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Medianoche Honrado Pays Tribute to Legendary Denver Bassist Jimmy Trujillo

Pianist Justin Adams (far left) formed Medianoche Honrado in 2018 in memory of the late, great Denver bassist Jimmy Trujillo.
Pianist Justin Adams (far left) formed Medianoche Honrado in 2018 in memory of the late, great Denver bassist Jimmy Trujillo. Justin Adams
When legendary Denver bassist and KUVO-FM radio DJ Jimmy "JT" Trujillo passed away in 2014, jazz pianist Justin Adams wanted to honor his longtime friend, mentor and music collaborator.

“I met Jimmy in the early ’90s, when I was eighteen and studying music at Metropolitan State College of Denver. He taught a class on Latin music and the origin of Latin music,” recalls Adams. “Jimmy could speak for hours on all of the ways that the music developed from Cuba and Puerto Rico up through New York. He truly was an encyclopedia, where he knew every artist, every influence, every recording. He was a savant. I never fully realized it until he passed away.”

The late Trujillo was known for his long tenure with the national award-winning band Conjunto Colores, the Colorado band that speckles its Latin sound with Afro-Cuban and Caribbean influences. His career included playing with the who’s-who in all types of music, including jazz singer Leon Thomas, keyboardist Richard Kermode (Janis Joplin, Santana), David Amram, bassist Marshall Hawkins, Richie Cole, Jon “Bowser” Bauman (Sha Na Na, the Drifters, the Coasters, the Shirelles) and more. He hosted the popular radio shows Salsa Con Jazz on Sundays and Monday Night Jazz on KUVO.

Adams remembers that he would often go to the band room on campus to watch Trujillo perform with Conjunto Colores percussionist Gary Sosias and vocalist/percussionist Francisco Mejias. “I was so interested in Latin music," Adams says. "And here we had one of the greatest bands of all time playing at the school.

"When I met Jimmy, Gary and Francisco, they were grown-up men, at least a decade older than I was, and getting their degrees, which is what you did at Metro in the ’90s,” he continues, chuckling. “So I had a wonderful opportunity to learn how to play Latin music just by hanging out with these guys, being at their house, listening to records and getting nurtured by the three, especially by Jimmy.”

Eventually, Trujillo asked Adams to play piano with the various salsa bands he was in. “He always called me first to play for all of his bands," Adams recalls. "So I got to perform in many different bands with him until he passed in 2014.” Adams has played with renowned jazz musicians Claudio Roditi, J.P. Torres, Chris Calloway, Candido Camaro and Claudio Slon, and has performed at many national jazz festivals. Aside from playing professionally, he is also the producer of commercial music at Kent Denver School.
click to enlarge JUSTIN ADAMS
Justin Adams
Adams notes that there was one music venture that was especially important to Trujillo. “Jimmy loved Don Grolnick’s Medianoche album, which is an amazing LP," he remembers. "He told me, ‘I'm going to start a band inspired by this album.’” The 1996 Afro-Cuban jazz hit record enlisted jazz stalwarts including Michael Brecker on tenor, Mike Mainieri on vibraphone, Dave Valentin on flute, Andy González on bass and Don Alias, Steve Berrios and Milton Cardona on percussion.

Trujillo formed the band Medianoche in the late 1990s, with Adams on piano, Mike Marlier and Marc Dalio on drums, Derek Banach and Hugh Ragin on trumpet and Victor Nieves on congas.

Adams says Trujillo’s desire to perform songs from that album has stuck with him. In 2018, the pianist assembled the Latin band Medianoche Honrado in memory of his friend.

“I originally thought about calling us just ‘Medianoche,’ because that’s the band that Jimmy started, and I felt most at home with that. But Scott Mattson, who runs the Nocturne Jazz Club in town, suggested I add the word ‘honrado’ to honor Jimmy," Adams says. "I loved that idea.”

Medianoche Honrado includes Adams on piano, trumpeter Greg Gisbert, percussionist Leo Corona, bassist Gonzalo Teppa and drummer Alejandro Castaño. The members met while playing in some of Denver’s top salsa and jazz bands. Gisbert, one of Denver’s more notable jazz musicians, has performed globally and is a mainstay on the New York jazz scene, while Corona, a native of Mexico City, and Teppa, from Venezuela, have both made a name for themselves in the Latin music world.

Since its inception, Medianoche Honrado has played numerous times at Dazzle Denver and Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club. In the summer of 2020, the quintet was invited to play the Vail Jazz Festival. “The guys in the band love playing the music so much," Adams says. "It’s a nice reminder to really think about that and Jimmy.”

In April, Medianoche Honrado released its debut album, Curaçao, a ten-track collection that blends beautiful, soulful Latin and salsa grooves with racy trumpet notes and breezy piano work. “The compositions on the album are classics,” says Adams. “I had written a few songs for the band, but we really felt engaged to the idea that we’re honoring Jimmy along with these masters of music, such as Chucho Valdés, Dave Valentin, Ray Baretto, Poncho Sanchez and Cal Tjader.”

Curaçcao has already received regular airplay at KUVO, says Adam. “The feedback has been great. We’re really proud of this record.”

Longtime Brown Palace Hotel pianist and entertainment coordinator John Kite, who is Adams's good friend, invited the band to host its album-release party at the historic hotel. Medianoche Honrado will kick off the Brown Palace’s brand-new “Live From the Lobby” series on Friday, May 13.

“We would like to ‘music it up’ here,” says Kite. “We want to be more diverse and do something different than just piano-playing in the lobby. Our vision is to start slowly, build on our successes and offer entertainment on our off-nights, Monday through Thursday night.”

Medianoche Honrado will debut songs off Curaçao, including Don Grolnick’s nostalgic “Medianoche” song, when it performs in the atrium of the Brown Palace on Friday. The band will have CDs available for purchase.

Brown Palace "Live from the Lobby" presents the Medianoche Honrado Album Release Party from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, May 13, at 321 17th Street. Admission is free, but reservations are required. Call 303-297-3111, ext. 3223. Learn more about Medianoche Honrado at justinadamspiano.com.
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