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Sing It, Soul Sister: Let There be Light

Doubtless for most of us, when we hear the word “soulful,” it calls to mind individuals such as Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Gladys Knight or Peggy Scott-Adams.

It is also quite likely the most common adjective used to describe singer Niki Haris. However, according to Haris herself, the word means far more than the ability to express oneself vocally like a gale force wind, wailing melodically from the very depths of one’s body.

No … to Haris, the word carries more literal meaning, particularly when she explains why she named her upcoming pair of performances at the 2019 Vail Jazz Winter Series a tribute to “the sisters of soul.”

“Maybe people will walk into the room and expect to hear a lot of R & B music, or a bunch of singers from Detroit or Memphis. But when I decided to call it ‘sisters of soul,’ it was about sisters who touched my soul, sisters who resonated in my soul,” Haris says. “Even though people call me a soulful singer, it’s not just because I can sing R & B. I’d like to think it’s because my music reaches them in a deep place.”

Haris has long been a favorite among Vail Jazz audiences. Her Gospel Prayer Meetin’ is typically the first performance to sell out every Labor Day weekend at the annual Vail Jazz Party. A back-up vocalist for Madonna for a number of years, Haris’ 15-year solo career has seen her front and center on stages all over the world and her recordings, ranging in genre from pop to jazz, R&B to funk, have topped Billboard charts.

When it comes to specifying who has touched her soul musically and how, Haris, who grew up outside in Benton Harbor, MI and currently resides in Augusta, GA, offers an immediate bank of inspirations, all of whom feel so familiar to her (in spite of having never met the majority), she lists them by first name like one would close friends. They are women whose songs call to mind unforgettable milestones and profound emotions.

“I might say, oh my god, that’s the song I got my first kiss to, or, that’s the song that made me feel so strong inside. These are people who chose to bare their souls and ended up touching mine,” Haris says. “Aretha, she’s an obvious one. There’s everyone from Judy, Gladys, Billie, Nancy, Whitney … I’m going to start with the women first. I’m going to sing from the soul, sing about things that touch my soul.”

Haris believes that singing from the soul is especially crucial during turbulent times. She notes that such expression has, historically, provided a guiding light through some of America’s darkest eras.

“The biggest movements in history are about turning to your soul, from the suffrage and civil rights movements, slavery … there’s something deep inside of people that calls them to action,” she says. “We are in a very auspicious time in our history right now. It’s time to be brave, to sing loudly, to speak boldly, to dance.”

The vocalist equates the human ability to tap into one’s soul with unleashing a glow that can brighten one’s own heart and discover one’s best self as well as cast warmth on everyone in the room … everyone in earshot. Her own ability to do this has been on stark display every time she steps onto the stage, in Vail especially.

“Sometimes I feel I’m coming down there as a crazy Baptist, I’m so into the music,” she says. “If someone wants to be in the light, they’re welcome it. If they don’t want to be in my light, they’d better put some sunglasses on. It’s so important that everyone be in their own light. People forget they have a light. If we can tap into our light, we can change the world.”

Enter the sister(s) of soul.

“I’m really lucky I get to do music that tends to change people’s lives, music that is about more than just coming to a concert and having a good time. I’m going to sing the songs of certain women and it’s not just soulful … it’s soul-filled. These sisters filled my soul. They filled my cup. In this high-tech, low-touch world, I hope I touch some people’s souls.”

March 19 – Niki Haris Salutes the Sisters of Soul

Accompanied by Jeff Jenkins on piano, Mark Simon on bass, Paul Romaine on drums and Steve Kovalcheck on guitar, the powerful vocalist performs two sets that just might be life-changing at Vail’s 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. 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.

 

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.

 

Aimée Hones Her Gypsy Sensibilities

The French-born artist returns on the heels of her 10th album release

Cyrille Aimée has long-since gone the way of the gypsy. The 34-year-old grew up in the small town of Samois-sur-Seine in northern France and was constantly intrigued by the caravans of musicians and gypsies that would plant themselves in her neighborhood every summer for the annual Django Reinhardt festival.

“The Django festival was part of my life even before I wanted to be a musician. I’d go run around in the street for the festival. It was free for kids … all the other kids were running around. Little by little, I started to be interested in the music part of it,” she says.

Stemming from a spontaneous, circus-like episode in which Aimée found herself pedaling her bike down the street with three gypsy girls piled onto it, it wasn’t long before she became an honorary member of the visiting clan.

“A couple of gypsies came over and said I had a nice bike. Three of them hopped on the bike with me, riding down a hill – one on the handlebars, one on the seat, one on the back. They became my friends. I started going into the campsite. The guys were always there playing the guitar. My friend’s brother would teach me how to play and I would teach him how to read.”

Aimée started sneaking out of the house late at night to join the gypsies around their musical campfire and developed a love for singing. By the time she was 18, she was invited to perform on Star Academy, the French equivalent of American Idol. At that point, however, she had already decided to head to New York to study jazz at Purchase College. She did not, however, grow out of her affinity for the gypsy lifestyle. Between semesters, she would bring Jazz Studies friends back to Europe and they traveled from city to city, performing on street corners for cash.

“We did a tour through Europe, slept on benches for a whole summer,” she says. “We really didn’t have anything. We’d have to play so we could buy food. We had two guitars. My sister was playing the shakers. There was a sax player playing duets with me.”

In Italy, the crew performed at a club during a jam session. The manager was impressed.

“The guy from the club said, ‘If you play for the lunchtime crowd, we’ll feed you. Play for dinner and we’ll feed you.’”

As her friends waited in Italy, Aimée ventured to Montreux, Switzerland on her own to try her vocal chords in a singing competition at the Montreuz Jazz Festival. She won.

After this adventurous summer, Aimée and her friends returned to Purchase, where she graduated and relocated to Brooklyn, from whence she continues to travel the world performing with orchestras, ensembles, quartets and duets.

Aimée’s 10th album, Move On, A Sondheim Adventure, was released this February, featuring an eclectic selection from composer Stephen Sondheim’s vast songbook. Aimée appeared in Sondheim and Wynton Marsalis’s 2013 production, A Bed and a Chair: A New York Love Story, alongside Broadway greats such as Jeremy Jordan and Bernadette Peters, and her performance was heralded by numerous critics as a major highlight.

Cyrille Aimée returns to Vail March 5

A Vail Jazz favorite, the French singer, accompanied by Eric Gunnison on piano, brings her sultry and theatrical stage presence to Ludwig’s Terrace at The Sonnenalp Hotel for back-to-back performances on March 5. Seating is jazz club style with full dinner and bar service available (a $30 food and beverage minimum applies). Doors opening 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.

GO HERE FOR TICKETS TO THE 5:30 P.M. PERFORMANCE.

GO HERE FOR TICKETS TO THE 8 P.M. PERFORMANCE.

For more information, call 970-479-6146.

Dave Tull Refines his Fresh Jazz Formula

Dave Tull is a perfectionist. As evidence, consider the reason his recent album was nearly 10 years in the making.

He really wanted to get it right.

“It takes me forever to write something,” says the musician, who has been playing drums since he was 10 years old and added singing to his repertoire when he discovered that the coordination required of both was oddly seamless. “When I deal with other people’s writing, sometimes I wonder if they were thrown off course. I wonder if they took another half hour, if they could have come up with another, much better line. I don’t call something finished until the song is absolutely what it needs to be. When an idea or a chord progression comes to me, it’s very organic. But hopefully there is honesty there, legitimacy and a certain amount of quality. That’s why I take such a long time.”

There’s no question that each track on the recently released “Texting and Driving,” checks all the boxes on that list.

Growing up in Berkeley, Calif., Tull’s journey as a jazz musician began on a well-trodden path.

“I was lucky I was given a lot of great influences, not the least of which were in my household,” he says. “I was paired with great teachers and there were all the right influences along the way to keep me energized. The big band thing came naturally growing as a drummer. The Bay area was a great place to grow up for jazz. I kept taking that next step.”

Before and after his time training at California State Northridge, Tull clocked hours upon hours listening to standards and memorizing solos.

“I would listen to jazz records, sometimes a hundred times. If you have a favorite record, you start memorizing solos and lyrics. It was so natural to me to sing and make up my own solos. I found I was walking down the street and had chord changes in my head. I was making up choruses and melodies,” Tull says.

Still, the drummer was more focused on his chosen instrument and never intended to showcase any vocal talent to actual audiences.

“The singing kind of developed on its own, but never like I would do it in public. It was just an outlet for me playing a non-pitched instrument,” he says. “By the time I wanted to sing tunes in clubs, I was doing gigs. The foundations of drumming were so solidly in place, it wasn’t that hard to add singing on top of it.”

Although he has a stacked resume as a sideman, including contributions on numerous Michael Bublé albums and touring with Barbara Streisand, Tull discovered that he was a natural bandleader. In addition to his keen ear, sense of harmony and uncanny ability to keep beats while creating compositions, Tull realized he possessed a handful of additional traits not always prominent in traditionally trained jazz artists.

“I think there’s a lot more humor in jazz than people realize and I like to find it,” he says. “Sometimes we as jazz musicians take ourselves too seriously. I’ll write any song that occurs to me. It’s not necessarily funny. Sometimes it’s a story song. Sometimes it’s a sad song. I bring the people in with a range of emotion.”

Even traditionalists who have approached Tull’s originals as naysayers have soon been converted.

“I’m a crusader against that attitude we sometimes find in jazz audiences that they don’t want to hear anything new,” he says. “I try to write so they’ll be drawn into the story, or the humor in some cases. If it is well written, they’ll go, ‘I normally don’t like original tunes, but I like this one.’”

Also, let’s not forget that Tull loves the standards as much as the next guy.

“I’m with those people who say ‘they used to do it so good.’ But I don’t see how someone can’t write them how they used to, structure the melody so it builds to that stop with such power,” he says. “I believe the older school audience will embrace my songs as soon as they hear they’re good like the classics. When I perform for a younger audience used to simpler tunes who say, ‘I don’t like jazz, jazz is too much,’ I love winning them over, too.”

The 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series returns to Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on March 14 with Dave Tull’s CD release party “Texting and Driving.” The evening features two 75-minute performances with Dave Tull, Jeff Jenkins and Ken Walker. Doors open at 5:30 and the first performance launches 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.

Click here for tickets to the 6 p.m. seating.

Click here for tickets to the 8:30 p.m. seating.