Howard Stone: Jazz and The Movies

The 1927 film, The Jazz Singer, was the first feature-length (not a short) “talkie” (a film with synchronized speech, singing, instrumental score and sound effects). While the title suggests that it was about a jazz crooner, the story is about a young man who wants to sing pop music instead of following in his father’s footsteps as a cantor. The film was a great commercial success, which revolutionized entertainment. By the end of the decade, 50 percent of the U.S. populace went to the movies weekly. Unfortunately, Hollywood’s track record when depicting the world of jazz has not been very good, as most films have relied on clichés and commercial themes that have strayed from reality. Periodically though, filmmakers have captured the essence of the music and the musicians. Forest Whitaker‘s portrayal of Charlie Parker in Bird and jazz saxophonist Dexter Gordon’s Oscar-nominated role in ’Round Midnight were thoughtful explorations of the jazz life.

Howard Stone.

In the past few years, two jazz-themed movies – Green Book (2018) and La La Land (2016) have taken home Oscars for Best Picture and in 2014, JK Simmons won an Oscar for his performance as a demonic jazz educator in Whiplash. While winning critical acclaim and box office success, many in the jazz community were less than pleased with these offerings. The most recent jazz film, Bolden, was panned by the critics and failed at the box office as well. On the other hand, there have been some wonderful documentary films about jazz in the last several years. Keep On Keepin’ On, I Called Him Morgan, Chasing Trane and What Happened, Miss Simone? are a few noteworthy offerings.

So, while in recent years some filmmakers have done a better job depicting the world of jazz, it hasn’t been films about jazz (or even jazz soundtracks) that have been that important to the art form. Instead, it has been the music in movies that has had an outsized impact on jazz. A little history is in order. The explosion in popularity of the cinema in the 1920s through the 1950s (when television viewing began to skyrocket and attendance at movie theaters began to decline) coincided with the period when composers and lyricists began writing songs that became known as “The Great American Songbook.” Many of these songs were written for the movies and even when they were first performed on Broadway, found their way into the movies, where the audiences were much larger. It was a time when the likes of Irving Berlin, George Gershwin, Johnny Mercer, Jerome Kern, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter and Harold Arlen, to name just a few, were writing the songs that jazz performers embraced and have been performing ever since, to the point that these songs are now “jazz standards.”

In 2004, the American Film Institute published its poll of the “100 Greatest Songs In American Movies,” Topping the list was “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz (1939), with “As Time Goes By” from Casablanca (1942) next. On July 24 at the Sonnenalp Hotel (get tickets here) and again on July 25 at the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (get tickets here), Vail Jazz will present the great Ann Hampton Callaway, performing those two jazz classics and many more as she takes the audience on a walk down memory lane in her show entitled “Jazz Goes To The Movies.” I hope to see you all at these shows. As the character Sam (Humphrey Bogart) said in Casablanca … “here’s looking at you, kid.”

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival. This summer Vail Jazz is celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season with performances by internationally renowned artists in multiple venues throughout the Vail Valley. In addition, Vail Jazz presents throughout the year jazz educational programs with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge.

John Pizzarelli Pays Tribute to Nat ‘King’ Cole

The charismatic guitarist turns up his vocal chords to honor one of the 20th Century’s most beloved jazz stars

One of the most memorable compliments John Pizzarelli ever received was, “I don’t really like jazz music, but I like what you do.”

Upon hearing this, the guitarist stopped in his tracks for a moment, wondering how anyone could truly dislike jazz. Then he realized that some people simply don’t understand the vast musical umbrella the genre covers.

“People get so scared by the word ‘jazz,’ says Pizzarelli, who grew up surrounded by music thanks to his famous father, Bucky Pizzarelli. “Some people think you play jazz for yourself and not for people around you. Growing up, jazz for me was sometimes the same group of guys playing the same sort of music. Now you have bebop, swing, Latin jazz … there are so many different variations. It’s really exciting. It’s almost impossible that some variation wouldn’t appeal to every kind of person.”

One particular artist under that vast jazz umbrella has made an especially life-changing impression on Pizzarelli. This is Nat “King” Cole. Pizzarelli’s latest album, For Centennial Reasons, is his third tribute to the legendary musician whose timeless songs landed on the top of the pop charts (“pop” at the time was often synonymous with “jazz”), more than a hundred times during his day and remain among the most recognizable of tunes in The Great American Songbook.

 

In a career that began as a small boy playing with his father 35 years ago, Pizzarelli has long connected with Cole’s tunes. In turn, he has developed a knack for cultivating a solid communication pipeline between himself and every audience.

 

“A lot of artists from my father’s generation would get up on stage and play song after song after song,” Pizzarelli says. “Some guys can rely on their artistry so they don’t have to speak. So afterward you’d say, ‘I didn’t get much about the person, but he can really play the saxophone.’ I like to know why you’re doing what you’re doing.”

With his intricate guitar playing and engaging singing style, there is a unique charisma Pizzarelli brings to the stage that stretches beyond the jazz genre.

“It was around 1983 that I saw Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen and Frank Sinatra in the same venue,” he recalls. “Each guy had a different way of communicating. When Billy told stories between songs, it really added something to the whole experience and when Sinatra sang, there would always be a theatrical aspect. I don’t try to bring that to the show, necessarily, but I keep everybody at ease and let them know what’s going on. I like to keep people informed and entertained.”

Although he is famous for putting his own stamp on Cole’s classics and a slew of others from The Great American Songbook, Pizzarelli is known to sprinkle his style onto pop hits from the likes of Neil Young, The Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Elvis Costello, Tom Waits and The Allman Brothers.

“When we get there, we feel it out. I like that,” he says. “We ask ourselves, what record do we want to highlight? Do we want to play more Sinatra? More bossa nova? I could do more Nat Cole. I may play some Ellington. It’s nice to have these problems.”

In the end, Pizzarelli relishes knowing that something in his repertoire will strike some memorable chord with every single member of the audience.

“The best thing about any performance is introducing music to new fans and have people tell you what the music meant to them,” Pizzarelli says.

John Pizzarelli’s 100-Year Salute to Nat “King Cole

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 17

John Pizzarelli along with Mike Karn on double bass and Konrad Paszkudzki on piano deliver a pair of intimate solo performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 17. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30 (get tickets here). Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m (get tickets here). Tickets are $40. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

July 18

The trio’s tribute show amps up for the big stage/multimedia performance in the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 18. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. Get tickets HERE.

For more information,  call 970-479-6146.

 

Preview of the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Festival: Unforgettable

“Out of clutter, find simplicity. From discord, find harmony. In the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.” The life of Nathaniel Adams Coles bears witness to these words of wisdom from none other than Albert Einstein. Nat “King” Cole, as he became known, was born into an African-American family in Montgomery, Alabama, 100 years ago this year, and this adage served him well during a lifelong struggle with racism.

Nat’s father was a Baptist minister and his mother led the choir at his father’s church. The family relocated to Chicago when he was 4 years old and during his early years, he played the organ at his father’s church. Nat’s mother taught him to play the piano, providing him with the only formal music training he ever received, and as a teen he would sneak out of the house late at night to listen to jazz at local clubs. By 15, Nat had quit high school, determined to become a jazz pianist. At 17, he joined an all-black touring musical show, but was stranded in Los Angeles when the show folded on the road. True to Einstein’s maxim, in the middle of a difficult situation, he saw opportunity and began playing in local bars, all the while honing his jazz chops. When his reputation began to grow, he was offered the opportunity to organize a quartet (piano, bass, drums and guitar) to play at a more upscale venue.

Howard Stone.

The band worked hard to prepare for the gig, as Nat understood this was the breakout moment he had been waiting for. But it appeared that fate would intervene. On opening night, his drummer failed to show up. This is when Einstein’s direction to find simplicity and harmony out of clutter and discord would save the day, along with the mantra of all great jazz players: when all else fails, improvise. Nat found simplicity and harmony with a drummer-less trio, forging a new way to present swinging jazz. It caught on, but as he put it, “for years the Trio did nothing but play for musicians and other hip people. We practically starved to death.”

He was not yet 21 and with all of his success, Nat was still unknown outside the world of jazz. Money was an issue and he was struggling. However, that was about to change, for as legend tells it, on a fateful night, the trio was playing in a club when a drunk began harassing him and demanding that he sing a specific song. At first, he tried to ignore the man as he didn’t know the tune and singing wasn’t part of his act. When that failed, he decided to try to shut up the drunk by singing “Sweet Lorraine,” a song that he knew. The audience loved his smooth baritone voice and his unique phrasing and enunciation. That night, out of an extremely difficult situation, he once again proved that when opportunity knocks, you need to open the door.

Nat went on to record the song in 1940, which would become his first hit record and started him on the road to success and fame. During the ensuing two-plus decades, he would record hit after hit, including “Unforgettable,” that aptly described him as a remarkably gifted entertainer. He became one of the most famous singers of the era, moving away from jazz to the broader audience of pop, and in the process selling over 50 million records and successfully touring throughout the world. In 1946, he had his own radio program – a first for a black musician – and in 1956, he had his own network TV program, another first for a black musician.

But unfortunately, in mid-20th century America, Einstein’s axiom proved to be no match for the “discord” and “difficulty” of racism and no matter how hard Nat tried to seize the opportunities that potentially existed for him, there were barriers for blacks that he could not break down.

A case in point, in 1948 he purchased a home in an all-white neighborhood in Los Angeles and was greeted by a burning cross on his front lawn. The family dog was poisoned and neighbors confronted him and told him that they did not want “undesirables” in the neighborhood. Nat responded, “neither do I. And if I see anybody undesirable coming in here, I’ll be the first to complain.”

His TV show, which was lauded by the critics, only aired for a year because a national sponsor could not be found. As Nat said at the time, “Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark.

At the height of his popularity in 1956, he decided to return to his home state of Alabama and perform in Birmingham. Playing for an all-white audience (audiences were segregated in the South at that time), he was “welcomed home” by four white members of the audience who vaulted onto the stage and attacked him. He survived, but he would never return to the South to perform again.

While racism threatened his very existence, it was Nat’s three-pack-a-day smoking habit that killed him, as he tragically succumbed to lung cancer in 1965 at age 45. And while he died way too young, his musical legacy was renewed for a new generation of fans in 1991, when his daughter, Natalie, recorded a Grammy-winning virtual duet with Nat of “Unforgettable.”

Vail Jazz is extremely pleased to present the John Pizzarelli Trio “For Centennial Reasons: 100 Year Salute to Nat King Cole” on July 17 at the Sonnenalp Hotel (get tickets here) and July 18 at the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (Get tickets here). These shows will be multi-media presentations combining a live performance by John and his trio with classic video of Nat King Cole performing some of his greatest hits.

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival. This summer Vail Jazz is celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season with performances by internationally renowned artists in multiple venues throughout the Vail Valley. In addition, Vail Jazz presents throughout the year jazz educational programs with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge.

Howard Stone: The DNA of Jazz

Genetic ancestry testing is skyrocketing in popularity with more and more people attempting to learn about their genealogy. Recently there was a story in the news about Korean-American identical twin sisters that had been separated for adoption at birth. Thirty three years later they were reunited after their connection was confirmed, when each had their DNA tested by 23andMe. That doesn’t happen very often, but the connection between relatives is being discovered regularly now and it is a common occurrence to discover the identity of second and third cousins through the testing.

Howard Stone.

In a way, the genealogy of jazz has been undergoing similar testing for years, not by geneticists, but instead by musicologists who have been examining various styles of music, trying to locate jazz’s “musical relatives.” At the heart of jazz, I’ll call it its musical DNA, are three distinctive “genes”: African rhythms; the blending of multiple music traditions, and improvisation. Many musicologists have concluded that the festive and exuberant music known as choro (pronounced SHOH-roh), which began evolving around 1870 in Rio de Janeiro, is one such relative. However, it would be decades later when jazz emerged in New Orleans, but both forms of music would share many similarities since they sprang from the same musical DNA. Both were A), built upon a foundation of Afro-centric rhythms, B), nurtured in a cosmopolitan center where there was a meddling of cultures and multiple European musical influences and C), heavily relied upon improvisation.

Not unlike jazz in the U.S., choro was at first played by unschooled musicians from the underclasses and with its earthy roots, was regarded with contempt by the white and wealthy establishment. However, by the decade of the 1920s, choro was the popular music of Brazil, while at the same time in the U.S., the decade was known as the “Jazz Age.” In essence, each music grew from the same musical DNA, but in different locales at different times. Each reflected the changing societies it inhabited, but grew into something new and different. And just as successive generations of jazz musicians have reinterpreted the so-called “standards” over time, so too, have choro players reinterpreted composition from an earlier time.

As a jazz fan, my first exposure to Brazilian music was the bossa nova, the musical DNA of which is traceable to the Brazilian samba and American jazz. A close examination of the samba shows that its musical DNA is traceable to choro. So if you were constructing a musical family tree for Brazil, choro would be the father of the samba and one of the grandparents of bossa nova, with the other grandparent being American jazz. The great grandparent would be the rhythms of Africa.

While jazz and choro share much in common, there are, of course, many differences as well. One significant difference is the prominent use in choro of acoustic stringed instruments (mostly guitars, mandolins and related instruments), with the Brazilian 7-string acoustic guitar often featured. Brass and reed instruments are also featured, but no piano or drum set. Percussion sounds are played on the pandeiro, a Brazilian tambourine. In jazz, the most common guitar played is a 6-string instrument; however, there are a few jazz guitarists that play a 7-string instrument. The addition of another string allows the guitarist to play a bass line and add depth to the music, but adds complexity that requires a high level of virtuosity if the player is going to master the instrument. In the hands of a passionate and brilliant player, the instrument can be played in a stunning and thrilling manner that defies description. One such player is Yamandu Costa, considered to be one of the greatest Brazilian guitarists of all time. A remarkable interpreter of choro, samba and the music of Brazil, Yamandu will be in Vail performing with his trio Wednesday at the Sonnenalp Hotel (get tickets here) and Thursday at the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (get tickets here). You won’t want to miss this rare opportunity to see and hear one of the finest guitarists in the world play the music of Brazil.

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival. This summer Vail Jazz is celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season with performances by internationally renowned artists in multiple venues throughout the Vail Valley. In addition, Vail Jazz presents throughout the year jazz educational programs with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge.

7 Reasons Why Yamandu Costa Loves His Job

Yamandu Costa embraces the music of his entire continent

Growing up in a musical family in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul near the borders of Argentina and Uruguay, Yamandu Costa took up the guitar when he was only seven years old. By the time he was a teenager, he had developed a deep passion for numerous classical styles of Brazil – bossa nova, samba, choro, etc. – and also for the seven-string version of the instrument popular in his country. He was also influenced by the unique folk genres (ie: tangos, milonga, chacera) of bordering countries and began winning awards for his one-of-a-kind playing style, which is characterized by all 10 fingers moving at such a lightning fast pace that the resulting sound resembles that of 200 strings rather than seven.

To watch him play – his fluttering eyelids and head rolling along to each strain – is evidence enough that he lives to play, but here are a few other reasons why Costa’s musical journey is clearly the one he’s meant to make.

1) He gets to represent his country and leverage Latin musical influence.

“The choice I made to take this path was really worth it,” he says. “Growing my career slowly, calmly, without any exaggerated haste, just letting things happen, I realized that I could be a representative of a music genre from a whole continent, the South American continent. So I’m a Brazilian who tries to get closer and closer to Latin American music from the neighboring countries we have here. Over time, I have seen that it really makes a difference. I carry some of my continent through my musical creation. This artistic responsibility is a very important thing. This is part of a career that intends to be a calm and solid story. When I see that the rewards come in a natural, gradual way, this makes me very happy.”

2) Presenting the music of South America provides listeners with a glimpse into the continent’s cultural melting pot.

“I think Brazilian music, like Cuban music, North American music, gypsy music, like various cultures of the world, [has] in some way the will to represent the people, to represent a certain lifestyle. This influence comes in several ways, in the environment, in the climate, in the cuisine and from human culture. The music of Brazil, the music of Latin America, it represents the people that are very mixed, that are very diversified. I think that’s why there is so much interest in our music. When I say this, I mean this whole side of the world – the Americas – that [has] caused the world to blend more and more. I think that is why this interest is so profound, because the mixture of cultures happened here.”

3) He can carry on his father’s musical legacy.

“The memories I have of the guitar are from when I was very young. My father played the guitar very well. So it’s a natural thing for me to have followed this path and to become interested in this instrument. From an early age, my house was a gathering place for musicians. We have always had a culture of hosting serenades, musical encounters and such. This is something that I carry [on] today within my way of life. It turns out to be something that is always recurrent in my story.”

4) The guitar is his baby.

“The guitar is an instrument that I love deeply … because it is such a portable instrument, because it is an easy instrument to carry around everywhere. It is an instrument that adapts to all cultures, one way or another. Where it’s moving, it’s adapting. The people in each place can take from the guitar their own sounds that represent their own culture.”

5) He introduces his seven-string guitar to fans as if he were introducing a best friend … or a new language.

“One very interesting comment I received some time ago was when a guy came to me after the show and said, ‘look, I really enjoyed getting to know this instrument that you play.’ Somehow, he was making a parenthesis as if I did not play the guitar, as if the guitar was not so important to the music I do, but focused on the content, the final result of the music. I found it interesting to have such a comment, a guy who really liked the way I make music taking much more into account the musical discourse that was presented than the instrument that I play. The way he said, ‘I really enjoyed getting to know the instrument that you play,’ would be my expression through the guitar arriving in the universe of music.”

6) He has the opportunity to make special connections with diverse audiences all over the world.

“This connection with the audience is a very interesting thing. I travel the world and notice, of course, the differences with the audience, the preparation of the audience. This is a very subjective thing. How do you feel you have a good connection to the audience? That depends a lot on the day. Usually there are audiences who are more welcoming, more warm. I think [a connection is made] when you have good energy and when everything is helping – the sound, the acoustics of the room and also the sound engineer.”

7) Every time he performs he feels he’s delivering his best truth.

“What I like the most about performing live is that it’s the moment of truth. It’s a time that puts you in a very delicate situation, a moment that you have to prove yourself and your abilities. At the same time, you have to somehow conquer the audience. You have to have good taste, not exaggerate your performance. The truth of the artist is the moment he presents himself. I have a relationship of total dedication to the stage and I always hope for this to happen in the best way. In Brazil, we say that ‘practice is practice and the game is the game.’ At the moment of performance, everything must be prepared – all the energy that I built up to be able to play for the people. This is the most important moment, a moment of redemption. It is also a moment of balance that is difficult to achieve … a lot of concentration and a lot of relaxation at the same time so that the music can reach and touch the hearts of all people.”

Vail Jazz Club Series

July 10

Yamandu Costa makes his Vail debut, kicking off the 2019 Vail Jazz Club Series at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, July 10. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30. Get first set tickets here. Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. Get second set tickets here. Tickets at $40. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

July 11

The Brazilian guitarist’s performance gets fast and furious for the big stage in the all-weather Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, July 11. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. Get tickets here.

For more information, call 970-479-6146.

 

 

Howard Stone: Jazz and Freedom

With July 4th rapidly approaching, I thought I would write an article about the connection between jazz and Independence Day. While I was inspired by the subject matter, I drew a blank and I was about to give up, when just like fireworks exploding in the sky over Vail Mountain, it came to me. What do jazz and the Fourth have in common? Freedom.

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776 in Philadelphia, but it would take the Revolutionary War and another 27 years before the U.S. would complete the Louisiana Purchase, thereby acquiring what would become the “birthplace” of jazz: New Orleans. And it would be another century until jazz was “born” in the Crescent City, brought into existence by African-American musicians whose grandparents and parents had been freed from slavery only 50 years before. So jazz’s first connection with freedom was a direct result of the Emancipation Proclamation and the Civil War. What followed musically speaking was the creation of a new form of music that has flourished over the next 100 years because of a fundamental difference between jazz and other music – the freedom to improvise and to evolve. Yes, in the world of classical music, a soloist like Mozart could improvise when playing the cadenza to a concerto, but in jazz, everyone gets to improvise. So, just as the colonists had wanted freedom from the tyranny of King George, and just as the slaves had wanted freedom from their slave masters, so too did the early jazz musicians want the freedom to create their own music, and they did.

However, in jazz nothing lasts forever, and by the 1930s, the brass bands and New Orleans style of jazz were toppled by a revolutionary approach to the music. The Swing Era began with big bands playing jazz to dance to and it became the most popular music of the day, rapidly spreading throughout the country. And yet, the story doesn’t end here, because with the freedom to improvise and to innovate, jazz musicians have always been pushing the envelope. By the mid-1940s, a group of musicians led by Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk began to play in a completely different manner that became known as bebop. The groups they played in were no longer big bands, but instead small combos. The structure of the music was much freer with all the musicians allowed to improvise simultaneously. Tempos were generally much faster than in swing music and melody gave way to harmonic complexity and rhythm changes. The music was for listening, not dancing. The Swing Era was over. Long live Bebop! Moreover, in the decades that followed there have been many more revolutions in jazz.

The journalist J.A. Rogers may have summed it up best when he observed, “the true spirit of jazz is a joyous revolt from convention, custom, authority, boredom, even sorrow…” Jazz was a musical revolution that set it apart from other genres of music. The fact that a musician could spontaneously express himself while being a member of a group was a remarkable idea and a technical feat, but also had implications far beyond the music itself.

The great Duke Ellington said it best: “…. jazz is a good barometer of freedom… In its beginnings, the United States of America spawned certain ideals of freedom and independence through which, eventually, jazz was evolved, and the music is so free that many people say it is the only unhampered, unhindered expression of complete freedom yet produced in this country.”

July 4 performances

For a number of years, beginning in 1999, Vail Jazz brought a high school jazz and marching band from Los Angeles to celebrate the Fourth with our community and this year to celebrate our nation’s birth and the 25th anniversary of Vail Jazz, we will once again bring L.A.-based Fernando Pullum and his award-winning jazz band to play in the Vail America’s Day Parade on July 4th and to perform a free concert in Lionshead at 1 p.m. Since this is a very special year for Vail Jazz, we are in a particularly celebratory mood and we will cap our Independence Day celebration by presenting one of Vail’s favorite performers, Marcia Ball, in a show entitled, “Vail Jazz Celebrates the Red, White and the Blues,” at 6 p.m. in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (Get tickets here).

So, as we all celebrate the birth of our country this Fourth of July and the freedom that has been bestowed upon us, please join us as we enjoy the uniquely American music that is the epitome of freedom: jazz. Happy Fourth of July!

Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival. This summer Vail Jazz is celebrating its 25th Anniversary Season with performances by internationally renowned artists in multiple venues throughout the Vail Valley. In addition, Vail Jazz presents throughout the year jazz educational programs with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge. 

Funk it Up for Vail Jazz’s Big 2-5

Internationally heralded jazz star Wycliffe Gordon headlines silver anniversary gala

When the years fly by and an organization like Vail Jazz finds itself celebrating its silver anniversary, there’s only one word for it: funk.

The event that serves as Vail Jazz’s biggest fundraiser (a.k.a., fuel for the multitude of free and subsidized educational programs and 85 performances it offers throughout the year) is embracing its funky side for its 25th Anniversary Celebration gala on July 8 with funk phenom and international jazz star Wycliffe Gordon.

“The first three letters of ‘funk’ spell ‘fun,’” Gordon says. “This is what the audience can expect to do … have f-u-n and celebrate the joy of living.”

A native of Georgia, Gordon is a former member of Wynton Marsalis’s band and has performed with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Shirley Horn and Tommy Flanagan. He has more than 30 albums to his name as bandleader and for the last decade has ranked among the world’s most talented trombonists.

He’s also a guy who gives back to his craft. A founding faculty member of Julliard’s Jazz Studies program, Gordon is a beloved member of the Vail Jazz Party House Band and instructor at the Vail Jazz Workshop, which selects 12 of the nation’s top teenage musical prodigies for a week of intensive, play-by-ear, hands-on learning, culminating with performances alongside their acclaimed mentors at the Vail Jazz Party.

“The most outstanding experience with the kids comes when we receive letters about their experience spending a week with the mentors and their appreciation of the love shown and shared on both sides,” Gordon says of the Vail Jazz Workshop. “There’s nothing better than confirmation that you’ve ‘done it right’ by passing on the love for humanity through music.”

When Vail Jazz was first born 25 years ago, a brainchild of lifelong jazz fan Howard Stone, it was initially intended to be a one-time deal, a Labor Day weekend jazz party featuring around 27 of the world’s biggest jazz artists, including the likes of John Clayton and his brother Jeff Clayton, Phil Woods, Tommy Flanagan, Jack McDuff, Slide Hampton, Bobby Hutcherson, James Moody, Joe Wilder and Jeff Hamilton.

The experience proved life-changing for everyone involved – musicians and audience members alike. When it was over, Stone met with John Clayton and a fateful conversation ensued, sealing the bright future of the Vail Jazz Festival. It was the Grammy-winning bassist who wondered aloud whether the show should go on.

“He said in all earnest, ‘do you think you’ll ever do this again?’” Stone recalls. “I don’t know where it came from, but out of my mouth, came, ‘John, this is what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.’”

Fast forward 25 years and arrive at the year-round extravaganza that is the Vail Jazz Festival, evolved to include a whopping 85 live performances including the Vail Jazz Club Series and Vail Jazz @Vail Square, which bring in an eclectic array of nationally and internationally acclaimed artists, free weekly performances all summer starring top regional musicians – Vail Jazz @the Market, Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk and Vail Jazz @ the Remedy – and culminating with the event that started it all: the five-day-long Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend.

“All great things stand the test of time and experiences shared here in Vail are far-reaching and life-changing, which is why folks continue to show and the festival continues to grow,” Gordon says. “Over the years, the Vail Jazz Festival and Foundation have reached out to the community, locally and nationally, to make an impact on the fans and students alike through the performance of and preservation of jazz music.”

Not only is the 25th Anniversary Celebration a direct conduit in preserving the Vail Jazz Festival and its expansive programming (all proceeds go toward Vail Jazz education programs) but it’s also a rare chance to get your funk on and feel the magic for yourself.

“It’s an opportunity to witness the band sharing joy through musical presentation but we’re also encouraging folks to become active participants and join us in the groove by expressing their joy through dancing and singing along,” Gordon says.

Vail Jazz’s 25th Anniversary Celebration

When: 6 p.m. (5:30 p.m. VIP)

Where: Larkspur Restaurant Vail

What: An evening of live music with Wycliffe Gordon and his Funk Band, dancing, gourmet food stations, cocktails and auction.

Tickets/Info: Tickets include food, open bar, music, dancing and valet parking.

GET TICKETS HERE

For more information, call 970-479-6146.

 

Celebrate The Fourth with Marcia Ball

The charismatic storyteller rolls into town to open summer series

Last year Americana songstress/pianist Marcia Ball joined the ranks of Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett and George Strait as an official Texas State Musician. The honor is bestowed each year upon a solitary artist selected by the Texas State Legislature, a team of local politicians and committee members. Ball is only the third female musician to receive the status (after Shelley King in 2008 and Sara Hickman in 2010).

Although she is most often categorized as a blues artist, Marcia Ball fits under many musical umbrellas. It’s true that the Austin Music Hall of Famer has earned Grammy nominations and countless blues awards throughout her storied professional career, dating back to her first record in 1972. But the Texas native also knocks out her fair share of New Orleans-inspired jazz rife with lively, steppy piano. Above all, Ball considers herself a storyteller.

“That’s one of the most striking aspects of my music. There are stories behind the songs, stories in the songs. I like to tell stories,” she says. “I like to balance what we record so there’s some up-tempo and fun songs and also some serious things to think about.”

In her most recent release, 2018 Shine Bright, the 12th studio album to her name, Ball set out to celebrate positivity and U.S. movers and shakers – both current and past – whom she admires, calling out individuals such as Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, Ann Richards, Jackie Robinson, Stephen Hawking and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

“I don’t write from an angst-filled standpoint,” Ball has always said, although her song-writing repertoire has been known to include emotional power ballads and touch on topics such as economic disparity, unfair imprisonment and oppressive politics. Some songs address global topics such as environmental devastation and hunger, while others speak of her own personal experiences and as-told-to unique sagas of people she meets. With the help of quick, upbeat instrumentation, all tunes manage take on an uplifting, feel-good quality.

“I write a lot when I’m happy and less when I’m not,” she says. “I write things down constantly. I’m a terrible eavesdropper. I’ll write down a snippet here, a snippet there, sometimes on paper scraps. When it gets down to the real point of putting a record together, I go back into my stack of notebooks and legal pads.”

The pianist’s stories have provided release and drawn deep connections with fans, too. Given that her subject matter sparks an emotional gamut, Ball’s fans have told her that the songs have not only stayed with them, but buoyed them through rough times.

“The energy we expend is given back to us multifold,” Ball says. “Somebody will come up after a show and say, ‘that made me so happy. It helped me so much.’ One woman wrote recently, ‘I work with you all the time.’ I am keeping her company – my music is keeping her company – as she works.”

Although she has been producing and performing music for nearly 50 years, not a day has ever passed in which the 70-year-old musician could see herself doing anything else.

“I never take for granted the fact that I’m getting to do what I love to do, what people dream about doing –traveling around and playing music. If you can’t have fun doing this, you need to re-examine your priorities,” she says.

Marcia Ball @ Vail Square

Marcia Ball returns for the 25th Anniversary Vail Jazz Festival season at 6 p.m. July 4 in Lionshead for the 2019 opening performance of Vail Jazz @ Vail Square. She’s joined by Don Bennett on bass, Corey Keller on drums, Mike Schermer on guitar, Eric Bernhardt on saxophone and Johnny Medina doing sound. General admission tickets are $25, $40 for preferred seats and $50 for premium seats. Preferred and Premium seat subscriptions are also available for multiple performances. Vail Jazz @ Vail Square takes place every Thursday evening through Aug. 29 in the all-weather Jazz Tent in The Arrabelle courtyard in Lionshead. Drinks are available for purchase.

GET TICKETS HERE.

For more information call 970-479-6146.

 

Local Columbia student credits Vail Jazz for educational springboard

Studying in New York City, Alec Mauro is already playing his early musical lessons forward

Not every kid who taps on the xylophone during a Vail Jazz Goes to School session turns out like Alec Mauro. But the opportunity to learn about this key genre of American music and get some hands-on instrument time certainly helps plant (or discover) that seed of talent for musically-minded children.

Growing up in the Vail Valley with a music-loving father who runs local radio KZYR and a ski instructor mother, Alec Mauro knew he wanted to play music since he was a small child. Now living in New York City, he’s playing saxophone in a big band, studying jazz and serving as department head for jazz programming at Columbia University’s student radio. He recalls his early days with Vail Jazz Goes to School and considers them pivotal to where he is today and where he’s headed musically.

“I definitely was more into it than other kids … I don’t know if I was ahead at that point,” Mauro says. “Vail Jazz goes to School is cool because rarely in a community like Vail do kids get exposed to that kind of thing at that age.”

Led by local piano guru Tony Gulizia and a team of musician/educators – percussionist Michael Pujado, bassist Andy Hall, drummer Mike Marlier, trumpeter Mike Gurciullo and woodwinds specialist Gary Regina – Vail Jazz Goes to School (VJGTS) visits every fourth and fifth grade classroom in the Vail Valley four times a year, imparting free lessons on the fascinating history of jazz music, the 12-bar blues and hands-on workshops learning a variety of instruments. The sessions culminate with students writing their own original tunes, some of which are performed by VJGTS educators at the Vilar Center for the final Vail Jazz Goes to School session before the program restarts in the fall. In its 24th year, Vail Jazz Goes to School has reached 25,000 young students.

Alec Mauro (right) accompanies Tony G at a local performance.

“One of the main things I study at Columbia is jazz history. Vail Jazz serves its own education, honestly. Without that program, I wouldn’t be into music the way I am now,” Mauro says.

Mauro looks at his peers and feels especially grateful that he grew up in an environment and with the support that allowed him to pursue his artistic talents.

“I can say this with certainty, the only reason I got invited to this school is because I play the saxophone and because I’m passionate about jazz. I’ve certainly suffered from learning disabilities and stuff in the classroom,” he says. “Without that creative outlet, I don’t think I’d be able to do as well. So many kids that go to school, to Columbia, for instance, a lot of them are artistically inclined – they play instruments – but they’re studying biomedical engineering or something like that, so they don’t play that much. Without programs and accessibility and funding, especially for kids who aren’t going to get it otherwise, you’re not going to get that outlet. So much talent just goes to waste.”

With his own quiver of skills learned and refined thus far in his education, the 20-year-old sophomore has already begun playing it forward in New York City. During a call with Vail Jazz, he was in a cab home from instructing a private saxophone lesson.

“He’s an eighth grader and my mom taught his mom skiing. I really enjoyed it. Teaching is really cool. You use a hodgepodge of your own tricks and styles, plus a little Tony G, and it’s cool to see that work translate to another person,” Mauro says. “It’s easier for me to communicate with kids on a different level, because I was in their shoes not that long ago.”

Mauro makes time to play his sax daily (“you go crazy otherwise”) and has started performing around the city with a big band of talented young musicians. When he’s back in town, you might catch him sitting in with Tony G on a Sunday evening during Vail Jazz @ The Remedy at the Four Seasons or for one of Gulizia’s afternoon sets at The Westin. However, the young musician’s key aspirations for the future lean more toward teaching than making it in the world of jazz performers.

“I’m not 100-percent set on being a professional gigging musician,” he says. “I’m interested in a lot of other aspects of music. My dream job is to be a professor of musicology. I can take everything I learn from playing, the music in general and the history and write about it. I love writing and teaching. That would be the dream.”

 

Vail Jazz to Launch Busy Summer for 25th

Ticketed performances are on sale now and free live music abounds all summer long

On a whim back in 1995, lifelong jazz fan and part-time Vail resident Howard Stone brought in a who’s who cast of the world’s greatest jazz artists for a long weekend live music extravaganza. Intended originally to be a one-off event, a mind-blown Stone walked away saying, “this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.”

Thus, the Vail Jazz Festival was born and has since blossomed into its current incarnation, a year-round exhibition of top musical talent from across the globe, hands on, in-depth educational programming and free performances.

In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Vail Jazz will launch into its biggest summer ever, with free and ticketed performances throughout the week from the end of June through Labor Day weekend. On Wednesday and Thursday evenings, respectively, the Vail Jazz Club and Vail Square series feature a lineup of the biggest names in jazz today. The Club Series emulates a true jazz club experience with intimate performances in the luxurious setting of Ludwig’s Terrace in the Vail Sonnenalp Hotel, while the Vail Square series allows artists to let loose on the big stage in the spacious, all-weather Jazz Tent in Lionshead. The grand finale of the festival is, of course, the original main event – the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend, bigger than it’s ever been for year 25.

“Over 25 years, Howard has curated a community of artists that span the globe. This summer, fan favorites return alongside the rising stars of tomorrow to present jazz in all its forms, from the American Songbook to Gypsy jazz, big band to blues, and salsa to straight ahead,” says Vail Jazz Executive Director James Kenly. “This lineup delivers the joy of jazz throughout the summer and across the valley.”

Tickets for all summer performances are on sale as of this week. Here’s the breakdown of what’s in store this summer, so be sure to mark your calendars.

Free events:

Vail Jazz @ The Market

Every Sunday from June 30 through Aug. 25 – Vail Jazz presents free live music from a rotating lineup of highly acclaimed regional musicians, 12-3 p.m. at The Jazz Tent at Solaris during the Vail Farmers Market & Art Show.

Vail Jazz @ The Remedy

Every Sunday night from July 7 through Aug. 25 at 8 p.m., a rotating cast of musical talent joins pianist Tony Gulizia and drummer Brian Loftus for free live music at The Remedy Bar in the Four Seasons Vail.

Jammin’ Jazz Kids

Every Sunday in July (July 7 through 28) from 11:00-11:45 a.m., the Jazz Tent at Solaris in Vail calls all kids from 4 to 12 years old. Vail Jazz’s Tony Gulizia and a team of musical educators lead a FREE hands-on workshop teaching the basics of rhythm and melody. Instruments provided.

Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk

Every Friday at 6 p.m. from July 5 – Aug. 23, Vail Jazz kicks off the weekend with a variety of acclaimed blues, funk, rock, bluegrass and jazz artists performing live at the outdoor amphitheater at The Riverwalk in Edwards. Bring a blanket, picnic and an urge to dance. Food and alcohol are available for purchase.

Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio return to Vail Aug. 7 and 8.

Ticketed shows:

The Vail Jazz @ Vail Square fires up the all-weather Jazz Tent in Lionshead from 6 to 8 p.m. every Thursday from July 4 to Aug. 29. General admission seats are $25, preferred seats are $40 and premium seats are $50. Drinks are available for purchase. The Vail Jazz Club Series features the same artists who take the big stage at Vail Square, but performing two intimate dinner club sets at 5:30 and 8 p.m. every Wednesday from July 10 to Aug. 7 at Ludwig’s Terrace at The Vail Sonnenalp Hotel. Tickets are $40. Full dinner and drink service are available for purchase.

July 4 (Vail Square) Fiery pianist Marcia Ball returns to Vail to unleash upbeat musical storytelling

July 10 (Club) 11(VS) – Seven-string guitarist Yamanda Costa plays Brazilian samba, bossa nova

July 17 (Club) 18 (VS) – Iconic guitarist John Pizzarelli pays Tribute to Nat King Cole

July 24 (Club) 25 (VS) – Sultry vocalist Ann Hampton Callaway presents Jazz Goes to the Movies

July 31 (Club) Aug. 1 (VS) – Hailing from the Crescent City, keyboardist and soulful vocalist Jon Cleary pays Tribute to Henry Butler and the Great New Orleans Piano Tradition

Aug. 7 (Club) 8 (VS) – Hypnotic young vocalist Veronica Swift & The Emmet Cohen Trio return by popular demand

Aug. 15 (VS) – Acclaimed jazz and blues vocalist Catherine Russell makes Vail debut

Aug. 22 (VS) – Latin Jazz and salsa extraordinaire Pancho Sanchez ignites dance tunes

Go here for tickets and more information about the Vail Square series.

Go here for tickets and more information about the Club series.

Vail Jazz 25th Anniversary special anniversary gala celebration

July 8 – This one-of-a-kind event features internationally lauded trombonist Wycliffe Gordon displaying his funk stylings at Larkspur Restaurant. Expect a night of dancing, amazing food and an open bar. General admission tickets are $250, VIP Experience $300.

Get tickets here for the Wycliffe Gordon 25th Anniversary event.

The 25th Annual Vail Jazz Party

From Aug. 29 to Sept. 2, more than 40 of the world’s most talented jazz artists (including the iconic Vail Jazz House Band) converge at the Vail Marriott and in Vail Square for a Labor Day weekend stacked with explosive indoor and outdoor performances. In the same format as that first fateful event 25 years ago, artists rotate from stage to stage, some in unlikely combinations that result in a flurry of unique and previously untapped talent and improvisational masterpieces. To witness these shows are truly once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. New this summer, Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’ – historically the Vail Jazz Party’s most popular performance and always the first to sell out – will take place at the Gerald Ford Amphitheatre on Sunday, Sept. 1.

Get tickets here for the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Party.

For more information about Vail Jazz, call 970-479-6146.