Mountain jazz festivals return with in-person gigs in Denver — The Know

The return of Jazz Aspen Snowmass in 2021 is welcome news, and not just because this renowned annual festival is staging a comeback for its 30th anniversary. It’s also something of a signal to other jazz gatherings that it’s OK to carefully reopen the doors (or gates, if we’re talking about outdoor concerts).

JAS shows will resume in the form of small venue concerts, “focused on safe and distanced in-person ‘live’ performances” the weekend of June 18, according to the organization. The annual June JAS Experience runs the following weekend, beginning June 24.

The lineup of artists is impressive for the June JAS Experience: the vocal group Take 6, pianist Monty Alexander’s Harlem-Kingston Express and acclaimed singer Dee Dee Bridgewater will appear at area venues that weekend. If you’re interested in attending, don’t delay on tickets since these and numerous other events will likely sell out quickly, due to current restrictions on the number of attendees permitted. Find out more at axs.com/jasaspen.

RELATED: Jazz Aspen to host full JAS Café season, in-person June Experience

Other mountain-town celebrations are also re-emerging this summer. The Winter Park Jazz Festival will return July 17-18, with artists to be announced. Telluride’s Jazz Festival will welcome The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Poncho Sanchez and more headliners yet to be revealed Aug. 13-15. The straight-ahead Vail Jazz Party is also slated to return over Labor Day weekend, and its website (vailjazz.org) promises swinging things to come. Meanwhile, the intimate Evergreen Jazz Festival has canceled festivities this year, but organizers have vowed to return in the summer of 2022.

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Trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith has always blazed his own path, self-releasing numerous exploratory recordings as far back as half a century ago, when hardly anyone else was doing such a thing. Smith turns 80 this year, and he’s planning an ambitious series of box sets on the Finnish TUM label. Two of these sets will be available on May 21, and they’re both stunning. “Sacred Ceremonies” consists of three CDs, featuring collaborations with drummer Milford Graves and bassist Bill Laswell, in duo and trio configurations with the trumpeter. The performances with Graves, who died in February of this year, are particularly spirited and display the kind of avant comaraderie that only veterans of the music can conjure. The trio recordings in this set swing heartily while melding free music with rockish surprises. These are three artists communicating at a high level.

The second collection, “Trumpet,” is just that: a trio of discs showcasing Smith’s solo work. While that might seem daunting on the surface, his meditative sound is comforting while it captures the essences of singular artists who have lived in his time, including James Baldwin, Amina Claudine Myers and Albert Ayler. With a single, exquisitely recorded instrument, Smith creates an engrossing sound world.

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Live music planned in Denver this month: Pianist Adam Bodine will play Mom’s Day Breakfast, Brunch and Lunch at [email protected]’s on May 9. The Jazz Worms, which recently released its first album since 1987, “Squirmin’,” will play two shows there May 22. … Saxophonist Briana Harris and her band will appear at the inviting Nocturne on May 8 and 15. … Smooth saxophonist Gerald Albright will play a rescheduled show at the Lone Tree Arts Center on May 15. …  Trumpeter Shane Endsley is performing with different groups every Thursday in May at Dazzle. … City Park Jazz hasn’t released a schedule of live dates for this summer as of press time, but the possibility of Sunday music and the resumption of the popular, free series, is promising in 2021. … In case you missed the news, the legendary Denver jazz club El Chapultepec will be rebranded as Cantina, with new managers promising a return to live jazz in LoDo. I hope they can retain the spirit of the beloved old venue.

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