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.

A tale of two geniosities

Joe McBride does not readily liken himself to Ray Charles. But the two vocalists/pianists do share a few similar qualities, not all of which are completely obvious. Charles, whose nicknames included “The Genius” and “the Father of Soul,” passed away in 2004 at the age of 74, leaving behind a legacy as one of the greatest musicians in history and a catalogue of hits spanning six decades, including “Hit the Road Jack,” “Georgia on My Mind” and “Unchain my Heart.”

While Charles grew up in Florida in the 1930s and McBride was born in 1963 and spent his childhood in Missouri, both artists took an early interest in music and both embraced numerous genres. 

“My first experience with a musical instrument was when I was 4 years old,” McBride says. “I had gone to a Christmas party at my cousin’s house. I found my cousin’s keyboard and started playing it. I didn’t want to leave. I cried for three, four days when we left. My parents broke down and bought me a keyboard.”

By the time he was 8, McBride’s church bought him his first piano and his love for music of all varieties continued to grow. As a teenager, McBride contracted a degenerative eye disease that would eventually take his eyesight. But that did not slow the pursuit of his musical dreams.

“There are always greater or lesser abilities. I don’t think because I was blind I concentrated more on music. It’s because I love it,” McBride says. “The skill has to do with who you are as a person. There are a lot of adversities that a lot of people have. It doesn’t have to be physical. It could be someone that grew up in hardship.”

Ray Charles, who, as a child watched his younger brother drown in a laundry tub and then lost his mother as a teenager, certainly faced his share of hardship. Charles took on an interest in the piano around the age of 4, but began losing his eyesight (most people believe from glaucoma) at about that age and was completely blind by the time he was 7. Shortly thereafter, Charles’ mother managed to enroll him into St. Augustine’s School for the Deaf and Blind and his piano skills flourished. He learned how to read and play braille music, performing classical compositions by Bach, Beethoven and Mozart. However, he was more interested in the songs he heard on the radio – jazz, blues and country.

Charles moved to Seattle at the age of 18 and formed his own band. A year later, he notched his first national hit, “Confession Blues” and began arranging tunes for the likes of Dizzy Gillespie and Cole Porter. He moved to Los Angeles and continued making hits and crossover success in numerous genres – gospel, jazz, soul, Latin, blues, country and western.

“Ray was probably the first crossover team,” McBride says. “He came on the scene back in the early 50s, when he pretty much just kept to gospel. He kept the style but changed the message. Then came the R & B and the big band stuff with Count Basie. He even did country with Willie Nelson and Merle Haggard. He did R & B, soul, rock … He influenced a lot of styles.”

Charles, was of course, a major inspiration for McBride as he pursued his own career as a young musician, realizing, like Charles, that he embraced and was influenced by a vast selection of styles.

“Ray was one of many inspirations,” McBride says. “As a kid, I was exposed mostly to rock n’ roll. At my grandmother’s, she’d always have Ray Charles in the background. In college, it would be part of my assignment to learn about different artists. I have so many different influences – from Ray Charles to Beethoven, Jimi Hendrix, Ella Fitzgerald, Green day, Elvis Costello … I just love music. I listen to something different every day. But if I were to call something my home, it’d be somewhere in the middle of jazz and soul.”

After studying at Webster University in St. Louis and then North Texas, McBride spent the next three decades creating and recording music and touring the world as a bandleader. He’s opened for the likes of Whitney Houston, The Yellowjackets and Larry Carlton. He’s recorded nine full-length albums featuring guest musicians such as Carlton, Grover Washington Jr., Dave Koz and Peter White, to name just a few. Like Charles, McBride has learned something from and his sound been shaped by every individual with whom he’s worked. Whether infusing a contemporary pop tune with his own jazz stylings or performing a Ray Charles classic with a smooth and distinctive flare that’s all his, McBride embraces every opportunity to grow.

“I’m more influenced by Ray as a style, the geniosity of being able to cross over and play with so many kinds of musicians,” McBride says. “For me, it’s more about the music … how he influenced everyone else.”

Tribute to Ray Charles featuring Joe McBride Trio

Joe Mcbride Trio – vocalist and pianist Joe McBride, drummer Jamil Byrom and bassist Jonathan Fisher – is joined by special guest Bob Rebholz on saxophone to pay tribute to Ray Charles in the grand finale of the 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series. The tribute takes place at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp Vail on April 11 with an evening of classics crossing the lines of jazz, funk, R&B and soul. Doors open at 5:30. The first performance begins 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. 

Go here for First Seating tickets.

Go here for Second Seating tickets. 

Girl-powered jazz comes to Vail

VAIL — When it comes to talent, gender has nothing to do with it. DIVA, the 15-piece all-female jazz orchestra from New York, delivers a jaw-dropping wall of sound that puts many all-male acts to shame. That each ironclad musician looks like she’s having the time of her life at every performance makes for incomparable, swinging and gripping entertainment.

DIVA drummer Sherrie Maricle became the first member of DIVA when the band was formed more than 23 years ago by fellow drummer and artist manager Stanley Kay. As Maricle tells it, she was performing in the pick-up orchestra at a Maurice Hines concert that Kay was conducting for the Shubert Theater’s 75th anniversary. After the show, Kay approached Maricle and “asked if I knew other women who played as well as I did.”

Of course, she knew plenty. After an audition bringing in 40 top musicians from all over the world, the group was whittled down to 15 and DIVA was born.

“Over the last 23-plus years of leading the band and playing with dozens of others, I can tell you with 100-percent certainty that there is absolutely NO difference in talent, skill, passion or creativity between DIVA and any other world-class concert jazz orchestra,” Maricle said, naming Jazz at Lincoln Center, Maria Schneider, Clayton-Hamilton, Count Basie, Vanguard and Gordon Goodwin as examples. “The only thing I have noticed is that the DIVA performance dynamic – collectively and individually – is one that is fully engaged, aware, supportive and wildly enthusiastic regarding the music, each other and the audience. I don’t always experience that with other groups.”

“The most fun for me is being in the center of the band — literally and metaphorically — and leading from the inside, creating a pulse like a heart beat. Drummers naturally have a lot of control, leader or not, over the band dynamics, energy and phrasing … so that’s exciting. I also aspire to always inspire, highlight and support my bandmates.”Sherrie MaricleDrummer, DIVA

The highlights

When asked to name highlights in DIVA’s decorated career, Maricle says “Oh My Gosh…there have been soooo many!”

Among them, the first of DIVA’s many featured performances with The New York Pops at Carnegie Hall, the 25th Anniversary of the Kennedy Center’s TV Special and the band’s first tours of Finland, Japan and Vietnam. Then there was the feature on NPR’s “Piano Jazz,” and creating the soundtrack for New York City’s (NBC and Macy’s) enormous fireworks display. Oh yes, there was also that pivotal appearance in the award-winning documentary “The Girls in the Band” (which will be presented at this Labor Day Weekend’s Vail Jazz Party). Maricle says that her band’s (DIVA and also the jazz quintet Five Play, each of which produces and performs all original compositions and arrangements) 13 albums, including a couple of new additions coming soon, “are like my children.”

Since attending parades as a small child and singling out the drummers as the coolest members of the band because they never stopped playing, Maricle has been drawn to the drums. But “the true enlightenment moment” came when she was 11 and saw Buddy Rich perform with His Killer Force Orchestra.

“When the band played their first note, I got goose bumps and was riveted the entire night,” she recalled. “I had never heard or seen anything like that before – the intense power, force, energy, swing and sophistication of a big band … music played with such fire and passion. I ran home and told my mother I was going to be professional drummer. Since that night I never wanted to do anything else with my life.”

As a bandleader, Maricle has aimed to follow in Rich’s footsteps, as well as those of Mel Lewis, Louis Bellson, Jeff Hamilton, Gene Krupa and Chick Webb.

“The most fun for me is being in the center of the band — literally and metaphorically — and leading from the inside, creating a pulse like a heart beat. Drummers naturally have a lot of control, leader or not, over the band dynamics, energy and phrasing … so that’s exciting. I also aspire to always inspire, highlight and support my bandmates, as well as listen to their musical opinions. Each and every one of them is a stellar musician and creative artist,” she said. “I’m very honored to share the stage with them.”

Moved to tears

The inspiration goes well beyond the stage. Over the last two decades, Maricle and DIVA artists have provided “life-changing” instruction for dozens of young and up-and-coming musicians, and several audience members have experienced such sheer awe at performances that they’ve been brought to tears.

“I remember an older woman coming up to us sobbing with joy, saying she always wanted to be a musician, but wasn’t allowed. She just couldn’t believe how great we played. It made me cry, too,” Maricle said.

The 15-piece, all-female powerhouse DIVA jazz orchestra performs for Vail Jazz @ Vail Square from 6 to 8 p.m. on Thursday in the Vail Jazz Tent in Lionshead. General admission tickets are $15 and VIP tickets are $30. Ticket prices increase an hour before showtime. For tickets or more information, visit www.vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer contracted by the Vail Jazz Foundation. Email comments about this story to mwong@vaildaily.com.

Sunday is funday with free jazz in Vail

Vail Jazz kicks off 2015 Vail Jazz @ The Market series, Jammin’ Jazz Kids and new this year, Vail Jazz @ Sweet Basil

It’s official. Summer has arrived and as we soak it up every day of the week, it’s important to note that Sundays are especially superb in Vail, largely due to theswoony sounds of free live jazz music.

Vail Jazz @ The Market

As Vail Village takes on the energetic, festival-like ambiance that coincides with the Vail Farmers’ Market, it wouldn’t be complete without a soundtrack – Vail Jazz @ The Market. The cheerful strains of classic jazz from the Max Wagner Quartet emanate from Solaris Terrace from 12 to 3 p.m. to kick off Vail Jazz @ The Market this Sunday, June 28. Then a rotating lineup of highly acclaimed national artists perform a variety of jazz genres – classic, Latin, R & B, even jazz with a twist – a little rock and country flavor– every Sunday through Aug. 30. Grab lunch, find a spot in the shady tent for some good people watching and feast your ears on the sounds of sweet jazz.

Vail Jazz @ Sweet Basil

Star local pianist Tony Gulizia has etched his unmatchable mark onto Sunday evenings in the past for Vail Jazz @ Kelly Liken. Now, with the closing of Kelly Liken Restaurant, Vail Jazz along with the valley’s kingpin of the keys is relocating the Sunday night soirées to none other than Vail’s No. 1 restaurant – Sweet Basil. “Bottom line, we’re thrilled,” says Sweet Basil co-owner Matt Morgan, whose relationship with Gulizia goes back 20 years, throughout the time when the pianist performed at Morgan’s former haunt, Zino’s, and proved his magic for drawing a crowd. “Tony is a pied piper. The nights Tony was there, people were just streaming through the door. At Sweet Basil for years we’ve tried to figure out how to have some great music but we never had the right fit. We have all of that solved now. We’ve got a great spot for Tony in the dining room and on nice nights he’ll play out to the patio with the doors open. What’s not to love about the whole thing?”

Each week, Gulizia is joined by Brian Lotus on drums. With a rotating musical guest every week, beginning Sunday June 28, with Max Wagner, Gulizia plays Vail Jazz @ Sweet Basil from 9-11 p.m. every Sunday evening. “Whether you’re diving into an amazing dinner or stopping in for dessert or a cocktail, there honestly isn’t a better way to wrap up the weekend,” says Vail Jazz executive director Robin Litt. “We can’t think of a more ideal partnership than these two local institutions – Vail Jazz and Sweet Basil.”

Jammin’ Jazz Kids

While many adults can attest to the hypnotizing quality of jazz music, children are also drawn to the sounds and what better way to introduce them to how it all comes together than by putting instruments directly into their own little hands? Throughout July, Vail Jazz welcomes children between the ages of 4 and 12 years old to try their talent on tambourines, bongos, maracas, xylophones and a variety of percussion instruments from 11 to 11:45 a.m. for Jammin’ Jazz Kids every Sunday in the Jazz Tent at the Vail Farmer’s Market, beginning July 5.

“It’s always been a priority for Vail Jazz to pass the passion for music along to the future generation of musicians and listeners,” Litt says. “Jammin’ Jazz Kids offers an engaging and fun learning experience for all kids and possibly the first chapter of an amazing future for some young talents.”

 

Jammin’ Jazz Kids, Vail Jazz @ The Market and Vail Jazz @ Sweet Basil are free community programs presented as part of the 21st Annual Vail Jazz Festival. For more information about the programs, or the Festival, visit vailjazz.org.