Slifer Designs and Nina McLemore join together

VAIL — Beth Slifer and Nina McLemore are collaborating on Slifer Designs at Nina McLemore, a shared space at 183 Gore Creek Drive in Vail Village.

Slifer Designs is a home store that has become a must-see to many locals, visitors and second-home owners. It’s here that Slifer and her buying team create distinctive home designs. The Nina McLemore boutique opened in Vail Village in January of 2012. Owner and designer Nina McLemore has stores and sales consultants across the country, including Aspen. The collection features designer clothing for women. McLemore was featured in the July 3 issue of the Wall Street Journal as The Ultimate Power Dresser. McLemore’s clients include Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and the president of Pepsico, Indra Nooyi.

“We are so excited to be in Vail,” Slifer said. “We’ve noticed a lot of Vail locals and guests want to get something while in Vail, be part of the Vail experience if you will. Well, we’re here to say, let us help you.”

Slifer Designs is entering its third decade in the valley and the new boutique is just one more way to stay true to its Vail roots.

“We are delighted to welcome Slifer Designs to our Vail boutique,” McLemore said. “I have known of Beth Slifer from years of visiting and skiing in Vail. We certainly share similar client profiles and believe in giving back to the community. To be able to give more to charity is one of the reasons I started this business.”

SPECIAL OFFERINGS

The store is already planning soirees and special offerings throughout the winter, allowing for new items and Slifer’s design know-how to pour through the doors. McLemore will be introducing her new spring collection in late January.

Slifer and McLemore are hosting an afternoon jazz event on Jan. 2 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to benefit the Vail Jazz Foundation’s Jazz Goes to School program. A percentage of Nina McLemore and Slifer Designs at Nina McLemore will be donated to the foundation from Jan. 2-16 when Vail Jazz is mentioned.

Thank you, Vail Jazz

CFJ-OH-RL

Owen Hutchinson, Christin Fergus-Jean and Robin Litt, of the Vail Jazz Foundation, support Salvation Army by ringing bells at City Market in Vail! Many thanks for supporting our efforts in the Vail Valley. To become a bell ringer check out our website www.salvationarmyvail.org or call 970-748-0704.

Vail Jazz expands winter lineup

VAIL — Vail Jazz announced its winter series lineup this week and it has more live performances than years past. The series includes intimate soirees in private homes, jazz club-style performances in the heart of Vail Village and, new this year, Vail Jazz hosts live webcasts of Jazz at Lincoln Center performances, featuring some of the most notable jazz artists on the scene today. New partnerships with local venues are highlighted in the Vail Jazz Winter Series with Cucina at the Lodge at Vail as the primary winter venue for live music, along with eat! drink! as the host of the live webcasts.

“The lineup of winter artists mirrors what Vail Jazz is known for — exceptional performances presented in intimate and intriguing locales,” said Howard Stone, artistic director. “We are so fortunate to bring such an impressive lineup of top jazz performers all of whom are compelling and captivating entertainers. These performances will cover a varied spectrum of appealing jazz styles that are sure to please audiences, whether a hardcore jazz fan or just someone looking for a great musical experience.”

LIVE PERFORMANCES

The live performances kick off on Dec. 26 in partnership with the Vilar Performing Arts Center, with the presentation of Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. A hard-edged funk/rock/jazz/hip-hop band led by New Orleans native Trombone Shorty, the group employs hip-hop beats, rock dynamics and jazz improvisation. Beginning his career as a bandleader at the young age of 6, and then touring internationally at age 12, he spent his teens playing with various brass bands throughout New Orleans and touring worldwide with Lenny Kravitz. Tickets for this performance are available at www.vilarpac.org.

On Feb. 28 Gypsy Jazz Jam, featuring three of today’s most renown guitarists, Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo with special guest Andreas Oberg, will perform at Cucina. The sound of Jazz Manouche, or Gypsy Jazz, has been whispering its way out of smoky bars and bistro corners since French guitarist Django Reinhardt first laid its foundations in the 1940s. Almost 80 years later, torch bearers of this captivating music play on, supplementing the classic sound with the jazz idioms of today. Guitarists Vignola, Raniolo and Oberg have risen to the top in the most recent generation of Gypsy Jazz greats, playing Reinhardt’s originals, the American Songbook and their own creations. Tickets go on sale on Jan. 5 and are available for one or both sets.

Ever popular Hammond B3 organist Tony Monaco will return to Vail’s Cucina on March 27 to perform with his touring trio. After finishing a series of world tours with Pat Martino, Monaco brings his own fiery, explosive flavor of jazz to the table, backed by Fareed Haque on guitar and Greg Fundis on drums.

The season of jazz at Cucina comes to a close on April 2 with a performance by the Allan Finney Sextet and the celebration of their first collaborative CD. A longtime Vail local, Finney will release his debut album with a raucous, celebratory blowout. The evening will feature Eric Gunnison on keyboard, Bob Rebholz on sax, Mark Simon on bass, Bill Kopper on guitar and Justin Allison on vocals.

A winter soiree will take place on Feb. 15 at a private home in Singletree, featuring Marcus Roberts on piano as well as cocktails, appetizers and an intimate concert by one of today’s most well respected jazz pianists.

WEBCASTS

Local Edwards eatery eat! drink! is teaming up with Vail Jazz throughout the winter season to pair live webcasts from Jazz at Lincoln Center with boutique wines and small plates. “Big Band Holidays” with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will broadcast today at 6 p.m., with special guest vocalist Cecile McLorin Salvant, followed by “Birth of the American (Jazz) Orchestra” on Jan. 9 at 6 p.m. January’s program will wrap with “Papo Vazquez Band of Mighty Pirate Troubadours” on Jan. 22 at 7:30 p.m. February and March dates will be added soon.

Tickets go on sale Jan. 5 at www.vailjazz.org or by calling 970-479-6146. For more information, visit www.vailjazz.org.

Vail Jazz Winter Largest Yet

By Thomas Dobrez for KZYR

Vail Jazz announces its winter series lineup with more live performances than ever before. From intimate soirées in private homes to jazz club-style performances in the heart of Vail Village, and new this year, Vail Jazz hosts live webcasts of Jazz at Lincoln Center performances featuring some of the most notable jazz artists on the scene today.  New partnerships with exciting venues are highlighted in the Vail Jazz Winter Series with Cucina at the Lodge at Vail as the primary winter venue for live music, along with eat! drink! as the host of the live webcasts.

The live performances kick off on Friday, December 26th in partnership with the Vilar Performing Arts Center, with the presentation of Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. A hard-edged funk/rock/jazz/hip-hop band led by New Orleans native Trombone Shorty, the group employs hip-hop beats, rock dynamics, and jazz improvisation. Beginning his career as a bandleader at the young age of six, then touring internationally at age 12, he spent his teens playing with various brass bands throughout New Orleans and touring worldwide with Lenny Kravitz. Tickets for this performance are available at www.vilarpac.org

February 28th will bring the Gypsy Jazz Jam to Cucina, featuring three of today’s most renown guitarists, Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo with special guest Andreas Oberg. The sound of Jazz Manouche, or Gypsy Jazz, has been whispering its way out of smoky bars and bistro corners since French guitarist Django Reinhardt first laid its foundations in the 1940s. Almost 80 years later, torch bearers of this captivating music play on, supplementing the classic sound with the jazz idioms of today. Guitarists Vignola, Raniolo and Oberg have risen to the top in the most recent generation of Gypsy Jazz greats, playing Reinhardt’s originals, the American Songbook and stunning compositions of their own creation. Jaw-dropping technique and a wildly diverse repertoire make this performance a highlight of the winter season. Tickets go on sale on January 5, 2015 and are available for one set or both sets.

Ever popular Hammond B3 organist, Tony Monaco will return to Vail’s Cucina on March 27th to perform with his touring trio, including Fareed Haque on guitar and Greg Fundis on drums. Tony “does not swing, smolder or smoke… he burns,” says Critical Jazz Review. Mentored by the legendary Jimmy Smith in what is considered to be the more classic style of jazz organ, Tony Monaco has received considerable acclaim in the past decade as a colossus of the Hammond B3. After finishing a series of world tours with Pat Martino, Monaco brings his own fiery, explosive flavor of jazz to the table, backed by Fareed Haque on guitar and Greg Fundis on drums.

The season of jazz at Cucina comes to a close on April 2nd with a performance by the Allan Finney Sextet and the celebration of their first collaborative CD. You’ve seen him grace the stages of the Vail Jazz Party, lead bands throughout the state of Colorado, and share the stage with the likes of Curtis Stigers, Tony Monaco and Tony DeSare.  A longtime Vail local, Allan Finney will release his debut album with a raucous, celebratory blowout like no musical gathering Vail has seen yet. The evening will feature Eric Gunnison on keyboard, Bob Rebholz on sax, Mark Simon on bass, Bill Kopper on guitar and Justin Allison on vocals.

The popular winter soirées will take place on February 15th and March 13th. February’s event will be hosted in a private home in Singletree, featuring Marcus Roberts on piano and will include cocktails, hors d’oeurvres and an intimate concert by one of today’s most well respected jazz pianists. A superb pianist with a deep love for New Orleans jazz and blues, Roberts has created a sparkling career out of his impressive technical ability, his remarkable interpretive skills and a decade-spanning musical partnership with Wynton Marsalis. In fact, Marsalis deemed Roberts “the greatest American musician most people have never heard of”.

Diego Figueiredo will present an evening of Latin guitar on March 13th in a soirée at a private home in Lake Creek. This Brazilian guitar phenom rose through the ranks of classical, jazz and his native music of Brazil through the fervent application of one fundamental musical principle: passion. A whirlwind of unprecedented speed and stirring musicality, Figueiredo shines a playful, heart-warming light on jazz, bossa nova and samba standards. Figueiredo is joined by University of Colorado Professor of Bass, Bijoux Barbosa.

Watching the pros at work from a few thousand miles away, with a glass of wine and good company, is a wonderful way to combine front-row seats with an intimate viewing experience. Local Edwards eatery eat! drink!  is teaming up with Vail Jazz throughout the winter season to pair live webcasts from Jazz at Lincoln Center with incredible boutique wines and delectable small plates. Big Band Holidays with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra will broadcast on December 18th at 6pm MST, with special guest vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, followed by Birth of the American (Jazz) Orchestra on January 9th at 6pm. January’s program will wrap with Papo Vazquez Band of Mighty Pirate Troubadours on January 22nd at 7:30 pm. February and March dates will be added soon.

Artistic Director Howard Stone announced the lineup for the Winter Jazz Series noting, ”The lineup of winter artists mirrors what Vail Jazz is known for – exceptional performances presented in intimate and intriguing locales.  We are so fortunate to bring such an impressive lineup of top jazz performers all of whom are compelling and captivating entertainers.  These performances will cover a varied spectrum of appealing jazz styles that are sure to please audiences, whether a hardcore jazz fan or just someone looking for a great musical experience.”

 

Interview with Tony Gulizia: Vail’s 4th, 5th graders in sweet spot

Interview with Vail Jazz Goes to School Director of Education, Tony Gulizia

by Steve Chavis for KUVO Jazz, KVJZ

 

Pianist-vocalist Tony Gulizia (Tony G.) has spent the last 18 school years surrounded by fourth and fifth graders at every school in Eagle County via the Vail Jazz Foundation‘s “Jazz Goes to School” program.  Gulizia said that early age is the “perfect” time for jazz education.

“Kids that age are a little more aware of jazz music, and they’re getting ready to perhaps start an instrument in elementary school or middle school,” said Gulizia.

A hot number for Jazz Goes To School is Henry Mancini’s theme to “The Pink Panther,” including Plas Johnson’s sax solo.  “They hear a walking bass, they hear the swing style, they hear the improvisation.”  The JGTS curriculum includes the African roots of jazz and a jazz quintet performance.

“Vail Jazz Foundation founder Howard Stone has always had a deep appreciation for the importance of educating young students about America’s great music form,” said Gulizia.  “Jazz Goes To School” has reached nearly 20,000 fourth and fifth graders since 1996.

Eagle County students swing, learn music history with Jazz Goes to School

EAGLE COUNTY — Jazz Goes to School, the Vail Jazz Foundation’s jazz education program for Eagle County fourth and fifth-graders, returns to schools starting Monday. The educational program features professional musician/educators who visit 16 local schools to share their love and knowledge of jazz and American history, and inspire young people to embrace jazz: America’s own art form.

“Childrens’ eyes light up when Mr. Gulizia works with them on the introduction to jazz,” said Vail Jazz Foundation’s Executive Director Robin Litt. “There’s nothing like Jazz Goes to School elsewhere in the country, and we are so lucky to have such a talented teaching staff lead the program.”

Promoting Art

Jazz Goes to School, now in its 17th year, supports and promotes the jazz art form with a focus on educating young musicians and young audiences, fulfilling the mission of The Vail Jazz Foundation.

This first session of the four-part program traces the evolution of the music from its origins in Africa and the American south through to today’s jazz.

“We look at the geographical movement of Senegalese, Yorbuba-Dahomean and Ashantis slaves to the United States. We examine their customs and culture with a particular emphasis on the musical traditions they brought to America,” said local jazz musician and program director Tony Gulizia.

The history of great jazz giants, such as Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, W.C. Handy, Scott Joplin, King Oliver, Kid Ory and how the migration of the black population brings the blues to New Orleans is also featured in this lesson.

History of Instruments

Additionally, the history of many musical instruments is discussed, and students are encouraged to try their hand at playing special handmade percussion instruments from West Africa. Students learn about African rhythms, which found their way to New Orleans, where they began to blend with European church music.

Gulizia (keyboard and vocals), has directed the Jazz Goes to School program for all of its 17 years for The Vail Jazz Foundation. For this first session, Gulizia is joined by his brother Joey, also a professional jazz musician and educator, on drums and Michael Pujado, on percussion. Subsequent sessions include up to six jazz musicians as they share their various functions within the jazz band.

ABOUT JAZZ GOES TO SCHOOL

Jazz Goes to School is presented by The Vail Jazz Foundation to Eagle County fourth and fifth graders, including all public schools plus the Eagle County Charter Academy, Vail Mountain School, Vail Christian Academy, Stone Creek Charter School and St. Clare of Assisi. Jazz Goes to School reaches over 1,200 students each year, and has exposed over 16,000 elementary school students to a course about this uniquely American art form. The final session in the spring is a true jazz concert performed by the Jazz Goes to School Sextet at the Vilar Performing Arts Center.

For more information visit www.vail jazz.org.

Interview with John Clayton: “Vail Jazz Workshop – 12 of the best HS players in U.S.”

Interview with Vail Jazz Workshop Director of Education, John Clayton

by Steve Chavis for KUVO Jazz, KVJZ

Only 12 slots exist at the annual Vail Jazz Workshop.  For this year’s class, a committee had to pare down a record number of applicants – 130 of them –  so that Workshop director / bassist John Clayton and his faculty could select the finalists.  Clayton visited “First Take with Lando and Chavis” to talk about his own jazz education and the climate at this year’s 10-day jazz intensive.

“These are 12 of the top high school players in the nation,” said Clayton.  “It blows our mind how much vocabulary and insight they have at such a young age.”

Profiles of the 2014 class at the Vail Jazz Workshop and the performance schedule is posted at www.vailjazz.org.

Music on this feature is by The Clayton Brothers, “This Ain’t Nothin’ But A Party,” from the CD The Gathering.

Vail Jazz Workshop is sculpting the next generation of stars

VAIL — When Isaiah Thompson’s parents decided he “needed a hobby” at the age of 5, unlike many small kids who are led to a piano bench, he did not think it was a chore to sit down and play. Not only did he not dread his weekly classical lessons, he relished them.

It wasn’t until he was about 11 and heard famed cornet player Nat Adderley play jazz music that Thompson was introduced to what he now knows is his life calling.

“I wanted to figure out how to do that,” says the 17-year-old New Jersey native, who now equates playing the piano — something he does every day for at least two hours — to finding true solace.

“It calms me,” he said. “When something sad or bad happens, going to the piano is the first thing I do to take my mind off things. It’s the one thing I can go to that makes me really happy and calm.”

Thompson is one of 12 teenagers selected from at least 125 young musical prodigies nominated for the Vail Jazz Workshop, the Vail Jazz Foundation’s 10-day intensive program directed under the mentorship of the Vail Jazz Party House Band — John and Jeff Clayton, Lewis Nash, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe and Wycliffe Gordon. It culminates in a series of Vail Jazz Party performances, the teens transforming from workshop students into to the Vail Jazz All-Stars.

“I’ve heard of the Vail Jazz Workshop and Festival in the past few years, but I didn’t realize how great this festival was. I’m so grateful to be part of the workshop this year,” says Californian Kanoa Mendenhall, 16, who is well-versed on the cello, trombone and the Japanese shamisen but has truly found her heart in the bass.

“When I started playing classical cello, in my free time, I would actually pretend to play jazz bass lines,” Mendenhall says. “Sooner than later, my father, a jazz pianist, taught me how to “walk” a blues scale on the cello. I think what drew me to the bass was the deep sound it produced and the role it had in the band supporting others. It took some time to start playing the bass (because) I’m quite short, but eventually I graduated from pretending to be a bass player to getting a real bass in middle school. That was one of my happiest moments.”

All 12 of the workshop students, in spite of their youth, already have resumes that read like accomplished pros. They’ve all taken top honors at some major national competition or other, led charity coalitions and play in high-profile youth bands. Pianist Chris Fishman has played at Disney Hall, tenor sax player Morgan Guerin has played the Atlanta Jazz Festival, trumpeter Anthony Hervey has won the Louis Armstrong Award. Kevin Jiang is lead trombonist for Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Orchestra. Drummer Christian McGhee earned outstanding soloist recognition at more than one major jazz festival. Trumpeter Michael Werner has toured France and the Netherlands with a brass ensemble. Saxophonist James Robertson is a featured artist at the Atlanta Jazz Festival. Bassist Chris Palmer plays local restaurants and jazz clubs with his own quartet. Mendenhall has won multiple Outstanding Soloist awards. Drummer Jared Silverstein as well as Thompson have even played Carnegie Hall and trombonist Nick Lee has toured through Japan with Monterey Jazz Festival’s Next Generation Jazz Orchestra.

When speaking of his experience with Next Generation, Lee, 17, said, “It was amazing. The musicians in the big band were all incredible, and we did cultural exchanges with a few high school big bands in the cities we visited. It’s also a really special feeling to know that we inspired so many young Japanese musicians.”

These accomplishments are but a small sample from each teenager’s lengthy resume. But they all have very specific goals for the Vail Jazz Workshop, now in its 19th year, which among many others skills, teaches students the art of playing and improvising by ear, without any sheet music.

By the time the week is up and the big stage awaits, both students and mentors have struck profound chords.

“Some of it gets to be pretty emotional because you see the students at the beginning of the week and share so much throughout the week. You get to watch incredible relationships blossom in five days,” said Terell Stafford, who has been a mentor and a performer at the Vail Jazz Party for all but three or four of the festival’s 20 years. “By the time you get to performances, you just feel so proud and motivated. So when it’s time to play, you feel all the energy and warmth. You just want to give it all. At many festivals, you just play your set. This is about playing your set in front of people who have shared so much with you and you’ve shared so much with them.”

The last Jazz @ Vail Square of the season features a triple bill grand finale at 6 p.m. tonight. The evening begins with the 12 teenage prodigies performing as the Vail Jazz All-Stars, then the Alumni Quintet — comprised of former students and current stars Justin Kauflin, Katie Thiroux, Bryan Carter, Grace Kelly and Alphonso Horne and culminating with the mentors themselves — The Vail Jazz Party House Band. The evening kicks of the 20th anniversary Vail Jazz Party, running from today through Monday with nonstop live performances featuring more than 40 nationally acclaimed contemporary jazz artists. If you miss the Vail Jazz All-Stars today, they will perform for free on Saturday and Sunday at 11:30 a.m. in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead. For more information, visit www.vailjazz.org.

Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer contracted by  Vail Jazz to write this story. Email comments to cschnell@vaildaily.com

The Vail Jazz Party brings non-stop music to Vail through Monday

Depending on how you feel about the genre, 35 hours of listening to jazz sounds like either a dream come true or a great way to cure insomnia.

“People think they don’t like jazz,” said part-time Vail resident and longtime jazz fan Rosemary Heller. “(But those) people have never really been to a jazz performance. I think it’s really important to see live jazz performed so that they can see the interaction between the musicians, see how exciting and dynamic it is to see music created right in front of them.”

This Labor Day weekend, jazz will be played and made live from early morning to late evening during the Vail Jazz Party, which closes out the Vail Jazz Festival’s 20th anniversary summer. The Vail Jazz Party lives up to its name with concerts, tributes, jam sessions and more for a five-day, non-stop jukebox of jazz music. There’s a song or a riff for everyone at the Vail Jazz Party, and for the hardcore fans, the difficult part isn’t deciding what to attend, but what one must leave out.

“People always say to me, ‘There’s so much’,” said Howard Stone, chairman of the board and artistic director of the Vail Jazz Festival. “They almost get crazed about it. I advise people to take the program and pick the stuff that really looks interesting to you. Out of the 35 hours of music over the weekend, you could choose to listen to 10 or 15 hours. A lot of people during the daytime will come to the tent and they’ll listen to an hour or two of music, then go for a hike, then come back and listen to more music.”

Jazz stars of today and tomorrow

The Vail Jazz Party got going with the Thursday evening session at the Jazz Tent in Vail Square with alumni from the Vail Jazz Workshop, which brings some of the most talented high school students to Vail every summer to learn and listen from professional jazz musicians. John Clayton, education director for the Vail Jazz Foundation, said these prodigious players might not be able to vote, but they’ve already won over many Vail Jazz Party crowds in the past.

“Standing ovations, almost every time,” Clayton said. “More than anything, (the audience) is just blown away by the level of the music, that just happens to be played by people under 20 years old.”

One workshop alumni who performed Thursday is Justin Kauflin, who’s made a big name for himself since his high school days. In his early 20s, Kauflin, a blind jazz pianist, found a mentor in legendary trumpeter Clark Terry. This relationship is chronicled in the documentary “Keep On Keepin’ On,” which will be screened today at 2 p.m. at Antlers at Vail. The film follows Terry, then in his late 80s, as he starts to lose his vision while teaching Kauflin. Because of this, the two begin to connect on a level deeper than music.

Clayton said Kauflin’s captivating key strokes were evident early on.

“(He) was quite shy, but he stepped up to the plate when it was time to perform,” Clayton said. “I don’t know if it’s so much about his style. If you stop and think about what draws you to music at a concert, it’s always the heart, it’s always the soul. So what if you hear really fast cool notes, so what if you hear something that’s really loud. But when someone moves you inside, you never forget that. I think that’s what people experience when they hear someone like Justin.”

Live, jammin’ and jivin’

After the “Keep On Keepin’ On” screening, tonight will feature a tribute to Terry. This is one of four tribute sessions throughout the weekend. Famed vocalist Sarah Vaughan will be honored Saturday night and Benny Goodman will be remembered in melody on Sunday evening. There will also be a drum session tipping the beat to drummer and bandleader Mel Lewis on Saturday. The tributes mix live music with video footage of the stars’ past performances.

“Current members of the jazz audience only know their names but never had a chance to see them perform live,” Stone said. “The tributes are a way to interact with the audience but at the same time educate them. … Everyone knows Benny Goodman, everyone knows he was the ‘King of Swing,’ but what’s the story behind that? What did he sound like live? What did he look like while he was performing?”

In between listening to jazz greats from the past and the potential future, the Vail Jazz Party offers plenty of opportunities to see some of the best jazz musicians of the present. Throughout the weekend there are morning, afternoon and evening sessions, and even late-night jam sessions that go into the wee hours just for the night owls. These jam sessions are a free-wheeling ride of improvised tunes and sonic surprises. Well-known jazz vocalist Curtis Stigers said when it comes to jazz, the singer isn’t always the one who gets the spotlight.

“In the jazz world, the jazz singer is like the red-headed stepchild,” Stigers said. “He doesn’t really fit into a bunch of players.”

Still, someone has to sing the words, and the jam sessions are a chance for Stigers to stretch those vocal chords in a new way. Oddly enough, Stigers said a vocalist practices scatting for jam sessions by mimicking other instruments, like the horn.

“The nice thing about jazz is we all share the same language,” Stigers said. “We can all speak jazz to each other on stage.”

For Clayton, a legendary jazz bassist in his own right, a jam session is a chance for musicians to “let their hair down,” he said.

“It’s not organized, it’s not calculated,” Clayton said. “Think of when you’re a child playing with other kids in the playground. You don’t have an agenda. You show up at the playground and there’s the jungle gym, there’s the swing, there’s the slide and there’s the sandbox. You just do your own thing. … That’s why they call it play, not work.”

Spiritual sounds in the mountains

Even if you stay up for the late night jam sessions, make sure to set your alarm for Sunday morning’s Gospel Prayer Meetin’, set for 9 a.m. at the Jazz Tent at Vail Square. Featuring vocalists Niki Haris and Ann Hampton Callaway, the gospel music session is often the most popular concert of the entire Labor Day weekend. Haris spent decades performing for pop audiences, both as a backup singer for Madonna and as a solo artist with her own club hits. Haris’ father was a jazz pianist and she initially returned to her jazz roots to be closer to him.

“Jazz was a way my father and I could bond again through music,” Haris said. “Whenever I’m on stage singing jazz, I’m so grateful that people still want to hear me. It was (first) a way for me to connect with my father and I happened to know the songs. Now it’s time for me to do the music justice and not have it just be an homage to my dad.”

Haris also grew up with gospel and calls it the “good news” spoken from a chorus of voices.

“I always took a spiritual approach to all the music I sing, including jazz,” Haris said. “If it’s not touching and reaching me on a real, visceral and cellular level, if it stays too much in my head, it doesn’t work for me. I sing from a place that’s from my heart.”

Haris said the best thing about the Vail Jazz Party is listening to jazz and gospel while surrounded by the mountains, which she calls “God’s natural music.”

“You can just walk in Vail and there’s music everywhere,” Haris said. “That’s the reason to go to this festival. You’ve got Mother Nature’s music and you’ve got Coltrane. (To me), that’s called heaven.”

The idea of music in your ear while looking out at the mountains does sound pretty heavenly. When you think about it, we can always listen in on the mountains, but hearing live jazz from some of the best musicians in the world only comes one weekend a year. Even if you only plan to listen for a song, a session or perhaps the whole 35 hours, the Vail Jazz Party will keep on playing until the last minute of summer. Just don’t party too hard; school starts up for some the day after.

How a Three-Fingered Gypsy and Electricity Changed Jazz Guitar Forever

Long before the amplification and electrification of musical instruments, there was a simple truth: the louder you could play, the more likely you would be heard.

In jazz, tubas overwhelmed basses, trumpets trumped guitars, and so on. Brass bands dominated in early jazz and guitars were like children of the day, they could be seen but were not to be heard. Amplification leveled the playing field (pun intended). Amplify a bass and out goes the tuba, replaced by a more lyrical way of keeping time. Do the same for a guitar and it has a “voice” that can be heard alongside the other instruments in the band. Electrify the guitar or the bass and a star is born. And while the sound output of an instrument can be enhanced by amplification, the “electrification” of an instrument not only increases the potential volume of sound output, but in most cases, changes the sound the instrument is capable of making. With an acoustic guitar, the vibration of the strings resonate in the body of the guitar and we “hear” the guitar. In an electric guitar, a pickup converts the vibration of the strings into electrical impulses and with the advances in electronics all manner of sound can be created. An acoustic guitar has a sound that if properly amplified, still sounds like an acoustic instrument. An electric guitar can sound pretty much like anything you want it to sound like.

Initially the banjo was featured in small jazz ensembles, but over time the guitar replaced the banjo, joining the piano, drums and bass as a member of the rhythm section.The ability to strum a guitar in a rhythmic fashion allowed it to become an important instrument used to reinforce the beat and that is where the guitar sat for a long time. However in the 1930s things began to change, brought about by two of the most important early jazz guitar players of the today. Separated by an ocean and culture, each in his own way set in motion a dramatic shift in the role of the guitar in jazz. One was a three figured Gypsy from France, Jean Baptiste “Django” Reinhardt, and the other, Charlie Christian, the African American son of a blind itinerant blues singer from Texas. Neither of them could read music, but that didn’t matter.

Django was badly burned in a camp fire at the age of 18, losing the use of two fingers on his left hand. He overcame the disability by inventing a unique fingering technique and by the ‘30s, he was touring internationally and becoming one of the most important jazz guitarists of all time. As a founding member of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France, he invented a style of jazz that has been played for over 80 years and propelled the guitar to the top of the world of jazz before the invention of the electric guitar.

Charlie was one of the first jazz musicians to embrace the electric guitar as his instrument of choice. It is said that he was influenced by the use of the electric guitar in Western Swing music. Joining Benny Goodman as a member of his sextet in August of 1939, it was rare for an African American to play in a white band at the time, but Goodman had already broken the race barrier with Teddy Wilson and Lionel Hampton. Charlie was a prodigious improviser and an important participant in the transitioning of jazz from swing to bebop. Using his singlestring technique on an electric guitar to move the instrument to the front of the band, Charlie helped change the direction of jazz forever. Unfortunately for the world, he died at 25, less than 3 years after joining Goodman.

John Pizzarelli, Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo are three of the top jazz guitarists in the world today, each having been greatly influenced by Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, as have generations of guitarists before them. Vail Jazz is pleased to present these jazz giants in Vail during our 20th Anniversary Vail Jazz Festival. John Pizzarelli will be the guest soloist with the Dallas Symphony Orchestra at Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater on June 27. Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo will be sitting in at the “Jazz After” jam with members of the DSO on the evening of July 2 at Larkspur, playing at the Jazz @ Vail Square show on the evening of July 3 and performing on the Vail Jazz float in the July 4th parade in Vail.

For tickets to any of these jazz guitar performances, visit vailjazz.org.