Initiatives Vercors Article January 28, 2013

The Park Hill Brass has come in the summer from the United States to Villard de Lans for the past 10 years proposing jazz improvisation workshops and jazz concerts. 

The ensemble, The Park Hill Brass, is a musical non profit from Colorado in the USA based in Denver.  It is composed of 10 American musicians, sometimes interchangeable, depending on who is available: Jackie Victor, horn; Nat Wickham, trombone; Todd Reid, percussion; Ronald Bland, bass; Jeff Jenkins, Piano; Terri Jo Jenkins, vocals and guitar; John Gunther, saxophone, flute, and clarinet; Michael Dunn, tuba; William Brown, Trumpet; and Greg Simon, Trumpet.

The Park Hill Brass can perform as soloists, duos, trios, quartets, sextets, etc and between them all, perform several top notch concerts simultaneously.  The Rocky Mountain Trio is one of their derivatives made up of John Gunther, Ronald Bland, and Todd Reid.  Jeff Jenkins and his wife, Terri Jo, join them as well sometimes making a quintet.  "Jazz en Vercors" (the summers of 2009, 2010 and 2011) was created and inaugurated by Dominique Vassal, who directed the Tourist Office of Villard de Lans, and Jackie Victor, with a lot of help from "Popeye" a sympathetic business owner from Villard.

The Tourist Office paid some of the expense with the difference covered by donations from the people of Villard, fans of American jazz and admirers of the Park Hill Brass from their very first tours in the Vercors, as well as Vercors businesses.  During these three years the people of Villard devoted countless energy housing and feeding them during their stays- which created even stronger ties of friendship. There were even French jazz musicians, washboard player Jean Maurer and the trumpeter, Eric Luter, among others who played with their American colleagues in Lans en Vercors in 2009.  Nearly all The Park Hill Brass made it back again to play for us in 2012, but lacked the funding to bring everyone.  "Jazz in Vercors" had changed its look becoming "Summer Swing" with the new Villardian Tourist Office Director, Christian Douchement at the helm.

These extraordinary musicians who have accompanied the most famous internationally known jazz and classical musicians, and of whom most are university professors of jazz in the USA, have given lectures on jazz in Villard de Lans and concerts in the surrounding villages of the Vercors; Meaudre, Corrençon, Lans en Vercors, etc.  No one is kinder or easier to talk with than they are.  Each year they bring us happiness and great music….a real burst of sunshine!

Passionate about jazz, they are also passionate about the instruments they play and hold dear.  Most even play two or three instruments which complement each other.  I asked each of them several questions--one of which was very personal--to know their fondest musical memory.  Here is what they said:

Jackie Victor, one of the rare women jazz horn players in the world, who improvises beautifully on this instrument generally reserved for men since antiquity, well known on both sides of the Atlantic, she fell in love with the Vercors nearly 30 years ago and moved to Villard de Lans where she lives two or three times a year.  Along the way she has brought with her, not only her architect husband, Keith Loftin, well known in Colorado, but also the musicians of the Park Hill Brass and those of the New Hot 5 (, en 2009.

When she was six years old Jacqueline Victor began her music education beginning with classical piano.  Continuing the piano, she began learning to play French Horn when she was 13.  Later, Jackie played in various regional symphonies in the US and in Finland. A founding member of the Park Hill Brass, Jackie is also bilingual English/French representing her group well.

From July 30 to this past August third 2012, Jackie once again simultaneously translated the jazz workshop in Villard de Lans. "Once again this year I asked the other musicians of the Park Hill Brass to accompany me here for this great gig--They know the Vercors well since we have been touring in the region for the past 12 years.  We love to play jazz here, and feel completely at home, and of course our students were waiting for us to return," she told me.

She's used to taking the lead, which is obvious when she plays. The French horn fits her like a glove.  She's having fun with it, puts it to her mouth, and masterfully plays well supported notes- the melody holds no secrets for Jackie.

"I have a lot of memories, but I think the best ones for me have been while playing abroad. When I was 18, I was an exchange student in Finland.  I had the good luck to have as a neighbor a horn player with the Finnish Army Band. As soon as he learned that I played horn, he gave me one, and since I lived on a military base, they immediately asked me to play with the Finnish Army Band.  When they heard me play they asked me to play a solo with them for the Mid Summer Night celebration.  I didn't speak finnish and couldn't talk with them so I asked myself, "why not?" I wouldn't know if they loved or hated what I played so I just did it and right away I was hired all over Finland. I spent a fabulous musical year with them. I played everywhere and it was extraordinary. I think what we (the members of the Park Hill Brass) do together are always great times, and the workshops we organize in the US are as well, but one time- it was after 9/11/2001 we were on tour in the Vercors and gave a concert in the church in Villard de Lans.  The church was overflowing with people. There were even people standing in the entrance, and then after finishing the concert, which back then was half classical, half jazz, someone in the audience stood up and asked us to play the American National Anthem.  We didn't have the music with us so we improvised it. We got a standing ovation, which moved us all to tears.  It was amazing!"

William Brown, trumpeter, was the Artistic Director for "Jazz en Vercors". His fruitful and brilliant career in the US led him to be Director of Jazz Studies at Christopher Newport University for many years. Arranger, composer, and popular soloist, he has played with Bill Evans, Kurt Elling, Ann Hampton Calloway, McCoy Tyner, Arturo Sandoval, Jae Sinnett, the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, John D'Earth, Branford Marsalis, the New York Voices, Kenny Garret, Dave Douglas and the Count Basie Orchestra.  He is part of the Latin Jazz Conspiracy, the Mark Michelson Big Band and The Planet full of Blues Band.

Between William Brown and his trumpet there is a stirring osmosis:  When he begins playing they become one.  As soon as he breathes into his mouthpiece, his fingers master the keys and the sounds he sends through the bell metamorphose into intimate phrases, vibrant and bursting at the same time.  His entire body is completely in supple harmony with the music and his improvisations.

HvZ: " Do you have any good trumpet players among your students (in VDL)?

WB: For their age and especially the little eight-year old girl who plays marvelously well, they are really good and could go far.

HvZ: And one of your best memories?

WB: It's really hard because there have been so many!  When I was directing a big band I was 40 years old, we were supposed to give a concert with Kurt Elling (very famous jazz singer born in 1967 in Chicago), he had sent us the music two weeks early so that we could rehearse.  He arrived two days before the concert to rehearse with us in an auditorium with 450 seats.  The evening of the concert the room was full to bursting.  From the very first notes we played, the audience stood up and remained standing for the entire concert.  It was fantastic and really touched me."

The workshop students who have come together here at "Les Laiches" school, have received jazz textbooks adapted especially for them by William Brown, and which will serve as their jazz homework for the coming year.

Nat Wickham is Trombone and Euphonium professor at the University of Northern Colorado.  He often plays as a soloist in the US, Canada, and Europe.  He is a founding member of the Colorado Jazz Orchestra and has been the principal trombone with the Bob Curnow Big Band. He has played with the Woody Herman Orchestra and Natalie Cole, among others.  Full of distinction and delicacy, he manipulates his trombone with a certain emotion and with his breath, Nat calmly offers a wealth of powerful and melodious sounds.

"When I was 10 years old, I had a magnificent and really wonderful trombone teacher, Karl Lowith.  I studied with him for three years, then I didn't see him for 40 years, and just last year I went to visit him and we played duets together.  It was a wonderful experience.  His lips were a little tired, but his music came from his heart and his playing was as musical as I had ever heard it to be."

Todd Reid, passionate about percussion, has been a jazzman since childhood.  In New York City, he worked with Gerry Mulligan, Billy Taylor, Jim McNeely, Marlene Verplank, among others. In Denver Todd worked at the famous "El Chapultecpec" Jazz club in its house band for several years, but also with Jazzmen Mose Allison, Nick Brignola, Freddie Cole, Richie Cole, Eddie Daniels, Bob Borough, Teddy Edwards, Charles McPherson, Bobby Shew, Nestor Torres and lots of others.  The CD that Reid just made with Curtis Fuller and which is called "I Will Tell Her" was the Number One New Jazz CD for a month in 2010.  He is the joyous and very warm caboose of the band.  The way he plays his drumsticks reminds one of Chick Webb, Art Blakey, Bene Krupa, Buddy Rich or Kenny Clarke…in his power and technique as well as his subtlety.

HvZ: "You have an 11 year old boy next to you who has been playing drums for five years, but not jazz…

TR: Oh yes! He's a very good drummer and he learns really, really fast.  It's a pleasure, he is gifted. He has jazz in his blood! 

HvZ: Does it remind you of your childhood?

TR: I was 9 years old and had been playing the drums for a month when my father took me to hear the Count Basie Orchestra.  It was a revelation for me, engraved in my memory, fabulous!  After that concert, back at home, my dad played the piano and I accompanied him on the drums.  That was the only time in my life that that happened."

Obviously, Todd is really moved by that memory.

Ronald Bland, plays all styles of music on his contrabass.  He has worked with lots of people like George Benson, Dizzy Gillespie, Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, or the Pan Jumbies Steel Band.  He has been invited to play in Europe, New Zealand, Montreal, Canada, Mexico, London, and all over the US.  He is the peaceful presence of the Park Hill Brass.  His fingers agilely caress the strings, which, with magical gestures, support the rest of the group.  His solos are beautifully constructed.

"There have been too many good memories to be able to choose one.  I have had a very interesting life with lots of good opportunities like being able to come play in the Vercors or in New Zealand or with Pavarotti, the grand musical master, or Eddie Daniels who plays both jazz and classical clarinet with equal ease."

Jeff Jenkins has accompanied on the piano many well known American musicians such as: Freddie Hubbard, David Fathead Newman, Marlena Shaw, Eddie Harris, Richie Cole, Dakota Staton, Bobby Hutcherson, Curtis Fuller, Benny Golson, John Abercrombie and Clark Terry, The Count Basie orchestra, etc.  He has played in London, Toronto, Montreal, Hamburg, Frankfurt, New York, Los Angeles, and San Fransisco.  In 2009 he was part of the first "Jazz en Vercors".  That year he played with the "New York Voices, Barbara Morrison in Los Angeles, and Preston Person.  His latest orginal CD is called "The Healing".

In August 2009 I had the pleasure of talking with his fiancée, Terri Jo Jenkins, a very talented singer, composer, and guitarist who interprets jazz, the blues and American folk music.  A composer for the past 35 years, she has recorded several solo CD's as well as with her trio "Baby Needs Shoes".  Don't forget to listen to her voice, which can be rebellious, smooth, sensual, and spellbinding on

In 2009, this young couple was seated on the terrace of the "Transhumance" which dominates the center of Meaudre.  Did the people of Meaudre realize the opportunity they had to be able to listen to this exceptional duo?  Jeff and Terri Jo told me that their marriage would be celebrated the following November. Jeff remembered that day well. "Yes we like to coming to the Vercors a lot, but this year Terri Jo was unfortunately unable to come.  She really wanted to…We both would like to come next year if it is possible..It's the part of the year I like the most when we are in the Vercors…There is an experience that has influenced my life the most and which happened many times.  Each time I visited my Dad, he would play his trumpet and I the piano--that's how, since I was eight years old, we would rehearse together.  He died in 2011 while I was here in the Vercors…."

John Gunther plays the saxophone, flute, and clarinet and composes for these instruments.  John worked freelance for several years with musicians such as John Abercrombie, Buddy DeFranco, Dizzy Gillexpie, Taom Harrel, Dewey Redman, Joe Herman Orchestra, Le Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, and the Maria Schneider Orchestra.  He has toured several times in Russia, Canada, London where he played at the "Club 66" and with Charlie Wright all the while teaching at the Royal and the Guildhall Conservatories.  He has produced five albums and composed the music for several independent animated films.  He says, "when I was younger I understood the feeling of structure thanks to my mother, who is a painter, and I found that this notion of balance and contrast is equally important in painting and in music."  With him one experiences easily the woody quality of the clarinet as he makes it vibrate.

Michael Dunn perfected his tuba playing when he was studying music at the Tennessee University of Technology and at Arizona State University.  He began his musical career as a member of President's Marine Band in Washington D.C. from 1984 to 1989.  For three seasons he played with the Alabama Symphony Orchestra.  He has also played with the National Symphony Orchestra, the Kennedy Center Opera Orchestra, the Arizona Opera Orchestra, the Maryland Symphony Orchestra, the Saint Louis Brass Quintet, and the Dallas Brass.  He is Assistant Professor of Tuba at the University of Colorado in Boulder.  The strength of his playing is astonishing.

Greg Simon, the second trumpeter of the Park Hill Brass, composes as well. He received his BA from the University of Puget Sound and his MA from the University of Colorado at Boulder.  His compositions have been played by the Tasman String Quartet of New Zealand, the Play Ground Ensemble of Denver and the Fifth House Ensemble of Chicago.  He has been a soloist in works by Hunter Ewen, Michael Theodore, and others.  He teaches at both the University of Colorado at Boulder and Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Like Terri Jo Jenkins, these last three musicians were not present for this year of penny pinching and musical changes in Villard de Lans.

These very talented American musicians, flew over the Atlantic Ocean to bring their jazz teaching to Villard de Lans in a happy, welcoming and laid back atmosphere. Workshop attendees of all ages study with them, armed with their instruments whether they be string instruments, brass, woodwind, percussion or piano. They are motivated to learn and don't hide the fun they are having learning the theory and techniques of jazz playing, learning about the different styles of jazz, how to use the different scales involved, and to improvise.  Some students come back year after year and in the successive end of workshop concerts their numbers keep growing.  They are all proud of the instruction they receive and admire their teachers with all their hearts.  "We really appreciate that they come all the way here for us. It isn't conceivable for me to no longer be able to learn from them, I would be so sad about that," said one of the students to me.

As for me, I have spent many hours with them, at the same time fun, instructive and moving.

All rights reserved, pictures and videos Henrianne van Zurpele @ Pour Initiatives  January 28, 2013

Henrianne van Zurpele