On Thursday, this week in live music gets going with a big band when alto saxophonist Bobby Watson brings Horizon to Mount Vernon Country Club just west of Denver. The Kansas-born saxophonist turned a lot of heads just a few years after graduating from college when he joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers in1977. In the early 1980s he went from the Messengers to a number of groups, starting Horizon in 1983 with drummer Victor Lewis. Watson is always on my list of favorite alto saxophonists, combining bop fluency with a burning fire.
With Horizon, he is in the company of extremely strong players, including drummer Lewis (who has played with everyone), trumpeter Terell Stafford (who is frequently in Colorado with the Clayton Brothers), the Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon and bassist Essiet Okon Essiet. Horizon has performed at Mount Vernon Country Club in the past, starting in 1988, and puts out straight-ahead sounds in top-shelf fashion. The mighty band hits the stage at 8 p.m., following the country club’s noted buffet dinner that starts at 6 p.m. Tickets for the performance sans dinner are also available ($49.95 for dinner and the music/$25 for the sounds alone, 303-526-0616 for reservations). Mount Vernon Country Club is located west of Denver off of I-70.
Watson isn’t the only big name W in the area this week. On Saturday and Sunday, drummer Matt Wilson is at Dazzle, 930 Lincoln, with his current quartet that has Jeff Lederer on saxophone, Kirk Knuffke on trumpet/cornet and Chris Lightcap on bass. Wilson, who has carved out his own place among jazz drummers, has melodic drive and humor. He is always right near the top of drummers listed in DownBeat’s “Critics Poll” – and for very good reason. Denver-based trumpeter/cornetist Ron Miles has worked with Wilson; and it’s certainly worth pointing out that trumpeter Knuffke also grew up musically right in Denver. In fact, Knuffke, Nate Wooley and Shane Endsley are all players from here listed among the rising trumpet stars in the most recent “Critics Poll.” Wilson’s sets on Saturday are at 7 and 9 p.m. On Sunday, they are 6 and 8 p.m. ($20, 303-839-5100).
Returning to Thursday night for a moment, keep in mind that the Preservation Hall Jazz Band is up in Boulder at the Boulder Theater, 2032 14th St., just five days before Mardi Gras. The group from Preservation Hall in New Orleans is an integral part of the Crescent City’s culture. So bring your white handkerchiefs, your beads and your umbrellas in anticipation of Fat Tuesday ($20-$40, 303-786-7030).
There are also a number of other interesting events happening. On Friday, for example, singers Ed Battle and Suzanne Morrison are on a program with vocal groups from an elementary school, a high school and a university. For their part of the program “Sweet Voices,” Battle and Morrison are on stage with a group from the Denver School of the Arts (DSA). The event takes place at DSA, 7111 Montview Blvd. at 7 p.m. ($10 at the door, 720-424-1700).
On Monday, Zuri Music presents a “Russian Piano Summit” at Dazzle with New York-based pianist Vadim Neselovskyi, originally from the Ukraine before he migrated to Berklee College of Music in Boston and Denver-based pianist Vlad Girschevich who settled here in the mid-1990s. Neselovskyi’s time at Berklee turned into touring with vibraphonist Gary Burton’s Next Generation Quintet. If the news stations don’t grab Neselovskyi to provide commentary on the Ukraine, the duo is on stage at 7 p.m. ($15).
For a different twist on Mardi Gras on Tuesday, Dazzle has the innovative group The Playground doing Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire for the club’s “Classical Music Night” at 7 p.m. ($12), while on Wednesday, Dazzle has a trio led by pianist Peter Stoltzman at 7 p.m., followed by Canadian singer/pianist Laila Biali and her trio at 8 p.m. ($15/$12 students). Biali, who splits her time between Toronto and New York, has performed at major jazz festivals and other venues.
Additionally, as a pre-Oscar event, Dazzle has singer Jesse Garland, who performed in Washington, DC before landing in Denver, offering jazz versions of Oscar-nominated songs from the past on up. Her “Envelope Please” show with a quartet is at 7 and 9 p.m. ($10/$15 for both sets).
On a final note: The famed meeting of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Louis and Carl Perkins at the Sun Records studio in Memphis (definitely a place to visit in that city) in December 1956 is chronicled in the musical the Million Dollar Quartet playing at the Buell Theater in the Denver Performing Arts Complex through March 9 (303-893-4100). While the play has more than a few shortcomings, it’s a fun nostalgic trip through memory lane regarding the early days of rock and roll and the important figure of Sam Phillips. It doesn’t always ignite on all burners, but those playing the legendary figures in rock cover their subjects well. On opening night, the encore also brought Denver’s First Lady, singer Mary Louise Lee to the stage to sing with Elvis and company. In how many cities could that happen?