 2 but by playing several other instruments, including classical piano, which he studied for 20 years. This well-rounded understanding refined Igoe’s sense of rhythm to a precision that few musicians, drummers especially, possess.

“In my experience, the best musicians and leaders understand the role, vocabulary and challenges of instruments beyond their own,” he said. “My training on piano and by extension harmony, theory, ear training etc., allow me to speak to all the other musicians in my bands in their own language which allows me to be a more knowledgeable and compassionate leader. And, it goes both ways. I encourage all other instrumentalists to take some drum lessons. It would help their musical expression greatly.”

As one might expect, leading a band from behind a drum set is no easy task. The first challenge that comes to mind is the fact that unlike any other instrument on stage, the drums are, as Igoe puts it, “anchored to the ground.” But this, he says, “is not a big deal.” Of everyone on stage, the drummer is the one who cannot ever miss a beat. While Igoe admits that this is indeed a challenge, he views it as an advantage as well.

“As a drummer, you never stop,” he said. “Most people don’t realize that many of the other instruments in a band stop, start and rest, but not the drums in modern settings … and rhythm sections as a whole. We are always playing and that allows me a greater connection to every bar than if I was stopping and starting all the time.”

ENDLESS GENRES

Igoe leads bands of all sizes, from the sextet he heads up on Thursday comprised of Marc Russo and Tom Politzer on saxophone, James Genus on bass, Allen Farnham on piano and Rolando Morales Matos on percussion to his 14-piece, San Francisco-based supergroup, Tommy Igoe Groove Conspiracy, featuring members of Santana, Tower of Power, The Doobie Brothers, Boz Scaggs and Steely Dan. The best part of wearing so many hats is that the world is Igoe’s oyster. His range of genres and sounds is boundless.

“All my bands operate under the same foundational vision of being ‘music events.’ I have no allegiance to any genre or style. We’ll play anything from any source – jazz, Latin, funk, reggae … there are no limits. The only requirement is exceptional quality,” he said.

In addition to conducting and performing in various-sized bands, Igoe spends the other half of his life educating young up-and-coming drummers. Even as his sticks become a blur as he hits dozens of strikes per minute and magically incorporates additional beats as if he has 20 limbs rather than four, there is one simple piece of advice Igoe offers to all of his students.

“I’ve found a way to put it in one word: relax. If you relax, you can do anything. Really … ANYTHING,” Igoe said. “You’ll never hear any music teacher say ‘OK students, get ready … get as tense as you can be.’ In any activity – especially anything physical – the secret is relaxing.”

Experience the power of the Tommy Igoe Sextet from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square in Lionshead. Jazz Tent tickets are $15 or $30 for VIP seats (including front of the tent seating and a drink ticket). Ticket prices go up an hour before showtime. For tickets or more information, visit www.vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Internationally renowned pianist Hiromi sits down with Vail Jazz

Although her head is swaying and her eyes are closed, Hiromi Uehara’s fingers are a blur as she thunders out a one-woman symphony every time she sits down at the piano. As far as how she explains what’s happening, she says playing the piano is like digging for emotional treasure.

Since the age of 6, the Japanese-born composer, now 36, has been using the piano as her voice, the complex sound piece for her many emotions. At the age of 14 her unique talent earned her a spot performing with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and at 17, famed jazz pianist Chick Corea invited her to play with him after a chance meeting the previous day. She went on to study under Ahmad Jamal at the Berklee College of Music. Her original tunes can be heard promoting massive international brands such as Nissan and, more importantly, channeling each note directly from her heart.

For the last decade, the pianist has toured the world, enrapturing audiences with her sound, which has the quality of boisterous laughter, intense sadness, contentment, unrest and pure joy, all within the course of a single song.

Making her Vail debut as the Trio Project with bassist Anthony Jackson and drummer Steve Smith, Hiromi took a few moments to answer some questions for Vail Jazz.

Vail Jazz: Many children are introduced to the piano at an early age, but few connect with it the way you did. What allured you to the piano as a small child and how does it continue to inspire you?

Hiromi: I was very lucky to have met a great teacher at age of 6 years old. She was a piano teacher in my hometown and she was a big jazz fan as well. She introduced me to the recordings of Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson. When she taught me the classical music, she always colored the score with colored pencils and said “Play Red” instead of playing with the dynamics of forte, “Play Blue” instead of playing with the dynamics pianissimo [soft touch].

Vail Jazz: What were the most important points your piano teacher taught you at that age?

Hiromi: She tried to always explain that music comes from heart to heart, not from fingers to the brain and she encouraged me to see the music visually.

Vail Jazz: Of all the individuals who have influenced your musical career, who has made the most resounding impact?

Hiromi: It is impossible to list one. If I have to name a few, Errol Garner and Oscar Peterson who I listened to when I was 8 years old, Chick Corea who I first met at 17 years old, Ahmad Jamal who has always been the big inspiration and support to my career, and Frank Zappa, my musical hero.

Vail Jazz: In watching your studio video clip of Alive, you look as if you’re lost in a different world, completely possessed by emotion as you play. Can you describe the energy coursing through you?

Hiromi: When I am playing the piano, I feel so alive, I feel so energized.

Vail Jazz: How does it help your performance to close your eyes as you play?

Hiromi: I never even thought about it, it is something very natural..

Vail Jazz: How do you measure the success of a performance? When do you know you’ve crossed the threshold of really becoming one with the music?

Hiromi: When I find something new when I play, that’s the most exciting moment. It is like treasure hunting. I am trying to look for

new landscape in music everyday.

 

Hiromi Uehara makes her Vail debut from 6 to 8 p.m. on Aug. 6 for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square in Lionshead. Jazz Tent tickets are $15 or $30 for VIP seats (including front of the tent seating and a drink ticket). Ticket prices go up an hour before showtime. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Girl-powered jazz comes to Vail

VAIL — When it comes to talent, gender has nothing to do with it. DIVA, the 15-piece all-female jazz orchestra from New York, delivers a jaw-dropping wall of sound that puts many all-male acts to shame. That each ironclad musician looks like she’s having the time of her life at every performance makes for incomparable, swinging and gripping entertainment.

DIVA drummer Sherrie Maricle became the first member of DIVA when the band was formed more than 23 years ago by fellow drummer and artist manager Stanley Kay. As Maricle tells it, she was performing in the pick-up orchestra at a Maurice Hines concert that Kay was conducting for the Shubert Theater’s 75th anniversary. After the show, Kay approached Maricle and “asked if I knew other women who played as well as I did.”

Of course, she knew plenty. After an audition bringing in 40 top musicians from all over the world, the group was whittled down to 15 and DIVA was born.

“Over the last 23-plus years of leading the band and playing with dozens of others, I can tell you with 100-percent certainty that there is absolutely NO difference in talent, skill, passion or creativity between DIVA and any other world-class concert jazz orchestra,” Maricle said, naming Jazz at Lincoln Center, Maria Schneider, Clayton-Hamilton, Count Basie, Vanguard and Gordon Goodwin as examples. “The only thing I have noticed is that the DIVA performance dynamic – collectively and individually – is one that is fully engaged, aware, supportive and wildly enthusiastic regarding the music, each other and the audience. I don’t always experience that with other groups.”

“The most fun for me is being in the center of the band — literally and metaphorically — and leading from the inside, creating a pulse like a heart beat. Drummers naturally have a lot of control, leader or not, over the band dynamics, energy and phrasing … so that’s exciting. I also aspire to always inspire, highlight and support my bandmates.”Sherrie MaricleDrummer, DIVA

The highlights

When asked to name highlights in DIVA’s decorated career, Maricle says “Oh My Gosh…there have been soooo many!”

Among them, the first of DIVA’s many featured performances with The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, the 25th Anniversary of the Kennedy Center’s TV Special and the band’s first tours of Finland, Japan and Vietnam. Then there was the feature on NPR’s “Piano Jazz,” and creating the soundtrack for New York City’s (NBC and Macy’s) enormous fireworks display. Oh yes, there was also that pivotal appearance in the award-winning documentary “The Girls in the Band” (which will be presented at this Labor Day Weekend’s Vail Jazz Party). Maricle says that her band’s (DIVA and also the jazz quintet Five Play, each of which produces and performs all original compositions and arrangements) 13 albums, including a couple of new additions coming soon, “are like my children.”

Since attending parades as a small child and singling out the drummers as the coolest members of the band because they never stopped playing, Maricle has been drawn to the drums. But “the true enlightenment moment” came when she was 11 and saw Buddy Rich perform with His Killer Force Orchestra.

“When the band played their first note, I got goose bumps and was riveted the entire night,” she recalled. “I had never heard or seen anything like that before – the intense power, force, energy, swing and sophistication of a big band … music played with such fire and passion. I ran home and told my mother I was going to be professional drummer. Since that night I never wanted to do anything else with my life.”

As a bandleader, Maricle has aimed to follow in Rich’s footsteps, as well as those of Mel Lewis, Louis Bellson, Jeff Hamilton, Gene Krupa and Chick Webb.

“The most fun for me is being in the center of the band — literally and metaphorically — and leading from the inside, creating a pulse like a heart beat. Drummers naturally have a lot of control, leader or not, over the band dynamics, energy and phrasing … so that’s exciting. I also aspire to always inspire, highlight and support my bandmates, as well as listen to their musical opinions. Each and every one of them is a stellar musician and creative artist,” she said. “I’m very honored to share the stage with them.”

Moved to tears

The inspiration goes well beyond the stage. Over the last two decades, Maricle and DIVA artists have provided “life-changing” instruction for dozens of young and up-and-coming musicians, and several audience members have experienced such sheer awe at performances that they’ve been brought to tears.

“I remember an older woman coming up to us sobbing with joy, saying she always wanted to be a musician, but wasn’t allowed. She just couldn’t believe how great we played. It made me cry, too,” Maricle said.

The 15-piece, all-female powerhouse DIVA jazz orchestra performs for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday in the Vail Jazz Tent in Lionshead. General admission tickets are $15 and VIP tickets are $30. Ticket prices increase an hour before showtime. For tickets or more information, visit www.vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer contracted by the Vail Jazz Foundation. Email comments about this story to mwong@vaildaily.com.

Five Play set to shine for intimate Wednesday, DIVA will deliver big band Thursday

From the early days straight to the big time, band leader Sherrie Maricle tells the story

When it comes to talent, gender has nothing to do with it. DIVA, the 15-piece all-female jazz orchestra from New York, delivers a jaw-dropping wall of sound that puts many all-male acts to shame. That each ironclad musician looks like she’s having the time of her life at every performance makes for incomparable, swinging and gripping entertainment.

DIVA drummer Sherrie Maricle became the first member of DIVA when the band was formed more than 23 years ago by fellow drummer and artist manager Stanley Kay. As Maricle tells it, she was performing in the pick-up orchestra at a Maurice Hines concert  that Kay was conducting for the Shubert Theater’s 75th anniversary. After the showA, Kay approached Maricle and “asked if I knew other women who played as well  as I did.” Of course, she knew plenty. After an audition bringing in 40 top musicians from all over the world, the group was whittled down to 15 and DIVA was born.

“Over the last 23-plus years of leading the band and playing with dozens of others, I can tell you with 100-percent certainty that there is absolutely NO difference in talent, skill, passion or creativity between DIVA and any other world-class concert jazz orchestra,” Maricle says, naming Jazz at Lincoln Center, Maria Schneider, Clayton-Hamilton, Count Basie, Vanguard and Gordon Goodwin as examples. “The only thing I have noticed is that the DIVA performance dynamic – collectively and individually – is one that is fully engaged, aware, supportive and wildly enthusiastic regarding the music, each other and the audience. I don’t always experience that with other groups.”

When asked to name highlights in DIVA’s decorated career, Maricle says “Oh My Gosh…there have been soooo many!”

Among them, the first of DIVA’s many featured performances with The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, the 25th Anniversary of the Kennedy Center’s TV Special and the band’s first tours of Finland, Japan and Vietnam. Then there was the feature on NPR’s “Piano Jazz,” and creating the soundtrack for New York City’s (NBC and Macy’s) enormous fireworks display. Oh yes, there was also that pivotal appearance in the award-winning documentary “The Girls in the Band” (which will be presented at this Labor Day Weekend’s Vail Jazz Party). Maricle says that her band’s (DIVA and also the jazz quintet Five Play, each of which produces and performs all original compositions and arrangements) 13 albums including a couple of new additions coming soon “are like my children.”

Since attending parades as a small child and singling out the drummers as the coolest members of the band because they never stopped playing, Maricle has been drawn to the drums. But “the true enlightenment moment” came when she was 11 and saw Buddy Rich perform with His Killer Force Orchestra.

“When the band played their first note I got goose bumps and was riveted the entire night,” she recalls. “I had never heard or seen anything like that before –  the intense power, force, energy, swing and sophistication of a big band … music played with such fire and passion. I ran home and told my mother I was going to be professional drummer. Since that night I never wanted to do anything else with my life.”

As a bandleader, Maricle has aimed to follow in Rich’s footsteps, as well as those of Mel Lewis, Louis Bellson, Jeff Hamilton, Gene Krupa and Chick Webb.

“The most fun for me is being in the center of the band  – literally and metaphorically – and leading from the inside, creating a pulse like a heart beat. Drummers naturally have a lot of control, leader or not, over the band dynamics, energy and phrasing … so that’s exciting. I also aspire to always inspire, highlight and support my band mates, as well as listen to their musical opinions. Each and every one of them is a stellar musician and creative artist,” she says. “I’m very honored to share the stage with them.”

The inspiration goes well beyond the stage. Over the last two decades, Maricle and DIVA artists have provided “life-changing” instruction for dozens of young and up-and-coming musicians and several audience members have experienced such sheer awe at performances that they’ve been brought to tears.

“I remember an older woman coming up to us sobbing with joy, saying she always wanted to be a musician, but wasn’t allowed. She just couldn’t believe how great we played. It made me cry, too,” Maricle says.

Don’t miss Sherrie Maricle and jazz quintet Five Play at 9 p.m. July 29 in the intimate lounge dinner setting of Cucina at the Lodge at Vail for the Vail Jazz Club Series. The talent pool multiplies into 15-piece jazz orchestra DIVA from 6 to 8 p.m. for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on Thursday, July 30 in the Vail Jazz Tent in Lionshead. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

ABOUT THE VAIL JAZZ FOUNDATION

 

In 1995 life-long jazz fan Howard Stone launched the inaugural Labor Day Weekend Vail Jazz Party. A resounding success, the Weekend Party spawned the Vail Jazz Foundation, its mission to showcase the talent of prominent and up-and-coming jazz musicians as well as educate and nurture the genre’s next generation of greats. Vail Jazz has grown to include year-round programming such as Vail Jazz Goes to School and 12 weeks of live performances every summer with The Vail Jazz Festival’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square, Vail Jazz @ The Market, Vail Jazz @ Sweet Basil, Jammin’ Jazz Kids and The Vail Jazz Workshop for a total of 52 live performances and 10 educational programs.

 

ABOUT THE TOWN OF VAIL

 

There’s no place like Vail for year-round recreation, outdoor pursuits and cultural activities in the heart of the Rockies. Located just two hours west of Denver, Vail’s fresh air, rugged beauty and charming pedestrian village await visitors. Discover a quaint mountain town where outdoor activities abound and the performing arts flourish. Matching the incredible winter mountain experience, Vail from May through October is characterized by a rich culinary scene, family activities, a world-class events schedule and everything in between. This summer guests can experience events like the new Vail Summer Bluegrass Series, GoPro Mountain Games, Vail Jazz Festival, the Vail International Dance Festival, BRAVO! Vail, USA Pro Challenge, Gourmet on Gore culinary festival and much more. Vail offers a diverse range of lodging options from luxury brands to boutique hotels, condominiums and vacation rentals. For more information on a Vail vacation, please visit www.vail.com. For more information on the community, please visit www.vailgov.com

Tony DeSare returns for two energetic nights of Vail Jazz

Fresh off of an elite Carnegie Hall Sinatra celebration, the dynamic pianist is charged to charm with classics, originals and current pop hits

Since making his Vail Jazz debut last summer, New York’s Tony DeSare has been etching his name onto the world map in some pretty high places.

The young pianist has been dubbed “the next Harry Connick Jr.” but truly has a sound and style all of his own. He dives into the keys with unique gusto whether he’s covering a classic from the Great American Songbook or jazzing up the latest Billboard pop hit. He is also a successful songwriter and composer. His tune “Chemistry” won the USA Songwriting Competition’s No. 1 jazz award and was second overall among all genres. Three of his recordings were ranked among Billboard’s top 10 jazz albums and his original songs have made their way into a number of film soundtracks.

His charismatic and unquestionably charming stage presence earned him an invitation to perform with the Philadelphia Pops this spring and then with the New York Pops for an elite group of celebrities attending Carnegie Hall’s special centennial tribute to Frank Sinatra. A huge Sinatra fan, DeSare went on to perform two sold out tribute gigs at the Kennedy Center earlier this summer.

“I’m loving what I get to do these days,” DeSare says. “One night I’ll be with a world class orchestra, another in a small theater and another at an outdoor festival. I find that I love all those different setups and it always comes down to making music for an audience and trying my best to convey how much I love the material and make them feel what I’m feeling when I perform it.”

Judging by the laughter, clap-a-longs, multiple standing ovations and and impromptu dances that break out among his audiences, the 38-year-old is accomplishing that mission.

A born improviser, DeSare has a unique gauge of the ambiance of each venue and the energy of any given audience. He is known to shift gears frequently, never failing to make each performance fresh and surprising.

“I will change my set based on how things sound in the room and also adapt during the show to what the audience seems to be really into,” he says. “Some audiences like more jazz improv, some respond more to ballads and some want to party.”

DeSare grew up listening to his father sing and play the guitar every night and took up the violin at the age of 8. By the time he was 10, he’d fallen in love with the piano and was scarcely of legal drinking age when he was hired to perform at bars and hotels around New York. His joy for playing everything from jazz classics to Prince was so apparent to everyone who heard him sing and play that it was and still is uncontrollably contagious.

Of the many popular videos on Desare’s YouTube channel, including his entertaining mash-ups of famous songs from a variety of eras, one of the most striking pieces is the documentary he filmed two years ago in which he traveled around New York City performing on painted pianos placed by art charity organization Sing For Hope. DeSare hit about 15 of the 88 pianos in every borough playing the Irving Berlin classic “I Love a Piano.” The crowds that compulsively gathered around him – jumping children, slow-dancing elderly couples, joggers, tourists and onlookers running the colorful gamut found only in New York City – were all entranced by his mini performances. He called it “an excellent reminder of the power of song.”

“The process of music should be entertaining and have enough to it along with the presentation of music to make it fun,” he says.

Like so much of the musical world, this year DeSare is on a Sinatra kick, naming Ol’ Blue Eyes as the one performer who has, in unparalleled fashion, “influenced everyone from Miles Davis to rock bands and rappers.”

“This summer I’m planning on bringing some of the Sinatra material that I have been doing all over the country in celebration of the Sinatra centennial this year,” DeSare says. “I’ll still mix in some of my originals and pop jazz classics from other eras but will definitely take some time to pay homage. I’m looking forward to being back in Vail.”

Tony DeSare and his trio perform at 9 p.m. July 21 in the intimate lounge dinner setting of Cucina at the Lodge at Vail for the Vail Jazz Club Series. Then he and his quartet (Edward Decker on guitar, Steve Doyle on bass and Allan Finney on drums) return to the big state in the weather-friendly jazz tent in Lionshead from 6 to 8 p.m. for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on Thursday, July 22. For more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Singing from the soul to the soul

Combining traditional jazz with funk, blues and contagious joy, Nicole Henry makes Vail debut.

Nicole Henry believes that human beings are all connected. She strives to instill her audience with this notion every time she hits a particular note or loads a verse full of heart-resounding fervor.

“That’s the reason that I sing. We, in our own little way, want to either save ourselves or save the world as artists. We want to make a difference. The reason we want to inspire people is that we know we’re connected. We have the same fears, the same desires, the same spirit,” Henry says.

The Miami-based singer cites Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughn as inspiration and has been sized up as a traditional jazz vocalist (she won the 2013 Soul Train Award for Best Traditional Jazz Performance). But really, her style straddles the borders of jazz, R & B, funk, gospel and contains a solid dose of soul. Swaying with eyes closed, reaching and quivering on stage, Henry summons each word from her core. The glowing aura – both visual and auditory – that she emanates serves as an intimate conversation with the audience.

Even while belting out emotional sentiments, Henry’s delivery is powerfully uplifting. Perhaps this is because the overriding feeling she’s always had while singing is pure happiness. Oddly, she took little notice of her ability to enrapture an audience as she was growing up, even as she was continuously asked to perform.

“I didn’t realize I had a unique talent necessarily until I was in college,” she says. “I always just did it. I sang the national anthem at every basketball game, every football game, but it was just something I did. I took it for granted. Even winning the talent competitions at my high school, I didn’t think about it as a real passion. It was just something I had fun doing. It was when I had a chance to sing for people who didn’t know me that it hit – these people don’t know who I am and they really like what I’m doing. I realized the power of being an entertainer and that’s when I was addicted. It was like, OK.This is what I’m capable of.”

The jazz world’s most acclaimed new vocalists, Nicole Henry, will play at Vail Jazz Club Series and Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on July 8th and July 9th

That was in 1997 and since then Henry has released seven studio albums, a new single last year and is in the process of putting together a new record, rife with original material. She has also wandered down the path of theater and acting, appearing in several commercials and voice overs. But music is the backbone of her artistic expression.

“It was a natural gravitation because music has this immediacy that I really enjoy. With theater, it takes much more time. I think singing is like a sprint, acting is more like a marathon, short term satisfaction. It just wound up that singing was more fulfilling to me, at least immediately.”

When she’s on stage, Henry views her performance as a three-part power formula.

“One is listening to my band, particularly when a song intro begins. If I just focus on how supportive my band is, how much feeling they put into it, I get so lost and appreciative,” she says. “That’s the dim light going bright in my mouth and here I am floating on top of this music. The other place is  – when I hear that, I think of how grateful I am, how appreciative I am that I’m – I get so lost and happy about that. That’s the light starting the dim going bright. The other part is where I’m in the song, the sound coming out like a stream of light and here I am floating on top of this music. Then I look at this audience and I feel their energy and their desire to be entertained. It’s those three coming together. It’s a real buzz.”

Anyone familiar with Henry’s performance can attest to the fact that the buzz is contagious. The light she generates moves through every ear, every soul, every molecule within sound range.

“I would say it’s an inspired performance, uplifting and inspiring. We have so much fun when we’re making music, my band and I. We go between heavy and light as far as content and messages. It’s all for forward progress,” she says. “When I sing, I’m there to remind people that we are all human. As different as we are, we share the same basic things. I love reminding people to celebrate regardless of how confused they are, how unfortunate, how fortunate, that music is something we can all enjoy.”

How ‘Gypsy Jazz’ moved from India to France to Vail

Our story begins in northern India more than 1,500 years ago when a small group of Hindi people began migrating from their homeland. Over centuries they made their way through the Balkans to Eastern Europe and ultimately throughout the world. They are the Roma or Romani people, known as Gypsies, a term many feel is used pejoratively against a people who have been persecuted wherever they have settled. Being predominately dark skinned, they have not been welcomed in their host countries and have continuously been on the move with a nomadic lifestyle. Originally thought to have come from Egypt, the term “Gypsy” was derived from the mistaken belief that this was their country of origin, but geneticists using the DNA of the Romani have conclusively traced their origins to the Punjab region of India.

The critically-acclaimed Django Festival All-Stars, who will play at Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on July 2

Blessed with a rich musical tradition, many earned their living by being nomadic entertainers and wherever they took refuge, they greatly influenced the music traditions of their hosts. This outsized impact can be heard in the flamenco music of Spain, derived directly from Romani music. Turkish, Russian and Eastern European music has been greatly influenced by Romani music (e.g., Liszt’s famous “Hungarian Rhapsodies”) and there is now a well-established technique of violin playing known as Gypsy Violin.

Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt, the son of a traveling entertainer, was born in Belgium in 1910 but grew up in France in a Gypsy settlement outside of Paris. Django began to play music at an early age, but his left hand was severely burned in a campfire when he was 18. He overcame the disability by inventing a unique fingering technique on the guitar, and by the ’30s, he was touring internationally, becoming one of the most important jazz guitarists of all time. As a founding member of the Quintette du Hot Club de France, he invented a style of jazz known as “Gypsy Jazz” that has been played for more than 80 years throughout the world. Django could not read music, but that didn’t matter. By using a guitar as a rhythm instrument (the player strums it in a distinctive percussive manner), Django was able to dispense with the drums and was able to combine two guitars (one rhythm and one melody), a violin, an accordion and a bass to create the classic “hot club” sound. With the emphasis on the second and fourth beat of each measure, Gypsy Jazz has a “swinging” toe-tapping feel that never fails to entertain.

The vocal sensation Cyrille Aimée, who will play at Vail Jazz Club Series on July 15 and Vail Jazz @ Vail Square on July 16

Branding is everything today, and in the world of Gypsy Jazz, there is no shortage of “Hot Club” bands here in the U.S. — the Hot Club of Detroit, San Francisco, New York, Los Angeles and even Cowtown, to name a few. In addition, there are many Django festivals in cities throughout the U.S. and Europe, with some straying from the authentic into a more commercialized form of the music, which is sometimes jokingly referred to as “Gadjo Jazz” (Romani for “non-Romani jazz”).

Carrying on the true tradition of Django is the Festival de Jazz Django Reinhardt presented annually in Samois-sur-Seine, France (the town where Django lived at the end of his life — he died tragically of a brain hemorrhage at the age of 43). This lovely town is venerated by the Gypsy Jazz community as being the place where authentic Django music is presented each year. With devotees (listeners and performers alike) from throughout the world descending on this beautiful village not far from Fontainebleau, it becomes the center of Gypsy Jazz for one week each year in late June.

So now you know the part of the story of how a unique music made its way from India to France, but where does Vail fit into the story? This year, Vail Jazz is pleased to celebrate the music of Django in Vail during our 21st annual Vail Jazz Festival by presenting two of the most compelling internationally known interpreters of Gypsy Jazz: The Django Festival All-Stars (6 p.m. July 2 at Vail Jazz at Vail Square in Lionshead); and vocalist Cyrille Aimee (9 p.m. July 15 at Cucina at the Lodge at Vail and at 6 p.m. July 16 at Vail Jazz at Vail Square in Lionshead). The All-Stars are a quintet with classic instrumentation and a commitment to swing hard and faithfully play the music of Django. Aimee is a Vail Jazz Festival favorite who grew up in Samois-sur-Seine and fell in love with Gypsy Jazz as a young girl. She is now entertaining audiences with a wide range of vocal stylings, including Gypsy Jazz, that have propelled her to the top of the world of jazz.

 

Vail Square lineup, new Club Series and live tunes at Sweet Basil!

Cartwheeling into its 21st year, the Vail Jazz Festival is admittedly a full-grown adult, but as evidenced by its lineup for this summer’s Thursday evening Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series, not to mention the brand new Vail Jazz Club Series and Vail Jazz at Sweet Basil events, the festival is unquestionably keeping things young and fresh.

VAIL JAZZ AT VAIL SQUARE

The lineup of national and internationally acclaimed artists has just been confirmed. Beginning July 2 and ending Sept. 3, there will be 10 total performances, all taking place from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursdays — rain or shine — under the jazz tent at Vail Square in Lionshead Village. Tickets are $15 general admission, $30 VIP or $199 for the 10-show VIP pass. Each event includes beverage tastings featuring 10th Mountain Whiskey, Bonfire Brewing and Ironstone Winery. Tickets and information available at vailjazz.org or 888-VAIL-JAM. Here’s the lineup:

July 2: Django Festival All-Stars

In the lightning fingers style of legendary guitarist Django Reinhardt, the five members of Django Festival All-Stars are bonafide Frenchmen and include a pair of six-finger sensations, a romping accordion and bass, sweet strains on the violin and a touch of high-speed vocal instrumentation. The quintet are regulars at Birdland in New York City and are bound to make a swingin’ debut in Vail.

July 9: Nicole Henry

Referred to as America’s current First Lady of Jazz, vocalist Nicole Henry has spent the last decade hypnotizing audiences with her sultry, versatile take on traditional jazz with a touch of soul, blues and gospel. She makes her Vail debut with her regular, uber-talented quartet.

July 16: Cyrille Aimee and Michael Valeanu Duo

Though she’s barely 30 years old, Cyrille Aimee has won awards all over the world for her hypnotizing vocal abilities. Hailing from a small village in France where she was lulled into the magic sounds of gypsy jazz, she returns to Vail for an intimate performance with fellow French New York City transplant and guitar master Michael Valeanu.

July 23: Tony DeSare

Based in New York, young singer and jazz pianist Tony DeSare returns to the Vail Square stage with a sound lying somewhere between Harry Connick Jr. and Billy Joel. He’s one of the hottest up-and-comers in jazz and in addition to his award-winning original music is known to tackle anything from the American Songbook to mash-ups fusing old pop hits with current top 40 favorites.

July 30: DIVA

It’s not every day that you come across a 15-piece big band comprised expressly of women. Based in New York, DIVA is an unstoppable ensemble led by drummer Sherrie Maricle. Their classic big band thunder is punctuated by spontaneity and improvisation.

Aug. 6: Hiromi: The Trio Project

Hailing from Japan, pianist Hiromi lights up the keys in a virtuosic style that defies even the broad confines of jazz with hints of rock and classical. When she’s not dazzling audiences with original melodies, she’s creating jingles for Nissan.

Aug. 13: Tommy Igoe Sextet

Splitting his time between San Francisco and New York City, Tommy Igoe leads his sextet from behind the powerful, pounding harmony of his drum kit. You might recognize his sound from Broadway’s original “The Lion King.” His range of beats fall somewhere between Count Basie and The Beatles.

Aug. 20: Bria Skonberg Quartet

Again defying stereotypes, this Canadian-born vocalist resides in New York City, and her main act is the trumpet. One of modern jazz’s most rapidly ascending stars, Bria Skonberg can heat up the brass like Louis Armstrong but has been known to infuse some humor into her hot jazz, holding notes while hula hooping on stage. The 31-year-old is soon to be gobbled up by every huge jazz festival in the world.

Aug. 27: Gregory Porter

California-born, Brooklyn-based baritone Gregory Porter got a full-ride scholarship for football in college but traded his shoulder pads in for a show-stopping jazz career. He won a Grammy last year for Best Jazz Vocal Album and delivers a soaring, sincere performance with a booming voice that will be recognizable for decades to come.

Sept. 3: Vail Jazz All-Stars, Alumni Quintet and House Band

It’s a triple bill for the grand finale of Vail Jazz @ Vail Square and the opening blowout for the multi-day Vail Jazz Party. The All-Stars are 12 of the nation’s most up-and-coming jazz prodigies fresh off of their intense workshop week. Their show is followed by the spontaneous grooves of five former Vail students who are now sizzling professional musicians. John Clayton leads the star-studded Vail Jazz Party House Band — Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon, Lewis Nash and Dick Oatts — in an energetic, unforgettable set featuring the best of contemporary jazz.

ALL NEW THIS SUMMER

Vail Jazz Club Series

Replacing the popular Jazz After series of the last two summers, this summer, Vail Jazz heats up Wednesday nights in July with an even more enticing, one-of-a-kind performance. The Lodge at Vail’s Cucina Rustica restaurant transforms into an intimate, New York City-style dinner lounge as select artists from the Vail Jazz @ Vail Square series take the stage for an indoor evening performance over cocktails and authentic Italian fare. Nicole Henry performs July 8, Cyrille Aimee on July 15, Tony DeSare July 22 and Five Play (two soloists and three rhythm members from DIVA) on July 29. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and music kicks off at 9 p.m. Tickets are limited and run $30 plus a $20 food and beverage minimum.

Vail Jazz at Sweet Basil

Most people were familiar with the famous Sunday evening Vail Jazz performances at Kelly Liken Restaurant starring local piano king Tony Gulizia. While Kelly Liken is gone, Gulizia’s gig is only going to be better as he brings in a rotating cast of jazz stars to accompany him at a delicious new venue: Sweet Basil. What better place to enjoy the sweet sounds of jazz over dinner, a cocktail or dessert than in Vail Village’s most beloved restaurant? Music begins at 9 p.m. every Sunday from June 28 to Aug. 30. Entry is free.

Frank Sinatra 100th birthday bash

In celebration of the late, great Frank Sinatra and what would be his 100th birthday, famed vocalist Curtis Stigers returns to Vail with the H2 Big Band for A Swingin’ Affair, a tribute performance covering Sinatra’s classic songbook’s original Nelson Riddle arrangements. This one-time event kicks off July 13 at 6 p.m. at the Lodge at Vail with cocktails, appetizers and silent auction, followed by dinner and what is sure to be an exceptionally moving performance. Prices start at $200 and all proceeds benefit Vail Jazz educational programs.

 

Tony DeSare lights up the Vail Jazz stage twice this summer

Just as comfortable covering Pharrell as he is old standards from The Great American Songbook, Tony DeSare has a talent for putting his own style stamp on just about anything.

As evidenced by winning first place in the 2013 USA Songwriting Contest, the 37-year-old New Yorker is a solid composer, too.

En route to becoming the next Harry Connick Jr., DeSare cannot remember a time that he didn’t love music. “My dad played guitar and sang in the house every night. I started on violin when I was 8 years old. I fell in love with the piano at 10 years old. I started playing and then performing and before I knew it, I was getting paid to perform at bars and hotels,” says DeSare, who became a father himself last year.

DeSare constantly finds fresh ways to make the keys dance while belting out classics and originals, not to mention several unexpected covers, from Prince to current radio hit, Bastille’s Pompeii.

Three of his recordings were ranked among Billboard’s top 10 jazz albums and his original songs have been handpicked for a number of film soundtracks over the last few years. It was his tune “Chemistry” that won the USA Songwriting Competition, placing first in the jazz category and second overall.

Earlier this year he was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall (one of his regular haunts) with New York Pops for Frank Sinatra’s 100th Birthday Show.

Around this time last year, DeSare spent the day playing pianos all over the streets of New York City– in Central Park, Time Square, in Brooklyn and Queens. The pianos were scattered throughout the five boroughs for a project by Sing for Hope, a charity organization that strives to make art accessible to everyone. There was a total of 88 individually painted pianos on the streets for two weeks, after which the organization donated them to schools, hospitals and community centers. DeSare went out on his own early one Sunday morning with a couple of camera guys dressed like tourists and hit about 15 of the pianos, sitting down at each to play Irving Berlin’s “I Love a Piano.”

“The thing that struck me the most is how every place is such a different experience. Everyone was walking by and if the music caught them enough to stop, they did. All walks of life stopped and shared the moment together. That was the coolest thing,” DeSare says. “That song is almost 100 years old but it’s still enjoyable to old people, young people … all people. It’s an excellent reminder of the power of song.”

The video documenting the experience has gotten tens of thousands of views on DeSare’s YouTube channel, as have several of his other mashups and covers that cannot be found anywhere else.

When selecting a song to perform in a video – such as his jazzed up mesh of Pharrell’s “Happy” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” DeSare chooses only numbers he believes will take on new life once given his bonafide twist. “In the case of the ‘Happy’ video, it was the thought of putting those two songs together – Bobby McFerrin’s, which I loved when I was a kid, and the Pharrell hit. It’s a cultural match, which is the musical reason, but it’s also just the fun and joy of it,” he says.

Fun and enjoyment are unsurprisingly two of the characteristics that resonate during DeSare’s live performance, which typically include several jazz standards from the Great American Songbook as well the singer’s heartfelt, high-energy originals and perhaps a doo-wopped rock track by Bob Dylan, Elton John or Prince.

“I’ve got different stories to go with the songs. I come from a school that believes the process of music should be entertaining and have enough to it along with the presentation of music to make it fun,” he says.

Don’t miss DeSare’s Vail debut at 6 p.m. July 17 in Lionshead for Jazz @Vail Square. Jazz Tent tickets are $15 or $30 for VIP seats (including front of the tent seating, access to 1st Bank VIP Lounge and a drink ticket).

For more information, visit vailjazz.org.

Also, on July 16, DeSare and his trio will perform at the Vail Jazz 20thAnniversary Benefit Dinner. Tickets and tables for this special evening are available for $150 and $1,500, respectively.