The big news for Denver this month has to be the return of City Park Jazz. The 35th season kicks off on June 13 with free music from Greeley’s The Burroughs at 6 p.m., followed by a lineup of similarly strong Colorado-centric acts on Sundays through Aug. 8. There’s an eclectic group of presentations this year, with a lot of bands that live up to the word “jazz.” The Otone Brass Band appears June 20; the Annie Booth Big Band on June 27; Denver legend Purnell Steen with the Five Points Ambassadors on July 4; and The El Chapultepec All Stars featuring Tony Black on July 25. The website, cityparkjazz.org, reminds us that only 3.2 beer is allowed in the park (I did not know that!), and there’s a lovely, $30 T-shirt available, commemorating this year’s return.
Many hours away by car, but still in Colorado, is the equally exciting reveal of the Telluride Jazz Festival lineup. Taking place the weekend of Aug. 13-15, organizers have booked Galactic, the seemingly-well-liked-by-everyone pianist Robert Glasper; the life-affirming Preservation Hall Jazz Band; percussionist and singer Poncho Sanchez; drummer Allison Miller’s Boom Tic Boom; and much more. It’s an excellent roster this year, and the idyllic setting makes this one of the premier mountain jazz festivals. The three-day pass starts at $190, and there are different tiers depending on how much you’ll want to take in. Get information on the music, venues, camping and lodging at telluridejazz.org.
Colorado native and cornetist Kirk Knuffke has been establishing himself as a leading light in New York
creative circles in recent years, and his presence on an exhilarating new release from saxophonist James Brandon Lewis shows once again why he is so in demand.
“Jesup Wagon” (Tao Forms) is something of a celebration of inventor, intellectual and all-around Renaissance man Dr. George Washington Carver. Lewis’ compositions serve as stellar launching pads for his own daring solos as well as those of his Red Lily Quintet, and each member of the band exhibits a commanding presence. Robin D.G. Kelly’s excellent liner notes set the stage for the music, track by track, and on the whole this package holds its own against anything currently being released on a major label. Most importantly, though, is the music itself, and Lewis and his cohorts are playing at the top of their game.
In my ’80s college days, I was often relegated to the graveyard (midnight to 5 a.m.) shift at my university’s NPR affiliate FM radio station that specialized in jazz and blues. My enthusiasm for the music compensated for my deficiency of talent as a broadcaster. Over the course of any very early weekday morning, the few who might tune in could catch fantastic blasts of Archie Shepp, Alice Coltrane and electric-period Miles Davis. There were obscurities that would make it to the airwaves as well: A favorite of mine was the dazzling pianist Robert Sheff, better known as “Blue” Gene Tyranny, who would collaborate with artists as diverse as Iggy Pop to composer Robert Ashley. Sheff, who passed away in December of last year, left behind a veritable mountain of recordings, many of which are collected in the new box set “Degrees of Freedom Found,” out June 11 on the Unseen Worlds label.
Sheff’s technique, while exacting, was also charged with emotion, and the discs in this package show off his astonishing range. Straight-ahead jazz, electronic music, unclassifiable excursions and more come to life here. As eclectic as this presentation can be, it’s ultimately the ideal testament to his brilliance. I hope more open-minded listeners will finally discover Sheff/Tyranny, like I had the life-changing opportunity to do 30-plus years back.
More jazz around Denver for the month: Vocalist Bailey Hinkley Grogan brings her quartet to Dazzle on June 8, and trombonist Stafford Hunter will premiere his Freedom Quartet there on June 19. … Peter Sommer and his Quartet play Denver’s Nocturne every Saturday night in June. … National touring acts are returning to Colorado post-COVID: Jazz royalty Herbie Hancock and his band are scheduled for the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on Sept. 17, and guitarist Pat Metheny’s Side-Eye project appears at the Paramount Theatre Oct. 9.
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