Why Jazz Matters: Track 14

| May 4, 2015


by Norman Provizer

On June 8, the band Big Head Todd and the Monsters returns to Red Rocks Amphitheater for the seventeenth time. Over its long run, Big Head Todd went from a local group begging for gigs to one with a very high national profile playing major venues. In this sense, along with bands such the Lumineers, the Fray and Flobots, Big Head Todd represents the positive national attention rock bands with a Colorado connection have been receiving in recent decades.

The same thing has also been happening when it comes to jazz players, though jazz folk often don’t register on the pop radar. And that’s even true in Colorado—a state that can boast of having the only governor, John Hickenlooper, who was once the owner of a serious jazz club. To get an idea of the jazz musicians with a Colorado connection who have gained national recognition, let’s take a look at the current “62nd Annual Critics Poll” from DownBeat magazine.

The poll has two tracks, established players and those labeled “rising stars.” When you look at the list of rising-star trumpeters, for example, you’ll find that among the top 15 players listed in terms of votes received from the 154 critics asked to participate, four have ties to Colorado: Nate Wooley; Kirk Knuffke (whose recent recording Arms and Hands received a strong review in The New York Times); Scott Wendholt; and Shane Endsley. That’s an impressive batting average for a state that contains 1.7 percent of the nation’s population.

Sticking with rising stars for a bit, Tia Fuller, who grew up here, captured the top spot among soprano saxophonists. The year before, Fuller won the top spot among alto saxophonists and flutists – quite a triple crown. On top of that, Fuller’s brother-in-law, Rudy Royston, who is also from these parts, captured the top spot among rising-star drummers. And on the organ front, two of the rising-star players of that instrument, Pat Bianchi and Erick Deutsch, also have links to Colorado.

In the established category, vocalist Dianne Reeves, alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa, bluesman Otis Taylor and guitarist Bill Frisell all occupy one of the very top slots in their respective musical categories. Additionally, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, trumpeter Ron Miles and alto saxophonist Fuller all made it on the list with a substantial number of votes.

The list could go on into the areas of composing and arranging, as well as groups led by Colorado-linked musicians in the category of best bands. But you get the point.

With that in mind, if you want to hear a number of area-based jazz players all on one day, there’s the free, Five Points Jazz Festival on May 16 from 11 a.m. until 8 p.m. The players are on display at eight venues along Welton Street in the Five Points area ending at the main stage (named for the late and great pianist Joe Bonner, who spent many years here) at 29th and Welton. The closing act on the main stage features the Air Force Academy big band, the Falconaires, with visiting vocalist Ernie Andrews. Also on May 14, leading into the Five Points fest, there’s a free showing of the 2014 jazz documentary Keep On Keepin’ On that chronicles the mentoring relationship between the trumpeter and grand musical figure Clark Terry, who passed away on February 21, 2015, and the young, blind pianist Justin Kauflin. The film is at the McNichols Building at Civic Center, 144 W. Colfax, at 5:30 p.m.

Among the other jazz visitors to town in May, there’s the monster trumpet player Terence Blanchard with his E-Collective band at Dazzle on May 8, 9 and 10. Also at Dazzle this month, the strong bassist John Patitucci is on stage on May 21 and 22 with his Electric Guitar Quartet with Steve Cardenas and Adam Rogers, anchored by drummer Brian Blade. At Boettcher Hall in the Denver Performing Arts Complex on May 9 and 10, electric bassist Victor Wooten shares the stage with the Colorado Symphony performs his “Concerto for Electric Bass” and other compositions.




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Category: Shop Talk

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