Vail Jazz Goes to School alumnus Alec Mauro credits program for educational springboard
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Vail Jazz Festival
The 25th annual Vail Jazz Festival spans 10 weeks starting at the end of June, culminating with the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend. With 75 performances and 200 artists from around the world, the Vail Jazz Festival consists of six distinctive series, some free and some ticketed. For more information, visit www.vailjazz.org.
Not every kid who taps on the xylophone during a Vail Jazz Goes to School session turns out like Alec Mauro. But the opportunity to learn about this key genre of American music and get some hands-on instrument time certainly helps plant (or discover) that seed of talent for musically minded children.
Growing up in the Vail Valley with a music-loving father who runs local radio station KZYR and a ski instructor mother, Mauro knew he wanted to play music since he was a small child. Now living in New York City, he’s playing saxophone in a big band, studying jazz and serving as department head for jazz programming at Columbia University’s student radio. He recalls his early days with Vail Jazz Goes to School and considers them pivotal to where he is today and where he’s headed musically.
“I definitely was more into it than other kids — I don’t know if I was ahead at that point,” Mauro said. “Vail Jazz goes to School is cool because rarely in a community like Vail do kids get exposed to that kind of thing at that age.”
Led by local piano guru Tony Gulizia and a team of musician/educators — percussionist Michael Pujado, bassist Andy Hall, drummer Mike Marlier, trumpeter Mike Gurciullo and woodwinds specialist Gary Regina — Vail Jazz Goes to School visits every fourth- and fifth-grade classroom in the Vail Valley four times a year. The program imparts free lessons on the history of jazz music, the 12-bar blues and hands-on workshops with a variety of instruments. The sessions culminate with students writing their own original tunes — some of which are performed by Vail Jazz Goes to School educators at the Vilar Performing Arts Center. In its 24th year, nearly 25,000 young students have gone through the program.
“One of the main things I study at Columbia is jazz history,” Mauro said. “Vail Jazz serves its own education, honestly. Without that program, I wouldn’t be into music the way I am now.”
Mauro looks at his peers and feels especially grateful that he grew up in an environment and with the support that allowed him to pursue his artistic talents.
“I can say this with certainty: The only reason I got invited to this school is because I play the saxophone and because I’m passionate about jazz. I’ve certainly suffered from learning disabilities and stuff in the classroom,” he said. “Without that creative outlet, I don’t think I’d be able to do as well. So many kids that go to school, to Columbia, for instance, a lot of them are artistically inclined — they play instruments — but they’re studying biomedical engineering or something like that, so they don’t play that much. Without programs and accessibility and funding, especially for kids who aren’t going to get it otherwise, you’re not going to get that outlet. So much talent just goes to waste.”
With his own quiver of skills learned and refined thus far in his education, the 20-year-old sophomore has already begun playing it forward in New York City. During a call with Vail Jazz, he was in a cab home from instructing a private saxophone lesson.
“He’s an eighth-grader, and my mom taught his mom skiing. I really enjoyed it. Teaching is really cool. You use a hodgepodge of your own tricks and styles, plus a little Tony G, and it’s cool to see that work translate to another person,” Mauro said. “It’s easier for me to communicate with kids on a different level because I was in their shoes not that long ago.”
Mauro makes time to play his sax daily — “you go crazy otherwise” — and has started performing around the city with a big band of talented young musicians. When he’s back in town, you might catch him sitting in with Tony G on a Sunday evening during Vail Jazz at The Remedy at the Four Seasons Resort and Residencies Vail or for one of Gulizia’s afternoon sets at The Westin Riverfront Resort & Spa. However, the young musician’s key aspirations for the future lean more toward teaching than making it in the world of jazz performers.
“I’m not 100% set on being a professional gigging musician,” he said. “I’m interested in a lot of other aspects of music. My dream job is to be a professor of musicology. I can take everything I learn from playing, the music in general and the history, and write about it. I love writing and teaching. That would be the dream.”