Meet two students training in this week’s intensive 2019 Vail Jazz Workshop
A glimpse into the life of a teenage musical prodigy
Special to the Daily
The flight to Colorado to attend the Vail Jazz Workshop marked Natalie Barbieri’s first time on an airplane. However, like all of the young musicians selected for the workshop, the 17-year-old from Long Island, New York, has notched several experiences outside the range of “typical” for most teenagers.
For instance, she regularly performs until 4 a.m. at a West Village bar on Monday nights (dragging her parents along, since she’s not 18) in a jam session run by Billy Joel’s former saxophonist. She’s attended Manhattan School of Music’s pre-college program for the last four years, spent the summer with Berklee College’s Women in Jazz Collective and has big plans for her future.
Right now it’s the Vail Jazz Workshop, an intensive, week-long learning session featuring 12 of the nation’s top teenage musicians (selected from about 150 applicants). The week of ear-learning and focused improvisation culminates with students performing on stage for the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Party alongside their workshop mentors, Vail Jazz Party House Band pros John Clayton, Dick Oates, Terell Stafford, Lewis Nash, Wycliffe Gordon and Bill Cunliffe.
“I didn’t have much of a chance to travel when I was younger,” Barbieri says. “There’s a lot I want to accomplish. I want to be a performer, I want to release my own music. I want to see the world.”
One of Barbieri’s earliest musical memories was at a family event in which a big band was performing and she climbed on stage to join them.
“My parents were busy having a conversation and when they turned around, I was dancing on stage with the big band. I don’t know what it was … there was something I was drawn to,” the teenager recalls.
Growing up with a music teacher mother, it wasn’t much longer before Barbieri, at barely 3 years old, sat down at the piano.
“I came and sat down at my mom’s piano and I started figuring it out … one note and then two,” she says. “Then my mom called my father and said, ‘we have a problem … because she’s playing ‘Brick House.’”
Learning by ear from this tender age, it wasn’t until Barbieri was about 13 that she took up the alto saxophone after also learning the clarinet and focusing on classical music. It was the sax that allowed her to truly connect the music with her emotions.
“With jazz and saxophone, I could put my own feeling into it,” she says. “I think it was the spontaneity of it, the fact that people could put their emotions in it and create something on the spot.”
Now when Barbieri plays, whether it’s on stage performing or practicing at home — glancing at the clock to see that it’s 1 p.m. and glancing back what feels like moments later to see that it’s somehow 6 p.m. — she gets lost in the feeling of it.
“It’s hard for me to explain for people who haven’t seen me play. When I’m performing, I go someplace else,” she says. “My mother tries to record me, but I hate watching myself on the playback. You can see that I’m somewhere else. It’s very spiritual sounding … but I close my eyes and leave my body.”
Drawn to the rhythm
Growing up in Brooklyn, Anton Kot also began developing his innate passion and talent for music at an incredibly young age … specifically, in his high chair as a baby. He was drawn, quite literally, to a different beat.
“I repeated two notes when hungry as an infant and extended those notes as a way of helping myself go to sleep,” he says, adding that he has photos of himself playing chopsticks in a family favorite Asian restaurant as a 1-year-old. “I played anything in sight … bread loaves, tin cans and cellar doors. I could mimic sounds so closely that they confused people in the subway. I was able to re-present the sounds of the L Train moving, yet it was standing still. I have always been very drawn to sound.”
As a child, this tractor beam pulled Kot into musical experiences all around New York City. Latin artist Louie Miranda noticed a 4-year-old Kot drumming along in the audience at a botanical garden performance and called him up to the stage. Kot continued to perform with Miranda’s band for thousands of people around the city throughout his childhood.
He’d also attend Brazilian percussion performances in local parks, build instruments with artist Ken Butler at his SOHO studio, stop for Peruvian panpipe and plastic bucket drum performances in the subways. Eventually, Kot and his family moved to Connecticut, where the young musician joined the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, studying with Jesse Hameen II, Rina Kinber and Istvan B’Racz. In sixth grade, he joined Thelonious Monk III on stage at Woolsey Hall.
Today, at age 17, he attends Manhattan School of Music and not a second of his waking life — and not many when asleep — go by when he’s not working out a beat.
“I will awake and play the piano before going to school. If I am late, it may be because I needed to record some new ideas that happened in my sleep,” he says. “Sometimes I awake in the middle of the night and will record something new.”
He uses the hour and a half-long drive to Manhattan School of Music to do homework. He does the same on the way home, unless he’s practicing something he learned that day. Some evenings, he plays gigs around the city. Others, he travels to Wesleyan University to participate in the Advanced Gamelan Ensemble. On Sundays, he returns to NYC to practice in an ensemble at Jazz at Lincoln Center. On Mondays, he plays a gig at Dizzy’s Club.
He comes to Vail on the heels of a jazz tour in Asia with famed trumpeter Sean Jones and Grammy winner Kurt Elling and sharing the stage at Carnegie Hall with Vail Jazz favorite Wycliffe Gordon.
Studying under Gordon and the other ace instructors at the Vail Jazz Workshop, Kot hopes to learn something new and ultimately, to impart something himself down the line to young musicians and audiences everywhere.
“I would like for my music to be useful to others in positive ways,” he says. “I like the idea of offering something that can reduce the stress of people’s daily responsibilities, to take people out of this pattern of habit and let go and enjoy themselves. I have a true sense of myself when playing. When performing, I can feel that no one can disturb me. I am in a place that is inside-out. At the same time, I always depend on the environment, the space, the people in the audience, the bass player, the pianist, the horn section and so-on. I love when everyone is making a connection, and the moment when you can feel that connection taking place.”
In addition to Anton Kot on drums and Natalie Barbieri on alto sax, the 2019 Vail Jazz Workshop features teenage musical prodigies Ethan Avery and Max Nierlich on trumpet, Joey Ranieri and Gavin Gray on bass, Seth Finch and Vittorio Stropoli on piano, Jett Lim and Benny Conn on trombone, Miguel Russell on drums and Nico Colucci on tenor saxophone.
Where to catch the Vail Jazz All-Stars
Catch the Vail Jazz Workshop students after their transformation into the Vail Jazz All-Stars, kicking off the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Party and a tripleheader performance beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 29, at the all-weather Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. Their performance will be followed by workshop graduates turned professionals, the Vail Jazz Alumni Quintet and then the masters themselves, the Vail Jazz Party House Band: John Clayton on bass, Dick Oates on alto sax, Bill Cunliffe on piano, Lewis Nash on drums, Terell Stafford on trumpet and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone. Tickets are $55. For tickets or more information, visit vailjazz.org or call 970-479-6146.