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All that jazz in Vail

Erik Vienneau

Howard Stone, the man behind the Vail Jazz Festival, has one of the most dynamic jobs in the valley. He hangs with the hottest cats in the jazz world each year during the Vail Jazz Fest and travels the world keeping up with the scene. But, one of Stone’s favorite, but least glamorous roles, is akin to a college basketball coach scouting talent.Each year Stone hits the road and keeps in touch with about 200 high school music directors to track down young talent. Since 1996 the Vail Jazz Foundation has run the Vail Jazz Workshop, a two-week intensive camp where 12 of the country’s top high school students are invited to learn and play with some of the best performers in the jazz world.Brandon Owens, who was one of two bass players in the 1997 workshop, is the first to return to Vail to play as a professional.”It was clear he was going to be a great talent,” Stone says, comparing his pride to a high school coach who later discovers one of his players hit the NBA ranks. “You never know when someone is going to be able to make it to the extent he’s made it.”And Owens, who plays at the Vail Jazz Fest’s Labor Day Weekend Party, has certainly hit the big time. He’ll be playing with everyone from the Clayton Brothers Quintet and the Wycliffe Gordon Sextet to the Benny Green-Russell Malone Duo and Marlena Shaw in Vail in just a few weeks.Back in ’97 he left the Vail Jazz Workshop and returned to school at the Los Angeles High School for the Arts.A winner of the Spotlight Award from the Los Angeles Music Center, he was selected to the Grammy High School All-Star Band. He began his college studies at the New School in New York but soon found himself trying to balance a busy performance schedule with his schoolwork and decided to leave school and concentrate on his performance career.His gamble has paid off, as he is now a touring professional, having been on the road in Europe and Asia with Monty Alexander and Nicholas Payton.The chance to play with some of the hottest acts in the jazz world is not only shared by 12 of the nation’s top high school players each year. Local talent from Tony Gulizia and Justin Allison to Kathy Morrow, Chuck and Theano Lamb and Dave Laub, all do dates leading up to the Labor Day Weekend festival.The festival has steadily grown each year, giving more nationally-recognized Vail-based performers room on the stage. Fans can catch many of these local stars with their globe-trotting counterparts on many dates at a handful of Vail Valley venues.From free jazz on the Lionshead Plaza each Thursday evening to jazz at the Minturn Market each Saturday and the Jammin’ Jazz Nights and Club Series that take place at venues throughout the village, audiences get a peek at the high-caliber talent on tap for the final blow-out party.This week, catch The Dave Laub Quartet, Saturday, Aug. 10, at the Minturn Market. Don’t miss singer, songwriter and sax player Curtis Stigers at 6 p.m., Thursday Aug. 15 for free on the Lionshead lawn. Check http://www.vailjazz.org for a seemingly countless number of shows between now and the Labor Day Weekend Party. Call 479-6146 for information.


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