Vail Jazz Goes to School brings free education to young generations throughout the valley and beyond

In its 19th year, more than 20,000 fourth and fifth graders have learned and been shaped by the progressive musical program

It’s one thing for a child to explore his or her musical skills by tooting a few notes on a recorder. It’s another for a kid to learn the 12 bar blues and then compose an original song. Vail Jazz Goes to School sees to it that every key to unlocking a child’s musical talent is provided and is about to make its first rounds of 2017, hitting every elementary school in Eagle County.

Launching into its 19th year, Vail Jazz Goes to School is offered free to students. A quintet of professional musicians – led by local vocal and piano sensation Tony Gulizia – imparts a four-part series of comprehensive and progressive musical programs to fourth and fifth grade classes throughout the valley. More than 1,200 students will attend Vail Jazz Goes to School throughout 2016-17 and more than 20,000 local students have gone through the program since its inception 19 years ago.

“You can’t believe how creative some of them get,” Gulizia says. “We give them the tools – the rhyme scheme, call and response, writing the lyrics to blues, a geographic lesson, a lesson that becomes like an English class writing the lyrics to blues like writing a poem with how it fits in certain measures … The best part for me is seeing former students who are now in college studying jazz. In some cases, what we did opened their eyes to something big.”

In September, the first program in the Vail Jazz Goes to School series took students through the history of jazz music, from African rhythms through the hardships of American slavery and New Orleans blues to the present, allowing students the opportunity to play ancient African instruments themselves, learning the art of syncopation. The second part of the series, traveling through local elementary schools Jan. 23 to 26, will teach students specifics about rhythm section instruments – the piano, bass and drums. Students will learn the 12 bar blues progression and how each instrument contributes to harmony and melody.

As far as instruction, Tony Gulizia is joined by his brother, drummer Joey Gulizia who tours with Mannheim Steamroller, Andy Hall on bass, Roger Neumann on woodwinds and Mike Gurciullo on trumpet. Students delve into the notes of the blues scale in greater detail, also learning improvisation during the third session (March 6 to 9) and in the final session learn specific musical styles such as swing, ragtime and be-bop. Vail Jazz Goes to School culminates with the addition of percussionist Michael Pujado making Gulizia’s sextet performing some of the students’ own original compositions at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek.

“This quintet has been with me almost since the beginning and I couldn’t ask for greater guys or more incredible musicians,” Gulizia says. “They are also great educators. We have so much fun with it. It’s important for kids to learn American music and for these young generations to keep that style of music alive, since jazz encompasses 110 years of different styles.”

When 1,200 fourth and fifth graders embark on this progressive musical program, especially learning to compose an original work of their own, it’s clear that Vail Jazz is paving the way for the future of music.

“It’s amazing to see how quickly these kids can learn in this environment,” says Vail Jazz executive director Robin Litt. “Tony and the other musicians make concepts like the 12 bar blues easy to understand. You really get to see the students tap into their own musical talent.”

Vail Jazz Goes to School is a free educational program delivered to Eagle County schools courtesy of Vail Jazz, Vail Resorts Epic Promise, Alpine Bank, United Way Eagle River Valley and Colorado Mountain Express and contributions from every elementary school and their PTAs. For the first time in its 19-year history, Gulizia and his quintet are taking Vail Jazz Goes to School on the road, bringing the program to elementary schools in Niwot, Lafayette and Boulder later this month.

For more information on Vail Jazz Goes to School, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM