Big fame at Vail Jazz Party
VAIL CO, Colorado
Vail Jazz Foundation’s Howard Stone points out that beginning at the turn of the 19th and 20th Centuries, jazz was a genre of music played in seedy clubs and dominated by black males, often considered to be protesters and outcasts.
There was a humor and spontaneity about the art form that has sometimes been lost as, since its grand entrance into the white world at Carnegie Hall and such venues in the 1930s and ’40s, it has gained a reputation over the years for being formal and stiff … maybe even a little elitist.
These are myths that Stone is adamantly trying to dispel at this year’s Labor Day Jazz Party.
“Jazz has always been about improvisation, but the improvisation has become so sophisticated it’s become much more serious,” Stone said. “While I totally respect that, I grew up where guys would get up, crack a joke and play a tune. I’m trying to bring some of that back, the laughter and the more fun elements. I decided this year with all the things we’re gong to do, we’d put more levity into the music. Fun is the operative word. We’ve got a lot of different musicians … the most we’ve ever had here.”
The festival, which starts Thursday and runs through Sept. 5, began 17 years ago and, as always, brings in some of the most renowned jazz musicians in the world. Along with more artists than the Labor Day Party has ever seen and more tickets sold than ever before, the spirit of spontaneity and levity will be well-represented this year, history honored and a modern sheen casting a brand new glow.
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This includes Bravo! and Jazz Fest favorite Byron Stripling saluting Louis Armstrong as a video of some of Armstrong’s finest moments plays in the backdrop; Grammy-winning arranger and pianist Bill Cunliffe paying tribute to the Modern Jazz Quartet; a grand return of Vail Jazz favorites trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, the Clayton Brothers Quintet, The Terell Stafford Quintet and vocalist Niki Haris. The multimedia element is also on tap for one of the weekend’s major highlights. To the backdrop of a video of the historic Montreux Jazz Festival, the Monty Alexander Trio (Alexander, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton) make history once again with a 35-year reunion.
The Weekend Party is also replete with new talent bound to make its own mark in jazz history. Los Angeles-based drummer Dave Tull is one of these, invited to the festival for the first time after Stone witnessed his drumming-and-singing talent.
“Being a professional drummer is more of what I’ve done over the last 25 years and I finally started writing my own tunes,” said Tull, who released his first song-writing/drumming record “I Just Want to Get Paid,” in 2009. “I’m all over the world doing festivals everywhere with different arrangements but as a solo artist, this is a relatively new venture for me. I’m really excited about it.”
Stone was immediately drawn to Tull’s energy on stage and that conveyed in his tunes and Tull agrees that although jazz is one of the most refined, professional forms of music, he wants to steer clear of too much formality.
“I think there’s a lot of situations where players have worked so hard, they get on stage and want it to be a classical concert,” Tull said. “Jazz is a very communicative genre and there is a lot of interplay, so to me, it’s the analogy you always hear … a good jazz group is like a great conversation. Everybody is throwing ideas out, turning the corners and everybody follows them.”
Another highlight of the festival is a performance from some of the country’s top young jazz proteges, The Vail Jazz All Stars. The group is hand-selected through auditions and mentored in a workshop led by John Clayton, narrowed down to 12 high school-aged musicians who have, in spite of their youth, already traveled the world, won national awards and been recognized in international magazines for their talent.
Elena Pinderhughes is the only female in this year’s All Star cast. The 16-year-old saxophonist and flautist from Berkley, Calif., began playing music at age 7 and has performed at The White House and Carnegie Hall.
“I think that all music is connected, I love everything about jazz, the history, the freedom, the interaction between musicians …” Pinderhughes said during a phone call while awaiting a flight to Brazil, where she was performing before her trip to Vail. “I’m so excited about the workshop and coming to Vail. I have so much fun playing with different musicians and I’m always excited to be learning something.”