Robert Walter’s 20th Congress plays free show in Vail Tuesday |

Robert Walter’s 20th Congress plays free show in Vail Tuesday

Caramie Schnell
Robert Walter's 20th Congress includes Walter on keyboard/organ, along with guitarist/bassist Elgin Park, drummer Aaron Redfield, sax players Karl Denson and Cochemea Gastelum, and percussionist Chuck Prada.
Ted Caloroso | Special to the Daily |

If you go ...

  • What: Robert Walter’s 20th Congress plays Hot Summer Nights
  • Where: Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater, Vail
  • When: 6:30 p.m. Tuesday
  • Cost: Free
  • More information: Visit http://www.vvf.orgtarget="_blank"> The last upcoming Hot Summer Nights concerts include Mountain Standard Time on Aug. 20 and Ky-Mani Marley on Aug. 27

2Robert Walter, one of America’s heaviest jazz-funk keyboardists, spent the early portion of his career immersed in the jazz, funk and soul records of the ’60s and ’70s, trying to emulate his heroes, such as Big John Patton. But now he’s certainly found his own voice and style.

“As I’m getting older, I’m owning the style a little more,” Walter said.

Robert Walter’s 20th Congress will perform tonight at the Hot Summer Nights free concert series, which returns after a hiatus for the Vail International Dance Festival. Robert Walter’s 20th Congress takes the stage at 6:30 p.m.

Walter was one of the founding members of the Greyboy Allstars, whom he played the Hammond B3 organ and keyboard with for many years and recently toured with in support of its new album. He formed Robert Walter’s 20th Congress with guitarist-bassist Elgin Park, drummer Aaron Redfield, sax players Karl Denson and Cochemea Gastelum, and percussionist Chuck Prada.

The band’s latest album, “Get Thy Bearings,” a reworking of the 1968 Donovan tune, was released last month and has received high praise. Tracks such as “Don’t Chin the Dog” and “Hunk” showcase the group’s jazz-funk melodies while “Crux” has a heavy gospel feel.

Support Local Journalism

“All these things just crept into the record,” Walter said. “It’s my own voice, not so imitative anymore.”

Walter answered a few questions for the Vail Daily:

Vail Daily: This spring you toured with Greyboy Allstars in support of “Inland Emperor,” the band’s first album in six years. Tell me how a Greyboy show is different from when you’re on stage for Robert Walter’s 20th Congress? Which do you prefer?

Robert Walter: Greyboy Allstars was the first band I really toured extensively with. I learned to improvise on stage in that context, and it always feels very comfortable and easy with that group. The material is written mostly as a group and we play a lot of older songs by our influences. With the 20th Congress, most of the tunes are mine and we stretch things out more. I’m really looking for unique events to happen and less focussed on recreating what is on the records. I enjoy both. I like to play in different settings to keep myself feeling inspired.

VD: You’re a founding member of Greyboy Allstars. Tell me a little bit about why you decided to start Robert Walter’s 20th Congress? What does this band allow you to do that Greyboy Allstars doesn’t (or didn’t)?

RW: 20th Congress started as a way for me to experiment with composing more. Greyboy Allstars was taking some time off and I was getting into music that didn’t fit so squarely in the soul jazz-boogaloo thing. We were messing around with effects and improvising in a more free form way than what was happening in the Greyboy Allstars.

VD: And I’m so curious — what does the band name mean?

RW: The 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was held in 1956. It is known for Nikita Khrushchev’s “secret speech,” which denounced the personality cult and dictatorship of Stalin. I thought it had a nice ring to it and played into my idea of reinvention at the time the band was formed. I like names with some mystery to them.

VD: You say the nine tracks on your latest album, “Get Thy Bearings,” tell a story. What is the gist of the story you’re telling?

RW: It’s not a literal story, more of a mood. It had a lot to do with my moving back to California and reconnecting with the music that originally got me excited about playing. Also, in a larger sense, getting older and coming into my own personally. It was my version of getting back to my roots, I guess.

VD: Whereas you say you used to imitate your musical influences, now you’ve found your own voice. What do you think accounts for that? Is it just a matter of time?

RW: I really believe in learning from older music when you are coming up. After a while though, it’s important to find something deeper to play about. When I listen to music, I want to get to know the artist, not just their record collection. Now, I don’t really think about genre, I just play and my influences have become a natural part of me.

VD: You recently moved from New Orleans to L.A. Tell me about how that’s gone. Has it been a good move as far as your creativity goes? What do you think accounts for that?

RW: My time in New Orleans was a great period of learning for me. I still feel very compelled by the music there and it’s an important part of my aesthetic. I moved back to the west coast for personal and professional reasons. I feel a little more isolated in L.A. There aren’t as many people doing the music that I’m interested in and not as unified of a music scene. It cuts both ways though. It’s forced me to think more about what I’m doing creatively rather than just going from gig to gig. I grew up in California and in many ways it feels like home to me. It feels like you have to create your own little scene here, dig for records and decide what you want your music to sound like. In NOLA [New Orleans] it’s more like you are part of a larger culture that exists before and after forever. I’ve also started to work on a lot of film music with composer and Greyboy Allstars guitarist Mike Andrews. We have been friends for years and have a great working relationship. He produced “Get Thy Bearings” and had a big influence on the album’s direction and vibe.

VD: You guys tracked the record all at once, all in the same room. What does that lend to the album? Why did you decide to go that direction?

RW: I’m not strict about it. We did little overdubs here and there, but generally I like to capture the interactions between the players and keep some rough edges. Most recordings nowadays feel over considered and sterile to me.

High Life Editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at and 970-748-2984.

Support Local Journalism