Funk it up at Vail Jazz gala |

Funk it up at Vail Jazz gala

Wycliffe Gordon played the first iteration of the Vail Jazz festival 25 years ago on Labor Day weekend. He's headlining the 25th Anniversary Gala on July 8.
Special to the Daily

If you go …

What: Vail Jazz 25th anniversary gala

When: 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 8

Where: Larkspur Restaurant, Vail

Cost: Tickets are $250, $300 for VIP, and include food, open bar, music, dancing and valet parking.

More information: Visit or call 970-479-6146

When the years fly by and an organization like Vail Jazz finds itself celebrating its silver anniversary, there’s only one word for it: funk.

The Vail Jazz gala serves as its biggest fundraiser, and fuels various educational programs and the 85 performances it offers throughout the year. This year, it’s embracing its funky side for the 25th anniversary celebration gala on July 8 with funk phenom and international jazz musician Wycliffe Gordon.

“The first three letters of ‘funk’ spell ‘fun,’” Gordon said. “This is what the audience can expect to do … have F-U-N and celebrate the joy of living.”

Originally from Georgia, Gordon is a former member of Wynton Marsalis’ band and has performed with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Shirley Horn and Tommy Flanagan. He has more than 30 albums to his name as a bandleader, and for the last decade has ranked among the world’s most talented trombonists.

‘passing on the love for humanity through music’

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He’s also a guy who gives back to his craft. A founding faculty member of Juilliard’s jazz studies program, Gordon is a beloved member of the Vail Jazz Party House Band and instructor at the Vail Jazz Workshop, which selects 12 of the nation’s top teenage musical prodigies for a week of intensive, play-by-ear, hands-on learning, culminating with performances alongside their acclaimed mentors at the Vail Jazz Party.

“The most outstanding experience with the kids comes when we receive letters about their experience spending a week with the mentors and their appreciation of the love shown and shared on both sides,” Gordon said of the Vail Jazz Workshop. “There’s nothing better than confirmation that you’ve ‘done it right’ by passing on the love for humanity through music.”

When Vail Jazz was first born 25 years ago, the brainchild of lifelong jazz fan Howard Stone, it was initially intended to be a one-time deal. Stone and others organized a Labor Day weekend jazz party featuring about 27 of the world’s biggest jazz artists, including John Clayton, his brother, Jeff Clayton, Phil Woods, Tommy Flanagan, Jack McDuff, Slide Hampton, Bobby Hutcherson, James Moody, Joe Wilder and Jeff Hamilton.

When it was over, Stone met with John Clayton and a fateful conversation ensued. It was the Grammy-winning bassist who wondered aloud whether the show should go on.

“He said in all earnest, ‘Do you think you’ll ever do this again?’” Stone said. “I don’t know where it came from, but out of my mouth, came, ‘John, this is what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.’”

happening now

Fast-forward 25 years to the year-round extravaganza that is the Vail Jazz Festival, grew to include 85 live performances including the Vail Jazz Club Series and Vail Jazz @Vail Square, Vail Jazz @the Market, Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk and Vail Jazz @ the Remedy — and culminating with the event that started it all: the five-day-long Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend.

“All great things stand the test of time, and experiences shared here in Vail are far-reaching and life-changing, which is why folks continue to show and the festival continues to grow,” Gordon said. “Over the years, the Vail Jazz Festival and Foundation have reached out to the community, locally and nationally, to make an impact on the fans and students alike through the performance of and preservation of jazz music.”

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