There’s plenty to be excited about this coming August in Denver.
First, and it’s a huge first, at the Democratic National Convention on August 25 – 28, Senator Barack Obama is set to become the nation's first African-American presidential candidate of a major party.
Second, our grand city, specifically Denver’s historic Five Points, will be home to the Denver Jazz & Blues Festival 2008, a music extravaganza August 23 through 29 for adults 21 and older.
“The festival gets back to the roots of Five Points,” says Tamara Banks, media spokesperson for After Five, LLC, the group producing the event. “The DNC in Denver gives Denver an opportunity to shine and we, at After Five, want to celebrate Denver’s diverse culture, specifically the African-American culture in Five Points given its deep history in jazz and blues and the history the Rossonian brings.”
For four decades, from the 1920s to 1950s, Five Points was heralded as a “Jazz Mecca” and the “Harlem of the West.” Music aficionados from Colorado and across the country heard live jazz at dozens of clubs, restaurants and hotels along Welton Street. They grooved to performances by local and regional talent, and legends like Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Duke Ellington and Nat King Cole.
With this upcoming festival, Banks says the vibrancy that was once bestowed upon Five Points is on its way back.
“I can’t remember any contemporary jazz and blues festival in Denver in the last 30 to 40 years this exciting,” says local entrepreneur Carl Bourgeois, one of the After Five organizers. “This multi-day event will have a huge number of performers from the jazz and blues scene – from local favorites to mid-level and national entertainers.”
Bourgeois has a passion for history, culture and music. With his friend and business partner Sheila King, the two produced the popular one-day “Jazzy 4th of July” festival for eight years in Five Points. Now, the duo is part of the After Five group, a coalition of business people who’ve combined their expertise to produce the Denver Jazz & Blues Festival 2008, a much larger and extravagant production.
Other organizers include music, event and media personalities Becky Taylor, voice of numerous jazz stations throughout the country, Lu Vason of Lu Vason Presents, Vernon Barbary of Vbass, Tamara Banks with Taz Media and Rosalind “Bee” Harris, publisher and owner of the Denver Urban Spectrum.
The group began orchestrating the week long event after Denver was selected to host the 2008 Democratic National Convention.
“We want the festival to be a great experience from the moment you walk in the gates,” says Banks who anticipates 3,000 to 5,000 will attend daily.
“We want those who live here and those visiting Denver to be part of the excitement and spirit with the DNC in town,” explains Bourgeois. “We are proud of the history of Five Points and have an interest in sharing it.”
Three Stages for Hot Live Jazz & Blues
The Denver Jazz & Blues Festival 2008 is going to be jammin’ with seven days of performances on three stages. The musical line-up includes jazz, blues, Latin jazz, African jazz, gospel, and old school jams.
Becky Taylor, the After Five event coordinator, has been lining up musicians and she’s excited about the variety and quality of artists who will take the stage during the festival.
“We are showcasing local and national talent you can’t get together anywhere else,” says Taylor.
The festival will kick off the weekend before the DNC convention with afternoon performances. Then, during the week, attendees can look forward to premier performances after 5 p.m.
For starters, on Aug. 23 and 24, saxophonists Eric Darius and Gerald Albright will kick off the multi-day festival with smooth jazz performances. Albright, who now resides in Castle Rock, has sold over 1 million albums in the U.S. and has teamed up with contemporary jazz stars like Will Downing, Jonathan Butler, Hugh Masekela, Chaka Khan, and Rachelle Ferrell.
Also on Aug. 24 is a special performance, “The Gospel According to Jazz” by George Duke and Kirk Whalum, who have not yet played together in Denver.
During the week, the evening performances will feature an array of jazz styles.
On Aug. 25, audience goers can see and hear the highly-acclaimed vocalists Hazel miller, Sheryl Renee, Mary Louise Lee and Lynda Styles in a performance called “Denver Divas.”
Changing up the flavor on Aug. 26 will be Latin jazz phenoms Arturo Sandoval and Pancho Sanchez.
“Both artists bring in a lot of energy,” says Taylor.
Sandoval, a Cuban jazz trumpeter and pianist, has toured worldwide and recorded with Tito Puente, Frank Sinatra, Herbie Hancock, Alicia Keyes and other greats. While, Grammy winner Pancho Sanchez is considered one of the leading percussionists in the country, he intoxicates audiences with his congas.
Then on Aug. 26, pianist Purnell Steen will perform with bassist Charlie Burrell.
Also performing throughout the festival is one of the best backup bands in the country – Pockit, who’ll back up big names like Marion Meadows, Kevin Toney and Jaciem Joyner.
Blues artists Sammy Mayfield, Tommy Thomas, Ricki Earle Blues Band and the Erica Brown Blues Band will also perform throughout the week. And, for those into old school favorites, the Blackbyrds will round out the variety with rhythm and blues and jazz-funk.
With a musical line-up so talented and diverse, the festival will be one of those don’t miss events for Denverites and visitors alike.
Editor’s note: At press time, Taylor was still signing on performers. The current event schedule can be viewed at DenverJazzFestival2008.com. Tickets are on sale to the public (adults 21 years of age and older) via After Five’s website at DenverJazzFestival2008.com and are $59, $89 and $119. A ticket outlet will be announced in mid-July. For more information, call After Five at 303-296-2701 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Andrea Juarez is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor. She writes about history, culture, business and health, and was a recipient of the Colorado Association of Black Journalists’ Scribes in Excellence Award in 2007.