Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts Has a New Home With MSU

Kenneth Hamblin III
CCJA performing at Wake Up the Rossonian in Five Points on Sunday, September 30, 2018.
Since February 9, the nonprofit Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts has been using Metropolitan State University of Denver’s building at 800 Kalamath Street for small group rehearsals once a week. Now the building will become the conservatory's year-round home.

“When Ron Miles first approached us about partnering with them in this incredible space, we were elated about the potential opportunity to collaborate further with these highly regarded musicians as well as MSU’s student body,” says CCJA artistic director Paul Romaine, who founded the conservatory with his wife, executive director Chris Romaine. “We have strong, longstanding relationships with the faculty of MSU’s Jazz and American Improvised Music program — many of whom have served as mentors in our programs through the years — as well as deep respect for MSU’s entire music program.”

Peter Schimpf, MSU music department chair, thought this move was a no-brainer, as the university had collaborated with the conservatory plenty of times in the past.

“We had been providing CCJA with space on our main campus,” Schimpf says. “So it made sense to include them when we expanded to the Kalamath Building, which is where most of MSU Denver’s jazz activities will be taking place going forward. We have the opportunity to do a lot of programming together.”

The Kalamath Building originally housed the university’s DIME Denver partnership. But MSU cut ties with the program before the pandemic started because the education offered didn't match the music department’s goals.

“The DIME partnership had some small successes, but ultimately it wasn’t financially sustainable,” Schimpf explains. “The partner wasn’t easy to work with, and wasn’t at all concerned about MSU Denver’s intentions and mission. CCJA is a much better fit for us, and our department is completely capable of offering all of [the] things DIME offered within a much more rigorous and well-rounded program.”

Chris Romaine has some big plans for the new space, including reaching out to more youth interested in jazz.

“We are excited to tap into and serve the diverse population that surrounds the Kalamath location,” she says, “especially neighborhood kids and young adults who might not otherwise know about our youth jazz programs. We also look forward to exploring involvement in the vibrant surrounding Santa Fe Arts District, as well as better serving the local jazz community in this location.”

The conservatory will roll out various programs geared toward youth this spring and summer.

“Our upcoming spring session will run from April 6 through May 13 and will feature small ensembles like those of the winter session,” Paul Romaine says. “We have an exciting lineup planned for summer 2021, kicking off with our Jazz Boot Camp from June 15 to 18. The improvisation and technique intensive is for students ages ten through eighteen, and is great for both those who are new to jazz and those who’ve been playing and studying for a while.”

They will also host a summer institute throughout June, with classes for middle and high school students and adults, including jazz composition, jazz arranging, music business and more. And they’re continuing their 21st annual four-night Jazz in the Sangres program at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in Westcliffe, Colorado.

“Our iconic camp is by audition only and geared toward high-schoolers who want to make rapid strides in their performance and compositional techniques, as well as create friendships with other teens who are similarly passionate about jazz,” Paul says.

Schimpf ultimately wants the conservatory to build new musicians as well as give them a push to the university’s music department.
click to enlarge CCJA student musicians perform at Wake Up the Rossonian in Five Points on Sunday, September 30, 2018. - KENNETH HAMBLIN III
CCJA student musicians perform at Wake Up the Rossonian in Five Points on Sunday, September 30, 2018.
Kenneth Hamblin III

“We want CCJA to be able to thrive because they contribute so much to our community through solid, rigorous music training,” Schimpf explains. “They are putting good musicians into the community, which is good for everyone. Obviously, we would love to have those good students come to MSU Denver when it’s time to choose a college. We have an incredible faculty, an innovative program, and really creative and talented students.”

Chris looks forward to working with more students from Metropolitan State University of Denver.

“We are excited about getting more Metro students involved to provide them with valuable teaching and mentoring experience as we settle into the space,” she says. “We currently have two students who are majoring in Metro’s Jazz and American Improvised Music Program, working as near-peer mentors for CCJA.”

Chris explains that the near-peer mentoring program is one of the conservatory’s unique programs; it consists of high school and college graduates who were alumni from the conservatory, or youth musicians they’ve networked with.

“As CCJA faculty-mentors are university professors and/or professional musicians, near-peer mentors serve as a bridge between mentors and our middle and high school students,” she explains. “Near-peer mentors get to observe effective and positive teaching techniques from our faculty while also getting the opportunity to try their hand at mentoring and providing specialty help for students.

“For example, if a student is having a hard time understanding a new concept on their instrument, we’ll send in a near-peer mentor who is experienced in that same instrument to help them acquire this skill,” Chris adds. “Students often feel much more comfortable opening up and asking questions to someone who is closer in age. This additional helping hand makes the process of learning jazz and improvisation techniques less intimidating and creates special relationships between different age groups.”

The rehearsals the conservatory held in February were for ensembles comprising five to eight students. Various COVID-19-specifc safety protocols were implemented, such as plexiglass barriers for wind instruments, taking temperatures when students arrived, sanitizing all spaces after use and keeping everyone socially distanced.

“Our programs, which have been held in person in various locations since last June, have been a great success,” Paul says. “Many students missed out on their middle school and high school band programs over the past year, so we’re hearing feedback that our programs have made a huge difference in their lives in terms of connection and engagement during this time of otherwise distanced learning.”

For more information about the Colorado Conservatory of Jazz Arts and Metropolitan State University of Denver’s music department, visit their websites.