Liner Notes

Denver-Area orchestra keeps jazz beat alive

Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra

Posted 10/11/16

Denver’s jazz scene will never match the bustling birthplaces of the genre — New Orleans, Chicago and New Orleans — but the Mile High City still boasts an impressive jazz history.

Art Bouton, executive director of the Colorado Jazz …

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Liner Notes

Denver-Area orchestra keeps jazz beat alive

Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra

Posted
Denver’s jazz scene will never match the bustling birthplaces of the genre — New Orleans, Chicago and New Orleans — but the Mile High City still boasts an impressive jazz history.

Art Bouton, executive director of the Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra, is among those working to keep that history alive through performance.
“The goal of the orchestra is simple — gather the best players in town to play the best big band jazz,” he said. “Every town should have a band playing great stuff like this.”

Entering its fifth season, the orchestra brings its take on big band leaders like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and unique arrangements from such legends as Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, to smaller venues up and down the Front Range. In the coming six months, the 18-piece band will perform at the Arvada Center, Lakewood Cultural Center and Parker Arts Center.

“These 500-seat theaters are our sweet spot,” Bouton said. “There’s not any other large jazz ensemble in town doing what we’re doing.”
Bouton, also a professor of saxophone at the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music, has been a lifelong advocate of jazz in the area.

“This music deserves people with an attention to detail,” he said. “Anybody can feel it when it really starts grooving.”

Denver’s jazz scene dates back to the 1920s and 1930s, when Five Points in central Denver was known as the “Harlem of the West.” The neighborhood was home to famous clubs like the Rossonian, the Casino Cabaret and Lotus Club. Towering figures like Louis Armstrong and Fitzgerald stopped by to perform.

One of the biggest names in the big band era, Glenn Miller, also left an impression on the area. He attended the University of Colorado in Boulder in 1923 and played in clubs around Denver before dropping out of the university to pursue music fulltime.

Today, Denver is home to such jazz clubs as Dazzle on Capitol Hill and El Chapultepec on Market Street, which are great places to experience live jazz.

“Live jazz is amazing, because you’re able to see and hear people create music on the spot,” Bouton said. “Jazz is always changing, and I can’t wait to hear what the music sounds like in six years.”

In a world with so many musical options at one’s fingertips, getting young people interested in jazz is one of the genre’s biggest challenges. Since its creation, hip-hop has been inspiring new generations of jazz investigators, and artists like Kendrick Lamar, Chance the Rapper and Oddisee are blending jazz and hip-hop in new, inventive ways.

To help keep jazz alive, Bouton and the orchestra work with Youth on Record, a nonprofit that partners with the local music community, public schools, housing authorities and philanthropic organizations to ensure high-risk young people graduate high school ready to enter college or the workforce.

“We’re building an audience one person at a time,” Bouton said. “We play music at such a high level, and that’s the way it should be played.”

Clarke Reader’s column on how music connects to our lives appears every other week. A community editor with Colorado Community Media, he has been a jazz fan since hearing Miles Davis in seventh grade. Check out his music blog at calmacil20.blogspot.com. And share your favorite jazz music at creader@coloradocommunitymedia.com.

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