It's no secret among musicians that Boulder has a venue problem. Christine Robertson wants to help fix that with a jazz club.
She grew up in Broomfield but moved to San Francisco, where she learned to love jazz in the city's many clubs. When she came back to Colorado to live in Boulder, she realized that though there are many talented musicians, there wasn't a great place for them to play. Nearly everywhere they gig, they play for tips and compete with the sounds of espresso machines or the clacking of fingers on laptops.
"I basically would like to raise the profile of jazz in Boulder," Robertson said.
"The thing is that we do have venues that have been keeping the flame alive, but there aren't really any listening rooms. It's disheartening to be playing your heart out and people in front of you aren't even listening. The musicians, in many cases they're not making much money at all, but they play because they love it, and I don't think that's really fair."
Local jazz drummer Jay Ellis is one of those musicians. Though he says he's not "of the thou shalt not make noise school" when he plays, he would like to see a dedicated jazz venue in town.
"When I do snag a gig with these small venues, something like Absolute Vinyl, we're able to bring a pretty good crowd," he said. "What would happen with a regular venue is you grow an audience that comes to see whoever's there. It comes with feedback in a good way. It becomes a place to go."
It's true that Absolute Vinyl will occasionally host a jazz band, and the Outlook and St. Julien hotels do it regularly, too, but it's not the same as a permanent home exclusively for jazz.
So, Robertson's final goal is to build a jazz club in Boulder, but before doing that, she's focusing on getting people to care. She's starting with one-off parties, like a Christmas party and jam held at the Remington Post Clubhouse earlier this week. The night featured local musicians Andy Weyl on keyboards, Rob Dando on bass, Chris Lee on drums and Mark Klagstadt on guitar.
Next up will be the weekly jazz nights in a yet-to-be-determined spot. She's hoping to find a place on or near Pearl Street with good food and drinks to host weekly shows starting early next year.
"Partly what I feel would help a jazz club happen is that you have to create that experience, because a lot of people in Boulder have never been to a jazz club," she said. "I think that giving people that experience, they would get it ... then that would help build momentum for building a club, eventually."
If she can develop a bigger interest in jazz in Boulder, Robertson thinks investors will be far more likely to put money into a club. That space, in her vision, would have the classic jazz club feel and a community-fostering vibe. Students from CU-Boulder and Denver might get discounts and chances to sit in with the pros, for instance.
"There's a remarkable amount of talent. It's amazing how many people we've got here," said Ellis, rattling off a list of Boulder's young jazz musicians. "But to play, it's getting in a car and driving to Denver, more times than not."
Without the distractions of a coffee shop or noisy bar, too, Robertson believes the musicians would get into playing more.
"Musicians definitely play different when they're in a jazz club setting," she said. "They play more adventurous things. In some places they have to be just sort of pleasant and pretty ... Nothing is as exhilarating for me as listening to jazz and I'd like to share that with people and really create spaces where both the musicians can feel respected and people have the opportunity to really hear the music."
The outlook for the club is foggy at the moment, but the awareness-building phase is in full swing. At jazzinboulder.com, Robertson will start listing local jazz events. For now, anyone interested can sign up for an email list through the site.
On her radar next: The Brad Upton Quartet playing a free show from 8 - 11 pm. No cover at Caffe Sole (637R S. Broadway).