In Vail, the name Tony G is synonymous with jazz music, but for the man himself, who passed away peacefully on Saturday, a look back at the Vail years could evoke stronger associations with his other passions, like family, fishing and the manufacture of Italian sausages.
After all, Tony Gulizia had been a jazz staple in Omaha for over 30 years before coming to Vail.
Upon learning of Tony G’s death, jazz guitarist Dave Stryker recently took time out of his busy touring schedule to comment on the impressiveness of that career, which spanned another three decades in Vail after starting 34 years earlier at Omaha.
The Dave Stryker Trio is currently touring with Steely Dan, opening for the band on the 2022 Steely Dan Tour.
“I was probably around 15 or 16 when I went to my first jam session at a nightclub in Omaha called Generation Gap, it must have been 1974 or 1975, and he was playing the piano,” Stryker said of of Gulizia.
Stryker began jamming with the band – it was his first sit-in on a jazz session. With Tony were saxophonist Bobby Thompson and Joey Gulizia, Tony’s younger brother.
And even by that early date, Stryker said, Tony G had already been playing live gigs in Omaha for a decade and a half.
“The Gulizia brothers were an Omaha institution,” Stryker said. “Their dad was a musician and they started very early…they had a family band with Tony playing the accordion.”
Joey Gulizia remembers the year 1958, when Tony started playing the accordion in their living room in Omaha. Tony was 8 years old. A year later, Tony was playing the accordion at concerts in Omaha with his father, a trumpeter, and Joey was singing.
“We were going to senior centers and hospitals and playing for people,” Joey said.
A few years later, with Joey on saxophone, the band got serious.
“I was 10 and Tony was 13, and we played three nights a week at bars in South Omaha,” Joey said.
It’s the kind of career that even Omaha legends find remarkable.
Omaha saxophonist Matt Wallace, who has toured with Maynard Ferguson in more than 70 countries, calls it a “cradle-to-grave” musical education.
“The Gulizia brothers did elementary school by day and jazz clubs by night,” Wallace said.
Probably the most commercially successful song Tony G helped write, Wallace said, would be a Maynard Ferguson song on the “High Voltage 2” album. The song, “Omaha”, debuted in 1989, and before recording it in the studio, Wallace performed it at a music festival hosted by Bill Cosby.
Cosby loved the song and joked about it to Wallace, saying, as Wallace recounts “In 10 years, someone’s gonna walk up to you and say ‘You’re the guy who wrote that song, what was that? Indianapolis! I love that melody.’ “
Omaha was also the theme of an album Tony G helped write and record in Vail at Kelly Liken’s restaurant.
When Tony G moved to Edwards in 1992, he quickly became a familiar friend to many Valley residents with a personality that exuded infectious energy.
Tony’s college sweetheart, Liane, was now his wife and their three children yearned for the mountains and the outdoors like Tony had as a child, earning him many trips to Colorado with his dad. .
These trips continued for the family in Omaha; Tony’s son Nick says he remembers trips to Colorado with his father and grandfather as a child.
Chief among the memories is the family fishing together, one of Tony’s passions. On those trips, “We would go fishing every day, every morning,” Nick said. “He always wanted to make sure his family was okay and balance gigs with family life.”
Eventually, the trip to Colorado became permanent for the family when they moved to Edwards in 1992. Liane taught music at Edwards Elementary.
Tony immediately found a gig at the Grouse Mountain Grill, where he remained for 29 years. In addition to singing and playing the piano, he serenades guests at their table with his accordion. The concert quickly became a regular nighttime spectacle.
When Dave Stryker visited the Gulizia brothers in Vail in the 2000s, he found Tony playing 9-10 gigs a week.
Nevertheless, Tony found time to record an album with his brother, Stryker, Victor Lewis on drums, Mark Luebbe on bass and Bill Wimmer on saxophone at Kelly Liken’s restaurant in Vail in 2009. The album is called ” Project Omaha”.
“He never said no,” Vail-area drummer Jake Wolf said. “If he was available, he never turned down a gig.”
Wolf said one of Tony G’s most “all in one day’s work” moments came in 2012, when he opened for Snoop Dogg at the Avon SnowBall Festival before heading to Avon Elementary for playing for the governor at the time. John Hickenlooper.
Tony G, unsurprisingly, was accompanied by a large group of students throughout the affair. Among the students was a young drummer named Mario Alverez, who is currently traveling the world with the US Navy.
“He was so lucky to be able to play with some of the great musicians in the valley,” said Mario’s mother, Ingrid Alverez. “It had such a positive influence on his life. And his brother Liam now also plays music.
Wolf said Tony G was the first person he called that day to help him with his “School of Rock,” who often got help from the man who never turned down a gig.
“The Avon School of Rock was totally inspired by their Vail Jazz Goes to School program, so it was always my first and second call for help,” Wolf said.
Tony G mentored the Vail Jazz Foundation’s Vail Jazz Goes to School for 25 years, and the Vail Jazz Foundation says the program will long be remembered as part of his legacy.
“Tony lived and breathed jazz,” said Amanda Blevins, the foundation’s executive director. “He treasured his students and understood the supreme importance of educating young people from an early age in the intricacies and joys of jazz music. We are grateful for his contributions, passion and charisma and will remember him fondly as we continue his legacy through Vail Jazz Goes to School.
Tony was also the accompanying pianist for the Eagle Valley Children’s Chorale for seven years, with Liane as director. The family’s tendency to focus on educational projects came from their experience in Nebraska.
“We took a great interest in music education and registered with the Nebraska Arts Council in 1979,” Joey said. “We started doing artists-in-residence at schools all over the state of Nebraska…we tried to do things where we could support young musicians and be a role model and show them that yes, you can actually earn your life doing this.
But in Colorado, if Tony G lived from music, he also lived from his other passions. His son Nick said they have made the nearby Lake Creek area a regular fishing and hiking spot.
On these fishing and camping trips, Liane said Tony catches, cleans and cooks fish, but has not been known to eat them. He had more of a taste for Italian sausages, which flourished later in life when he started a sausage business, Salsiccia Gulizia, selling traditional Italian sausages at farmers’ markets in Minturn and Vail.
Along with the sausages was a serenade from Tony G, who always brought his accordion to his stand.
Joey said Tony’s accordion skills are a testament to his upbringing in another era.
“In the 1950s, especially for people like us who had a small house and didn’t have room for a grand piano, a keyboard to learn was an accordion,” Joey said. “And it’s really a great foundation of music to learn, with an accordion you learn bass clef and treble clef and you learn chords.”
Tony leaves behind Liane and his sons Nick, TJ and Marc, as well as his grandchildren Clyde, 13; Ellis, 11; Oliver, 7 years old; and Louise, 5.