The Local newsletter is your free, daily guide to life in Colorado. For locals, by locals. Sign up today!
On Thursday, Denver’s venerated jazz club Dazzle opened the doors of its soon-to-be completed location at 1080 14th Street to a small group of people celebrating the unveiling of an art installation honoring 102-year-old bassist Charles “Charlie” Burrell. Surrounded by a number of friends, local musicians, and community art facilitators—including his daughter, Joyce Burrell Garcia, and Dazzle owner and proprietor, Donald Rossa—Burrell posed for pictures in front of the installation by Colorado artist Brett Matarazzo during the private gathering.
“Magnificent. Could not believe it,” says Burrell with a warm smile, when asked how he felt about the work.
That's only $1 per issue!
Burrell, often referred to as the “Jackie Robinson of classical music,” was the first Black contracted musician in a major American symphony when he began playing with the Denver Symphony Orchestra, now known as the Colorado Symphony, in 1949. He also performed with the San Francisco Symphony, and later became a prominent figure in the Five Points jazz scene of Denver, sharing stages with the likes of Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, and Duke Ellington.
Dazzle, which originally opened in Capitol Hill in 1997, is awaiting permit approvals from the city of Denver while construction continues in the space within Downtown’s Denver Performing Arts Complex. (As of now, the opening date is yet to be determined.) Until then, the venue will continue operations as “Dazzle at Baur’s” in the current location at 1512 Curtis Street (also Downtown), in the building that formerly housed Baur’s Confectionary. The new location will eventually house a number of installations by Colorado artists, which Dazzle’s marketing director Kelley Dawkins says is a way of “infusing a white-box space with our decades of history.”
The artwork, entitled “The Bassist,” is displayed adjacent to what will be the musicians’ green room, and depicts a smiling Burrell playing upright bass. Matarazzo used 88 slats of repurposed wood in the installation, each painted in soft shades of green, blue, yellow, red, and white. Thirty-seven of the slats at the top of the work display the names of individual and corporate sponsors who have either contributed funds or services to support the construction of the new location. Another wood slat displays the words “Charlie Burrell” against a black background at the top of the art piece. A plaque indicates the piece was commissioned by Melinda Harper and David Norris, and reads, “Thank you Donald & Matt for keeping Dazzle thriving!”
Also in attendance at the unveiling was the artist Matarazzo himself, who took a moment to share some insight into his process. “I use all the old wood from old homes coming down as an opportunity for art, as a baseline to start the conversation around repurpose as an environmental idea,” the artist says. “What does it mean to honor the neighborhood itself, honor the places we’ve been, honor the remnants of the places that were there? That led to a strong belief that art is the center point of that.”
Matarazzo will soon begin work on another piece called “Big Horn,” which will also be displayed inside the venue’s new building.
During the gathering, Burrell signed one of the wooden slats from Matarazzo’s piece, which was subsequently replaced in its original position at the bottom right corner of the work. He also signed the door of the musicians’ green room with a Sharpie pen. When musicians who are veterans of Dazzle’s stage visit the new space, they are asked to sign the walls of the green room, which is “a new tradition and one of the ways in which we are bringing our rich history to a fresh, new space,” Dawkins says.
The unveiling comes just one day after the celebration for a $20 million renovation of the Charles Burrell Visual and Performing Arts Campus, an arts magnet program inside Aurora Central High School named for the musician. The campus hosts Aurora’s only rigorous arts program, catering to gifted students in kindergarten through 12th grade. Burrell and his daughter, Burrell Garcia, attended the Aurora ceremony.
“This is a particularly special occasion, especially with the dedication of the school yesterday,” says Burrell Garcia, who flew in from Los Angeles to attend the week’s events honoring her father. “And then coming here, it’s magical. It’s absolutely magical. And the people involved are magical.”
Toward the end of Dazzle’s unveiling, a quartet of musicians took to what will be Dazzle’s new stage to perform a couple of songs for Burrell. The quartet featured Colorado musicians Andrew Hudson on upright bass, multi-instrumentalist and composer Tenia Nelson on a Baldwin grand piano, Greg Gisbert on trumpet, and Joe Anderies on flute. Dazzle’s owner, Rossa, invited each musician personally to take part in the festivities. “All of these people have all been playing for Dazzle for years,” he says.
Rossa speaks warmly of the musicians, educators and patrons in Denver’s local music scene, describing them as a supportive community. “I think we’re all in it for the same reason,” he says, “And that’s just, ‘What can we do for each other?’”