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. 

Let’s Dance

“Let’s dance” may be a call to action, but it was also the name of a short-lived, but very popular radio program (Dec. 1934-May 1935) that launched the career of Benny Goodman. The format of the New York show was unique in that it was five hours long with three rotating bands, but only three hours of music were “aired” in each time zone. Starting at 10:30 p.m. on the East Coast, the last three hours of the program were heard on the West Coast beginning at 9:30 p.m. and it actually had a much larger audience in the Pacific time zone due to its earlier start time.

While the program was extremely popular, a labor dispute at Nabisco, the show’s sponsor, caused it to cease all sponsorships, and the show was canceled. That summer Goodman took his band on the road, but was met with limited success, as the audiences were indifferent to the band’s performances because they played “stock arrangements” that were not all that “swinging.” Goodman was broke and close to quitting, but that all that changed on the night of Aug. 21, 1935, when the band opened at the Palomar Ballroom, a famous dancehall in Hollywood. The crowd came to dance, but when the band played the same material they had been playing that summer, the dancers were non-responsive and it looked like the end was in sight for the band. However, it was Goodman’s drummer, Gene Kruppa, that turned it all around. Between sets that night he said to Goodman, “If we’re gonna die, Benny, let’s die playing our own thing.” Goodman went “all-in,” opening the next set with Fletcher Henderson’s swinging arrangements of “Sometimes I’m Happy” and “King Porter Stomp.” The dancers went wild, bursting into applause and gathering around the bandstand to watch the band play. What Goodman learned that night was that the crowd was there because they had been listening to Goodman on “Let’s Dance” and they were waiting for the opportunity to do just that … to swing dance. At the end of the three-week engagement, Goodman’s position as the “King of Swing” was firmly established.

So what is swing dancing? Well, let us start with the music that is danced to: “swing” is jazz that has a propulsive drive with musical accents related to a fixed beat. When you hear it, you know it, as you instinctively want to click your fingers and tap your feet and the music has that “swing feel.”

The origins of swing dancing can be traced to Harlem in the 1920’s and 30’s. Known variously as the Jitterbug, Balboa, Shag and Boogie Woogie, and many more colorful names, the most widely adopted of which was the “Lindy Hop.” Its roots go back to African rhythms meddled to European dance conventions – partner dancing. Besides providing sheer joy to the participants, it allowed the dancers to improvise with aerials and other techniques that captured the imagination of young people who did not want to dance like their elders. Sound familiar?

The Lindy Hop got its name from the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, whose 1927 solo flight from NY to Paris brought “Lindy” world fame for his “hop” across the Atlantic. Shortly thereafter, a newspaper reporter asked a dancer what was the name of the wild dance the crowd was performing, he responded, “the Lindy Hop,” and the name stuck.

Ground zero for the Lindy Hop was the Savoy Ballroom, located at 141st and Lenox Ave. in Harlem. Known as the “Home of Happy Feet,” the cavernous dancehall could accommodate 4,000 dancers and was opened seven nights a week with an admission charge of $.60 after 6 p.m. and $.85 after 8 p.m. It had an elongated dancefloor anchored by two bandstands – one at each end of the dance floor. When one band stopped to take a break, the dancers moved to the other end of the floor and without missing a beat, the next band began to play. The Savoy was the scene of many band competitions, or “cutting contests,” as they were known. The most famous swing-era bands led by Count Basie, Chick Webb, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, and many more, did battle at the Savoy and it was the inspiration for the great swing-era tune, “Stompin’ at the Savoy.”

Most importantly, the Lindy Hop and the Savoy played an important role in the beginning of the desegregation of the races in America. Annual attendance was 700,000 with an estimated mix of 85% black patrons and 15% white patrons, but some evenings it was 50-50. White dancers went uptown to the Savoy to be part of an evolving dance scene, which would ultimately become a dance craze that would sweep the nation and lead to the tearing down of barriers between the races. The Savoy was in reality a social experiment, not just a dancehall, especially when contrasted with another very famous Harlem establishment only a few blocks away, The Cotton Club, a “whites-only” venue. It was controlled by the “mob” and catered to the wealthy, featuring top black entertainers with an all-black service staff. Decorated with a jungle motif, it reeked of overt racism and the best that can be said for it was that it launched the careers of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Lena Horne.

So let’s dance!

Vail Jazz presents “Swing! Swing! Swing!” at 8 p.m. Friday, March 30 at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch. The evening of swinging dance and live music from the Tony Gulizia Sextet celebrates the 20th anniversary of Vail Jazz Goes to School.  

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Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Winter Series and the Vail Jazz Festival. 

 

Vail Jazz Goes Swingin’ at The Ritz

The Tony Gulizia Sextet set to deliver a rare evening of swinging dance tunes

Ah, the 1950s … poodle skirts, big bands and unabashed swing dancing in ballrooms. Here’s your chance for a taste of it. Blast back to the best of the big band era on Friday, March 30 at the Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch with Swing! Swing! Swing!

Pianist Tony Gulizia heads up the evening of powerhouse live music and dancing, performing big band classics from Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, to name just a few.

“It’s going to be a great night of American jazz dance music from the big band era,” Gulizia says. “I get a lot of comments from folks saying there is no place to go dance in the valley, especially swing dance. You’d be surprised how often couples jump up to dance in a restaurant or bar. They’ll have all kinds of space for this event. It’ll be a fun night.”

In anticipation, local musician Kathy Morrow has been shining her dancing shoes along with some of her students at Avon Recreation Center, where she co-instructs a ballroom dance class of East and West Coast swing, foxtrot, waltz, rumba and cha cha with Scott Hopkins.

“We never get the chance to dance to big band music,” Morrow says. “I think I was born 50 years too late, but I dream of being part of that scene. It’s kind of a bygone era and not easy to bring back, since ballrooms are hard to come by. I love to move, love to dance. Tony can really, really swing. This is a great opportunity.”

In addition to Gulizia on piano, the sextet includes his brother Joey Gulizia on drums, Mike Gurciullo on trumpet, Andy Hall on bass, Michael Pujado on percussion and Roger Neumann on saxophone.

The high-energy set list will span the gamut of big band and swing favorites from the 1920s through today. Don’t be surprised to hear classics that beg for the Charleston an tunes from jazz giants like Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Louis Prima and more.

All told, the live music extravaganza will roll through 100 years of jazz classics.

Swing! Swing! Swing! marks the 20th anniversary of Vail Jazz Goes to School, a Vail Jazz educational program that enlightens fourth and fifth graders about the art and history of jazz music as well as providing an opportunity to actually play and create music.

Since its inception 20 years ago, Tony Gulizia and members of his sextet have served as faculty for Vail Jazz Goes to School, imparting musical wisdom to roughly 22,000 local boys and girls. The program has served as a springboard for musical studies and professional careers for numerous students.

“I’ll bump into kids who are adults now. They’ll say, ‘I remember you from Vail Jazz Goes to School. You really opened my eyes to music and to how diverse jazz is,’” Gulizia says.

Swing! Swing! Swing

Friday, March 30

Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch

The Tony Gulizia Sextet (Joey Gulizia on drums, Mike Gurciullo on trumpet, Andy Hall on bass, Michael Pujado on percussion and Roger Neumann on saxophone) delivers an explosive live performance featuring American jazz from the big band and swing eras at 8 p.m. March 30 at The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch. Pre-show dinner specials will be offered at Ritz-Carlton eatery (970.343.1168 for reservations). Free parking and complimentary shuttle service is provided for all attendees to and from the Bear Lot at the base of Beaver Creek. Tickets are $40, or $75 for VIP, which includes a pre-show champagne toast and premiere seating with table service. All proceeds benefit Vail Jazz Goes to School. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Click here for tickets.

 

Jazz and the Coffee Connection

The first beverage that comes to mind when thinking about jazz is not coffee but alcohol. The two have been served in taverns, bars, juke joints, nightclubs and dance halls since jazz’s inception in the early 20th century and the pair have been the main ingredients of a good time ever since.

While alcohol can be traced to pre-history, coffee didn’t appeared in the New World until the mid-1600s in the Dutch settlement of New Amsterdam (New York). The British, of course, ultimately ruled the colonies and tea was the drink of choice, but that all changed after the Boston Tea Party. Since then, coffee has been the non-alcoholic drink of choice in the U.S., with coffeehouses/coffee shops proliferating.

Fast forward to the 1940s, jazz was the popular music of the day. However, after World War II, jazz took a turn and bebop was born – a new style of jazz. Jazz was not for dancing anymore, but for listening, a thought-provoking art form, the music of the oppressed, the underdog and a vehicle to protest injustice. Bebop innovators Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie were seen as musical revolutionaries and social change was beginning to gather momentum.

In 1948, Jack Kerouac, poet and writer, was in the forefront of the “Beat” generation – the name given to a group of disillusioned youth that embraced anti-materialism with a disdain for a conventional life style. Living in New York City, Kerouac frequented jazz clubs and was greatly influenced by the beboppers’ musical revolution. His classic book “On the Road,” celebrated jazz, the musicians that were turning the jazz world upside down and the Beat generation.

Many youths were drawn to the new lifestyle and gathering places for them sprang up in urban centers: coffeehouses. These dark, seedy establishments had, in many cases, the look of an opium den, with funny names (Hungry I, Pandora’s Box, Bitter End and Fickle Pickle), where jazz, folk music (the beginning of the folk revival), poetry and comedy could be heard. Alcohol certainly didn’t disappear, but it was now cool to drink coffee while listening to jazz.

By 1958, members of the Beat generation were known as “beatniks,” the suffix of “nik” from “Sputnik” added by a newspaper columnist and it stuck. The media took over and a beatnik stereotype was created: an unkempt, sandal-wearing male, who rolled his own cigarettes, was attired in a black turtleneck sweater and a beret, with a goatee, wearing dark glasses, speaking in hipster slang, while beating out rhythms on his bongos, spouting poetry without provocation and ultimately crashing in his one-room pad. TV and movies jumped on the bandwagon and beatniks were everywhere (remember Maynard G. Krebs – actor Bob Denver – in the TV show, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis?).

Actually, the beatnik look can be traced to Gillespie and Monk, who in the 1940s were often seen wearing dark glasses and berets, had goatees, spoke hipster-ese and were counter-cultural to the max.

By the mid 1960s, beatniks along with the coffeehouse craze began to fade as the moral righteousness of the Civil Rights movement took center stage and became the focus of protests against the establishment.

Today, most of the old coffeehouses are gone, having been replaced by the monotone, lookalike boxes, serving up drinks that are so outrageous that a ”venti, light-iced, skinny, hazelnut, macchiato, sugar-free syrup, extra shot, no whip” is a drink of choice. Starbucks now has over 27,000 locations worldwide, serving over 4 billion cups of “joe” a year. The name “joe” for coffee can be traced to Secretary of the Navy Josephus “Joe” Daniels, who in 1914 banned alcohol on US Navy ships. Thereafter the strongest beverage available on a ship of war was a cup of joe – black coffee.

But a funny thing happened on the way to coffee Armageddon, jazz became the soundtrack of coffee quaffing. Starbucks, Peets Coffee and Dunkin’ Donuts, three of the biggest players in the market, all now prominently feature jazz soundtracks in their establishments. Ted Gioia, a jazz historian suggests that, “Jazz is now a code word for sophistication and classiness, even affluence.” Whatever the new perception is, jazz is now part of the world of coffee.

Since I was a kid, I always loved jazz, but coffee came much later out of necessity – the all-night cram sessions before finals. Over time, I have realized that jazz and coffee have magical qualities. Both have connected me to so many people and had a remarkable impact on my life. Sitting with friends conversing and sharing thoughts over coffee has become a daily ritual for my wife and me and has enriched our lives immensely. Even solitary cups of coffees have had an amazing impact on me, as they have afforded me those private moments of introspection that are so enlightening. Whether in a group or solo, the coffee always tastes better when jazz is playing in the background.

COFFEE AND LIVE JAZZ IN MINTURN:

Vail Jazz will celebrate the recent opening of the hippest coffeehouse in the Vail Valley by presenting the Kathy Morrow Trio from 4 to 6 p.m. March 23 at Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea in Minturn. This is a free show with opportunities to sample coffees and teas along with munchies.

 

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Winter Series and the Vail Jazz Festival. 

 

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.

 

Behind the outlaw blues

Phil Wiggins and George Kilby Jr. launch 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series!

When Phil Wiggins and George Kilby Jr. first crossed paths, they did not initially strike up a kinship over music. They originally bonded over the post-apocalyptic novel “Riddley Walker.” After one of them tossed out an off-handed reference to the obscure piece of literature and the other recognized it, they realized they shared an uncanny connection. Later, when paired with their individual euphonious talents, the two quickly discovered that this particular connection would ignite a profound, contagious energy.

“Phil is a virtuoso instrumentalist and I am at best a damn good guitar player,” Kilby Jr. says. “His virtuoso playing is a very important factor to that thing we do. But I bring to the partnership a songwriting ability and a unique way of approaching acoustic blues.”

The “blues” moniker is usually one that both musicians often shy away from when describing their own music, though it is the umbrella under which their sound typically falls.

“That word – blues – is sometimes good and sometimes not so good,” Kilby Jr. says. “Sometimes people have preconceived notion of what that is. Our thing is about writing great music and performing it.”

A native of Washington D.C., Wiggins took up the harmonica as a young boy. By the time he was a teenager, his fiery playing capabilities had gained him such notoriety that he was sitting in with the likes of blues icons Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, Sam Chatmon, Robert Belfour and Howard Armstrong. He also caught the attention and admiration of infamous guitarist John Cephas, who invited the harmonica prodigy to form a duo. Throughout the ensuing three decades, the two performed on every continent other than Antarctica and in historic venues such as The White House, New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Prince Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House. They recorded more than a dozen albums and gleaned numerous blues awards. Since Cephas’ death in 2009, Wiggins has shared the stage with a gamut of other famed musicians, from guitarist Rev. John Wilkins to vocalist Eleanor Ellis. He’s appeared in films and has imparted his skills to countless young harmonica players.

Also, just last year, Wiggins joined the ranks of Cephas, B.B. King, Pops Staples, Mavis Staples and John Lee Hooker in receiving the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment of the Arts. Wiggins is only one of three harmonica players to earn this honor in the Fellowship’s 35-year appropriation. Pinetop Perkins is another standout recipient of the Fellowship and it was aside the famed pianist that Kilby Jr. shared the stage and collaborated on a number of recordings over the years.

Born in Alabama, Kilby Jr. was drawn to the guitar and to “rough-cut American roots music” at a young age. It has since been his aim to produce his own brand of it, all while turning colorful life chapters studying at Princeton University, busking in Paris and recording or performing with an impressive variety of big name artists, including The Beach Boys, Henry Butler and Railroad Earth.

After fusing their talents many times on stage over the last seven years, Kilby Jr. and Wiggins joined forces to create and produce their first full-length album, which is set to be released on March 15.

Kilby Jr. describes the recording as “not what most blues fans would come to expect” – a collection of songs that evoke deep emotions as well as an intense brand of social consciousness.

When asked to name a highlight so far of his partnership with Wiggins, Kilby Jr. recounts a recent performance for an auditorium of young students in Loveland, where the duo are slated to return for a festival honoring Martin Luther King Jr. before their Vail Jazz performance.

“We were doing a program on racism and the blues and were playing our song, “Black Man on the Corner.” It refers to Eric Garner, who was on the corner selling cigarettes when he was killed,” Kilby Jr. says. “We did the concert with the kids … I’m getting choked up thinking about it. We asked them to sing along. These kids were in 8th grade, probably most of them didn’t know who Eric was. Then we heard them. They were all singing. It was incredible. ”

Don’t miss Phil Wiggins + George Kilby Jr. at the 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on Jan. 17. The evening features two 75-minute performances. The first seating takes place at 6 p.m. (doors at 5:30 p.m.) and the second seating at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40 in advance. 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, click here.

Celebrate jazz this Colorado Gives Day

On Tuesday, December 5th, Vail Jazz will join together with more than 40 nonprofits in the Vail Valley in a celebration of philanthropy called Colorado Gives Day. 

This day marks a 24-hour period in which supporters, beneficiaries, fans and followers of Colorado nonprofits give back to the organizations that they love most by making a tax-deductible donation. Plus, your gift will be amplified by a $1 million Incentive Fund, making your gift go even further.

Through educational programs that inspire more than 1,400 children to deepen their understanding of jazz, and 75+ performances that showcase the world’s most virtuosic jazz musicians, Vail Jazz passionately shares the rich history and exciting of future of jazz on an international scale.

This Colorado Gives Day, consider making a year-end contribution to Vail Jazz in support of the artistic impact that Vail Jazz makes on the cultural landscape of the Vail community, and the future of the genre.

Take a moment to hear Founder and Artistic Director Howard Stone speak about the importance of jazz in our community.
 
We are proud to share a few highlights of our work with you, accomplished over the past 365 days:
» Howard Stone and Vail Jazz educational programs were honored by DownBeat Magazine as the recipient of the 2017 Jazz Education Achievement Award, one of the industry’s most prestigious accolades.
» Vail Jazz presented 46 free performances, welcoming nearly 9,000 community members and visitors, and sold out 23 of 37 ticketed performances.
» Performances featured internationally celebrated jazz artists from 21 states and 12 countries, with over 40 Grammy nominations and 5 awards.
» Vail Jazz Goes to School celebrates its 20th Anniversary! Tony Gulizia and his sextet of master educators and instrumentalists have enriched the lives of more than 20,000 children since the program began in 1998.
» Alumni of the Vail Jazz Workshop released nearly 20 jazz albums in 2017, and appeared as band members, guest artists and soloists on countless other.
Make your gift to Vail Jazz today, which directly supports jazz education, world-class performing arts, and America’s quintessential art form. We are deeply appreciative of your contribution.
If you need assistance making your donation or have questions, please call Vail Jazz at 970.479.6146 and ask to speak with Owen Hutchinson.

Alumni CD Releases 2017

2017 was the 100th anniversary of the first jazz recording as well as the centennial of many jazz greats: Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald to name a few. If the following releases are an indicator of anything it is that the jazz tradition is still going strong. All the albums below feature one […]

Alumni Spotlight: Eddie Barbash (’05)

Saxophonist Eddie Barbash attended the Vail Jazz Workshop in 2005. If you have watched late night TV any point over the past two years chances are you’ve seen Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The band has had several Vail Jazz Alumni sit in for shows […]