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Ten Stars for ‘In the Pocket: The Ballad of Bobby Trombone’

Ten Stars for ‘In the Pocket: The Ballad of Bobby Trombone’


In 2018, a show by Emancipation Theater titled ‘Honorable Disorder’  came across my feed that intrigued me. A show that was written, produced, and starred local playwright Jeff Campbell, a Denverite producing a show about Denver. Needless to say, this got my curiosity. I reached out to Jeff Campbell — the playwright, actor, and producer — who, at that time, had no idea of his background or legacy. I asked to review his performance. Jeff obliged, and I attended the show. I was thoroughly spellbound by the production. YS review of Honorable Disorder in 2018.

Since that time, I have learned a lot more about the unparalleled Mr. Campbell, and not only has my intrigue grown, but so has my utmost respect. Denver and Colorado are lucky Jeff Campbell chose to stay close to home. We have a creative genius in our presence.

Jeff, the founder of Emancipation Theater, can trace his roots as a performer back to when he was a kid. Having moved to Longmont at the age of four, he was often the only Black child in school. He tells me that the bullying and teasing he experienced propelled him into being the class clown as a form of defense. From there, he found his identity as a performer.

But Jeff Campbell is so much more than a performer. 

First and foremost, he is a Storyteller.

“There is always a storyteller at work. We’re looking at the storytellers in Florida now that are prohibiting our stories from being told right now in the classroom. And from the classroom to the courtroom, to the newsroom to the boardroom, the storyteller is wielding their power and having a direct impact on who winds up in hospital beds, jail cells, and graveyards.

Changing the narrative has to be the primary objective. Therefore, professional storytellers, traditional ones, are the ones that we consider to be storytellers, and we see them in that context. Playwrights, poets, screenwriters, actors, directors, it is up to us to pick up the mantle when legislators are making it illegal for our stories to be told.”

His career has been about sharing stories that often are not told — glossed over, forgotten, or rewritten by and for those in power to create a narrative untrue to history.

After graduating from Skyline High School, Jeff moved to Los Angeles and then the Bay Area. While he had been accepted to the prestigious performing arts school, the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, he lacked the means to attend. He packed his bags and moved to LA anyway, finding a career in hip-hop and rap. He also collaborated with many known artists of the time while working at Black Market Records in Sacramento, including X-Raided and Brotha Lynch Hung.

Being from the suburbs, he did not feel he was the right person to tell the story of those who lived among city strife, so after building a successful career in California, he moved back to Denver, where his roots are. 

After moving home, Jeff founded the Colorado Hip Hop Coalition while also performing with a live ensemble called “Heavyweight Dub Champion.” His career as a hip-hop artist in Denver continued to explode. 

After a decade or so, growing tired of life on the road, he launched  Emancipation Theater, whose name was inspired by Marcus Garvey’s quote; “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery, for though others may free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.”

Photo courtesy of Emancipation Theater Company

Jeff’s latest production, ‘In the Pocket, the Ballad of Bobby Trombone,’ touches deeply on the history of Colorado’s Five Points Jazz Legacy, centered around the legendary Rossonian Hotel. 

Shane Franklin, who plays the bright-eyed Simon Moody in the production, tells me he is a sixth-generation Denverite. But he is not alone. Many of Colorado’s Black community members have long histories in Colorado, which makes the significance of ‘In the Pocket’ even more poignant.

The play is centered around the historic Rossonian Hotel, which was a thriving hub for great Jazz performers such as Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and many more. Denver was considered an “in-between market,” Performers traveling between the west coast and Chicago or Kansas City would stop in Denver. They often played two shows, one at the whites-only hotels downtown, where they were not welcome to spend the night, and one at the Rossonian, where they stayed.

Photo courtesy of Emancipation Theater Company

‘In the Pocket’ is a fictionalized story of Bobby Trombone, who works at the Rossonian as a bellhop, and the people he works with. Bobby is very proud of his professionalism in his job but also dreams of playing on stage with the legends. Bobby often has advice for the young Simon and tells him he has to be ‘In the Pocket’ if he wants to do his job well.

‘In the pocket’ is a jazz term to describe when a musician or band finds a groove. Weaving in familiar history, Bobby repeatedly claims he coined the term ‘Harlem of the West’ about Five Points and brags about being the “best trombone player around.” 

‘In the Pocket’ tells Bobby’s struggle to find his place in a segregated America. We learn of his dreams and watch as he overcomes his biggest fear, that he is not needed or appreciated by his community. Along the way, you will laugh, cry, rage, and cheer as, in the end, he learns a valuable lesson about what is most important.  The story brings humanity back to those in society who had been dehumanized throughout history. A lesson as important today as ever before.  

Photo courtesy of Shane Franklin

Photo courtesy of Danette Hollowell

Photo courtesy of Wesley Watkins


The cast includes playwright and producer Jeff Campbell playing Bobby Trombone and Danette Hollowell playing the beautiful and mysterious Violet Middleton. Wesley Watkins performs the part of the troublesome Quentin Miles — whose character was written in because of his desire to work with the production — and Shane Franklin plays the young and naive Simon Moody, who also comes to realize his dreams as a performer. The Rossonian was not only home to some of the greatest jazz performers in American history, but it was also home to the lives of people like Bobby Trombone, Violet Middleton, Quentin Miles, and Simon Moody.

The staff is as equally accomplished as Jeff Campbell, with credentials as professional performers, musicians, and artists that include Quentin Miles, an accomplished musician who has performed with the likes of Nathaniel Rateliff, Wheelchair Sports Camp, and Air Dubai, among others. Shane Franklin has spent his life in entertainment. Growing up in Denver in a family of performers putting on tap shoes came as natural to him as acting. In addition to performing, he owns Cornbread Entertainment, a multi-media production agency. Danette Holloway has a solid career as a vocalist, songwriter, classically trained dancer, and performance artist. She is also an entrepreneur and the founder of Sticky Drip Waffles, which she started in 2020. 

Today, the Rossonian is listed on the National Historic Registry, but it sits empty. The developer, Palisade Partners, wants to restore the hotel to its former glory. Developers say they wish to stay true to the neighborhood and its history. A history that is rich with great music and culture but also one based on the racist policies that have been a part of American history since the beginning. Discriminatory real estate practices, such as redlining, kept Black, Latino, and immigrant communities segregated in Five Points.

Photo courtesy of Emancipation Theater Company

Jeff hopes to be able to perform ‘In the Pocket’ at the Rossanian one day, stating, “Imagine it being performed at a renovated Rossonian where its walls could continue to tell the Denver story.”

The two-week run of ‘In the Pocket’ is completely sold-out and is set to end Feb 25th, but if we are lucky, Mr. Campbell may add a third weekend. If we are even luckier, we will be able to see it this summer at the Five Points Jazz Festival, which Jeff hopes will be included in the weekend lineup.

As we talk about what is next, he tells me his dream is to have a black-equity playhouse in Denver. Jeff states,

“Emancipation Theater’s intention is to establish a Black institution in Denver for the arts. Denver needs a Black-owned equity playhouse. Denver needs that for our stories to be told from an authentic voice with no barriers. It would do wonders for the entire independent theater landscape — that you have a lot of independent theaters in town, and there’s not one Black-owned equity playhouse.”

I ask him what it means to be an equity playhouse, and he simply responds, “Pay my artists union wages.”

Having a black-equity playhouse in Denver is critical if those of us who enjoy these talents want them to stay in Colorado.

Emancipation Theater absolutely scores 10’s across the board for this original screenplay by Jeff Campbell. I truly felt like I could see into Denver’s history through the eyes of Bobby Trombone’s story.


Head over to https://emancipationtheater.com/ to learn more about this incredible production company, which is so much more. Emancipation Theater is a “performance art social enterprise dedicated to gathering the community to share stories and inspire action.”


Shavonne Blades grew up on the West Coast but moved to Colorado in High School. She left for California after school and returned to Colorado in 1990. She got her start in media at the age of 21 in Santa Cruz, California as an advertising sales rep. Having no experience and nothing more than a couple of years as an art college attendee she felt the bug to work in media at a young age. She learned that by helping her customers with design and marketing, their campaigns would be far more successful and has made a 30+ year career in design, copywriting, and marketing for her clients. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EPy4MMdcfLg. She has always chosen to work in Independent Media and believes deeply in the need for true, authentic Community Journalism. She is proud that YS has never compromised journalism standards in its 20+ history and continues to print YS on paper monthly while also expanding web coverage. She has worked at 3 Alternative Weeklies and founded Yellow Scene Magazine in 2000. You can learn more about Shavonne's adventures in the YS 20th Anniversary issue: https://yellowscene.com/2020/10/08/the-yellow-scenes-red-tornado/

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