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.

 

 

The Faces of Vail Jazz: Tony G

The valley’s piano man has made a musical impact on multiple generations

When Tony Gulizia shops for groceries, it’s rare that he’s not recognized by someone who remembers taking his class at Vail Jazz Goes to School. Sometimes he’s accosted by an 11-year-old who he taught earlier that week; sometimes it’s a parent who took his class two decades ago, sometimes it’s a college student from one decade back. At this point, Gulizia’s impact bridges generations.

For the last 21 years, the Nebraska native has imparted musical education to more than 15,000 local students.

“The whole philosophy of the program is to get kids to appreciate jazz music,” says Gulizia, who moved to the Vail Valley from Omaha, Neb. 26 years ago and has become an integral part of the area’s cultural tapestry. “Of course, over the years, you get some students who take that appreciation over the edge. My gosh, that’s been one of the highlights of my career, seeing students who started in the program and are now pursuing studies or their own careers in jazz.”

Gulizia has given many children their first glimpse of music, not to mention their first glimmer of passion toward pursuing it. Some of his students have gone on to study jazz in college, land scholarships at schools such as Juilliard and have followed his early lead into careers as professional musicians.

Tony Gulizia passes on the rhthm at a Jammin’ Jazz Kids session.

Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone hired Gulizia more than two decades ago to head up Vail Jazz Goes to School, a four-part program offered free to every fourth and fifth-grader in Eagle County. The sessions begin with the basics of jazz, including history and the influence of African rhythms. Students are then introduced to the families of jazz instruments – strings, woodwinds and percussion and learn about syncopation, improvisation and the 12-bar blues. The program culminates with a concert at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in which Gulizia and fellow mentors perform original songs composed by the students.

All classes are hands on and highly engaging, hence the clear memories that students carry years later when they run into Gulizia at City Market.

“We try to make the classes really educational, but also entertaining and enjoyable,” Gulizia says. “It’s amazing to be in Eagle County, a place you wouldn’t immediately think would be such a strong place for jazz education compared to big cities. But to see a class of 80 students at Edwards Elementary, kids who are leaving the classroom and saying, ‘thank you for what you did, I’m going to go home and listen to more jazz’… it’s really rewarding.”

In addition to Gulizia, the Vail Jazz Goes to School education team is comprised of drummer Joey Gulizia, a starring member of Mannheim Steamroller, Andy Hall on bass, Mike Gurciullo on trumpet and Michael Pujado on drums/percussion. After nearly two decades of dedicated instruction, beloved Vail Jazz educator and woodwinds specialist Roger Neumann passed away last November.

When he’s not wearing his instructor hat, Tony Gulizia can be found playing piano at various restaurants and bars throughout the valley nearly every day of the week. He performs Tuesdays at The Remedy in the Four Seasons Vail (where he is also a summertime Vail Jazz fixture along with drummer Brian Loftus – BLT – every Sunday evening), plus several days at The Westin Hotel in Avon and is in the midst of his 26th year at Grouse Mountain Grill.

“I definitely have a lot of love for what I do,” Gulizia says. “I love working with people. Music is something very special in anyone’s life, whether you’re an avid or an occasional listener. It literally soothes the soul. It was 26 years ago that I moved here with my wife and kids. Before you knew it, word got around that there’s a new crazy piano guy around. I feel very fortunate that I’ve had such a great run.”

 

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.

 

The Night Jazz Became Legit

Historians tell us that many major turning points in history can be traced to a decisive victory in a single military battle; for example, Nelson’s victory in the Battle of Trafalgar. Changes in musical preferences and specific events signaling those changes, while culturally important, certainly do not alter the course of history, although I am sure there are some who feel that Elvis Presley’s 1956 appearance on the Ed Sullivan TV show signaled the decline of the Western World. While the world didn’t really change after that performance, the fortunes of Elvis certainly did.

Howard Stone

The difference between a cataclysmic defeat on a battlefield and a rock performance on TV doesn’t really merit an analysis. However, somewhere between these extremes are events that change peoples’ perceptions and therefore, the course of events thereafter. And so it was that a jazz performance in New York City on Jan. 16, 1938 forever altered the course of jazz history. The location was Carnegie Hall, the Mecca of classical music at that time, and some say the most important concert hall in the world. This was the citadel of high American culture – classical music.

To place the performance in the proper perspective, one has to remember that jazz was considered to be the stepchild of popular music. In the early 1920s, jazz was seen by many as the devil’s music, played by black musicians in bordellos and honky-tonk bars; it was perceived to be vulgar and low-class by the white establishment, but slowly it began making its way into the main stream of American life and culture. By the early 1930s, it had arrived with the Swing Era; young white kids were dancing to the music of the Big Band Era. Americans were beginning to take notice of the music, but no one would dare compare jazz to classical music. Jazz was PLAYED in clubs and in dance halls. Classical music was PERFORMED at concerts.

Today, many would agree that jazz is the American classical music of the 20th Century, but in 1938, to even mention jazz in the same breath as classical music was frowned upon by the purveyors of cultural correctness.

On that fateful night, Benny Goodman (the “King of Swing,” at the height of his popularity), his orchestra and some guests (Count Basie and members of Duke Ellington’s orchestra) made their Carnegie Hall debut. Tickets sold out weeks before the show ($.85 to $2.75) and the show was broadcast live nationally. The performers were racially integrated (not a first by any means, Goodman had hired Teddy Wilson, an African American in 1935), but this was a very important venue for a public display of integration. In the coming years, jazz would go on to continuously shine a light on the sad reality of the separation of the races and by example, establish that the creative process of making music could rise above bigotry.

The result of the concert was astonishing. Jazz was elevated to the upper reaches of American music, acknowledged as an art form that deserved to be given recognition with the improvisational skills and virtuosity of its players to be admired and respected. The performance has now come to be regarded as the single most important public performance of jazz in the history of the music – legitimizing it and celebrating it. It was jazz’s coming out party, not in a club or a dance hall, but at Carnegie Hall. And it was presented as a CONCERT.

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival each summer and an annual Winter Jazz Series, both of which feature internationally renowned artists. In addition, Vail Jazz presents educational programs throughout the year with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge. This column is readapted from the original archived edition, republished to commemorate Vail Jazz’s 25th Anniversary season in 2019. 

Remembering Roger Neumann

Woodwinds specialist imparted love and learning of music to thousands of Vail Jazz students

Roger Neumann played an integral role in delivering the art and joy of jazz music to more than 15,000 children in the Vail Valley. Based in Los Angeles, Eagle County was a second home to the renowned saxophonist, who, in addition to writing for, performing and recording with some of the biggest names in music, served as local educator over the last two decades through the Vail Jazz Goes to School (VJGTS) program.

He passed away on Nov. 28, 2018, at the age of 77.

“He was an outstanding educator, a jazz giant and a true friend,” said fellow VJGTS educator Tony Gulizia, who performed a tribute to Neumann at the saxophonist’s Celebration of Life on Dec. 15 in Los Angeles. “We’ve traveled the world together and had a history that goes back 38 years. He was an intricate part of our education program here in Vail. I can’t tell you how many thousands of kids knew him and loved him.”

A prolific composer and arranger, Neumann’s list of credits include work for/with Ray Charles, Count Basie, Buddy Rich, Barbara Streisand and The Beach Boys (to name a few). In addition to his successful career penning chart hits for other musicians, Neumann himself never stopped playing. He formed Roger Neumann’s Rather Large Band in 1975, recording two highly acclaimed albums in 1983 and 1994 and playing to audiences across the globe through autumn 2018. He performed extensively with Tony Gulizia and his brother Joey Gulizia, Vail local Kathy Morrow as well as Katie Thiroux, a graduate of the 2005 Vail Jazz Workshop.

“I’m going to miss the one and only Roger Neumann. He knew how to have the best time ALWAYS. He was a great support to me. I wouldn’t be where I am today without him,” Thiroux said.

Neumann taught jazz for most of his life, always finding ways to give back to the communities in which he lived in or visited. He served on the faculty for the Iowa Lakes community college jazz camp since 1984 and was an instructor for the Vail Jazz Goes to School program since its inception in 1997. In 2002, Neumann was honored as the jazz Composer/Arranger of the Year at the 20th Annual Jazz Tribute and Awards in Los Angeles, an event sponsored by the L.A. Jazz Society. At the 2012 tribute and awards, Neumann received the Jazz Educator of the Year Award, one of the greatest honors in the industry.

“The kids in our program looked up to him in the short period of time they got to know him kind of like a family member,” Gulizia said. “We approach the Vail Jazz Goes to School sessions that way – like a family. The kids looked at Roger like a big teddy bear who played the hell out of the saxophone. He was incredible as a musician and an educator. Just the love of this guy … it can’t be measured.”

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.

Magic on tap for 2018 Vail Jazz Party

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Highlights of the 2018 Vail Jazz Party:

Bill Cunliffe’s tribute to Leonard Bernstein – Friday

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

Tony Monaco’s Tribute to Jimmy Smith – Saturday

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

Wycliffe Gordon’s Nu Funk Machine Dance Party – Sunday

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

The Sessions – Friday through Monday

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

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

The 24th Annual Vail Jazz Party

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

Get tickets to all sessions here.

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: Organ Donors

Hammond, Leslie, Cobbs & Smith … do the names sound like a law firm? Actually, the first two men were inventors, the third was a man of the cloth and the fourth was a musician. Collectively, their respective contributions to organ music shaped the future of the sounds of Gospel, jazz and much more. So who were these organ donors? Let’s start with the inventors. Laurens Hammond invented the Hammond electric organ revolutionizing the world of organ music. Prior to Hammond’s invention, if you wanted an organ your only option was to purchase a very large and very expensive mechanical pipe organ and therefore they were generally only found in cathedrals and concert halls. However, when Hammond’s Model A made its debut in 1935, it transformed the world of organ music because for the first time, relatively inexpensive and small instruments could be purchased for home use and by small churches. The availability of the Model A (and subsequent models) greatly increased the number of people playing the organ and in the decades that followed its introduction, Hammond organs could be found in the living rooms of homes across the U.S. and in many churches.

Howard Stone

While the Model A sounded good in a large venue, to Donald Leslie, another inventor, it sounded “dull, shrill and still” in a confined space, so Leslie set out to improve the sonic qualities of the Hammond organ. In 1937, Leslie approached Hammond with his new invention, the Leslie, special speakers and amplifier housed in a separate cabinet that was to be connected to, and placed next to, the organ. The Leslie gave the Model A a distinctive whirling/swirling sound, known as the Doppler effect – the sound you hear as the source of a sound moves towards you and then past you.

To Leslie’s ears, his invention was what the Hammond organ needed to sound like a symphony in a box. Leslie suggested to Hammond that they join forces, but Hammond was indignant that Leslie was critical of the Model A’s sound, so Leslie decided to manufacture and sell his invention himself. Hammond was extremely hostile to the idea and redesigned subsequent models of his organ so that they couldn’t be easily connected to a Leslie. Ultimately, consumers decide which products succeed and which fail. Notwithstanding Hammond’s aggressive posture with Leslie, the organ buying public made it clear that the combination of the two was what they wanted and Hammond organ buyers bought Leslies and connected them to their instruments.

Two years later in 1939, the African-American founder of the First Church of Deliverance in Chicago, the charismatic and dynamic Rev. Clarence H. Cobbs, decided to purchase a Hammond organ and Leslie for his church. Cobbs was one of the first preachers to broadcast his services on the radio; he had a large congregation and a gift for promoting his ministry. It is speculated that the purchase of the Hammond organ and Leslie was a shrewd marketing move by Cobbs, but whatever the motivation, congregants flocked to his church after hearing them played on the radio and many black churches, particularly in the South, began to emulate the new Gospel music that was being beamed from the First Church of Deliverance. The Hammond organ and Leslie had forever changed Black Gospel music and it would never be the same. The passion, joy and earthy expressiveness of Black Gospel music were now joined with a rollicking exuberant sound of the Hammond organ and Leslie, and the result was a seismic shift in the music. Eighty years later, it is still going strong.

Now to the musician: James Oscar Smith. Growing up in Philadelphia in the 1930s, Jimmy played piano as a young boy, winning a radio talent contest when he was 9. In 1947 after service in the Navy, Jimmy studied music for two years with the assistance of the G.I. bill. By the early 1950s, he was playing piano in an R&B band, but on a fateful night in Philly, he met Wild Bill Davis, a jazz organist, and decided he wanted to become an organ player. Playing piano at night and practicing the organ during the day, Jimmy, totally self-taught, explored the myriad possibilities of the newest Hammond organ, the Model B-3 (and of course Leslie). He developed a technical command of the instrument and a musical approach that allowed him to combine Gospel, blues and bebop. Singlehandedly (actually he used both hands and feet), he created a jazz genre that inspired generations of musicians that followed, whether they played jazz, blues, R&B, pop, acid jazz and many others.

Miles Davis called Jimmy “the eighth wonder of the world.” Some called his music “soul jazz” and others called it “grits and gravy,” but it didn’t matter what it was called, it had an unmistakable groove and for the next five decades Jimmy was a major force in jazz influencing generations of organ players. A true innovator, Jimmy received the NEA Jazz Master Award, the highest honor that an American jazz musician can be bestowed. He was a prolific performer, who played with most of the jazz greats of the last half of the 20th century and when he died in 2005, he left behind an extensive catalog of recordings that are musical treasures. It is now generally agreed when reviewing the history of jazz organ playing, there was the period prior to 1955, the pre-Jimmy Smith era, and for the five decades following 1955, the Jimmy Smith era.

Vail Jazz will present the great Hammond B-3 wizard, Tony Monaco, a disciple of Jimmy’s, in a multi-media tribute concert to Jimmy at 8:55 p.m. Saturday in the Grand Ballroom of the Marriott Hotel in Lionshead. Come hear why Jimmy Smith was the master of the B-3!

Get tickets here.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 24th year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz.

A moment in the life of a musical prodigy

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

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

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

He won.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meet the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop students

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

Live in Vail Aug. 30

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

Go here for tickets.