Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience: Wycliffe Gordon | AspenTimes.com

Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience: Wycliffe Gordon

Andrew Travers
The Aspen Times
WYcliffe Gordon will lead two jazzz brunches and play two evening sets Sunday at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience.
Courtesy photo


Who: Wycliffe Gordon

Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience at the Little Nell

When: Sunday, June 23, 6 & 8:15 p.m.

More info: jazzaspensnowmass.org

What: Wycliffe Gordon ‘Crescent City Jubilee’ Brunch

Where: Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience VIP Tent, Silver Circle Ice Rink

When: Sunday, June 23, 10 a.m. and noon

How much: $65; not included on Experience passes

More info: jazzaspensnowmass.org

Wycliffe Gordon has been named “Trombonist of the Year” by the Jazz Journalists Association 10 times, so it’s fair to say he’s the best of our era.

This vaunted player, bandleader and educator will headline two shows at the Little Nell on the reconfigured Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience’s closing night Sunday. Earlier in the day, he’ll play two seatings of a New Orleans-style jazz brunch in the festival’s VIP tent at the Silver Circle Ice Rink with food by Chef Martin Oswald.

“Jazz teaches people it’s OK to be yourself and to function in the world as is, no matter where you are,” Gordon, 52, told The Aspen Times in 2014. “If you’re playing New Orleans music, everyone is playing their role, but each role is important to the outcome. It teaches that your voice is important, another color in the whole picture.”

Prolifically releasing records since 1996, Gordon’s recent efforts include his “Hey Pops! Tribute to Louis Armstrong,” which brought Gordon to the JAS Café five years ago.

“Every great singer — Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Tony Bennett — they said the way Louis Armstrong phrased, his approach to music, his innovation and improvisation, was an influence,” Gordon said. “He’s influenced people who don’t even know it because they’re second-generation or third-generation. He was a mighty influence on all of pop music in America.”

Armstrong remains the heaviest influence on Gordon as well.

“I know Louis Armstrong’s solos, his inflections, his songs. I’ve acquired that vocabulary, and I can use some of, all of or none of it,” he said. “If I want to play in the style of J.J. Johnson or Dizzy (Gillespie) or the blues, I can call on that cast of characters. … The music itself was just exciting. Something about it felt joyous and exuberant. I heard ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ — it was just joyous music.”

A committed and decorated jazz educator, Gordon teaches and mentors young musicians while doing his part to keep the history of jazz alive. Along with the Louis Armstrong album, he’s recorded tributes to Duke Ellington and the musicians of Storyville.

“That’s the only way to move the music forward. If you’re not recognizing how the music was developed, you can’t move forward,” Gordon said. “Look at a car — they’re not made the same way they used to be. But they still have wheels and engines. One doesn’t exist without the other. Making a record in tribute, that’s not moving backward at all. For me, that keeps me current.”

Gordon, who grew up in Augusta, Georgia, has been playing trombone since he was 12 when his older brother brought one home. He first broke out on the international jazz scene as a member of the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra.

“It was great to play the music of Ellington, the great composers. But the septet was a close-knit group, spending sometimes 300 days a year on the road,” he said. “When you’re in the vicinity of musicians like that, you develop a closeness onstage and off that’s incomparable.”

His shows this weekend are billed as “Wycliffe Gordon and Friends” segment of his guest performers at Saturday night’s show includes percussionist Jamison Ross — who headlined Victoria’s on Saturday — along with bassist Reginald Veal, vocalist Brianna Thomas, pianist Tamie Hendleman, trumpeter Melvin Jones and tap dancer Hillary Marie.