Vail Jazz celebrates 25th season with Labor Day concerts

Ray Brown's music will have its own tribute concert.
Jack Affleck | Special to the Daily

The Vail Jazz Festival has been bringing world-class jazz to the valley all summer long, featuring many free performances and educational opportunities. It all leads up to Labor Day weekend, when the Vail Jazz Party brings 45 hours of performances spanning five days.

Celebrating 25 years, the Vail Jazz Foundation offers programming for jazz diehards as well as music fans looking for an introduction to the genre.

The Vail Jazz Party is a collection of acclaimed jazz artists descending on Vail for several days of multimedia performances and one-of-a-kind jam sessions, featuring musicians joining together while in town and creating music on the fly.

Because the Vail Jazz Party offers so much to hear over Labor Day weekend, picking and choosing which shows to hit can be challenging. If you are new to the party or not necessarily a jazz connoisseur, there are plenty of performances that appeal to a broad audience.

Here are five to consider: 

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A Tribute to Ray Brown

(Friday, Aug. 30, 1 p.m.)

Growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1930s, Ray Brown was barely a teenager when his fast-fingered, unique ability to play the upright bass put him on the national radar. He moved to New York City, joined the famous Dizzy Gillespie band, became a Grammy Award-winning composer and Downbeat Jazz Hall of Famer and is recognized as one of the most skilled bass players of all time. Brown’s talent and style can be appreciated by anyone who revels in a deep, bouncing bass line. Starring in this performance is a trio of famed musicians who actually performed and/or recorded with Brown before his death in 2002 — Vail Jazz Party House Band leader, fellow bass player and Grammy winner John Clayton; drummer Jeff Hamilton; and pianist Larry Fuller. 

 Jazz & The Struggle for Freedom 

(Friday, Aug. 30, 8:10 p.m.)

Led by Byron Stripling, one of the world’s most recognizable trumpet players (he’s starred in Broadway musicals and produced theme songs for numerous TV shows and movies), this performance highlights the connection of jazz music to the Civil Rights Movement. During a time when racial inequality ruled the day, a handful of black Americans were gaining national and even global popularity as jazz musicians, becoming major influencers of pop culture and pop music, and turning the tide for other black Americans. 

The Jazzy Side of The Beatles

The Beatles’ 1964 performance on the “Ed Sullivan Show” marked the band’s American debut.
Special to the Daily

(Friday, Aug. 30, 9:35 p.m.)

Nobody would promptly classify The Beatles as jazz music, but the crossover is stronger than you’d think. As it turns out, the styles of the best-selling band in history have found their way under countless musical umbrellas. Jazz great Count Basie had a hey day with Beatles tunes such as “Hey Jude” and “Come Together,” and famed jazz pianist Herbie Hancock won a Grammy for his studio album “The Imagine Project,” in which he collaborated with artists such as Pink and Seal in a cover of The Beatles’ “Imagine.” Vail Jazz House Band pianist Bill Cunliffe joins famed Aussie bassist Nicki Parrott and drummer Ernie Adams to show you just how jazzy The Beatles can be. 

Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’

Niki Harris’ annual gospel show sells out quickly.
Jack Affleck | Special to the Daily

(Sunday, Sept. 1, 10 a.m.)

This performance is the first Vail Jazz Party event to sell out year after year, but this year, it’s moving to the wide-open confines of the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater. Starring soulful, soaring, charismatic vocalist Niki Haris, who performed for many years with Madonna, along with the Mile Hi Gospel Choir and nine A-list soloists, the big stage will be a party of dance-inducing, hand-clapping harmony. 

Wycliffe Gordon’s Nu-Funk Machine Dance Party

Niki Haris and Wycliffe Gordon round out Labor Day weekend with the annual Vail Jazz Party.
Jack Affleck | Special to the Daily

(Sunday, Sept. 1, 4:30 p.m.)

Clear out the chairs, people. You’re going to need space. Possibly the world’s most talented trombonist, Wycliffe Gordon would be the first to point out that the first three letters of funk spell F-U-N. The Vail Jazz Party House Band veteran is famous for getting crowds on their feet and believes that the foundation for any good time is for those both on and off the stage to “join us in the groove.” 

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