Longmont Jazz Festival highlights Colorado’s jazz scene

Longmont's passion for jazz keeps festival going

Ken Walker, who will return to the Longmont Jazz Festival
Photo by Tim Ellis

High school students and renowned jazz artists will take the same stage this weekend to present a sampling of jazz in Colorado.

This Saturday, the Longmont Jazz Festival will celebrate its 15th year. The festival is aimed at bringing more jazz to Longmont and exposing a new audience to the music, says Jerry Maddock, a board member of the Longmont Jazz Association.

Denver has an active jazz scene with venues dedicated to the genre, from the storied El Chapultepec to Dazzle, which was named “One of the World’s 100 Great Jazz Clubs” by DownBeat Magazine. The capital’s not alone in its jazz love, though: Big jazz festivals take place in Estes Park, Vail, Telluride and multiple other cities; jazz programs thrive at universities across the state; and the independent jazz radio station KUVO broadcasts jazz all over Colorado. Plus, Longmont and the surrounding region are home to many accomplished jazz musicians, says Max Wagner, the saxophonist and vocalist of the Max Wagner Quartet.

“The jazz scene around here is extra special,” Wagner says. “The talent level is amazing. There’s a ton of people from our region who are successful jazz artists nationally and internationally, and that’s amazing too about this part of the world.”

What sets the Longmont festival apart in Wagner’s eyes is the passion the organizers have for jazz music.

“It’s a gem of a festival, run by people who really have a great passion for jazz,” Wagner says. “I’m very thankful to those people. They truly care about the music and the musicians, and they run their festival accordingly.”

Bob Montgomery | Photo by Tim Ellis

The Longmont Jazz Association, a nonprofit started in 1998, hosts the jazz festival every year, using money from grants. In previous years, the festival was two or three days long, but with the recession, the festival received fewer and smaller grants for this year’s event. Even with a fundraising concert held in June, the organization could only afford to put on a one-day festival. To make up for the lost days, the festival will last longer than it has in past years, beginning at 11 a.m. instead of noon.

Among the jazz musicians included in the festival are 20 who haven’t been discovered yet. The Longmont All Stars, an audition-only collection of talented high school jazz musicians, will perform at the festival for the 13th year. The band, which includes high school students from seven different schools, organized by Bill Wilkinson, was formed 13 years ago, just two years after the Longmont Jazz Association. The organizations collaborated to incorporate the young musicians in the annual jazz festival. Because many of the band’s 15 performances a year are out of town, the Longmont Jazz Festival gives the students a chance to return home and perform for their families and friends.

During the festival, the Longmont All Stars will also take part in an improvisation clinic with Bob Montgomery. The inclusion of the Longmont All Stars in the festival and the band’s participation in the clinic offered by well-known jazz artists represents a nationwide growth in jazz education.

“I think for young players, it’s always amazing to hear mature, fully developed players,” says Wagner, who became passionate about jazz at 17 years old. “To have an opportunity to see these people up close and acoustically is always different than watching it on YouTube or listening to it on a CD. There’s a lot to be learned, and most of these people are very generous, very kind and humble people, so it’s fairly commonplace for young musicians to be received welcomingly by these fellows. They have questions and are curious about things, about music, about equipment, whatever. That interaction is really neat. It’s great the festivals provide a forum for that.”

While the Longmont All Stars do play at jazz venues like Dazzle in Denver, they also frequent venues like Oskar Blues, where their performance can seem a little bit more like background music to the patrons. Because the event draws a more attentive audience, the Longmont Jazz Festival is a refreshing change.

“Generally the people that come to the Longmont Jazz Festival have more jazz savvy than the other audiences we play for,” Wilkinson says. “When we play at Oskar Blues, it’s pretty much just a night club.”

However, the festival’s audience isn’t limited to jazz enthusiasts. Families with small children also frequent the Longmont Jazz Festival, as it’s a free, outdoor, community event.

“It’s a family affair. It’s a day out in the park,” Maddock says. “The kids come and get out and dance. It’s really not just for the hipsters; it’s for families that want to come and bring friends. It’s a free activity, and we have food and drink for them there.”

Additionally, this is the first year that members of the Longmont Artists Guild will display and sell their work at the festival. Maddock says he hopes the artists will bring new fans to the jazz festival, while the music will bring new viewers to the artists.

The 15th annual Longmont Jazz Festival takes place 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. Saturday, July 20, at Roosevelt Park Pavilion. Free and open to the public. 725 Eighth Ave., Longmont. Visit http://bit.ly/LongmontJazz for a full schedule.

a.m. – Longmont All Star Jazz Band. A 20-piece full big band composed
of the best of the best of high school musicians from the Longmont area.

12:15 p.m. – Bob
Montgomery Jazz Performance Clinic. A free clinic for all musicians led
by internationally recognized jazz trumpeter and educator Bob

1:30 p.m. –
Bob Montgomery/Allen Hermann Quintet. Performing the same great jazz
that they play on the group’s international touring schedule, including
original music and standards.

p.m. – The Poudre River Irregulars. This group is a jazz mainstay
throughout northern Colorado. Since 1995, this band has been pleasing
crowds with its renditions of classic jazz numbers by the likes of Louis
Armstrong, Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, George Gershwin and Duke

4:00 p.m. – Dexter Payne Sextet will get the crowd going with its Brazilian-influenced, high-energy jazz.

5:15 p.m. – Max Wagner Quartet will end the festival with its signature
brand of jazz, featuring Max Wagner on saxophone and vocals, Eric
Gunnison on piano, Ken Walker on bass and Alwyn Robinson at the drums.

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