Vail Jazz announces 2022 festival lineup
Tickets for the 28th Annual Vail Jazz Festival go on sale this Tuesday, Feb. 8
Vail Jazz has just announced the headlining acts of the 28th Annual Vail Jazz Festival, which will take place this summer from June 30 through Labor Day weekend. Tickets go on sale at vailjazz.org this Tuesday, Feb. 8.
Over the years, the Vail Jazz Festival has featured some of the preeminent jazz greats and virtuosos in an ongoing series of musical events at venues throughout Vail. This summer, the festival will include seven paid headliner performances on Thursday evenings, eight free community concerts on Sunday evenings, and the grand finale of the festival: the five-day Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend.
The selection of headlining acts is hand-curated by Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone, who aims every year to craft a diverse offering of the many styles, eras, instruments and artists that fall under the large umbrella of “jazz.”
This year, Stone has put together a lineup that places young, up-and-coming artists besides established greats, and mingles traditional jazz music with innovative takes on the style.
“This summer’s lineup features some of the most exciting jazz music we’ve ever presented in Vail,” Stone said. “I don’t think in all the years I’ve ever done this I had my first top seven picks, and they all fell into place. The jazz gods were looking favorably upon me.”
Power to the youth
Vail Jazz has a long history of empowering emerging artists, and that tradition is being elevated this summer as two of the headlining acts are under the age of 25.
The season opening performance on Thursday, July 7, is led by a young man named Matthew Whitaker. At just 20 years old, Whitaker is already an internationally touring pianist who has played at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, the Newport and New Orleans Jazz Festivals and many more.
Born premature, at just 24 weeks, Whitaker never developed the ability to see. Not only has his blindness not impeded his prestigious talents, but a study by neuroscientist Dr. Charles Limb suggested it enhances his ability to perceive and create music. The study was the subject of a 2020 episode of 60 Minutes.
“His entire brain is stimulated by music,” Limb told 60 Minutes. “It seems like his brain is taking that part of the tissue that’s not being stimulated by sight and using it or maybe helping him to perceive music with it.”
Later in the summer, on Aug. 4, 22-year-old vocalist Samara Joy will lead the Pasquale Grasso Trio in selections from the classic American songbook. Joy’s vocal style is heavily influenced by icons Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, which is fitting as Joy is both a winner of the prestigious Sarah Vaughan International Jazz Vocal Competition and an Ella Fitzgerald Scholar.
Having recently released her self-titled debut album in 2021, Joy is now making her debut appearance at the Vail Jazz Festival.
“I’m always looking out for young talent, because the world of jazz is very dynamic, like all aspects of the music business,” Howard said. “Over the years we’ve helped a number of young musicians get established by having them come to Vail and perform. Vail Jazz prides itself on being able to do something like that, so in a way, Matthew and Samara are just carrying on this tradition.”
Virtuosos in Vail
These early-career artists will be in the company of a diverse arrangement of the world’s leading jazz musicians.
On July 14, British-born and New Orleans-based pianist Jon Cleary and his band will be giving a delayed celebration of Mardis Gras in the Vail Jazz tent. Cleary won the Grammy award for Best Regional Roots Album in 2016. His performance at the Vail Jazz Festival will celebrate the musical culture and life of New Orleans while paying homage to Jelly Roll Morton, Dr. John, and other Big Easy musical masters.
Frank Vignola’s Birdland Guitar Band plays at the Donovan Pavilion on July 20. Vignola’s virtuosity on the guitar has made him a frequent pick for top musicians including Madonna, Ringo Starr and John Lewis. A world-renowned expert in his instrument and producer of 42 full-length instructional videos, Vignola is a mainstay at the Birdland Jazz Club in New York and is bringing his popular act across the country for one night in Vail.
The following Thursday features vocalist and trumpeter Bria Skonberg and her quartet. Skonberg is a native of Chilliwack, Canada, and has been performing professionally since she was 16.
“She rouses audiences equally with her sultry voice and her stirring trumpet playing, gracefully laced with a thorough knowledge of classic jazz, but often with soul, world rhythms and innovative percussion patterns thrown into the mix,” reads her description on the Vail Jazz website.
On Aug. 11, one of the world’s most celebrated jazz vocalists, Memphis native Dee Dee Bridgewater, will take the Vail Jazz stage. Bridgewater is a three-time Grammy winner, including for Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best Jazz Vocal Performance, and was named a 2017 Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts – the most prestigious jazz award in the United States.
Bridgewater is performing with a nine-piece band, the Memphis Soulphony, in a set that honors her native city and roots, celebrating the sound and history of Memphis Blues, R&B, and Soul classics.
The final headliner of the summer is a multi-media performance by Warren Wolf on Aug. 18, designed specially for the Vail Jazz Festival. Wolf is among the greatest living players of the vibraphone, a percussion instrument similar to the xylophone that has featured prominently in a number of jazz genres.
Wolf will perform pieces from leading vibraphonists of the past, such as Lionel Hampton and Milt Jackson, while sharing a multimedia presentation called “History of the Vibes” that shows video clips of actual performances from that time period to immerse the audience in its history.
“I believe that if you can connect the audience to the music in a deeper way, that’s our role,” Stone said. “The visual, as well as the auditory aspect, was very, very meaningful to me. So we started doing this, where we not only would pay tribute to these people, but we’d show the audience a little bit about them, so that they could see the relevance and the genius of these people.”
The Vail Jazz Festival begins with a kickoff party on June 30 featuring Brazilian jazz guitarist Diego Figueiredo and clarinetist Ken Peplowski. The duo first played together at a previous iteration of the festival, and have gone on to tour together internationally.
The kickoff party will also be a tribute to Tony Gulizia, better known as “Tony G”, to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of his impactful Vail Jazz Goes to School program in Eagle County.
This year’s Vail Jazz Party will also be a special tribute to Jeff Clayton, a saxophonist and flutist who performed annually at the Vail Jazz Festival since its foundation in 1995. Clayton was also a dedicated educator with the Vail Jazz Workshop, where he taught hundreds of high school saxophonists over two decades of programming. Clayton passed away in 2020 after losing a battle with cancer.
“Jeff was like a brother to me, and it was a very, very sad thing to be taken in the prime of his life,” Stone said. “We can almost never have a big band over Labor Day because of the logistics, but we decided to pay tribute to him by bringing together a big band to play the music that he played, and in some cases his compositions, because he was a prolific songwriter. This will be an opportunity for a lot of people to pay tribute to Jeff, and we’ll have a big celebration of his life.”
The Vail Jazz Party will take place over Labor Day weekend from Sept. 1-5.
Tickets for this year’s Vail Jazz Festival go on sale this Tuesday, Feb. 8. For more information about upcoming performances, and to learn about the programs that Vail Jazz sponsors in the community, visit VailJazz.org.
July 7: Matthew Whitaker Quintet
July 14: Jon Cleary
July 21: Frank Vignola’s Birdland Guitar Band
July 28: Bria Skonberg Quartet
Aug 4: Samara Joy and Pasquale Grasso Trio
Aug 11: Dee Bridgewater Memphis Soulphony
Aug 18: Warren Wolf’s Multi-Media History of the Vibes