Spotlight on the Vail Jazz Festival

Tony Gulizia speaks to Vail Mountain about what makes the Vail Jazz Festival so special!


“If you are a jazz aficionado and you follow the different styles of jazz you will see at this festival undoubtedly some of the greatest names in the world and you can sit down and listen to what I consider to be the cream of the crop. Over the years with all of the musicians who I have had the opportunity to perform with, or just to hang with, these players love so much to come here.

For the whole year they look forward to coming here, not just because of the venue but because of the surroundings, hanging and playing in Vail. Here you can sit in a small room and listen to some of these great players and actually get to meet them… some of the greatest players in the world, and when they’re done you can go up and shake their hand.

I think that one of the highlights of the Vail Jazz Festival is that the artists are so close-knit to the audience. They become part of the whole jazz family, and after 4 or 5 days while they’re here at the festival they really get an opportunity to meet these people and realize that gosh, these jazz musicians really are cool guys, or cool cats as people say.”


The Vail Jazz Festival culminates over Labor Day Weekend with the Vail Jazz Party, from September 3-7. With over 40 of the jazz world’s biggest name convening in Vail, this event is a must-see for music lovers! Find out more information here.



Q+A with the Vail Jazz Workshop Instructors: Lewis Nash

Born in Phoenix, Arizona, Lewis developed an early interest in music and began playing drums at age 10. By age 18, he was performing with local jazz groups. Hitting 21, Nash had become the “first call” jazz drummer in Phoenix, working with Sonny Stitt, Art Pepper, Red Garland, Lee Konitz, Barey Kessell, and Slide Hampton during their engagements in the city. In 1981, Nash moved to New York City where he joined the trio of the great jazz vocalist Betty Carter. For nearly four years, he toured internationally with Ms. Carter. He is featured on three of her recordings, including the Grammy winning “Look What I got.”

His impressive discography (over 300 recordings) includes projects with jazz legends Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Benny Carter, Hank Jones and John Lewis, as well as new jazz stars Diana Krall, Joe Lovano and Roy Hargrove. In fact, Nash was labeled the “Jazz’s Most Valuable Player” in the drumming world by Modern Drummer Magazine.

On Saturday September 5, Lewis will present a special multimedia tribute at this year’s Vail Jazz Party to his own drum influences, including Art Blakey, “Philly Joe” Jones, Max Roach, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Cobb. Lewis, in great demand for his mastery of virtually all drumming styles, is the perfect host for exploring past drum masters. Buy tickets here. {Saturday Evening Session}



What is the best aspect of the Vail Jazz Festival? 

The Vail Jazz Festival is participant friendly. The “icing on the cake,” is that the audiences for the Vail Jazz Festival are some of the most enthusiastic and appreciative to be found anywhere!

What is the most memorable comment you’ve received from a fan?

A Vail fan once approached me after a performance and said, “I never liked drum solos before hearing you play!”

What is your favorite on-stage or pre-gig beverage?

Fresh, cool water. Sometimes a protein shake.

What’s your favorite post-gig meal?

I like pasta or rice dishes since I burn a lot of calories when I play.

What is the most striking venue you have ever performed at?

A bullfighting ring in Spain, a castle in France, a coliseum in Greece, at the base of Mt. Fuji in Japan, an opera house in the Amazon in Manaus, Brazil, a cave in Italy, ruins near Beirut, Lebanon.




Stay tuned for next week’s “Q+A with: Dick Oatts”!

This article is part of a 6-part series highlighting the Vail Jazz Workshop instructors, who comprise the Vail Jazz Party House Band. In it’s 20th year, the Vail Jazz Workshop recruits 12 of the nation’s most talented teenage jazz musicians who travel to Vail for a week of intensive, two-to-one learning with the instructors. The students refine their skills, learn the art of playing by ear and most importantly, come to own and hone their special talents. Thanks to their Vail Jazz mentors, nearly all of the students have gone on to become professional musicians.

Four in one … the story of how drummers came to be

Lowering your cost per unit of output is the goal of the savvy businessman. Why pay four people to do a job when with some equipment, one can do all the work? So this is the story of how one musician ended up doing the work of four and changed jazz forever.

After the Civil War, freed slaves in New Orleans organized marching bands to play at funerals and other events. Inspired by the marching bands of the Civil War era, they used brass instruments, a bass drum, often with a cymbal attached, and a snare drum. By the early 20th century, the bands had moved indoors and were playing for parties and dances and so-called “Dixieland” jazz was in its infancy. No longer marching, band members were seated and because of indoor space constraints, bands had fewer musicians. It is unknown whether someone had the “eureka” moment and said, “since our drummer is seated, let’s cut our payroll and have him play two drums at once,” but that’s what happened. The snare drum was placed on a chair or stand and the bass drum put on the floor with a cymbal attached, allowing one musician to play all of them.

Drumming techniques had to change because striking a bass drum is nothing like playing a roll on a snare drum and these new techniques began to influence the way the band played. It wasn’t too long until drummers were trying to figure out how to use one of their feet to play the bass drum and ultimately the bass drum pedal was perfected. Next came the “snowshoe cymbal beater” – two small cymbals each attached to a board and hinged together so that they could be compressed (clashed) by a downward foot motion to make the desired sound. Ultimately, the “beater” was enhanced by adding a pedal device to work the cymbals (the “low-boy”). By the 1920s, drummers were searching for new ways to express themselves and the modern “hi-hat” became (and has remained) one of the staples of a drum kit.  By raising the level of the cymbals on the low-boy, the drummer could strike the cymbals of a hi-hat with his sticks, while his foot caused the cymbals to clash or held the cymbals together or apart, thereby creating a whole new series of sounds that pushed jazz forward.

The result of all these innovations was the simple fact that the drummer was now capable of simultaneously using both of his feet and hands to play the kit.  Bingo – one musician instead of four! As drummers were gaining the ability to in essence, play four instruments at once, they began switching from being a simple time-keeper for the band to a more integral part of the music making. The musical possibilities were greatly expanded by adding to their drum sets other drums, notably various sized tom-toms (round drums without snares) and percussion instruments, including multiple cymbals (see below), as well as woodblocks, tambourines, slapsticks, cow bells and other “contraptions” (as these sound-effect instruments were known) and in fact, the word “contraptions” ultimately morphed into “traps” and today many people refer to a drum set as a “trap set.”

Along with the hi-hat, drummers added combinations of cymbals – crash, ride, splash, swish, sizzle, Spanish and Chinese – to create their own sound. Each cymbal had a distinctive sound and by varying its size (diameter), thickness, alloys used, appendages attached and where it was struck, a drummer could create a signature sound.

As jazz has evolved, drummers have been ready. With additional drums arrayed before the seated drummer (it is interesting to note that the drummer sits on a “throne,” which may be an insight into the personalities of many drummers) and many contraptions in the drummers arsenal within easy reach, the drummer has become a central interactive part of a small jazz ensemble, supporting the improvising soloist and in turn soloing and improvising.

But it isn’t the equipment that makes the music, it is the drummer of course and many drummers, including “Baby” Dodds, “Papa Jo” Jones, Max Roach, Art Blakey, “Philly Joe” Jones, Roy Haynes and Elvin Jones, to name a few, have made important contributions along the way as jazz moved forward through the 20th Century and the new millennium has seen a new generation of drummers advancing the music with new and exciting sounds and rhythms.

On the evening of Sept. 5 at the Marriott Hotel, as part of the 21st Annual Vail Jazz Festival, the incomparable drummer Lewis Nash will present his Multi-Media Tribute to His Drum Influences, exploring the contributions that some of the greatest drummers have made to jazz. To read more about this performance, view pg. 63 of the Vail Jazz Festival Program online. Tickets are $75, to buy click here.

Q+A with the Vail Jazz Workshop instructors: Wycliffe Gordon

Born in Waynesboro, Georgia, Wycliffe Gordon was raised in a musical family so it’s no wonder he first picked up the trombone at the age of 12. Wycliffe has dedicated his life to jazz on many levels; beyond interpretation and performance, he has served as a musical ambassador of America’s original art form, as a U.S. Statesman of Jazz and ambassador for the U.S. State Department. He is also a committed educator, and is a founding faculty member of the Jazz Studies Program at the Juilliard School.

Professionally Wycliffe has enjoyed a highly successful career as a soloist and in groups, playing with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Tommy Flanagan, and Wynton and Branford Marsalis, to name a few. He was recently featured on the cover of Downbeat Magazine, and has won the Critic’s Choice award for Best Trombonist three years running.



What is the best aspect of Vail Jazz? 

It’s about bringing great things to the community but playing it forward by having a program that allows select students to come study with masters of the art form. It’s a great opportunity for them and also great for us to meet the next bandleaders, composers, arrangers, and conductors.

What is the most memorable comment or compliment you’ve received?

All of the audience members who come up with tears in their eyes saying I played something that helped them get up through something. It’s what music does. It brings us all together.

What is your favorite pre-gig sipper?

A very dry martini, a little dirty with a blue cheese olive.

What is the most striking venue you have ever performed at?

Vail is certainly up there, looking at those mountains. Australia: the open land, Sydney, Melbourne… Australia might be number one.




Stay tuned for next week’s “Q+A with: Lewis Nash”!

This article is part of a 6-part series highlighting the Vail Jazz Workshop instructors, who comprise the Vail Jazz Party House Band. In it’s 20th year, the Vail Jazz Workshop recruits 12 of the nation’s most talented teenage jazz musicians who travel to Vail for a week of intensive, two-to-one learning with the instructors. The students refine their skills, learn the art of playing by ear and most importantly, come to own and hone their special talents. Thanks to their Vail Jazz mentors, nearly all of the students have gone on to become professional musicians.

Q+A with the Vail Jazz Workshop Instructors: Bill Cunliffe



Grammy Award-winning jazz pianist and composer Bill Cunliffe is known for his innovative and swinging recordings and compositions. Originally from Andover, Massachusetts, Cunliffe attended Duke University and studied jazz with pianist Mary Lou Williams and later received his master’s degree from the Eastman School of Music.

In addition to receiving five Grammy nominations, he is a two-time Emmy nominee. Cunliffe was awarded a Grammy for Best Instrumental Arrangement for “West Side Story Medley,” on the album “Resonance Big Band Plays Tribute to Oscar Peterson” (Resonance Records, 2009). On top of his other awards, Cunliffe’s other accomplishments include works with the great Frank Sinatra, James Moody, and Freddie Hubbard. He has also composed numbers for major orchestras as well as TV soundtracks.

The jazz pianist now calls Southern California home and is a Professor of Music at California State University Fullerton. Bill currently plays with his trio; his big band; his Latin band, Imaginación; and his classical-jazz ensemble, Trimotif. He performs in the U.S. and around the world as a leader and sideman as well as a soloist with symphony orchestras.



What is the best aspect of the Vail Jazz Party? 

It merges musicians presenting their own original material but also thrown together in unexpected ways to see what happens. You get a whole different sense of what the musicians can do.

Any on-stage or pre-gig sippers? 

I’ve seen many pianos fall victim to spilled beverages. We pianists tend to shy away from on-stage drinking. I always have water before I go up.

What about a post-gig beverage?

I have been known to engage in an occasional glass of wine. I like bigger reds.

And your favorite post-gig meal?


What is the most striking venue you’ve ever played?

The Vail Jazz Festival outdoor tent. There is no better audience than the Vail audience. You can hear a pin drop, they are listening so intently. They really care about the music.




Stay tuned for next week’s “Q+A with: Wycliffe Gordon”!

This article is part of a 6-part series highlighting the Vail Jazz Workshop instructors, who comprise the Vail Jazz Party House Band. In it’s 20th year, the Vail Jazz Workshop recruits 12 of the nation’s most talented teenage jazz musicians who travel to Vail for a week of intensive, two-to-one learning with the instructors. The students refine their skills, learn the art of playing by ear and most importantly, come to own and hone their special talents. Thanks to their Vail Jazz mentors, nearly all of the students have gone on to become professional musicians.

Vail Jazz Workshop among America’s most promising outlets for young musical prodigies

It’s true that the key ingredient behind history’s most respected jazz musicians is innate talent. Of course, passion, heart and focus also play a role, but at some point along the way, each musician has learned from another.

The United States has famously produced many of the world’s greatest jazz artists through a slew of famous and elite programs and schools, but the Vail Jazz Workshop has flown under the radar as a springboard for young, prodigal musicians, although it has quietly helped shape the future of jazz for the past 20 years.

This summer, the Vail Jazz Workshop celebrates its 20th year and, as a telltale token of its success and growing reputation, a whopping 140 nominations were submitted for the workshop’s 12 slots.

It’s always a tough pick, said Howard Stone, founder of the Vail Jazz Foundation, which brings the lucky 12 to Vail every summer, providing full or partial scholarships. Stone has even shopped for dress shoes with at least one workshop student and run out to purchase a trumpet for another whose instrument could not hold up to the demands of the program, as many participants come from poverty-stricken backgrounds.

Look at any of the 238 artists that have attended the Vail Jazz Workshop over the last two decades and the vast majority has gone on to notch jaw-dropping accomplishments.

For example, Vail alumni and recent Labor Day Jazz Party returnee Tia Fuller is the band leader of Beyonce’s notoriously talented all-female band. Obed Calvaire drums for the San Francisco Jazz Collective and performs with Monty Alexander, Wynton Marsalis and many others. Saxophonist Grace Kelly has been featured on CNN, NPR and in Glamour Magazine, and of course you’ve all heard of Grammy-winning pianist Robert Glasper, who won the 2013 Grammy for Best R&B album and nabbed his second Grammy this year for Best Traditional R&B Performance.

“Getting to study and meet the incredible faculty was an experience I can’t quite put into words,” said Kelly, who returned last Labor Day weekend as part of the Vail Alumni Quartet.

“I learned so many important lessons musically at Vail and the most important thing is they didn’t teach out of music books. They taught right out of their life experiences,” Kelly said.


Vail Jazz Workshop faculty members are also the talent behind the Vail Jazz Party House Band — John Clayton, Terrell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon, Lewis Nash and new this summer, Dick Oatts replaces 20-year Vail Jazz saxophone instructor Jeff Clayton, who is now living in Australia.

Unlike programs set up more like masters lessons, the Vail Jazz Workshop is focused on rounding out the students’ existing talent with the ability to play by ear, using memorization and no written music during the 10-day program.

“It’s about balance. The person who can play by ear and read music and understand theory — they have more choices,” said John Clayton, who effectively masterminded and launched the Vail Jazz Workshop 20 years ago along with Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone. “On that first day at the workshop when we get a feel for their level, through the years, our eyebrows go up higher and higher. We look at each other and say, ‘Wow. Not only are they doing stuff we could never do at their age, but they’re doing stuff we can’t even do now.’ Still, we offer them things they haven’t been exposed to and that they can really take with them even if they can — and I’m exaggerating a little bit — play rings around us.”

With six instructors and 12 students, each young musician gets ample one-on-one mentor time in the workshop, and in Fuller’s case, the introspective coaching she received from Clayton has truly shaped her career.

“What I value most from John Clayton is his ability to show you that you have the power,” Fuller said. “Whenever I’ve asked him a question about my playing or a problem, he always turns the question right around on me and I have had the solution the whole time.”

All students are nominated for the program by individuals who have taken stock of their talent … often a high school music teacher or band leader.

“It’s amazing to have a program that reaches out to the kids who would not be able to afford to participate in such an event,” said Calvaire, who learned to play drums by ear in his family’s church while growing up in Miami. “At 16, you’re still looking for a voice and looking for ways to find your musical journey and path, and that program really helps you find it.”

Vail Jazz Goes to School Sextet Performs Concert for Local Students!

Vail Jazz Goes to School wraps up its seventeenth year in Eagle County with three special jazz performances at the Vilar Performing Arts Center in Beaver Creek on May 4 & 5 featuring the Jazz Goes to School Sextet. “This is such a rich and exciting performance and it’s a fabulous end to the lessons that have taken place throughout the school year to every 4th and 5th grade class,” said Robin Litt, executive director of the Vail Jazz Foundation.

The fourth and final session of the Jazz Goes to School educational program, entitled “Giants of Jzz”, features a selection of tunes that have shaped the history of jazz in America.

Local jazz musician and professional jazz educator, Tony Gulizia (keyboard and vocals), directs the Vail Jazz Goes to School program. “The concert includes legendary jazz tunes by Duke Ellington and Dave Brubeck, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, and others”, said Gulizia. “We also perform a medley of blues compositions authored by the fifth graders as part of the concert – their lyrics are priceless!” said Gulizia.

Tony Gulizia’s brother Joey, also a professional jazz musician and educator (drummer), joins Tony on stage, as does Andy Hall (bass), Gary Regina (saxophone), Mike Gurciullo (trumpet) and Michael Pujado (congas and percussion). The sextet presents a dynamic, foot stompin’ show that pulls together all of the concepts taught in the first three classroom sessions, as demonstrated in some of Jazz’s finest works.

Vail Jazz Goes to School is presented by The Vail Jazz Foundation, a 501c3 charitable foundation dedicated to perpetuating jazz with a focus on young musicians and young audiences. The program educates over 1,100 fourth and fifth graders annually in the Eagle County School District RE-50J, plus the Eagle County Charter Academy, Vail Mountain School, The Vail Academy, Stone Creek Charter School, and St. Clare of Assisi. Vail Jazz Goes to School has exposed over 17,000 local school children to jazz music since inception.

Building on the success of Vail Jazz Goes to School, Vail Jazz will offer a summer hands-on musical experience, called “Jammin’ Jazz Kids” every Sunday in July. In conjunction with Vail Jazz @ The Market at the Vail Farmers’ Market, youngsters ages 4 to 12 will be able to explore the history of Jazz along with a fun learning experience with children playing a variety of percussion instruments – maracas, bongos, congas, tambourines and Orff instruments. Participating children will also listen to and join with jazz musicians in playing music and learning the art of improvisation. Sunday programs will be 45 minutes in length and offered at no charge.

Vail Jazz Goes to School is sponsored in part by Alpine Bank, Vilar PAC Community Use Fund, Colorado Mountain Express (Official Transportation Provider), all fifteen elementary schools’ PTOs, United Way Eagle River Valley, Vail Resorts Echo, Ella Fitzgerald Charitable Foundation, Antlers at Vail, Local Joe’s Pizza, East West Resorts, Lifthouse Lodge and numerous private donors.

Vail Jazz will announce its lineup and tickets will go on sale on May 1st for the 21st Annual Vail Jazz Festival. “The Festival will host nearly 50 free and ticketed concerts in different venues throughout Vail. And will host over 150 artists who will share their passion for this original American art form with locals and visitors to Vail. Our renowned artists are chosen for their broad appeal to all ages and audiences and are highly regarded for their stage presence and entertainment value. They have great appeal even for audiences who don’t necessarily wear the ‘jazz fan’ label!” Litt commented, “We hope youngsters who got a taste of jazz through Vail Jazz Goes to School will join us this summer at the Vail Jazz Festival!”

Eagle County students swing with Jazz Goes to School

VAIL — Jazz Goes to School, Vail Jazz Foundation’s jazz education program for fourth- and fifth-graders, returns to Eagle County schools Tuesday through Friday, Jan. 23. The program features a quintet of professional musician educators who travel to 16 local elementary schools to share their love of jazz and American history, and inspire young people to embrace jazz: America’s original art form.

While September’s Session 1 focused on the origins of jazz and the rhythm section with handmade bongos and drums, this second session of the four-part program adds in the horn section.

“We want to introduce the kids to the heart of jazz; the cool combination of drums, piano and bass forms the core of all jazz music,” said program director Tony Gulizia. “Now we add in the saxophone and trumpet to create a clean cool sound they love.”

Later in the Jazz Goes to School curriculum, the older students try their hand at writing their own jazz music. The final concert in May at the Vilar Performing Arts Center includes blues compositions created by the fifth-graders, performed in an exciting medley format.


Gulizia is not the only one who appreciates how Jazz Goes to School makes a difference for local kids. Vail Resorts Epic Promise, the company’s philanthropy program, has identified Jazz Goes to School as a necessary and valuable way to help bring the arts into our schools.”

Vail Resorts supports Jazz Goes to School as an incredibly important program that teaches the wonders of jazz to the children of Eagle County,” said Nicky DeFord, manager of charitable giving for Vail Resorts.

Additionally, Alpine Bank’s grant to Vail Jazz provides funds to bring the accomplished jazz instructors into all elementary schools in the region.

“We encourage parents of fourth- and fifth-graders to attend their children’s programs to share their enthusiasm for what they’re learning. Their love for the program can be really infectious,” said Robin Litt, executive director of Vail Jazz.

Gulizia (keyboard and vocals) directs the Jazz Goes to School program for Vail Jazz. Gulizia is joined by his brother Joey, who is also a professional jazz musician and educator, on drums. Other musician educators performing this week include Andy Hall (bass), Roger Neumann (saxophone) and Mike Gurciullo (trumpet).


Jazz Goes to School, which is in its 16th year, supports and promotes the jazz art form with a focus on educating young musicians and young audiences. Jazz Goes to School is presented to Eagle County fourth- and fifth-graders, including all public schools plus the Eagle County Charter Academy, Vail Mountain School, Vail Christian Academy, Stone Creek Elementary Schools and St. Clare of Assisi. Jazz Goes to School reaches over 1,100 students each year and has exposed more than 15,000 students to the course about this uniquely American art form. To learn more, visit

Slifer Designs and Nina McLemore join together

VAIL — Beth Slifer and Nina McLemore are collaborating on Slifer Designs at Nina McLemore, a shared space at 183 Gore Creek Drive in Vail Village.

Slifer Designs is a home store that has become a must-see to many locals, visitors and second-home owners. It’s here that Slifer and her buying team create distinctive home designs. The Nina McLemore boutique opened in Vail Village in January of 2012. Owner and designer Nina McLemore has stores and sales consultants across the country, including Aspen. The collection features designer clothing for women. McLemore was featured in the July 3 issue of the Wall Street Journal as The Ultimate Power Dresser. McLemore’s clients include Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen and the president of Pepsico, Indra Nooyi.

“We are so excited to be in Vail,” Slifer said. “We’ve noticed a lot of Vail locals and guests want to get something while in Vail, be part of the Vail experience if you will. Well, we’re here to say, let us help you.”

Slifer Designs is entering its third decade in the valley and the new boutique is just one more way to stay true to its Vail roots.

“We are delighted to welcome Slifer Designs to our Vail boutique,” McLemore said. “I have known of Beth Slifer from years of visiting and skiing in Vail. We certainly share similar client profiles and believe in giving back to the community. To be able to give more to charity is one of the reasons I started this business.”


The store is already planning soirees and special offerings throughout the winter, allowing for new items and Slifer’s design know-how to pour through the doors. McLemore will be introducing her new spring collection in late January.

Slifer and McLemore are hosting an afternoon jazz event on Jan. 2 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. to benefit the Vail Jazz Foundation’s Jazz Goes to School program. A percentage of Nina McLemore and Slifer Designs at Nina McLemore will be donated to the foundation from Jan. 2-16 when Vail Jazz is mentioned.

Interview with Tony Gulizia: Vail’s 4th, 5th graders in sweet spot

Interview with Vail Jazz Goes to School Director of Education, Tony Gulizia

by Steve Chavis for KUVO Jazz, KVJZ


Pianist-vocalist Tony Gulizia (Tony G.) has spent the last 18 school years surrounded by fourth and fifth graders at every school in Eagle County via the Vail Jazz Foundation‘s “Jazz Goes to School” program.  Gulizia said that early age is the “perfect” time for jazz education.

“Kids that age are a little more aware of jazz music, and they’re getting ready to perhaps start an instrument in elementary school or middle school,” said Gulizia.

A hot number for Jazz Goes To School is Henry Mancini’s theme to “The Pink Panther,” including Plas Johnson’s sax solo.  “They hear a walking bass, they hear the swing style, they hear the improvisation.”  The JGTS curriculum includes the African roots of jazz and a jazz quintet performance.

“Vail Jazz Foundation founder Howard Stone has always had a deep appreciation for the importance of educating young students about America’s great music form,” said Gulizia.  “Jazz Goes To School” has reached nearly 20,000 fourth and fifth graders since 1996.