VAIL – “I like being spontaneous,” says musician Johnny O’Neal, as he switches gears and sends his drummer and bassist off stage to take a solo on the piano Friday during the opening night of the Vail Jazz Festival.O’Neal portrayed musician Art Tatum in the film “Ray,” about the life of Ray Charles, and played one of Tatum’s songs during his solo. O’Neal has to love being spontaneous if he loves jazz – which he clearly does – because improvisation is at the heart of jazz music.
Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums, who joined O’Neal for the opening set of the festival, would start with a traditional melody, then improvise in the middle, soloing against the basic chord pattern, and end the song full circle with the melody with which they began. The crowd could watch as the players subtly signaled to each other to take the spotlight and to slow or speed up the tempo.”The exciting part about jazz is different musicians can take the same song and make it sound completely different,” said Howard Banchik of Los Angeles, who plays tenor saxophone.
Banchik compared jazz to art. Some people, he said, can look at a piece of art and think, “What is this?” While others can be looking at the same composition and really be enjoying themselves.”Jazz really makes me feel good,” Banchik said. “These musicians make it look so easy, but it’s really hard to do.”
The Vail Jazz Festival continues today at the Vail Cascade Resort and Spa. It opens with the Gospel Prayer Meetin’ at 10 a.m.Arts and Entertainment Editor Cassie Pence can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 618, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado