By Jon Solomon, Westword | Ben Makinen, a professional Denver jazz drummer since the ’80s, started working on his film JazzTown a decade ago. The documentary honors the musical mentors who invited him to play with them on stage and taught him with kindness.
“As I learned more about their pasts, I felt that most would be forgotten by the jazz world after they died,” he says. “Denver has generally been viewed as a cultural backwater — off the radar, as it were — certainly in the ’80s and even into the ’90s, when these musicians were keeping the art form of jazz alive here. These are some of our local music heroes — stewards of the craft who kept jazz alive and thriving in Denver while much of the world wrote us off as a cowtown.”
The film is nearly edited, and Makinen is selling virtual tickets for a rough cut that includes interviews with local jazz musicians like Freddy Rodriguez Sr., who recently died from coronavirus; Ed Battle, who died in December; Charles Burrell, who turns 100 this year; Dianne Reeves; Art Lande; Gene Bass; Billy Wallace; Ellyn Rucker; Ron Miles and others. Makinen also broadened the scope of the film to include younger players. Even former Colorado governor and music fan John Hickenlooper makes an appearance, speaking about booking jazz acts like Joe Bonner at the Wynkoop Brewing Company in the early ’90s.
“There are many musicians across at least a few generations who have been mentored by these lovely musicians,” Makinen explains. “This passing of the torch and the changing attitudes of the younger generations started to intrigue me, and I began to feel that the film would benefit from the interaction, and possible conflict, shown by engaging both young and old musicians.”
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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he’s been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Donate to JazzTown at Ben Makinen’s website: benmakinen.com. For a $15 donation, you will receive a link to download the rough cut of JazzTown; for $30, you’ll also receive a link to his short film “The Mission.”
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