Jazz and the Coffee Connection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

COFFEE AND LIVE JAZZ IN MINTURN:

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

 

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

 

Dave Tull Refines his Fresh Jazz Formula

Dave Tull is a perfectionist. As evidence, consider the reason his recent album was nearly 10 years in the making.

He really wanted to get it right.

“It takes me forever to write something,” says the musician, who has been playing drums since he was 10 years old and added singing to his repertoire when he discovered that the coordination required of both was oddly seamless. “When I deal with other people’s writing, sometimes I wonder if they were thrown off course. I wonder if they took another half hour, if they could have come up with another, much better line. I don’t call something finished until the song is absolutely what it needs to be. When an idea or a chord progression comes to me, it’s very organic. But hopefully there is honesty there, legitimacy and a certain amount of quality. That’s why I take such a long time.”

There’s no question that each track on the recently released “Texting and Driving,” checks all the boxes on that list.

Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Tull’s journey as a jazz musician began on a well-trodden path.

“I was lucky I was given a lot of great influences, not the least of which were in my household,” he says. “I was paired with great teachers and there were all the right influences along the way to keep me energized. The big band thing came naturally growing as a drummer. The Bay area was a great place to grow up for jazz. I kept taking that next step.”

Before and after his time training at California State Northridge, Tull clocked hours upon hours listening to standards and memorizing solos.

“I would listen to jazz records, sometimes a hundred times. If you have a favorite record, you start memorizing solos and lyrics. It was so natural to me to sing and make up my own solos. I found I was walking down the street and had chord changes in my head. I was making up choruses and melodies,” Tull says.

Still, the drummer was more focused on his chosen instrument and never intended to showcase any vocal talent to actual audiences.

“The singing kind of developed on its own, but never like I would do it in public. It was just an outlet for me playing a non-pitched instrument,” he says. “By the time I wanted to sing tunes in clubs, I was doing gigs. The foundations of drumming were so solidly in place, it wasn’t that hard to add singing on top of it.”

Although he has a stacked resume as a sideman, including contributions on numerous Michael Bublé albums and touring with Barbara Streisand, Tull discovered that he was a natural bandleader. In addition to his keen ear, sense of harmony and uncanny ability to keep beats while creating compositions, Tull realized he possessed a handful of additional traits not always prominent in traditionally trained jazz artists.

“I think there’s a lot more humor in jazz than people realize and I like to find it,” he says. “Sometimes we as jazz musicians take ourselves too seriously. I’ll write any song that occurs to me. It’s not necessarily funny. Sometimes it’s a story song. Sometimes it’s a sad song. I bring the people in with a range of emotion.”

Even traditionalists who have approached Tull’s originals as naysayers have soon been converted.

“I’m a crusader against that attitude we sometimes find in jazz audiences that they don’t want to hear anything new,” he says. “I try to write so they’ll be drawn into the story, or the humor in some cases. If it is well written, they’ll go, ‘I normally don’t like original tunes, but I like this one.’”

Also, let’s not forget that Tull loves the standards as much as the next guy.

“I’m with those people who say ‘they used to do it so good.’ But I don’t see how someone can’t write them how they used to, structure the melody so it builds to that stop with such power,” he says. “I believe the older school audience will embrace my songs as soon as they hear they’re good like the classics. When I perform for a younger audience used to simpler tunes who say, ‘I don’t like jazz, jazz is too much,’ I love winning them over, too.”

The 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series returns to Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on March 14 with Dave Tull’s CD release party “Texting and Driving.” The evening features two 75-minute performances with Dave Tull, Jeff Jenkins and Ken Walker. Doors open at 5:30 and the first performance launches at 6 p.m. The second seating takes place at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service featuring favorites from the Bully Ranch and a full bar will be available at both seatings.

Click here for tickets to the 6 p.m. seating.

Click here for tickets to the 8:30 p.m. seating.

Composing soundtracks for everyday moments

The every day experiences and encounters that might give the most thoughtful of people a few seconds of cerebral pause inspire Julien Labro to compose sophisticated melodies.

The French-born accordionist describes his song-writing inspiration as something that can happen “anywhere and everywhere.”

For example, I came up with one song while I was on the subway in New York City. I saw a little boy of about 1 or 2 sitting in his stroller. He looked so comfortable and chill. He was probably one of the coolest kids I’d ever seen. At that moment a tune came to me almost like a soundtrack for him,” Labro says, adding that he whistled the tune into his phone in order to record it once he got home.

“Another time, I was waiting on a visa to go on tour in India. I was leaving the next day, but still hadn’t gotten my passport back from the embassy. I got a tracking number for UPS and when I looked it up, the status said, ‘out for delivery.’ Of course, this was the status for hours. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and wrote a tune about the experience.”

This number, “Out for Delivery,” does indeed convey the emotion of the situation, the instrumental tune moving from relaxing, liquid refrains to frantic sweeps of high-speed inflection during which Labro lurches forward and backward with the effort of furious button-pushing. The number then glides into a hypnotizing rhythm punctuated by quick drum rolls and sporadic accordion solos. One can almost hear Labro’s inner dialogue moving from calming reassurances such as, “the package will turn up any minute” to the demanding frenzy of “where is it?”

“It’s more about capturing a feeling or a moment. I’m never sure when or what will evoke a feeling or create a memory that I want to capture and share,” Labro says.

The French musician initially met fellow New York City transplant Olli Soikkeli during a concert organized by Frank Vignola during which the Finnish guitarist performed as a guest.

“I was impressed by how well he could play and by how deep his voice is. I mean, have you heard him speak? All joking aside, he is a very talented guitarist,” Labro says.

Both musicians began playing their instruments as young boys, both inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt and The Hot Club of France before branching off into a vast array of genres and touring Europe and then the world with a variety of jazz greats. To name just a few, both have shared the stage with Bucky Pizzarelli and Tommy Emmanuel. Soikkeli has toured with Paulus Schäfer and Cyrille Aimee and Labro has collaborated with Grammy winners Jason Vieaux and Fernando Otero.

After the pair once again crossed tracks a couple of years ago at The Crested Butte Music Festival, they agreed to join forces and have since toured throughout the United States and Finland as well as recording the album Rise & Grind, comprised mostly of Labro originals as well a rendition of Reinhardt’s “Belleville,” Edvard Grieg’s “Danse Norvegienne” and even a steppy and intricate interpretation of Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again.”

“Even though we met through the gypsy jazz scene, our music has evolved outside of the Django Reinhardt tradition,” Labro says. “Olli and I both also bring our own unique and eclectic backgrounds to the music, which includes classical, jazz, blues, world music, and even metal. As a result, while you may still be able to catch aspects of gypsy jazz, the music is actually deeply rooted in jazz, which provides us with more freedom to improvise and create.”

Don’t miss Julien Labro and Olli Soikkeli Quartet (featuring bassist Eduardo Belo and drummer Nick Anderson) at the 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on Feb. 21. The evening features two 75-minute performances. Doors open at 5:30 and the first performance launches at 6 p.m. The second seating takes place at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service featuring favorites from the Bully Ranch and a full bar will be available. For tickets or more information, call 970-479-6146.