That's Jim Cullum in the center, playing for Louis Armstrong in the 1960s. Cullum and his band will head to Aurora for this year's Summit Jazz Festival at the end of September. (Courtesy Photo).
I knew I was hooked as soon as I heard those first cornet blasts, those fiery and fierce melodic statements that hearkened back to a bygone age.
The whole concept behind the program that I discovered by accident on the local jazz station nearly 10 years ago seemed antiquated. “Riverwalk Jazz” was a weekly show beamed from a club called The Landing in faraway San Antonio. As a proud jazz nerd who fell in love with vintage recordings from the early decades of the twentieth century, any modern ensemble would have had a hard time winning me over.
But bandleader Jim Cullum’s style was special. He blew his horn with the same kind of fervor and intensity that had drawn me to records cut by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five and Hot Seven Bands of the 1920s and 1930s. He played with the kind of nuance and sensitivity that had distinguished Bix Beiderbecke as one of the underappreciated musical geniuses of the twentieth century. Most importantly, he paid constant tribute to the masters – leading a sterling seven-piece ensemble and guest players through entire programs that explored the oeuvres of forgotten geniuses like Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Cootie Williams and Lester Young in painstaking detail.
There was vibrancy in the band’s delivery, an enthusiasm that came through in the soulful solos and the constant background noise of a hooting and hollering audience. It’s a dynamic has kept me listening faithfully to the band’s program for the past decade. My inner jazz nerd rejoiced when I got word that Jim Cullum’s Jazz Band will head to Aurora at the end of the month as part of the annual Summit Jazz festival, which will run on Sept. 28, 29 and 30 at the Red Lion Hotel on South Parker Road.
The show will be a rare opportunity, a chance to see pre-World War 2 jazz music played with a keen eye for detail and plenty of soul (check out a live sample here). I speak from firsthand experience, having caught the Cullum band’s set at a Summit festival in Denver a few years back.
The spirit that comes through in the band’s weekly radio broadcast is even stronger in person. Avid collectors who have been devotees of obscure jazz music for decades gather to revel in a shared passion. Soloists break out in frenzied improvisations, new additions to timeless tunes penned in the early decades of the twentieth century. Compositions by Armstrong, Ellington, Waller and countless others find renewed life under the skilled direction of Cullum and his players.
The effect is transporting, and well worth the price of admission.
This year’s Summit Jazz Festival, scheduled for Sept. 28, 29 and 30 at the Red Lion Hotel on South Parker Road in Aurora, will feature a lineup of local and national acts. Passes start at $30. For more information and reservations, log on to summitjazz.org, email email@example.com or call 303-670-8471. The Red Lion Hotel Denver Southeast is located 3200 South Parker Road in Aurora.