Colorado High School Band Showcase kicks off this weekend

More free music to your ears is coming to Vail this Sunday. Every Sunday from July 31 to Aug.

21, Vail Jazz debuts a jazz band comprised of talented teens from around the state at 11 a.m.

Come early to the Vail Farmers’ Market and witness rising local talent from around the state.

 

The lineup of up-and- comers includes:

  • July 31 – Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts
  • Aug. 7 – Kent Denver School Jazz Band
  • Aug. 14 – East High School 6 th Hour Jazz Combo
  • Aug. 21 – Denver School of the Arts Jazz Ensemble

“Featuring high school-aged jazz musicians from our state is another way that Vail Jazz

showcases young musicians during the summer-long festival,” says Robin Litt, Vail Jazz

Executive Director. “Performing at the Farmers’ Market is the perfect opportunity for hundreds

of ears to soak up this pool of young talent.”

 

Performances take place at the Vail Jazz Tent, located on the west side of Solaris Plaza in Vail

Village.

 

Vail Jazz @ The Market continues through Aug. 28 each week, featuring Colorado-based

musicians and ensembles firing up a live soundtrack at the Vail Farmers Market from 12 to 3

p.m. The series continues on July 31 with The Hennessy 6, a talented sextet based in Denver.

The group, led by Sean Hennessy on trumpet, includes seamless interpretation of soulful

ballads, driving swing, Latin hard bop and more. The group has played together since 2012, but

collectively have appeared alongside Dave Liebman, Joe Walsh, Wycilffe Gordon, John Faddis,

Vince Gill and Amy Grant.

 

Also, Sunday nights never sounded so good. Local jazz legend, Tony Gulizia and drummer Brian

Loftus are joined by an exciting variety of visiting jazz musicians each week at the event’s new

home at the Four Seasons Resort. The series has been a big hit and takes place from 8 to 10

p.m. every Sunday through Aug. 28. On July 31, Sean Hennessy will join Gulizia and Loftus on

trumpet.

 

Free Sunday night performances and Vail Jazz @ The Market are part of the 22 nd Annual Vail

Jazz Festival, which offers more than 60 live shows in Vail throughout the summer and

culminates in the Vail Jazz Party, a five-day blowout of wall-to- wall performances over Labor

Day Weekend. For information, visit www.vailjazz.org or call 888.VAIL.JAM

Sensational GRAMMY performer Joey Alexander set to light up the keys in Vail

Young pianist and his trio bring masterful sound to Lionshead on Thursday

Living in the moment is a philosophy that Joey Alexander follows not only to his musical career but also in life.

Speaking on the phone with the Balinese pianist, it is nearly impossible to tell that he just turned 13. He is gracious and thoughtful when answering questions and amazingly articulate for a boy his age, especially given that he’s only been learning English for a couple of years.

But considering his eloquence on the piano – evidenced by the rapt attention of fellow musical stars at this year’s GRAMMY Awards performance and pretty much wherever else he plays – it’s really not that much of a surprise.

Joey taught himself how to play an electric keyboard at the age of 6. He received his first real piano at age 7 and by the time he was 8, was performing for the likes of Herbie Hancock.

“I don’t remember exactly when I felt like this is what I’m going to do, I was just playing,” Joey says. “I could just feel it. It’s such a big instrument and the keys, the mechanics … I just loved the big sound of it. It was kind of hard for me to reach the high notes – I was very small at the time – but I loved the big sound. That’s what interests me about the piano … it’s orchestra. It’s a complete instrument.”

At 10, thanks to a special invitation by Wynton Marsalis, he made his debut at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Shortly afterward, he and his family moved from Indonesia to New York City. He performed on two stages at the Newport Jazz Festival. Since moving to the U.S. he has played at major jazz festivals around the world as well as at the White House for President Obama. His debut album – 2015’s My Favorite Things – garnered two GRAMMY nominations for Best Jazz Instrumental Album and Best Improvised Solo (on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”). A forthcoming album – Countdown – is scheduled for a September release and Joey is excited to perform his new material in Vail this Thursday.

“On this record I explore more musically,” he says, adding that the album features three of his original compositions. “I compose something when I’m practicing but not really thinking about it. It just flows to me, almost [directly] to my hands. It just comes out.”

The young artist was performing in upstate New York on his 13th birthday this June. He says there was no place he’d rather be than on stage to celebrate his existence. The venue surprised him with a piano-shaped birthday cake and the entire audience singing, “Happy Birthday.”

“It was a surprise,” he says. “Everyone was clapping and singing. I was actually very happy that I was even playing. It was [enjoyable] for me to be on stage when I can share my day and the talent that god’s given me.”

When asked to name his most exciting or memorable experience so far in his young musical career, one would think Joey would immediately name his White House or GRAMMY performance, but no.

“For me a small stage, a big stage, everything is really important to me,” he says. “It’s the music I want to give. Every experience has a different vibe for sure. There are people that just want to listen. When I went to Europe, every city was a different vibe, which was great.”

As far as his future goals, the 13-year-old is not someone who looks ahead but who embraces what is right before him.

“I always want to be thankful. I’m really happy with what I’m doing now,” he says. “Of course I’m thinking forward about how I [can] better myself, but not thinking about the future. That’s the thing about jazz …it’s about the moment.”

Joey Alexander, 13-year-old piano sensation, performs with bassist Dan Chmielinski and drummer Ulysses Owens, Jr. this Thursday at Vail Square. The performance is from 6 to 8 p.m. inside the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. General admission tickets are sold out but premium seating is available for $40 in advance. For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Michel Camilo makes Vail debut

The GRAMMY-winning pianist, composer and knight of the Dominican Republic brings his lightning fingers to the Vail Jazz stage Wednesday and Thursday

Michel Camilo has never wanted to limit himself to a specific genre of music. His freedom of expression is characterized by a flurry of rubber wrists and fingers slapping the piano keys. He is a blur but strikes every note with incredible intent and accuracy. In spite of his precision, there is something about his demeanor not unlike a child playing with a favorite toy.

“The greatest word is ‘play’ because you’re playing with the instrument but you’re also playing the instrument,” Camilo once told a Masterclass. “That is what becomes fun as you discover yourself through your music.”

Growing up in the Dominican Republic, the composer discovered his favorite toy at the age of 9 and studied with the National Conservatory for many years. By the time he was 16, he was performing with his country’s National Symphony Orchestra.

Although several of his family members played music as a hobby and his aunt was a classical piano teacher, Camilo became the first professional musician in the family, his classical style infused with Caribbean flare, jazz, bebop, ragtime … and something all his own.

“For me, it’s all music,” Camilo says. “I don’t differentiate between one and the other. That’s been very good for my music because now I come in and out of any world I want. I do world beat, I do classical, I do jazz, film music. I do everything. You name it. It’s important that there are no barriers.”

With no barriers in mind, Camilo moved to New York City in 1979 and studied at Julliard and Mannes College. Shortly after making his international stage debut in 1983, Camilo won his first Latin Grammy. He formed a trio and after an inaugural Carnegie Hall performance, launched into a European tour. More than 20 albums later, Camilo is still touring the world, jumping back and forth from Europe to the Caribbean, to the U.S. and South America in any given month.

He has composed scores for films all over the world, arranged and composed for the Danish Radio Big Band and has appeared as a soloist in just about every top national symphony orchestra and philharmonic throughout the globe, including the National Symphony Orchestra, the Carnegie Hall Big Band, the Cleveland Orchestra, Copenhagen Philharmonic and the BBC Symphony Orchestra.

Back in his mother country, Camilo has reached national hero status, being named a Knight of the Heraldic Order of Christopher Columbus and awarded the Silver Cross of the Order of Duarte, Sanchez & Mella. Conducting for the National Symphony Orchestra of the Dominican Republic, one of his programs included The Goodwill Games Theme, which went on to win an Emmy Award. For several years, he was the musical director for the Dominican Republic’s Heineken Jazz Festival and his recordings have consistently topped national radio play charts. In addition to many appearances now at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center in New York, Camilo has also performed at The White House and Royal Albert Hall. He has shared the stage with nearly every global jazz icon of our time, including Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, Tito Puente, Paquito D’Rivera, the Labéque sisters, Bela Fleck and Toots Thielemans.

Camilo’s style continues to defy definition, seamlessly bridging gaps between popular and world music, jazz and classical. After a GRAMMY Award win and numerous Latin Grammys, the pianist continues not only to enrapture world audiences with his magical command of the keys but imparts his wisdom and passion to students across the globe.

“Never let anyone tell you that you cannot do this, you cannot do that. I never take no for an answer. I always see a new challenge, an opportunity to grow, to develop and open your eyes and ears,” Camilo recently told a Masterclass at the London Centre of Contemporary Music. “Ever since I can remember, [the piano] was my toy. I was never made to practice. For me it was coming from school directly to the piano to make sounds. That’s the beauty of music making. I never felt like I had to practice. I always wanted to because it was fun.”

Michel Camilo Trio with Cliff Almond and Lincoln Goines makes its Vail debut at the final Vail Jazz Club Series performance of the summer on July 27 at Mountain Plaza Lounge near Gondola One. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40 in advance. The trio then takes the big stage for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 28 at the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. Advanced tickets are $20 for general admission or $40 for premium seating. For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Jazz Cats and Their Hats

A hat has great utility. It can keep the sun out of your eyes and protect your head. With flaps attached, it can even keep your ears warm. But we live in a society where hats really aren’t about utility anymore, instead they create the opportunity for us to show the world which causes/organizations we support and, of course, our favorite teams. The cowboy hat worn by non-cowboys is entirely another subject … but then I don’t understand quantum physics either.

The ever-present baseball cap which has morphed into a traveling billboard is a marketing manager’s dream come true. Many of us will actually pay to advertise someone’s brand. When I was a kid, adults wore hats not only for utility, but as fashion statements, to signify their social standing. Instead of announcing to the world the identity of your favorite team, your hat could say, “I can afford season tickets.” Down through history people have wanted to communicate their wealth and social status and hats have served them well. I happened upon a picture of Abe Lincoln wearing his famous stovepipe (top) hat. He was our tallest president at 6-foot-4 and the crown of his hat was seven inches high.  Rail thin, standing erect with his hat on, there was almost seven feet of vertical to observe. Some say it was his way to be seen in a crowd. Whatever his motivation, his top hat was his trademark and the top hat continued to symbolize authority and prestige well into the 1930s.

Lester Young

In 1934 a dapper Duke Ellington was photographed wearing a top hat, rakishly tilted to the side (as pictured above). The iconic image projected elegance and sophistication and in a very racist society, it was Duke’s way of saying “I am one of you.” The brand image worked. Duke was accepted by white audiences.

However, in the 1930s to 1960s, most other African American jazz musicians were seen as undesirable outsiders. Jazz had been labeled as the devil’s music, so jazz musicians took the path of least resistance, developing their brand based upon the concept of being part of a subculture – the hipster – outside of the cultural mainstream, but stylish and at the cutting edge of what was happening. They succeeded by talking in a hip way (“the cat wants his bread before he blows his axe”) and by wearing jazzy clothes, the oversized zoot suit, for one, to signify their hipness.  But it was their lids (initially, jazz slang for hats, not grass) where jazz musicians were able to set themselves apart.

The legendary tenor saxophonist Lester “Prez” Young invented much of the hipsters’ jargon and was known for his ever present pork pie hat – circular low crown, flat on top with a brim slightly turned up. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” was written as an elegy upon Prez’ death and has become a jazz standard.  Prez was so synonymous with being hip that Frank Sinatra wore a pork pie hat and today Marcus Miller’s trademark is the same style.

One of the most celebrated jazz musicians of all time was world famous trumpeter John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie, one of the “inventors” of be-bop and Afro-Cuban jazz.  In the 1940s, his trademark look was the bent trumpet, horn-rimmed glasses, goatee, puffed cheeks when playing … and a beret. The beret is a soft, round, flat-crowned hat with modern origins in the Basque country and France. The adoption by the beatniks in the 1950s of jazz jargon and the look of the hipster with a goatee and beret can be traced back to Dizzy.

Thelonius Monk

And then there was Thelonious Sphere Monk, an eccentric but brilliant jazz giant whose piano playing and compositions changed the course of jazz.  He had a cult following and was one of the few jazz musicians to ever be on the cover of “Time” magazine. Monk had a distinctive look with a goatee, sunglasses (worn in indoors) and was almost always wearing a unique hat.  Hats were his trademark and early photos show Monk sporting a beret, but the crown on his lid was taller than Dizzy’s and the jazz tune “Hat and Beard” was written in his honor. He, too, influenced the beatniks and was seem as an arty bohemian. He was once photographed wearing a Chinese coolie hat, but he went through periods when he wore fedoras, trilbies (a fedora with small brim and higher crown), fur hats and skullcaps. Monk wasn’t the only musician to wear a skullcap. Many jazz musicians who have converted to Islam wear skullcaps. NEA Jazz Master pianist Ahmad Jamal (Fritz Jones) is a convert and has worn a skullcap for decades.  The skullcap and the African kufi (brimless, short and rounded) are also worn by many African American jazz musicians who aren’t Muslims as a way to symbolize their connection to Africa.

Then there is Dr. Lonnie Smith, who wears a turban. He isn’t a doctor and he is not from India, but he sure can play the Hammond B-3 organ. What a trademark.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of The Vail Jazz Foundation, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 22nd year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz music, culminating with the Labor Day weekend Vail Jazz Party. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.
 

Seasoning & Spice: Hear Camilo Twice

Just as a Spanish kitchen heats up quickly, filling the air with aromas and flavors of hot peppers and savory rice into a sizzling dish, Michel Camilo takes the stage with zest, putting a dash of salt and pepper into his original piano compositions and arrangements. The Grammy award winning Pianist & Composer infuses Latin-Jazz and Classical music together right at his fingertips. Forming advanced and modern compositions and arrangements. Camilo takes the influences of big band music and transforms the style into vibrant solo piano.

On his latest album “What’s Up?” Camilo takes standards such as “Take Five” and “Love for Sale” and performs them in an explosive and unheard velocity. Camilo incorporates new originals “Paprika”, “On Fire” and “Island Beat” that intrigue the audience to internalize the music not just through the ears, but that make you want to dance from your head to your toes!

Michel Camilo is not afraid to show versatility, from collaborating with Latin-Jazz artists such as Paquito D’Rivera, Tomatito and Gary Burton to performing original piano concertos with some of the world’s biggest symphonies including the BBC Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the National Symphony Orchestra of his home country Dominican Republic.

Vail Jazz is pleased to welcome to the stage this summer, Michel Camilo along with Cliff Almond on Drum & Percussion and Latin-Jazz Bassist Lincoln Goines. The three were recently featured together on the album Playing Lecuona and performances include the Blue Note Nyc/Tokyo, Ronnie Scott’s Newport Jazz Festival, and Copenhagen Jazz House.

See live performance video in Madrid here:

Tickets for Michel Camilo’s Jazz Trio Performance on July 27th, and July 28th,

are now available at www.vailjazz.org/tickets/

Bria Skonberg returns to Vail for two sizzling performances

The New York City-based trumpeter and vocalist brings her dynamic sound for double nights at Vail Jazz.

It happened. Bria Skonberg is officially big time. The Canadian-born trumpeter and vocalist who has hit the jazz world like a supernova over the last few years was signed by Sony Music earlier this summer. Raise your hand if you’re surprised.

That’s what we thought.

The 32-year-old New York City resident blew the doors off during her Vail debut last year and is back by popular demand, performing an intimate show at the Vail Jazz Club Series July 20 and then taking the stage at Lionshead July 21 for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square.

Growing up in a farming community about an hour east of Vancouver, B.C., Skonberg dabbled on the piano, bass and clarinet before settling on the trumpet. She began singing in high school and by the time she graduated, was the star of the school band and choir, captain of the basketball team, president of student council and manager of several of her own bands, including a jazz ensemble, big band and marching band.

Skonberg has been working full-time as a professional musician for 10 years and moved to New York City in 2010. She has released three studio albums and performs regularly around Manhattan with Wycliffe Gordon and a slew of other jazz greats in between traveling the world with her own quintet. Rooted in traditional jazz but featuring world percussion and alluring melodies, her fourthcoming studio record was crowd funded last year. Oh, but how the framework has changed since then. After overwhelmingly meeting the crowd funding goal, producing the record and bringing it to several labels, the album will be released by Sony’s Portrait Records on Sept. 23, simply entitled, Bria.

“I was waiting,” she says. “It was six months of crossing my fingers and not being able to say much because I didn’t want to jinx it. It’s exciting on so many levels. I’d like to think mostly because now I can focus more on the musical experience.”

What can one expect of Skonberg’s musical experience? Let’s say that profound ambiance (and a little hypnosis, in case she’s performing her rendition of The Jungle Book’s “Trust in Me”) is what she’s going for.

“The vibe is what I’m honing in on,” she says. “I like the swampy, Duke Ellington, exotic-sounding stuff. That’s where my trumpet and voice meet and compliment each other.”

Always pragmatic, in spite of her big label status, Skonberg is not the type to envision her symphonic debut in front of hundreds of thousands or to dream of yachts and mansions.

“I live in reality. If somebody says, ‘what size is your dream band?’ I say, ‘I can fit five people in a minivan.’ I’m practical in a lot of ways, but this gives me the opportunity to dream a little bit. What I would love and what will happen more is getting people to help wrangle the details – interviews, media, tour logistics. My dream would be to spend more time playing trumpet and writing music.”

Skonberg also dedicates a fair share of time on musical education. She’s worked with youth outreach programs through Juilliard and Jazz at Lincoln Center. As co-founder of the New York Hot Jazz Festival, which recently partnered with Central Park’s Summer Stage and is now a major attraction, she hosted a New York Hot Jazz camp for adults this spring.

“We had people come in from Denver, Virginia, British Columbia … a great group of people. We had an 18-year-old and an 82-year-old. They came to learn how to play New Orleans-style jazz for a week. The camp gives people an opportunity to not just play by themselves, but play in a band setting around likeminded musicians,” she says. “I realized age has nothing to do with energy level, especially when it comes to playing music. There is no division for age, gender, race … any of that. It’s about bringing people together no matter what experiences you’ve had. That was a long-term dream. Next year we’ll have a youth camp and an adult camp.”

When asked if she could foresee herself still belting out trumpet solos or singing sultry tunes when she reaches the age of 82, she laughs.

“I hope I’m retired by 42,” she says.

But she’s joking. Or maybe not …

Don’t miss Bria Skonberg on July 20 at the Vail Jazz Club Series at its new location in Mountain Plaza Lounge. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40 in advance. Bria’s quintet, including Eric Wheeler on bass, Evan Arntzen on clarinet and saxophone, Ehud Asherie on piano and Jerome Jennings on drums, then takes the big stage for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8  p.m. on July 21 at the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. Tickets are $20 for general admission or $40 for premium seating. For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

Jazzing up the pop and rock

Seminal guitarist John Pizzarelli returns to Vail

When impersonating his father, famed guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli, John Pizzarelli adopts a raspy voice with a strong Jersey accent. He speaks of his father with a tone of equal parts humor and adoration.

Coming from one of the most talented, harmonious families in jazz history, there was never any pressure for John to take up music as a young boy. He was never pushed to follow in the footsteps of his father, but Bucky has certainly played a part in refining his son’s skills, even when it comes to hitting the most complicated bridges and transitions on the guitar.

“If you don’t do it right, he looks at you and makes that face and shakes his head,” John says.

Growing up surrounded by instruments and talent, playing music was pure fun for John and everyone else in the house. It didn’t hurt that the revolving door was frequented by folks like Benny Goodman and Clark Terry.

“It was very easy. We had all the guitars and all the equipment,” says John, who returns to Vail July 13 for an intimate performance at Vail Jazz Club Series and then takes the big stage in Lionshead July 14 for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square, performing with his brother Martin on bass, Konrad Paszudzki on piano and Kevin Kanner on drums.

“The house was one big instrument room. There was always some kind of music going on – my father playing, rock bands in high school … It’s always been enjoyable to me. Never like a job.”

Although he is known to sing and play hypnotizing renditions of classics from The Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli often performs pop songs by the likes of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello and The Allman Brothers, to name a few, infusing each selection with an effervescence of unique harmonies, mash-ups and frolicking string work. His latest studio album, Midnight McCartney, is a collection of lesser-known Paul McCartney songs and was co-produced by John’s wife, singer Jessica Molaskey, featuring contributions from Bucky. The brainchild behind the record was the ex-Beatle himself. Pizzarelli had collaborated with McCartney in the past, not to mention covered a portion of his repertoire on his 1996 release, John Pizzarelli Meets The Beatles. But when Sir Paul wrote to suggest (apologetically admitting that it might seem “immodest” or “pushy”) that perhaps Pizzarelli could lend his magic to some of his post-Beatles’ melodies, Pizzarelli could hardly say no. He dove into 45 years worth of McCartney’s discography and unearthed a selection of tunes he could re-harmonize with that special zing.

We started to realize how brilliant these songs are. He’s obviously a rock ‘n’ roller, but they were really easy to break down.

 

“When I did the Beatles record in 1996 (Meets the Beatles), I found you can really re-harmonize that stuff, find nice harmonies and not get too crazy. That’s the challenge and the fun of the whole thing.”

“We started to realize how brilliant these songs are,” Pizzarelli says. “We’re McCartney fans and this is our way of letting people know these are good songs.”

When it comes to performing with his brother and the rest of his quartet, Pizzarelli cherishes the band’s ability to instantly read one another.

“The thing I like about having the group is when you go, you can have a set booked and arrangements and you’re able to do whatever you want to do at a moment’s notice,” he says. “It’s nice to have music you’re always prepared for. It doesn’t have to be the same every night.”

Although Bucky still has his own performance schedule, John tries to play with his father whenever possible and when the holidays roll around at the Pizzarelli household, he says, “all hell breaks loose.”

Some of his most memorable moments on stage include performing with the likes of McCartney, James Taylor and Natalie Cole who Pizzarelli describes as “generous, beautiful people.” Of course one of his big breaks as an artist was opening for Frank Sinatra in the early 90s, when he took the stage to crowds of 15,000 to 20,000, an experience he described during his appearance on Voice of America’s Beyond Category series, as surreal.

“You’re just sitting out there thinking, where are these people coming from? Then you’re looking in the wings and there’s Sinatra snapping his fingers,” he said.

INFO BOX:

Don’t miss John Pizzarelli as he takes the Vail July 13 for an intimate performance at Vail Jazz Club Series at its new location in Mountain Plaza Lounge. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40 in advance. The quartet, including Pizzarelli on vocals and guitar, his brother Martin on bass, Konrad Paszudzki on piano and Kevin Kanner on drums then takes the big stage for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8 p.m. on July 14 at the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. Tickets are $20 for general admission or $40 for premium seating. For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

 

The Great Ladies of Song

VAIL JAZZ FESTIVAL PREVIEW: The Great Ladies of Song

 

This Monday (July 11), Vail Jazz will present the splendid vocalist Nicole Henry in her tribute to the “Great Ladies of Song.” On stage Nicole has a mesmerizing presence and is blessed with a unique gift as a performer that allows her to connect with her audience in a powerful way. When covering a classic tune, Nicole captures the essence of her predecessor’s brilliant treatment of the work, while telling the story in her own style.

At last year’s Vail Jazz Festival, she lit it up over two nights delivering tender ballads, up-tempo jazz standards, cabaret torch songs, down and dirty blues, soul stirring hits, awe inspiring gospel tunes and booty shaking R & B anthems. The audience was so taken by her extraordinary talent that we immediately made plans for her to return to Vail and it was agreed that she would pay homage to some of the great female vocalists who have shaped the music of today and whose collective body of work has entered all of our consciousness.

Before we explore the iconic singers Nicole will pay tribute to and why, it should be understood that Nicole’s goal wasn’t to create a “Top 10 List” of female vocalists. You can go to Google for that type of thing, but it is a foolish endeavor to compare singing voices, so that you can declare winners and losers in a popularity contest.

With that caveat in mind, Nicole has selected these Great Ladies of Song: Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday (Eleanora Fagan), Whitney Houston, Etta James (Jamesetta Hawkins), Nina Simone (Eunice Kathleen Waymon), Sarah Vaughan, Dinah Washington (Ruth Lee Jones) and Nancy Wilson. They were born between 1915 (Ella) and 1963 (Whitney), a period of time saw a great deal of change in American society, but nothing like the change that took place in the next 50 years. Unfortunately, many of them did not live to see the most recent changes in our culture, as only Aretha and Nancy are still with us.

Yes, they won Grammys and numerous awards, sold a lot of records, became world famous and performed for royalty and throughout the world. Some easily fit into categories such as jazz, R & B, soul, gospel and pop, but others defy classification as they effortlessly moved between different styles of music. Some amassed large fortunes, and in many cases lost those fortunes.

Unfortunately, drugs and alcohol shaped many of their lives and careers (Billie, Dinah, Etta, Whitney and Aretha) and in some cases, ultimately caused their demise at an early age (Billie, Dinah and Whitney). Mental illness was a constant companion for Nina for a significant number of her years. Many of them had failed marriages with Dinah holding the unenviable record of seven times to the altar. They had an array of voices – some limited in range (Billie, not much more than an octave) and in other cases quite expansive with an unbelievable range (Sarah: three octaves). Some had perfect pitch and technique comparable to instrumentalists (Ella). Some were virtuosic while others were limited in that category, but made up for it with expression and passion (Billie). Several got their start by winning talent contests (Ella, Sarah and Dinah).

However you try to make comparisons, though, what you discover is the one constant … that each was an ORIGINAL and brought to her performances real emotion and authenticity that allowed her to connect with the audience. It’s the kind of emotion that isn’t practiced, but comes from within, when the lyrics of a song touch your soul. And speaking of soul, one unifying factor for all of these women (with the exception of Ella) was that they started singing as youngster in their churches and gospel music was their first step into the vocal world. All of them had a strong connection to the blues and all were Black. Think of it – American Black women singers, singing gospel and/or the blues, during a time period (all started singing professionally between the1930s and 1960s, except for Whitney who start focusing on singing in the early 80s), when men dominated the music business and blacks and women were struggling to assert themselves in a prejudiced and unjust society.

Now we think of concert halls as the venues where great singers work, but for many of them, they started out in smoked-filled nightclubs and saloons where working conditions for a woman were challenging to say the least. It was a time when the plight of blacks and women had yet to take center stage in our political discourse and cultural values were ever so slowly changing. Ultimately these women were not only great singers but trailblazers who fought for their place in the spotlight and went on to inspire future generations of singers. Their gift was not just to sing a song, but to reach within themselves to craft their own style and tell a story in a convincing way. The pain that each of them endured had to be balanced with something, and for these Great Ladies of Song, it was by the joy of their music making. These women endured and we are the beneficiaries of their musical legacies.

Howard Stone is the founder and artistic director of Vail Jazz, which produces the annual Vail Jazz Festival. Celebrating its 22nd year, the Vail Jazz Festival is a summer-long celebration of jazz music, culminating with the Labor Day weekend Vail Jazz Party. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

 

Nicole Henry Pays Tribute to the Great Ladies of Song

Join us for an evening of elegance on July 11th, at 6 PM as dynamic vocalist Nicole Henry leads the original “Great Ladies of Song” benefit concert with returning Vail Jazz Alumni. The elegant evening will pay tribute to legendary jazz greats including Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Aretha Franklin, Nancy Wilson, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, and Whitney Houston.

 

Nicole is no stranger to the jazz world, with international performances in over 15 countries, and seven vocal jazz albums ranging from unique renditions of the Great American Songbook, to soulful hits of the 60s. Shortly after her debut in 2004, and she was awarded “Best New Jazz Artist”. More recently, Nicole was awarded by the Soul Train Awards for “Best Traditional Jazz Performance” in 2013. Vail Jazz is thrilled to welcome such a diverse, and humble artist to the stage.

 

Sharing her spirit while entertaining the audience, Nicole Henry is not afraid to tackle even the most well-known Jazz standards and popular songs. While many artists today can be hesitant to take on familiar songs by highly acclaimed artists, Nicole dives into the challenge and creates a brand new experience for the listener, which is not easy to do. Billboard Magazine has called her, “An artist who knows how to make a song her own.” (and it clearly shows)

 

Creating a brand new musical experience that is unique and engaging is not something that every artist in the industry can do today. Nicole seems to effortlessly establish an atmosphere that captures an original sound and mood at each performance. Nicole highly excels at this – whether performing a Cole Porter tune or a James Taylor cover, she is able to captivate an audience’s attention with her charming storytelling, and is able to convey powerful emotions through her vocals. Every song she sings is truly with her own interpretation and cannot be compared to others.

 

Taking these classic songs, and exploring new colors, rhythms, harmonies and instrumentation, She brings old jazz standards to life such as “At Last” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and pop songs such as “Landslide” and “Big Yellow Taxi” in renditions that are new and pleasing to the ear. Her warm voice makes you tune in to her performance instantly, and yearn for more after the performance has finished.

 

Not only does Nicole creatively experiment with covers, but with her own songwriting as well! On her most recent Summer Sessions EP released in 2015, Nicole collaborates with guitarist James Bryan, and multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Glen Scott on new material together. The three compliment each other very well. Check out this video of their easy listening song “Joy” https://youtu.be/4yrHYknC4zc

 

With intriguing musical arrangements, joining on stage at this special event will be Nicole’s trio, Peter Wallace on piano, Eric England on bass, and David Chiverton on drums. Vail Jazz is excited to bring back alumni of the Vail Jazz Workshop, Jumaane Smith (’98 trumpet), Hailey Niswanger (’07 alto sax) and Kyle Tilstra (’13 trombone) to join in for this special performance.

 

The evening will take place in the beautiful International Ballroom at the Lodge of Vail, and will also include an exclusive high-end auction, spectacular three course meal dinner all while you witness this incredible performance! Funds raised at the event will go toward Vail Jazz education programs, which touch the lives of over 1,400 children each year. Individual tickets start at $250, and tables are available starting at $3000. For more details and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.vailjazz.org/performances/benefit-dinner/. It’s important to pay tribute to great artists, to not copy one another in the industry, but lead from inspiration, and that’s exactly what Nicole Henry does. To hear more inspiring recent music releases and video performances of Nicole Henry, be sure to visit http://www.nicolehenry.com

 

 

 

 

Iconic Jazz Trio coming in Hot for Two Spectacular Vail Performances

Tapping into their one-of-a-kind telepathy, Monty Alexander, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton celebrate 40 years this Wednesday and Thursday in Vail!

 

Completely self-taught on the piano, Monty Alexander moved from his native Jamaica to New York as a teenager. Much to his delight, he suddenly found himself playing at Frank Sinatra’s club.

 

“When I played at Jilly’s in early summer of ‘63 when I was 17, I realized I was in very fast company,” he recalls. “Not just in jazz, but in all the top entertainers in show business. Judy Garland is sitting at the piano bar. I look around and Sammy Davis is walking in. I played at private events at Frank Sinatra’s apartment. He was a good friend. That crowd, they wanted to hang out until 6 a.m. I would keep it going until then. Miles Davis would come in. Count Basie was sitting there with Frank. That’s where I met Milt Jackson. I was learning so much at this time.”

 

Alexander began touring all over America making a name for himself.

“Then something happened,” he says. “I call it serendipity.”

 

A pair of students in the Midwest had more than learned his name. Alexander met John Clayton as “this skinny guy in high school or college.” The two jammed together and kept in touch as Clayton enrolled at Indiana University to study music. A few years later, Alexander’s bass player became sick before a gig in Annapolis. The pianist needed to find a quick replacement. Clayton happened to have recently graduated. Alexander said to himself, “I’ll take a chance,” and invited Clayton to perform with him. Then there was a need for a new drummer and Clayton suggested a friend from school – Jeff Hamilton. They called him in for an audition.

 

“Here I am now on the bandstand with these two younger guys,” Alexander says. “It was this sense of communication … I don’t know what to call it, their willingness to go along with my shenanigans. Then this thing like a fireball, like an avalanche of enthusiasm developed. We developed this great thing that you couldn’t put your finger on. That’s 41 or 42 years ago now. I still can’t explain it.”

 

Clayton and Hamilton know exactly what Alexander is talking about, but they, too, struggle to articulate the dynamic.

 

“The best I can do is say that both John and I wanted to play with Monty when we were 19 and 20 years old. We got his albums and learned all we could,” Hamilton says. “We thought if we got good enough we could play with Monty Alexander. From that experience the week of the audition, we all knew we were on the same page. We all heard the beat the same. We were all intuitive to what each other were going to do. We knew where we were going and nobody else did.”

 

The trio performed together all over the world, 50 weeks a year, hypnotizing crowds everywhere with their uncanny magic.

 

“Communication is crucial to what we do. That will be immediately evident when anyone comes to our concert,” Clayton says. “Our communication style is one that relies on focused listening to one another, eye contact, peripheral vision, facial expressions, voiced instructions, intuition and probably a good dose of voodoo.”

 

These days, it’s a rare treat when the three get together. When they do, they kick in right where they left off.

 

“I like to compare it to a family reunion,” Hamilton says. “Like if you’re sitting at the kids’ table with your cousins, telling inside jokes and having a great time, then as adults you reconnect. It’s not at the kids’ table, but the feeling’s the same. It brings a lot of joy to all of us. The happiness that occurs in the reunion, it’s pure joy and people get that from the stage.”

 

Because the trio has individually performed with so many other top musicians over the last four decades – Diana Krall, Oscar Peterson, Count Basie, etc – they sometimes tweak a song on stage in a momentary detour that Hamilton calls a “snafu” but which any average listener might call a blast of genius.

 

“There is so much knowledge being thrown around when great musicians share a bandstand. How do you hit that magical place? I’ve tapped into it in my life a few times. I seem to be able to do it all the time with Jeff and John,” Alexander says. “When John plays a note on the bass, it’s like all the colors in the rainbow. You have to tap your foot, shake your you-know-what. I love things when they have impact, when it has some oomph. There is no more oomph than Jeff Hamilton. If anybody does anything at any time, it’s a magical symphony. Going back to the early days, almost every time we hit the bandstand, it was this monumental moment. We’d knock ourselves out, but the people would go nuts. It’s like we’re coming with a big stick. We’re going to hit you over the head … in a nice way.”

 

Again, while each frequents the Vail Jazz Festival as a solo artist, it’s rare that this powerhouse trio comes together in Vail. Clayton, Vail Jazz’s Director of Education, has mentored 250 students in the famed Vail Jazz Workshop, but on these two special nights, he’ll be tapping into a unique talent portal with Alexander and Hamilton.

 

INFO BOX:

 

Don’t miss Monty Alexander, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton celebrating 40 years in an intimate lounge performance on July 6 to kick off the 2016 Vail Jazz Club Series at its new location in Mountain Plaza Lounge. Doors open at 8 p.m. and music starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $40. The trio then opens the Vail Jazz @ Vail Square season from 6 to 8  p.m. on July 7 at the all-weather jazz tent in Lionshead. Tickets are $20 for general admission or $40 for premium seating. For tickets or more information visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.