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World-class jazz in unexpected places
10 venues, 10 performances in Basalt and Willits
Anisha Rush
Anisha Rush

You can see and hear world-class jazz on Saturday, Oct. 5, from 5 to 9 p.m., as 10 different performers play 10 different venues in Basalt and Willits. And here’s the really good news: it’s free.

With last spring’s closing of the Temporary in Willits, The Arts Campus at Willits (TACAW) vowed to keep the music and entertainment flowing. They did that this summer with a well-received series of free music in Old Town Basalt and Willits Town Center. Pumpkin Jazz is their next offering, and from the diversity and high quality of the performers, it too is bound to earn accolades.

Pumpkin Jazz is the brainchild of TACAW’s artistic director Marc Breslin, who presented a first Pumpkin Jazz in the two locations about four years ago that was funded by the Town of Basalt. The basic idea is to have different performances happening at the same time in different Mid-Valley venues  —  in restaurants, art galleries, the library and even a Starbucks.

“We are trying to find ways to keep providing opportunities for the community to gather and enjoy arts and entertainment. Pumpkin Jazz is a great way to do that,” explains Ryan Honey, TACAW’s executive director. 

“We just wanted to find places where people gather. We’re really happy with the list we ended up with. We think it’s a nice mix between Old Town and Willits. It’s a great way for our community to have a fun night out,” he says.

Jazz has been a feature of TACAW’s programming since they opened.

“We had a lot of success with jazz programming at the Temporary, and we built the jazz audience in the Mid-Valley,” says Honey. “We did Sunday afternoon jazz programming and consistently marketed to that audience. We found that there is a really committed and dedicated group of people that really love that art form, and we wanted to continue to nurture that with Pumpkin Jazz.”

Honey notes that jazz is a unique art form that works well in diverse settings. Jazz comes in a lot of varieties — from single vocalists to two- and three-person combos to large big bands — and it is an art form that can offer high-quality performing in limited spaces.   

“Jazz could be the history of America with its roots in New Orleans,” notes Marc Breslin. “I have always loved jazz since I was 12 or 13. Then I cut my teeth at Jazz Aspen Snowmass where I learned way more about it.”

How they do it

To pull off such a feat, TACAW needed a lot of community buy-in and a lot of community partners, especially to make all of the shows free.

TACAW submitted a grant to the Basalt Public Arts Commission (BPAC), a board created by the Town of Basalt to “expand awareness and appreciation of the value of art.” 

According to Basalt Town Manager Ryan Mahoney, the Sopris Meadows RETA (real estate transfer assessment) funds the BPAC grants. This RETA is set up to get a 1 percent contribution on each home sale from the Park Meadows condos; the 1 percent is only contributed when the home sale exceeds $600,000.

With funding and the ability to make the shows free, TACAW’s management team of three (Honey, Breslin and Operations Manager Anna Lohr) set out to find locations and community partners.

“At the Temporary, we partnered with 38 other nonprofits so collaboration is part of our DNA,” says Honey. “It’s a small, tight-knit community. When we reached out to these venues, everybody was really excited to work with us.”

Honey credits Breslin with finding and programming all of the artists. Some performers appeared at the Temporary, some are completely new to the Mid-Valley scene. According to Breslin, six groups are from Denver, four hail from the Roaring Fork Valley.

“All of the performances are pretty much going to go off at the same time,” explains Breslin. “From 5 to 9 p.m. all of the performers will play three different sets, so you start out in one place, then move to another. There’s plenty for everybody. What I’m trying to do is tie the two areas, Willits and Basalt, together. I want everybody to see everyone.”

Great Pumpkin 

Pumpkin Jazz will kick off with a performance for kids and families by Annie Booth at the Basalt Library beginning at 3:30 p.m. Booth heads up a jazz band in Denver.  

According to TACAW, “Annie Booth, is an award-winning pianist, composer and educator. After receiving her education (in jazz studies) at the University of Colorado-Boulder in 2011, she has been an active force on the Denver jazz scene as both a leader of her own group (the Annie Booth Trio) and as a busy sideman.”

At 5 p.m. on Saturday, the entertainment and the fun begin as 10 different performances fill the night air in Basalt and Willits.

What are the different possibilities? Here’s what TACAW has to say about the performers:

At the Ann Korologos Gallery in Basalt, you can see gypsy jazz by La Pompe. Based in Denver, “La Pompe combines rustic gypsy swing with vintage blues and soulful originals to create a unique sound and style. The string quartet features two guitars, vocals, upright bass and violin and crafts a musical pulse full of energy and excitement.”

In Willits at the Capitol Creek Brewery, jazz pianist Jeff Jenkins plays with the Jeff Jenkins Organization. “Jeff has worked with many American jazz legends including: Phil Woods, Freddie Hubbard, David Fathead Newman, Marlena Shaw, Eddie Harris, Richie Cole, Dakota Staton, Bobby Hutcherson, Curtis Fuller, Benny Golson, Houston Person, Dave Liebman, John Abercrombie and Clark Terry.”

At Free Range Kitchen & Wine Bar in Basalt, you can hear the Mark Johnson Trio. “Mark Johnson is currently an instructor for the Jazz Aspen Snowmass In the Schools education program and a recording artist with JVC records. He is producer and arranger for noted contemporary jazz performers Special EFX, Larry Coryell, Mark Whitfield, Alex Bugnon, Gerald Veasley, as well as others.”

At Heathers in Basalt, saxophonist Anisha Rush plays with the Rush-Parrish Project. “Anisha actively performs as bandleader of the Anisha Rush Quartet. As a side woman, she has been a member of notable bands including The Ron Miles Group and The Boy/Girl Band lead by Art Lande. Anisha is now an active member of the Denver music scene as both bandleader and side woman and teaches at MSU-Denver. Ben Parrish is a guitarist, composer, arranger and educator currently based in Denver.”

In Willits, at Gordon Keating Gallery, you can hear DEVACHAN with Chris Harrison. “Chris Harrison (vocals, alto and tenor saxophone) has been an active musical performer in the Roaring Fork Valley consistently for the past 20 years, most recently as the leader of the Broccoli Brothers Horns section and a 10-year member of the popular local band Jes Grew.”

Also appearing in Willits at Mezzaluna is the Jeremy Mohney Trio. “Jeremy Mohney (saxophone) and his band capture the sounds of swing with a feel that can't be reproduced by many alive. Always rooted and honoring the greats like Armstrong, Ellington and Waller, who set the groundwork for the music, he plays with his own faithful, yet unique take.”

At Tempranillo in Basalt, you can see and hear Valle Musico, consisting of guitarists Pat Winger and John Ramo, bassist Bruce Imig and drummer and percussionist Larry Dutmer. “With a musical mission to bring a fusion of new interpretations of classical, jazz and world-beat music to audiences, Valle Musico has a musical focus that explores the confluence of these genres in exciting and new musical ways.”

Down the road at the Toklat Gallery, the place will be rockin’ with the CMU Allstars. “Colorado Mesa University music faculties comprise the CMU Allstar jazz quartet. The quartet consists of Sean Flanigan, on trombone; Tim Emmons, on bass; Darin Kamstra, on drums; and Tim Fox, on piano. The group performs jazz standards and originals.”

And, at Starbucks in Willits, the Uptown Strutters will entertain you. “Lead vocalist Roberta Lewis has entertained in the Aspen area for nearly 30 years with ‘The Sirens’ and has performed with John Denver, Tuck & Patti and Dr. John. Her mastery of styles and broad vocal range make her voice at once indescribable and unforgettable as she switches from elegant jazz to soulful R&B in a heartbeat. She is joined by long-time radio personality, Steve Cole, a master on the sax and clarinet, and a veritable fountain of ideas on the keys.”

So, head out for some Pumpkin Jazz this Saturday. As Duke Ellington’s song says, “It don’t mean a thing, if it ain’t got that swing!”