Founder Howard Stone receives prestigious Downbeat Jazz Education Achievement Award.
Howard Stone has served as more than just a springboard for many young musicians’ career paths. But you’d be pressed to get him to admit it.
Try asking him about all the years he hosted the crew of Vail Jazz Workshop students in his very own home or about the time he personally bought shoes for a particularly necessitous young student and he consistently plays down his role.
So it’s no surprise when asking him about the extremely prestigious award he won this spring – the Jazz Education Achievement Award from Downbeat Magazine – that he immediately deflects all credit.
“I’m not an educator,” he says. “There is no question I started the program, but I want the individuals who actually educate to be recognized. It’s one thing to sit in a room and dream up an idea. Sometimes you want to slap idea people.”
Nobody wants to slap Stone. They just want to give him the award.
The education program he “dreamed up” is the Vail Jazz Workshop, launched 22 years ago when Stone realized after one year of organizing the Vail Jazz Festival that he should also establish a tideway for the future of the art form, enlisting famed bassist John Clayton as head mentor.
Each year, the Workshop hosts 12 of North America’s top teenage musical prodigies for 10 intensive days of focused training, all without the help of written music. Since the inaugural workshop, the team of educators has included John Clayton and his brother, saxophonist Jeff Clayton (whose role was temporarily filled by Dick Oates for two seasons), as well as pianist Bill Cunliffe. Trumpeter Terell Stafford and drummer Lewis Nash joined the mentor team 21 and 17 years ago, respectively, followed by trombonist Wycliffe Gordon six years ago.
“There is a healthy understanding of the importance of “giving back, moving things forward and investing in the future,” John Clayton says of the Workshop.
“Some of it gets to be pretty emotional because you see the students at the beginning of the week and share so much,” Stafford adds. “You get to watch incredible relationships blossom.”
Attending the Vail Jazz Workshop has become such a benchmark achievement that organizers receive more than 140 applications from up-and-coming musicians for the 12 spots each year. All arrive with resumés reading like those of accomplished pros and leave with the distinctive, incomparable ability to play by ear.
The Vail Jazz Workshop has cultivated 250 students over the past two-plus decades and many have gone on to illustrious musical careers, including Grammy Award winner Robert Glasper, Beyoncé band member Tia Fuller and award-winning documentary Keep On Keepin’ On star Justin Kauflin.
“The Jazz Workshop allowed me to learn from some of the greatest jazz musicians around and gave me the chance to learn alongside peers that challenged and inspired me to strive to always improve,” Kauflin said during a return visit to Vail in 2014 with various other Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni. “I’ve been able to keep in contact with faculty and students after the workshop and am so fortunate to be a part of such an elite network of musicians.”
Workshop days are intense. Step into any one of them and you are likely to find students glued to their instrument in heavy concentration of each note or clustered around the mentors, hanging on their every word. After the week of training, Workshops students graduate to the status of Vail Jazz All-Stars and get to take their freshly cultivated skills to the stage, opening the annual Vail Jazz Party over Labor Day weekend, followed by a set from Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni and the mentors themselves, dubbed the Vail Jazz Party House Band.
But the education efforts of Vail Jazz continue all year. Following the advent of the Vail Jazz Workshop, Stone teamed up with local piano paragon Tony Gulizia to launch Vail Jazz Goes to School, a four-part educational series delivered to every elementary school in the valley. Here, fourth and fifth graders learn the art of syncopation, the 12-bar blues and improvisation as well as lessons in the history and evolution of jazz music. Since its inception in 1998, Vail Jazz Goes to School has educated more than 18,000 young students. Gulizia’s team is comprised of his brother, Joey Gulizia on drums, Andy Hall (bass), Roger Neumann (woodwinds), Mike Gurciullo (trumpet) and Michael Pujado (congas and percussion).
In 2013, also with Gulizia in the instructional seat, Stone’s next brainchild came into fruition. Vail Jazz introduced Jammin’ Jazz Kids, a free, hands-on class offered to 4 to 12-year-old children every Sunday in July preceding the weekly Vail Jazz@ The Market performance. Gulizia and fellow musician/mentor Brian Loftus equip the crowd of youngsters with xylophones, congas, tambourines, bongos and maracas, and within a few magical moments, the kids are thundering out amazing rhythms. For several children, the experience is pivotal in encouraging instrumental hobbies.
True that Stone is not the teacher conducting the hand-to-hand and ear-to-ear exchanges in these educational sessions, but they wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for him.
“There’s something to be said for creators and something more to be said for doers,” he says.
But doers cannot do until the creation is in place. The musical community, young and old, novice and pro, have Stone to thank for this.
Altogether, Vail Jazz delivers more than 50 educational programs every year, imparting musical knowledge to more than 1,400 students annually.
2017 Vail Jazz Gala July 10
Vail Jazz’s educational programs would also not exist if it weren’t for the generosity of donors and supporters. The annual Vail Jazz Gala serves as the organization’s No. 1 fundraiser for its educational programming.
The July 10 event, From Bridge Street to Bourbon Street is bound to do exactly that – transport audiences to the heart of New Orleans. Starring iconic, New Orleans-based vocalist John Boutté and a colossal combination of Vail Jazz Workshop Alumni, the evening delivers a soulful performance as well as an exquisite dinner, cocktail and appetizer reception. For more information or tickets, visit vailjazz.org or call 888-VAIL-JAM.