Back in 1986, a group of neighbors decided that it was time to reclaim their park, which had fallen prey to drug dealers and crime.
"City Park had turned into a bit of a disaster. People were afraid to come there; it was not a welcoming place," remembers Tom Morris, one of the founding members of the series. "We decided that we needed to do something to get people to come back, so we raised some money and started putting on concerts."
The group offered four concerts the first year and has steadily increased the scope of the gathering. In 2001, the sessions attracted as many as 8,000 people for the free big-name shows with headliners like Hazel Miller. "A lot of it depends on the weather, but we really get a lot of people out there, with little kids dancing up by the stage and couples picnicking on blankets," Morris says. "It is really the most diverse crowd; we get everyone from millionaires to the homeless people who live in the park."
Other local musicians appreciate the audience, as well. Laura Newman, who has played saxophone with her band on and off in City Park for the past twelve years, loves the varied crowd. "It's just so Denver, a real cross section of people, which is a great energy to play for," she says. "City Park is one of my absolute favorite festivals."
Others describe a special camaraderie between people who enjoy the genre but aren't regulars at Denver's many jazz clubs: "It's a nice family event, instead of a dark, smoky bar," says Mark Diamond, who plays bass for Mary Ann Moore and the Big Swing Trio. "We really love to play there. People come out just to hear the music; they are really focused."
Picnics are encouraged, and organizers recommend getting there early if you want to snag a spot close to the stage. Food and drink can also be purchased at the nearby City Park Pavilion.
Upcoming shows include: June 16, Hazel Miller Band; June 23, Sammy Mayfield Blues Revue; June 30, Mary Ann Moore and the Big Swing Trio; July 7, Queen City Jazz Band; July 14, Lannie Garrett and her Errand Boys of Rhythm; July 21, Laura Newman and AOA; July 28, Purnell Steen and Le Jazz Machine; August 4, Dotsero. August 11 is a rain date.
"It's definitely one of our best lineups ever," Morris promises. "You'll have to see it to believe it."