It's the 22nd time around for retired businessman Dick Gibson, his wife Maddie and 650 of their friends this Labor Day weekend.

Fifty of the friends are musicians -- the elite of mainstream jazz players. The rest come to listen and rejoice over one of the nation's more unusual jazz get-togethers, the Gibson Jazz Party.

In jeans and T-shirts, three-piece suits and high fashion ensembles, they gathered from Texas and Australia, California and Europe, Georgia and New Mexico for nearly 30 hours of music at the Fairmont Hotel.

It began Saturday afternoon at 1:30 and the last notes were scheduled to die away at about 9 last night.

Dick Gibson decides who will play with whom, going from a who's-who-in-jazz guest list. For alto saxophonists, he can program Benny Carter, Phil Woods, Marshall Royal, Bud Shank and Chris Woods. For trumpets he has the choice of Clark Terry, Conte Candoli, Billy Butterfield, Ruby Braff, Sweets Edison and Snookie Young.

"Dick is probably the best jazz quarterback around," says trumpeter Terry. "He has the knack of putting the right people together and it just about always works. That is one reason the performance level stays incredibly high."

Terry, along with trombonist Urbie Green, bassist Milt (The Judge) Hinton, saxophonists Al Cohn and Zoot Sims and pianist Ralph Sutton, is a veteran of at least 15 of the Gibson parties.

The jazz weekend began in 1963 when the Gibsons, recently arrived from the East, sought to upgrade the jazz offered in the Rockies. Ten musicians played at the inaugural event for about 200 guests in Aspen.

Since then, the party has moved from Aspen to Vail, to the Broadmoor in Colorado Springs and finally to Denver.

Like the musicians, the paying guests are here by invitation. It's not a drop-in affair.

Maddie Gibson, who wears badge No. 1, handles the invitations. She says there is only one screening criterion. "If he is a loud drunk, we don't want him. If someone writes for an invitation, we ask who he knows among those who attend the party. Then we go to that person and check him out. People think it is a social thing but it's not. We want people who love jazz and want to come and listen."

She says she has only torn up one guest index card in 20 years of the party.

At Saturday afternoon's opening program, one table in the cafe'-style seating arrangement had a pair of college jazz teachers, a St. Louis Jazz Society member with an official T-shirt and a J-A-Z-Z belt buckle and a pair of jazz fans from New Mexico.

Don Erjavec, a trumpeter and jazz instructor at Cerritos Community College outside Los Angeles, said, "I have wanted to attend one of these parties for years. Where else can you hear so many great players at one time?"

The audience, like the musicians, is predominantly in the 40-plus age bracket, yet there are enough younger fans to support Dick Gibson's theory that jazz again is making a strong comeback.

Youth also is evident on stage. For the first time in the party's history, two father-son tandems performed: the Cohns -- saxophonist Al and guitarist-son Joe -- and the guitar-playing Pizzarellis -- Bucky and son John.

The jazz party tunes tend to be standards, ballads and a sprinkling of be-bop anthems.

Their treatment is often something else again. Pianist Dick Hyman turned "Round Midnight" into a stride-style romp with an overlay of Bach.

Bassist Hinton, 74, and pianist Jay McShann, 75, tore through "Blue Lou" with Hinton slapping strings in the style of the 1920s. After the solo, McShann said quietly to no one in particular, "Bass man!"

The program also had its lighter moments. Pianist Paul Smith, introduced as "the man with 18 fingers," ripped through a funny takeoff of film-cartoon cliche's, ending with the massive chords of the old "March of Time" newsreel theme.

Smiles light up the stage as players applaud their peers. When one of the giants moves to the microphone for a solo, younger jazzmen drift in from the bar area to listen. When McShann played the old blues "After Hours" at the appropriate hour of 12:30 Sunday morning, guitarist Barney Kessel stood in the ballroom doorway bouncing in time to the beat and clapping when the tune was over.

Pete Christlieb, the "Tonight Show" tenor saxophonist, said, "This party is like a cruise. It's prestigious and I just like hanging out with people I've admired for so many years, like Al Cohn. It's a kick."