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Free jazz concerts at Solaris Plaza bring exposure to Colorado musicians

Vail Jazz @ Solaris, a free concert series hosted by the Vail Jazz Festival, highlights the growing base of talented jazz musicians in Colorado and gives student artists a chance to play before a live audience.

Vail Jazz @ Solaris is a free concert series that features a different Colorado-based jazz band every Sunday evening. This past Sunday, the Coração Brazilian Quartet out of Denver performed on the festival stage.
Steven Pope

The Vail Jazz Festival is in full swing as it heads into its final full month of programming. This summer has been a big success for the latest addition to the festival, Vail Jazz @ Solaris, a free concert series that takes place at Solaris Plaza every Sunday evening at 5:30 p.m. and features jazz artists from across Colorado.

Colorado, and the Denver area in particular, has become a growing hotbed for jazz, as talented musicians from cities like New York and Los Angeles relocate in search of a more balanced lifestyle. Festival founder Howard Stone has noticed this development taking place, and created this concert series to encourage the growth of jazz in our state.

“Being a jazz musician is almost a curse, because you’re probably very, very passionate about the music, and your opportunities to be financially rewarded are somewhat limited,” Stone said. “There are an enormous number of great jazz musicians in Denver, and we purposely set up this program to support those guys. To give them exposure, to give them a gig and to nurture homegrown talent.”



Not only do the Sunday performances provide exposure for established Colorado jazz musicians, but it also gives student musicians from around the state the opportunity to play before a live audience. Every Sunday show features an opening act from a different student band, which plays a set at 5:30 p.m. before the main act begins at 6:30 p.m.

Five high school students opened this Sunday’s performance as the CCJA Bebop Police, a band formed out of a summer camp taught by the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts.
Steven Pope

This past Sunday, a five-piece band called the CCJA Bebop Police opened the night. All of the members of the band were part of a week-long summer camp taught by the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts (CCJA), where they had been playing in workshops and jam sessions together every day.

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Kieran Osborn played drums for the band and is going into his junior year of high school.

“We didn’t rehearse that at all, we just came together and played,” Osborn said. “The whole of jazz is improvisation, it’s about what you’re feeling in the moment. You can play the same song many times, you can listen to it as many times as you want, and there will be a thousand different versions. Everybody has their own interpretation, and I love that, because you can just put your own spin on everything.”

Two of the band members are headed to college to continue studying music, and all are aiming for careers in the music industry.

The artistic director of CCJA, Paul Romaine, was also there Sunday night to support his students and to fill in on drums with the featured act of the night, the Coração Brazilian Quartet, after the main drummer, Raoul Rossiter, injured his hand.

The Coração Brazilian Quartet is made up of four well-established jazz artists from the Denver and Boulder areas, including bassist Bill McCrossen, pianist Eric Gunnison and guitarist Bill Kopper. CCJA Artistic Director Paul Romaine filled in last minute after drummer Raoul Rossiter injured his hand.
Steven Pope

“These are high school kids, so a lot of them are getting up there in this environment for the first time,” Romaine said. “We put the responsibility on them to find their own music, call their own set and organize as much as they can without getting in the way or micromanaging.”

Romaine said that when learning a style that is as of-the-moment as jazz is, playing to a live audience is the best opportunity for the students to develop as artists and learn to adapt to challenges in real time.

“They got lost on those last two songs, but the saxophone player just rolled with it, and pretty soon, the bass player was rolling with it, and then they were just playing open, which is exactly what you’re supposed to do,” Romaine said. “You’re in the moment, and that’s what jazz is. Yeah, it’s all this technical ability and stuff that’s written out that you should be able to play and intellectualize, but if all that falls through and you’re standing on stage, what do you do? I think they learned that it’s not going to be the end of the world if your plans blow up. Most of the people listening probably didn’t even know they were lost.”

Pianist Eric Gunnison has been a mainstay on the Denver jazz scene since the 1980s, and is one of many talented musicians who have relocated to the city and invigorated the jazz scene in Colorado.
Steven Pope

After the CCJA Bebop Police finished their set, the Coracao Brazilian Quartet took the stage for the main performance of the night. The quartet is made up of four well-established jazz artists from the Denver and Boulder areas, including bassist Bill McCrossen, pianist Eric Gunnison and guitarist Bill Kopper.

“A lot of places where the music scene was great, like New York City or LA, are not such great places to live, so we get these really heavy hitters from outside, and every year, it’s getting better,” Kopper said. “It’s insane, really, how good it is. Two of the best trumpet players in the country live in Denver, Eric Gunnison is just an institution. … It’s amazing the quality of musicians out here.”

This Sunday, the 11-piece salsa band Quemando Salsa from Boulder will be headlining the Vail Jazz @ Solaris concert, after an opening act from the East High Jazz Combo. No reservations are required. Music starts at 5:30 p.m. and attendees can take any spot on the turf to dance or bring their own seating.

Vail Jazz @ Solaris Schedule

Sunday, Aug. 8

Student Band: East High Jazz Combo

Headline Band: Quemando Salsa Band

Sunday, Aug. 15

Student Band: Denver School of the Arts Jazz Workshop

Headline Band: Tony G & Friends

Sunday, Aug. 22

Student Band: Denver Jazz Club Youth All-Stars

Headline Band: The Gratitude Quintet

Sunday, Aug. 29

Headline Band: Nelson Rangell Quartet


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