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Queen City Jazz Band evokes sounds of bygone era

The Queen City Jazz Band of Denver
  • The Queen City Jazz Band of Denver

Listening to the Queen City Jazz Band, I'm reminded of a little place located amidst the chaos of modern day Bourbon Street. It's called Preservation Hall and it features authentic jazz and blues played by old-timers in a chaste environment -- there's no drinking or smoking -- where it's all about the music.

But you don't have to travel to the Crescent City to find this sort of rare authenticity. In fact, look no farther than Denver, where The Queen City Jazz Band re-creates the sounds of the 1920s Jazz Age. The eight-piece band brings to life the music of Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver. They'll be in Colorado Springs March 28, at the Louisa Performing Arts Center at the Colorado Springs School, playing old standards like "Sweet Georgia Brown," "Fidgety Feet" and "Basin Street Blues." The event is sponsored by the Pikes Peak Jazz and Swing Society.

The QCJB began performing at the Mon-Vue Village, a small roadhouse in a Denver suburb, in 1958. Soon the band evolved from playing local gigs to playing around the region, the country and across Europe. With over three decades of experience behind them, they've made over 18 recordings and have been honored twice by the state Legislature for their cultural contribution.

QCJB's most recent recording, I'm in Love Again, features 17 tracks of good old-fashioned jazz with the wonderful vocalist Wende Harston. If the old adage is partially true that country music is all about breaking up, losing your dog and wrecking your pickup truck, it is also partially true that early jazz is about falling in love, being in love, trying to stay in love and falling out of love.

"You're the Cream in My Coffee" is a charming tune featuring banjo player Jim Tracy on vocals. Tracy's crisp, resonant voice swims effortlessly in front of the many-layered wave of crisp brass accompaniment.

The band's other vocalist, Harston, shines throughout the album, most notably on "Come on Over" and "Ain't Misbehavin'. " The former, an emotional ballad, allows Harston to reach emotional depth with her range and lustrous intonation.

The band's rendition of "Ain't Misbehavin'," a standard since 1929, is a spry song about fidelity, which Harston interprets wonderfully. The song evokes the ethos of a bygone era: "I ain't misbehavin', saving all my love for you." The QCJB's version of this classic easily stands up to New Orleans impresario Kermit Ruffins's version in authenticity and emotion.

The longevity and success of the QCJB speaks volumes about the jazz idiom as a unique American cultural phenomenon and its ability to flourish outside its traditional Delta and Mississippi River regions. In addition to the numerous tours and music festivals QCJB attends, the band has also found a rich audience among various churches and elementary schools in the Denver area. Several local churches have invited the band to liven up Sunday services -- a return, of sorts, to the spiritual and gospel roots of jazz. The QCJB has also taken to educating Denver elementary schools about jazz.

While a band of this caliber could be found playing in the hallowed confines of Preservation Hall, it's comforting to know that they belong right here in Colorado.

-- Aaron Menza

capsule The Queen City Jazz Band

Sunday, March 28, 2 - 4:30 p.m.

Louisa Performing Arts Center at the Colorado Springs School, 21 Broadmoor Ave.

Students $5, Adults $15, PPJASS members $12


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