Inside th Vail Jazz Festival: Jazz as a religious experience
Inside the Vail Jazz Festival
When my wife Cathy and I began dating, I explained to her that I had loved jazz since I was kid and that something inside of me intuitively responded to the music in a way that I couldn’t explain. She, in turn, was equally passionate about opera and classical music.
We agreed that if the relationship was going to survive (it has, 53 years and counting), each of us had to be willing to enter the other’s musical world. On one of our first dates, Cathy took me to see and hear one of the greatest pianists of the mid-20th century, Rudolf Serkin. “Groovy Rudy,” as I instantly renamed him, played Beethoven sonatas on a Steinway nine-foot concert grand piano. When I left the concert hall I recall thinking that I had died and gone to heaven. Here was another world of music that I knew nothing about and was eager to learn about. Yes, I knew that the world of classical music existed, but I also knew that ice fishing existed and I, to this day, haven’t tried it yet. But while I have grown to love opera and classical music, I am first and foremost a “jazzer” and I have to confess (pun intended) that when I hear jazz, it is a religious experience.
When I am listening to music, especially jazz, my subconscious mind allows me to feel a sense of well-being and pleasure that transports me to another place. Is this a religious experience? I don’t know, but I know I love going there. On a conscious level, I constantly marvel at the creative processes of the geniuses that somehow spontaneously compose music and I am in awe of the technical wizardry of the players who appear to effortlessly command their instruments to deliver up exquisite sounds. For me, when great music is being played, the Supreme Being is present.
I should confess at this juncture that I have tried and failed miserably to play an instrument. Actually I am a two-time loser. Starting with the piano as a kid, I actually advanced to Piano Book #6 by the age of nine. I had to abort my brief career as a pianist immediately following my debut in a recital with the other students of Miss Lone V. Fencestead. Unfortunately, my lack of talent was all too obvious as I destroyed “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” Re-starting with the alto sax when I was an adult, I had visions of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Charlie Parker in the pantheon of great jazz musicians. I was not put off by the numerous requests from my family and our neighbors to practice at another location, but when our dog ran away from home, I knew I had to put my alto sax down for good. The truth is that I really loved that dog.
Therefore, I have ultimately had to resign myself to being a dedicated listener. Unfortunately, in this world of multi-tasking, I am afraid that this is becoming a lost art. When I attend a music performance and see someone in the darkened room with their eyes glued to the glowing screen of a cell phone, reading and texting away, I feel sorry for them.
As the great Art Blakey said: “Music washes away the dust of every day life.”
Howard Stone is the Founder and Artistic Director of Vail Jazz, the presenter of the annual Vail Jazz Festival each summer and an annual Winter Jazz Series, both of which feature internationally renowned artists. In addition, Vail Jazz presents educational programs throughout the year with a special focus on young musicians and young audiences. Many of Vail Jazz’s performances and educational programs are presented free of charge. This column is readapted from the original archived edition, republished to commemorate Vail Jazz’s 25th Anniversary season in 2019.