Vail Jazz Foundations’ 9th Annual Labor Day Jazz Festival Weekend Party was as well orchestrated as a symphony. This elegant event was conducted by the VJF’s ensemble of volunteers and was hosted by Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, the "jazziest resort in Vail". Composed of many world- renowned jazz musicians and in celebration of Colorado’s 40th year of the weekend jam tradition, jazz buffs merely had to show up to be uplifted. This year’s harmonious arrangements and repertoire of artists was well put together.
The Ballroom of the four- star hotel was decorated with candles, banners and dimmed lights. Fitted with bottles of water and a musical playbill, the well behaved audience was responsive to the music and sensitive towards the well dressed musicians. Every creative riff was rewarded with applause and each improvisation resulted in ovations. There was much to cheer about.
Considered America’s Classical music, jazz is as indigenous and varied as the artists that play it. Evolved from the Blues, jazz music has over 30 different categories of style. The theme of the weekend was that it was impossible to tell when the compositions ended and when the improvisations began.
The music of the Barry Harris Trio was diverse. A legend, Barry has played with such piano greats as Bud Powell, Art Tatum and Thelonius Monk. In the early ‘50’s, Barry played with Miles Davis and sat in with Charlie Parker. Lewis Nash, sharp dressed drummer, has over 250 CD’s to his credit. "Rhythm is My Business" is his latest recording, and this was his second year teaching at the Vail Jazz Workshop.
Plas Johnson has played his sax on the CD’s of such artists as Barbara, Frank, Ella, Nat, Linda, Quincy, Ray and Sarah Vaughn, just to name drop a few. He played the sax solo on the "Pink Panther" movie theme song written by Henry Mancini, and is one of the most well known and sought after studio sidemen in the music industry. He was in "The Merv Griffin Show" band for 15 years. So what does his kind of brilliance look like? Effortless.
The Clayton Brother’s Quintet, with brothers John- a brilliant bassist and the Education Director of the VJF, and Jeff- a luminous sax altoist, was as philharmonic as any orchestra. Both have been teachers at the Vail Jazz Workshop for the past eight years and have successful careers teaching, touring, composing, arranging and performing. Bill Cunliff, piano maestro, was a winner of the "Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Award", was recently nominated for a Grammy for his arrangement of "Angel Eyes". Obed Cavlaire, drummer extraordinaire, was an alumnus of the Vail Jazz Workshop, 1998. Javon Jackson, alto sax, grew up in Denver and was a crowd favorite. Lately he tours with Steve Turre an award winning trombone player who has been in the Saturday Night Live Band since 1987. Another featured soloist was Claudio Roditi, Brazilian Jazz trumpeter.
While there were few teenagers attending the event, they were well represented by the Vail Jazz All-Stars. As part of the festival, twelve high school age musicians received full scholarships to be part of the Vail Jazz Workshop and to play in the Labor Day event. The students received an intensive learning experience and pairing the veteran musicians with their youthful counterparts was thoughtfully effective. These talented young people had the fortune to be encouraged by great artists. This was a positive internal resource that they will always draw upon.
There were some limitations to overcome- mainly the altitude and thin air. Lack of oxygen is tough on anyone, but it was hard work for musicians. Terrell Stafford, a trumpeter with great style and strength, blew the house down after recovering from being winded. Curtis Stigers, crooner debonair, added his touch of Blue-Eyed Jazz by giving a lounge act performance that was wistful and romantic. Most musicians allude to the hardship of being on the road, but Curtis was there to vocalize it. Despite the solitary adjustment of altitude acclimation, there was an "air" of going beyond limitations and purely living in the moment.
There were duos throughout the weekend. Rhoda Scott, "The Barefoot Lady" and only female celebrity, was paired with Dr. Lonnie Smith- "The Cat in the Turban". They matched styles in the "Battle of the B-3’s" (Hammond Organs). There were battles of saxes, trumpets, pianos and drums. Rodney Jones, however, (who was in the Rosie O’Donnell house band), was the lone classical jazz guitarist and remained unchallenged.
This years Vail Jazz Party celebrated the 40 year tradition of jazz in Colorado over Labor Day weekend. In 1963, at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, jazz musicians and fans from all over the U.S. gathered for a jam- session and concert. This was the first jazz gathering of its kind and was documented in the 1978 film "The Great Rocky Mountain Jazz Party," produced by Dick Gibson. This year, at the Vail Cascade Resort & Spa, in the heart of the Rockies, the Colorado jazz party tradition continued with its sophisticated "Big 4-0" commemoration- a treasure trove of group performances, jam sessions and jazz saturation.