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The more the mellower for Earl Klugh




With more than a dozen nominations under his belt, Earl Klugh is clearly a favorite among Grammy voters. He's also released some 50 albums, racked up millions of sales, and recorded with some of his biggest influences, ranging from Chet Atkins to Bob James.

But from a local perspective, there's one more accomplishment that matters at least as much. Klugh's Weekend of Jazz at the Broadmoor, now in its 11th year, has become a mecca for those who favor the smoothest varieties of America's original art form.

"For me, this is almost like a vacation — a working vacation — but still a vacation," says the musician, whose most recent album featured guest appearances by Jake Shimabukuro, Bill Frisell and no fewer than three Eagles. Yet even Klugh's most star-studded collaborations can't match the annual dose of camaraderie he finds at the Colorado Springs gatherings.

"One of the things you really don't get to do a lot is spend downtime with so many different artists," says Klugh. "Everything is taken care of through your agents, and you don't have artist-to-artist conversations when you're out working dates."

While Klugh may be reluctant to choose personal favorites, he's happy to pick which of this year's artists are most stylistically different.

"For me, it would be Gregory Porter and David Benoit. I've been trying to get David for years. He's a really great pianist and he's done a lot of things worldwide over the course of his career; it's a pretty similar career to mine in some ways."

Porter, meanwhile, has a much shorter track record, although he won a Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy this year for Liquid Spirit, his first recording for the legendary Blue Note label.

"I found out about him around three years ago, and what first interested me is that he did a song called 'Imitation of Life,'" says Klugh of the rarely covered title song from Douglas Sirk's 1959 melodrama. "The funny thing about it is that I saw that movie when I was a kid with my mom. And once I heard his recording of the song, I'm like, man, this is cool!"

Other artists on this year's schedule include gospel singer-pianist Oleta Adams, smooth jazz singer Dave Koz and South African "worship musician" Jonathan Butler.

"It's kind of an eclectic group of songs and players," says Klugh of his ever-changing cast of characters. "Even with the after-shows. Last year, we had a band — and everybody loved this band, I forget the name of it — it was a bluegrass band and they did Prince covers. [Laughs.] I can probably dig up the name for you."

The band, it turns out, was Colorado Springs' Grass It Up. [Disclosure: Mandolinist David Jeffrey is an Indy staffer.] "They just have this kind of persona," says Klugh. "They're not too serious, but they're great musicians."

As for upcoming plans, Klugh has been working in his home studio, layering analog synth, piano and guitar parts for his next album. But don't expect anything resembling the frenetic jazz-fusion Klugh played during his mid-'70s stint with Return to Forever.

"I mean, it's great music, but I was into the nylon-string thing," says the guitarist, who's still awed by the over-amped energy that Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke brought to the stage. "I'm telling you, it was loud," he says with a laugh. "Those guys can't hear anymore."

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