Best musical teens in the nation roll into town for Vail Jazz Workshop
Special to the Daily
VAIL — There are some kids who show an early aptitude for athletics and end up the star of their sports team. Then there are kids who can master a trombone or a drum set before they barely outweigh the instrument and go on to be All-Stars.
In its 21st year, Vail Jazz welcomes 12 of the nation’s top teenage musicians, hand-picked from a pool of more than 150 uber-talented nominees. Since its inception, the Vail Jazz Workshop has produced 250 alumni, many of whom have gone on to soaring careers as professional musicians. There’s Tia Fuller, a longtime member of Beyonce’s notoriously talented all-female band. Obed Calvaire drums for the San Francisco Jazz Collective and has performed with Monty Alexander, Wynton Marsalis and many others. Saxophonist Grace Kelly has been featured on CNN, NPR and in Glamour Magazine, and of course there’s multi-Grammy Award-winning pianist Robert Glasper.
Many of these musicians showed sign of greatness before they could even talk. Take Brian Richburg, for example. The 17-year-old drummer from New Orleans is one of the 12 selected prodigies for this year’s Vail Jazz Workshop. As a baby, he not only banged on pots and pans in an oddly un-noisy fashion, but did so with obvious rhythm. By the time he was 5 years old, his parents got him his first drum set, and by age 8, he was performing with an adult ensemble at his family church, where his father was the pastor.
“Even before I was born my mom would say I was kicking — she would have to sit down because I was kicking so hard,” Richburg said. “Being part of the New Orleans gospel community, I’ve always been around music. I can’t say I went to school, picked up the sticks and decided this is what I wanted to do. The drums always spoke something to me.”
A junior in high school, Richburg is a scholarship winner to Skidmore Jazz Institute, a YoungArts finalist and member of New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts, which has produced, among other stars, Wynton Marsalis.
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Practicing at least two hours a day and having added piano composition to his repertoire, Richburg has to think for a moment before narrowing down what he would consider his greatest accomplishment to date. He settles on playing at the famed Snug Harbor with Delfeayo Marsalis and then being asked to play with Papa Ellis Marsalis. During his time in Vail, Richburg looks forward to working with “some of the greatest musicians and teachers in the world,” including his drum hero, Lewis Nash. As far as his outlook for the future, the New Orleans native keeps his goals pretty simple.
“I want to travel,” he said. “I’d like to play the drums.”
Another one of this year’s Vail Jazz Workshop students, 17-year-old Jasim Perales, hails from Oakland, California. Compared to Richburg, zeroing in on an instrument as a small child did not come as instinctively to him, but after starting out on piano, the trombone slowly worked its magic.
“I was in fourth grade and we had to choose an instrument. Trombone looked like an easy instrument to play. It didn’t have any buttons. I thought, this is an easy A for me,” Perales recalls. “Then it was much more complicated then I thought. The slide is never exact. You have to memorize where every note is. You’re never going to get the same thing twice. It was a quirky little instrument that didn’t always make sense. But I liked figuring out all of its secrets.”
Perales is ahead of his time in the discovery department, as evidenced by his selection for the Grammy Band and Monterey Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, with which he recently toured Japan. His inspirations include musicians such as Duke Ellington and John Coltrane as well as A Tribe Called Quest and Kendrick Lamar. Like Richburg, traveling professionally is Perales’ No. 1 musical goal but in the meantime, he plans to revel in the wave of energy that washes over him every time he performs.
“It’s like when you get endorphins from exercise,” he said. “It’s that emotional catharsis, diving into something so passion-oriented. It’s an art form you have to put a lot of yourself into. It’s an expression. I have a boisterous personality but sometimes I don’t express what I’m truly feeling. Music is a way to get out my anxiety, my worries, or if I’m excited or really happy. It’s a whole different level of conversation. It’s a primal and intellectual conversation at the same time.”
The 10-day-long intensive Vail Jazz Workshop is led by mentors John Clayton, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon, Dick Oatts and Lewis Nash, also known as the Vail Jazz Party House Band. After completing the workshop, the students, including Perales and Richburg plus pianists Carter Brodkorb and Jake Sasfai, trumpeters Zaq Davis and David Sneider, bassists Philip Norris and Gabe Rupe, saxophonists Alex Yuwen and Austin Zhang, trombonist Joseph Giordano and drummer Nick Kepron graduate to the status of Vail Jazz All-Stars and kick off the 22nd annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Jazz Party on Thursday, opening the final Vail Jazz @ Vail Square performance, which features a triple bill with the Vail Jazz Alumni Quintet and the Vail Jazz Party House Band. The All-Stars then perform for free at the Jazz Tent at Vail Square at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. For more information, please visit http://www.vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.
Shauna Farnell is a freelance writer contracted by the Vail Jazz Foundation.