Colorado-based jazz aficionados are sure to know the cultural importance of Denver, more specifically the Five Points neighborhood when it comes to jazz history. Those new to the genre or new to the city may be unaware of the nickname, “Harlem of the West,” which dates back to the 1930s.
If you’re looking to take in a history lesson or simply relax to the smooth harmonies of a jazz band at the end of a long week, Denver has several establishments that provide live jazz music. Kick back with a cocktail or draft beer and enjoy the time spent amongst members of the community, whether it’s at a dive bar, performance lounge, or a luxury hotel. The Centennial State’s capital city allows you to be transported back to the days of Ray Charles, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington.
Brief History of Jazz in Denver
While recent transplants to Denver may cite Red Rocks Amphitheater, the Fillmore, and the Ogden as being the most historic music venues around — one of Denver’s oldest neighborhoods, Five Points, was known as the “Harlem of the West” when jazz music was reaching new heights during the 1930s.
Five Points was home to several popular jazz clubs, including the Rossonian Hotel (“The Ross”) and the Rainbow Ballroom. Some of the most famous touring musicians of the time, including Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong, passed through these venues and delighted residents with their complex harmonies and improvised sets.
At this time in history, many of the most celebrated jazz musicians were unwelcome in the greater Denver area due to the color of their skin. The demographics of Five Points were largely African American at the time, leading the traveling musicians to seek accommodation and venues there instead. Much celebrated by the residents, these acts revitalized the community and their popularity rose into the 1960s.
Nowadays, Five Points hosts an annual jazz festival that’s been celebrated for nearly two decades. This celebration seeks to rediscover the jazz roots of the neighborhood while introducing young and old to the beauty of the genre via local bands and up-and-coming musicians hoping to gain popularity and increase their stage presence.
To this day, Five Points is an epicenter of creativity in the Denver area. Those who have yet to experience the vibrancy of this neighborhood should plan an evening to explore the streets, pick up some soul food, and discover just what’s so special about this historic location and the ties it holds to the transcendent sounds of jazz.
Click here for a map of the mentioned live jazz locations.
Since opening in March 2015, Nocturne has held the title of being the only Denver-based venue that exclusively invites jazz artists to perform. There is jazz music every week from Wednesday through Sunday, so guests can add a recurring night out to their schedule.
Not only does Nocturne invite national touring artists to their stage but they host a unique “Artist in Residency” program that allows up-and-coming musicians to establish a more confident presence over the course of four to eight-week blocks. Frequent guests of the supper club can develop a friendly rapport with artists that they’re seeing every week, which benefits both the community and the flourishing musician.
PRO Tip: While not required, reservations are highly recommended. Guests can reserve their seats for both dinner and the show, which includes a three-course meal crafted by the in-house culinary team.
This luxurious venue opened back in 1892 and while you don’t need to book a reservation to listen to some easy jazz, you won’t want to leave after experiencing the world-class service and generous amenities. Serving up the classiest of cocktails and putting on a live music lineup that features jazz artists, pianists, and local musicians — jazz enthusiasts are sure to get their fix.
Many of Denver’s favorite nightlife hotspots are easily accessible from the hotel, such as Sidecar Lounge and Tracks Nightclub. Pregame at the Brown Palace with a specialty cocktail from the Atrium and some light jazz before heading out for the evening. Those looking to stay in can eat at one of the hotel’s several dining options before enjoying their signature room accommodations.
Featuring a piano cabaret and a jazz band, guests can also enjoy the beautiful floating music while enjoying afternoon tea. The musicians at the hotel are both talented and sophisticated, which attracts attention from hotel guests who perhaps didn’t even realize that they were fans of jazz.
Dazzle Jazz is a longtime Denver gem that has been dazzling guests through a unique offering of musical contributions to the city for decades. Upcoming musicians include the Flatirons Jazz Orchestra and performers associated with the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts, a non-profit dedicated to providing opportunities for youth interested in jazz.
The establishment features a full menu that includes both vegan and vegetarian options, as well as handcrafted alcoholic beverages. If drinks aren’t your thing, no worries. You can instead opt for tasty appetizers and rich desserts. There’s even a kid’s menu for those who want to introduce their little ones to the complexity and beauty of jazz music in a relaxed setting.
PRO Tip: There is a minimum of $20 per patron ($10 for students and seniors) for food and beverage purchases at all live performances, so arrive hungry! The menu features a diverse selection of options that are suitable for a range of palates.
This annual celebration of jazz music occurs during the summertime and has been going on for 37 years. Free live music is played on stage at the City Park Pavilion. There are plenty of food truck options that are both affordable and delicious, including traditional American fares such as pizza and burgers. The community coming together to celebrate the genre provides an inviting experience for anyone new to Denver as well as longtime residents.
Performers in previous years have included the Colorado Mambo Orchestra, Hazel Miller and the Collective, and Denver’s own Tivoli Club Brass Band. This is a family-friendly event, so parents are welcome to bring the little ones out to enjoy the swinging tunes and the excitement of the party.
PRO Tip: Pack blankets, folding chairs, and everything you need to be comfortable out on the lawn. As per City Park rules, no glass bottles or alcoholic beverages over 3.2% are permitted.
Herb’s is a musician-owned and operated venue that’s located in the heart of the Lower Downtown (LoDo) district. This area consists of 23 blocks that are known for their nightlife and historical presence, especially in the Victorian structures that line the street. Anyone looking to discover some of Denver’s untapped musician talent should drop in at Herb’s during a night out on the town.
Anyone searching for an unpretentious music hangout where they can sip on a cocktail or two will find solace in Herb’s. Over the past 90 years, the venue has carved out a character that is unmatched in any of the newer, more modern joints. There is music every night of the week, with a diverse rotation of artists filtering through the historic building. On Mondays, the Legacy Jazz Orchestra performs before featuring the B3 Jazz Project on Tuesdays.
PRO Tip: Take a look at the live music calendar to ensure you’re catching your favorite artists or pick a random evening to discover somebody new.
This mainstay of Denver’s jazz scene is located in the River North Art District (RiNo), which is known for its vibrant murals and trendy eateries. On Mondays, Meadowlark puts on their free weekly jazz jam, which frequently draws a loyal local crowd. Starting at 9 PM, the house band begins playing and generally goes on until 10 PM. At this point, other bands can jump in to perform a set or two.
The Meadowlark began these jazz sessions back in 2009 and drew a following by providing no cover, cheap drinks, and even a heated patio for the brisk winter evenings. Luckily, you don’t have to be a jazzhead to enjoy the shows. Newcomers will be captivated by the old-school club feel while listening to tunes inspired by the likes of Miles Davis, as well as modernized jams that riff off of popular hip-hop beats.
PRO Tip: The bar can get packed by the time 10 PM rolls around, so head over early for a better view or be relegated to the back of the bar.
The Rose Room at Mercury Cafe hosts local jazz acts several times a week. The cafe features three baroque rooms, all featuring different genres of creative talent such as singer-songwriter performances and poetry slams. There’s truly something for everybody and the venue is welcoming to all ages.
Started in 1975, the Mercury Cafe has been an embodiment of all that Denver has to offer. This sometimes eclectic grouping of musicians, artists, and writers keeps locals coming back for years. The cafe menu is crafted using local organic ingredients, such as bison burgers, falafel wraps, and edamame gnocchi. If you’re craving a drink, they offer draft beers, cocktails, and a respectable wine list.
The Soiled Dove is located in the mixed-use Lowry neighborhood, which is a district brimming with culture and exciting nightlife offerings. Previously an active Air Force base, Lowry is now where people can head to enjoy dinner out and take in a show. Those looking to take in some jazz and blues artists should add a stop to this venue on their itinerary.
Not only does the Soiled Dove boast an impressive list of awards, including “Best Intimate Concert Hall” and “Best Small Venue,” but they provide an incredibly immersive listening experience due to their tiered seating. This ensures nobody is more than 45 feet away from the stage. If you’re looking to enjoy some appetizers and cocktails while being transported back in time by live American jazz, the Soiled Dove is the place to be.
PRO Tips: There are typically 2-3 shows a week, so make sure to check the calendar before dropping in as the venue is only open on show nights. All shows are 21 and up unless indicated otherwise.
Located just outside of Denver in Lafayette, this community-sponsored performance space brings in jazz musicians from Wednesday through Sunday. Opened in 2018, this venue hasn’t been around for long but has built up a dedicated base of listeners who come out to enjoy the bands in a unique space with superior acoustics.
Musicians are paid 70% of all proceeds from their performances, so fans can rest assured that their favorite artists are being compensated fairly. The atmosphere is casual and intimate, perfect for a date night or a solo outing to discover some of Denver’s up-and-coming talent. Most shows are suitable for all ages, which provides parents an opportunity to introduce their kids to the old-school genre of music.