Kneebody Trumpeter Shane Endsley on Moving Back to Denver

In the two decades since East High grad Shane Endsley left the University of Colorado to attend the Eastman School of Music, the trumpeter went on to co-found the Grammy-nominated group Kneebody; tour with Ani DiFranco; perform with forward-thinking jazz players like Steve Coleman, Ravi Coltrane and David Murray; and sit in with Pearl Jam. But after spending a good part of the last twenty years in New York City, Endsley has moved back to his hometown to teach at Metropolitan State University’s Jazz & American Improvised Music program.

Endsley, who’s teaching trumpet and drums as well heading up a few small jazz combos at Metro, says it took him a long time to be okay with the idea of leaving New York City; for a jazz musician, the city is the center of everything.

“It felt like, ‘Well, I can’t leave here,” Endsley says. “But then all of a sudden I said, ‘Look, I could totally leave here.’ I could just leave here and have a great life in Denver. There are all these great musicians. This would be cool. And then New York’s not going anywhere. I’ll go back there and just be there to play and enjoy the city instead of kind of battle against it. I did that trip a couple of weeks ago and it was like being back there more as a vacationer and a tourist. It felt so nice. It’s cool. I get to come here and enjoy the great parts of New York and suffer through the annoying parts of New York.”

The move back to Denver has also given Endsley time to spend on his new project, the Rugged Road, which performs at Dazzle on Tuesday, November 10. He’s teamed up with guitarist Dave Devine, bassist Greg Garrison and drummer Matt Houston to revisit and reimagine songs by ‘60s and ‘70s folk and rock musicians like Neil Young, Nick Drake, Joni Mitchell and Judee Sill, as well as perform some Endsley originals.

While Endsley has always loved the challenge of the technical and intricate material of Kneebody and Coleman, which he says was like “science music,” and also loves the energy of aggressive and abrasive harmonies and rhythms, he admits that he felt he was missing another side of his playing that was more lyrical, simple and kind of folky, which is the side he explores with the Rugged Road.

“I want to get back to that thing where I’m really more singing through the horn,” he says. “You know, singing a song through the horn, kind of telling a more lyrical, emotional story than a technical one.”

Whether Endsley is exploring a lyrical or a technical route on the trumpet, there’s a good chance he’s using tools he learned in Denver during his formative years, especially from Art Lande and trumpeter Ron Miles, now director of Jazz Studies at Metro State. Miles knew Endsley’s father, Gerald, who passed away earlier this year; he was also a trumpet player, and made and modified instruments.

“[Ron] would always come over to check out music and check out equipment,” Endsley remembers. “So he’s known me since I was in diapers, and once I started playing I’d just go to his house all the time. I was thinking about it: I probably owe him about $10,000 in lessons because I’d just go over there and hang out and never even think about, ‘What should I pay you?’ He was so generous with that. His teaching and his playing became an art. I put him at the top of the list for musicians that have really taught me the most and influenced and supported me over the years.”

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon