On July 29, 30 and 31, I joined about 950 jazz fans for 23 hours of great old traditional jazz/swing music provided by 10 of the 11 featured bands.
The festival started at noon Friday in the Elks Ballroom with an educational presentation by vocal great Wende Harston and pianist Hank Troy.
They presented part two of "Sophisticated Ladies: The Vocal Greats of Jazz" from the earliest days into the 1930s. Featured were songs by Bessie Smith, Sophie Tucker, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Lena Horne, Dinah Washington and Peggy Lee.
Driving down to the Elks Patio, I listened to the Don Stiernberg Quartet.
The Famous Flatlanders, artists from Chicago and the Midwest, featured the leader Don playing an amazing electric mandolin with such songs as "Stars Fell on Alabama," "Somebody Loves You," "That Old Feeling" and "Lady Be Good." He said "mandolin players spend half their time tuning, then play half their time out of tune."
Next, the eight Yerba Buena Stompers from San Francisco played a "Dixieland Set," featuring tunes such as "South," "Baby, Won't You Please Come Home," "St. James Infirmary Blues" and "Basin Street Blues."
After dinner at the Elks Lodge, the Queen City (Denver) Jazz Band with Wende Harston entertained us with "Jubilee," "Dr. Jazz," "Panama" and "Pickled Pigs Feet." Not wanting to drive 20 miles on Interstate 70 after dark back to my motel in Golden, Colo., I passed up the night music, which continued until 10:45 p.m.
On Saturday morning, I returned to Evergreen and noticed a fair number of for rent or sale signs along the road, probably part of our economic downturn. On this narrow road, I dealt with tricycles, joggers and a man on two single-line skates propelling himself with two ski-like poles.
At 11 a.m., I returned to the Elks Ballroom to start the music day with the "Gypsy Swing Revue" and I had the fortunate opportunity to interrupt the lunch of Sterling Nelson, the founder of this festival in 2001. He was president of the Denver Jazz Club in the 1960s and promoted the Central City Jazz Festival in the 1970s.
I shook his hand and thanked him for this wonderful jazz festival. At 5 p.m., a live tribute occurred in the ballroom for his retirement as music director.
The Denver Gypsy Swing Revue, consisting of violin, lead and rhythm guitars and bass, takes you back to a swanky Paris Jazz club in the 30s, playing songs such as "C'est Si Bon."
As 12 to 15 couples danced, the musicians played a take-off on "American Patrol" and a Latin number.
During the entire festival, dance instructors Margaret Skovan and husband, Victor Ward, provided free dance lessons.
After lunch, the Jazz Cookers, light young musicians -- all but three of them alums of Arapahoe High School -- entertained with such numbers as "What's Cookin," "My Walking Stick" and "Boston Shuffle." Playing with a clarinet and two trumpets, their leader recalled Louis Armstrong once stated "musicians do read music, but not enough to hurt their playing."
Leader Rick Crandell, cornet player, graduated from my East Denver High School in 1975.
New Orleans jazz pianist extraordinaire John Royen brought his superb quartet with such tunes as "Royal Garden Blues," "Up the Lazy River" and a great solo piano number, "It's All Right With Me."
Denver's "after midnight" six-player band recreated the sound of the Benny Goodman Sextet. The group features Rick Weingarten, a vibraphonist, a great talent. They played a set entitled "Good Vibes with Lionel Hampton." I'm not a musician, but I've always wanted to play the vibes, so this was a special treat for me.
Featured were tunes such as "Vibraphone Blues," "Stardust," "Caravan" and "Avalon," a real treat.
Up Saturday afternoon were the Rain Dogs of Kansas City playing tribute to the old Southern string bands and blues masters. This quartet features Karla Peterie playing washboard, rhythm guitar and mandolin.
The tribute to founder Sterling Nelson included standing ovations.
Sterling noted his strong belief in human relations and old-time music. He then thanked the festival supporters, Denver and volunteers.
In part two, I'll write about the Sunday gospel church service, the "Great American Songbook," Chorale by the Queen City Jazz Band, and more. Stay with me.
Harry Watts, Hays, is an AARP community service volunteer.