Vail Valley Scenery column: Vail Jazz Foundation is improvising into the future |

Vail Valley Scenery column: Vail Jazz Foundation is improvising into the future

Ann and Andy Newman.
Carolyn Pope | Special to the Daily |

Jazz: “American music developed especially from ragtime and blues and characterized by propulsive syncopated rhythms, polyphonic ensemble playing, varying degrees of improvisation, and often deliberate distortions of pitch and timbre,” Merriam-Webster Dictionary (online).

Jazz: “That which makes my soul soar, and communicates to me in a way that nothing else does,” Howard Stone, founder of the Vail Jazz Festival.

Same word, vastly different interpretations. But for jazz lovers, nothing quite speaks like the sound of varied instruments that come together and create something inventive and amazing. It’s rather the essence of the human experience. So little matters, except the end result, forged from creativity, a love of music, a connection with our existence.

After the Dallas Symphony Orchestra performed a pops concert of hits from the movies at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater on Wednesday night, the first “Jam Session” of the summer was held at Larkspur restaurant. Members of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra cooperated with special guests Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo, whose fingers move faster than, well, fingers should physically be able to move on their guitars. Pops conductor Jeff Tyzik took the stage, trading his Abductor Pollicis Brevis Muscle (the muscle that holds the baton) for his Labium Oris muscles (that’s the lips, gentle readers), to belt out some jazz classics, including “Georgia on my Mind” — his lilting trumpet bringing the audience to their feet. The patrons not only enjoyed the sizzling jazz, but also a creative and palate-pleasing menu from Thomas Salamunovich and his staff at Larkspur. Guests included Bill and Shirley McIntyre, who underwrote the evening.

What is it about jazz? For Howard Stone, the question is hyperbolic. “Why do drug addicts never stop taking their drug of choice?” he asks. “I just can’t help myself.”

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No matter how you take your jazz, plain or with cream and sugar, it doesn’t matter. Jazz is about experimenting, pushing your limits and opening your mind.

The Vail Jazz Festival is celebrating its 20th year in the valley. Howard and his wife, Cathy, have cultivated this festival over the years, making it accessible to any level of jazz aficionado, from novice to expert. Venues range from post Bravo Jazz Jams to Jammin’ Jazz Kids on Mondays for musicians ages 8 to 12, and the very popular Jazz @ Vail Square every Thursday evening at 6 p.m. in Lionshead and Jazz at the Market on Sundays. The festival culminates with the Vail Jazz Party the last weekend in August, where legendary jazz greats play pretty much nonstop for the whole weekend. Howard’s highlight, though, is the 12 students that the foundation brings in to study throughout the summer with the greats. He knows it’s the future of jazz.

Take it from me. One of Vail’s jazz favorites, Tony Gulizia (who plays every Sunday evening at Jazz at Kelly Liken), changed one kid’s life, my own son, with his passion for music and jazz. Bring on the kids!

As Howard said once to John Clayton, the director of education at the festival, about his 20 years with the organization: “I now know what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. And I’m glad I did.”

The Vail Jazz Festival and Vail Jazz Foundation are a nonprofit, 501(c)3 organization. Donations may be tax deductible. For the full lineup of the Jazz Festival, visit or call Robin Litt, executive director, at 970-479-6146.

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