Howard Stone, co-founder of Vail Jazz Festival, dies at 79
Visionary is remembered for launching careers and enhancing the lives of others
Howard Stone, the visionary co-founder of the Vail Jazz Festival, died on Aug. 3, 2022, of post-surgical complications. His lifelong passion for jazz and the Vail Valley led him to organize the inaugural Vail Jazz Party in 1995. The following year, he launched the Vail Jazz Foundation to perpetuate his beloved art form through the presentation of jazz performances and educational programs for young people.
Over its 27-year history, Vail Jazz expanded to include a summer-long jazz festival, a winter music series, jazz soirées, an immersive jazz workshop for promising high school musicians, an elementary school program in Eagle County called Vail Jazz Goes to School, free concert series, and numerous educational programs. Under Stone’s leadership, DownBeat magazine named the Vail Jazz Workshop as the nation’s best jazz educational program in 2019. There are approximately 100 working jazz musicians — and dozens of jazz educators — who are alumni of the Vail Jazz Workshop.
Always working in tandem with his wife and Vail Jazz co-founder Cathy Stone, Howard also orchestrated performance and education collaborations with other local nonprofits, including the Bravo! Vail Music Festival, the Vail Symposium, and the Vail Valley Foundation.
Vail Jazz Executive Director Amanda Blevins called Howard a seismic force in the community.
“Careers were launched and lives enhanced thanks to Howard’s vision,” Blevins said. “In addition to entertaining many thousands of audience members over the past 28 years, the Jazz Workshop has trained over 300 outstanding young musicians, and Vail Jazz Goes to School has educated tens of thousands of students in Eagle County. Each of these programs will continue to grow as part of Howard’s legacy.”
At the time of his death, Stone served as the artistic director for Vail Jazz. He recently stepped down as chair of the Vail Jazz Board of Directors as part of a broader strategy to bring new energy and resources to the organization.
Current Board Chair Garret Davies credits Stone for leaving Vail Jazz on such firm footing.
“Howard’s overarching goal was to see Vail Jazz flourish,” Davies said, in a news release “With his guidance and blessing, we enacted a plan to build a vibrant and dynamic organization. Our staff is exceptional, and our strategic plan is ambitious and inspiring. We have a base of dedicated and generous supporters, and our board is active and energized. As gutted as we all feel at this terrible moment, we are prepared to continue the work he so cherished.”
In addition to his encyclopedic knowledge of all things jazz and his captivating stories of musicians past and present, Stone will be remembered by those in the Vail Valley for his warmth, self-deprecating sense of humor, and his bolder-than-bold dress palette. His eye-catching, wildly colored shirts and shoes became a trademark and made him a recognizable figure in the community.
Prior to launching Vail Jazz, Stone was a real estate attorney and investor based in Santa Monica, California. He first visited Vail in 1968 and was an active skier and cyclist for decades, as well as a columnist for the Vail Daily. Affectionately known as “Bebop” by his grandchildren Hudson and Harper, Stone is also survived by his beloved wife, Cathy, their son Greg, and daughter-in-law Jude.
Vail Jazz is working in tandem with Cathy on a tribute to Howard. Details will be forthcoming. Questions about Vail Jazz can be directed to Jamie Cox, marketing manager at firstname.lastname@example.org.