Telluride Jazz Festival aims to make jazz music ‘approachable’

Via Telluride News by Amy M. Peters, Planet Contributor

Telluride Jazz Festival 

The Telluride Jazz Festival returns this summer to entertain locals and visitors at venues and local businesses throughout town. (Photo courtesy of Telluride Jazz Festival)

The Telluride Jazz Festival (TJF), taking place in Town Park Aug. 11-13, will present a diverse lineup of musical talent enabling listeners to explore the intriguing genre of jazz. In addition to core jazz, the festival presents a mix of approachable music— soul, funk, hip hop, rock, and gospel — to help root the casual listener in American jazz that originated in New Orleans. Attracting a smaller crowd size compared to other Telluride music festivals, TJF offers a relaxed vibe that locals especially have come to love.

The Friday night Main Stage headliner — Grammy-winning jazz vocalist Gregory Porter — has never played in Telluride. It’s been over a decade since Saturday night’s headliner — legendary funk band Tower of Power — has played here with their five-piece brass section, propelled by bass, drums, keys and R&B vocals. Though they’ve played several times at Blues & Brews, Sunday night’s headliner — St. Paul and the Broken Bones — will bring soul-rock roots backed by a mighty a horn section to the Fred Shellman Memorial Stage.

“I’m most excited for Butcher Brown,” enthused Patrick Shehan, partnership director for SBG Productions, Inc. “They’re on fire right now, playing all sorts of mainstream festivals, and they just did an NPR Tiny Desk show. The lead guy plays lots of different horns, but he also raps which is unique and draws younger folks like me.”

The nonprofit organization Telluride Society for Jazz (TSJ) presents and hosts musical performances and opportunities for music education in Telluride and the surrounding region. Proceeds from the festival, TSJ’s major annual fundraiser, are invested in educational programs like the Telluride Student All-Stars program, now in its 26th year, and Society Stage programming during TJF in Elks Park which is free and open to the public.

Students apply to The Telluride Jazz All-Stars program in hopes of traveling to Telluride the week preceding the festival to compose and study music.

Bob Montgomery, now 86 years old, recently retired from his role as director of the All-Stars program, and Josh Quinlan, who’s been assisting Montgomery as co-director the past several years, has taken over.

“Josh was a student in the program’s very first year,” explained SFJ Executive Director Peter Bell. “He’ll be assisted this year by Terell Stafford, a renowned trumpet player and music educator, and Annie Booth, who’s a member of our board, a pianist, composer and also a former All-Star.”

Student bands from Cale Chapman’s Soundhouse youth music program out of Utah will also perform and collaborate on the Society Stage at Elks Park. Sponsored by TSJ, these intimate and interactive artist sessions help promote the nonprofit’s mission of student education and music outreach, offering listeners a chance to interact with artists and music students, while learning about jazz culture, history and methods.

Since taking over production of TJF in 2017, SBG Productions has enhanced the patron experience. With only 280 patron passes available, attendees enjoy an exclusive Thursday evening “Dessert & Champagne” reception followed by a kick-off performance at the Sheridan Opera House by New Orleans street band Tuba Skinny.

Throughout the weekend, patrons indulge in daily lunch, dinner and specialty cocktail spreads under their own backstage lounge where they rub elbows with the artists.

“We also host a free Thursday Night kickoff for the public from 4-6 p.m. called Jazz on Main,” Shehan said. “At four venues in town — Elinoff Gallery, Telluride Arts HQ, Floradora and on the patio at La Cocina — we have jazz bands playing.”

Other activities during TJF include two free shows featuring the Telluride Student All-Stars ensemble at the New Sheridan Historic Bar and morning jams at the Telluride Arts HQ where people in town can jam and improvise on Saturday and Sunday morning. There are free First Note yoga sessions in Elks Park, a New Orleans Second Line Parade on Main Street, and in partnership with the Telluride Historical Museum, free historical walking tours led by local historian Ashley Boling.

“The Jazz After Dark late-night shows are my favorite,” Shehan said. “Where at the Sheridan Opera House, The Moon at O’Bannon’s and The Elks you can hear incredible bands. One pass — separate from the main festival pass and which isn’t super-expensive — gets you into all the shows. It’s ideal for locals who are working during the day.”

After their Sunday evening set on the Main Stage, the Soul Rebels, another New Orleans brass band staple, will provide drums, brass and funk for the festival’s “Final Waltz” at 9 p.m. at the Sheridan Opera House.

“We’re on track to reach our daily 3,000-person cap in Town Park,” concluded Shehan. “We got very close to that last year. RV and car camping at Town Park are already sold out. Don’t wait until the last minute to buy tickets because last year we ran out of some passes.”

To buy tickets and to volunteer for TJF, go to

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