Prodigies to play at Vail Jazz Party
Esteban Castro was running to escape the rain before the biggest experience of his young life: performing in the prestigious Montreux Jazz Piano Competition in Switzerland. Only 13, he was the youngest pianist in the history of the contest and was up against extraordinarily talented adults from all over the world. He’d been practicing a steady 13 hours a day back home in New Jersey leading up to the competition. It was two days before his performance and he was outside enjoying the stunning Swiss landscapes when it started pouring. He ran toward cover, slipped, fell and landed on his right hand.
“It was swollen; looked and felt terrible. I think it may have been broken,” Castro said. “It hurt more than I put on. I didn’t say how much it hurt because I still wanted to participate.”
In a cinematic feat of overcoming adversity, Castro entered the contest and powered through the pain. Uninhibited, his hands fluttered up and down the keys.
“It was probably one of the most rewarding experiences I’d ever had,” he says. “I was completely shocked when I won.”
This tenacity — not to mention modesty — is characteristic of the teenage musical prodigies that participate in the Vail Jazz Workshop, the 2018 edition of which is underway this week, featuring 12 carefully selected young musicians from across the country.
The group was vetted from more than 150 highly qualified applicants for the 23rd edition of the workshop. The weeklong workshop is comprised of intimate and intensive training — two students to one mentor — focusing on the art of improvisation and playing by ear.
Upon “graduation,” the group of students becomes the Vail Jazz All-Stars, performing on the same stage as their mentors in the 24th annual Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend.
“We look at each other and say, ‘Wow. Not only are they doing stuff we could never do at their age, but they’re doing stuff we can’t even do now,’” John Clayton, creator of the program, said of the students.
Turning 16 during his time in Vail, Castro is very much looking forward to the workshop with his musical heroes.
In addition to the Montreux Jazz victory, he’s won numerous other major awards in his young career, recorded three albums and has been performing around New York City for the last several years.
He wrote his first composition at age 6 and began tinkering on a toy piano as an infant, his parents renting him his first real piano at age 4.
When asked how much of his free time he spends at the piano these days, Castro is momentarily confused by the question.
“It’s pretty much all of my free time,” he said.
“I find that my best stuff comes out in a natural way,” Castro said. “It’s less of a meticulous process and more of a creative process. The stuff I’ve written I’m most proud of, I’ve written in a short amount of time, maybe 30 minutes.”
Meet the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop students
In addition to Castro, the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop includes fellow pianist 17-year-old Eugene Kim.
Bassists include Rhode Island native and Grammy Band finalist Ian Banno, 17, and Los Angeles native and bassist Dario Bizio, 16.
Trumpet players include 17-year-old Florida native Summer Camargo and California resident Joey Curreri, 18.
Trombonist Nate Jones, 16, and Virginia’s Zach Niess, 18, will be featured.
Saxophonists Willie Bays, 16, and New York native Coby Petricone-Berg, 17, will also play.
Percussionists include drummers Varun Das and the 17-year-old Michael Manasseh, of Massachusetts.