Nearly a dozen soloists and a dozen groups will perform at this weekend's Vail Jazz Party, which runs through Monday. There's a lot of music to choose from. That's why we asked Howard Stone, founder of the festival and the artistic director, to single out some of the highlights, something he acknowledged was quite hard to do, but he kindly obliged: •The multimedia tributes to Dave Brubeck, Dizzy Gillespie and Ray Brown."Each was a legendary jazz figure and each show will be presented by one of the greats on the jazz scene today: Bill Cunliffe, Byron Stripling and John Clayton," Stone said. See it: Dave Brubeck tribute slated for 8:40 p.m. Friday; Dizzy Gillespie tribute at 8:40 p.m. Sunday; Ray Brown at 9:25 p.m. Saturday. All at Vail Marriott. •Bobby Floyd's Keys to the B3."An opportunity to see (and hear) how one of the 'swingingest' instruments on the planet has been used to craft some of the funkiest jazz ever played," Stone said. See it: 10:55 p.m. Saturday at Vail Marriott.•Wycliffe Gordon's The History of the Jazz Trombone: From New Orleans to Bebop and Beyond."Over 100 years of music history from Kid Ory to Glen Miller to J.J. Johnson, presented by one of the greatest contemporary trombonists and a very hip band," Stone said. See it: 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Jazz Tent in Lionshead. •Gospel Prayer Meetin'."Hand-clapping joy that will lift everyone's soul," Stone said. See it: 9:30 a.m. Sunday at Jazz Tent in Lionshead. Each of the feature shows - except for the Gospel Prayer Meetin,' which is a separate ticket - are part of a session. For example, on Saturday night you could purchase a $75 ticket and see four sets of music featuring four different groups of musicians, from 8:15 p.m. to 1 a.m. (Sunday). Afternoon sessions take place from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday; and on Monday from noon to 5:30 p.m.
"One thing that makes this festival really unique is that we put musicians together in groupings to perform that they never get to do - and they love it," said Robin Litt, the executive director for the Vail Jazz Foundation. "It's all improv and they get to play with their peers and their mentors. It's tons of fun for them and it's contagious to the audience."Glen Hatcher is someone who has been in the audience at every Vail Jazz Festival, except for one. The Las Vegas resident is attending this year's party as well. "There are many, many things that bring me back to Vail and not just over the Labor Day weekend," said Hatcher. "I can, of course, start with the music. My love of jazz started around age 10 and has not wavered since. So, the music is the No. 1 reason. The student musicians invited to become Vail Jazz Foundation All-stars is always a treat. I have been able to see many of the early students go on to graduate from college and now join the ranks of Jazz professionals, some of who have returned to perform at the Vail Jazz Festival. That in itself is quite a joy."This festival also prides itself on being more intimate than other jazz festivals, Litt said. "The musicians are totally accessible," she said. "You can hang out and talk to them after their set."Hatcher agreed."I have had the opportunity to interact with many of the musicians in a one-on-one basis, which is not only enjoyable but quite educational," he said. "For many years now, I often hear the names of various musicians. It's a real pleasure to attend the Vail Jazz Festival and have the occasion to see, greet, and put a face to a name and his or her music."The music really gets going today and continues through Monday. "We say 30 plus hours of non-stop music and we're not exaggerating," Litt said. "It's a marathon, but everyone loves it - our guests love it and the musicians all clamor to get an invitation to participate in the Vail Jazz Party. Guests who come to the Vail Jazz Party might not get much sleep, but they get once in a lifetime interaction with their jazz heroes."