Jazz Aspen Snowmass celebrates twenty-five years in 2015 and this month, it kicked off its anniversary celebration. The non profit that started as a three-day festival has grown into a year-round operation, bringing jazz education to kids and big-name music acts to town. But, success hasn’t come without difficulty. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen reports.
A group of jazz musicians is busy setting up equipment, tuning instruments and practicing vocals before a performance.
Wine glasses and small bowls of nuts sit on white tablecloths. And, the wait staff prepares in the corner. The jazz group is performing at the JAS Cafe Downstairs at the Nell, a relatively new venue for Jazz Aspen Snowmass. Jim Horowitz is the organization’s founder.
"Now after 25 years, we have a real, permanent home for actual jazz in an intimate setting. So, the Jazz Cafe at the Nell has found a footing and a following," he says.
In the 1980s, Horowitz was on tour, playing piano and singing professionally. His career took an unexpected turn while performing at a music festival in southwestern France.
"This was the place where the light bulb went off, and I said to myself, ‘This is what I need to be doing.'"
He brought his idea to Aspen. The first festival was held at the Benedict Music Tent. In the mid 1990s, JAS began to grow, expanding to Snowmass Village and including in its lineup a Labor Day Festival, now well-known with recent acts like Ziggy Marley and Mumford and Sons.
"It was meant to be a broadening of our musical footprint, of the genres we dealt with and the kind of people we attracted," says Horowitz.
The growth of JAS came to a halt during the Great Recession, when a major corporate sponsor pulled its funding. Horowitz says the organization was forced to reinvent itself.
"That was when the Jazz Cafe was really born. And it was born out of the conviction that we had reached a point where we needed to hit the reset button as an organization and we needed to get jazz back, front and center."
"This was something that our area cried out for and longed for," says Stacey Kent.
She's a Grammy nominated jazz vocalist and a Carbondale resident. She’s performing at the Jazz Cafe at the Nell, and says it’s an important venue for the Roaring Fork Valley.
"I’ve been down here as an audience member and I’ve seen people - my husband and I and our neighbors - just loving this."
Jimmer Bolden is a Los Angeles-based jazz singer who’s been working with Horowitz since the 1980s. He’s watched JAS become what it is today.
"It’s been really great to see how he’s been able to bring such a diverse array of artists into the Valley and really get so much support for it. Year in and year out, people are happy to see some acts that they might not ever see in this Valley."
Back in the Jazz Cafe, the musicians pick up their instruments, with Jim Horowitz on the piano. It’s the sound that started Jazz Aspen Snowmass and, it’ll be the focal genre in 2015 as the organization rolls out several music events celebrating its anniversary.