Denver starts to rock as spring starts rolling; warming up for those summer nights when we do what we do best--hit the streets! Not long after the ski slopes close the concert venues open and for the next five months music will waft through our city's thin air. Picnics in the park, treks up to Red Rocks; I can almost hear the clickety-clack of Prada sandals as the charge of the Botox Brigade hits the patio at Elway's. Kicking it off is Saturday' 7th annual Five Points Jazz Festival. Long before Denver saw the likes of Matt Holliday or the Birdman, Duke Ellington, Charlie "Bird" Parker and Billie Holiday roamed the streets of Five Points, frequenting the jazz clubs and speakeasies that dressed the streets near 27th and Welton.
It started for me at coffee with Denver Office of Cultural Affairs Public Programming Coordinator, Gina Rubano. We talked of all that jazz and how the festival pays tribute not only to the rich cultural heritage of the Five Points neighborhood but to modern day icons as well. This year the Five Points Jazz Festival will honor the significant and lasting contributions of Latin musician Ramon "Ray" Pacheco, the legendary dancer/choreographer Cleo Parker Robinson, and disc jockey Leroy Smith, whose 1948 nightly radio show "Rockin' with Leroy Smith" was the hit of KIMN. It was he who coined the tag line "Cool, Crazy and Hot" as he spun be-bop vinyl.
"Denver really turns out for this festival, whether they're jazz fans or they just want to be part of the festivities." Rubano says. "Jazz can be intimidating if you don't know a lot about it, so we look to provide interesting ways to engage and educate those who are unfamiliar. This year professor and poet Jake Adam York will speak at the Blair Caldwell Library in a series called Notes, Chords, and Changes: Musicians and Traditions in Jazz. Exploring the work of four trios of musicians, York will track how the process of recognition, repetition and innovation connect deep musical traditions to the contemporary scene."
Four stages will be set to fly, with performances by a wide variety of Denver's favorite jazz musicians. Beyond Five Points favorites, Tom's Home Cooking and Blackberries Ice Cream, the Colorado Black Chamber of Commerce will host the Festival Marketplace; the place to go for food, drink, artists and exhibitors. Be sure to bring your camera; you may want to enter a snap in the Five Points Jazz Festival Photo Contest. With great weather in the forecast and a warm welcome from your Five Point neighbors, how could you go wrong? The music's free, the Red Line's free and I'll bet your spirit will be too.
"It's a celebration of the city by the city, and of the contributions made by our African American community past and present." said Rubano. "So it'll be fun?" I ask. "Oh yeah. It will be 'Cool, Crazy and Hot.'"