Piltzecker returns to Roaring Fork Valley for TACAW’S Pumpkin Jazz

It’s remarkable how a seemingly innocuous event can change the course of one’s life.

Renowned jazz vibraphonist Ted Piltzecker originally played trumpet in his high-school marching band. After he ran into another musician during practice and dropped and broke his trumpet, he ended up “noodling around with a vibraphone” at the repair shop. His parents apparently liked his spontaneous performance because, two months later, he found a vibraphone under the Christmas tree. After that, he packed up his trumpet and gave it away.

Ted Piltzecker with trumpet, 1968.
Ted Piltzecker, High shcool with trumpet

After graduating from the Eastman and Manhattan Schools of Music, Piltzecker became an artist in residence at the Aspen Music Festival in 1978. By that time, it was already an institution.

“It was smaller of course; all we had was a tent that everyone crowded into, but it was prestigious and well attended by musicians and music fans, alike. By the 1980s, it was an international event,” he said.

Piltzecker hiking with is wife Susan Thomassen. Aspen, 1978.
Ted Piltzecker and wife, Aspen 1980’s

In 1984 he became the director of the Jazz Program.   

“My job was to bring in great musicians every summer — to find wonderful, young musicians to play in the band, as well as bring in more renowned jazz artists. Many great musicians came from our little program; it was an incubator,” he said.

In fact, renowned jazz saxophonist Chris Potter — who has played with everyone from Red Rodney to Steely Dan — was Piltzecker’s contemporary.

“It was a real nurturing and high-level experience for me, which I will never forget. I grew up there in a musical sense — a formative time for me in so many ways,” he said.

Piltzecker performing, Aspen Music Festival, 1990.
Ted Piltzecker on vibraphone

In 1992, after 14 summers, he moved on to a very successful career that took him all over the world, but he never forgot his time in Aspen.

“It was actually really hard for me to leave Aspen. But, I realize my time there was such a gift. It was a moment in time, a very lovely moment,” he said.

Fast forward to March of 2022: Piltzecker was performing in Denver and decided to drive up to visit an old friend living in Willits. The friend told him about a new arts campus that recently opened up in the neighborhood.

Early the following morning, as he walked around the neighborhood, he asked a man where the new arts center was. Serendipitously, it turned out to be Kendall Smith, director of programming for The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW).

“I was walking to get coffee,” Smith said, “and he stopped me and asked where the arts campus was, and I immediately took him and showed him around.”

Piltzecker was impressed by the beauty and efficiency of the building.

“I don’t think many people know,” Smith said, “but TACAW is the first, net-zero performing arts center in the United States, fully-solar and electric-run with a zero-carbon footprint. We have something special here.”

They stayed in touch, and, as soon as Piltzecker told Smith he was going to be in Denver to record an album this fall, they thought it was a good opportunity to bring him and his septet up here to perform in TACAW’S annual Pumpkin Jazz event.

Ted Piltzecker and band, Purchase College, New York , 2004.
Ted Plitzecker

Plitzecker returns to the Roaring Fork Valley stage, with a septet of accomplished Colorado-based musicians, including Brad Goode, associate professor of Jazz studies at The University of Colorado, Boulder on trumpet, Paul Mckee on trombone, John Gunther on tenor sax, Will Swindle on bari sax, Gonzalo Teppa on bass and Paul Romaine on drums. He played alongside several of them many years ago during his time in Aspen.

Pumpkin Jazz takes place today and will also feature a dozen local jazz musicians who will be performing at various venues. Between 5-7 p.m., audiences can enjoy music at four locations: two in historic downtown Basalt and two in Willits town center. Basalt performances will take place at The Art Base and outside by Codgers Corner. In Willits, they’ll occur at Keating Gallery and Triangle Park.

Piltzecker and his septet take the stage at TACAW at 7:30 p.m. today and perform two sets, followed by an open jam session. The event is free to the public due to the generous funding by the Basalt Public Arts Commission. Seats are first come, first served, so Smith urges all to “come early and stay late.”

Although vibraphone became his career, Piltzecker never lost his love for wind instruments and the intimate relationship a musician has with their horn. He describes the show as “Four carefully arranged horns with some standards and some originals, as well. The project is called Vibes on a Breathe, and the whole premise is to bring more humanity to this percussion instrument I bang on.”

If you go…

What: Pumpkin Jazz Featuring Ted Piltzecker Septet
When: 5-7 p.m. and 7:30-10 p.m. Friday
Where: Historic downtown Basalt, Willits town center and TACAW
Tickets: All events are free, funded by the Basalt Public Arts Commission
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