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Vail Jazz Festival hits town

Special to the Daily/Will Shivley
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VAIL, Colorado – Howard Stone has created a pleasant conundrum.

He’s president of the Vail Jazz Foundation and brought the Labor Day weekend Vail Jazz Festival to town – this is the 16th year.

“Now it has a reputation as a great place to play,” Stone said. “There’s a magic to it, and now we have this great jazz tradition.”



The Vail Jazz Festival is hours upon hours of music over four days, starting today.

Here’s the pleasant conundrum: People are claiming actual angst because they cannot see it all.



Life is hard in the happy valley – or maybe not.

“Pick 15 hours, go see it and quit whining,” Stone advised.

It wasn’t that long ago that people didn’t know there was a Vail Jazz Festival or a Vail Jazz Foundation, Stone said.



“We’ve had some great music this summer and this weekend is going to be unbelievable,” Stone said.

Stone is a life-long jazz fan, a retired attorney and investor who has split his time between Santa Monica, Calif. and Vail for 30 years.

Stone practiced law in Southern California for 25 years. He and his wife launched the Success Through the Arts Foundation aimed at inner city kids in Los Angeles. They bring the marching band from Los Angeles for Vail’s July 4th parade every year.

“It’s been a great second act for me. This is what I want to do with the rest of my life,” he says.

Stone came to jazz the way everyone comes to everything – someone showed him how to appreciate it.

“I remember being a little kid and visiting a relative in Chicago who took me to see Lionel Hampton,” Stone said.

That was all it took to set him on the jazz music trail. He loves to play, but for better or worse he soon found that he would never play at that level. Then again, almost no one else can either.

So he and his wife threw the first Labor Day Weekend Vail Jazz Party in 1995. That beget the Vail Jazz Foundation, which beget the Jazz Workshop that works with promising high school musicians. That beget Jazz Goes to School, which brings jazz to elementary school classrooms with educational programs and free concerts.

Last January they hosted a reunion of former Vail Jazz Workshop students in New York City. Dozens rolled in for the event. Tia Fuller was in that first class. She’s now Beyonce’s sax player and has a couple jazz albums. The Vail Jazz Foundation has all kinds of success stories like that.

“Every year we’ve had former students come back as professionals. Last year we had four former students on the main stage,” Stone said.

Saturday and Sunday nights are multi media shows honoring the life and work of famous jazz musicians. There are some factoids that you probably didn’t know, and some anecdotes … and then there’s the music.

It features some classical performances combined with some of this year’s musicians create live versions of some of those classic tracks.

Saturday night is a multi media salute to Ella Fitzgerald. Ann Hampton Callaway sings more like Ella than Ella does, and trumpet virtuoso Byron Stripling will play and sing the Louis Armstrong parts from Fitzgerald’s and Armstrong’s timeless classic album, “Ella and Louis.”

And to make sure they tap into all their roots, there’s a gospel show on Sunday morning. Tyree Morris and the Hearts of Worship will perform, joined by lots and lots of the weekend’s players who grew up playing gigs on Saturday nights and in church Sunday mornings.

Dick Gibson ran the Dick Gibson Jazz Party for 20 years. He set up a party in Aspen with a bunch of his buddies and Stone started attending. The party went mobile, landing at the old Casino in Vail Village, the Hyatt in downtown Denver, the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs. It was legendary.

But that party ended when Gibson learned the primary lesson of musical economics: “How do you end up with $1 million dollars in jazz? Start with $5 million.”

So, with Gibson out of the jazz party business, Stone and some buddies were wondering what they’d do for Labor Day weekend. The answer was obvious. Let’s have a party!

Some great jazz musicians showed up. The next year they added some jazz instruction, more concerts; eventually the list grew to include Jazz Goes to School, the Vail Farmers Market concerts, Jazz at Vail Square … the list goes on and on. The foundation has exposed tens of thousands of people to jazz.

Stone started the Vail Jazz Festival on a dare, he says. No cost analysis. No business plan – a lot like the music it celebrates.

“I never planned it, and that’s probably a good thing. We might have lost some of the magic that has been so important to us,” he says.


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