When saxophone player Rico Jones was just 14 years old, he got to jam alongside drummer Tom Tilton and jazz pianist Joe Bonner at Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood.
“Joe had performed with artists like Woody Shaw and Pharaoh Sanders,” Jones said. “It was one of the first times I was so close to the authentic lineage of the music. I was beyond inspired.”
That was 2012. Today, Jones — a Latin-Indigenous artist who was born and raised in Denver — has been recognized with more than 10 national awards. He is one of about 40 musical artists slated to perform at this year’s Five Points Jazz Festival.
The event runs from noon to 8 p.m. on June 10. It will feature 10 indoor and outdoor stages along Welton Street between 25th and 29th streets. The day kicks off with a parade led by the Guerilla Fanfare Brass Band. Attendees will also find food vendors, a kid’s zone and artisan booths.
“People love a great music festival,” said Sonia Rae, the cultural affairs program manager for Denver Arts & Venues, which puts on the festival. “There’s a powerful and rich jazz community here in Denver – some of the finest local musicians are playing the festival.”
The festival is free and will feature a variety of jazz genres: Latin jazz, smooth jazz, soul, avant-garde, jazz roots, blues and more.
Tenia Nelson, a pianist with the Denver-based Tenia Nelson Trio — or TNT for short — served on this year’s Five Points Jazz Festival selection committee.
Nelson is looking forward to seeing all of the different kinds of bands performing this year, she said, “and just being around beautiful people enjoying themselves.”
“People enjoy watching live music because they get to see the bands in real time interacting with each other,” Nelson said. “When they see the bands having a great time and playing amazing music, then of course, they will also have a great time.”
Now in its 20th year, the festival draws a crowd of roughly 60,000 attendees. But its beginnings were humble. It started out with three bands on one stage in the parking lot of the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library on Welton Street.
However, Denver’s Five Points is no stranger to jazz. Known as the Harlem of the West, the neighborhood has drawn jazz greats for the better part of a century.
Historically, Black jazz musicians would come to Denver to perform in White venues. However, they were not allowed to stay in those parts of town because they were Black. So, they would stay in Five Points.
“They would stay, and play, and jam all night long,” Rae said.
She added it’s important to honor the history of jazz in Denver because it tells a story of who Denver is.
“The history of Denver is alive and well in Five Points,” Rae said. “And jazz is alive and well in Five Points.”
Music is something that can bring people of many backgrounds together, Rae said. Those who already love jazz music will certainly enjoy the festival, but it’s also a good way to introduce people to the local jazz scene.
“Jazz is a music that is for the people by the people … People appreciate what is real, genuine and heartfelt,” Jones said. The “Five Points Jazz Festival brings that to the people. And best of all, they do it in a historical place where many of the greats of jazz music performed in the early days of the art form.”