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Cole Rudy likes to start his Jazz Expo nights at the Meadowlark (2701 Larimer Street) with the music of Lenny Breau, who was one of the world's greatest jazz guitarists but also one of the most underrated. A damn fine guitarist himself, Rudy was talking with Jonathan Bitz, who does a stand-up job booking the Meadowlark, a few months back when Bitz asked for some programming ideas. Recalling the backyard jams he'd enjoyed with his music-school friends, Rudy said he wanted a night with that kind of atmosphere.
The every-other-Monday Jazz Expo has all the casual creativity Rudy had hoped for, with the benefit of a cozy basement location on a cold January night. After some Breau, Rudy pulls up a Pat Metheny video on his laptop, which is hooked to a projector. Then another video, this one with Wes Montgomery, followed by songs by more jazz guitarists on iTunes. Then, finally, he invites a bassist, drummer and keyboardist, all of whom look to be in their twenties, to join him on the stage.
But even though these musicians are young and just warming up, when they kick off with Horace Silver's "Sister Sadie," they're firing on all cylinders. After a few songs, an alto sax player and trumpeter who've been playing with the Legacy Big Band at Herb's jumps in, making it a six-piece. As they run through a swift take on "There Will Never Be Another You" and Chick Corea's "Spain," a tough song, I realize that I'm listening to what could be the best jazz in town.
During the set break, Meadowlark owner Loy Merck, a hell of a cool guy, takes me on a tour of the first floor, where he's just put some kind of sealant on the hardwood floors. He hopes to put a small brewery here, he says, with the tanks near the north wall, a small bar on the opposite side — and a clear tube running through the floor down to the Meadowlark, so when the bartenders pull the tap you'll be able to see the beer coming down from upstairs. Then we walk outside, where the heated smoking area becomes a great stage in the summer. But the music continues year-round inside. While the Meadowlark's warm, intimate space is ideal for jazz, Bitz brings in an eclectic assortment of acts: singer-songwriters, DJs, indie-rock bands and punk acts like Git Some, whom Dead Kennedy's frontman Jello Biafra will come to see a few nights later.
By the time we get back to the bar, the group's running through Thelonious Monk's "Well, You Needn't" and Jerry, a jazz aficionado and irregular Meadowlark regular, is raving about the music. Every time I see Jerry, we talk jazz. Tonight he tells me about seeing pianist Bill Evans numerous times; once, he says, he picked up Evans and bassist Eddie Gomez at the airport and drove them to a gig in town.
To close the night, Rudy plays a few more Breau songs on the bar's iPod. And then, as the musicians pack up, he says that some of them are going to go jam elsewhere; even though they've already played a good three hours, they're not done yet. These cats seem to have an unrelenting urge to play, which is probably why they're so insanely good. You can see for yourself at the next Jazz Expo night, set for Monday, February 1.
Club scout: After a decade-long run as one of Denver's biggest hip-hop clubs, Bash has closed its doors at 1902 Blake Street, a 20,000-square-foot space that formerly held the Blake Street Baseball Club and then the LoDo Music Hall. Just up the block, at 1925 Blake, Blues on Blake Supper Club is also dark. "You have spoken and we have listened," reads a message on its website, which promises that the club will be "retooling" through January 15. But as of early this week, the phone number was still disconnected. And just a few blocks away, Star Bar, at 2137 Larimer Street, one of this city's classic bars, is closed because of a liquor violation; no word on when, or if, it will reopen.