Greg Carroll with four mallets at the vibraphone.
(Bob Berry Photography / For The Tribune.)
Greg Carroll was raised in the Avondale housing complex in Denver, just across
Colfax Avenue from Mile High Stadium. He and other kids would play hide and go seek while adults gathered on a stoop —
the one outside the home of the man they knew as “Mr. Ford.”
“They’d buy us kids
A&W root beer and pizza and listen to jazz and smoke their pipes,” Carroll recalled in a phone interview from his
Kansas City home this week. “I’d think, ‘How cool is that?’ One week, I asked, ‘Can I sit with
you guys?’ and they said sure. I think I was 12.
“They bought me one of those candy pipes with bubble gum, and I would
sit with them and listen. The first thing I can remember hearing is Ella Fitzgerald singing, ‘A Tisket, A Tasket,’
and I just fell in love with it.”
Soon after, Carroll heard Lionel Hampton playing “Air Mail Special.”
“I said, ‘Oh, my God,
what instrument is that, Daddy?'” he said. “We learned it was the vibraphone and I said, ‘I want to play
Flash forward 45 years.
Carroll, a University of Northern Colorado graduate and former Greeley-Evans School District 6 music
instructor, has earned a national reputation as an accomplished jazz vibraphonist.
Yes, on the instrument the 12-year-old so badly
wanted to play.
Which leads to an obvious question.
And this is the answer: A vibraphone is an instrument with tuned metal bars, and the
artist — called both a vibraphonist or vibraharpist – plays it by striking the bars with two or four soft mallets.
also called, more simply, “vibes.”
Carroll lives in Kansas City,
but as a performer and clinician, he is returning to the Greeley area and Colorado, beginning this weekend. He will make two
performance appearances, but mostly put on clinics at schools. He also will be promoting his latest release, “Greg
Carroll & Michael Pagan 2+2.” Carroll plays two tracks, on vibes and drums/percussion, and Pagan plays separate
tracks on piano and bass, all adding up to two men playing as a quartet.
In Greeley, Carroll and area retired music educator Bill
Bohnenblust, who plays the piano, will perform a duet concert Saturday from 6 to 7:15 p.m. at Tower 56 Distilling, 825 9th St.,
was a band director at Maplewood and Franklin middle schools for 22 years before retiring in 2011. In the 1990s, he
worked with Carroll and played with him in Carroll’s Midnight Blue Jazz Quartet, which mostly made appearances in Denver.
UNC faculty members Erik Applegate and Dana Landry also appeared as part of that quartet at various junctures.
Bohnenblust said the duet appearance
at Tower 56 Distilling — which is free — was arranged mainly for old friends and acquaintances to have the chance
to check in with Carroll.
Carroll and Bohnenblust haven’t played together since 1997.
Greg Carroll in his full
windup. (Wright Photography.)
“Greg is a tremendous musician,” Bohnenblust said. “He has lots of
energy and is a great showman. He’s always fun to perform with. The thing about vibes is it’s visually exciting
as well as orally exciting. You’re seeing everything he does out there, and it’s a very athletic instrument. Me
on the piano, I just move my fingers. He’s moving his arms and it’s very exciting to see. He’s as good as
there is on the vibraphone.”
Carroll’s other performance appearance will be at a noted jazz club in Denver on Sunday. Billed
as the latest version of the Carroll-led Midnight Blue Jazz Quartet, the group will play at Dazzle, 1512 Curtis St., also
from 6 to 7:15 p.m. Carroll will be joined by Andy Weyl (piano), Mark Diamond (bass) and Paul Romaine (drums). The three of
them normally play as the Big Swing Trio. Tickets are $15 and $20 and information is available at: https://dazzledenver.com.
Also during his return to the
area, Carroll will put on clinics at Chappelow Arts Magnet School in Evans; Greeley Central High School, St. Mary’s
School and Frontier Academy in Greeley, and Eaton High.
Carroll utilizes his memories of his own days as a student musician in his teaching and clinic work.
high, after Carroll had managed to play Miles Davis’ “Big” on the glockenspiel as a member of the city-wide
jazz band, music teachers managed to arrange to buy him a set of vibes that then followed him to Denver East High School’s
band program. That school was best-known musically as the alma mater of members of Earth, Wind and Fire.
“I used to think about how
cool it would be to play percussion in that band,” he said.
The East jazz band also included Ron Miles, who went on to be
a prominent trumpeter, cornetist and composer.
The young Carroll was versatile, playing piano, tuba, trumpet, percussion, drums and
… yes … the vibraphone.
He went to UNC on a full scholarship and graduated in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in music
education and obtained his master’s from the University of Colorado at Boulder in 1997. Carroll’s first job was
teaching at Heath Middle School in Greeley, and his other stops were at Thornton High, Greeley Central and Denver’s
George Washington High.
He said at various times, mentors and musician friends told him to move to New York. He had briefly lived there when
on a fellowship and didn’t like it and was struck by how many talented musicians were driving taxis to make ends meet.
while also doing other work, Carroll has been the president, CEO and founder of Midnight Blue Jazz LLC, billed
as a global jazz collective and consulting agency providing creative, scholarly and strategic services.
Among his other stops was a stint
as director of jazz studies at CU (1994-97), director of education for the International Association for Jazz Education (1998-2007),
and CEO of the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City (2007-15).
“I wear three hearts,” he said. “The middle heart is the
artist, the musician. The right heart is the educator, the left heart is the executive. The two on the sides won’t pump
unless that musician one is. That musician is what fuels me to be a better executive, it’s what fuels me to be a great
teacher. You have to be a good player, in my opinion, to be a strong music teacher.”