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When Donald Rossa bought Denver’s beloved jazz venue Dazzle back in 2003, he didn’t do it for the money. He wanted to create a community around music. “No one gets rich owning a jazz club,” he says. “We’re all in it for the same reason: love for the craft of music and the community that erupts from it.”
Dazzle, which originally debuted in 1997 on Lincoln Street, is set to reopen in its third and newest location in the Denver Performing Arts Complex with two inaugural performances on August 4 and 5. It’ll be a sentimental shift for pianist and composer Annie Booth, who’s been a Dazzle regular since she was 15 years old.
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Booth hopes the ambiance of the new space and the return of late-night listening sessions inspires some nostalgia for the charm of old-school Dazzle, back when the club was tucked into an unassuming strip mall on Lincoln Street. “I think this new location is going to harken back to those Ninth and Lincoln days—the cozy atmosphere, the intimate jazz club, the dark space,” she says.
As a high school student, Booth attended shows with her father at Dazzle’s premier location at 930 Lincoln Street and later celebrated her first CD release show at the venue. “It’s very nostalgic for me,” she says. “It’s a huge part of my life—it’s really where I became who I am, where I found my passion, where I found my love for jazz, where I found my community, so it means a lot to me.”
Now the Booth family touch will be seen (and heard) throughout the new location. Booth’s father, Glenn Booth, and his company, Ford AV, oversaw the team outfitting the sound systems and acoustic treatment in the new Denver Performing Arts Complex space. “My dad is a musician and such a huge fan of Dazzle’s that he really jumped on the opportunity to merge both of his worlds together and work on the project,” Booth says. The new space will also include a nod to Annie herself in the “Women in Jazz” installation, where visitors will find her portrait surrounded by sheet music from her songs.
Like Booth, Wellington Bullings was shaped by the sounds of Dazzle in her teenage years. When she was 17, Bullings’ music teacher, multi-instrumentalist Ayo Awosika, invited her onstage during a performance at the original Lincoln Street location. Still a budding soul and jazz vocalist, Bullings performed one of her original songs, backed by a full band, in front of an audience for the first time
Since that first performance, Bullings has played a handful of shows at Dazzle over the course of her robust music career in the Front Range, including a 2021 tribute to Duke Ellington aptly named “Wellington Sings Ellington” with the Tim Wendel Quintet. “A lot of people see jazz as a dying art these days—especially in Colorado, and specifically Denver,” she says, “but places like Dazzle, they’re keeping it alive. They’re offering a space for jazz artists to thrive, and there’s a sense of community in that.”
For singer, songwriter, and mental health advocate JoFoKe, Dazzle is a family affair. While her father, acclaimed pianist Joe Keel, never performed at the venue, the jazz club has hosted a number of concerts in tribute to the six-time stroke survivor, notably on his 75th and 80th birthdays. “They are so, so good to my dad,” says JoFoKe. “They’re constantly calling his name.”
Not only has JoFoKe performed in each of Dazzle’s previous locations, but she has also held a monthly residency with her genre-bending band, Same Cloth, at Dazzle at Baur’s since 2021 and was invited to serve on its transitional team as the venue prepared to open the new space.
“I’m quite honored that I was included as one of those people who would help influence the new space,” she says. “I’m excited to see our work come together, but I’m also really excited to perform in that space and make it a new home. This will be my second move with Dazzle. To go from Lincoln, to the Baur’s building, now to the Denver Arts Complex, that is exciting.”
While Dazzle has certainly been a cornerstone of Denver’s music scene over the course of its history, the venue’s support for its community goes well beyond hosting concerts. In 2020, Dazzle launched Bread and Jam, a food pantry serving musicians who lost work during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Dazzle was the MVP,” JoFoKe says. “They were the music community’s beacon in that time. Dazzle really stepped up for the whole community. I don’t think they get enough credit for that.”
Dazzle has also been known to support initiatives spearheaded by artists. As a bandleader, Booth is passionate about hiring women musicians who have been historically underrepresented in the jazz genre and, in 2017, launched the SheBop Young Women in Jazz Workshop through the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts. The workshop offers young women musicians an opportunity to participate in masterclasses, jam sessions, and professional mentorships over the course of a weekend, culminating in a community performance, which Dazzle often hosts.
When JoFoKe got involved in the End Period Poverty initiative in 2023, a movement aimed to provide menstrual products and education to menstruating people in need, Dazzle offered to serve as a collection site for donated items. “They’re all about community. I love that for them, and I especially love that for us.”
Now, Dazzle extends its support to another Mile-High music icon: El Chapultepec, a legendary jazz club that closed in December 2020 after 87 years. The duo is pairing up to create El Chapultepec Piano Lounge at Dazzle, late-night piano shows running from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Thursday through Saturday nights starting in the fall.
JoFoKe dreams of a Denver music scene where other venues support local musicians the way Dazzle so freely does. “They continue to share love. They do these things in word and action. It’s a resounding echo throughout the community,” she says. “What if other institutions took that on? Continued to stir up what’s at home and our at-large community?”
Rossa says he owes all of Dazzle’s success to the talented team he’s assembled over the years. “It’s a collective of people I need in life,” he says. “We’re community builders. The only way I got this done is through community.” And as he unveils the new space, music and musicians are the focus. “Musicians need to be in the spotlight. As we’re in Dazzle 3.0, we’re really focusing on the music and making sure the musician looks great up onstage.”
Dazzle reopens at its new location, 1080 14th Street, with inaugural performances by René Marie and Dawn Clement on August 4 and 5. Shows start at 7 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. Tickets start at $15.