nominees each year


students accepted


workshop instructors


years and counting


workshop alumni


Each year, a dozen of North America’s most dedicated, gifted and promising young jazz musicians are chosen from a broad field of talented applicants, receiving scholarships to participate in the 10-day Vail Jazz Workshop in Vail, Colorado. Organized in conjunction with the Vail Jazz Party, this highly-regarded curriculum is now in its 26th year, mentoring nearly 300 high school-aged musicians since its inception.

The Vail Jazz Workshop, among the longest-running programs of its type, enables the student musicians to study and be coached in an environment that emphasizes intense interaction with instructors and fellow students, while providing them with the unique opportunity to perform alongside legendary professional musicians at the Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day Weekend.

It is a rigorous learning experience that is conducted exclusively, and uniquely, without any written music, emphasizing listening skills, improvisation, and group work. The curriculum for the workshop each year varies depending on what the faculty sees as most beneficial for the students.

By anecdote, reputation, and word-of-mouth—from students and professionals alike—the 12 annual slots at the Vail Jazz Workshop are among the most coveted music scholarships among pre-college jazz musicians today.

Many Workshop alumni have advanced to highly successful musical careers, garnering numerous awards, Grammy® nominations, albums, and tour dates with jazz greats, as well as fronting their own groups at notable jazz venues and festivals throughout the world. In a nod to the exceptional talent the Workshop has nourished over many years, the Vail Jazz Party features returning alumni—now professionals—to perform as the Vail Jazz Alumni Quintet.

The Workshop is directed by John Clayton, bass, Dick Oatts, sax, Bill Cunliffe, piano, Wycliffe Gordon, trombone, Lewis Nash, drums, and Terell Stafford, trumpet.  Each of these exceptional teachers is greatly in demand on the international jazz scene, often sacrificing far more remunerative opportunities to “pay it forward” by sharing their time and talents as teachers and mentors to aspiring jazz musicians.

Each year, a live recording of the performances by the Workshop students, billed as the “Vail Jazz All-Stars,” at the Vail Jazz Party is turned into a double CD, for sale to the public. All proceeds will be used to provide scholarships to students for the following year’s Workshop. The CD of the Vail Jazz All-Stars is available to purchase at Vail Jazz events or by calling a member of staff.


The Workshop will take place from August 26 to September 6, 2021.  The Vail Jazz Foundation is closely monitoring developments with respect to COVID-19 conditions and restrictions. It is anticipated that by late August Vail Jazz will be able to organize and present the Workshop in compliance with all health regulations and protocols then in effect.  However, Vail Jazz will only organize the Workshop if it is able to do so in a safe manner in compliance with all applicable regulations.  If it is determined that the Workshop cannot be presented in person because of COVID 19 related issues, the Workshop will be presented virtually.  It should be noted that last year the Workshop was presented online and it was a great success.

The application process consists of 1) a written application and 2) video audition. Links to the Application and Application Instructions are here. To be considered for admission an applicant must complete and submit all materials by May 14, 2021.

Full and partial scholarships to the Workshop are provided through the Jeff Clayton Educational Fund to all applicants who are admitted to the Workshop. Jeff Clayton was a founding faculty member of the Workshop who passionately taught and mentored Workshop students for a quarter century, inspiring and shaping the careers of jazz’s next generation. Always willing to share his knowledge and wisdom with his students, Jeff’s legacy lives on with the establishment of the Fund. For more information about scholarships see the Application Instructions mentioned above.


Clayton-Johnjohn clayton

Director of Education, Bass Instructor

John has directed the Workshop since its inception in 1996, and has been a major creative and educational force for the over 200 graduates. The Grammy winner and eight-time Grammy nominee began seriously studying the bass at 16 with Ray Brown. After touring with Monty Alexander and Count Basie & His Orchestra, he founded the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra and The Clayton Brothers together with his brother Jeff. He has written and arranged music for Diana Krall, Dee Dee Bridgewater (including her Grammy®-winning Dear Ella), Natalie Cole, Regina Carter, Milt Jackson, Nancy Wilson, Quincy Jones, George Benson and Paul McCartney. A devoted educator, John currently serves as president of the International Bassists Society, Artistic Director of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, Sarasota Jazz Festival and Centrum Jazz Workshop, and teaches at USC’s Thornton School of Music.

Stafford-Terellterell stafford

Trumpet Instructor

Grammy award winner and five time Grammy nominee, Terell has performed with groups such as Benny Golson’s Sextet, McCoy Tyner’s Sextet, Kenny Barron Quintet, Frank Wess Quintet, Jimmy Heath Quintet and Big Band, Jon Faddis Jazz Orchestra, Carnegie Hall Jazz Band and Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Alumni Band. He is the Director of Jazz Studies and Chair of Instrumental Studies at Temple University, founder and band leader of the Terell Stafford Quintet, and Managing and Artistic Director of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia. He is renowned in the jazz world as an educator, performer and leader along with countless award nominations, accolades and associated acts. He has conducted workshops and clinics with the Monk Institute, Juilliard Jazz Seminar, Jazz at Lincoln Center and Stanford Jazz Workshop, among many others.

dick oatts

Saxophone Instructor

Oatts moved to NYC in 1977 and shortly thereafter, joined the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Orchestra. Since then, he has toured, recorded, and performed as a sideman in small groups with Bob Brookmeyer, Red Rodney, Eddie Gomez, Mel Lewis, Jerry Bergonzi, Joe Lovano,  Terell Stafford, Ray Mantilla, Jon Faddis, David Berkman,  Fred Hersch, Joe Morello, Lalo Schiffrin and several others. Besides his star-studded performing career, Oatts is a decorated educator. For the past 35 years, Oatts has appeared at College Jazz Festivals as a soloist and clinician all over the world. Oatts is a professor at the Boyer School of Music and Dance at Temple University and has been an Artist-in-Residence at the Amsterdam Conservatory since 1998.


wycliffe gordon

Trombone Instructor

Wycliffe is one of the nation’s foremost music educators having held positions at Juilliard School of Music, Michigan State University, the  Manhattan School of Music in the Jazz Arts Program and currently is director of jazz studies at Augusta University. Selected as Downbeat Magazine’s Critics Choice for best trombonist in 2012, 2013 and 2014, Wycliffe has had a remarkable career, including membership in the Wynton Marsalis Septet and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra. He is regularly featured as guest faculty, teacher, clinician and conductor for All-State festivals, band clinics, the Louis Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp, the Int’l Trumpet Guild, the Int’l Trombone Festival and countless other high school and university programs and guest appearances.

Cunliffe-Billbill cunliffe

Piano Instructor

Jazz pianist, composer and Grammy Award-winning arranger Bill Cunliffe is known for his innovative and swinging recordings and compositions. Bill began his career as pianist and arranger with the Buddy Rich Big Band and worked with Frank Sinatra, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Benny Golson and James Moody. His many accolades include the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Award and multiple Grammy and Emmy nominations. He has established himself as a solo artist and bandleader, with more than a dozen albums under his name. Bill is Professor of Music at California State University Fullerton, where he was honored as “Distinguished Faculty Member” in 2010, and has taught at numerous institutions, workshops and clinics including the Skidmore Jazz Institute and Temple University.

Nash-Lewislewis nash

Drums Instructor

Named “Jazz’s Most Valuable Player” by Modern Drummer magazine, Lewis has one of the longest discographies in jazz and has played on over 400 records. He has performed or recorded with jazz immortals including Oscar Peterson, J.J. Johnson, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Betty Carter, Clark Terry, Stan Getz, Milt Jackson, Horace Silver, Ron Carter, Jim Hall and Ray Brown as well as with Wynton and Branford Marsalis. A noted educator, having served on the faculty of the Juilliard School of Music, Lewis founded The Nash in 2012, a nonprofit education and performance center in Phoenix, AZ.


Clayton-JeffJeff Clayton


Jeff was a founding faculty member of the Vail Jazz Workshop and instrumental in its development.  Vail Jazz is deeply indebted to Jeff for his many years of dedication to the hundreds of Workshop students whose lives he so enriched while sharing his knowledge and wisdom with them.