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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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 the 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 don’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.”
See Tony DeSare live in Vail
Vail Jazz Club Series
July 25 – 2ND SET SOLD OUT!
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 – SOLD OUT!
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.
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.”
“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 Second Seating tickets.
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
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 email@example.com.