Vail Jazz receives largest donation in its history from Starwood Hotels CEO

Rapidly expanding Vail Jazz receives largest donation in its history and is set to launch blockbuster festival yet again

When Howard Stone founded Vail Jazz 21 years ago, the organization was a one-weekend wonder. Welcoming well-known and respected jazz artists from across the country, the “Vail Jazz Party” over Labor Day weekend was regarded by hundreds of music fans as the grand finale of their summer. Over the past two decades the “Party” has been expanded into an annual summer-long festival and this year’s edition will feature over 60 performances at venues throughout the Vail Valley, including weekly shows at Vail Square, Vail Farmers Market, The Remedy and Vail Chophouse, with an estimated attendance of over 20,000. In addition, five years ago a Winter Jazz series was added that has grown dramatically in its short history. As the number of performances presented each year has expanded, so has the number of educational programs offered. Vail Jazz has a year-round educational outreach serving the youth of Eagle County – Vail Jazz Goes To School and Jammin’ Jazz Kids – as well as organizing the annual Vail Jazz Workshop for the past 20 years, which has welcomed 12 of the nation’s top teenage jazz musicians to learn from and then play alongside the established greats – their mentors – over Labor Day Weekend.

Vail Jazz has not only established itself as a cultural asset of our community, but has earned a reputation as an organization that is dedicated to preserving jazz through the presentation of the highest quality performances and educational programs in our nation.

From its inception in 1995 Vail Jazz has steadily grown each year with the addition of more performances and educational programs, but the organization’s growth spurt over the last four years is unprecedented.

“In the last four years, Vail Jazz has grown from 30 performances in the summer to 70 year-round,” says Vail Jazz Executive Director Robin Litt. “We have more than doubled our budget in the last two years alone.”

As a nonprofit, approximately 25 percent of the organization’s funding comes from ticket sales, but the highest percentage of Vail Jazz’s funding – over 50 percent – comes from individual donations. After a steady stream of generosity from both family foundations and individuals over the last two decades, Vail Jazz recently received its most generous donation to date, a $100,000 gift made by former Coca-Cola COO and Starwood Hotels CEO, Steven J. Heyer.

In August of 2014, Heyer was attending a Vail Jazz performance when he struck up a conversation with the individual sitting next to him, Vail Jazz’s Development Director, Owen Hutchinson. The two quickly determined that they shared a passion for jazz and Hutchinson invited Heyer to another Vail Jazz Festival performance that week. Heyer was taken aback by the extraordinary quality of the performances he had attended and wanted to learn more about Vail Jazz’s history and mission. Over the next 18 months as he learned about the breadth and quality of performances and music education opportunities that Vail Jazz offered throughout the year, Heyer decided he wanted to help Vail Jazz. The rest, as they say, is history.

“I firmly believe that Vail Jazz has the strategic positioning and the capability to be a remarkable organization on a much bigger stage. The fuel that makes that happen is having the financial flexibility to make wise investments. My gift is intended to give Vail Jazz the energy it needs to realize the potential that Howard and the staff has worked so hard to create over the past 22 years,” said Mr. Heyer.

The momentum behind Vail Jazz only continues to build. The recently released lineup for this summer’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square will be more sizzling than ever, find free jazz every Sunday as Colorado artists perform at Vail Jazz @ the Market, and mark your calendars for July 11, when nationally renowned vocalist Nicole Henry pays tribute to The Great Ladies of Song in a one-of-a-kind-performance. Vail Jazz will produce performances every Sunday night at The Remedy and Thursdays After Parties at the Vail Chophouse following the Vail Square shows. Lastly, the summer will once again wrap up with a red-hot extravaganza – The Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day Weekend. Keep tabs on all the great things to come at vailjazz.org.