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Sizzling jazz served up in Vail

Charlie Owen
Vail, CO, Colorado
HL Tony G PU 5-15-08
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On a dim and rainy week-day night there’s not much going on in Vail, especially during the off-season. But if you stepped inside Kelly Liken on Wednesday and Thursday, you would have found hungry people eating late dinners and smelled the delicious aromas wafting through the air. Smiling patrons bobbed their heads, looking happy and content. It could be the food, or likely it was the sizzling jazz cooked up by The “Omahomies” that night. Their menu: sauteed guitar solos, roasted drum beats and bass-lines drenched in groove-gravy.

Just who are these mysterious newcomers to Vail’s music scene? The Omahomies are local resident Tony Gulizia on keys, his brother Joey on percussion, Bill Wimmer on sax, Dave Stryker on guitar, Mark Luebbe on bass and Victor Lewis on drums.

While Tony is pretty much a household name in Eagle Valley, the other players are all long-time friends (or relatives, in Joey’s case) of Tony’s from their days growing up in Omaha, Nebraska.

The mastermind behind the project, however, was Wimmer. He, Joey and Luebbe came in from Nebraska while Lewis and Stryker journeyed from New York.

“Essentially this thing is kind of a Omaha reunion band,” said Wimmer, who now resides in Lincoln.

He has been planning the logistics to make this happen for a year. The goal was to bring together a bunch of old jazz musicians with close roots to play and record a live two-show session.

“Most of the time good jazz is recorded live,” Wimmer said.

Which brings us back to Kelly Liken, where the band was on fire: animated, loud and cohesive, not bad for a bunch of flatlanders with five hours to rehearse before the gig. Remarkably, this was the first time that the entire ensemble had ever played together.

“These guys are fantastic, I had no idea. We came here just to have dinner and this is just a little ad-on treat,” said Roger Jorgensen who was in town from Portland, Oregon with his wife Sharon. They were both infatuated with Joey’s percussion set, which he banged on furiously during much of the show. Joey’s kit was made up of a hodge-podge of world percussion: steel Caribbean drums, African drums, bongos and wood blocks.

“I’m probably going to get a chance to hit on everything that’s up there,” Joey said while taking a brief break.

Watching him, it looked like he did.

World-class jazz drummer Victor Lewis made the trip to Vail from his current home in New York just to play the show. He personifies jazz with a breezy slang-talk and hipster style.

“There’s no greater feeling than playing with my homeboys,” Lewis said. He was obviously happy to see how far his old friends had come in the world of jazz, but he was even happier to be reunited with them.

“It’s all about team ball, man. Cats ain’t playin’ team ball then it’s not going to happen … there is no hierarchy on the band-stand,” Lewis said.

Mid-way through the second set, it was clear that all the players were loose. Smiles lit up all their faces, except for sax-player Wimmer, whose puffed cheeks were full of air. Lewis and Joey fed off each other’s playing like possessed men while Tony worked the keys with furious fingers.

Kelly Liken co-owner Rick Colomitz attributed half of the night’s packed house to the band. On Sunday nights during the summer The Tony Gulizia Trio plays every Sunday at the restaurant, but Colomitz said there was something special about this event that made him want to participate.

“The energy that they bring to a room is just magnetic and there’s nothing like it,” Colomitz said. “We love it, we love music and to be able to do something like this in our restaurant is amazing.”

Julia Parsons and Kelly McDowell sat at the far end of the bar, sipping cocktails and enjoying the music.

“We came here just to hear them play,” Parsons said. Earlier in the day they heard the band rehearsing while they worked in the same building at Keller Williams.

The band is now working on producing the album. Although there is no price, title or release date set yet, Wimmer said to expect it to be available in a couple of months.

Whether or not they can turn a profit from an off-the-cuff operation like this remains to be seen, but that’s not the point.

“Jazz really is its own reward and it’s a music that is kind of self-sustaining,” Wimmer said.

High Life writer Charlie Owen can be reached at 970-748-2939 or cowen@vaildaily.com.


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