Sunday profile: Jones’ journey led him to the Riviera
Kyle Jones’ mom saw it early on — the spark that would become a lifelong passion for music — when as a 4 year old, Jones would run to the front of the family’s church during the Sunday service postlude and hover at the edge of the organist’s keyboard.
“My mom was like ‘we’ve got to get this kid in lessons,’” Jones said. “So I did some group lessons, and then I auditioned for a piano teacher, (Ainsley Doherty) who I was so fortunate to come across. She was a phenomenal player, but she charged next to nothing for lessons. She did it for the love.”
Jones, who recently assumed the musical director position at the Riviera Supper Club following the departure of Jonathan Gorst, was further inspired by family outings to see musical theater in the Denver area.
“We would go to the Arvada Center every Christmas when they would do ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,’” Jones said. “And I really liked Les Miserables. That was what drew me in the most — the drama and the music and the story. As a kid, that music was way out of my reach, but being so excited about the music drove me to work at it. It was pretty challenging and technical, so it helped spur my musical progress.”
Classical training and mapping his own journey
After high school, Jones enrolled in the University of Northern Colorado’s music school, an experience he now describes at “challenging” — not only because of the high-level curriculum, but because his own interests in musical theater and electronic music didn’t align with the school’s emphasis on classical music.
“I like to play music that moves people, and I didn’t feel like the classical music was moving people the way I wanted to,” Jones said. “But I stand by that education. The musical theory knowledge they gave me is invaluable. A lot of my ability to improvise I credit with the rigorous training UNC gave me.”
With a unique set of goals in mind, Jones decided to create his own journey, one that would combine his passions not only for musical theater, but for skiing and hiking in the mountains as well. So, he moved to the Roaring Fork Valley.
“I always joke with the crowd after my set (at the Riviera) that they make it possible for me to be a professional musician, and ski world class resorts, living the dream,” he said. “… We have this amazing musical culture up and down the valley.”
Jones spent 3 years teaching music at Rifle High School before moving on to Aspen High School where he started Colorado’s first full digital music production lab for students.
“I taught those kids how to DJ … and the kids were producing their own music,” Jones said. “Some kids were doing rock ’n’ roll and rap, others were doing techno and dubstep, a little bit of everything.”
Jones said he tried to make his classroom a refuge where kids could come and spend time making and enjoying music.
“You hear this whole trope of ‘music class is the only reason these kids come to school,’ but for some of those kids, that was the reality,” he said. “These kids came to school because they had digital music that day.
“But it was a great learning experience for me too because it was tough, it made me a better musician. That’s the best thing about teaching — the kids will challenge you, and you challenge them back.”
Community theater – and a chance meeting
Since moving here, Jones has immersed himself in the valley’s community theater scene as a pianist in such productions as ‘Les Miserables,’ ‘Mamma Mia,’ ‘Beauty and the Beast’ and ‘Sweeney Todd,’ and as musical director in productions with Aspen Community Theater, Vail Valley Theater Company, and Defiance Community Theater.
“My best experience was with Defiance Community Theater — my first time being music director for a musical when they did ‘Les Miserables,’” Jones said. “It was like a dream come true; it meant so much to me.”
But Jones’ best career opportunity so far — that of being the musical director at the Riviera — came about through a chance meeting with Gorst, co-owner and former musical director at the supper club.
“I was walking by (the Riviera) and heard him playing, so I came in and asked him ‘do you get paid for this?’ and he said ‘yeah I do, I’m Jonathan Gorst’ and I said ‘I’ve heard of you, I’m Kyle Jones’ and he said ‘I’ve heard of you,’” Jones said.
The two discovered they’d grown up near each other on the Colorado’s Front Range, had graduated from UNC music school, and had been taught by the same professor there.
“(Jonathan) started having me play here, and we collaborated on a few things, like ‘Sweeney Todd’ at the Vaudeville,” Jones said. “As he started making plans to leave the valley, he started giving me the reins (at the Riviera).
“We talked about the mission of the Riviera and his vision for it, and I talked about what I was thinking about doing with it, and he loved it.”
Jones said that what he loves most about the Riviera is that they feature music not normally heard in the Roaring Fork Valley.
“You can go to a bar and see some rock cover band anywhere,” he said. “You can see someone with a guitar perform anywhere. But here you get to see someone performing jazz standards, musical theater, Frank Sinatra … it’s so exciting to have a venue that values that, and has an audience who comes specifically for that.”
But Jones said his favorite musical event at the Riviera is its Broadway series that has had them performing such classics as “Phantom of the Opera,” “The Sound of Music,” “Oklahoma!,” and on this Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, “Moulin Rouge.”
“For ‘Moulin Rouge’ we’ll have a six-course meal paired with six different scenes,” he said. “Our actors are performing right in front of you. There’s something really powerful about being that close to the emotion they’re putting into their part. It’s like watching a movie, but you’re right there in it.”
Jones said he loves working with other musicians who are as excited about creating a great show as he is.
“That’s what it’s about for our customers as well,” he said “We’re giving them something that’s not only professional and a good experience, but is personal, honest and a legitimate human connection.
“Quite often, music says something that we can’t say with words.”
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