Vail Jazz turns 21 and celebrates with blowout party this Labor Day weekend!

It’s customary to go big for one’s 21st year. Vail Jazz is jumping on the bandwagon and pulling out all of the stops for its end-of-summer bash.

Following an entire summer of buildup with weekly concerts featuring a steady stream of today’s hottest jazz artists — many of whom formed in Vail for the first time — the 21st annual Vail Jazz Party brings five days of live music through Labor Day weekend and a more star-studded lineup than ever before.

VAIL JAZZ PARTY HIGHLIGHTS

Thursday, Sept. 3

The party kicks off with the season’s Vail Jazz @ Vail Square finale, featuring a triple bill in the jazz tent in Lionshead Village. The evening begins with 12 teenage proteges carefully selected from 150-plus applicants — the Vail Jazz All-Stars — who will have spent the week vigorously studying with seasoned pros from the Vail Jazz House Band. Then comes the Alumni Quintet — comprised of former students and current rising stars Lauren Falls, Sophie Faught, Evan Sherman, Jumaane Smith and Jeremy Siskind. The performance wraps up with a thunderous set by the Vail Jazz Party House Band, starring John Clayton, Lewis Nash, Terell Stafford, Bill Cunliffe, Wycliffe Gordon and Dick Oatts. All three bands will perform several times throughout the Vail Jazz Party, the All-Stars playing for free at the Jazz Tent in Lionshead at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 5 and6).

As for the performances Sept. 4-7, the list of artists and performances rivals that of internationally-renowned events like the Newport or Montreal jazz festivals.

Friday, Sept. 4

Running with Vail Jazz’s summer theme of amazingly talented musicians who happen to be women, Sept. 4 kicks off with a screening of the award-winning documentary “The Girls in the Band,” detailing the largely untold stories of female jazz musicians from the 1930s to today, featuring the likes of trombone player Melba Liston, trumpeter Clora Bryant, pianist Marian McPartland, as well as current artists such as DIVA drummer Sherrie Maricle, who will perform in the multimedia tribute to women in jazz alongside powerhouse vocalists Roberta Gambarini, Niki Haris and many others.

The all-female performance is preceded by a performance by George Cables’ trio (bassist George Mraz and drummer Lewis Nash). Considered one of the top jazz pianists of all time, the New York City-based star has been leading bands since the 1960s, recording and performing with big names such as Woody Shaw, Dexter Gordon and Art Blakey.

Saturday, Sept. 5

The Vail Square stage hosts a rotating rainbow of talent beginning at 11:30 a.m. on Sept. 5 Along with another performance by George Cables, standout artists include six-string sensation Russell Malone, who specializes in swing and bebop guitar and who spent several years recording and touring with Harry Connick Jr., Diana Krall and Sonny Rollins. There’s also trumpeter and bandleader Sean Jones, who performed on Nancy Wilson’s Grammy-winning record and has twice won Downbeat’s Rising Star award. Let’s not forget Vail Jazz Party mainstays Jeff Hamilton, who has drummed with Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie Orchestra and leads his own trio, and trumpeter Terell Stafford, director of jazz studies at Temple University.

The evening heats up as the magic moves to the Vail Marriott with a tribute to the great Ray Brown featuring powerhouse trio Larry Fuller, John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton, followed by Roberta Gambarini’s hypnotizing vocal performance and the most recorded jazz drummer in history, Lewis Nash’s blowout multimedia tribute to his drum heroes.

Sunday, Sept. 6

Don’t think that Sunday morning (Sept. 6) is sleepy around here, especially with what has historically proven itself as the Vail Jazz Party’s most popping event, the Gospel Prayer Meetin’. Led by the energy of vocalist Niki Haris, the stage quakes with the force of the Mile Hi Gospel Ensemble and moving numbers performed by musical stars Byron Stripling, Wycliffe Gordon, Sean Jones and many others. Sunday afternoon (Sept. 6) sessions bring red-hot performances by the Vail jazz Party House Band and Piano Duos, starring a revolving cast of six acclaimed key masters (including Shelly Berg, Larry Fuller, George Cables and Bill Cunliffe) duking it out on grand pianos. Haris returns to the stage Sunday evening (Sept. 6) in the Vail Marriott’s Grand Ballroom alongside Karen Hammack, Marion Haydon and Sherrie Maricle, followed by performances by a jazz celebrity ensemble led by John Clayton, then Byron Stripling’s educational multi-media tribute to the trumpet kings.

Monday, Sept. 7

All of the stars stick around for a final afternoon extravaganza kicking off at 11:30 a.m. with the George Cables Trio, followed by a vocal performance by Roberta Gambarini and one-of-a-kind sets mixing A-listers, Vail Jazz debut artists and long-time regulars. With a final set bringing 13 headliners all onstage at the same time (including four trumpeters!), the Vail Jazz Party ends with an incredible bang!

Single day-time session tickets (including access to all afternoon sets) to the Vail Jazz Party are $55 and evening sessions (including entry to the lively and spontaneous Light Night Jams) are $75. Gospel Prayer Meetin’ tickets are $55. Performance Passes are $350 and Patron Passes are $425 through Friday August 28, when pass prices increase.