Music News


When last we heard from Vartan Tonoian (Feedback, May 8), the Russian-born entrepreneur was exulting about the closing of his namesake venue, Vartan Jazz, formerly at 231 Milwaukee Street in Cherry Creek. In his view, the club's collapse gave him an opportunity to reopen at a bigger, less expensive space in the LoDo area--and so confident was he that he would find a good spot quickly that he had already scheduled a pair of autumn concerts: Gonzalo Rubalcaba on October 3 and 4, and Horace Silver on November 1.

As it turns out, Tonoian was a bit too optimistic: He did not secure replacement digs in time to put on the Rubalcaba and Silver gigs. But he was in the ballpark. The newly christened Vartan's Jazz Club and Restaurant, at 1800 Glenarm Place, is set to celebrate its grand opening on Friday, November 14, and Saturday, November 15, with showcases starring a slew of jazz artists with impressive credentials. According to Tonoian, "We'll have Claudio Rodite, who's a member of the Dizzy Gillespie Orchestra. We'll have Frank Colon from Manhattan Transfer. We'll have Claudio Slon, who's from Brazil--he's the drummer for Antonio Carlos Jobim. We'll have Sonny Rollins' pianist, Mark Soskin, Doug Webb, who plays tenor for Horace Silver, and the bassist Tony Dumas, who's played with Freddie Hubbard and many other greats."

Tonoian remains in hype overdrive when discussing the location of Vartan's Mark II. "It used to be a restaurant called Hudson's," he points out, "and it's got everything we wanted. It's much nicer than the other one acoustically, and because we put acoustic tiles on the ceilings, it has a very warm sound. And it's a much bigger place. There's a music room for 150 people and a banquet room for another hundred people. And the restaurant facilities are very nice. We won't have a really big menu, but we'll have some international dishes that we think reflect the nature of jazz--a couple of creole dishes, and the best seafood gumbo you'll ever have in your life."

Another improvement at Vartan's relates to the cover prices. The Cherry Creek nightspot was criticized by many jazz lovers because of what they viewed as a restrictive dress policy and the exorbitant charges asked of them at the door. Tonoian doesn't go into specifics about the former, saying only that the atmosphere will be "more relaxed." In regard to the latter, however, he boasts that his lower rent at the Glenarm address will allow him to pass along his savings to the consumer. "The prices are going to be much lower," he pledges. "When you saw the major stars at Cherry Creek, it cost twenty to thirty dollars. But here it's usually going to be between ten and twelve--fifteen maximum."

Actually, that's not quite true. For the grand-opening festivities, the tab will be $20--but Tonoian says that this will be the sole exception to the rule. Interested parties can learn more by calling 399-1111.

During his last visit to this column (in our October 23 issue), Mickey Zeppelin, longtime co-owner of City Spirit, a venue and eatery at 1434 Blake Street, did his best to undercut rumors that the joint was about to be shuttered. He acknowledged that he and his business partner, Susan Wicke, were negotiating with several unnamed parties interested in purchasing the enterprise, which has been a lower-downtown landmark since the mid-Eighties, but said that its doors would remain open until the matter was finalized. Furthermore, he hinted that any changes at the site would be modest ones. "It's not going to become a sports bar," he said. "And I don't think it's going to become a no-music thing, either."

It shouldn't be too much longer before we know if Zeppelin's predictions were accurate. At press time, a sale seemed imminent, and while Zeppelin declined to provide information about the new owners ("The final documents haven't been signed yet," he noted, "and they want to make any announcements once they are"), he did offer some insight into what's likely to happen at the space. "It's my understanding that they may take a couple of weeks off and will probably redo the kitchen or the downstairs and put in some of their own input," he says. "I hesitate to use the word 'closed,' because it's actually more of a transition. I think they're going to sit back and digest everything for a little while. But as far as I know, there's every intent to continue with City Spirit and the mix of food and music and bar and takeout and catering that people are familiar with."

This closure--sorry, I mean "transition"--is likely to begin immediately following a blowout on Friday, November 14, during which some of the performers who are most closely associated with City Spirit are scheduled to appear. "Johnny Long's going to start things off at seven o'clock and do an hour or so," Zeppelin says. "And then we're going to have a whole array of musicians come in: Elizabeth Rose and Tony Morales, the Perry Weisman 3, Jux County, the Czars. They're going to take turns and jam and play through the night." The party promises to be a sentimental affair for Zeppelin, but not a sad one. "I'm really looking forward to it," he says. "It's going to be a grand celebration."

In the April 18, 1996, edition of this column, Kurt Ottoway explained why he was putting the knife to Twice Wilted, a seminal Denver band that he had brought into existence a full nine years earlier. "I think it was an inevitable slow kill," Ottoway told me at the time. "We had the band on life support and just kept plugging in new members. In the end, though, everybody just realized that we were sticking together out of loyalty--but as far as doing what we wanted to do as individuals, it really wasn't happening." He added that he would be moving to San Francisco because of the community's "vibrant" music scene and expected to put together a combo shortly after his arrival: "I've laid the groundwork for it, anyway. It's very formative, very larval at this point. But I'm definitely going to do something soon."

Today Ottoway, who's back in Denver, concedes that things didn't work out in quite the way he had envisioned. "I was there for a year," he says, "and I became so frustrated by the cliques and ruts and cliches. Out there it's basically do nothing, take a lot of drugs and then try and get your music played somehow--and I can't do that. Besides, being away helped me realize in a really big way that my soul is here in Denver. I've been part of this place for so long that I can feel this super-cool jolt of dark energy as soon as I step on the ground."

Our town had other advantages, too. Ottoway struggled for six months to assemble an act in the Bay Area without success, but within days of his return to Colorado, he already had the makings of a new group, which has been dubbed Tarmints! Featuring bassist Julie Schliebner, who goes by the handle Mint Julep, guitarist Robert Jamison (aka Class A Bobby J) and onetime 40th Day drummer Bryon Bean, the outfit is "more of an R&B, stripped-down, Tom Waits kind of thing than Twice Wilted ever was," says Ottoway. "I spent a solid year writing songs and putting material together, and what I was trying to do was to get away from what I was and innovate--just be different."

Of course, Ottoway realizes that Tarmints!, which opens for volplane on Saturday, November 15, at Seven South, will be compared to Twice Wilted. "That's just the way people are," he allows. "But they're not the same kinds of things at all. We're a pretty dark band, but we also have a lot of fun now, and we try to mix it up a little bit. We cover so many different kinds of tempos and different kinds of rhythms. It's like a raw nerve."

Thus far, Ottoway's enthusiasm about Tarmints! has helped prevent him from feeling any regrets over Twice Wilted's demise. Although he understands that starting over won't be easy, he's glad that the slate is clean. "Twice Wilted just got to be so much of a responsibility," he says. "Business, money, the whole thing: It got so huge and bloated that I just needed to get back to the reason I wanted to play music in the first place.

"I have a burning desire inside myself to play music. In a lot of ways, it's the death of a sane, normal life. But if I don't play, I get sick--literally. So I guess, so to speak, I'm just a rock-and-roll thug."

Pat Gill, a member of Westword profile subject '76 Pinto ("Spirit of '76," February 20), sent me a note about a couple of the shows set to include his musical vehicle: Thursday, November 13, at the Bluebird Theater, and Saturday, November 15, at Area 39, with Scroat Belly, a neo-country quartet from Kansas whose fine CD, Daddy's Farm, was released by Chicago's acclaimed Bloodshot label. At the bottom of the missive, Gill wrote, "Things have been getting weird with personalities in the band. This may be one of the last chances to catch us live." Can this marriage be saved?

E-Town, the popular National Public Radio program that tapes at the Boulder Theater, is getting into the CD business. E-Town Live, which includes performances by Lyle Lovett and other famous people, will be unveiled on Sunday, November 16, at a party that follows a Boulder Theater show starring Lisa Loeb and Taj Mahal. The public is encouraged to drop by. That surprises you, doesn't it?

The slogan of the latest tour by Phish, which leaves water long enough to headline at McNichols Arena on Sunday, November 16, and Monday, November 17, is "Phish Destroys America." No doubt the residents of Morrison, whose town was overrun by Phish-heads during a series of Red Rocks dates last year (Feedback, August 15, 1996), are cracking up over that one. Expect Denver television stations to offer blanket coverage for what will likely be a non-event. Peace and love, man.

You might think that musicians had run out of ways to make copy editors' lives miserable; I mean, misplaced accent marks and creative misspellings (like, for instance, Phish) are old hat. So give some credit to [danos], which appears on Saturday, November 15, at the Bug Theater with TEST TUBE, for coming up with a new twist: unnecessary use of brackets.

Suddenly, the world seems full of possibilities again. On Thursday, November 13, Natalie MacMaster and Her Big Band live large at the Boulder Theater, with Cathie Ryan. (Ryan also appears by her lonesome on Saturday, November 15, at Oddfellow's Hall in Elizabeth. Ring Arts Elizabeth Concerts at 1-303-648-9707 to get directions and other data.) On Friday, November 14, Mark Hummel blows (harp, that is) at Brendan's; Verbow targets the Lion's Lair; Flipper Dave lathers up at Soapy Smith's; King Rat is crowned at the 15th Street Tavern, with Hell's Half Acre and Half Burned Match; and Juggling Sons keep their balls in the air at the Fox Theatre, with Chief Broom. On Saturday, November 15, Spiritualized, one of the most underrated bands in the universe, headlines at the Bluebird; the Shakes visit Borders Books, 9515 East County Line Road in Englewood; the Winstons light up at Stella's Coffee Haus; CFOOTMAD (which, as you know, stands for Colorado Friends of Old Time Music and Dance) hosts a "Ceili Dance" (which, as you also know, is a tradition associated with Ireland and Scotland) at the Mercury Cafe; and Grateful Dead-approved musician and music therapist Barry Bernstein conducts a workshop at the Naropa Institute (phone 546-3590 to get the particulars). On Sunday, November 16, Brethren Fast headlines the new "band night" bash at the Soiled Dove, and Snot builds up at the Bluebird. On Tuesday, November 18, Latif Bolat Turkish Music Ensemble goes Sufi at the Mercury. And on Wednesday, November 19, Michelle Hagelund and Whitney Rehr of Durga's Matrakas, a new artistic collective of female artists from Denver, play for the benefit of Volunteers of America at Herman's Hideaway; Nanci Griffith locates the Paramount Theatre; the members of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy do that hoo-doo they do so well at the Fox, with the Hillbilly Hellcats; Kelly Hunt explores the Mercury; the Girls gather at Cricket on the Hill; and Blast-Off Heads re-enact their favorite moments from Scanners when they join the Hate Fuck Trio at CU-Boulder's Club 156. Feedback: your obscure-film-reference superstore.

--Michael Roberts

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts