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.

 

Emmet Cohen Wins APA Jazz Piano Competition

We’ve got the Funk

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.”

 

A Letter from our new Executive Director, James Kenly

Dear Friends of Vail Jazz,

It is with deep gratitude and excitement that I write this letter as the newly appointed Executive Director of the Vail Jazz Foundation. While the valley quiets down for the off-season, the Vail Jazz staff is gearing up for the biggest summer of music yet! Featuring artists from more than 10 countries and spanning the jazz world from swing to salsa and from the American Songbook to straight ahead, the Vail Jazz Festival comprises more than 80 performances from June 30 – September 2!

We are proud to announce that tickets for the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Festival are now on sale! This summer, we will celebrate Howard Stone’s legacy of entertainment and education with a unique lineup of world class performers that bridge the past and the future. We will pay tribute to Nat King Cole, reminisce to the soundtracks of films from The Jazz Singer to Casablanca, honor New Orleans pianist Henry Butler, explore the relationship between jazz and the civil rights movement, and remember the legendary Ray Brown.

This celebration will be one for the history books and we sincerely hope you’ll join the community from around the globe that support it through attendance, donations, and sponsorship. We are preparing for a remarkable summer in Vail and we can’t wait to share it with you.

Happy Spring,

 

 

 

 

James Kenly

John Chin’s (Downplayed) ‘State of Flow’

John Chin is a humble guy. Although he’s had a Grammy nomination and has been lauded for his musical talent since he was a young boy, he’ll tell you he was no child prodigy.

A Korean-American growing up in Los Angeles, Chin recalls his first encounter with a piano, but is sure to emphasize that he was not beckoned to it by any sort of guiding light.

“My parents always had a piano even though they didn’t play. They were classical music fans. They told me I gravitated to it, but it’s not uncommon if you have little ones in the house that they make their way to the piano,” he says.

Nonetheless, his parents nurtured his interest and set him up with a piano teacher by the age of 4 or 5. Chin’s first public performance was in kindergarten, but that, too, he is reluctant to regard as a milestone.

“It wasn’t a formal performance,” he says. “It was just me getting up there and playing. I just remember there was a piano in the classroom. I don’t remember what I played … ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’? Maybe it was the one that comes after that. I think I could read music before I could read English.”

That last part tells you something. Also, the fact that the young pianist’s gift was recognized by California State University, where he was admitted at age 14 and graduated with a B.A. in music at age 19 before continuing on to a masters program at Rutgers University under the great pianist Kenny Barron and pursuing an Artist Diploma at Juilliard, eventually becoming a fixture in New York City’s jazz scene.

“My sequence of early music education was not typical for an American kid,” Chin says. “Classical music was a part of my childhood, but I wouldn’t consider myself to be any good at it. I think it was really the pursuit of playing by ear when I was 12 or 13 and getting better and better at it that motivated me. That’s how I discovered this jazz thing.”

Jazz was nonexistent in Chin’s childhood home, so he’d save money to go to the record store, choosing blindly depending on what album cover looked jazzy or which featured a picture of a pianist.

“Somehow down the line, I started learning how to play things by ear and off the radio – simple things. That’s when I made up my mind that jazz was the ultimate music for an ear player,” he says. “There was an inherent sophistication to the music. When I first tried, though, I couldn’t do it. It was too sophisticated.”

According to Chin, his early days attempting to play jazz were a struggle.

“I couldn’t hear the harmony. The lines were so fast and complex,” he says. “Listening to Charlie Parker or any of the great sax players, they’d put in so many notes and go so fast. In my mind I thought, it’s impossible they know what they’re doing. I’d get on the piano and move my fingers as fast as I could and it sounded terrible. It was then I realized they knew exactly what they were doing … every single note. It blew my mind. I found myself yearning to achieve this ultimate music. I yearned to have a grasp on it.”

By all counts, Chin has managed to find that grasp. He’s released four albums as a band leader and has recorded or shared the stage with artists such as Benny Golson, Ron Carter, John Ellis, Dayna Stephens and Mark Turner, to name just a few. He has toured extensively with Vail favorite Rene Marie and his piano work was nominated for a Grammy on Marie’s 2017 Sound of Red album. His versatility in moving between complex styles – not only those under the jazz umbrella such as bebop and swing, but also hints of classical and pop – have been revered by audiences and music critics across the globe.

Returning to Vail on March 26 for his debut performance as a bandleader (he performed as sideman with Rene Marie on two previous visits), Chin and his trio highlight the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, who he refers to as “timeless” and whose numbers have found their way into his performance for decades. When it comes down to describing the style of his own compositions or the flourish he adds to the classics of icons such as Strayhorn and Ellington, Chin is once again self-effacing.

“The jazz musicians that have come before me, that have carried on this music, a lot of my playing comes from that tradition, but with the idea of pushing the envelope at the same time,” he says. “I believe that a part of the tradition is to push the line and have a progression. I’m constantly a student but also an artist creating something new. Also, I’m always reaching for being in the moment as much as possible, being in a state of flow. When you kiss somebody for the first time, it’s like that. That moment is so real and you can’t think of anything but that moment. I want to be aware of the exact moment I’m in, to reach the state of flow. That leads to consciousness and freedom and living.”

March 26 – The John Chin Trio plays Ellington and Strayhorn

John Chin is joined by Sean Conly on bass and Darrell Green on drums to perform two riveting sets featuring the music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Performances take place at The Vail Sonnenalp Hotel. Seating is jazz club style in Ludwig’s Terrace with full dinner and bar service available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Doors open at 5 p.m. for the 5:30 p.m. performance and at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. set. Tickets to each performance are $40. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Get tickets here to the 5:30 p.m. performance.

Get tickets here to the 8 p.m. performance.