Saxophonist Recounts Royal Inspiration in Vail

Vail Jazz Workshop alumni Khris Royal is returning this summer for the Vail Jazz Gala

Over the last 25 years, nearly 300 teenage musicians have been transformed by the Vail Jazz Workshop; a large majority have gone on to become professional musicians. This is one of their stories.

Growing up in New Orleans, it’s not surprising that once Khris Royal was old enough to read, he leapt immediately into playing jazz and big band charts. Before that, he was playing organ and drums at his family church. When it came time to choose an instrument, he wanted a trombone (Trombone Shorty was in his kindergarten class). He claims it was his mother who chose the saxophone for him.

“I actually wanted to play trombone because my older cousin played trombone,” Royal told Vail Jazz board member JoAnn Hickey in a recent phone interview. “So we went to the music store when I was 7. We were checking out horns and the salesman said, ‘man, you’re not going to be able to play trombone. Your arms are too short.’ I was like, ‘What? Trombone Shorty plays trombone and I’m taller than him, so give me a trombone.’”

He didn’t get one. His second choice was a trumpet, but he didn’t get that either.

Photo by D. Owsley

“My mom said, ‘no, you’re going to play the saxophone because girls like the saxophone.’ That’s how I ended up with the saxophone,” Royal said.

Royal attended an elementary school geared toward “art magnets,” where “we all grew up playing from an early age.”

In middle school, he played for the marching band and then joined the ranks of Wynton and Branford Marsalis, Terrence Blanchard and other musical greats in attending the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, an experience he said matched or even usurped his later education at Berklee, which he won on full scholarship.

One of the cornerstones of his education, however, came while attending the Vail Jazz Workshop, which invites 12 of the nation’s top teenage musicians to Vail for 10 days of intimate learning with professional mentors John and Jeff Clayton, Lewis Nash, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford and Bill Cunliffe.

Royal attended the workshop in 2004. The mentors’ approach to playing – by ear without the help of sheet music – resonated to his core.

“I can relate to that coming from New Orleans,” he said. “The music started in the streets. “It was a part of my upbringing. It felt natural. That’s how music is supposed to be passed on.”

The most transformative component of Royal’s experience at the Vail Jazz Workshop was discovering how to blossom beyond the confines of traditional jazz music.

“What has stuck with me are two really amazing drummers that were there: Coran Henley and John Adams. When we got together something cool would happen because we were listening to all types of music,” he recalled. “We would be playing jazz during the day [at] the workshop, but at night we were listening to a lot of stuff like ‘RH Factor’ by Roy Hargrove and ‘Comfort Woman’ by Meshell Ndegeocello. That was pivotal because it encouraged for me to want to be more versatile. This was important because up to this point I felt like a jazz purist. I used to hide to listen to the funk records I was drawn to.”

Royal has taken that versatility and skyrocketed.

He navigates other instruments – bass, drums, keysboards – seamlessly and has enveloped himself in a multitude of genres – jazz, rock, hip-hop, R&B, electronic, funk and reggae – proving how all can compliment one another with his band Khris Royal & Dark Matter.

“We didn’t really have a goal or a mission at first. I was just going to call some friends to play some music since I had this gig. The gig went so well that they asked us to play weekly. We began to think, what do we want to sound like? I had no idea. I just knew I wanted to play music that felt good and make people happy.”

Not only has Royal performed and recorded with everyone from Bobby Brown to Mary J. Blige, Tony Clifton to Nelly, but regularly accompanies George Porter Jr. and his band as well as performs at Red Rocks and other stadium-sized venues touring with popular reggae outfit Rebelution.

“I’m just playing music that I want to hear,” he said. “I definitely want to play things that attract younger people so maybe they’ll check out what I’m doing and they’ll check out other things I’ve done that influence me.”

Royal returned to Vail last year to perform for Vail Jazz’s 25th Anniversary Gala and will be back again this summer, performing with a select crew of fellow workshop alumni on July 6 for the 2020 Vail Jazz Gala at Larkspur. Tickets and more information are available here.

Miles Mosley has made waves since Vail Jazz Workshop days

A pioneer participant in the workshop, 25 years later Mosley is one of America’s top upright bass players

Over the last 25 years, nearly 300 teenage musicians have been transformed by the Vail Jazz Workshop; a large majority have gone on to become professional musicians. This is one of their stories.

At age 16, Miles Mosley couldn’t have positively imagined the extent of his success yet to come: performing at Red Rocks or touring the world doing what he loves – playing music. While attending the very first Vail Jazz Workshop back in 1996, the young musician did get some inkling that something magical was transpiring … and it certainly instilled a powerful taste of what his future held.

“To be able to get on a plane and go fly somewhere to make music was an amazing opportunity in itself,” Mosley said in a recent interview with Vail Jazz’s Connor Williams. “I didn’t come from a wealthy family. I certainly didn’t come from a family that did a ton of traveling, so to be able to go to a camp was an affirmative experience because it made it feel real. It felt like music can actually take you somewhere. That’s an important feeling confidence-wise to have as a high school kid who doesn’t know how to feel about anything.”

Photo by Visual Thought.

Now 39, the upright bass player who grew up in Los Angeles learned a lot of things during the week he spent in Vail back in 1996. Learning from Vail Jazz Workshop founder and fellow bass aficionado John Clayton and a team of pro mentors, Mosley made discoveries about himself and his musical talents that he had never before realized. He was one of 10 teenage musicians participating in the workshop. Celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2020, the Vail Jazz Workshop hosts a carefully selected group of 12 top young musicians from across the country for 10 days of intensive, play-by-ear learning with a team of musicians that in addition to John Clayton, has included Jeff Clayton, Lewis Nash, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford and Bill Cunliffe. The workshop culminates with student performances during the Vail Jazz Party – launched by Howard Stone the year before Mosley arrived in 1995 – over Labor Day weekend, sharing the stage with a roster of A-list jazz musicians from all over the world.

“It was encouraging to be creative and express yourself on top of learning what you learned from the group. We played a song that ended with … ‘ba ba da da da da ba’ and we walked off the stage,” Mosley recalled. “We thought that was the most clever thing that has ever happened in the history of jazz. We were so proud of ourselves for thinking outside of the box. I was studying with John. It was a great experience … great experience.”

It was in Vail that Mosley met fellow teen musical prodigy Ryan Porter. The two have “been brothers in arms since then,” forming the West Coast Get Down, one of L.A.’s most popular ensembles.

“The immersiveness of [the Vail Jazz Workshop] allowed for a lot of sharing of ideas not only with my peers but with legends and heroes and professors and people who have really changed what was possible in [jazz],” Mosley said. “To be able to be in a room constantly surrounded by people at the height of their abilities and your heroes, whether it’s a basketball camp or a spelling bee convention or a jazz summit like Vail Jazz, it changes people’s lives … kids’ lives.”

The experience set the path for West Coast Get Down, whose genre-defying, “out-of-the-box” sound exemplifies the creative approach for which Mosley feels he has, in part, the Vail Jazz Workshop to thank.

“The music can begin to envelop all of the styles that we love. Cameron Graves loves

death metal. When he sits down and plays the piano, no matter what he’s playing, there’s death metal in it. I love Joni Mitchell and Jimi Hendrix and Otis Redding, and when I play the upright bass, that stuff is gonna leak in. Kamasi Washington loves Snoop Dogg. It’s gonna leak into the music. I think there’s this perfect storm of we learned jazz and we studied it properly and we show respect to it and we show honor to it, to where it came from, what it is, what it’s going to always be and then we contextualized it into our experience of the world,” Mosley said. “We held a mirror up to society to reflect that and it came out in our music.”

 

In addition to his work with West Coast Get Down, Mosley composes scores for film and TV and has shared the stage or recorded with Cee Lo Green, Chris Cornell, Lauryn Hill, Rihanna, Korn and many more standout stars from every imaginable musical style. His most recent solo release – “Brother” – is a single on which he performs vocals and bass and provides a glimpse of his forthcoming album, slated for release later this year.

 

 

Grammy-nominated trombonist sealed musical fate in Vail

Jeffery Miller’s Vail Jazz Workshop experience still serves him six years later

Over the last 25 years, nearly 300 teenage musicians have been transformed by the Vail Jazz Workshop; a large majority have gone on to become professional musicians. This is one of their stories.

Raised by his grandmother in New Orleans, taking up the trombone as a child and performing at Carnegie Hall by the time he was 15, Jeffery Miller didn’t realize how much music meant to him until he came to Vail in 2013 and was brought to tears.

That was back in 2013, when Miller was 17 years old and attending the Vail Jazz Workshop, which hosts 12 of the nation’s top teenage musicians for a week of intensive play-by-ear training with instructors from the Vail Jazz Party House Band and culminates with performances in the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend.

“I remember the moment like it was yesterday,” Miller says. “It was at the Vail Jazz Party and the faculty was playing an original – it was so beautiful and powerful. I had to go the bathroom to wipe my eyes. It was amazing music. It made me realize how amazing music can be. That’s why Vail Jazz will always have a place in my heart. That was one of my biggest moments.”

Photo by Lindsey Theong.

Now 23 years old, living in New York City and in the final semester of his Masters of Arts degree at Juilliard, Miller took that big moment and carried it skyward.

Not long after his mind-blowing week in Vail, Miller landed a full scholarship to pursue his Bachelor’s degree at Juilliard and then performed at the Apollo Theatre. He’s returned to his hometown many times in a blaze of glory, playing big stages at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and the VooDoo Fest. He’s performed and recorded with some of the biggest names in jazz – The Count Basie Orchestra, Wynton Marsalis and younger brother Delfeayo Marsalis as well as Vail Jazz Party mentor Wycliffe Gordon.

“For me, it’s hard to pinpoint a most rewarding accomplishment, but developing relationships with so many people I respect and looked up to like Wycliffe and Wynton, that’s been a beautiful thing,” Miller says. “The experiences I’ve had performing that re-instill the passion of being a musician … I wouldn’t trade those for anything.”

While also difficult to pinpoint a single performance that’s served as an ultimate standout, Miller says the thrill that came with playing a sold out crowd at Madison Square Garden with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band supporting rock icon Arcade Fire ranks – so far – as the major highlight.

“We shut the show down. The energy and the sold out crowd was incredible. It was like a dream,” he says.

Branching beyond the jazz genre has also given Miller a great deal of satisfaction. He has been nominated for three Grammy Awards for his work with Jon Batiste and John Legend, recently recording a Christmas album with the latter.

“I want to make music that is not just jazz music,” he says. “I’m working on a lot of different projects – some pop stuff, some R&B stuff – I’m sitting on a live jazz album that I might put out soon.”

In the immediate future, however, Miller’s key focus is to earn his advanced degree. This should happen before he knows it, given the whirlwind that is his daily routine in the Big Apple.

“The day might start out with me barely waking up from the night before after having a gig until 3 a.m. I’ll wake up super early to go teach kids about jazz at a middle school in Queens or Brooklyn. Then I’ll have to rush off to class in an expensive Uber. Then I usually have a break and big band rehearsal from 3 to 6 p.m. Then I’d probably have another gig that night from 7:30 to 11 p.m. and if I’m pushing it, I might schedule myself for another gig from 11:30 into the late night …”

In spite of the early mornings, Miller has found teaching the middle school kids incredibly rewarding, imparting some of the tips and tricks he learned in Vail.

“Most of the time it’s kids who haven’t had any music training,” he says. “I like showing them the funny sounds a trombone can make, how loud it can play and how you can speak through the instrument. … that’s what gets you interested. It’s about educating their ear and challenging their ear musically. That’s how I came up in New Orleans and what I found in the Vail Jazz Workshop. It’s a very powerful tool.”

After he finishes his degree, Miller’s goal is to sign a record deal and start traveling the world again. He’d love to make enough money to help his grandmother – who raised he and his twin sister after their mother died when they were infants – re-open a women’s shelter back in New Orleans. He’s returned to Vail a few times since his Workshop days to perform at the Vail Jazz Party as well as at the Vail Dance Festival and he hopes to be back again soon.

He explains his overarching career plan rather simply:

“I hope to find myself in some kind of situation that garners respect and makes the people who care about me proud.”

 

Howard Stone: The Party

When Vail Jazz presents its 25th annual Vail Jazz Party over the Labor Day Weekend, it will continue a Colorado jazz tradition that is 56 years-old and was nurtured right here in Vail. The story begins in 1963 when Dick Gibson, a Denver investment banker, and his wife Maddie, gathered 10 jazz musicians and 200-plus friends to have a party in an Aspen hotel over the three-day Labor Day weekend. Without intending to, they created the first “Jazz Party,” a presentation format that combined jazz musicians and fans in an intimate atmosphere with various combinations of musicians performing in jam sessions all weekend long.

Howard Stone (above: Diego Figueiredo and Jeff Hamilton).

When Dick returned to work after the holiday weekend, the word had spread throughout Denver about his party and people were clamoring for him to present an encore. Dick was friends with Vail locals Marge and Larry Burdick (then owners of The Red Lion) and Billy Whiteford and Bettan Laughlin, Billy’s future wife. Billy was the owner of Casino Vail, the original “nightclub” in the heart of Vail Village. In 1964, they all joined together to successfully present the next edition of what became known as the “Dick Gibson Jazz Party” at Casino Vail.

The annual event was ultimately moved out of the mountains and down to the Front Range and during its 30-year run, the annual Dick Gibson Jazz Party presented all-star lineups that featured some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world. The fame of “The Party” spread. Attendees traveled to Colorado each year from all around the world, causing the demand for tickets to grow dramatically, which outstripped the limited seating capacity at the Party. Therefore, it wasn’t long before other Jazz Parties were organized and by the 1970s, there were as many as 150 annual Jazz Parties throughout the United States. By the 1990s, Jazz Parties were being presented at sea, as the cruise industry began filling their ships with jazz fans.

I was one of the lucky ones that attended many of Dick’s legendary Jazz Parties. After Dick retired, I was inspired to present the first Vail Jazz Party in 1995. Twenty-five years later, the Vail Jazz Party has grown from three days of jazz over the Labor Day Weekend into the Vail Jazz Festival, a summer-long celebration of jazz and the longest summer festival in Vail. When the last note will have been played on Labor Day of this year, Vail Jazz will have presented 100 performances in the Vail Valley as part of its silver anniversary celebration.

For the past 24 years, Vail Jazz has presented innovative educational programs to the children of Eagle County and beyond, as well as professional level training for some of the most dedicated high school jazz musicians in North America. In 2017, in recognition of the positive impact that our programs have had on the tens of thousands of children we have reached, DownBeat magazine bestowed upon Vail Jazz its coveted Jazz Education Achievement Award.

Beginning on Thursday, Aug. 29 and continuing through Labor Day, Sept. 2, Vail Jazz will celebrate the culmination of its 25th season by presenting over 70 musicians and vocalists performing over 40 hours of jazz. Of special note will be the screening (10:30 a.m. Aug. 30) of the documentary film, The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party, which captures the magic of Dick’s 1976 Jazz Party. The weekend will be filled with unique shows, including tributes to George Shearing, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson and The Beatles. Also, Vail Jazz will produce its first ever live recording of the great Brazilian guitarist Diego Figueiredo and friends, plus Wycliffe Gordon will present his acclaimed Nu-Funk Machine Dance Party on Sunday afternoon. In addition, the perennially popular Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’ will be expanded with the addition of the 22-member Mile High Gospel Ensemble and presented at Ford Amphitheater at 10:30 a.m. Sunday.

Don’t miss the opportunity to see and hear some of the greatest musicians in the world performing in Vail over this Labor Day weekend and join with us in celebrating 25 years of world class jazz in Vail. Go here for more information about and tickets to the 2019 Vail Jazz Party.

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: 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.

 

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