Plays well with others |

Plays well with others

Eagle Valley High School junior Charlie Madison is the only local high school musician selected for Colorado's All State jazz band.
Randy Wyrick| |

GYPSUM — Go ahead and make a note on Charlie Madison’s report card, “Plays well with others.”

The Eagle Valley High School junior was one of only two guitarists in the state selected to Colorado’s All State Jazz Band.

He also plays percussion, which is fine.

But when he straps on his guitar and starts hitting jazz riffs, he gets to stand center stage, which is better.

“It’s more fun to play guitar,” he said.

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Madison is the only Eagle County musician selected to this year’s All State Jazz Band.

At the end of this month he’ll pack his case and head to Colorado Springs for a gig at the Broadmoor, a five-star resort, with the rest of Colorado’s All State jazz players.

“We already have our tunes and everyone has been practicing,” Madison said.

They’ll rehearse a couple days, then hit the stage Jan. 30.

“Not a bad deal. Play guitar and stay in a resort,” Madison said smiling.

‘Free Bird’ isn’t free

Please, don’t ask him to play “Free Bird.” Yeah, it’s one of the all-time great rock anthems, but c’mon.

“When you play guitar people want to know, ‘Do you play ‘Free Bird?’’”

Yes, is the short answer.

Conversations with non-jazz people are always friendly, but they can be brief.

“What kind of music do you like to play?” people often ask.

“I like Charlie Parker,” Madison replies.


“OK then. See you later,” Madison says as he smiles and heads to his next class.

So far, no one has asked him to hammer power chords in a heavy metal band.

No audition angst

Technology makes it easier for guitarists to audition.

Vocal auditions — singers — force you to stand alone facing a band of judges like you’re facing a metaphorical firing squad. You sing and if they don’t like you they shoot. Sometimes, even if they do like you they shoot you anyway.

Jazz is, you know, like jazz. You play it. You listen to it. If you’re Charlie Madison you do both at the same time.

Madison downloaded his audition music — a couple jazz standards and some straight blues.

He practiced and practiced, recorded it and sent it in.

“Apparently they liked it, because I was selected,” he said. “Everything varies with who’s listening.”

Judges are looking for the same things players would be if Madison were auditioning for a spot in a band — creative melodies and clean chord changes — among other things.

“If you’re a jazz player, that’s what you do,” Madison said.

All That Jazz

He started playing when he was 9 years old and was bitten by the jazz bug in the middle school jazz band.

“That’s where I started getting into it,” Madison said.

He’s 16 and a junior at Eagle Valley High School.

He spends hours a day with a guitar in his hands. Summers are spent at camps with other high school players. Look closely. Those worn spots on his fret board were left by his fingers.

He went to a jazz camp the summer after his freshman year at Eagle Valley and learned how music is constructed, both as an art and a science.

“I’d like to play through college, at least. It’s something I’d like to do with my life. If not, then I’d still like to keep playing. It’s what I like to do.”

He’s like most pickers and most cowboys. They’ll spend themselves poor buying good gear. Madison plays an Epiphone that cost him around $500, all the money in his world at that time.

“You can spend $5,000 and more on a guitar,” he said.

He has come a long way, but says he still has a lot to learn.

He plays in Glenwood Springs most weeks, where a group of players get together to see what happens next. Generally, jazz is what happens next.

“I like to sit in and play. There’s the jazz I’m playing, but there’s so much more — ways to tell the story,” Madison said. “You hear and feel that when you’re listening to older players who’ve been doing it a while.”

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and

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