Denver’s beloved Dazzle Jazz Club celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2022
The pandemic has grounded so many artists and clubs that it’s tempting to think of it as the kind of highly pressured environment that produces ironclad resolve.
This only happens if there is enough support on all sides.
“In a weird way, it’s been good. It taught us to do what we do best and put all that other stuff aside,” said Donald Rossa, 62, longtime owner of Dazzle, Denver’s flagship jazz club celebrating its 25th anniversary. in 2022.
Rossa is kind in her assessment of the past two years, which have been as difficult for Dazzle as any other independent music venue. A lack of revenue, potentially overwhelming reimbursement claims, furloughed employees and more could have quickly driven the club into the ground early on.
But as one of the region’s most prominent jazz players, Dazzle has felt the love of the community since COVID-19 froze the music industry in early 2020, with tens of thousands dollars in donations and grants, in addition to volunteer work.
Not that it’s easy or automatic. The club faced stage outages for months even as it continued to pay musicians for virtual gigs (a rarity over the past two years). He raised $40,000 for employees through GoFundMe, Westword reported, despite a virtual absence of cash during the closures. And the club provided Denver musicians of all genres with its free dining program, which stocked an honest to god pantry with canned and dry goods and fresh vegetables.
“We all started talking when the shows first stopped,” Rossa said of her peers in the Front Range jazz scene. “And it infuriated us that they cut a lifeline out of these musicians. They were a bunch of bullshit, so what were we going to do to fight for them?”
The pantry was eventually removed to pay its musicians more, Rossa said. But that spirit continues to go both ways: Dazzle now raises funds for a different nonprofit each month by adding the ability to donate through its ticketing system. (In January, the club supports the James Dewitt Yancey Foundation.)
“I was in awe of the whole place and the scene,” said general manager and co-owner Matt Ruff, who joined Dazzle immediately after leaving El Paso, Texas, in 2003. That was when where the club was a railroad. car-shaped bar with an adjacent upscale dine-in scene, located at 930 Lincoln St.
“I had a really good (working) interview with Donald, and he invited me that night to see Future Jazz Project and Andrew Hudson’s Latin Jazz Band,” Ruff said. “I thought I was going to interview for a bartender or server position, but I came in as a general manager the first holiday season.”
Like Ruff, others have found their way to Rossa thanks to the club’s reputation for booking freshly minted local artists as much as Grammy-winning touring artists. That includes upcoming shows from Christian McBride and Inside Straight (scheduled for May 10-12), hip trios such as The Bad Plus (a perennial Denver and Dazzle favorite), and boundary-pushing locals such as Los Mochochetes.
As a result, Dazzle has consistently been named the city’s best jazz club in critics’ and readers’ polls, and proven itself in roundups such as Downbeat’s “100 Best Jazz Clubs in the World”.
“The only thing I said was, ‘We have to make money to stay open next year,'” Rossa said. “And if we do that, we have another year. But the beauty of this job is that we are all ages and jazz can be defined in many ways.
Denver’s jazz scene is compact but strong, and Rossa and her team are arguably the heart of it. With the help of nationally acclaimed station KUVO Jazz (89.3 FM) and other names such as production company Live @ Jack’s (formerly Jazz @ Jack’s), Nocturne, The Mercury Cafe, Soiled Dove, Muse Performance Space and the late, great El Chapultepec in the Lower Downtown – among many other boosters – Dazzle has become a safe stop for top talent.
It’s also thanks to a long line of savvy bookers, Rossa said, thanking too many to list here, and the bar’s co-founders Karen Storck and Miles Snyder (whom Rossa bought Dazzle from in 2003). ). Now housed in a sprawling 9,000 square foot space in the Baur Building at 1512 Curtis St., Dazzle has continued to evolve — especially after decamping from Lincoln Street in 2017, following potential renovation issues that plagued it. would have resulted in Lincoln Street.
It was then that veteran jazz singer Jan Cleveland joined the team.
“People like me and Austin Andres came on board (as co-owners) with the hope that we could give Donald some energy to keep going,” said Cleveland, who is also an attorney overseeing the cases. of Dazzle since 2017.
“Jan and I were talking about opening a jazz club on our own and then talking to Donald about the possibility of buying Dazzle at some point,” said Andres, who is involved in buying and booking Dazzle. talents. “But Donald was really invested and invited us to partner with him.”
With support from Cleveland, Ruff and Andres, Dazzle’s 25th anniversary shows kicked off Jan. 8 and 9, but the club will be celebrating year-round, Rossa said. Jazz is a resilient and unique American art form that has already sailed through patches like this. Whether we’re in a culture tunnel or on the doorstep of the Roaring New Years of the 20s, Rossa said he always works on behalf of his clients and musicians.
And they work for him. Only 10% of ticket holders for canceled or postponed Dazzle shows have requested refunds in the past two years, he said. Still, he decided to ‘give all that money back’, adding, ‘We’re doing well, and I think things like that are about building relationships with future, everlasting customers.
“But we don’t advertise ourselves, we advertise artists,” he said. “We are the ones who feed on their energy.”
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