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New York-style jazz experience hits Longmont with Jazz at The Times

Series kicks off with Karyna Balch, Charles Blenzig and will occur every other month through 2022

Karyna Balch, director of artistic and digital strategy for Soundpost Sessions, is pictured at White Rock Lake in Dallas in 2018. Balch will perform on Friday, May 20 at The Times Collaborative, 338 Main St., in Longmont, for the kickoff of Jazz at The Times. Balch, a skilled vocalist, helped craft the new series that she and organizers hope will bring more late-night music options to downtown Longmont. Tickets are $15. The show starts at 8 p.m. (Kathy Tran/Courtesy photo)
Karyna Balch, director of artistic and digital strategy for Soundpost Sessions, is pictured at White Rock Lake in Dallas in 2018. Balch will perform on Friday, May 20 at The Times Collaborative, 338 Main St., in Longmont, for the kickoff of Jazz at The Times. Balch, a skilled vocalist, helped craft the new series that she and organizers hope will bring more late-night music options to downtown Longmont. Tickets are $15. The show starts at 8 p.m. (Kathy Tran/Courtesy photo)
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In recent years Longmont’s music scene has expanded, despite lacking concert halls and theaters solely dedicated to hosting a rotating selection of musical acts.

Karyna Balch sits on her piano stool within her loft apartment in the historic Southside on Lamar building near downtown Dallas in 2015. (Jessica Grammon/Courtesy photo)
Karyna Balch sits on her piano stool in her loft apartment in the historic Southside on Lamar building near downtown Dallas in 2015. (Jessica Grammon/Courtesy photo)

From shows held at Firehouse Art Center and Longmont Museum to gigs popping up at local breweries, distilleries, restaurant rooftops and in alleyways, song seems to bellow from a number of unsuspecting venues.

Friday, a brand new upscale offering — from Soundpost Sessions — will debut at co-working space The Times Collaborative.

Fusing a big-city jazz vibe with an intimate listening-room experience, organizers are hoping the series will fill the void when it comes to the scarcity of late-night music options and provide a welcomed gift for those who don’t seek to be in bed by 9 p.m.

Karyna Balch, director of artistic and digital strategy for Soundpost Sessions, is pictured at White Rock Lake in Dallas in 2018. (Kathy Tran/Courtesy photo)
Karyna Balch, director of artistic and digital strategy for Soundpost Sessions, is pictured at White Rock Lake in Dallas in 2018. (Kathy Tran/Courtesy photo)

Jazz at The Times will occur every other month through the end of the year, hosting a selection of top-notch musicians.

Kicking off the series premiere will be skilled vocalist Karyna Balch, who has helped enrich the local music scene as director of artist and digital strategy for Longmont concert series Soundpost Sessions. Balch, along with Tim Gulsrud, executive producer of Soundpost Sessions, and Heather Marvin, owner of The Times Collaborative, see the upcoming collaboration as an opportunity to showcase local talent seeking a new stage to share, while giving the community an alternative it craves.

Attendees of Friday’s show can enjoy table service with cuisine from Rising Tiger, signature cocktails from Abbott & Wallace Distilling and a selection of wine and beer.

Tickets are $15. Doors open at 7:30 p.m., and the music starts at 8 p.m.

Balch relocated to the Front Range from Dallas a year ago. While in the Lone Star State she could frequently be found on stages, entrancing audiences with her soulful and engaging performances.

In the vein of Sara Bareilles, Norah Jones and Etta James, Balch’s vibe is undeniably refreshing.

We caught up with Balch to find out more about her upcoming show, what sparked her love of performing and what she hopes the new series will bring to the local community.

Kalene McCort: You haven’t been on stage since before the pandemic. What are you most looking forward to about getting back in front of an audience again?

Karyna Balch: The pandemic has been the framework for a very strange period of life for me. Its advent forced an abrupt change of lifestyle, which on one hand, was sorely needed. I had been working a full-time corporate job while simultaneously playing a lot of gigs and doing a lot of music industry side work, and I was feeling pretty burned out.

On the other hand, the shift really disconnected me from an integral part of myself. Music and performing had been at the center of my identity for 20 years by that point, and without it, I felt pretty lost. I’m still trying to find my way back. I shifted my creative focus to writing about music, among other things, and thankfully that kept me rooted in the music world. I’m an introvert, and I tend to struggle with representing myself the way I want to in social interactions, but performing is a means of self-expression and connecting with others that I really missed.

I’ve met some incredible people in the year I’ve been in Colorado, and I feel like they haven’t really gotten to know all of me yet. By performing, I feel I can fill in that missing piece. I’m hoping that sharing some of my favorite songs with an audience can make me feel whole again.

Karyna Balch, director of artistic and digital strategy for Soundpost Sessions, hangs out in downtown Longmont in 2021. (Tim Gulsrud/Courtesy photo)
Karyna Balch, director of artistic and digital strategy for Soundpost Sessions, hangs out in downtown Longmont in 2021. (Tim Gulsrud/Courtesy photo)

KM: What inspired you to want to bring this series to Longmont, and what are you hoping it adds to the area’s music scene and nightlife?

Longmont is an incredible city full of people who love to get out and find fun and interesting things to do. It’s an enthusiastic community that seems to genuinely value and support the arts. I saw this firsthand at the Winter-turned-Spring Walkabout Music Showcase in April. That’s why it’s surprising to me that there aren’t more designated music venues in town where music is the focus, rather than a supporting act. That’s the driving force behind what Executive Producer Tim Gulsrud is doing with The Soundpost Sessions. It’s worked so well that he and I thought it was high time for an additional series that spotlights the jazz genre.

A few months ago, I was lucky to meet Charles Blenzig, a monster jazz pianist from New York who regularly played all the legendary clubs and worked with big-deal jazz players like Michael Brecker. After spending his whole life and career in the Big Apple, a city of many venues, he recently moved to Longmont, which is a decidedly different scene. While there are some great jazz venues in Denver, there’s an opportunity to offer high-caliber music right here in Longmont.

Giving top-shelf musicians like Blenzig a residency here in town gives local music lovers a chance to catch outstanding music on a regular basis. It would also be awesome to have more late-night and date-night options for those who are looking for something unique and elegant to do on a Friday without having to drive into Denver. The key piece of this puzzle is finding the right space for music in Longmont. The Times Collaborative — in the year they’ve been open — has proven to be a great space for hosting music and events, like they did at the Spring Walkabout.

Pianist Charles Blenzig poses for a photo in New York City. Blenzig will join Karyna Balch for the debut of Jazz at The Times on Friday. (Charles Blenzig/Courtesy photo)
Pianist Charles Blenzig poses for a photo in New York City. Blenzig will join Karyna Balch for the debut of Jazz at The Times on Friday. (Charles Blenzig/Courtesy photo)

KM: What sparked your love of jazz? Do you recall any aha moments in childhood or teen years when you knew this would be something you would explore?

KB: There were two distinct moments that really steered me towards a career in jazz specifically. The first was when I was in junior high and cast in my first musical. I had a bunch of lines and a big song in my first scene, and as I waited for my cue from behind the curtain, I felt suddenly panicked at the thought of all these people in the audience witnessing my big moment. I must have clutched my chest or stomach or something, because the stage hand was like, “Are you OK?” I then entered the stage and never looked back. After curtain call, I remember feeling something switch on like a lightbulb — that was the most fun I’d ever had, and performing was my drug of choice.

From then on, I was fascinated with musical theater, and it was that fascination that led to my obsession with works from “The Great American Songbook.” I spent all of high school watching old movie musicals, listening to a classic jazz station on AM radio and learning from the greats: Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Garland, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughan and many more legendary vocalists.

The second moment came the summer following my sophomore year of college. I was attending San Jose State University as a classical voice major and had just passed my junior qualifying jury, which is basically the faculty’s way of ensuring you have the potential to make it as a professional musician. I absolutely loved my studies. I got to sing with a collegiate-level choir in amazing venues like Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph in downtown San Jose, and I took private lessons with Professor Joseph Frank, a tenor in the San Francisco Opera.

I learned so much about music history, theory, vocal technique and diction for singers in several different languages. But that summer — again — something switched inside my head, and I realized that I wouldn’t ever be a great opera singer, and I didn’t really want to be a choir director, either, which are the two main career opportunities for voice majors. I still loved jazz with a burning passion. Why couldn’t I finish my degree as a jazz vocalist instead, I thought. At the time, there were no singers in the jazz program. But I made it happen and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Jazz Studies.

Zach and Karyna Balch perform during an Art & Wine Walk event in July 2019 , at McCall Plaza in downtown Plano, Texas. ( J. Shertzer/Courtesy photo)
Zach and Karyna Balch perform during an Art & Wine Walk event in July 2019, at McCall Plaza in downtown Plano, Texas. ( J. Shertzer/Courtesy photo)

KM: Do you already have acts lined up for future shows?

KB: We’re continually on the lookout for great jazz players around the region for future shows in the series. I am personally hoping to see Charles Blenzig as a house band leader, playing with a bassist, drummer and rotating featured soloists for each event — such as guitarists, saxophonists and vocalists.

The vision that Tim Gulsrud and I have for these concerts is a low-key “unplugged” format, with minimal amplification. If we have a drummer, we’ll want them to play a mini kit that’s not too loud — a typical kit would overwhelm the space with sound.

I actually own a beautiful Parish Drum Designs set that’s compact and easier for volume control that experienced jazz drummers can play for this series. The exact configuration of the jazz combos we host really depends on the availability of the best players along the Front Range corridor. There’s so much variety within the jazz genre, so we’d like to keep offering fresh experiences for our audience.

Karyna Balch, director of artistic and digital strategy for Soundpost Sessions. The vocalist will kick off the Jazz at The Times music series on Friday. (Kathy Tran/Courtesy photo)
Karyna Balch, director of artistic and digital strategy for Soundpost Sessions. The vocalist will kick off the Jazz at The Times music series on Friday. (Kathy Tran/Courtesy photo)

KM: Who are some artists that you can’t seem to get enough of lately? Ones we would find on repeat in your home?

KB: I actually listen to a lot of indie, pop, folk, Americana music most days. I write a monthly newsletter for The Soundpost Sessions, and the artist we hosted this month was Colorado singer-songwriter and composer, Covenhoven. As such, I’ve been listening to his 2021 album “IV” on repeat for a few weeks and it’s gorgeous and so thoughtfully produced. He really is an artist to watch, and he’s based right here in the Front Range region.

My favorite singers are understated singers — ones who emote a world of beauty while demonstrating artful restraint. Bedouine — who performed in Boulder’s Bluebird Music Festival in April — has served as my primary life soundtrack for the year I’ve been in Colorado. She has this gorgeous voice that’s at once deep and rich, but also soft and airy, recalling some of the legendary Brazilian bossa singers of the mid-century. Her brand of folk encompasses influences from several adjacent genres, but most notably has a definite Laurel Canyon sound, which is right up my alley.

I try to pay close attention to the L.A. scene and have been really into Adam Melchor and Ethan Gruska the last several months. They’re both incredibly creative musicians who are making strides to stretch the pop realm by integrating harmonic structures usually reserved for the jazz world. I love the way they use unusual sonic textures in their recordings, especially within the background vocal tracks. I love interesting background vocal work.

Lord Huron’s 2021 album “Long Lost” is also one I’ve been studying. There’s so much great art being made right now, and I’m a self-professed addict. When I fall in love with a musical work, I listen on repeat for months on end. Why not learn from the very best? It seems some things haven’t changed since high school.

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