It was in 1986 when City Park Jazz launched its first official season — a handful of outdoor jazz concerts at the bandshell on Ferril Lake in Denver’s historic City Park, free to the public, and designed to promote a sense of community in the heart of the Mile High City. Since then, the season has grown to 10 shows throughout the summer and crowds of more than 10,000 people from all over the Front Range at every show. It’s still free, the bands are all still only from Colorado, and it remains the most diverse summer concert series throughout the Centennial State. Here, City Park Jazz Board President Andy Bercaw (who is also one of the co-owners of the Oriental Theater) talks about the 2022 season, paying tribute to one of Colorado’s most beloved musicians, and what makes this series so unique.
French Davis: How long have you been on the board, Andy? What drew you to such an endeavor, especially since it’s a volunteer role?
Andy Bercaw: Well, I’ve been a musician here my whole adult life. I’ve played with so many of the cats you see on our stage and I’ve even played it myself. It’s a pretty amazing gig that not only delivers an audience of thousands of people to a band, but bands actually get paid well to perform, as they should. And what I love most about it is the sense of community it brings. People are there from the greater City Park neighborhoods, but also all over the state, all walks of life, every kind of background you find in Colorado, and they’re all just there to enjoy the evening together and a great live show. It’s incredibly uplifting to be a part of all that.
FD: And you don’t get paid for it, but you do pay the bands? How does funding work?
AB: That’s right. City Park Jazz is an entirely volunteer-run organization. We have an incredible working board of professionals who volunteer their time and skills to keep this thing running. All of our funding comes through grants, corporate sponsorships and donations. We’re a 501(c)3 non-profit, so it’s tax deductible if you would like to pitch in on our website at cityparkjazz.org/donate. We send out our volunteer bucket brigade at the intermission of every show and the crowd pitches in what it can. The rest of our funding comes from organizations like SCFD and corporate sponsorships or online donations through our site. This enables us to pay the bands and sound engineers, our vendors — security, trash, port-a-lets, etc. — and permit fees for every show.
FD: What’s on tap for this season?
AB: I’m really excited about the lineup this season. We’re starting off on June 5 with a very bittersweet tribute show to Ron Miles, who passed this last year at far too young an age, and that left an outsized hole in the heart of the collective music scene in Colorado. Shane Endsley is going to front that group on trumpet — he’s a world renowned player who grew up in Denver, went to East High School, and taught at Metro State University with Ron. It’s going to be a bit of a catharsis and memorial for a lot of people, so plan on some tears being shed. Here’s the full lineup:
- June 5 — Tribute to Ron Miles feat. Shane Endsley
- June 12 — Mariachi Sol de mi Tierra
- June 19 — Hazel Miller
- June 26 — Paa Kow
- July 3 — Colorado Jazz Repertory Orchestra
- July 10 — Euforquestra
- July 17 — Third Annual Brass Band Extravaganza
- July 24 — Joe Smith & The Spicy Pickles
- July 31 — Jakarta
- Aug 7 — Colorado Mambo Orchestra
FD: Wow. There’s a lot of variety in there.
AB: Right? That’s secretly my favorite part of being on this board is I’m the talent buyer. This is my second season as President, but I’ve been handling the booking since I joined almost a decade ago. We try hard to spread it out so there’s literally something for everyone, from Colorado royalty like Hazel Miller to the Colorado Mambo Orchestra, which is a new project by Raul Murciano, Jr. who was one of the founding members of Miami Sound Machine. Plus, we’ll have our incredible lineup of food trucks every week, which has become a big draw on its own.
FD: What else should people know about making the trip to City Park Jazz?
AB: Parking’s a premium, so public transportation or ride share’s the way to go, or bicycle if you live close enough (we have a bike corral to park your bike safely in). City Park Jazz is every Sunday from June 5 to Aug. 7, 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., rain or shine. And make sure to bring a few extra bucks to throw into the buckets, so we can keep this thing going for another 36 years at least!