Serving Up the Vinyl Jazz
While many kids are employed in restaurants in the summertime, over at Hacienda’s Mexican Grill in north Scottsdale, a half-dozen teenagers are working in the bar every Friday night. They’re not rookie bartenders or cocktail waiters and waitresses, these are the members of Vinyl Jazz, an intriguing young band made up of some highly talented musicians.
The Friday night regular gig at Hacienda started when proud grandmother Joanne Wolff was having dinner back in May at the bright, energetic restaurant and bar. It was a Saturday night, and a band was performing. As Wolff tells it, “I said to the manager, ‘Who do you have playing on Friday nights?’ He said, ‘No one.’ I said, ‘Do you want to fix that?’”
Wolff set up an audition at Hacienda for Vinyl Jazz, which features Emily Clocksin, Wolff’s granddaughter. Two songs into the tryout, the audition was stopped; the band was hired. So now, every Friday evening at Hacienda, tiny Emily and her young friends take the stage and strap on their instruments.
As the band sets up, the happy hour crowd enjoying margaritas might smirk a bit and roll their eyes. “What is this, a high school concert?” But as soon as Vinyl Jazz starts playing, the smirking looks turn to curiosity, then wonder. Yes, no matter how young the musicians are, this band is good … really good.
One wonders why these talented teens chose jazz over pop, country, hip hop or rock. “Jazz is so diverse,” gushed Courtney Schrade, slide trombonist. “You can express so much! You can make somebody feel perfect. Or you can rip somebody apart.”
Courtney, by the way, is 14 years old. The babe of the band just finished her freshman year at Sandra Day O’Connor High School.
Bass guitar and saxophone player Michael Gregoire of Anthem is 18, one of the Vinyl Jazz elder statesmen, having graduated from Boulder Creek High. Guitar player Joe Allie and bass guitar player Daniel Vogt, two recent graduates of Greenway High, are also 18. Brilliant sax and flute player Clocksin, soon to be a senior at Sandra Day O’Connor, is 17, as is drummer Jacob Smith, coming up on his senior year at Deer Valley High. Trumpeter Stephen White is 16, a junior at Sandra Day O’Connor High. The teenagers smoothly play songs that pre-date them by decades; material from the glory days of their parents and grandparents.
Making the Vinyl Jazz story all the more impressive is that the band houses a budding young composer. After the likes of Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk gems, Vinyl Jazz slipped into “Up to You,” written by Gregoire. The smooth song sounded very much at home among the standards. The band also plays “Hulk,” another Gregoire composition.
Vinyl Jazz is rooted in Flagstaff, where Gregoire will soon be heading to attend Northern Arizona University. “The group got formed last year at Curry Music Camp. It’s run out of NAU’s music program,” Gregoire said. “Originally, it was just going to be a jamming thing. At first it was shaky trying to get everybody together, but when we got together the way we all play flowed together really well.”
Gregoire has been playing music since second grade, and will study music education and music performance at NAU. For the last four years, he played in the classical band at Boulder Creek High School.
Vinyl Jazz will be performing without its composer, but he says he will play with the band whenever he is on breaks, and next summer. “Vinyl Jazz itself I think can stay around for a long time,” Gregoire said.
This makes for fascinating pondering, like the new fan watching a show who said, “I wish I could fast forward 10 or 15 years, and see what happens with them.”
To watch the real-time growth, check out Vinyl Jazz on Fridays in Scottsdale. At Hacienda, the jazz ingénues have a charming lack of stage presence, no chatter, no “How ya doin’ tonight, Scottsdale?” There’s not even much eye contact with the audience from these fresh-faced musicians, who serve solos that are understated but precise, and more than a bit charming. Emily, tiny and delicate looking, plays alto sax and flute solos with eyes closed in intense self searching intensity. She took classical flute lessons, then decided she wanted to play jazz and learned the sax on her own. Courtney, tall and thin, seems barely able to lift a slide trombone, but plays it with gusto, her blue eyes searching the ceiling during her solos.
At a recent show, a Hacienda patron seeing the band for the first time made it a point to approach the stage and say, in a clear, matter-of-fact way, “You’re going to be stars.” Was it just those $3 happy hour margaritas talking? Maybe. Or maybe these kids are really something special.
If nothing else, this crew gives hope to those who like their music with a little more intellectual muscle than brainless pop and sleazy hip hop: Thanks to the likes of Gregoire, Clocksin and company, the great music launched by Dizzy, Duke, Monk and the others has a future. Around northern Phoenix, as least, jazz will live. And grow.
Vinyl Jazz performs Fridays from 6 to 8 p.m. at Hacienda’s Mexican Grill, 32527 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale.