Although there are numerous venues in the Denver-Boulder area that spotlight jazz, all but a handful concentrate on the watered-down variety--music that's fine in the background but less challenging than Pong. As a result, some of the region's best jazz performers (and there are a slew of them) must choose between upping the accessibility of their music or sitting home nights.
But the first Saturday evening of every month, there is an alternative: The Perforum Series at the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art, 1750 13th Street. The idea behind the shows, according to program coordinator John Hadwen, is to give listeners a chance to see artists interested in taking music to places it's never visited--and to provide entertainers with a setting where their experimentation is nurtured. "We want to present the work of musicians and composers who are sticking their necks out--people who are taking risks, being very creative, pushing the envelope," he says. "It's very hard to find a space that suits that sort of need. There are plenty of larger spaces around, but we're able to put on really adventurous performances and get full houses--which makes it a very successful enterprise for everyone involved."
Hadwen has personal experience with music that ventures beyond the norm. A New Zealand native, he attended school with songwriters Tim Finn and Phil Judd and briefly collaborated with them as part of the internationally successful act Split Enz. By the time most Americans became aware of the Enz, the group had evolved into a purveyor of easily digestible pop rock/new wave; True Colours, powered by the single "I Got You," was a modest hit in 1980. But during the mid-Seventies period when Hadwen was involved, the combo was considerably wilder, weirder and more theatrical--a Mothers of Invention from Down Under. "That was my flirtation with music," notes Hadwen, who played guitar with the outfit. "And it made a big impression on me."
Nonetheless, Hadwen eventually opted for the visual arts; he became a painter. He later moved to Boulder and became a boardmember at the museum (previously known as the Boulder Art Center) eighteen months ago. Last year Kevin Causey, whose theater company, Continental Divide, once operated out of the museum, suggested that Hadwen organize a weekend jazz festival. It was as a result of this event that Hadwen realized that the room above the operation's main galleries, which had been converted from a storage area earlier in the decade, could accommodate concerts. "It's a very intimate space--it holds about 100 people," he states. "The acoustics are really phenomenal, and the audience is able to get extremely close to the performers. No matter where you're sitting, you're no more than three seats away from them."
The first two Perforum dates, featuring Art Lande and the Mojo Orchestral Trio, went well, and Hadwen is expecting a similarly enthusiastic response to upcoming events. (On Saturday, April 6, the Ron Miles Sextet will be playing selections from Miles's soon-to-be-released album My Cruel Heart; on Saturday, May 4, Fred Hess, this week's "Hit Pick" [see page 88], leads the reconfigured Boulder Creative Music Ensemble.) "We're getting a lot of young people, which is really encouraging," Hadwen comments. "With students getting less and less about the arts in schools because of funding cuts, I think one of the roles museums can play in the Nineties is to help pick up the slack. And that's what we're trying to do."
Hardrock Gunter, recently featured in these pages ("Rock's Roles," February 29), has been formally booked to appear at London's Hemsby Festival, the planet's premier rockabilly bash. He'll be playing on Saturday, October 12; make your reservations now.
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An addendum to our recent South by Southwest coverage. In the current issue of the all-interview music rag Seconds, editor Steven Blush writes, "People used to flock to SXSWEbecause it was a welcome relief from all the usual Music Industry bullshit, a place where new music and new ideas seemed to matter. Now it's just another overblown, conservative Rock Biz soiree in which the proprietors aspire to be tastemongers rather than team players." Bold words, particularly since the magazine was included in the promotional packet given to everyone who attended the festival, along with information about how to subscribe. Guess music industry weasels aren't so bad when they're sending you money, eh, Steve?
For a quirkier dose of wisdom, turn to longtime Denver musician Neil Slade, whose article "How to Tell Good Music From Bad Music" is available for Internet perusal. In the piece, Slade reveals what he calls the two "Unbending Rules of Popularity." The first: "Popularity is bought." The second: "Popular groups are not very original or innovative." He also unveils his own personal rating system. By his reckoning, "a twelve-year old guitarist doing a bad rendition of 'Stairway to Heaven'" should receive one star, while Charles Ives, Captain Beefheart and Kate Bush deserve five. To delve further into Slade's brain, use the following (unbelievably long) address: http://www.lookup.com/ Homepages/68952/Papers/goodmusic.html
What on earth? On Thursday, April 4, Blue Mountain can be climbed at Soapy Smith's, and the String Cheese Incident occurs at the Boulder Theater, with Durt. On Friday, April 5, Chicago's Boogie Shoes walk into Soapy Smith's; the Wrens perch at the Lion's Lair; Cathedral can be entered at the Mercury Cafe; Moot appears for the first of two nights at Paris on the Platte; Anthony Withers provides the sound at Carol Mier, 1408 Wazee; and singer-songwriter Richard Buckner, supporting his DEJADISC release Bloomed, opens for Son Volt at the Fox Theatre. On Saturday, April 6, Slim Cessna's Auto Club peels out at the Bluebird Theater, with Bandit Queen; the Keepers, replenished by two new members, pay an afternoon call on the Little Bear; Don Haynie & Sheryl Samuel duet at Acoustic Music Revival; Aggression, Chaos Theory and Normal Kids do as they're told at the Ogden Theatre; and Goldfinger, Random Victim and Fantastics trip the light at CU-Boulder's Club 156. On Monday, April 8, onetime Denverite Spike Robinson begins a six-night run at Vino Vino, 700 East 17th Avenue, with the Ellen Rucker Trio. On Tuesday, April 9, Kid Charlemagne goes back, Jack, to the Fox; My Blind Alley and No Such Thing deny everything at the Boulder Theater; and Hugh is on a first-name basis at the Lion's Lair. And on Wednesday, April 10, Lode lands on Herman's Hideaway, and the Philosopher Kings rule at Tulagi. Ring kissing encouraged.--Michael Roberts
Backbeat's e-mail address is Michael_Roberts @westword.com