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When Dazzle Restaurant and Lounge owner Donald Rossa started Dazzle Recordings in 2007 with Tyler Gilmore, the club's music director at the time, it was a kind of pet project centered on music that Rossa liked to listen to. At first, he says, they were just having a little bit of fun with it, releasing two or three albums a year. "The initial goal was just preservation of jazz and the music," Rossa explains. "There are a lot of people out there who just don't have the resources or abilities to do it."
After Gilmore left to study at the New England Conservatory, Rossa recruited saxophonist Josh Quinlan — who teaches at Denver School of the Arts and is director of education for Gift of Jazz, a nonprofit that supports the region's jazz and jazz musicians — to head up the label. Things have ramped up at the imprint recently in terms of releases: Last year Dazzle Recordings issued eight albums, and this year it's slated to release ten. "We're trying to reset the goals, you might say, because there are so many people who want to have an association with a label," Rossa notes. "It's real grassroots. Everybody who kind of comes into it now has to really do it together, that sort of thing."
The whole goal of Dazzle Recordings, says Rossa, is just to help the community — first the surrounding neighborhood, then Denver at large and then Colorado — become more engaged with the musicians from here and the music they're making. "I don't care what genre of music it is here in Colorado; I don't think people are wrapping their arms around our musicians compared to other big cities, just having a sense of pride for the musicians," he says. "My goal is to get people to love our musicians — and music is out there being played."
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When people talk about cities with great music, Denver doesn't make it to the top of the list as often as it should, Rossa contends, especially with the large pool of professional talent we have here. Quinlan, who moved to Colorado from Chicago in 2007 to work on his doctorate in music at the University of Colorado at Boulder, thinks the jazz scene here is going to continue to grow, especially if there are more communal efforts such as this one.
"Some of my friends in Chicago seem to think that it's inconceivable that Denver would have a good jazz scene," Quinlan says. "The biggest response we get from music directors is, 'Wow, I didn't know that Denver had such a strong jazz community,' especially because a lot of the stuff that we do is not straight-ahead."
While some of the albums in the label's catalogue — like Raincheck's new self-titled debut — are rooted in straight-ahead jazz, others, by acts like Greg Harris, John Lake's fusion project, Shirley, or Gilmore's forward-thinking Ninth & Lincoln orchestra, are more diverse in texture and style, and sometimes shy away from standard jazz. Whatever the case, nearly everyone on the label is based in Colorado or has Colorado ties — folks like Jeremy Jones, for example, who grew up in Denver but now lives in Seattle.
Close to twenty of the label's acts, including Julie Monley, the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra and Manny Lopez (each has an album coming out on Dazzle later this year), will be at Dazzle this weekend for the inaugural Dazzle Recordings Artist Festival. Rossa says some of the proceeds from the festival will go back into the label, to help pay for things like more mailings, which can lead to more music being played and tours being lined up. "Hopefully, it's money in their pocket in the long run," Rossa says. "It's good for their long-term career goals, as well as being musicians."
Quinlan says one the biggest things he's working on is to have the brand recognized outside of Colorado, which means getting the music in the hands of music directors and radio stations around the country. After taking over Dazzle Recordings last year, Quinlan brought on several interns who helped put together a list of more than a hundred radio stations and developed materials for the label's periodic mailings. As a result, Dazzle artists are now getting airplay in Oregon, Ohio, New York, California and Texas. Peter Sommer's Tremolo Canteen even landed in the Top 40 for radio play on jazz charts.
"It's really refreshing to see that they're starting to play the music throughout the United States," Rossa enthuses. "I think, to a musician, there's nothing that puts a feather in their cap or [creates] a sense of pride more than music being played. At the end of the day, that's what it's about — to get music played."
With Dazzle Recordings, Quinlan himself has extended his reach and says his music has been heard in places like Brazil and the U.K.; he's even had an Israeli radio DJ express interest in having him play the Tel Aviv Jazz Festival. Quinlan recently sent the DJ ten Dazzle releases to spread out in the jazz community in Israel. "People say, 'Why do you have to have a CD?' I think that's why," Quinlan says. "People still respect that. You mail them your product, and you can sell it or they can hold it in their hand. It's still so important to people."