Internationally heralded jazz star Wycliffe Gordon headlines silver anniversary gala
When the years fly by and an organization like Vail Jazz finds itself celebrating its silver anniversary, there’s only one word for it: funk.
The event that serves as Vail Jazz’s biggest fundraiser (a.k.a., fuel for the multitude of free and subsidized educational programs and 85 performances it offers throughout the year) is embracing its funky side for its 25th Anniversary Celebration gala on July 8 with funk phenom and international jazz star Wycliffe Gordon.
“The first three letters of ‘funk’ spell ‘fun,’” Gordon says. “This is what the audience can expect to do … have f-u-n and celebrate the joy of living.”
A native of Georgia, Gordon is a former member of Wynton Marsalis’s band and has performed with the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Shirley Horn and Tommy Flanagan. He has more than 30 albums to his name as bandleader and for the last decade has ranked among the world’s most talented trombonists.
He’s also a guy who gives back to his craft. A founding faculty member of Julliard’s Jazz Studies program, Gordon is a beloved member of the Vail Jazz Party House Band and instructor at the Vail Jazz Workshop, which selects 12 of the nation’s top teenage musical prodigies for a week of intensive, play-by-ear, hands-on learning, culminating with performances alongside their acclaimed mentors at the Vail Jazz Party.
“The most outstanding experience with the kids comes when we receive letters about their experience spending a week with the mentors and their appreciation of the love shown and shared on both sides,” Gordon says of the Vail Jazz Workshop. “There’s nothing better than confirmation that you’ve ‘done it right’ by passing on the love for humanity through music.”
When Vail Jazz was first born 25 years ago, a brainchild of lifelong jazz fan Howard Stone, it was initially intended to be a one-time deal, a Labor Day weekend jazz party featuring around 27 of the world’s biggest jazz artists, including the likes of John Clayton and his brother Jeff Clayton, Phil Woods, Tommy Flanagan, Jack McDuff, Slide Hampton, Bobby Hutcherson, James Moody, Joe Wilder and Jeff Hamilton.
The experience proved life-changing for everyone involved – musicians and audience members alike. When it was over, Stone met with John Clayton and a fateful conversation ensued, sealing the bright future of the Vail Jazz Festival. It was the Grammy-winning bassist who wondered aloud whether the show should go on.
“He said in all earnest, ‘do you think you’ll ever do this again?’” Stone recalls. “I don’t know where it came from, but out of my mouth, came, ‘John, this is what I’m going to do with the rest of my life.’”
Fast forward 25 years and arrive at the year-round extravaganza that is the Vail Jazz Festival, evolved to include a whopping 85 live performances including the Vail Jazz Club Series and Vail Jazz @Vail Square, which bring in an eclectic array of nationally and internationally acclaimed artists, free weekly performances all summer starring top regional musicians – Vail Jazz @the Market, Vail Jazz @ Riverwalk and Vail Jazz @ the Remedy – and culminating with the event that started it all: the five-day-long Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend.
“All great things stand the test of time and experiences shared here in Vail are far-reaching and life-changing, which is why folks continue to show and the festival continues to grow,” Gordon says. “Over the years, the Vail Jazz Festival and Foundation have reached out to the community, locally and nationally, to make an impact on the fans and students alike through the performance of and preservation of jazz music.”
Not only is the 25th Anniversary Celebration a direct conduit in preserving the Vail Jazz Festival and its expansive programming (all proceeds go toward Vail Jazz education programs) but it’s also a rare chance to get your funk on and feel the magic for yourself.
“It’s an opportunity to witness the band sharing joy through musical presentation but we’re also encouraging folks to become active participants and join us in the groove by expressing their joy through dancing and singing along,” Gordon says.
Vail Jazz’s 25th Anniversary Celebration
When: 6 p.m. (5:30 p.m. VIP)
Where: Larkspur Restaurant Vail
What: An evening of live music with Wycliffe Gordon and his Funk Band, dancing, gourmet food stations, cocktails and auction.
Tickets/Info: Tickets include food, open bar, music, dancing and valet parking.
For more information, call 970-479-6146.