Telluride Jazz Celebrates 33 years
by Rebecca Thoreson
Jun 04, 2009 | 633 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The 33rd Annual Telluride Jazz Celebration brings a brilliant burst of fabulous talent this weekend, with an astonishing array of artists from all over the musical spectrum.  From be-bop to boogie, fusion to funk, old-school to new school, swing, hip-hop, rockin' world-beat and straight-ahead jazz, the festival hosts a spectacular line-up of Grammy Award winners, world-renown players and hot young cats with three days of music on the Main Stage in Telluride's Town Park, plus the Jazz After Dark shows at The Historic Sheridan Opera House, The Nugget Theater, The Fly me to the Moon Saloon and St. Patrick's Church. 

There’s more, as The Raynier Free Stage at Elks' Park will be jamming all weekend too, with free concerts and panel discussions.  There are the workshops and clinics for aspiring jazzers, and the festival's Hispanic Outreach program, The Free Jazz Project, features a the Fiesta and programs at the Wilkinson Public Library. The festival also encourages young talent, and tomorrow’s stars have a chance to shine in several settings. And it’s the Telluride Balloon Festival this weekend, which will surely add stunning visuals to complement le jazz hot.

The Jazz Celebration honors the legendary Bill Frisell as this year's Guest of Honor, and in keeping with the festival tradition, has named Telluride's Town Park Stage after him for the weekend.  

Frisell narrowly survived his last performance here two years ago, when an exceptionally nasty thunderstorm pummeled the festival grounds.  

Fans may recall Frisell's musical sense of humor, as he played Dylan's A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall, and ended the set with his sensational version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow.  “I like to have fun when I play and I like comedy,” he says on his website, “but it's not a conscious thing. I'm basically a pretty shy person and I don't dance or get into fights. But there are all these things inside me that get out when I perform. It's like a real world when I play, where I can do all the things I can't do in real life.” 

The groundbreaking guitarist is phenomenal, successfully blurring genre barriers with his signature mix of jazz, blues, rock and country.  

Frisell takes improvisation to new heights, not only with his uniquely seamless technique, but also making use of found objects, unusual pedal effects and instrumentation to explore the far reaches of jazz galaxies and beyond.

His marvelous Unspeakable release earned him a Grammy in 2005, and his recent History, Mystery received a nod this year. 

His collaborations with such varied artists as Paul Motian, Bono, John Scofield, Ginger Baker and The Los Angeles Philharmonic keep Frisell highly in demand, and his own projects include a veritable list of who's who in the jazz world.

“He’s just incredible,” says Festival Director Paul Machado.  “We’re so glad he was able to come back.”

This weekend, fans are in for a treat with The Bill Frisell Trio, including violinist Eyvind Kang, who also tours with Frisell's 858 Quartet.  Kang is a master, and he and Frisell have worked together for years.  Rudy Royston sticks it in the pocket on drums, and, like Frisell, grew up in Denver, so they should feel right at home in the mountains. The trio can go anywhere musically, and often does.  Expect the unexpected from this year's Guest of Honor, and welcome the marvelous Bill Frisell back to town. May the sun shine!  

Frisell will be appearing a number of times this weekend, including the Main Stage set at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday.  Also, catch him at the Sheridan Opera House with Jazz After Dark on Friday night at 9:30 p.m., plus you can get up close and personal at the panel discussion with Donald Harrison on Saturday morning. 

Indeed, Jazz will jump with jubilant jams all weekend long, so get ready to bop ‘til you drop!

Here’s the lowdown: The festival kicks off with the Young Razzcals Jazz Project on the Raynier Free Stage in Elks' Park at noon on Friday. The project got its start in Albuquerque back in 1992 following a jam session that Director Dave Adams put together for area youth. Now based in Virginia Beach, Adams says the band project got a big boost from Paul Machado. 

“We first appeared at the festival in 1995.  We were playing on a street corner, and somebody told Paul, 'Hey, listen to this!'  Paul said, 'We’ve gotta have these kids on the program,' and so he did.  We played between Kenny Barron and Phil Woods.   When Phil got on stage, he said, 'This is gonna be difficult to follow.  Those kids just got a standing ovation for a medley that we’re planning to do!”

Adams says the Razzcals start off with the basics, and in jazz, that means you've gotta learn how to swing. 

“I tell them that they have to learn be-bop, and they have to learn Donna Lee.  Once they’ve got that down, then they can really expand on their playing.”
And play they do, with the Young Razzcals project often launching members into big-time careers.  “Several of the kids have been in the Grammy Band, and I expect to have more this year. One of our kids, Tyler Lindsay, has worked with Wynton Marsalis. Go on Utube and search for Arturo/Tyler. You’ll see Tyler trading fours with Arturo Sandoval. He’s 14, and already played Carnegie Hall!  If you look at the back of our CD, you’ll see pictures of Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Bobby Shew and Herbie Mann.  All of these people have helped the kids, and it’s really terrific for them to get to plays with these legends.” 

Adams notes that when The Young Razzcals hit the road, it’s a big entourage. “I’ll have nine kids with me, and we ended up with two bass players, so they’ll take turns.  We have this singer, Veronica Swift, and she’s just become a gorgeous young woman.  She sings Corcovado in Portuguese with Richie Cole on one of her CDs, and just melts you.”

The band released its self-titled CD a year ago and the kids are on fire. Look for them at Elks Park Friday afternoon, at the Jazz Brunch on Saturday and on the Bill Frisell Main Stage at noon on Sunday.  They’re terrific!

Telluride's own BluOrbit is set to warp in at 1:30 p.m. Friday on the Raynier Stage, and Mike Pale’s funky soul-jazz trio is always tasty.   

Also on Friday afternoon, don’t miss New York's rock-driven jam band, Licorice at Elks Park. Featuring Joshua Bloom on drums and vocals, Matthew Epstein on bass, David Lott on lead vocals and guitar, and Chad Dinzes on vocals and keyboards, Licorice is a Jazz favorite, and heavies like Roy Hargrove, Adam Deitch and Mike Dillon have sat in with the lip-smacking band during years past.

Licorice released their first EP A Million Grains of Sand last year to widespread acclaim. “We are very proud of the record, and worked hard to get inside more of our structured songwriting to work at producing the right versions that served the expression of each song best. For our first crack in the studio, we were excited about the final product. The actual recording and writing process lead to a very productive period for us.”

Lott says the band is out to take Colorado by force on this tour, although there may be an ulterior motive.      

“Telluride is really the impetus for returning to Colorado in a more expansive way. Our first time performing in Colorado was in 2004 in Telluride only. By 2007, we came back and performed in both Denver and Durango before playing two or three times during Telluride Jazz. With all of our experiences in Colorado, we've made it a point to always come back, and while we spent most of 2008 touring the Northeast, we are fortunate and excited to return this year. Telluride feels like a second home to us. And while we may not have claim to Telluride as such, we are made to feel that way each and every time we come back. It is truly one of the most special places I've ever been to. There is something in the air of there – something that swirls in those mountains. Coming from the city and Brooklyn in New York, this is a refreshing perspective to have a chance to evaluate certain values and necessities. The audience there is probably one of the most open and receptive audiences we perform for and they in turn force us to rise above our current level and play beyond even what we know is inside of us. It's the most inspiring community and place we've performed at.”

Telluride loves Licorice too, and Lott notes that the band has added a pile of new tunes that they’ll be laying on the crowd. 

“We have nearly doubled our original material over the past year-and-a-half, and the material is now starting to mature into “our” sound, and we're trying to be smarter about arrangements while keeping the spontaneity, and live chemistry of what we do. We do plan to get back into the studio at some point as we definitely have a lot more to say!”

No doubt about it, Licorice is on a roll, and will jet back East following the festival for a highly anticipated gig – at The Blue Note, which is, he says, “a special place for us. It's one of the most prestigious rooms for us to have the privilege to play. It will be our 10th performance there, and nearly every show we've done there has had some kind of theme or purpose. More recently, we've started to call on some of our influences to create more of an instrumental show for that space. Last show, we covered Santana, Jobim, Chick Corea, and Miles, while adding to our original and improvised material. This upcoming show feels like it's going to be the next level for this exploration and coming off the heels of Telluride it will be exploding with energy in that room.”

Not to worry, they won’t be holding back in Telluride either. Look for Licorice to rock the house at the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon on Thursday night, and the band is sure to ignite the stage in Elk's Park on Friday afternoon. Suh-weet!

Following the Elks Park events on Friday, prepare to party in the park, with On the One and Ozomatli firing up the Bill Frisell Town Park Stage in the evening.  On the One’s new release, The Throw Down Live pretty much sums it up, as these boys kick it down, toss it around, and nail it down hard with their funky, crunky soul-driven sound. Giant People's Jesse Molloy teams up with Drum King John Staten, Pete Lombardo and Andy Irvine, and the result is one bad-ass groove-laden machine. The Throwdown came out last year, but the busy players couldn't really tour behind it, as Molloy and Staten were on tour with the Pink Floyd Experience, and then Staten was out on the road with KDTU.  Staten, of course will also be appearing with KDTU, so cross-pollination is not out of the question.

By the way, don’t miss On the One at the closing party Sunday night at the Moon. These guys are monster players and they’ll kill it!

The crowd should be good and hot by the time Ozomatli takes the stage on Friday night. The multiple Grammy Award winners are a tour de force, and dazzle audiences wherever they play with their genre-defying romps into hip-hop and salsa, funk, meringue, and New Orleans’ second line.  Throw in some Jamaican and Latin influences and toss with a good dollop of Indian raga, and you’ll almost have it, but Ozomatli defies definition with their cross-cultural sound. Bandmate Raul says the group has a fresh slice of new material to mix into the set.  “We’re not touring as much this year. We’re going to Europe for a bit, but we’re really focused on a batch of recordings. So this weekend, we’ll kind of play it by ear. If something comes up, we just do it.”

The Cultural Ambassadors are a big outfit, with seven touring members, and Raul says the music evolves as they work through a tune. “We write together or separately and work with producers and other writers,” says Raul. “We have to like a tune initially to move forward on it, but we don’t have preconceived notions of what we’re gonna do. It never comes out the way you think it’s going to.  That’s cool for me. There are so many possibilities and no boundaries. So for this record, we started out with some typical tunes that you’d recognize as us, but then is sort of turned into this weird tripped-out sonic rock that I’m writing! You know, we just get together and play, and it all makes sense in the end.”

Ozomatli’s success has taken them around the world, and Raul says the band is in a comfortable space these days. “It’s nice to be able to have choices and gigs.  We don’t make tons of money, but we’re working musicians, which is something that we’ve all wanted. We’re lucky to be doing what we do. We’ll probably be done recording by the end of the summer, and put it out next year.”

Telluride locals were downright giddy after Ozomatli’s appearance at the KOTO Doo-Dah, and Raul says they’re stoked to return to town. “It’s such a beautiful place, just gorgeous. We get to hang out in the mountains for a few days, see some old friends and make new ones.  We’re gonna have a good time – I I love it!”

Be there to groove with Ozomatli Friday night in the park.  Awesome!

After Ozomatli, roll downtown, where Jazz After Dark will be jumping.  Catch The Bill Frisell Trio at the Sheridan Opera House, Kenny Walker at the Nugget, and dive into the Fly Me to the Moon to party with the Rebirth Brass Band.

Save some juice, though, because Saturday will be a big day. 

Ease into it at Elk’s Park with Tea for 2, the dynamic Denver duo featuring vocalist Lynn Skinner and bassist extraordinaire Kenny Walker, beginning at 10 o’clock on Saturday morning.   Also on the mini-stage during the day on Saturday, catch Frisell and Harrison in the panel discussion, plus an appearance by Paonia’s Mike Gwinn & The North Fork Flyers,  and a special set from On the One.

In Town Park, Saturday’s events kick off with the Telluride Student All-Stars followed by the smokin' Benevento/Russo Duo.  Marco and Joe are always a hot item in Telluride, and they usually leave the stage smoldering.  The duo recently  unleashed a pile of live downloads on their website, be sure to check it out, and catch them a couple of times on Saturday, including on the Bill Frisell Stage during the afternoon and at the encore performance later that night at the Moon, which will undoubtedly go to capacity.

At 2:40 on the Main Stage, catch the rapidly ascending Christian Scott Quartet.  Scott is the nephew of jazz legend Donald Harrison, and the young gun is forging new trails with his seemingly effortless segues between the sublime and the hippest hop.  Upon graduation from Berklee School of Music, Scott was determined to do his own thing. 

 ”The type of music that I wanted to do was like a hybrid music,” Scott says.  “I wanted to create music that related to what was going on musically in other arenas.  I didn’t know that any jazz label was going to be ready to deal with that.” 

Prodigious, innovative and consciously cool, Scott is highly in demand, and he’s been tapped by heavies like Mos Def and X-Clan among others. Scott’s Live at Newport release a masterwork. Be sure to pick up a copy at the festival store, this guys cooks.

Yes sir, the New Orleans’ contingent is in da' house, and it's time for the funky Rebirth Brass Band, who will take the stage at 4:05 on Saturday afternoon.

No sitting down for this one, it’s time to get on your feet for some “good old funky brass.”  RBB will be making the rounds throughout the weekend - be sure to catch them out on the street for the balloon glow, and at the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon on Friday night. Be there. ‘Nuff said.

The Bill Frisell Trio will take the Main Stage at 5:30 (think sunshine!!!), and then it’s going to get ultra-funky, with the highly anticipated set from Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.  This is a super hot tour, as KDTU has not hit the road in a few years, and you know they’ll be kicking it down hard.  Telluride loves Denson, who has appeared in numerous configurations in recent years, including The Greyboy Allstars.  This time Denson is back with Tiny Universe, with the ubiquitous John Staten on drums and percussion, Ron Johnson on Bass, guitar guru Brian Jordon along with Chris Littlefield on trumpet and David Veith on keys. 

The band is a funk powerhouse, and this set will be a rager to finish out the Main Stage events on Saturday night.  

Head downtown, where the scene will be more than a little lively.   Jazz After Dark shows include An Evening with Lizz Wright at the Sheridan Opera House, with the Donald Harrison Quintet at the Nugget and Benevento-Russo at the Moon.  

Look for other local hot spots to be popping too, with the Bubble Lounge, Tommy's and more all hosting live music this weekend.   The street scene will be slamming, with impromptu jams sure to pour from corners, alcoves and who knows, check the free box. Oh yeah, be sure to tip those buskers who are out busting it!

On Sunday, grab some joe to jump start your day and swing by Elks' Park, where the focus is on young jazzers.   The Young Razzcals Jazz Project will kick things off at 10, followed by the Telluride Student All stars Jazz Ensemble at 11.  The Free Jazz Project Fiesta in the Park with Mariachi Vasquez is a wonderful event for families and kids, and yes it's a free event, starting at 12:15.

Meantime, the Razzcals will make their way to Town Park, where they'll perform the opening set on the Bill Frisell stage at noon.  The Sunday afternoon line-up is designed for jazz affionados, and big bass man Kenny Walker and his Sextet will hit the stage at 1, followed by the big Chief himself, The Donald Harrison Quintet.   

The sultry Lizz Wright performs at 4:05 on Sunday, and Wright is true gem, with her release The Orchard, a magnificent showcase of her soaring vocals and soulful songwriting.  Wright reaches into her heart, and grabs you from the first mesmerizing note.  Catch her a couple of time this weekend, she’s delicious.

Then, the final Main Stage set is sure to be rocking, with The Jimmy Herring Band.  Herring finally has his own project after years as a sideman with Aquarian Rescue Unit, The Allman Brothers, Widespread Panic and many others.  He's packed along some heavy hitting friends for The Lifeboat Tour, including the phenomenal drummer, Jeff Sipe of ARU and Jazz is Dead.  Greg Osby is along for the ride on sax, as is the masterful Tribal Tech keyboardist Scott Kinsey.  Herring, of course, rips, and the final set of the festival is sure to run the musical gamut, including Herring's originals form his fantastic 2008 release Lifeboat.   Trucks meets Allmans with a sophisticated jazz edge, Herring is one of the great guitarists of our time.  Be there until the last note.

Okay, if you're still standing, get to the Fly Me to the Moon Saloon for the closing party with On the One Sunday night.  This could turn into an all-star jam, and the Moon will be packed.

There’s so much more to the festival that cannot be contained here. Be sure to check out the live coverage Friday on Telluride’s Community Radio Station, KOTO, and tell friends who can’t attend the fest to check out the live stream on WWOZ, the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival radio station and on KKHI in Denver.

Oh, and by the way, there’s no stopping now, as the Jazz Celebration marks the start of the busy music festival season in Telluride and the Western Slope. Coming right up next weekend is the Silverton Jamboree as well as the 14th Annual Love Your Valley Festival in Ridgway, and then it's time for The Telluride Bluegrass Festival in a mere two weeks.

In the meantime, may your weekend be jam-packed. Happy Jazz!

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