Workshop Welcomes 2019’s Teenage Prodigies

Meet two students training in this week’s intensive 2019 Vail Jazz Workshop

The flight to Colorado to attend the Vail Jazz Workshop marked Natalie Barbieri’s first time on an airplane. However, like all of the young musicians selected for the workshop, the 17-year-old from Long Island, NY, has notched several experiences outside the range of “typical” for most teenagers. For instance, she regularly performs until 4 a.m. at a West Village bar on Monday nights (dragging her parents along, since she’s not 18) in a jam session run by Billy Joel’s former saxophonist. She’s attended Manhattan School of Music’s pre-college program for the last four years, spent the summer with Berklee College’s Women in Jazz Collective and has big plans for her future. Right now it’s the Vail Jazz Workshop, an intensive, week-long learning session featuring 12 of the nation’s top teenage musicians (selected from about 150 applicants). The week of ear-learning and focused improvisation culminates with students performing on stage for the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Party alongside their workshop mentors, Vail Jazz Party House Band pros John Clayton, Dick Oates, Terell Stafford, Lewis Nash, Wycliffe Gordon and Bill Cunliffe.

“I didn’t have much of a chance to travel when I was younger,” Barbieri says. “There’s a lot I want to accomplish. I want to be a performer, I want to release my own music. I want to see the world.”

One of Barbieri’s earliest musical memories was at a family event in which a big band was performing and she climbed on stage to join them.

Natalie Barbieri. ABOVE: Anton Kot – photo by Todd Rosenberg.

“My parents were busy having a conversation and when they turned around, I was dancing on stage with the big band. I don’t know what it was … there was something I was drawn to,” the teenager recalls.

Growing up with a music teacher mother, it wasn’t much longer before Barbieri, at barely 3 years old, sat down at the piano.

“I came and sat down at my mom’s piano and I started figuring it out … one note and then two,” she says. “Then my mom called my father and said, ‘we have a problem … because she’s playing ‘Brick House.’”

Learning by ear from this tender age, it wasn’t until Barbieri was about 13 that she took up the alto saxophone after also learning the clarinet and focusing on classical music. It was the sax that allowed her to truly connect the music with her emotions.

“With jazz and saxophone, I could put my own feeling into it,” she says. “I think it was the spontaneity of it, the fact that people could put their emotions in it and create something on the spot.”

Now when Barbieri plays, whether it’s on stage performing or practicing at home – glancing at the clock to see that it’s 1 p.m. and glancing back what feels like moments later to see that it’s somehow 6 p.m. – she gets lost in the feeling of it.

“It’s hard for me to explain for people who haven’t seen me play. When I’m performing, I go someplace else,” she says. “My mother tries to record me, but I hate watching myself on the playback. You can see that I’m somewhere else. It’s very spiritual sounding … but I close my eyes and leave my body.”

Growing up in Brooklyn, Anton Kot also began developing his innate passion and talent for music at an incredibly young age … specifically, in his high chair as a baby. He was drawn, quite literally, to a different beat.

“I repeated two notes when hungry as an infant and extended those notes as a way of helping myself go to sleep,” he says, adding that he has photos of himself playing chopsticks in a family favorite Asian restaurant as a 1-year-old. “I played anything in sight…bread loaves, tin cans and cellar doors. I could mimic sounds so closely that they confused people in the subway. I was able to re-present the sounds of the L Train moving, yet it was standing still. I have always been very drawn to sound.”

As a child, this tractor beam pulled Kot into musical experiences all around New York City. Latin artist Louie Miranda noticed a 4-year-old Kot drumming along in the audience at a botanical garden performance and called him up to the stage. Kot continued to perform with Miranda’s band for thousands of people around the city throughout his childhood. He’d also attend Brazilian percussion performances in local parks, build instruments with artist Ken Butler at his SOHO studio, stop for Peruvian panpipe and plastic bucket drum performances in the subways. Eventually, Kot and his family moved to Connecticut, where the young musician joined the Neighborhood Music School in New Haven, studying with Jesse Hameen II, Rina Kinber and Istvan B’Racz. In sixth grade, he joined Thelonious Monk III on stage at Woolsey Hall.

Today, at age 17, he attends Manhattan School of Music and not a second of his waking life –and not many when asleep – go by when he’s not working out a beat.

“I will awake and play the piano before going to school. If I am late, it may be because I needed to record some new ideas that happened in my sleep,” he says. “Sometimes I awake in the middle of the night and will record something new.”

He uses the hour and a half-long drive to Manhattan School of Music to do homework. He does the same on the way home, unless he’s practicing something he learned that day. Some evenings, he plays gigs around the city. Others, he travels to Wesleyan University to participate in the Advanced Gamelan Ensemble. On Sundays, he returns to NYC to practice in an ensemble at Jazz at Lincoln Center. On Mondays, he plays a gig at Dizzy’s Club. He comes to Vail on the heels of a jazz tour in Asia with famed trumpeter Sean Jones and Grammy winner Kurt Elling and sharing the stage at Carnegie Hall with Vail Jazz favorite Wycliffe Gordon.

Studying under Gordon and the other ace instructors at the Vail Jazz Workshop, Kot hopes to learn something new and ultimately, to impart something himself down the line to young musicians and audiences everywhere.

“I would like for my music to be useful to others in positive ways,” he says. “I like the idea of offering something that can reduce the stress of people’s daily responsibilities, to take people out of this pattern of habit and let go and enjoy themselves. I have a true sense of myself when playing. When performing, I can feel that no one can disturb me. I am in a place that is inside-out. At the same time, I always depend on the environment, the space, the people in the audience, the bass player, the pianist, the horn section and so-on. I love when everyone is making a connection, and the moment when you can feel that connection taking place.”

In addition to Anton Kot on drums and Natalie Barbieri on alto sax, the 2019 Vail Jazz Workshop features teenage musical prodigies Ethan Avery and Max Nierlich on trumpet, Joey Ranieri and Gavin Gray on bass, Seth Finch and Vittorio Stropoli on piano, Jett Lim and Benny Conn on trombone, Miguel Russell on drums and Nico Colucci on tenor saxophone.

Vail Jazz All-Stars Aug. 29 at Vail Square

Catch the Vail Jazz Workshop students after their transformation into the Vail Jazz All-Stars, kicking off the 25th Annual Vail Jazz Party and a triple header performance beginning at 6 p.m. Aug. 29 at the all-weather Jazz Tent at Vail Square in Lionshead. Their performance will be followed by workshop graduates turned professionals, the Vail Jazz Alumni Quintet and then the masters themselves, the Vail Jazz Party House Band: John Clayton on bass, Dick Oates on alto sax, Bill Cunliffe on piano, Lewis Nash on drums, Terell Stafford on trumpet and Wycliffe Gordon on trombone. Tickets are $55.

A moment in the life of a musical prodigy

Esteban Castro was running to escape the rain before the biggest experience of his young life, performing in the prestigious Montreux Jazz Piano Competition in Switzerland. Only 13, he was the youngest pianist in the history of the contest and was up against extraordinarily talented adults from all over the world. He’d been practicing a steady 13 hours a day back home in New Jersey leading up to the competition. It was two days before his performance and he was outside enjoying the stunning Swiss landscapes when it started pouring. He ran toward cover, slipped, fell and landed on his right hand.

“It was swollen; looked and felt terrible. I think it may have been broken. It hurt more than I put on. I didn’t say how much it hurt because I still wanted to participate,” recalls Castro.

In a cinematic feat of overcoming adversity, Castro entered the contest and powered through the pain. Uninhibited, his hands fluttered up and down the keys.

He won.

“It was one probably the most rewarding experience I’d ever had,” he says. “I was completely shocked when I won.”

This tenacity – not to mention modesty – is characteristic of the teenage musical prodigies that participate in the Vail Jazz Workshop, the 2018 edition of which is underway this week, featuring 12 carefully selected young musicians from across the country.

The group was vetted from more than 150 highly qualified applicants for the 23rd edition of the workshop. Led since its inception by iconic jazz bassist John Clayton, the Vail Jazz Workshop has cultivated some of the nation’s top professional jazz musicians and features fellow Vail Jazz Party House Band members and mentors Jeff Clayton, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford and Lewis Nash. The week-long workshop is comprised of intimate and intensive training – two students to one mentor – focusing on the art of improvisation and playing by ear. Upon “graduation,” the group of students becomes the Vail Jazz All-Stars, performing on the same stage as their mentors in the 24th Annual Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend.

“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’” John Clayton says of the students.

Turning 16 during his time in Vail, Castro is very much looking forward to the workshop with his musical heroes. In addition to the Montreux Jazz victory, he’s won numerous other major awards in his young career, recorded three albums and has been performing around New York City for the last several years – making his Blue Note debut at age 10. He wrote his first composition at age 6 and began tinkering on a toy piano as an infant, his parents renting him his first real piano at age 4. When asked how much of his free time he spends at the piano these days, Castro is momentarily confused by the question.

“It’s pretty much all of my free time,” he says.

“I find that my best stuff comes out in a natural way,” he says. “It’s less of a meticulous process and more of a creative process. The stuff I’ve written I’m most proud of, I’ve written in a short amount of time, maybe 30 minutes. I love the feeling of connecting with an audience. I want to play all over the world and make people happy with my music. That’s what it’s all about.”

Meet the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop students

In addition to Castro, the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop includes fellow pianist Eugene Kim. The 17-year-old South Korean was invited to play at the Newport Jazz Festival and has attended the New England Conservatory’s preparatory school and Jazz Lab, winning numerous awards including the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education’s gold medal, first place at the UNH Clark Terry Jazz Festival, first place at the Berklee High School Jazz Festival and Downbeat Magazine’s Student Music Award for Outstanding High School Jazz Soloist Performance. Bassists include Rhode Island native and Grammy Band finalist Ian Banno, 17, who was selected for the Berklee Global Jazz Institute Workshop at the Newport Jazz Festival. Also, Los Angeles native and bassist Dario Bizio, 16, has played in a variety of school-based bands, orchestras, combos and ensembles. Trumpet players include 17-year-old Florida native Summer Camargo, who has been principal trumpet and section leader for the Dillard Center for the Arts Jazz Band and Wind Orchestra, lead trumpet for the All Jazz Band of America, lead trumpet of the All-County Jazz Band and has played in Florida’s All-State Jazz Band. California resident Joey Curreri, 18, won the National YoungArts competition and has been a member of several Grammy bands, played in the Monk Peer-to-Peer All-Star Sextet and received the Los Angeles Jazz Society’s Shelly Manne New Talent Award. From Massachusetts, trombonist Nate Jones, 16, believes in bringing personality to his music and has won numerous awards from the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education, five Stanford Jazz Awards including Outstanding Soloist and three Outstanding Musicianship Awards from the Clark Terry Jazz Festival. After his father introduced him to trombone as a small child, Arlington, VA’s Zach Niess, 18, has played with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Summer Jazz Academy Milt Hinton Big Band, the Grammy Band, a YoungArts combo, the Arlington Youth Symphony and will be attending the Frost School of Music at the University of Miami. Traveling from Olympia, Wash., saxophonist Willie Bays, 16, was accepted into the Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, has performed in Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola in NYC, the Montreal Jazz Festival, Toronto Jazz Festival and the Rochester International Jazz Festival and has his own quartet. New York native and sax player Coby Petricone-Berg, 17, has played in numerous bands, including the Manhattan School of Music PreCollege Jazz and Berklee Global Jazz Institute at Newport Jazz Festival, was as a Grammy® Jazz Camp Finalist and a National YoungArts Merit Award winner. Also a Precollege Jazz Student at Manhattan School of Music, drummer Varun Das studies with greats Tony Moreno and Tommy Igoe, has played in the Grammy Jazz Band, the Manhattan School of Music Precollege Big Band, the Princeton Symphonic Brass Group and has toured Europe with the New Jersey Youth Symphony. Last but not least, 17-year-old drummer Michael Manasseh of Massachusetts incorporates a myriad of styles into his rhythms – rock, funk, Latin, Afro-Cuban, Indian and West African. He was a Grammy® Band Finalist and has won many awards, including Outstanding Soloist in the Charles Mingus High School Competition, the Massachusetts Association for Jazz Education Outstanding Musicianship Award (twice), and Berklee High School Jazz Festival Outstanding Musicianship Award.

Live in Vail Aug. 30

See the 2018 Vail Jazz Workshop students in their newly found stardom. To kick off the 2018 Vail Jazz Party, it’s a triple bill at the all-weather Jazz Tent in Lionshead’s Vail Square beginning at 6 p.m. with the Vail Jazz All-Stars followed by the Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni Quintet at 7 p.m. and wrapping up with an 8 p.m. performance by the mentors themselves, the star-studded Vail Jazz Party House Band – John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon and Lewis Nash. 

Go here for tickets.

Alumni CD Releases 2017

2017 was the 100th anniversary of the first jazz recording as well as the centennial of many jazz greats: Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and Ella Fitzgerald to name a few. If the following releases are an indicator of anything it is that the jazz tradition is still going strong. All the albums below feature one […]

Alumni Spotlight: Eddie Barbash (’05)

Saxophonist Eddie Barbash attended the Vail Jazz Workshop in 2005. If you have watched late night TV any point over the past two years chances are you’ve seen Jon Batiste and Stay Human, the house band for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. The band has had several Vail Jazz Alumni sit in for shows […]

Preorder your 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop CD today!

The pre-order of the 2017 Vail Jazz All-Stars double CD is now available for purchase! CDs will be shipped no later than December 1, 2017. After 10 days of intensive study, the 12 students that are selected every year to participate in the Vail Jazz Workshop are proudly billed as the “Vail Jazz All-Stars.” This double cd features the 2017 Vail Jazz All-Stars, and their performances from Thursday, August 31 – Sunday, September 3 at the 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Party.

Listen to a preview of the tracks here!

Pre-order your CD today:

ALTO COMBO

Marvin Carter (alto sax), Zach Guzman Mejia (trombone), Geoff Gallante (trumpet), Clay Eshleman (piano), Peter Glynn (drums), Tony Golden (bass)

TENOR COMBO

Chris Ferrari (tenor sax), Sam Keedy (trombone), James Haddad (trumpet), Ari Chais (piano), Kofi Shepsu (drums), Ben Feldman (bass)

TRACK LIST INCLUDES:

Room 608 (Horace Silver)
Nica’s Dream (Horace Silver)
Evidence (Thelonious Monk)
Blame it on the Altitude (John Clayton)
One by One (Wayne Shorter)
Witch Hunt (Wayne Shorter)
Spring is here (Richard Rogers and Lorenz Hart)
New Orleans Medley: Black and Blue (Louis Armstrong) and Mack the Knife (Kurt Weill)
Stablemates (Benny Golson)
Free For All (Wayne Shorter)

At Vail, Stellar Jazz Faculty Fosters Exceptional Young Talent (Downbeat Magazine)

By Paul de Barros for DownBeat Magazine, 9/25/17

“It’s something you hear about a lot,” said Georgia-based pianist Clay Eshleman of the Vail Jazz Workshop, standing beside the white tent in Vail Square, where he and the other 11 Vail Jazz All-Stars had delivered a crisp performance to a cheering crowd. “It is so special to be here.”

Indeed. Eshleman joins the ranks of pianist Robert Glasper, saxophonist Grace Kelly and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire as an alumnus of a workshop festival that stands out for its superior musical quality, extraordinary level of intimacy—six instructors for 12 students (a pair of sextets)—and for the way students are generously integrated into performances. Student groups played almost every day this year and also sat in at nightly jams with the likes of guest artists Ken Peplowski and Dick Oatts on reeds and Butch Miles and Jeff Hamilton on drums.

The culmination of a weeklong workshop, the Vail Jazz Party runs over Labor Day Weekend (Aug. 31–Sept. 4). Inspired by Colorado’s intimate Gibson’s jazz gatherings of yore, where artists and audience would mix and mingle, the Jazz Party is part of the area’s summer-long Vail Jazz Festival, produced by founder Howard Stone, the recipient of this year’s DownBeat Jazz Education Achievement Award. Performances took place in the grand ballroom of the Vail Marriott and at the outdoor tent in Vail Square, in the area called Lionshead, surrounded by the gigantic, evergreen- and aspen-painted shoulders of the Rocky Mountains, where ski runs serve as a summer magnet for mountain bikers and hikers.

The stellar faculty—workshop leader John Clayton (bass), Lewis Nash (drums) Terell Stafford (trumpet), Jeff Clayton (alto saxophone), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone) and Bill Cunliffe (piano)—served as the party house band and was abetted by guests that included, among others, the captivating Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg and by a quintet of workshop alums that included the remarkable, 22-year-old pianist James Francies.

Francies (thunderous, fearless, outside-the-lines) and  Peplowski (artful, fleet and dulcet-toned) were often at the center of the party’s many musical highlights, which hewed to the mainstream.

On a Sunday session devoted to Latin and Brazilian rhythms, Peplowski and Australian reedist Adrian Cunningham gamboled through a dazzling clarinet-flute duo by Pixinguinha. It was also a pleasure to watch how Peplowski warmly welcomed young Denver-area reed player Chris Ferrari to one of the late-night jams.

Houston native Francies, a 2012 alum who recently signed with Blue Note, took the crowd’s breath away as his cascades of substitute chords and machine-gun runs illuminated Charles Mingus’ “Nostalgia In Times Square.”  Other delights included the outsized organ trio of the diminutive Akiko Tsuruga, powered by Hamilton, who, along with Miles, gave textbook demonstrations in big band drumming as they took turns anchoring Denver’s H2 Big Band in a tribute to Buddy Rich.

The Rich program was accompanied by vivid film excerpts of the drummer, including closeups of his incredible left hand, and concluded with a Q&A in which Hamilton talked about Rich’s extraordinary prowess. This was one of three audience-education programs—others focused on Cole Porter and Mongo Santamaria—that dovetailed nicely with the jazz party’s instructional mission.

It was a privilege to see that mission accomplished in real time. At a debriefing session one morning, Clayton delivered a stirring, no-nonsense sermon to his young charges about how to navigate the jazz life, after which Nash, during a rehearsal of a New Orleans-style medley arranged by Gordon, called out one of the drummers for not giving his all. You can bet that during the performance the next day, everyone on stage was “all in.”

As Clayton said, only semi-facetiously, on stage one afternoon, teachers spent the week putting their “foot on the necks” of the students. It was a grueling workout, and no one seemed to mind.

“Just to hang out all week with these masters gives you an amazing amount of energy,” said drummer Kofi Shepsu, of Richmond, Virginia.

Alexandria, Virginia, trumpeter Geoffrey Gallante, the most musically mature player, agreed that the collective wisdom of the instructors delivered a message of “humility.”

In addition to Gallante, Shepsu, Ferrari and Eshleman, the 2017 class included Seattle bassist Ben Feldman, Brooklyn alto saxophonist Marvin Carter, Israeli-born pianist Ari Chais, New Jersey drummer Peter Glynn, Colorado bassist Anthony Golden, Las Vegas trombonist Zach Guzman Mejia, Brooklyn trumpet James Haddad and Colorado trombonist Sam Keedy.

Make a note of those names. And put the 2018 Vail Jazz Party on your calendar. It’s going to be around a while. A record 3,500 seats were filled this year by the predominantly older crowd, which contributed $87,000 to the festival’s fundraising drive. And don’t be put off by the exclusive-sounding locale. Summer hotel rates are surprisingly low and reasonable restaurants can be found. As student Eshleman said, Vail is a very special occasion. DB

Young musical talent is about to be amplified

Meet members of the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop

Growing up listening to his Caribbean mother’s Calypso music, Marvin Carter knew that music was his calling. The high school senior spends five to six hours a day playing the alto saxophone, and it never feels like a chore.

“It’s a way of life, me playing the saxophone,” says the teenager from Brooklyn, New York, who is one of 12 students selected nationwide from a sea of 150 incredibly qualified applicants for the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop. “I play as much as I can. It’s something I wake up to do.”

Over the last 22 years, the teenage musical prodigies that comprise the Workshop arrive in Vail with resumes more stacked than most adults at the end of their careers. Carter, for example, began playing the sax in fourth grade and performs with the Performance Music Workshop Big Band, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Youth Band, Arturo O’Farrill’s Fat Cat Band, the LaGuardia New Music Ensemble and the Brooklyn College Big Band.

He is himself an instructor to young musicians and has also taught the occasional adult. Before he was 12 years old, Carter began playing in a community band and met a retired police officer whom he began teaching.

“I was fortunate to meet David Coleman when he was working at perfecting his craft,” Carter says. “I helped him out with rhythms. For my 12th birthday he surprised me and gave me my saxophone that I’m using to this day. He’s still pretty much my best friend.”

Friendships certainly abound from the Vail Jazz Workshop, but first and foremost come the skills that the young musicians often don’t realize they possess. The Workshop hones in on intensive play-by-ear training with a team of award-winning musician mentors – John Clayton, who has led the program since its inception 22 years ago, Jeff Clayton, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon, Terell Stafford and Lewis Nash.

“It’s about balance,” John Clayton says of the Workshop, which has cultivated more than 200 young musicians since its inception, many of whom have gone on to become Grammy winners and successful professional musicians. “The person who can play by ear and read music and understand theory has more choices.”

Chris Ferrari, a tenor sax player in the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop group, is eager to expand the choices of his repertoire. About to start his junior year at Denver School of the Arts, Ferrari has won multiple Downbeat Student Music Awards and was turned onto Vail after watching his friend, 2016 Vail Jazz Workshop alumni Gabe Rupe perform last year.

“Gabe was always one of those people to blow me away. Just seeing the level of talent that came out of the program, I was like, this is no joke. It’s ridiculous to be able to work with John Clayton and all the mentors with such intensity. There is no doubt it will change your outlook and ability as a musician,” Ferrari says.

Ferrari believes that the most important aspect of performing and particularly of improvising on stage is “creating a beautiful story.”

“A lot of times there’s so much vocabulary, patterns and scales … technical aspects to incorporate into our playing, far too often it gets overplayed,” the teen says.

Ferrari anticipates that the Vail Jazz Workshop will serve as a springboard for a flourishing profession of Lincoln Center and Blue Note performances.

“I think it’s always good to dream big. I’ve always had goals of playing on big stages,” he says. “I’ve been able to see people not much older than me doing that. You have to dedicate yourself. If you’re into music and it’s something you want to do, you should be able to share that with the world.”

In addition to Carter and Ferrari, the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop is comprised of bass players Ben Feldman from Seattle and Colorado native Anthony Golden. Drummers include Kofi Shepsu from Richmond, VA and Peter Glynn from Maplewood, NJ. Clay Eshleman from Marietta, GA and Ari Chais from Tel Aviv, Israel are the group’s pianists, Geoffrey Gallante from Alexandria, VA and James Haddad from Brooklyn the trumpeters and Zach Guzman Mejia of Las Vegas and Sam Keedy of Greeley on trombone.

 

“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,” John Clayton says. “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.’”

 

Vail Jazz @ Vail Square Aug. 31

To kick off the 2017 Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Party, it’s a triple bill grand finale of Vail Jazz @ Vail Square begins at 6 p.m. on Aug. 31 with the Vail Jazz Workshop All-Stars followed by the Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni Quintet (?). The extravaganza wraps up with the mentors themselves, the star-studded Vail Jazz Party House Band – John Clayton, Jeff Clayton, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon and Lewis Nash. For tickets, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.

Meet the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop

Each year in late summer, a dozen of North America’s most gifted young jazz musicians come to Vail for one of the nations most highly regarded pre-college study programs. Now in its 22nd year, the Workshop is conducted exclusively, and uniquely, without any written music, emphasizing listening skills, improvisation, and playing by ear. Over ten very long days and nights, these twelve young jazz wunderkinds learn and perform in a high pressure environment of talented peers, world-renowned instructors, and legendary professional musicians at the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend.

By anecdote, reputation and word-of-mouth, the 12 annual Workshop slots are among music’s most coveted scholarships for high school jazz players. The Workshop professors are legendary jazz artists including Workshop director John Clayton (bass), Jeff Clayton (saxophone), Bill Cunliffe (piano), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone), Lewis Nash (drums), and Terell Stafford (trumpet).

Once again, there were a record number of Workshop hopefuls—more than 150 this year—vying to join the distinguished cadre of 250 alumni. This year’s twelve students are: Marvin Carter (alto sax), Ari Chais (piano), Clay Eshleman (piano), Ben Feldman (bass), Chris Ferrari (tenor sax), Geoffrey Gallante (trumpet), Peter Glynn (drums), Anthony Golden (bass), Zach Guzman Mejia (trombone), James Haddad (trumpet), Sam Keedy (trombone), and Kofi Shepsu (drums). Learn more about the students who comprise the 2017 Vail Jazz Workshop.

Many Workshop alumni have advanced to highly successful careers, garnering Grammy® recognition, recording opportunities, and tours and performances at notable jazz venues and music festivals throughout the world. The success of our Workshop graduates, and their glowing accolades for the Vail experience, provide ever greater reinforcement for the stellar reputation of the Workshop as one of the finest performing jazz incubators in the world.

Vail Jazz honored for paving educational path

Founder Howard Stone receives prestigious Downbeat Jazz Education Achievement Award.

Howard Stone has served as more than just a springboard for many young musicians’ career paths. But you’d be pressed to get him to admit it.

Try asking him about all the years he hosted the crew of Vail Jazz Workshop students in his very own home or about the time he personally bought shoes for a particularly necessitous young student and he consistently plays down his role.

So it’s no surprise when asking him about the extremely prestigious award he won this spring – the Jazz Education Achievement Award from Downbeat Magazine – that he immediately deflects all credit.

“I’m not an educator,” he says. “There is no question I started the program, but I want the individuals who actually educate to be recognized. It’s one thing to sit in a room and dream up an idea. Sometimes you want to slap idea people.”

Nobody wants to slap Stone. They just want to give him the award.

The education program he “dreamed up” is the Vail Jazz Workshop, launched 22 years ago when Stone realized after one year of organizing the Vail Jazz Festival that he should also establish a tideway for the future of the art form, enlisting famed bassist John Clayton as head mentor.

Each year, the Workshop hosts 12 of North America’s top teenage musical prodigies for 10 intensive days of focused training, all without the help of written music. Since the inaugural workshop, the team of educators has included John Clayton and his brother, saxophonist Jeff Clayton (whose role was temporarily filled by Dick Oates for two seasons), as well as pianist Bill Cunliffe. Trumpeter Terell Stafford and drummer Lewis Nash joined the mentor team 21 and 17 years ago, respectively, followed by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon six years ago.

“There is a healthy understanding of the importance of “giving back, moving things forward and investing in the future,” John Clayton says of the Workshop.

“Some of it gets to be pretty emotional because you see the students at the beginning of the week and share so much,” Stafford adds. “You get to watch incredible relationships blossom.”

Attending the Vail Jazz Workshop has become such a benchmark achievement that organizers receive more than 140 applications from up-and-coming musicians for the 12 spots each year. All arrive with resumés reading like those of accomplished pros and leave with the distinctive, incomparable ability to play by ear.

The Vail Jazz Workshop has cultivated 250 students over the past two-plus decades and many have gone on to illustrious musical careers, including Grammy Award winner Robert Glasper, Beyoncé band member Tia Fuller and award-winning documentary Keep On Keepin’ On star Justin Kauflin.

“The Jazz Workshop allowed me to learn from some of the greatest jazz musicians around and gave me the chance to learn alongside peers that challenged and inspired me to strive to always improve,” Kauflin said during a return visit to Vail in 2014 with various other Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni.  “I’ve been able to keep in contact with faculty and students after the workshop and am so fortunate to be a part of such an elite network of musicians.”

Workshop days are intense. Step into any one of them and you are likely to find students glued to their instrument in heavy concentration of each note or clustered around the mentors, hanging on their every word. After the week of training, Workshops students graduate to the status of Vail Jazz All-Stars and get to take their freshly cultivated skills to the stage, opening the annual Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend, followed by a set from Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni and the mentors themselves, dubbed the Vail Jazz Party House Band.

 

But the education efforts of Vail Jazz continue all year. Following the advent of the Vail Jazz Workshop, Stone teamed up with local piano paragon Tony Gulizia to launch Vail Jazz Goes to School, a four-part educational series delivered to every elementary school in the valley. Here, fourth and fifth graders learn the art of syncopation, the 12-bar blues and improvisation as well as lessons in the history and evolution of jazz music. Since its inception in 1998, Vail Jazz Goes to School has educated more than 18,000 young students. Gulizia’s team is comprised of his brother, Joey Gulizia on drums, Andy Hall (bass), Roger Neumann (woodwinds), Mike Gurciullo (trumpet) and Michael Pujado (congas and percussion).

In 2013, also with Gulizia in the instructional seat, Stone’s next brainchild came into fruition. Vail Jazz introduced Jammin’ Jazz Kids, a free, hands-on class offered to 4 to 12-year-old children every Sunday in July preceding the weekly Vail Jazz@ The Market performance. Gulizia and fellow musician/mentor Brian Loftus equip the crowd of youngsters with xylophones, congas, tambourines, bongos and maracas, and within a few magical moments, the kids are thundering out amazing rhythms. For several children, the experience is pivotal in encouraging instrumental hobbies.

True that Stone is not the teacher conducting the hand-to-hand and ear-to-ear exchanges in these educational sessions, but they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for him.

“There’s something to be said for creators and something more to be said for doers,” he says.

But doers cannot do until the creation is in place. The musical community, young and old, novice and pro, have Stone to thank for this.

Altogether, Vail Jazz delivers more than 50 educational programs every year, imparting musical knowledge to more than 1,400 students annually.

2017 Vail Jazz Gala July 10

Vail Jazz’s educational programs would also not exist if it weren’t for the generosity of donors and supporters. The annual Vail Jazz Gala serves as the organization’s No. 1 fundraiser for its educational programming.

The July 10 event, From Bridge Street to Bourbon Street is bound to do exactly that –  transport audiences to the heart of New Orleans. Starring iconic, New Orleans-based vocalist John Boutté and a colossal combination of Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni, the evening delivers a soulful performance as well as an exquisite dinner, cocktail and appetizer reception. For more information or tickets, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.