Tony DeSare sets his own definition of jazz

Singer and pianist Tony DeSare has often been regarded as a young Frank Sinatra. Although he can swing with the best of them on all the classic jazz numbers, the 42-year-old New York native puts his bright and totally unique stamp on pretty much everything he produces. Take, for example, the Justin Bieber pop hit, “Despacito.” In an effort to raise funds for last year’s Puerto Rico hurricane victims, DeSare teamed up with Hamilton star Mandy Gonzalez and Postmodern Jukebox for a hypnotizing rendition of the pop tune that has to date yielded well over 4 million views on YouTube. Also last year, DeSare created the entire score for the Lifetime movie, Hush Little Baby and released his sixth full-length album, One For My Baby.

Before returning to Vail this week for a pair of intimate solo performances Wednesday at The Sonnenalp and “Vegas-style swing” with H2 Big Band Thursday at Vail Square, DeSare took a stab at the definition of “jazz.” Here’s what he had to say about why the genre, especially his own version of it, might surprise people.

1) It has transcended generations

“I think jazz has become a kind of all encompassing term for hard-to- classify types of music that tend to use more sophisticated harmony and have some element of improvisation. For Baby Boomers and Millennials, jazz seems to have become somewhat of a four-letter word, at least in the mainstream culture.” 

2) Jazz has no borders

“As far what the boundaries of jazz are today, there doesn’t seem to be any, as jazz festivals commonly include even rock, blues and pop acts among more traditional jazz acts. There still certainly exists a culture of people who have followed and stay up to date on the art form of jazz and its history. In that culture, the definition of jazz is definitely more narrow. I would say what I do has usually been on the outskirts of that niche, though I certainly appreciate it myself.”

3) Pop music and jazz share some of the same genes

“I fell in love with pop music and love classic pop, which was truly was all about a great melody and lyric. Those songwriters and artists drew from the vocabulary of jazz music and I consider myself part of that tradition.”

4) The magic all comes down to each song

“I present songs that swing, have sophisticated melodies and jazz chords and will improvise solos here and there, but for me, the most important thing is the feeling and content of the song itself. A more ‘purist’ view of jazz would favor the improvisation as the selling point of the performance with the song being more the vehicle through which it’s delivered. In other words, if I sing a song like ‘All the Things You Are’ by Kern and Hammerstein, my goal would be to deliver the tender emotion of the song and present it more like the songwriters intended whereas a modern jazz group will use the melody and chord changes more as a jumping off point to make a new statement that often is an interesting contrast to the original standard.”

5) It’s all about what’s real and in the moment

“All in all, I think the definition of what encompasses jazz is ever widening and more and more people are understanding that the label of jazz is not really specifically pointing to any one style in particular. I feel like the term jazz suggests the idea that the music is organic, real and of the moment, not that it necessarily has to swing, have lots of solos, feel serious, etc.”

Tony DeSare live in Vail

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 25

Tony DeSare returns to Vail with a pair of intimate solo performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 25. In his words, it’s going to be a “spontaneous and intimate night where the set will vary depending on the audience and how I’m feeling. We’ll cover a lot of musical ground.” Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Tickets at $40 or $136 for a subscription to the remaining Club Series performances through Aug. 8. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies. Find tickets here.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

July 26

DeSare is joined by H2 Big Band in the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 26. He says to expect “that one and only feeling you can get hearing a live big band with a singer. I’ll be performing everything from Sinatra, Khachaturian, Bruce Springsteen, The Beatles and Prince as well as a few originals. The whole night, though, would feel right at home at the Sands Hotel in Vegas in 1966.” Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Subscriptions are also available for multiple performances. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. Find tickets here.

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: The Vegas Strip

There have been many famous streets in the U.S. that have been synonymous with a style of music. In New Orleans it was Basin Street for the nascent sounds of jazz, Beale Street in Memphis for the blues, 18th and Vine for swinging jazz in Kansas City, Central Avenue in L.A. and 52nd Street in New York City for bebop, and of course, Broadway in NYC for what else but “Broadway music.”

Howard Stone

In Las Vegas, N.V. there is the Strip, a 4-plus-mile-long desert road, not associated with a particular style of music, but instead the entertainment capital of the world. Nevada was the first state to legalize gambling in 1931, but with the Depression underway, Vegas had to wait for better economic times and the end of World War II before it could become Sin City. By the early 1950s, the mob controlled the hotels with their extremely profitable casinos and much of the vice in the city as well, and Vegas took off. Gambling, bookmaking, prostitution (ultimately banned from Clark County where Vegas is located), 24-hour entertainment, food and booze, easy marriages and divorces, strip shows and much more, all of which ultimately led to the famous slogan: “What happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.”

With gambling at the heart of the economy, entertainment became the “hook” to bring in the “losers” and the best way to attract them was to present the greatest entertainment of the day. Beginning in the 1950s the competition among hotels to feature the biggest draws in their respective “showrooms” was fierce and headliners that could draw a full house were handsomely rewarded. With Hollywood nearby, Vegas developed a connection to the world of celebrities and they were frequent visitors and performers on the Strip. Initially, the entertainment offerings were centered on lavish floorshows and reviews, comedians and vocalists. Whether singing pop, country, rock, or jazz, the greatest singers of the past 70 years have appeared on the Strip and in the 1950s and 60s many of my then favorites regularly appeared: Frank Sinatra, Nate “King” Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sammy Davis, Jr., Louis Armstrong, Lena HorneTony Bennett and Peggy Lee, to name just a few. In 1956, a 21-year old Elvis had a two-week engagement in Vegas and bombed, but ultimately returned for many successful engagements and the filming of “Viva Las Vegas.” Today, Elvis impersonators can still be seen wandering on the Strip.

Many observers believe the golden age of the Strip was a period roughly half a decade long in the 60s when “The Rat Pack” held court in the Copa Room (400 seats) in the Sands Hotel. The iconic leader of the quintet was Frank Sinatra, joined by Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford, all donning tuxedos with drinks in their hands, smoking on stage and generally projecting the image of being cool, ’60s style. The combination of great vocal talent (Frank, Dean and Sammy) with off-color humor, dancing (Sammy) and a swagger that was the personification of hipness, made their performances the “main event” and the biggest draw in Vegas. Backed by top bands, vocalists reigned supreme during this period and there was a magical atmosphere in the Copa Room where audiences were able to see the best perform in an intimate environment that defined the era. In 1966, Sinatra appeared in the Copa as a solo act and recorded his first ever live album, “Sinatra at the Sands,” with Count Basie and his 20-member band, conducted by Quincy Jones. The album is the definitive recording of this epoch and it captures what a night on the Strip was all about, with some of the swingiest music ever recorded, including Sinatra classics “Come Fly with Me” and “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)” and a comedy monologue by Sinatra, known as the “tea break.”

As the 60s unfolded, rock musicians began to eclipse the jazz/pop stars of the day – the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Elvis, the Who, Simon and Garfunkel and many others took center stage. In 1964, The Beatles made their only appearance in Vegas. Originally planned as a one-off concert on the Strip in the 700-seat Conga Room in the Sahara Hotel, the overwhelming demand for tickets ($2, $3, $4 and $5) caused the promoters to move the show to the Las Vegas Convention Center with a second show added. Approximately 17,000 screaming fans attended and it changed the Strip forever. Rock concerts came of age and it became clear that Vegas would have to compete for the best talent with the promoters of arena/stadium shows, something that a 500-1,000-seat venue on the Strip couldn’t do.

The Strip had to change to meet the new competition and it did. Public corporations began to take over the hotel/gaming industry, replacing the mob, and a new economic model was developed. The “old” hotels were replaced with megaresorts (of the 25 largest hotels in the world, 23 are in Vegas) themed as ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece, as well as NY, Paris, Venice and Hollywood, and of course the Old West. These hotel/gambling palaces contained arena-like performance venues requiring much more variety in entertainment to draw larger crowds, including the new generation of entertainers, lavish spectacles, Broadway shows, impersonators, magicians and animal and circus acts (at one point, seven productions of Cirque Du Soleil were running on the Strip).

The Copa Room and the Vegas Strip of old are now just memories, but Sinatra’s album remains a testament to an era when great vocalists and great musicians could always be seen and heard on the Strip in an intimate showroom.

At 5 and 7:30 p.m. on July 25 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on July 2 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead, the great pianist and vocalist Tony DeSare will pay tribute to Frank, Sammy, Elton John and many other crooners who helped establish the Vegas Strip as the entertainment capital of the world.

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.

The infectious draw of gypsy jazz

Samson Schmitt was playing guitar before most toddlers knew how to bounce a ball. Hailing from the Moselle region of eastern France, Schmitt’s father, Dorado Schmitt, introduced his son to the music of Django Reinhardt and had him noodling on the neck of a guitar when he was just 3 years old. Schmitt names his father as the “master” of his musical education. He concedes that Dorado taught him “the necessary basics to play gypsy jazz” but “then later told me that I had to find my style of music with a personal touch.”

Today, the refined embodiment of gypsy jazz with a personal touch – not just Schmitt’s but each of his band mate’s – is the Django Festival All-Stars.

Comprised of Schmitt and DouDou Cuillerier on guitar, Antonio Licusati on bass, Pierre Blanchard on violin and Ludovic Beier on accordion, the All-Stars deliver a romping, high-energy blast of gypsy jazz. They play Django Reinhart classics as well as original compositions and countless surprises with what Schmitt describes as a “chemistry” that “has grown over the years to be fantastic.”

Beier, who grew up in Paris among a family of musicians and gravitated to the accordion after first learning the keyboard and drums, insists that the All-Stars’ chemistry is “not a rational fact.”

“Sometimes the magic appears without explanation,” he says. “The alchemy sometimes between musicians can create extraordinary things, and that’s the case in our group. But one of the keys of that is the listening. Everyone has a role and a precise function that blends the music without interfering with ego. When all those facts are put together, it works. And of course the friendship and common passion for this music is very important.”

The passion is tangible. During an All-Stars performance, each musician attacks his instrument with a ravenous but precise force that Schmitt claims is possible only by understanding three key ingredients – “heart, sensitivity and energy.”

That said, playing music in the Django tradition is not something just anyone can do.

“Besides virtuosity, harmony and swing, which are the ‘technical’ skills to master, I can clearly identify the most challenging aspect as the respect of the tradition with a kind of ‘opening’ on something from our modern times. Tradition is so inclusive that you cannot change the basics of this music, but adding new influences from the years after Django, you can make a creative answer to Django’s legacy.”

According to the accordionist, this is why gypsy jazz is so popular not only in France but throughout the world, among people of all ages who love every genre of music. But the genre wasn’t so popular when he first discovered it in the 1980s, when new music was largely electronic-based pop.

“But in the late ‘90s the appeal for world music revealed the Django legacy to the public and became popular among all kinds of people from young heavy-metal fans to white-collars businessmen,” Beier says, adding that in France today, Gypsy jazz is one of “the strongest” forms of music.

Beier began playing with Schmitt when the guitarist was still performing with his father and the two bonded immediately when it was clear that they both relished what Beier calls “the new side of Django’s music.” They have been playing together as the Django Festival All-Stars for 16 years.

“We have plenty of music to share from fast tempos to lyric ballads,” Beier says. “I need to keep the surprises for the concert, but our music is easy to understand and brings a lot of happiness.”

Django Festival All-Stars live in Vail

Vail Jazz Club Series: July 18

The quintet returns to Vail with a pair of intimate performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 18. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Tickets at $40 or $136 for a subscription to the remaining Club Series performances through Aug. 8. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies. Get tickets here.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square: July 19

The All-Stars deliver a fiery big stage performance in the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 19. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Subscriptions are also available for multiple performances. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. Also, don’t miss the after party with local pianist Kathy Morrow at the Vail Chophouse from 8 to 10 p.m. Get tickets here.

 

 

 

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: Django Style

At latest count on a worldwide basis there are close to five billion videos watched every day. A YouTube video can go viral and propel an unknown entertainer from total obscurity to literally world fame in a matter of days. A case in point is the Korean pop singer/rapper PSY (Park Jae-Sang). His 2012 music video “Gangnam Style” rocketed around the world with over one billion views in less than five months (now at three billion and counting), propelling him to world fame with President Obama flashing his Gangnam Style dance moves on TV within months of the first viewings of the music video. Of course, PSY has been pushed aside to make way for the next YouTube phenome, and then the next, and then the next … and the question arises whether this type of fame can ever be sustained? Apparently, Andy Warhol understood this issue in 1968, well before YouTube existed, when he famously predicted that culturally speaking, fame would be limited to 15 minutes.

Contrast this viewpoint with the career and music of Jean “Django” Reinhardt. A Belgian-born (1910) Gypsy musician who was largely self-taught, Django would go on to become the most important European jazz musician ever and a guitarist who would influence successive generations of guitar-greats. Django moved to Paris as a child and earned a living as a teenager playing on the streets of the City of Lights before playing in dance halls, where he performed a style of music known as musette, a combination of French folk music, polka, waltz and jazz. Never receiving a formal education, it is doubtful that Django ever learned to read, books or music. In 1928 at the age of 18, he was severely burned by a fire in his caravan and after a prolonged period of recovery, he returned to making music, but unfortunately the fourth and fifth fingers on his left hand were paralyzed and he never recovered the full use of them. Not able to use all the fingers on his left hand to play chords on his guitar, he created new chords using his contorted figures where possible, while rapidly moves his good fingers up and down the neck of the guitar, inventing a truly unique technique. In 1934, he joined forces with Stéphane Grappelli, a French-Italian violinist, and they formed the “Quintette du Hot Club de France,” that synthesized the music of Django’s Gypsy heritage with jazz to create a ground breaking sound that would have worldwide impact, making both of them internationally famous. By combining three guitars with a violin and bass at a time when American jazz was dominated by the sounds of piano, drums and horns, Django created what became known as Gypsy Jazz (Jazz Marouche) and is now known as Django Jazz. Tragically, Django died of a brain hemorrhage in 1953 at the age of 43, having had only a short time to make his musical mark.

Howard Stone

The passage of time fades our memories and fashions change, especially in music, and once Django passed, his music was forgotten, as bebop jazz took hold and the tsunami of rock washed over the world of music. However, nostalgia is a remarkable emotion driven by the strong desire to regain our youth, so music revivals are commonplace today. In some cases, it leads to a replay that generally doesn’t last very long. A decade after Django’s passing, his music began to be revived, but here is where the story gets interesting. Instead of a short-term revival based upon reminiscence, the music of Django began to take hold and build momentum and for the past five decades there has been a phenomenon aptly described as “Djangomania,” with Django Jazz played and enjoyed throughout the world and with jazz festivals dedicated to Django and his music held annually in the U.S. and Europe.

There was, of course, no Internet, so Django Jazz couldn’t go viral, but that really didn’t matter, because ultimately, Django and his music have passed the “test of time.” Greatness is not based upon a viral video, no matter how many views, but instead the creation of something of lasting value – a musical legacy – something that will be handed down to future generations. “Gangnam Style,” on the other hand, will be, at best, a historic footnote about the first video to have more than a billion views. Django and his music have entered the pantheon of popular music of the Western world and Django Style (contrasted with “Gangnam Style”) is now part of the classical music of the last century. Much like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Django Style has something special that will endure.

Vail Jazz will celebrate the musical legacy of Django at 5 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on July 18 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and at 6 p.m. on July 19 in the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead when it presents the Django Festival All-Stars. The music will be exuberant and played in a flamboyant manner, sizzling, infectious, and swinging, just as Django performed it over 85 years ago.

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.

Putting Spice in Jazz, Afro-Cuban Style

Jazz is very much like a tree with many roots (musical influences) and numerous branches (styles). Without doubt, the jazz tree took root in the fertile musical soil of New Orleans in the late 19th and early 20th century, but 90 miles away, another musical tree had began to grow in the very rich musical soil of Cuba and it spread its branches in a very different way.

Let’s start with the tree growing in New Orleans. The Crescent City was initially ruled by France, then Spain. Then France reacquired it, before selling it (and a lot more – all or parts of 15 future states) to the U.S., as Napoleon was short on cash for his military adventures. The Louisiana Purchase (the second of the “big three real estate deals” in American history (Manhattan and Alaska being the other two) was completed in 1803. As a result, New Orleans was then conjoined with the U.S. and became the largest port in the South and its largest and most important city. With a rich music tradition tied to its French and Spanish roots, it was an important transportation hub, thus allowing many additional musical traditions to be brought to this very cosmopolitan city. In contrast, Havana (and Cuba) had a culture almost exclusively informed by Spanish customs with formal and well-defined forms of music and dance traditions.

Howard Stone

This is the European part of the musical equation, but of course, there was an African component as well. While we tend to think about slavery as a uniquely American enterprise, less than 10 percent of all the slaves brought to the new world landed in what is now the southern U.S. In fact, many more slaves were taken to Cuba to work the sugar plantations. Therefore, while each colonial power brought a distinct European musical tradition to it colonies in the new world, because of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, they also brought the polyrhythmic (two or more rhythms played simultaneously) music of the West Africa slaves to each locale where they ruled. Because of the politics, commerce, climate, geography, access to musical instruments and formal music education, and many other influences in each locale, the European and African musical roots combined in different ways creating new and locally divergent musical styles. In New Orleans, this symbiosis led to jazz, and in Cuba, it led to an Afro-Cuban popular dance music – the rhumba, mambo and cha-cha-cha, with a major emphasis on the polyrhythmic traditions of West African music at its core.

With two distinctive musical styles only 90 miles apart, it was only a matter of time before the two were connected. Fostering this musical exchange were among other factors, the U.S. Army’s three separate occupations of Cuba in the first part of the last century, and the free movement of Cuban and American musicians by ferry between Havana and New Orleans during this period. It therefore wasn’t very long until the jazz tree in the U.S. had tapped into Afro-Cuban music. “Jelly Roll” Morton, one of the early New Orleans jazz innovators, famously noted that with the addition of what he called the “Spanish tinge,” you could spice up the then prevailing 4/4 rhythm of jazz and add “the right seasoning…for jazz.”

Jelly Roll wasn’t referring to Spanish music, but in fact the dance music of Cuba, with an essence that was pure pulsating rhythm, that made the listener want to move to the music. The Afro-Cuban beat wasn’t the predictable four beats to the bar of jazz, but a delightful exotic seasoning that added a unique flavor to the musical stew. This new rhythm that was the foundation of the music is known as the clave (2/3 and 3/2 alternating beats), and really wasn’t new at all, but could be traced to religious ceremonies in Africa centuries before. This was the “secret sauce” that spiced up the music with a zest of exotic percussion instruments added. The musical menu called for the rhythm to be played by Cuban percussion instruments: congas, timbales, güiros (gourds played with a stick), bongos, and two hardwood sticks, also called claves, with each assigned a distinctive rhythmic pattern to play. The combination of all of the ingredients provided an intoxicating rhythmic experience differentiating it from American jazz that instead evolved into a music of improvisation.

So what happens when you combine jazz and Afro-Cuban music, you end up with Afro-Cuban jazz. Take the polyrhythms and rhythm-centric nature of Afro-Cuban music out of Afro-Cuban jazz and you are left with jazz, which is not a problem, but I like to spice things up every now and then.

On July 11 at the Sonnenalp Hotel and on July 12 in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead, Vail Jazz will present the great Cuban pianist Nachito Herrera and his band in a pair of club shows and concert, respectively. Add a little spice to your life and join us for what promises to be explosive evenings of Afro-Cuban jazz.

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. 

Cuban pianist committed to cachet of musical styles

If you can imagine what kind of dedication it takes for a 12-year-old to develop the musical talent required to perform Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Havana Symphony Orchestra, you can only guess what sort of skill that kid possesses several decades later after devoting every day in the meantime to his keyboard.

Nachito Herrera’s resume reads like a list of headlines. He’s won a Grammy, an American Heritage Award, an Immigrants of Distinction Award and has even been nominated for an Emmy. He’s directed, conducted and performed in numerous high-caliber symphonies and orchestras all over the globe, composed scores and tunes for Hollywood films and led a variety of his own bands, composing and performing everything from classical to Afro-Cuban jazz.

His first memory of the piano was his father – also a professional pianist – practicing with his big band in the family’s garage in Cuba. He began playing at the age of 4. By age 7, his classical piano career was already in motion.

“I remember when I started playing simple notes. My dad was teaching me. Then I went to the classical musical school in Cuba. It takes about 16 years to get your PHD and I did it all the way through. Then I took an extra five years to get my PHD as an orchestra conductor. Right when I was a teenager I started to also be interested in other styles like jazz and Cuban music,” Herrera says.

It’s his passion for these three types of music – Cuban, classical and jazz, arguably the most difficult genres to master – that motivates the musician to spend the majority of his time on the piano. Even if he’s not performing or rehearsing, he practices eight to nine hours a day.

“I decided to keep myself playing all kinds of music. That’s something that is a blessing when you have the possibility to do it. I’m showing that music isn’t just one, that you can go from classical to jazz to Cuban. People ask me, ‘do you consider yourself a jazz pianist or a classical pianist?’ I say, I’m just a musician. I want to keep doing that, if it can give me good health and [keep] my fingers in good shape. It’s something like you’re free, like you’re doing what you want. It is the kind of payment of the investment of many years to get into the type of shape where you are capable of all kinds of music.”

Herrera relocated to the United States many years ago and now calls Minnesota home. He has firmly established himself among the nation’s top jazz and Cuban pianists but also returned to his “classical training” 10 years ago when he performed with the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba as soloist. Before last week’s phone interview with Vail Jazz, Herrera had just returned from Spain, where he served as guest soloist for the Valencia Jazz Festival and was honored to receive “multiple ovations.”

“Respecting each audience is the most important thing for me. I practice every day as [if it’s] my first time practicing as a student,” he says.

Herrera’s all-day practice sessions involve at least a couple of hours of finger-strengthening exercises as well as trying out improvisation scenarios with a variety of musicians. A large block of time is dedicated, of course, to technique training.

“Any instrument you want to learn – not just piano – you have to have something special in technique,” he says. “I always like to explore the different possibilities. If you’re playing a piano concerto, they say it’s always the same notes, but the soloist wants to put that little flavor and feeling of yourself. With improvisation, it’s 50-50, half different motives you can practice and another 50 percent improvising. You need different elements to put together. I like to put myself in different situations … hard situations. It’s a lot to work with, but it’s always based on respect for the audience. I don’t want them to get out and say, ‘Oh well. That was OK.’ I always want to do my best.”

Essentially, the Cuban’s aim, regardless of performing on a huge stage with 30 musicians or in an intimate club with his trio, is to enrapture.

“In those two or three hours of a performance, I want that they completely get rid of their problems and bad situations,” he says. “I want people to get out of my concert completely satisfied.”

Vail Jazz Club Series: Nachito Herrera

Nachito Herrera and his trio make their Vail debut with a pair of intimate performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 11. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Tickets at $40 or $136 for a subscription to four of the five Club Series performances through Aug. 8. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square: A Night in Havana

Nachito Herrera ramps up to a septet for the big stage at the Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 12. Herrera says his intention in designing the Night in Havana performance was “to show to the audience the versatility of the music we have in our country. It’s making a musical tour around all different styles, Latin jazz, cha, cha cha and classical. From east to west, when you visit my country, it’s unbelievable how you can absorb the different styles of everything from food to music. They’re all about celebrating that we’re alive and we’re together.” Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Subscriptions are also available for multiple performances. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase.

Get tickets here.

   Reasons to Support Vail Jazz

The 2018 Vail Jazz Gala lands at The Sebastian in Vail this Monday night. There are countless reasons to go, but these five are on the short list.

  • An amazing dinner and Brazilian musical performance.

Let’s start with the hedonistic reasons. The annual Vail Jazz Gala is not only the organization’s most significant fundraiser but also an opportunity to catch highly acclaimed vocalist Carol Bach-Y-Rita and indulge in a classy evening of cocktails, appetizers and a gourmet meal. In the words of Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone, Bach-Y-Rita (whose fascinating Catalan name is a reason enough to pique your interest) is “a singer who really presents the song, putting it out there in a way that totally draws you in.” In one of the unique pairings that is characteristic of the Vail Jazz Festival’s musical chemistry, the singer will be accompanied by long-time favorite pianist Bill Cunliffe along with Vail Jazz Workshop alumni, Hitomi Oba and Jon Challoner for a passionate program of “infectious Brazilian rhythms,” including one-of-a-kind interpretations of the Brazilian Songbook, Bossa Nova, Samba and Choro.

  • Securing more free live music throughout summer in Vail

In addition to the Vail Jazz Gala and the slew of ticketed live performances throughout the year, Vail Jazz delivers free performances from 12 to 3 p.m. every Sunday all summer at the Vail Farmer’s Market, featuring a variety of regional artists ranging from energetic salsa ensembles to locally beloved piano-playing songstresses (we’re looking at you, Kathy Morrow). There’s also local piano-drum duo BLT joined by a guest artist at 8 p.m. every Sunday at The Remedy in Vail’s Four Seasons. Lastly, the Riverwalk Backyard Amphitheater in Edwards is poppin’ every Friday evening with free regional artists whose styles go well beyond jazz – funk, bluegrass, soul and R&B.

  • Nurturing the future of jazz

Obliterating the myth that jazz is a style for old timers, young prodigies all over the country and world are still dedicating their free time – like, all of it – to creating and playing music. Not only is this evidenced by this summer’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square lineup, which features a number of rising national and international stars under the age of 30, but also by the 140-plus teenagers from across the country who apply for a spot in the prestigious annual Vail Jazz Workshop. After a thoughtful and difficult vetting process, just 12 are selected. These students are shepherded through an intensive, week-long journey of playing-by-ear, improvisation, group dynamics and general magic by the Vail Jazz Party House Band – John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, Bill Cunliffe, Lewis Nash, Wycliffe Gordon and Lewis Nash. The Workshop culminates with numerous live performances during the Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. Also, every year, local piano icon Tony Gulizia and fellow musical educators make the rounds through every elementary school in the valley for Jazz Goes to School, a four-part education program that guides fifth graders through the history of American jazz, where and how it falls into the international music almanac. They learn not only how to play instruments but also master the 12-bar blues and are even writing their own songs by the final session. Gulizia and his team also provide an interactive crash course (a distinctly harmonious crash, that is) in jazz dynamics for younger children during the free Sunday morning Jammin’ Jazz programs throughout July in Vail. All told, Vail Jazz instills the art (and in many cases, the passion) of music to more than 2,000 young minds every year.

  • Help weave the cultural tapestry of the community

Let’s face it. The Vail Valley would not be what it is without its rich offerings of art and performances. The Vail Jazz Festival has been a part of that for 24 years. Beginning as a one-off event in which Howard Stone invited a collection of the modern world’s most prominent jazz artists to convene and make music together over Labor Day Weekend, the Vail Jazz Festival became the highlight of many people’s summer and has evolved into its current incarnation of more than 70 performances throughout the year. As mentioned above, many of these events are free. In addition to the wall-to-wall blowout Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party that has grown to be considered the “who’s who” of jazz events, Vail Jazz brings in the touring greats every Wednesday in July with its intimate Club Series, every Thursday all summer at Vail Square and every month throughout the winter with the Vail Jazz Winter Series.

  • Be inspired.

Ask anyone who has attended a performance and even if you know nothing about jazz or suspect that you might not like it, you will surprise yourself. The berth of world musical styles that fall under the genre’s umbrella and the sheer, jaw-dropping talent and energy of the artists never fail to blow people away. Jazz is a genre with something for everyone.

2018 Vail Jazz Gala

5:30 p.m. July 9 at The Sebastian in Vail.

Vocalist Carol Bach-y-Rita is joined by pianist Bill Cunliffe and Vail Jazz Workshop alumni Jon Challoner and Hitomi Oba for a lively evening of Brazilian rhythms – Bossa nova, Samba, Choro and more. Cocktails, appetizers and silent auction begin at 5:30 p.m., followed by dinner at 6:30 p.m. and performance at 8:30 p.m. Individual tickets are $250, table for eight is $2,000. All proceeds benefit Vail Jazz educational programs. 

To support Vail Jazz, or for information on donating, go here. 

Inside the Vail Jazz Festival: A Musical Affair

When most of us think about Brazilian music, we think about the bossa nova (the “new thing”). Nine times out of 10, the song “The Girl from Ipanema” comes to mind. What most people don’t know is there really was a girl from Ipanema. Her name was Heloisa Pinheiro and in the early 60s she would regularly pass by Veloso, a bar near Ipanema beach outside of Rio. As fate would have it, two young men were regulars at the bar and were captivated by her sensuality as they watched her each day “sway like a samba” on her way to the nearby beach. In 1962, inspired by her sexy charm, Antônio Carlos Jobim wrote the music and Vinícius de Moraes composed the lyrics of the song that put bossa nova on the world musical map. Describing her as “tall and tan and young and lovely,” they lamented that they watched her “so sadly” and would give their “heart gladly…but each day, when she walks to the sea, she looks straight ahead, not at me.”

Howard Stone

Well, that love affair was not destined to be, but the song set in motion forces that changed the course of lives, created careers, ended a marriage, fostered an affair and changed the world of music forever.

At about the time the lovesick composers were writing “The Girl from Ipanema,” Stan Getz, a well-known American jazz tenor saxophonist, and Charlie Byrd, an American jazz guitarist, recorded the hugely successful album “Jazz Samba.” Two of the tracks from the album, “Desafinado” and “Samba de Uma Nota So” were written by Jobim (the “Gershwin of Brazil” as he became known), and were also released as singles. They garnered large radio play in the U.S. and generally are acknowledged to have started the bossa nova craze in the U.S. and ultimately the world. The two musicians had been in Brazil, had heard the sounds of bossa nova and returned to the U.S. to record an album that would feature the new music played by American musicians. The bossa nova sound can best be described as a merging of the Brazilian samba with American jazz to create a very distinctive lyrical and melodic music.

By 1963, Getz would go on to win a Grammy for “Desafinado” and the commercial success of the bossa nova sound began to gain momentum. In order to capitalize on the success of the new music, Verve Records decided to follow-up the success of “Jazz Samba” with a project featuring Getz once again (but not Byrd, as the two were feuding over the royalties from the “Jazz Samba”) and a band comprised of all Brazilian musicians that were recruited and brought to New York City. The album entitled “Getz/Gilberto” featured João Gilberto, a then rising Brazilian singer, songwriter and guitarist, with Jobim on piano. Also joining them in the recording studio was João’s 23-year-old wife, Astrud, who was there as an interpreter and his companion.

One of the tunes that was to be recorded was “The Girl from Ipanema” with João singing the lyrics in Portuguese. The story gets somewhat fuzzy at this point, since there are four separate versions of what happened next. The album producer, the legendary Creed Taylor, reported that he wanted some of the music sung in English in order to create the potential for a broader “cross-over” appeal. Since João’s English was very limited, Taylor asked Astrud to sing a verse of the song in English. The lyrics were in Portuguese, but a rushed translation was provided to Astrud. Since she spoke a heavily accented English and had never sung professionally before, she was hesitant to try, but she did.

Astrud instead reported that it was João’s idea that she sing. Getz claimed that he was the one who asked her to sing. The recording engineer Phil Ramone told a different story, saying that Astrud volunteered to sing the song when Sarah Vaughan wasn’t available as planned.

Whatever the truth, the album was released in 1964 and when the track featuring João and Astrud became the focus of radio airplay, Verve quickly decided to release it as a single and chose to edit João’s vocal portion entirely out of the cut, so it was only Astrud singing in English. What is undisputed is “The Girl from Ipanema” was a huge international hit that in fact, “crossed-over” and launched Astrud’s almost four-decade-long vocal career during which she sang in Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, French, German and even Japanese.

The album charted for 96 weeks and won four Grammys.

With the bossa nova craze spreading to Europe after the phenomenal success of the album, Getz arranged a six-month tour of the Continent and Astrud was asked to join him, but not João. By that time, Getz and Astrud were having an affair. By 1965, she and João were divorced.

On July 9, Vail Jazz presents its annual Gala at the Sebastian Hotel with the celebrated vocalist Carol Bach-y-Rita presenting an evening of the magical music of Brazil in a show entitled Bossa Nova Nights.

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. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Jazz and the 18th Amendment

In the 1930s, sociologist Robert K. Merton observed that attempts by well-meaning crusaders to bring about social change for the good of society had in many instances instead caused a perverse result. Known as the “Law of Unintended Consequences,” it is usually cited to support the notion that even the best intentions can cause negative, unanticipated outcomes.

A case in point is the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It became the law of the land on Jan. 17, 1920 and ushered in the era of Prohibition. Known as the “noble experiment,” its proponents claimed that the banning of alcohol would bring about a reduction in crime and corruption, solve social problems related to alcoholism, improve Americans’ health and lessen the needs for prisons and poorhouses. Here was the textbook example of the law of unintended consequences. Crime soared along with the corruption of public officials as the “mob” took over the liquor industry, tax revenue declined (liquor sales had been previously heavily taxed), people died from drinking adulterated alcohol and while social problems weren’t solved, a whole new set of problems arose.

However, Merton also noted that not all unintended consequences had to be negative. In fact, there was one very beneficial outcome of Prohibition, at least from my prospective; it caused the popularity of jazz to skyrocket. How so? The 18th Amendment may have outlawed the sale of liquor, but it didn’t legislate again thirst and the desire to have a good time. With bars and saloons closing in January 1920, a completely new set of establishments began to open to meet the demands of a thirsty public determined to drink and have a good time. These clandestine bars became known as speakeasies (you had to whisper to gain access and when you were in public you were supposed to “speak easy” about their location) and they were everywhere. It is estimated that there were many more illegal drinking dens operating during Prohibition than there were legal drinking establishments before Prohibition.

Competition for customers was fierce and it was the first time in the U.S. that races were allowed to intermingle. A customer’s race, class or social standing being immaterial, as long as the customer could pay the tab. With so much competition, bar operators had to differentiate themselves to attract new customers and they began to feature musical entertainment. Since frequenting an illegal bar had a certain cachet, what better music to present than something illicit and sinful like jazz. The so-called “devil’s music” that originated in the “sporting houses” of Storyville in New Orleans, was compelling and captivating and fit the “outlaw” vibe of these establishments. Jazz broke all the rules, musically and socially – improvisation over structure, the mixing of the races, forbidden venues vs. concert halls – the perfect music for a rapidly changing America. Speakeasies became the places where jazz was presented and the mob was more than willing to hire black jazz musicians, so long as the customers kept coming back, and they did, to see Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Jelly Roll Morton, Paul Whiteman, and many more. Jazz became the popular music of the day, putting the “sin in syncopation,” as one critic noted.

While prohibition was enacted at the beginning of the decade of the “Roaring Twenties,” it was also the beginning of a tumultuous period of cultural revolution in America and F. Scott Fitzgerald aptly named the era the “Jazz Age.” Change was underway with Americans leaving rural areas to settle in urban centers, including hundreds of thousands of African Americans leaving the South for the cities of the North in what became known as the “Great Migration.” Women had just secured the right to vote and were rebelling against the conservatism of the Victorian era. With new clothing, hairstyles, smoking cigarettes in public and driving their own cars, these “flappers” were declaring their independence with a “modern” view of morals and had new music to listen to and dance to. Dancing became an entirely new endeavor and jazz was the music that was danced to. No longer were partners held in a formal way, instead, there was a no “holds barred” approach with the new seductive dances such as the Charleston, Lindy, Shimmy, Cake Walk, Black Bottom and Turkey Trot all in vogue. Jazz became the soundtrack of a rebellion and speakeasies were the venues where this exciting music was played and swayed to.

The Roaring Twenties was also a time of remarkable technological advances – the phonograph, radio and talking movies spread the sound of jazz. The first radio station opened in Pittsburgh in 1920 and soon thereafter, there were stations throughout the country broadcasting jazz. It is estimated that there were only 60,000 households with radios in 1922, but 10 million by 1929. In 1917 the first jazz record was made and by the end of the Roaring Twenties, records had spread the sound of jazz to every corner of the nation. The first “talkie” movie was made in 1927, “The Jazz Singer” starring Al Jolson and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” was first performed in 1927 blending jazz with the sound of a symphony. It clearly was the “Jazz Age.”

On Dec. 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the US Constitution was adopted repealing Prohibition. By then the stock market had crashed and the Great Depression was underway … but jazz was everywhere.

At 6 p.m. on July 5 Vail Jazz presents The Hot Sardines in Lionshead. This 8-piece band will take the audience back to the speakeasies of the Prohibition era in a very hip and modern adaptation of the hot jazz of the Roaring 20s and beyond.

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. Visit vailjazz.org for more information.

Seven questions with soul queen Hazel Miller

Catch the charismatic singer for a free outdoor performance July 6 in Edwards

No excuses are necessary to make a celebration out of Friday afternoon, especially when it means extending the Independence Day celebrations over what will surely be one of the most hopping weekends of the summer. In the spirit of weekend celebrations, the 2018 Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk series is expanding to every Friday this summer, kicking off July 6 with statewide soul sweetheart Hazel Miller, wrapping up Aug. 24 with organ-rich funk trio Claxton, Kovalcheck and Amend and packed with a broad gamut of energetic, eclectic artists in between.

If you missed Miller at Blues, Brews and BBQ, here’s your big chance to see her up close in all of her glory. Vail Jazz caught up with Hazel Miller for a little insight on her proclivity for getting the good times rollin’.

Vail Jazz: How did you learn that singing was your calling in life?

Hazel Miller: I think it hit me around 8. I wanted to sing. My family watched Ed Sullivan EVERY Sunday night. Seeing Ella Fitzgerald, Patsy Cline, Lannie Kazan, Sarah Vaughn and so many more gave my imagination all it needed to dream. I know that singing fed my heart. Singing also set me apart from my six brothers and sisters. That’s always a good thing for one in so many. It was a thrill when someone remembered my name.

VJ: Who are your vocal inspirations?

HM: I like big voices. I love singers that take risks. I love singers that can reach you with their emotion. Aretha Franklin, Sara Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, Barbra Streisand, Bonnie Raitt and many more have helped me find my voice. I admit that I’ve borrowed style, expression and content from several singers, female and male. Nat King Cole, Steve Linwood, Stevie Wonder, Billy Eckstine … these are just a few of the singers that have sent my head spinning with new ideas.

VJ: What is your absolute favorite number to perform and what makes it special? 

HM: I don’t have an absolute favorite. Each performance is different and each audience is different. A favorite song is the song that moves my audience that night.

 

VJ: How do you go about selecting the songs you’ll perform?

HM: I will prepare a set list and proceed to change it on stage to accommodate where the audience is at that time. This habit has become a great inside joke in the band. We will make the changes instantly to fit the mood of the audience. We get very excited when we can keep the energy rising and the audience dancing. We offer excitement … a release for a little while. It’s a real charge for all of us to be able to reach out and touch the audience.

VJ: How do you know which selections will light up certain audiences?

HM: No one knows the answer to this question. You can only anticipate so much. You have a game plan of what to play then you fine-tune it as the performance continues.

VJ: You have a unique ability to get people on their feet and hypnotized by your energy. Your voice has been described as a ‘force of nature.’ What do you love most about performing?  

HM: The smiling faces, the little kids dancing with their families and friends. Singing is like flying. This is the best band I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. We all support the others’ flight of fancy when we perform. It’s a group effort to find the right groove and right expression for each song.

VJ: Of all the memorable feedback you’ve received over the years, has there been a standout comment from a fan or audience member?  

HM: Audience members offer the nicest compliments. It’s always appreciated and absorbed into my memory. Once my granddaughter told me I was her Aretha Franklin. I think that one warms me the most. It is humbling and exciting at the same time. When the band compliments me after a show it is special because it means that I went to a special place that I don’t always reach every night.

Don’t miss Hazel Miller’s free outdoor performance on July 6 for Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk in Edwards. Music kicks off at 6 p.m. and food/drink vendors open at 5 p.m. Picnics are welcome at Vail Jazz @ The Riverwalk, but no pets are allowed and the event is non-smoking. For more information, call 970-479-6146.