A jazzy holiday weekend in Vail
Vail, CO Colorado
VAIL, Colorado –Vail turns into a jazz hotspot over Labor Day weekend each year, drawing renowned musicians and music lovers from across the country. The annual Vail Jazz Party has been happening in late August or early September for 15 years now, and East Vail resident Paul Caldwell has attended every one.
“I’m a jazz fan from way back in the ’40s and ’50s,” Caldwell said. “(The Vail Jazz Party) is as good a festival as there is in the whole country, there’s no question about that.”
Caldwell has taken jazz cruises for years with his wife, Susan Mason, and attended renowned jazz festivals including the Newport Jazz Festival and others, but Vail still tops his list of jazz events. And unlike the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Festival taking place this weekend, there’s plenty of jazz music to be heard.
“They don’t have one jazz performer at Jazz Aspen, unless you count The Doobie Brothers, which I don’t,” Caldwell said. “I called them up and said ‘Is this the jazz festival?’ They said ‘Yes.’ I said ‘Do you have any jazz musicians?’ She hemmed and hawed and I said ‘Then how can you call it that?’ She hung up on me.”
The Vail Jazz Party will host nothing but jazz musicians today through Monday – nearly 60 in all. The Clayton Brothers Quintet (with Jeff Clayton on alto saxophone, John Clayton on bass, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Bill Cunliffe on piano and Lewis Nash on drums), founded the festival. They’ll perform, of course.
“Their presence is a magnet attracting other world class jazz talent to Vail,” Vail Jazz Festival director Mia Vlaar said.
There’s also the Vail Jazz All Stars, the Mile High Chapter Choir and more. And Caldwell has his list of must-see musicians, too.
“The Jeff Hamilton Trio (Hamilton on drums, Tamir Hendelman on piano and Christoph Luty on bass) is absolutely outstanding and could be the best trio in jazz today,” Caldwell said. “He’s Diana Krall’s drummer when she goes on the road. And Benny Green, he could be in the top five pianists in the world today. Wycliffe Gordon is the best trombone player around. And another highlight is singer Ann Hampton Callaway –she’s just wonderful.
“Every one of these musicians who are here are in the top of their field.”
Starting in 1963, Dick Gibson’s jazz party was the place to be each Labor Day weekend in Colorado. Gibson had moved to Denver from New York City and missed the jazz he heard so easily in the Big Apple, which prompted him to hire 10 musicians to perform for paying, invited guests – the first of more than 30 years of jazz parties.
Howard Stone, a lifelong jazz fan with a second home in Vail, attended many of those parties. When Gibson died, Stone, a California-based real estate attorney and investor, decided to carry on the tradition. He threw the first Vail Jazz Party in 1995.
“His vision was to do his part to carry on a 20-year Colorado tradition of presenting great jazz in the unique party format over the Labor Day weekend,” said Mia Vlaar, the director of the Vail Jazz Foundation. “After the success of the first Vail Jazz Party, Stone dreamed further and decided to create the Vail Jazz Foundation – an organization dedicated to the perpetuation of jazz music with a specific emphasis on young musicians and young audiences.”
The Foundation has grown over the years to include a jazz workshop for promising high school musicians, a school program in Eagle County called Jazz Goes to School, a free summer concert series, educational programs and collaborations with other non-profits including Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, The Vail Symposium and the Vail Valley Foundation.
The festival, which spans more than 12 weeks, entertains around 50,000 people a year, Vlaar guessed. She also estimates the workshop has touched nearly 150 jazz musicians and that Jazz Goes to School has educated around 11,000 Eagle County students, all fourth and fifth graders.
“I think the educational component the Jazz Foundation sets up with the Eagle County schools is wonderful for the kids,” Cladwell said. The jazz workshop is free for participants.
“They bring in 12 of the top high school jazz musicians from all over the country and they get to spend a week in classes with musicians like the Clayton Brothers Quintet. It’s wonderful to hear those kids play – every year they’re better than the year before.”
And like those kids, the Labor Day party gets better each year as well.
“Every year, you always think, it’s so good, how can Howard ever put together a festival as good as this one?” Cladwell said. “And every year he does.”
What: 15th Annual Vail Jazz Party
When: Friday through Monday
Where: Vail Marriott Grand Ballroom and in a tent at Vail Square in Lionshead
Cost: $45/afternoon, $55/evening, $350 for an event pass
More information: Call 970-479-6146 or visit http://www.vailjazz.org
High Life editor Caramie Schnell can be reached at 970-748-2984 or email@example.com.