A talented crop of local musicians—and a little bit of activism—keeps Denver’s legendary jazz scene alive and swinging.
You can hear the pros at Dazzle, Donald Rossa’s restaurant and lounge at 930 Lincoln Street, which maintains its nightly performance calendar because of the city’s strong local lineup. “I have never seen anything like this—everyone is so open and friendly,” says guitarist Kevin Lee. “That’s the number one comment visiting artists make: How great and appreciative the crowds are, and how supportive the club’s staff is.”
Dr. Fred Hess, saxophonist and director of music composition at Metro State, has been playing for 55 years, 30 of them in Colorado. His new big-band album, Into the Open, gathered 18 of the town’s top talents. “We always thought we’d have to go to New York and L.A. to record this, but there are enough guys in this town with the chops to make a great recording,” Hess says.
Denver even has its own three-generation mini-dynasty of jazz musicians in the Romaine family: Paul, the co-founder and artistic director of the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts, is the son of saxophonist James Romaine and the father of jazz vocalist Erienne Romaine, who has released two albums. “All the pieces are here [for a jazz revival],” Paul says. “There is no lack of creativity and artistry and resources.”
Indeed, on an unseasonably warm Tuesday night in February, Dazzle is packed with musicians and jazz lovers, all there for an informal, late-night jam session. Patrons crowd the banquettes, the tables, and the bar. The stage sits at an oblique angle at the end of the long, dark room, decked out in black and russet. Onstage, musicians shift about, confer, take their places in the spotlight, and make room for others. Regulars greet each other with high-fives and warm embraces, catching up on the latest news, before the combo finally swings into “Someday My Prince Will Come.” Alluring waitresses dispense dry martinis, shaking them up tableside to the rhythm of the beat as, once again, music spills out into the night air.