Composing soundtracks for everyday moments

The every day experiences and encounters that might give the most thoughtful of people a few seconds of cerebral pause inspire Julien Labro to compose sophisticated melodies.

The French-born accordionist describes his song-writing inspiration as something that can happen “anywhere and everywhere.”

For example, I came up with one song while I was on the subway in New York City. I saw a little boy of about 1 or 2 sitting in his stroller. He looked so comfortable and chill. He was probably one of the coolest kids I’d ever seen. At that moment a tune came to me almost like a soundtrack for him,” Labro says, adding that he whistled the tune into his phone in order to record it once he got home.

“Another time, I was waiting on a visa to go on tour in India. I was leaving the next day, but still hadn’t gotten my passport back from the embassy. I got a tracking number for UPS and when I looked it up, the status said, ‘out for delivery.’ Of course, this was the status for hours. Finally, I couldn’t take it anymore and wrote a tune about the experience.”

This number, “Out for Delivery,” does indeed convey the emotion of the situation, the instrumental tune moving from relaxing, liquid refrains to frantic sweeps of high-speed inflection during which Labro lurches forward and backward with the effort of furious button-pushing. The number then glides into a hypnotizing rhythm punctuated by quick drum rolls and sporadic accordion solos. One can almost hear Labro’s inner dialogue moving from calming reassurances such as, “the package will turn up any minute” to the demanding frenzy of “where is it?”

“It’s more about capturing a feeling or a moment. I’m never sure when or what will evoke a feeling or create a memory that I want to capture and share,” Labro says.

The French musician initially met fellow New York City transplant Olli Soikkeli during a concert organized by Frank Vignola during which the Finnish guitarist performed as a guest.

“I was impressed by how well he could play and by how deep his voice is. I mean, have you heard him speak? All joking aside, he is a very talented guitarist,” Labro says.

Both musicians began playing their instruments as young boys, both inspired by the music of Django Reinhardt and The Hot Club of France before branching off into a vast array of genres and touring Europe and then the world with a variety of jazz greats. To name just a few, both have shared the stage with Bucky Pizzarelli and Tommy Emmanuel. Soikkeli has toured with Paulus Schäfer and Cyrille Aimee and Labro has collaborated with Grammy winners Jason Vieaux and Fernando Otero.

After the pair once again crossed tracks a couple of years ago at The Crested Butte Music Festival, they agreed to join forces and have since toured throughout the United States and Finland as well as recording the album Rise & Grind, comprised mostly of Labro originals as well a rendition of Reinhardt’s “Belleville,” Edvard Grieg’s “Danse Norvegienne” and even a steppy and intricate interpretation of Willie Nelson’s “On The Road Again.”

“Even though we met through the gypsy jazz scene, our music has evolved outside of the Django Reinhardt tradition,” Labro says. “Olli and I both also bring our own unique and eclectic backgrounds to the music, which includes classical, jazz, blues, world music, and even metal. As a result, while you may still be able to catch aspects of gypsy jazz, the music is actually deeply rooted in jazz, which provides us with more freedom to improvise and create.”

Don’t miss Julien Labro and Olli Soikkeli Quartet (featuring bassist Eduardo Belo and drummer Nick Anderson) at the 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on Feb. 21. The evening features two 75-minute performances. Doors open at 5:30 and the first performance launches at 6 p.m. The second seating takes place at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service featuring favorites from the Bully Ranch and a full bar will be available. For tickets or more information, call 970-479-6146.

 

Behind the outlaw blues

Phil Wiggins and George Kilby Jr. launch 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series!

When Phil Wiggins and George Kilby Jr. first crossed paths, they did not initially strike up a kinship over music. They originally bonded over the post-apocalyptic novel “Riddley Walker.” After one of them tossed out an off-handed reference to the obscure piece of literature and the other recognized it, they realized they shared an uncanny connection. Later, when paired with their individual euphonious talents, the two quickly discovered that this particular connection would ignite a profound, contagious energy.

“Phil is a virtuoso instrumentalist and I am at best a damn good guitar player,” Kilby Jr. says. “His virtuoso playing is a very important factor to that thing we do. But I bring to the partnership a songwriting ability and a unique way of approaching acoustic blues.”

The “blues” moniker is usually one that both musicians often shy away from when describing their own music, though it is the umbrella under which their sound typically falls.

“That word – blues – is sometimes good and sometimes not so good,” Kilby Jr. says. “Sometimes people have preconceived notion of what that is. Our thing is about writing great music and performing it.”

A native of Washington D.C., Wiggins took up the harmonica as a young boy. By the time he was a teenager, his fiery playing capabilities had gained him such notoriety that he was sitting in with the likes of blues icons Johnny Shines, Sunnyland Slim, Sam Chatmon, Robert Belfour and Howard Armstrong. He also caught the attention and admiration of infamous guitarist John Cephas, who invited the harmonica prodigy to form a duo. Throughout the ensuing three decades, the two performed on every continent other than Antarctica and in historic venues such as The White House, New York’s Carnegie Hall, London’s Royal Prince Albert Hall and the Sydney Opera House. They recorded more than a dozen albums and gleaned numerous blues awards. Since Cephas’ death in 2009, Wiggins has shared the stage with a gamut of other famed musicians, from guitarist Rev. John Wilkins to vocalist Eleanor Ellis. He’s appeared in films and has imparted his skills to countless young harmonica players.

Also, just last year, Wiggins joined the ranks of Cephas, B.B. King, Pops Staples, Mavis Staples and John Lee Hooker in receiving the National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment of the Arts. Wiggins is only one of three harmonica players to earn this honor in the Fellowship’s 35-year appropriation. Pinetop Perkins is another standout recipient of the Fellowship and it was aside the famed pianist that Kilby Jr. shared the stage and collaborated on a number of recordings over the years.

Born in Alabama, Kilby Jr. was drawn to the guitar and to “rough-cut American roots music” at a young age. It has since been his aim to produce his own brand of it, all while turning colorful life chapters studying at Princeton University, busking in Paris and recording or performing with an impressive variety of big name artists, including The Beach Boys, Henry Butler and Railroad Earth.

After fusing their talents many times on stage over the last seven years, Kilby Jr. and Wiggins joined forces to create and produce their first full-length album, which is set to be released on March 15.

Kilby Jr. describes the recording as “not what most blues fans would come to expect” – a collection of songs that evoke deep emotions as well as an intense brand of social consciousness.

When asked to name a highlight so far of his partnership with Wiggins, Kilby Jr. recounts a recent performance for an auditorium of young students in Loveland, where the duo are slated to return for a festival honoring Martin Luther King Jr. before their Vail Jazz performance.

“We were doing a program on racism and the blues and were playing our song, “Black Man on the Corner.” It refers to Eric Garner, who was on the corner selling cigarettes when he was killed,” Kilby Jr. says. “We did the concert with the kids … I’m getting choked up thinking about it. We asked them to sing along. These kids were in 8th grade, probably most of them didn’t know who Eric was. Then we heard them. They were all singing. It was incredible. ”

Don’t miss Phil Wiggins + George Kilby Jr. at the 2018 Vail Jazz Winter Series at Ludwig’s Terrace in The Sonnenalp on Jan. 17. The evening features two 75-minute performances. The first seating takes place at 6 p.m. (doors at 5:30 p.m.) and the second seating at 8:30 p.m. (doors at 8 p.m.) Tickets to each performance are $40 in advance. Seating is jazz club style around small tables. Dinner service featuring favorites from the Bully Ranch and a full bar will be available.

For tickets or more information, click here.

Celebrate jazz this Colorado Gives Day

On Tuesday, December 5th, Vail Jazz will join together with more than 40 nonprofits in the Vail Valley in a celebration of philanthropy called Colorado Gives Day. 

This day marks a 24-hour period in which supporters, beneficiaries, fans and followers of Colorado nonprofits give back to the organizations that they love most by making a tax-deductible donation. Plus, your gift will be amplified by a $1 million Incentive Fund, making your gift go even further.

Through educational programs that inspire more than 1,400 children to deepen their understanding of jazz, and 75+ performances that showcase the world’s most virtuosic jazz musicians, Vail Jazz passionately shares the rich history and exciting of future of jazz on an international scale.

This Colorado Gives Day, consider making a year-end contribution to Vail Jazz in support of the artistic impact that Vail Jazz makes on the cultural landscape of the Vail community, and the future of the genre.

Take a moment to hear Founder and Artistic Director Howard Stone speak about the importance of jazz in our community.
 
We are proud to share a few highlights of our work with you, accomplished over the past 365 days:
» Howard Stone and Vail Jazz educational programs were honored by DownBeat Magazine as the recipient of the 2017 Jazz Education Achievement Award, one of the industry’s most prestigious accolades.
» Vail Jazz presented 46 free performances, welcoming nearly 9,000 community members and visitors, and sold out 23 of 37 ticketed performances.
» Performances featured internationally celebrated jazz artists from 21 states and 12 countries, with over 40 Grammy nominations and 5 awards.
» Vail Jazz Goes to School celebrates its 20th Anniversary! Tony Gulizia and his sextet of master educators and instrumentalists have enriched the lives of more than 20,000 children since the program began in 1998.
» Alumni of the Vail Jazz Workshop released nearly 20 jazz albums in 2017, and appeared as band members, guest artists and soloists on countless other.
Make your gift to Vail Jazz today, which directly supports jazz education, world-class performing arts, and America’s quintessential art form. We are deeply appreciative of your contribution.
If you need assistance making your donation or have questions, please call Vail Jazz at 970.479.6146 and ask to speak with Owen Hutchinson.

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

From the 2017 Vail Jazz Party… A fly on the wall

A review of Friday’s performances by Shauna Farnell

The 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Party is off and running, the first two nights of performances thundering forth one barrage of talent and energy after another.

The highlights thus far have twinkled in a blinding array of sparkles too numerous to name.

Among them though, the unblinking, rapt attention of the 12 teenage musical prodigies while watching their mentors – the Vail Jazz Party House Band – perform for the first time, was a spectacle to behold. The teens are mainstays among the packed audiences at the evening and late night Vail Marriott sessions along with majority of nationally acclaimed professional musicians – more than 70 performing throughout the weekend. Many of the artists have been friends for decades and the Vail Jazz Party presents a happy reunion and rare opportunity for musicians to soak up one another’s power when not on stage.

The glow sticks handed out at Adrian Cunningham’s CD Release Party Friday night were a fun touch, as the Australian called upon the audience for a mass color wave at the end of his set, following an amusing lesson in “speaking Australian.” Cunningham’s set featured a lively demonstration of “bluegrass clarinet” in his original tune, “Appalachia,” which was accompanied by some impressive walking bass from the imitable John Clayton as Bill Cunliffe added light flourishes on the piano and Jeff Hamilton kept a steady, lightning fast beat.

Vail Jazz founder Howard Stone brought out a birthday cake for Danish vocalist Sinne Eeg, whose set hypnotized the full crowd with some cleverly shifted lyrics on Cole Porter’s “Anything Goes” and a powerful rendition of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “It Might as Well Be Spring.” She elicited a round of affirmative (and ironic) laughter from the audience in pointing out that “heartache is a gift for a musician.” Indeed.

The fusion of forces was show-stopping as Akiko Tsuruga, Jeff Hamilton, Graham Dechter and Terell Stafford took the stage, each rolling their combined magic into perfectly timed halts to let one another carry the light via solos.

Friday’s evening session, with set after set of powerhouse artists and world-class musicianship,  is just the beginning of a jam-packed weekend. If you haven’t checked it out yet, get to the Jazz Tent at Vail Square for an afternoon session or to the Vail Marriott . The Party goes all weekend.

To purchase tickets to the Vail Jazz Party click here, call 888.VAIL.JAM, or find us on-site at Vail Square in the afternoons and the Vail Marriott in the evenings.

The Singing and Guitar Playing Miracle

Born in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Ark., Sister Rosetta Tharpe (as she became known) was the child of African American cotton pickers. Little is known about her father, but her mother, Katie Bell Nubin, was an extremely important figure in her life. Katie was a congregant of the Church of God in Christ (COGIC), a black Pentecostal church, where she sang and preached in services that encouraged rhythmic music and “dancing in praise.” At age 4, Rosetta was celebrated in her community as a music prodigy, singing and playing guitar in church alongside her mother. By age 6, Rosetta was billed as the “Singing and Guitar Playing Miracle” and mother and daughter traveled throughout the South as part of a touring gospel and sermonizing group.

They settled in Chicago in the mid-1920s and performed at the 40th Street COGIC. Rosetta’s extraordinary talent created quite a stir in gospel circles and her fame began to grow. At 19, she married a COGIC preacher and by all accounts the only thing she got out of the marriage, which only lasted a few years, was her husband’s last name, “Thorpe,” which she altered to “Tharpe” and adopted it as her stage name.

In 1938, Katie and Rosetta settled in New York City and that year Rosetta recorded for the first time. The four sides on Decca were smash hits, including “This Train,” which propelled her to instant stardom and a long-term recording contract. Unfortunately, her combination of gospel-inspired lyrics with more profane music infuriated many of her core gospel audience, black churchgoers, who refused to support her as they found the non-gospel material blasphemous and were angered that Rosetta sang gospel lyrics in nightclubs that were “dens of sin.” Her cross-over to the secular side, however, greatly enlarged her overall audience, as many of her new white fans and had never heard black gospel music. She began to play an electric guitar and her playing took on more of a blues influence. Rosetta combined a driving rhythm with guitar licks that had an “attitude” and a commanding visual presence that presaged the guitar antics of rock musicians in the 1950s, while she sang gospel lyrics. She toured with gospel singer Marie Knight during the 1940s and they were billed as “The Saint and The Sinner.” Guess who was the Sinner. She claimed that she was contractually obligated to perform the type of material she was then performing, but the truth was a little more complicated than that. While Rosetta was deeply religious, she was also someone who loved the “swinging feel” of the blues and when performing, her exuberant manner and radiant smile transmitted an aura of heavenly pleasure, whether she was performing sacred or more worldly music.   

She had an extensive performance, recording and touring career well into the late 1960s, with a few ups and downs along the way. In some ways her life was not unlike the struggles described in the bible that she sang about – between good (sacred music) and evil (jazz/blues/R & B) and during most of her career she lurched back and forth between the two musically, and some would say, the same applied to the choices she made with respect to her personal life. She had a second failed marriage and there were rumors that she was bisexual and only married for appearance sake. As a publicity stunt in 1951 she married her third husband who was her manager before 25,000 people who paid to view her wedding at Griffith Stadium in Washington D.C. and then stayed for the concert that followed.

By the late 1950s her career appeared to be coming to an end, but she was given a reprieve in the 1960s when European audiences began to embrace American blues and she toured extensively on the Continent during that decade.  Suffering a stroke in 1970, Rosetta never fully recovered, performing sporadically until her death at the age of 58 in 1973.

Tragically buried in an unmarked grave, totally forgotten by her fans who had moved on to R&B and rock ‘n’ roll, Rosetta’s legacy appeared to have been buried with her. A black female guitar playing gospel singer didn’t easily fit the narrative of what the mainstream media was focused on in the 1970s.  However, in the 1980s and 1990s when the early rockers such as Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis began to tell the world that they had been greatly influenced by Rosetta, the media took notice. By 1998, the U.S. Post Office issued a commemorative stamp in Rosetta’s honor. NPR broadcast several segments honoring her. She was inducted posthumously into the Blues Hall of Fame. Her biography was written and a documentary film followed.  Thirty five years after her passing, a benefit concert in Rosetta’s memory was organized and funds were raised to place a headstone on her grave.  

Today Rosetta is not forgotten as she is now acknowledged as a pioneer who brought black gospel music to the masses in the 1930s and 1940s and most importantly that she was a women who broke down gender barriers as a guitarist who is now saluted as the “godmother of rock ‘n’ roll,” establishing herself as one of the most influential gospel/blues singers and guitarists of the mid-20th Century.

At 9 a.m. on Sept. 3 at Vail Square in Lionshead, Vail Jazz will once again present Niki Haris’ Gospel Prayer Meetin’. Niki will be joined by a gospel choir and an all-star band and will perform songs by Sister Rosetta Tharpe and other gospel greats in what promises to be an inspiring gospel show.

The art of the jam session

The Vail Jazz Party is a breeding ground for spontaneous and sometimes unlikely musical magic

Howard Stone likens a jazz jam session to a fantastic conversation. Sometimes you fall into a vibrant discussion that surprises you. It not only makes you feel alive with cognitive and creative power, but introduces  ideas and perspectives you’d never heard before. It causes you to walk away feeling inspired, even a better person. Such is the magic of the 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Weekend Jazz Party.

The beauty of the Vail Jazz Party is that in addition to the fact that every session features a collection of world-class musicians, each ensemble delivers a one-off spontaneous masterpiece that never be exactly reproduced or repeated.

“It’s an opportunity for each player to express themselves in a way that leads to something else, that leaves room for self-expression from every player,” explains Stone, Vail Jazz founder. “It’s a breakthrough moment in a jam session when someone is musically communicating and the other person says, ‘wow, I never thought of that.’ It’s a very creative moment. It takes someone – everyone – to places they’ve never gone before.”

From Friday through Monday, in addition to numerous multi-media performances, the Vail Jazz Party is comprised of morning, afternoon, evening and late-night sessions fusing soloists and band members who, in some cases, have never played together before. Combining individuals is a complex jigsaw puzzle for Stone to solve year after year, placing not only the necessary instruments for a complete ensemble, but matching talent and personalities who likely to sync and, hopefully soar.

“Chemistry is chemistry,” Stone says. “One time I put a jam session together with a guy who’d slept with another’s wife. They wouldn’t look at each other. You have to understand who will make music well, also who will work well from a personality standpoint. You want to put people together who will make a great conversation and will fascinate an audience with the conversation.”

Award-winning drummer and long-time Vail Jazz Party favorite Jeff Hamilton has experienced the magic of Stone’s match-making to the point that the sessions have led to lifelong friendships, tours and recording collaborations. A couple of years ago, Stone persuaded the drummer to share the stage with Japanese-born pianist Akiko Tsuruga. Hamilton was initially reluctant because he didn’t think their styles and approaches would pair well. The two have since performed numerous times and recorded two? Albums together. A similar bond emerged last year between Hamilton clarinet sensation Adrian Cunningham, whom collaborated on Cunningham’s forthcoming record (the release part is Sept. 1 during the Vail Jazz Party).

“In Adrian’s case and Akiko’s, we’ve listened to the same recordings and have the same vocabulary musically. You’ll go into this mode of playing, making everyone sound as incredible as they possibly can,” Hamilton says. “The other thing that happened last year … I was a last minute add-in with Diego Figueiredo. He realized I knew all the material he was going to play and he made a medley. It was like a five-tune medley. Neither of us knew it was going to happen, but the mutual trust … a sixth sense …  we just knew what to do. You feel like you could play forever.”

There is indeed a type of telepathy at work at the Vail Jazz Party. Adrian Cunningham calls it intuition. Of course, there is a lot of background and know-how involved, too.

“The thing about jazz, it uses a language and framework that is pretty universal,” Cunningham says. “Jazz is inclusive, embracing all levels and cultures and I think that’s why it’s so popular around the world. Even if you don’t speak the same language, you can connect musically.”

Whether it’s an American Songbook classic or a rare tune passed down from generations in a distant land, the Vail Jazz sessions deliver numbers with volcanic energy as if each ensemble had played and practiced together for weeks.

“You can wander from there, and the further you wander, the more exciting it is, because if you trust that it’ll work out, it always does,” Cunningham says. “As a musician, that gets so exciting. It’s like, what’s gonna happen? What are these guys gonna do?”

The affect of a successful Vail Jazz session is an epiphany. The Vail Jazz Party, if all goes well, leads to one epiphany after another, not just for the musicians, but for the audiences.

“The combination of all these musicians being in the same place at the same time doesn’t happen very often. Even when these guys are playing at a typical festival, they go on stage, they play, they may hear the next act or the act before them. Then they get on a plane and go someplace else,” Stone says. “Here, there’s this sense of, ‘wow, we’re all together making music.’ They’ve mastered the art of conversation. They know a lot about a lot of topics. It’s nirvana.”

The 23rd Annual Vail Jazz Labor Day Party

From Aug. 31 to Sept. 4, the Vail Jazz Party features more than 70 musicians delivering special performances, tributes and jam sessions. Tickets to sessions (which include multiple performances) start at $55. Weekend passes are also available. For full lineup of artists, performance schedule and tickets, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.