About twenty years ago this writer was introduced to the music of guitarist Howard Alden. Always a superb player, whom has only gotten better throughout the years, it was quickly observed that Alden had a reputation as being “one of those young guys that plays like the old cats.” While any musician with an ounce of sense would know that this is a compliment, yet it is often a twisted, and backhanded compliment when the style of music is jazz. Many listeners, primarily the younger ones, just can’t digest the music unless it keeps moving out, and sometimes that it not necessarily a pleasant, good, or motivated sound. Through Alden, who is about the same age as this writer, I, and those younger folk whom I forced to listen, were treated to Alden’s pairings with the late cornetist, Ruby Braff, guitarists Jack Lesberg and George Van Eps, among others. Through Alden, many of us also came to appreciate woodwind player Peplowski, bassist Tate, trombonist Dan Barrett, drummer Don Grove, the Clayton brothers, just to name a few. The saddest fact about appreciating these players is that if it were not for an organization, Summit Jazz, Colorado fans would have scant chances to see these players on their home-town ground.
In 1977, an ambitious jazz fan and realtor, Juanita Greenwood, paired with Alan Granruth, best known as the man who founded the Central City Jazz Festival, paired together, armed with their experience, love of music, memories, and dreams to see if they couldn’t get a little two-day jazz festival started, hopefully to be held somewhere in the mountains – nothing real big, just a few bands. They’d present the festival at a hotel where guests could stay for the weekend, much like the legendary Gibson Jazz Parties, but on a much, much smaller basis. In 1979, the first Summit Jazz was held at the Ramada Inn, in Silverthorne, Colorado. It was perceived to be a great success: they had around 100 attendees.
In 1981, Summit Jazz moved their yearly event to Breckenridge. By the late 1980s, Summit’s founders realized that if they hoped to expand their events, and audiences, they were simply going to have to relocate to Denver, which they did, holding concerts at the Hyatt Tech Center for a number of years, before migrating to the Four Points Sheraton Denver, still in a somewhat south Denver location. By this time, Greenwood and Alan Frederickson, (a musician well-known for his work in Denver’s Queen City Jazz Band), were the producers of Summit Jazz, and in 1990, turned Summit into a non-profit organization, calling their shows “Summit’s Swinging Jazz”. Still a nomadic group, by 1998, Summit was presenting at Denver’s Adams Mark Hotel. When the Donald R. Seawell Grand Ballroom opened in 1999, the series found a home, remaining there today.
Even as longtime, partners and friends, Frederickson and Greenwood, have now married, and about a half dozen years ago, relocated to Port Townsend, Washington, where they reside today. Yet the twosome are still devoted, along with a Denver-based, volunteer staff , to presenting Summit Jazz in Colorado: where it all started. A delightful plus of any Summit show is that prior to the main even, one or two local young lineups always get a chance to play. This year one group with be the University of Colorado’s UCD Claim Jumpers, the other, a lineup made of primo alums from Cherry Creek High school bands.
Truth be told, many progressives consider Summit’s brand of jazz to be too steeped in history, the good old days, and sounds of the past. Well, it sort of is. But this is not a bad thing. Anyone whom ever attended a Gibson Jazz Party will never forget seeing Doc Cheatham, Sweets Edison, Slide Hampton, Ray Brown, Phil Woods, Flip Phillips, Ed Thigpen and Benny Carter work their magic in lineups chosen by Gibson before the performers assembled. It was magic.
In a 2003 interview Greenwood spoke to Colorado’s Jazz Me News writer Don Mopsick, about this type of magic and how many fans had wondered what would happen to this music when all of the “old guard” died off. Well, it has continued, just as Greenwood had surmised in the Mopsick interview:
“What’s happened is that younger musicians have come to take their place, but the audience has started to shrink from attrition. So the music has replenished itself, while the audience hasn’t.”
Greenwood is correct, unfortunately. The young folks just don’t come out for this type of sound. One would think that it would be a hot item on their lists, however, with the popularity of swing dancing. But many young folks shun music beloved my their grandparents and parents and would not waste their time going to a show where it was not ultra hip to see – and be seen – there. Too bad, some of the music one will hear at a Summit show is indie music at its best, now that the styles are not rampantly popular today.
Alden says he truly enjoys playing shows such as Summit: spontaneous lineups, variations on classic songs, and creating something more than memories from the old styles of jazz. Alden speaks passionately about the music.
“It is important. We are not just playing old music, we play with improvisation. We bring new moves to old music that we love. Sure, I’d like to see more young people there, but they do come, a few, but that’s how it starts.”
It is NOT how it ends. Yet, this year, there is a sad tone behind the preparations: Frederickson and Greenwood will be absent from the event. Frederickson is currently in the ICU unit of a hospital about sixty miles from Port Townsend. Greenwood is busy, making the journey to and from the hospital on a daily basis. But their love of the music will be present, as will any cool people, with an adventurous spirit, who want to check out a dynamite show.
The Summit Jazz lineup for Friday, March 26th and Saturday, March 27th is as follows:
Howard Alden – guitarist, located in NYC, about whom the legendary guitarist and Colorado Springs residents, Johnny Smith says: Howard Alden belongs to a small, elite group of the very best jazz guitarists in the world.” www.howardalden.com
Ehud Asherie – pianist , located in New York City, NYC. The New Yorker magazine has called Asherie “a master of swing and stride”. Asherie is a newer addition to the Summit “society”. www.ehudasherie.com
Don Grove – drums, a great drummer and a Colorado resident, with a legendary resume. www.denverjazzquartet.com
Jon-Erik Kellso – trumpeter from West New York, NJ has gained compliments such as this, from jazz critic Owen Cordle, who wrote, “Kellso may be the best traditional jazz trumpeter to come along since Warren Vache. www.kellsojazz.com/
Ken Peplowski – reed player from New York, NY. When Peplowski appeared on the scene, Jazz Journal International praised him as “… one of those fine young Americans who are currently setting so much of the pace in all that’s good in jazz.” www.kenpeplowski.com/
Frank Tate – bassist whom lives in Croton-on-Hudson NY, best known as Bobby Short’s musical director from 1996 until Short’s death in 2005.
Tickets: $44 per concert (includes 10% Denver seat tax). Students $10.00
To encourage new attendees, half price ($22) admissions are offered. This is a good way to get others interested in this wonderful art form, so bring some guests.
Attend both nights of a concert weekend and get one night at half price.
For a group of fourteen or more attendees paid in advance, you receive two complimentary admissions.
Location: Donald R. Seawell Grand Ballroom, Denver Performing Arts Complex, 14th and Curtis Street. Two dance floors. Reserved cabaret seating. Paid parking at 14th and Arapahoe Street (enter off Arapahoe).
Doors open at 6:15 p.m. and music beings at 7:00 p.m. with three 45-50 minute sets.