Vail Jazz Festival continues to grow |

Vail Jazz Festival continues to grow

Lauren Glendenning
Vail, CO Colorado
CVR Jazz fest KA 9-1-11

VAIL, Colorado – Last year was the Vail Jazz Festival’s best year ever – until this year.

In its 17th season, the Vail Jazz Party and Vail Jazz Festival is experiencing success beyond founder Howard Stone’s expectations.

“We’re overwhelmed with people who want to attend,” said Stone, who is also the artistic director and chairman of the board of the Vail Jazz Foundation. “As a presenter, you’re always pretty excited for a sold-out house.”

The Vail Jazz Festival, which includes the free performances leading up to the Labor Day weekend Vail Jazz Party, expanded this summer to include more free shows than ever before. As of Thursday, the Foundation had hosted 19 free shows in Vail this summer during the festival, Stone said.

That’s more free shows than ever since the foundation began doing its free summer performance series in 1997.

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That’s why Stone and Vail Jazz Foundation Executive Director Mia Vlaar think this season is turning out to be such a great one. The extra free shows that began in July this year, rather than the typical start in August, helped spread the word about the Vail Jazz Foundation, Vlaar said.

“It brought more awareness to what we do,” said Vlaar, who will be leaving the foundation after this season for a job with East West Resorts.

The new jazz tent at Solaris, where free shows have been running during the Sunday Farmer’s Market since July, has also brought more attention to the festival.

“Now we really have a significant presence,” Vlaar said.

July is one of the town’s busiest months, so creating the buzz around the Labor Day Weekend Party back in July really added to the anticipation, Vlaar said.

By the Wednesday before Labor Day weekend last year the Festival pre-sold about 100 tickets. This year it had sold 150 by the same time.

Vlaar is pretty happy about that, especially because the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort Ballroom venue only holds 350 seats.

“Ticket sales have been going extremely well,” she said.

What started as “a little musical for a couple of days,” Stone said, has blossomed into an annual tradition that continues to grow. It’s not bad for a guy who just wanted to listen to a little live jazz over the holiday weekend in Vail 17 years ago.

“I thought I’d just do it once,” Stone remembers. “I said I’ll throw a party, what the heck. But I just felt so unbelievably fulfilled (afterwards).”

With that fulfillment came the desire and motivation to continue the festival. Stone was retired and had the time, so he continued to do a little bit more each year.

“Things, I think, a lot of times just evolve,” Stone said.

It’s a humble way of thinking, considering the work that has gone into hosting the festival year after year. His vision to create the foundation as “an organization dedicated to the perpetuation of jazz music with a specific emphasis on young musicians and young audiences” didn’t happen overnight.

The foundation grew to add the Jazz Workshop, a 10-day intensive music residency in Vail directed by professional musician and the foundation’s Director of Education John Clayton, Jr., for high school students across the country.

The local school program, called Jazz Goes to School, brings music lessons into local classrooms, and other educational programs and collaborations with other local nonprofits like the Bravo Vail Valley Music Festival, the Vail Symposium and the Vail Valley Foundation, keep jazz alive in the Vail Valley throughout the year, all because of Stone’s early vision.

And it’s the talent at this year’s Vail Jazz Party that has Stone looking back and scratching his head, wondering how it all happened so fast.

“Every once in a while I stop and think, ‘Could it really be 17 years?'” he said.

The foundation’s accomplishments throughout the last 17 years – particularly the talent it has been able to bring to Vail – has left Stone proud.

“Slowly, but surely, (the foundation) built a reputation as an organization that puts on first-rate entertainment,” he said.

And this weekend’s packed shows will be no different, and the best part is that there’s something for just about every musical interest, not just jazz lovers.

“Every session has something particularly special,” Stone said.

Community Editor Lauren Glendenning can be reached at 970-748-2983 or

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