When Jazz Aspen Snowmass launched its revamped jazz series in 2011, it seemed long overdue.
While Aspen and the Roaring Fork Valley have been quite fortunate to attract top-tiered national and international music acts to venues like Belly Up, the Wheeler Opera House, and Carbondale’s Steve’s Guitars and PAC3, there wasn’t a space that combined an intimate setting with the drawing power to make bringing in jazz artists without big names profitable.
But a partnership with a local hotel made the Jazz Café Downstairs at the Little Nell a reality.
“What this series does is to finally allow us to answer the question, ‘Where is the jazz in Jazz Aspen Snowmass?’” Jazz Aspen Snowmass President Jim Horowitz said at the launch of the revamped series.
The dimly lit, “warmly” acoustic 100-person room offers the ideal location for the soulful, syncopated and improvisational sounds of the award-winning jazz line-up.
“If you look at the history of jazz, it was incubated, survived and thrived in the club setting,” Horowitz says. “There’s no better place to listen to jazz than in an intimate setting.”
Already this summer the series has hosted blind singer-songwriter-guitarist Raul Midon and multiple Grammy nominee Karin Allison; the explosive funk stylings of New Orleans’ Jon Cleary; The Jeff Hamilton Trio (whose played with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie); and Cuban group Wil Campa Y Su Gran Union.
And tonight, singer, pianist and songwriter Tony DeSare will wrap up a two-night engagement with his typical infectious, wry playfulness, and robust musicality. His take on classic standards and sophisticated original compositions have earned him a reputation as one of New York’s hottest young singer-pianists. DeSare’s sound is romantic, swinging and sensual, but what sets him apart is his ability to write original material that sounds fresh while at the same time blending seamlessly with the Great American Songbook. He glides effortlessly from George Gershwin standards to contemporary classic by Tom Waits to his own inventive originals.
At 6 p.m., before DeSare’s 7 p.m. show, four-time Emmy award-winning TV interviewer, author, professional speaker, and acclaimed stage performer Bill Boggs will present “Memories of Sinatra.” In this presentation, Boggs — who once interviewed Sinatra on his daytime television show — will showcase highlights from that interview, clips of Frank performing at the peak of his career, and stories about his encounters with Sinatra over the years.
DeSare will also perform a second show at 9:30 p.m.
Only three performers remain for the summer series, including: Vieux Farka Toure, often referred to as the “Hendrix of the Sahara”; Nicole Henry, one of the jazz world’s most acclaimed vocalists; and a repeat appearance from Roberta Gambarini & Trio, who the Boston Globe calls “the true successor to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae.”
With a home at the Nell, Horowitz now sees the Jazz Café as part of the cultural landscape of Aspen. And it doesn’t hurt that it comes with the built-in marketing and stamp of approval from a five-star hotel.
“And that goes a long way because the people we’re bringing aren’t named Diana Krall, Tony Bennett and Harry Connick, Jr. (which have all been to JAS festivals), even though they’re amazingly talented.” Horowitz says. “We’re not selling big stars, we’re selling great jazz in an intimate setting.”
Presented by Jazz Aspen Snowmass
Jazz Café Downstairs at the Nell
6 p.m. Bill Boggs Sinatra presentation
Showtime at 7:30 and 9 p.m.