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Veronica Swift and Emmet Cohen Return to Vail

Young jazz stars bring spontaneity and exploration to musical storytelling

If you think it’s an exaggeration to say that a talented singer’s vocal chords can do acrobatics, you have not heard Veronica Swift. Yet, the 25-year-old rising jazz star does not describe herself as a vocal acrobat. She doesn’t even refer to herself as a singer or a musician.

“What am I? I’m a storyteller,” she says. “A jazz singer is a storyteller. I aim to put the music and lyrics in perfect marriage. I have to sing lyrics that will apply to a large range of ages and races. That’s what jazz does.”

Hailing from Charlottesville, VA and now residing in New York City, Swift returns to Vail with the Emmet Cohen Trio just before the release of her Mack Avenue Records debut album, Confessions, on which she belts forth creative interpretations of obscure gems (eg:“Gypsy in My Soul” ) with the accompaniment of the Emmet Cohen Trio as well as the acclaimed Benny Green Trio.

In her young career, Swift’s vocal skills have also landed her gigs as a featured vocalist with the likes of Wynton Marsalis, Chris Botti and Michael Feinstein. Inspired by singers and strong musical personalities ranging from Anita O’Day to Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson, Swift’s earliest influences were her talented parents.

An only child, Swift began performing with her father, the late jazz pianist Hod O’Brien, and her mother, singer Stephanie Nakasian, before she reached double digits. Playing the piano and the trumpet from a young age, music has always been second nature to Swift.

“My first serious instrument was trumpet. I was playing trumpet before I was singing jazz. I played the piano. I marched drum corps. I was always. I played in the all-state orchestra. There wasn’t ever a certain sense of duty,” Swift says. “I was always surrounded by some of the greatest legends of jazz, getting bootleg recordings, here in this environment. It wasn’t until I guess, high school, even though I’d been touring already at that point, where I felt a purpose. Until then, it was more like speaking a language, like speaking English … something I did without thinking.”

By the time she was 10, Swift was recording with and sharing the stage with saxophonist Richie Cole and at age 11, landing a spot in the Women in Jazz series at Lincoln Center.

She attended the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami and then landed second place in the prestigious Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition. Gaining quick traction in the jazz world, Swift has also dabbled in opera and theater … which brings us back to her aforementioned identity as a storyteller above all else.

For her, expanding her musical repertoire is the same as a poet expanding her lexicon.

“The more songs you know, the more vocabulary you have. I’m always learning songs and listening,” she says. “When I’m picking tunes, I’m always asking, ‘does this make sense with the story?’ I have a concept for every show. The story has to make sense. I like to mix it up between American Songbook and obscure tunes. It’s the lyrics that draw me in. It’s like poetry.”

Swift refers to the Emmet Cohen Trio, which is comprised of Emmet Cohen on piano, Russell Hall on bass and Kyle Poole on drums, as “the best young musicians on the scene today,” rife with elegance, sophistication and most importantly, spontaneity.

“People will say to us, ‘oh you’re born in the wrong era.’ We are the culmination of our ancestors and our peers. We are constantly learning from each other. They’re all such creative people and it’s inspiring to constantly be moving forward together,” Swift says.

Cohen, who returns to Vail on the heels of winning the prestigious Cole Porter Fellowship from the American Pianists Association, describes his trio’s role in the storytelling as “explorative.”

“We follow the energy of the room, that’s part of the magic of our presentation,” Cohen says. “We play in the style of all of our favorite bands, spanning a hundred years of jazz, from Jelly Roll, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, to beboppers and some of our favorite, modern composers. We’ve taken a lot from the history of jazz and our own take on the way our music can be presented.”

Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio

Vail Jazz Club Series

Aug. 7

Soaring vocalist Veronica Swift and The Emmet Cohen Trio (Emmet Cohen on piano, Russell Hall on bass and Kyle Poole on drums) deliver a pair of intimate solo performances at The Sonnenalp’s Ludwig’s Terrace on Wednesday, Aug. 7. Doors for the first seating open at 5 p.m. with performance beginning at 5:30 (get tickets here). Doors for the second seating are at 7:30 p.m. with music starting at 8 p.m. (get tickets here). Tickets at $40. Full dinner service is available, not included in ticket cost and a $30 per person food or beverage minimum applies.

 

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square

Aug. 8

Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio take their musical stories up a few octaves at the Jazz Tent at Lionshead’s Vail Square at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 8. Tickets are $25 for general admission, $40 for preferred seat and $50 for premium seat. Beer, wine and cocktails are available for purchase. GET TICKETS HERE.

Howard Stone: The Jezebel of Jazz

This year is the centennial of the birth of Anita O’Day (Anita Belle Colton), a daring jazz vocalist who developed her own style and created a vast body of innovative vocals while being tagged “The Jezebel of Jazz,” for her nonconformist ways. At mid-20th century, she was considered to be one of the top female jazz singers along with Ella, Billie and Sarah. In a career spanning seven decades, Anita rode the proverbial elevator of fame to the top, only to descend to the depths of hell on earth on more than one occasion. Somehow, she was always able to rise again.

Raised in an impoverished, broken home in Chicago, Anita left at age 14 in order to make a living competing in the marathon dance contests that were popular during the Depression. At 16, while dancing with a partner, she was asked if she could sing and responded by breaking out in song. The crowd showered her with money … and her destiny was revealed.

Howard Stone (above: Anita O’Day).

Anita returned to Chicago determined to be a singer and adopted her stage name. She sang wherever she could find a gig, developing unique timing and phrasing, mastering scat singing and trying new interpretations of the established repertoire. By 1941, the 21-year-old was hailed as the “New Star of the Year” by DownBeat magazine and joined Gene Krupa’s big band.

Bands weren’t integrated then, but Gene’s band featured the great African-American trumpeter Roy Eldridge. When Anita and Roy performed in a duet, the mixed racial pairing was considered scandalous. However, their “Let Me Off Uptown,” was a hit, making Anita a star. (See the video here)

Other hits followed and for the better part of the 1940s, Anita would sing with prominent big bands, including Woody Herman’s and Stan Kenton’s. This was the big band era and each band had a “girl singer,” conspicuously seated in front of the band, projecting a glamorous image dressed in a strapless gown, while she waited for her turn to perform. Anita rebelled against the stereotype and wore a band jacket and a skirt to show that she was one of the band. Her attire was considered shocking and she was once again judged guilty of outrageous conduct.

By the end of the decade, she left the world of big band singing and went out on her own. She began performing at major venues with many jazz greats, culminating with her appearance at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. The epitome of cool, flamboyantly attired in a black dress, white gloves and a wide brimmed hat with ostrich feathers, Anita projected a stunning visual appearance that appeared on the covers of national magazines, catapulting her to international fame.

From 1955 to the mid-60s, she recorded 17 LPs that confirmed her reputation as a unique song stylist, using an inventive technique fueled by the freedom to improvise, to sing before and after the beat. She combined a great wit with a fearlessness that led her to places others dared not go. “Given a choice, I wanted to be where the action was,” is the way she explained it. While this approach paid dividends musically, she paid dearly for it in her personal life, as there were failed marriages and affairs, no children and numerous abortions. After her triumph at Newport, the elevator ride up continued a while longer, but the seeds had been sown for a change in direction. Starting in the late 1940s, Anita had begun smoking marijuana and became addicted to heroin. She was jailed for possession and use of both marijuana and heroin on several occasions and regularly abused alcohol. She nearly died from an overdose in 1967, but she quit cold turkey in 1968 and made a miraculous comeback in 1970. She continued to perform and record into the 1990s, but in 1996, she had a terrible accident, suffering life-threatening injuries. Once again, at the age of 80 in 1999, Anita resumed her career, performing sporadically, but died in her sleep at the age of 87 in 2006. Her life story was brilliantly told in her autobiography, High Times, Hard Times, as well as in a compelling documentary film, Anita O’Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer.

It is clear when reflecting on Anita’s life, that well before the #MeToo era, she was an extraordinarily talented, independent woman who was unwilling to be just “the girl singer in the band.” In the process, she inspired many young women jazz singers to do it their way. Veronica Swift, the remarkably talented 25-year-old, is one of the next generation jazz singers inspired by Anita. Veronica possesses perfect pitch, a stylish sense of phrasing and timing and can scat with the best of them. Whether she is interpreting the Great American Songbook or bebop classics, she says “I try not to imitate, but to emulate.” Vail Jazz is pleased to present Veronica Swift and the Emmet Cohen Trio on Aug. 7 in two shows at the Sonnenalp Hotel (Get Sonnenalp tickets here) and at 6 p.m. Aug. 8 in the Jazz Tent in Lionshead (Get tickets here).

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.

 

 

 

Emmet Cohen’s Formula for Greatness

The young musician highlights what it takes to deliver amazing music

Emmet Cohen’s recipe for a winning performance involves four simple ingredients: connection, consistency, concentration and love.

Playing the piano since age 3, 29-year-old Cohen’s career is still in its early stages, but he’s already made some big waves.

A three-time finalist for the prestigious American Pianists’ Cole Porter Fellowship, Cohen is in the running for the 2019 award this spring. Growing up in New Jersey and Miami, where he studied under the great Shelly Berg, the young composer now resides in New York City, where he is the Hammond B-3 organist-in-residence at the SMOKE jazz club and has performed at major jazz festivals all over the world, including New Orleans, Monterey, Newport, Jerusalem and Bern. He even performed at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi and, after becoming a finalist in the famed Thelonious Monk International Piano Competition, was escorted by jazz greats Herbie Hancock, Jimmy Heath and Wayne Shorter to the White House to meet President Obama.

He’s released six albums, including a Masters Legacy Series featuring (so far) drummer Jimmy Cobb and bassist Ron Carter. His versatile range has been likened to that of Chick Corea, his one-handed solo playing to Red Garland, his surprising variations to Martial Solal. He’s been praised for his fluidity, charisma and unique ability to connect with a vast gamut of fellow musicians and audiences.

The key word here …

Connection

“Music is the ultimate expression of freedom, of people working together and showing that together, we are greater than any one,” Cohen says. “Whatever it is you choose to do in life, more can be achieved when you work together in a certain way. That’s really what jazz teaches. When people see a great jazz ensemble, it’s an example of human beings working together at their highest level. It’s one of the greatest gifts of human capability.”

Of course, the world has its fair share of hot and cold talent. Some days, an individual’s skills could be smoking while other days they’re frozen. As Cohen sees it, this doesn’t fly for great jazz.

Consistency

“The greatest people at any job where you have to execute – it could be sports, music, even being a scientist – the biggest thing involved is consistency. I try to be as consistent as possible. Whether I’ve gotten 10 hours of sleep or zero, whether I’ve traveled all day or not,” he says.

Consistency cannot be confused with flexibility, for which Cohen and his trio are famous. In order to jump from one eclectic number to the next, channeling the mystique of a certain musical era and stamping it with a fresh twist, a deep level of focus comes into play.

Concentration

“Playing in a trio setting, it allows for a lot of flexibility and repertoire,” Cohen says. “In my band, we have hundreds of options to play, things we’ve worked on extensively. We try to keep everything in the book. You’re live DJing … that’s part of the exploration. We don’t follow a set list, we follow the energy of the room. That’s part of the magic of our presentation. We play in the style of all of our favorite bands, spanning a hundred years of jazz, from Jelly Roll, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, to beboppers and some of our favorite modern composers. We’ve taken a lot from the history of jazz and our own take on the way music can be presented. The further back you go in history, the more you study, the further you’re able to push it.”

Love

Though not taste-specific, love is the first flavor any audience member immediately picks up in Cohen’s formula. It’s probably safe to say that it’s the key ingredient.

“You have to bring a feeling of love to the music,” he says. “Love is an esoteric word. It means so many things. It means I’m humble and grateful for the opportunity to play music each and every day. It also means I understand all the sacrifices my musical ancestors made for me to be able to play. It describes my overall feelings about the piano and music in general, how it relates to whoever is listening and their understanding of how much it means to me.”

And if there were a sprinkle of something extra Cohen brings to his dish, it’s hope.

“We’re artists on a mission to try to improve people’s lives, to help them forget about pain they’ve been experiencing,” he says. “One of the main messages of jazz is that of hope. You can hear the sound of hope in all of the jazz masters. I try to play with musicians who want to leave other musicians and the audience with that feeling of hope.”

The Emmet Cohen Trio returns to Vail March 12

The Emmet Cohen Trio, featuring Russell Hall on bass and Kyle Poole on drums, ignites The Sonnenalp Hotel with love, hope and mind-blowing instrumental talent in back-to-back performances at Ludwig’s Terrace. Seating is jazz club style 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. show. Tickets to each performance are $40. For more information, call 970-479-6146.

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

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

 

10 Reasons to Catch the 2019 Vail Jazz Winter Series

It can be argued that live jazz is best enjoyed in a warm, classy lounge with snow falling outside. This is just one of many reasons to secure your spot at the 2019 Vail Jazz Winter Series.

It is widely known that jazz became popular in the 1930s, but its hey day in Vail has gone on for 25 years … with the best still to come. That’s yet another reason to look into what Vail Jazz has cooking this winter. But here are the key 10:

It’s Vail Jazz’s silver anniversary, so the Series is going big. Following the holiday kickoff extravaganza – a swing dance party at The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch with New York City’s sizzling eight-piece The Hot Sardines, the 2019 Winter Series is delivering more than ever before – seven evenings of live music throughout the winter. Five of these sparkling nights take place in the swanky lounge setting of Ludwig’s Terrace at Vail’s Sonnenalp Hotel.

Entertainment for both the après crowd and the late-nighters. World-class artists light up The Sonnenalp Hotel on Feb. 26, March 5, March 12, March 19 and March 26 in a true jazz club format of back-to-back performances. The first seating appeals to the après ski crowd at 5:30 p.m. and the second targets late-night live music seekers at 8 p.m. Full dinner and bar service are available at each seating.

When we say the 2019 lineup is “world-class,” we mean it. The Winter Series lineup is comprised of the most talented artists in today’s jazz world … lauded not only in the U.S., but across the globe. After his sold-out Vail debut last summer, American blues pianist and vocalist Joe McBride returns on Feb. 26, followed by French-born songstress Cyrille Aimée on March 5, the charismatic Emmet Cohen Trio on March 12, soulful gospel favorite Niki Haris on March 19 and finally Grammy-nominated pianist John Chin on March 26. That’s not to mention the savvy on intimate display at private residences for the Series’ invite-only gigs. Former Stevie Wonder band member and vocalist Robert Johnson performs with The Mark Diamond Trio on March 2 and Australian multi-instrumentalist Adrian Cunningham on March 30.

Jazz has many musical wings and R&B is one of them. Joe McBride has oft been compared to Ray Charles. While the two share many characteristics – losing their eyesight at a young age followed by rapid development of tremendous vocal and piano talent – McBride has a sound all his own, even when he’s rolling through America’s favorite blues tunes. The Missouri native has recorded and/or shared the stage with everyone from Whitney Houston to Larry Carlton. He channels the spirits of Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and other R&B Songbook masters with his own smokin’ energy and style on Feb. 26.

A voice that will hypnotize. Anyone who has trouble believing that vocal cords are a serious instrument has never heard or witnessed the enchantment of Cyrille Aimée. The young singer’s versatile vocal skills have been noted worldwide, from her native France, where she won the prestigious Montreux Jazz Festival Competition, to New York City, where she’s won the Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition. Her voice has been enthusiastically described as everything from “saucy” to “sweet” by the New York Times.

Lose yourself in musical passion. The power of The Emmet Cohen Trio is all-encompassing, like walking into a tunnel of sound where every one of your senses is simultaneously enlivened, yet relaxed. A musical prodigy from the age of 3, Emmet Cohen’s piano compositions and delivery run the gamut from fluid to explosive. The Trio hits every tone and color on the jazz palette on March 12.

The rare treat of experiencing Niki Haris on a small stage. Every year at the end-of-summer climax event, the Vail Jazz Party, the first tickets to sell out are for Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin.’ The incredible soul singer who spent years touring with Madonna might be making a rarefied appearance on a smaller, indoor stage, but you can rest assured that her output will be as large and in-charge as ever. She gambols through a potent gamut of romping numbers while saluting her fellow sisters of soul on March 19.

The opportunity to witness John Chin before he’s swept up in big-time stardom. Born in South Korea and raised in California before moving to New York City and becoming a fixture of the Big Apple’s deep talent pool, John Chin draws inspiration not only from traditional jazz, but from pop, western and classical genres in his unique compositions. He’s released four albums as a bandleader and was nominated for a Grammy for his work on René Marie’s 2017 “Sound of Red” release. If you caught him performing with Marie in her Vail debut a couple of summers ago, you know he’s on a skyward trajectory. Don’t miss him at The Sonnenalp on March 26.

Supporting the future of musical talent, locally and globally. In addition to bringing in some of the world’s finest artists for the Winter Series and the pageant of free and ticketed summer performances, Vail Jazz also does its part in fostering generations of musicians to come through unique educational programs. These include the year-round Vail Jazz Goes to School program as well as the free summertime Jammin’ Jazz Kids sessions and the Vail Jazz Workshop, which selects and finances 12 of America’s top teenage musical prodigies in an intensive, week-long study group that culminates with live performances at the Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party. Every ticket purchased for a Vail Jazz performance or a donation made directly supports the nonprofit’s educational initiatives which, in turn, secures amazing talent for our children and their children to enjoy.

Classy date night. It’s a beautiful, cold, wintery night and there you are, cozied up with your loved one in the elegant Ludwig’s Terrace, a glass of wine and gourmet meal on the table and one of the planet’s most talented musicians providing a scintillating live soundtrack a few feet away. A night out in Vail doesn’t really get more romantic.

Learn more about Vail Jazz’s 25th Anniversary Winter Series.