John Chin’s (Downplayed) ‘State of Flow’

John Chin is a humble guy. Although he’s had a Grammy nomination and has been lauded for his musical talent since he was a young boy, he’ll tell you he was no child prodigy.

A Korean-American growing up in Los Angeles, Chin recalls his first encounter with a piano, but is sure to emphasize that he was not beckoned to it by any sort of guiding light.

“My parents always had a piano even though they didn’t play. They were classical music fans. They told me I gravitated to it, but it’s not uncommon if you have little ones in the house that they make their way to the piano,” he says.

Nonetheless, his parents nurtured his interest and set him up with a piano teacher by the age of 4 or 5. Chin’s first public performance was in kindergarten, but that, too, he is reluctant to regard as a milestone.

“It wasn’t a formal performance,” he says. “It was just me getting up there and playing. I just remember there was a piano in the classroom. I don’t remember what I played … ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’? Maybe it was the one that comes after that. I think I could read music before I could read English.”

That last part tells you something. Also, the fact that the young pianist’s gift was recognized by California State University, where he was admitted at age 14 and graduated with a B.A. in music at age 19 before continuing on to a masters program at Rutgers University under the great pianist Kenny Barron and pursuing an Artist Diploma at Juilliard, eventually becoming a fixture in New York City’s jazz scene.

“My sequence of early music education was not typical for an American kid,” Chin says. “Classical music was a part of my childhood, but I wouldn’t consider myself to be any good at it. I think it was really the pursuit of playing by ear when I was 12 or 13 and getting better and better at it that motivated me. That’s how I discovered this jazz thing.”

Jazz was nonexistent in Chin’s childhood home, so he’d save money to go to the record store, choosing blindly depending on what album cover looked jazzy or which featured a picture of a pianist.

“Somehow down the line, I started learning how to play things by ear and off the radio – simple things. That’s when I made up my mind that jazz was the ultimate music for an ear player,” he says. “There was an inherent sophistication to the music. When I first tried, though, I couldn’t do it. It was too sophisticated.”

According to Chin, his early days attempting to play jazz were a struggle.

“I couldn’t hear the harmony. The lines were so fast and complex,” he says. “Listening to Charlie Parker or any of the great sax players, they’d put in so many notes and go so fast. In my mind I thought, it’s impossible they know what they’re doing. I’d get on the piano and move my fingers as fast as I could and it sounded terrible. It was then I realized they knew exactly what they were doing … every single note. It blew my mind. I found myself yearning to achieve this ultimate music. I yearned to have a grasp on it.”

By all counts, Chin has managed to find that grasp. He’s released four albums as a band leader and has recorded or shared the stage with artists such as Benny Golson, Ron Carter, John Ellis, Dayna Stephens and Mark Turner, to name just a few. He has toured extensively with Vail favorite Rene Marie and his piano work was nominated for a Grammy on Marie’s 2017 Sound of Red album. His versatility in moving between complex styles – not only those under the jazz umbrella such as bebop and swing, but also hints of classical and pop – have been revered by audiences and music critics across the globe.

Returning to Vail on March 26 for his debut performance as a bandleader (he performed as sideman with Rene Marie on two previous visits), Chin and his trio highlight the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, who he refers to as “timeless” and whose numbers have found their way into his performance for decades. When it comes down to describing the style of his own compositions or the flourish he adds to the classics of icons such as Strayhorn and Ellington, Chin is once again self-effacing.

“The jazz musicians that have come before me, that have carried on this music, a lot of my playing comes from that tradition, but with the idea of pushing the envelope at the same time,” he says. “I believe that a part of the tradition is to push the line and have a progression. I’m constantly a student but also an artist creating something new. Also, I’m always reaching for being in the moment as much as possible, being in a state of flow. When you kiss somebody for the first time, it’s like that. That moment is so real and you can’t think of anything but that moment. I want to be aware of the exact moment I’m in, to reach the state of flow. That leads to consciousness and freedom and living.”

March 26 – The John Chin Trio plays Ellington and Strayhorn

John Chin is joined by Sean Conly on bass and Darrell Green on drums to perform two riveting sets featuring the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Performances take place at The Vail Sonnenalp Hotel. Seating is jazz club style in Ludwig’s Terrace with full dinner and bar service available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Doors open at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. performance and at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. set. Tickets to each performance are $40. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Get tickets here to the 5:30 p.m. performance.

Get tickets here to the 8 p.m. performance.

Sing It, Soul Sister: Let There be Light

Doubtless for most of us, when we hear the word “soulful,” it calls to mind individuals such as Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Gladys Knight or Peggy Scott-Adams.

It is also quite likely the most common adjective used to describe singer Niki Haris. However, according to Haris herself, the word means far more than the ability to express oneself vocally like a gale force wind, wailing melodically from the very depths of one’s body.

No … to Haris, the word carries more literal meaning, particularly when she explains why she named her upcoming pair of performances at the 2019 Vail Jazz Winter Series a tribute to “the sisters of soul.”

“Maybe people will walk into the room and expect to hear a lot of R & B music, or a bunch of singers from Detroit or Memphis. But when I decided to call it ‘sisters of soul,’ it was about sisters who touched my soul, sisters who resonated in my soul,” Haris says. “Even though people call me a soulful singer, it’s not just because I can sing R & B. I’d like to think it’s because my music reaches them in a deep place.”

Haris has long been a favorite among Vail Jazz audiences. Her Gospel Prayer Meetin’ is typically the first performance to sell out every Labor Day weekend at the annual Vail Jazz Party. A back-up vocalist for Madonna for a number of years, Haris’ 15-year solo career has seen her front and center on stages all over the world and her recordings, ranging in genre from pop to jazz, R&B to funk, have topped Billboard charts.

When it comes to specifying who has touched her soul musically and how, Haris, who grew up outside in Benton Harbor, MI and currently resides in Augusta, GA, offers an immediate bank of inspirations, all of whom feel so familiar to her (in spite of having never met the majority), she lists them by first name like one would close friends. They are women whose songs call to mind unforgettable milestones and profound emotions.

“I might say, oh my god, that’s the song I got my first kiss to, or, that’s the song that made me feel so strong inside. These are people who chose to bare their souls and ended up touching mine,” Haris says. “Aretha, she’s an obvious one. There’s everyone from Judy, Gladys, Billie, Nancy, Whitney … I’m going to start with the women first. I’m going to sing from the soul, sing about things that touch my soul.”

Haris believes that singing from the soul is especially crucial during turbulent times. She notes that such expression has, historically, provided a guiding light through some of America’s darkest eras.

“The biggest movements in history are about turning to your soul, from the suffrage and civil rights movements, slavery … there’s something deep inside of people that calls them to action,” she says. “We are in a very auspicious time in our history right now. It’s time to be brave, to sing loudly, to speak boldly, to dance.”

The vocalist equates the human ability to tap into one’s soul with unleashing a glow that can brighten one’s own heart and discover one’s best self as well as cast warmth on everyone in the room … everyone in earshot. Her own ability to do this has been on stark display every time she steps onto the stage, in Vail especially.

“Sometimes I feel I’m coming down there as a crazy Baptist, I’m so into the music,” she says. “If someone wants to be in the light, they’re welcome it. If they don’t want to be in my light, they’d better put some sunglasses on. It’s so important that everyone be in their own light. People forget they have a light. If we can tap into our light, we can change the world.”

Enter the sister(s) of soul.

“I’m really lucky I get to do music that tends to change people’s lives, music that is about more than just coming to a concert and having a good time. I’m going to sing the songs of certain women and it’s not just soulful … it’s soul-filled. These sisters filled my soul. They filled my cup. In this high-tech, low-touch world, I hope I touch some people’s souls.”

March 19 – Niki Haris Salutes the Sisters of Soul

Accompanied by Jeff Jenkins on piano, Mark Simon on bass, Paul Romaine on drums and Steve Kovalcheck on guitar, the powerful vocalist performs two sets that just might be life-changing at Vail’s Sonnenalp Hotel. Seating is jazz club style in Ludwig’s Terrace with full dinner and bar service available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Doors open at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. performance and at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. Tickets to each performance are $40. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Get tickets here to the 5:30 p.m. show.

Get tickets here to the 8 p.m. show.

 

Emmet Cohen’s Formula for Greatness

The young musician highlights what it takes to deliver amazing music

Emmet Cohen’s recipe for a winning performance involves four simple ingredients: connection, consistency, concentration and love.

Playing the piano since age 3, 29-year-old Cohen’s career is still in its early stages, but he’s already made some big waves.

A three-time finalist for the prestigious American Pianists’ Cole Porter Fellowship, Cohen is in the running for the 2019 award this spring. Growing up in New Jersey and Miami, where he studied under the great Shelly Berg, the young composer now resides in New York City, where he is the Hammond B-3 organist-in-residence at the SMOKE jazz club and has performed at major jazz festivals all over the world, including New Orleans, Monterey, Newport, Jerusalem and Bern. He even performed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and, after becoming a finalist in the famed Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition, was escorted by jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath and Wayne Shorter to the White House to meet President Obama.

He’s released six albums, including a Masters Legacy Series featuring (so far) drummer Jimmy Cobb and bassist Ron Carter. His versatile range has been likened to that of Chick Corea, his one-handed solo playing to Red Garland, his surprising variations to Martial Solal. He’s been praised for his fluidity, charisma and unique ability to connect with a vast gamut of fellow musicians and audiences.

The key word here …

Connection

“Music is the ultimate expression of freedom, of people working together and showing that together, we are greater than any one,” Cohen says. “Whatever it is you choose to do in life, more can be achieved when you work together in a certain way. That’s really what jazz teaches. When people see a great jazz ensemble, it’s an example of human beings working together at their highest level. It’s one of the greatest gifts of human capability.”

Of course, the world has its fair share of hot and cold talent. Some days, an individual’s skills could be smoking while other days they’re frozen. As Cohen sees it, this doesn’t fly for great jazz.

Consistency

“The greatest people at any job where you have to execute – it could be sports, music, even being a scientist – the biggest thing involved is consistency. I try to be as consistent as possible. Whether I’ve gotten 10 hours of sleep or zero, whether I’ve traveled all day or not,” he says.

Consistency cannot be confused with flexibility, for which Cohen and his trio are famous. In order to jump from one eclectic number to the next, channeling the mystique of a certain musical era and stamping it with a fresh twist, a deep level of focus comes into play.

Concentration

“Playing in a trio setting, it allows for a lot of flexibility and repertoire,” Cohen says. “In my band, we have hundreds of options to play, things we’ve worked on extensively. We try to keep everything in the book. You’re live DJing … that’s part of the exploration. We don’t follow a set list, we follow the energy of the room. That’s part of the magic of our presentation. We play in the style of all of our favorite bands, spanning a hundred years of jazz, from Jelly Roll, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, to beboppers and some of our favorite modern composers. We’ve taken a lot from the history of jazz and our own take on the way music can be presented. The further back you go in history, the more you study, the further you’re able to push it.”

Love

Though not taste-specific, love is the first flavor any audience member immediately picks up in Cohen’s formula. It’s probably safe to say that it’s the key ingredient.

“You have to bring a feeling of love to the music,” he says. “Love is an esoteric word. It means so many things. It means I’m humble and grateful for the opportunity to play music each and every day. It also means I understand all the sacrifices my musical ancestors made for me to be able to play. It describes my overall feelings about the piano and music in general, how it relates to whoever is listening and their understanding of how much it means to me.”

And if there were a sprinkle of something extra Cohen brings to his dish, it’s hope.

“We’re artists on a mission to try to improve people’s lives, to help them forget about pain they’ve been experiencing,” he says. “One of the main messages of jazz is that of hope. You can hear the sound of hope in all of the jazz masters. I try to play with musicians who want to leave other musicians and the audience with that feeling of hope.”

The Emmet Cohen Trio returns to Vail March 12

The Emmet Cohen Trio, featuring Russell Hall on bass and Kyle Poole on drums, ignites The Sonnenalp Hotel with love, hope and mind-blowing instrumental talent in back-to-back performances at Ludwig’s Terrace. Seating is jazz club style with full dinner and bar service available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Doors open at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. performance and at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. Tickets to each performance are $40. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Get tickets here to the 5:30 p.m. show.

Get tickets here to the 8 p.m. show.

 

Aimée Hones Her Gypsy Sensibilities

The French-born artist returns on the heels of her 10th album release

Cyrille Aimée has long-since gone the way of the gypsy. The 34-year-old grew up in the small town of Samois-sur-Seine in northern France and was constantly intrigued by the caravans of musicians and gypsies that would plant themselves in her neighborhood every summer for the annual Django Reinhardt festival.

“The Django festival was part of my life even before I wanted to be a musician. I’d go run around in the street for the festival. It was free for kids … all the other kids were running around. Little by little, I started to be interested in the music part of it,” she says.

Stemming from a spontaneous, circus-like episode in which Aimée found herself pedaling her bike down the street with three gypsy girls piled onto it, it wasn’t long before she became an honorary member of the visiting clan.

“A couple of gypsies came over and said I had a nice bike. Three of them hopped on the bike with me, riding down a hill – one on the handlebars, one on the seat, one on the back. They became my friends. I started going into the campsite. The guys were always there playing the guitar. My friend’s brother would teach me how to play and I would teach him how to read.”

Aimée started sneaking out of the house late at night to join the gypsies around their musical campfire and developed a love for singing. By the time she was 18, she was invited to perform on Star Academy, the French equivalent of American Idol. At that point, however, she had already decided to head to New York to study jazz at Purchase College. She did not, however, grow out of her affinity for the gypsy lifestyle. Between semesters, she would bring Jazz Studies friends back to Europe and they traveled from city to city, performing on street corners for cash.

“We did a tour through Europe, slept on benches for a whole summer,” she says. “We really didn’t have anything. We’d have to play so we could buy food. We had two guitars. My sister was playing the shakers. There was a sax player playing duets with me.”

In Italy, the crew performed at a club during a jam session. The manager was impressed.

“The guy from the club said, ‘If you play for the lunchtime crowd, we’ll feed you. Play for dinner and we’ll feed you.’”

As her friends waited in Italy, Aimée ventured to Montreux, Switzerland on her own to try her vocal chords in a singing competition at the Montreuz Jazz Festival. She won.

After this adventurous summer, Aimée and her friends returned to Purchase, where she graduated and relocated to Brooklyn, from whence she continues to travel the world performing with orchestras, ensembles, quartets and duets.

Aimée’s 10th album, Move On, A Sondheim Adventure, was released this February, featuring an eclectic selection from composer Stephen Sondheim’s vast songbook. Aimée appeared in Sondheim and Wynton Marsalis’s 2013 production, A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Story, alongside Broadway greats such as Jeremy Jordan and Bernadette Peters, and her performance was heralded by numerous critics as a major highlight.

Cyrille Aimée returns to Vail March 5

A Vail Jazz favorite, the French singer, accompanied by Eric Gunnison on piano, brings her sultry and theatrical stage presence to Ludwig’s Terrace at The Sonnenalp Hotel for back-to-back performances on March 5. Seating is jazz club style with full dinner and bar service available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Doors opening at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. performance and at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. Tickets to each performance are $40.

GO HERE FOR TICKETS TO THE 5:30 P.M. PERFORMANCE.

GO HERE FOR TICKETS TO THE 8 P.M. PERFORMANCE.

For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Joe McBride brings ‘timeless’ R&B back to Vail

Soulful singer/pianist returns for two intimate performances at The Sonnenalp

 

From the first time Joe McBride touched a keyboard at age 4, he was hooked … as in, he could not let it go.

“I had gone to a Christmas party at my cousin’s house. I found my cousin’s keyboard and started playing it. I didn’t want to leave,” said the Fulton, Missouri native. “I cried for three, four days when we left. My parents broke down and bought me a keyboard.”

Four years later, the gift was a piano, purchased for an 8-year-old McBride by his church.

“From the beginning, I knew I loved it,” he says. “I always knew I loved music. I had a radio next to my ear, a transistor radio next to my ear in bed every night.”

As a teenager, McBride contracted a degenerative eye disease that would eventually take his eyesight. But that did nothing to slow musical pursuits.

“There are always those with greater than or lesser than,” he says. “I don’t think because I was blind I concentrated more on music. It’s because I love it. There’s plenty of blind people, a lot of adversities that a lot of people have, it doesn’t have to be physical. Your passions have to do with who you are as a person.”

After studying at Webster University in St. Louis and then in North Texas, McBride spent the next three decades creating and recording music and touring the world as a bandleader.

“As I grew older, I’d fall into my own groups, getting out in St. Louis and meeting other musicians. The more I got to interact with people, the more I realized how many different kinds of music I love.”

McBride made his way to San Diego and Dallas, quickly establishing himself as a respected and sought after singer/pianist in each city’s jazz scene. From 1992 to 1998, he recorded four albums – Grace, A Gift for Tomorrow, Keys to Your Heart and Double Take, featuring contributions from greats such as Larry Carlton, Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Peter White and Grover Washington, Jr., to name a few.

He’s opened for stars such as Whitney Houston and The Yellowjackets and recorded a total of nine full-length albums, including 2009’s Lookin’ for a Change, a testament to his musical versatility, as he infuses a broad gamut of popular tunes from numerous genres (Coldplay, John Mayer, Gnarls Barkley) with his own vocal and harmonic style. Whether personally revamping a contemporary pop tune or performing a Ray Charles classic with a smooth and distinctive flare that’s all his, McBride embraces every opportunity to grow.

“I have so many different influences – Ray Charles, definitely – but also Beethoven, Bach, Jimmy Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald and even Green Day,” McBride says. “As a kid I was exposed mostly to rock n roll. At my grandmother’s, she’d always have Ray Charles in the background. In college, it would be part of my assignment to learn about different artist. I’m old now … but I’m timeless, baby.”

McBride is often compared to Ray Charles, though anyone who’s heard and witnessed his performance – including last summer’s Vail debut, a charismatic tribute to Brother Ray – knows that McBride takes the stage with his own distinctive energy and presence.

“I’m not acting to perform as Ray would. People can get caught up in the stereotype … yes, I’m a black, blind person who sings and plays the piano,” McBride says. “I’m more influenced by Ray as a style, being able to cross over and play with so many kinds of musicians. He came on the scene back in the early 50s, when he pretty much just kept to gospel. Then came the R & B and the big band stuff with Count Basie. He even did country with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. He influenced a lot of styles. I probably have a hundred influences. All of them are with me, but my show is always my own.”

Feb. 26 Joe McBride at The Vail Sonnenalp

Joe McBride returns to Vail for back-to-back performances at The Sonnenalp Hotel on Feb. 26, highlighting classics by the likes of Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder as well as McBride originals. Seating is jazz club style at Ludwig’s Terrace, with doors opening at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. performance and at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. show. Full dinner and bar service will be available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Tickets to each performance are $40. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

BUY TICKETS HERE FOR 5:30 P.M. SHOW.

BUY TICKETS HERE FOR 8 P.M SHOW.

 

 

10 Reasons to Catch the 2019 Vail Jazz Winter Series

It can be argued that live jazz is best enjoyed in a warm, classy lounge with snow falling outside. This is just one of many reasons to secure your spot at the 2019 Vail Jazz Winter Series.

It is widely known that jazz became popular in the 1930s, but its hey day in Vail has gone on for 25 years … with the best still to come. That’s yet another reason to look into what Vail Jazz has cooking this winter. But here are the key 10:

It’s Vail Jazz’s silver anniversary, so the Series is going big. Following the holiday kickoff extravaganza – a swing dance party at The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch with New York City’s sizzling eight-piece The Hot Sardines, the 2019 Winter Series is delivering more than ever before – seven evenings of live music throughout the winter. Five of these sparkling nights take place in the swanky lounge setting of Ludwig’s Terrace at Vail’s Sonnenalp Hotel.

Entertainment for both the après crowd and the late-nighters. World-class artists light up The Sonnenalp Hotel on Feb. 26, March 5, March 12, March 19 and March 26 in a true jazz club format of back-to-back performances. The first seating appeals to the après ski crowd at 5:30 p.m. and the second targets late-night live music seekers at 8 p.m. Full dinner and bar service are available at each seating.

When we say the 2019 lineup is “world-class,” we mean it. The Winter Series lineup is comprised of the most talented artists in today’s jazz world … lauded not only in the U.S., but across the globe. After his sold-out Vail debut last summer, American blues pianist and vocalist Joe McBride returns on Feb. 26, followed by French-born songstress Cyrille Aimée on March 5, the charismatic Emmet Cohen Trio on March 12, soulful gospel favorite Niki Haris on March 19 and finally Grammy-nominated pianist John Chin on March 26. That’s not to mention the savvy on intimate display at private residences for the Series’ invite-only gigs. Former Stevie Wonder band member and vocalist Robert Johnson performs with The Mark Diamond Trio on March 2 and Australian multi-instrumentalist Adrian Cunningham on March 30.

Jazz has many musical wings and R&B is one of them. Joe McBride has oft been compared to Ray Charles. While the two share many characteristics – losing their eyesight at a young age followed by rapid development of tremendous vocal and piano talent – McBride has a sound all his own, even when he’s rolling through America’s favorite blues tunes. The Missouri native has recorded and/or shared the stage with everyone from Whitney Houston to Larry Carlton. He channels the spirits of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and other R&B Songbook masters with his own smokin’ energy and style on Feb. 26.

A voice that will hypnotize. Anyone who has trouble believing that vocal cords are a serious instrument has never heard or witnessed the enchantment of Cyrille Aimée. The young singer’s versatile vocal skills have been noted worldwide, from her native France, where she won the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival Competition, to New York City, where she’s won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Her voice has been enthusiastically described as everything from “saucy” to “sweet” by the New York Times.

Lose yourself in musical passion. The power of The Emmet Cohen Trio is all-encompassing, like walking into a tunnel of sound where every one of your senses is simultaneously enlivened, yet relaxed. A musical prodigy from the age of 3, Emmet Cohen’s piano compositions and delivery run the gamut from fluid to explosive. The Trio hits every tone and color on the jazz palette on March 12.

The rare treat of experiencing Niki Haris on a small stage. Every year at the end-of-summer climax event, the Vail Jazz Party, the first tickets to sell out are for Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin.’ The incredible soul singer who spent years touring with Madonna might be making a rarefied appearance on a smaller, indoor stage, but you can rest assured that her output will be as large and in-charge as ever. She gambols through a potent gamut of romping numbers while saluting her fellow sisters of soul on March 19.

The opportunity to witness John Chin before he’s swept up in big-time stardom. Born in South Korea and raised in California before moving to New York City and becoming a fixture of the Big Apple’s deep talent pool, John Chin draws inspiration not only from traditional jazz, but from pop, western and classical genres in his unique compositions. He’s released four albums as a bandleader and was nominated for a Grammy for his work on René Marie’s 2017 “Sound of Red” release. If you caught him performing with Marie in her Vail debut a couple of summers ago, you know he’s on a skyward trajectory. Don’t miss him at The Sonnenalp on March 26.

Supporting the future of musical talent, locally and globally. In addition to bringing in some of the world’s finest artists for the Winter Series and the pageant of free and ticketed summer performances, Vail Jazz also does its part in fostering generations of musicians to come through unique educational programs. These include the year-round Vail Jazz Goes to School program as well as the free summertime Jammin’ Jazz Kids sessions and the Vail Jazz Workshop, which selects and finances 12 of America’s top teenage musical prodigies in an intensive, week-long study group that culminates with live performances at the Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. Every ticket purchased for a Vail Jazz performance or a donation made directly supports the nonprofit’s educational initiatives which, in turn, secures amazing talent for our children and their children to enjoy.

Classy date night. It’s a beautiful, cold, wintery night and there you are, cozied up with your loved one in the elegant Ludwig’s Terrace, a glass of wine and gourmet meal on the table and one of the planet’s most talented musicians providing a scintillating live soundtrack a few feet away. A night out in Vail doesn’t really get more romantic.

Learn more about Vail Jazz’s 25th Anniversary Winter Series.

 

Hot Sardines Heat Up the Holidays

The eight-piece throwback jazz band likely to get feet moving in special Ritz-Carlton performance

Why is the sound of old jazz making new waves? Elizabeth Bougerol of The Hot Sardines has a simple explanation.

“It’s a joyous, connective experience,” said the Sardines’ singer. “And these days people are starved for that sense of connection more than they know.”

Launched in 2007 when Bougerol and co-founder Evan Palazzo were drawn together over a mutual love for jazz icons such as Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong, The Hot Sardines have established themselves as one of the hottest jazz ensembles in New York City.

Coming at the classic sound as a livewire of impeccably tight musicianship, The Hot Sardines dish out sizzling renditions of tunes like The Andrews Sister’s “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen,” Rodgers & Hammerstein’s “People Will Say We’re In Love” and have even partnered with actor Alan Cumming, a devout Hot Sardines fan, for a sexy cabaret version of “When I Get Low, I Get High.”

A Sardines’ performance is both an auditory and visual feast of energy, all eight members of the band hitting individual bright notes that fit into the rich flow while the marionette moves of tap dancer AC Lincoln are so oddly cool and hypnotizing that one cannot help but become entranced, tapping one’s own toes if not leaping up and grabbing a dance partner.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square: The Hot Sardines (photo: Steve Pope)

The Hot Sardines have performed all over the world, notching more than 100 gigs a year, gathering enthusiastic ballrooms full of new fans everywhere they go. Their 2014 self-titled album debuted in the top 10 on the Billboard Jazz Chart and remained there for more than a year and 2016’s French Fries and Champagne debuted at No. 5 on Billboard’s Jazz Traditional Chart, No. 6 on Jazz Current & Top 20 Heatseekers Chart and was No. 1 on both iTunes & Amazon jazz charts. Roll into one of their local NYC gigs and find an audience comprised mostly of millennials, passionate and committed to this energetic collective of swing revivalists, looking every bit like a jazz club might have in 1920. The crowds at their road performances comprise of every generation of jazz fan – from high schoolers to life-long connoisseurs who may have eye-witnessed a performance by Ray Charles or Ella Fitgerald in their younger years.

“Everyone has some working knowledge of this music,” Bougerol said. “They heard it in a commercial. Their grandmother played it. The stories in this music are so universal and timeless. When it’s live, there is something in it. To be in a room [or tent] with a three-piece brass section, there is something new every time.”

As a testament to this and also to The Hot Sardines’ unerring improvisation skills, during their Vail debut last summer, the electricity went out for several minutes, cutting the volume level into a whisper while the band did not miss a stride or a note. Palazzo, whose voice has unbelievable carrying capacity, seamlessly moved from piano to vocals, turning in his seat and projecting his voice out to the crowd as the horn section ramped up its blows. A pair of acoustic numbers took on fresh excitement until the power was restored and the band’s harmony and fiery movement locked smoothly back into full volume.

Not only did this make for truly impressive entertainment, but it also proves Bougerol’s point about the music’s potential for connecting people, which is certainly not a quality possessed by all artists, genres or even subsets of jazz.

“If you think of some of the more recent jazz, it can appeal to a more intellectual experience of music,” Bougerol said. “So it’s not about connecting everyone in the room necessarily. There’s something in this music. Every so often someone will pay us a compliment that reminds me of how special it is. One person came up after a gig and said, ‘while you were playing, I thought of every person I love.’ That was pretty cool.”

Vail Jazz Holiday Dance Party with The Hot Sardines – Dec. 27

The Hot Sardines return to the Vail Valley for the holiday event of the season – a live performance and dance party at The Ritz-Carton Bachelor Gulch on Dec. 27. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and performance/dance begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $90 and include two drinks each. For more information, visit the event page or call 970-479-6146.

GET TICKETS HERE.

A tale of two geniosities

Joe McBride does not readily liken himself to Ray Charles. But the two vocalists/pianists do share a few similar qualities, not all of which are completely obvious. Charles, whose nicknames included “The Genius” and “the Father of Soul,” passed away in 2004 at the age of 74, leaving behind a legacy as one of the greatest musicians in history and a catalogue of hits spanning six decades, including “Hit the Road Jack,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “Unchain my Heart.”

While Charles grew up in Florida in the 1930s and McBride was born in 1963 and spent his childhood in Missouri, both artists took an early interest in music and both embraced numerous genres. 

“My first experience with a musical instrument was when I was 4 years old,” McBride says. “I had gone to a Christmas party at my cousin’s house. I found my cousin’s keyboard and started playing it. I didn’t want to leave. I cried for three, four days when we left. My parents broke down and bought me a keyboard.”

By the time he was 8, McBride’s church bought him his first piano and his love for music of all varieties continued to grow. As a teenager, McBride contracted a degenerative eye disease that would eventually take his eyesight. But that did not slow the pursuit of his musical dreams.

“There are always greater or lesser abilities. I don’t think because I was blind I concentrated more on music. It’s because I love it,” McBride says. “The skill has to do with who you are as a person. There are a lot of adversities that a lot of people have. It doesn’t have to be physical. It could be someone that grew up in hardship.”

Ray Charles, who, as a child watched his younger brother drown in a laundry tub and then lost his mother as a teenager, certainly faced his share of hardship. Charles took on an interest in the piano around the age of 4, but began losing his eyesight (most people believe from glaucoma) at about that age and was completely blind by the time he was 7. Shortly thereafter, Charles’ mother managed to enroll him into St. Augustine’s School for the Deaf and Blind and his piano skills flourished. He learned how to read and play braille music, performing classical compositions by Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. However, he was more interested in the songs he heard on the radio – jazz, blues and country.

Charles moved to Seattle at the age of 18 and formed his own band. A year later, he notched his first national hit, “Confession Blues” and began arranging tunes for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Cole Porter. He moved to Los Angeles and continued making hits and crossover success in numerous genres – gospel, jazz, soul, Latin, blues, country and western.

“Ray was probably the first crossover team,” McBride says. “He came on the scene back in the early 50s, when he pretty much just kept to gospel. He kept the style but changed the message. Then came the R & B and the big band stuff with Count Basie. He even did country with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. He did R & B, soul, rock … He influenced a lot of styles.”

Charles, was of course, a major inspiration for McBride as he pursued his own career as a young musician, realizing, like Charles, that he embraced and was influenced by a vast selection of styles.

“Ray was one of many inspirations,” McBride says. “As a kid, I was exposed mostly to rock n’ roll. At my grandmother’s, she’d always have Ray Charles in the background. In college, it would be part of my assignment to learn about different artists. I have so many different influences – from Ray Charles to Beethoven, Jimi Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald, Green day, Elvis Costello … I just love music. I listen to something different every day. But if I were to call something my home, it’d be somewhere in the middle of jazz and soul.”

After studying at Webster University in St. Louis and then North Texas, McBride spent the next three decades creating and recording music and touring the world as a bandleader. He’s opened for the likes of Whitney Houston, The Yellowjackets and Larry Carlton. He’s recorded nine full-length albums featuring guest musicians such as Carlton, Grover Washington Jr., Dave Koz and Peter White, to name just a few. Like Charles, McBride has learned something from and his sound been shaped by every individual with whom he’s worked. Whether infusing a contemporary pop tune with his own jazz stylings or performing a Ray Charles classic with a smooth and distinctive flare that’s all his, McBride embraces every opportunity to grow.

“I’m more influenced by Ray as a style, the geniosity of being able to cross over and play with so many kinds of musicians,” McBride says. “For me, it’s more about the music … how he influenced everyone else.”

Tribute to Ray Charles featuring Joe McBride Trio

Joe Mcbride Trio – vocalist and pianist Joe McBride, drummer Jamil Byrom and bassist Jonathan Fisher – is joined by special guest Bob Rebholz on saxophone to pay tribute to Ray Charles in the grand finale of the 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series. The tribute takes place at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp Vail on April 11 with an evening of classics crossing the lines of jazz, funk, R&B and soul. Doors open at 5:30. The first performance begins at 6 p.m. The second seating takes place at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service featuring favorites from the Bully Ranch and a full bar will be available at both seatings. 

Go here for First Seating tickets.

Go here for Second Seating tickets. 

Dave Tull Refines his Fresh Jazz Formula

Dave Tull is a perfectionist. As evidence, consider the reason his recent album was nearly 10 years in the making.

He really wanted to get it right.

“It takes me forever to write something,” says the musician, who has been playing drums since he was 10 years old and added singing to his repertoire when he discovered that the coordination required of both was oddly seamless. “When I deal with other people’s writing, sometimes I wonder if they were thrown off course. I wonder if they took another half hour, if they could have come up with another, much better line. I don’t call something finished until the song is absolutely what it needs to be. When an idea or a chord progression comes to me, it’s very organic. But hopefully there is honesty there, legitimacy and a certain amount of quality. That’s why I take such a long time.”

There’s no question that each track on the recently released “Texting and Driving,” checks all the boxes on that list.

Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Tull’s journey as a jazz musician began on a well-trodden path.

“I was lucky I was given a lot of great influences, not the least of which were in my household,” he says. “I was paired with great teachers and there were all the right influences along the way to keep me energized. The big band thing came naturally growing as a drummer. The Bay area was a great place to grow up for jazz. I kept taking that next step.”

Before and after his time training at California State Northridge, Tull clocked hours upon hours listening to standards and memorizing solos.

“I would listen to jazz records, sometimes a hundred times. If you have a favorite record, you start memorizing solos and lyrics. It was so natural to me to sing and make up my own solos. I found I was walking down the street and had chord changes in my head. I was making up choruses and melodies,” Tull says.

Still, the drummer was more focused on his chosen instrument and never intended to showcase any vocal talent to actual audiences.

“The singing kind of developed on its own, but never like I would do it in public. It was just an outlet for me playing a non-pitched instrument,” he says. “By the time I wanted to sing tunes in clubs, I was doing gigs. The foundations of drumming were so solidly in place, it wasn’t that hard to add singing on top of it.”

Although he has a stacked resume as a sideman, including contributions on numerous Michael Bublé albums and touring with Barbara Streisand, Tull discovered that he was a natural bandleader. In addition to his keen ear, sense of harmony and uncanny ability to keep beats while creating compositions, Tull realized he possessed a handful of additional traits not always prominent in traditionally trained jazz artists.

“I think there’s a lot more humor in jazz than people realize and I like to find it,” he says. “Sometimes we as jazz musicians take ourselves too seriously. I’ll write any song that occurs to me. It’s not necessarily funny. Sometimes it’s a story song. Sometimes it’s a sad song. I bring the people in with a range of emotion.”

Even traditionalists who have approached Tull’s originals as naysayers have soon been converted.

“I’m a crusader against that attitude we sometimes find in jazz audiences that they don’t want to hear anything new,” he says. “I try to write so they’ll be drawn into the story, or the humor in some cases. If it is well written, they’ll go, ‘I normally don’t like original tunes, but I like this one.’”

Also, let’s not forget that Tull loves the standards as much as the next guy.

“I’m with those people who say ‘they used to do it so good.’ But I don’t see how someone can’t write them how they used to, structure the melody so it builds to that stop with such power,” he says. “I believe the older school audience will embrace my songs as soon as they hear they’re good like the classics. When I perform for a younger audience used to simpler tunes who say, ‘I don’t like jazz, jazz is too much,’ I love winning them over, too.”

The 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series returns to Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on March 14 with Dave Tull’s CD release party “Texting and Driving.” The evening features two 75-minute performances with Dave Tull, Jeff Jenkins and Ken Walker. Doors open at 5:30 and the first performance launches at 6 p.m. The second seating takes place at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service featuring favorites from the Bully Ranch and a full bar will be available at both seatings.

Click here for tickets to the 6 p.m. seating.

Click here for tickets to the 8:30 p.m. seating.

Composing soundtracks for everyday moments

The every day experiences and encounters that might give the most thoughtful of people a few seconds of cerebral pause inspire Julien Labro to compose sophisticated melodies.

The French-born accordionist describes his song-writing inspiration as something that can happen “anywhere and everywhere.”

For example, I came up with one song while I was on the subway in New York City. I saw a little boy of about 1 or 2 sitting in his stroller. He looked so comfortable and chill. He was probably one of the coolest kids I’d ever seen. At that moment a tune came to me almost like a soundtrack for him,” Labro says, adding that he whistled the tune into his phone in order to record it once he got home.

“Another time, I was waiting on a visa to go on tour in India. I was leaving the next day, but still hadn’t gotten my passport back from the embassy. I got a tracking number for UPS and when I looked it up, the status said, ‘out for delivery.’ Of course, this was the status for hours. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and wrote a tune about the experience.”

This number, “Out for Delivery,” does indeed convey the emotion of the situation, the instrumental tune moving from relaxing, liquid refrains to frantic sweeps of high-speed inflection during which Labro lurches forward and backward with the effort of furious button-pushing. The number then glides into a hypnotizing rhythm punctuated by quick drum rolls and sporadic accordion solos. One can almost hear Labro’s inner dialogue moving from calming reassurances such as, “the package will turn up any minute” to the demanding frenzy of “where is it?”

“It’s more about capturing a feeling or a moment. I’m never sure when or what will evoke a feeling or create a memory that I want to capture and share,” Labro says.

The French musician initially met fellow New York City transplant Olli Soikkeli during a concert organized by Frank Vignola during which the Finnish guitarist performed as a guest.

“I was impressed by how well he could play and by how deep his voice is. I mean, have you heard him speak? All joking aside, he is a very talented guitarist,” Labro says.

Both musicians began playing their instruments as young boys, both inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt and The Hot Club of France before branching off into a vast array of genres and touring Europe and then the world with a variety of jazz greats. To name just a few, both have shared the stage with Bucky Pizzarelli and Tommy Emmanuel. Soikkeli has toured with Paulus Schäfer and Cyrille Aimee and Labro has collaborated with Grammy winners Jason Vieaux and Fernando Otero.

After the pair once again crossed tracks a couple of years ago at The Crested Butte Music Festival, they agreed to join forces and have since toured throughout the United States and Finland as well as recording the album Rise & Grind, comprised mostly of Labro originals as well a rendition of Reinhardt’s “Belleville,” Edvard Grieg’s “Danse Norvegienne” and even a steppy and intricate interpretation of Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again.”

“Even though we met through the gypsy jazz scene, our music has evolved outside of the Django Reinhardt tradition,” Labro says. “Olli and I both also bring our own unique and eclectic backgrounds to the music, which includes classical, jazz, blues, world music, and even metal. As a result, while you may still be able to catch aspects of gypsy jazz, the music is actually deeply rooted in jazz, which provides us with more freedom to improvise and create.”

Don’t miss Julien Labro and Olli Soikkeli Quartet (featuring bassist Eduardo Belo and drummer Nick Anderson) at the 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on Feb. 21. The evening features two 75-minute performances. Doors open at 5:30 and the first performance launches at 6 p.m. The second seating takes place at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service featuring favorites from the Bully Ranch and a full bar will be available. For tickets or more information, call 970-479-6146.