El Chapultepec, legendary Denver jazz club, will close

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I used to frequent the Pec whenever I was in the Denver/Boulder area mostly the late 60’s and 70’s. In the old days it was a Mexican restaurant then it morphed into a jazz club. It was a fine place to spend time.. During the day the local street bums could come in a order a triple shot of really bad wine for 35 cents but as the day waned into night the prices rose, the jazz aficionados showed up crowding the small place and the night wore on.. A cool place to enjoy some great music.

rŌbert

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El Chapultepec, Denver’s iconic jazz club and bar, closing permanently after 87 years

The storied bar, restaurant and venue opened in 1933

By John WenzelThe Denver Post Dec 7, 2020, 8:58 am76.3KShares

The sun sets on the outside of El Chapultepec on Dec. 7, 2020, the day Denver learned that the iconic, 87-year-old bar and jazz venue would close permanently. (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

World War II, recessions and generations of jazz fans came and went, but after nearly 90 years, it took a global pandemic to do in El Chapultepec.

The Denver jazz club and bar on the corner of 20th and Market streets is closing — according to the Krantz family, which runs the business — throwing the city’s cultural scene into mourning.

“Krantz family sends our love to all who this decision affects … we did not take it lightly,” the owners wrote in a Facebook post on Monday. “The Pec is a living, breathing member of both our family and the Denver community.”

A pedal bar passes El Chapultepecs at Market and 20th streets in downtown Denver. (Cyrus McCrimmon, The Denver Post)

Denver jazz musician Joshua Trinidad said co-owner Angela Guerrero told the house band last week the club would be shutting down for good.

“Historically, it’s as big as some of the major closings over the years, like (San Francisco’s) Keystone Korner or The Fillmore,” said Carlos Lando, program director for Denver jazz station KUVO 89.3-FM. “You could be the governor and you’d be standing right next to a person who was destitute, because they never charged a cover. If you behaved, you were treated exactly the same as the celebrities that visited.”

“This place was a come-one, come-all safe space for everyone,” Andrew Hudson, who played at El Chapultepec over the years, wrote on Facebook. “You’d see… the cops swinging with the crooks.”

Hudson has been in touch with Krantz family — Jerry Krantz, who died in 2012, formerly owned El Chapultepec — and wrote that while the pandemic played a role in the closure, the real reasons are “multifactorial.”

Artist David Sockrider’s rendering of The Tony Black Summit at El Chapultepec. Depicted, from left to right, are Chris Strain on saxophone, Robert McDaniels on keyboard, Dewayne Adams on guitar, Jessica Jones on vocals, Tony Black on drums and Chris Harris on bass. (“Not pictured are Gino Finley on guitar and Paul Binkleman on keys who also played with us for years,” Jones said). (Provided by Jessica Love Jones)

“Denver’s welcoming, collaborative music scene, in essence, was born there,” said Jessica Love Jones, a nationally touring Denver jazz and soul singer who had performed near-weekly at El Chapultepec for the last seven years, in addition to playing nationally with Ivan Neville and members of Trey Anastasio Band. “Before the jam-band scene, before folk, and before Denver became a music hub, there was El Chapultepec.”

By Monday morning, Guerrero had shared nearly a dozen remembrances of the club from longtime supporters, including former Rocky Mountain News contributor and musician Dave Flomberg, reinforcing the impact of the club’s long-feared closure, but also its culture of camaraderie.

“When I was 16, I sat on the sidewalk outside the stage door, listening to Freddy Rodriguez Sr. (another terrible Covid casualty) and Rich Chiaraluce and Tony Black and Bob Montgomery and so many others playing that mythical stage …” Flomberg wrote. “This city has lost so much this year. But losing El Chapultepec is a bridge too far.”

El Chapultepec opened in 1933, the day after Prohibition was repealed, but didn’t begin hosting regular live jazz until 1968 — a decade after jazz-fan Krantz began working there. Under Krantz, who inherited it from father-in-law Tony Romano, it became known for shows by local and touring legends who stopped through on the way to gigs; who sat in with house bands after a nearby set; or who set up residence at the club.

In its late 20th-century heyday, music icons such as Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett and Ella Fitzgerald stopped in to listen and perform, as well as visiting rock stars like Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger. Even President Bill Clinton played his tenor sax on stage there.

“I’ve had everyone in here but Jesus,” Krantz was once quoted as saying.

“His big thing is that he always wanted it to be for everybody,” said Krantz’s daughter, Anna Diaz, after his death in 2012. “At the time when he started it you’d get dressed up to go to the symphony, and there were people who had never even seen live music. So there was no cover charge, no dress code. The bums on the street were just as welcome to come and listen as the millionaires.”

In recent years, El Chapultepec — caddy-corner from Coors Field, home of the Colorado Rockies — had become a symbol of gritty, pre-gentrification Denver in the otherwise sports bar-heavy neighborhood of Lower Downtown. Over the summer, El Chapultepec and fellow Denver jazz club Dazzle took “extraordinary measures” to respond to coronavirus closures, according to Denver Post jazz critic Bret Saunders, including streaming pre-recorded sets to raise money.

“Both clubs are seeking fan financial support to keep the music playing on the web, while supporting the artists and employees,” Saunders wrote in June.

A previous El Chapultepec fundraiser posted by Guerrero on March 23 raised only $1,630 on GoFundMe before it closed.

Chris Zacher, executive director of Levitt Pavilion Denver, said he knew the club was in trouble earlier this year but hoped Guerrero could hold out for federal aid. The amount of musical history at El Chapultepec is staggering, he said, and nothing can replace it.

“It was Jack Kerouac’s place,” Zacher wrote on Facebook. “Count Basie, Doc Severinsen, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, and Frank Sinatra all played at the Pec along with Bill Clinton and Ed Sheeran.”

It’s also the second woman-owned jazz club to close this year, singer Jones said, citing the closure of downtown club Jazz at Jack’s.

“I had residences at both of those places,” she said. “And the only reason I ever got hired is because I had a place like El Chapultepec to hone my craft.”

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Exploring Colorado’s jazz legacy from Denver to the mountains

By David HillApril 24, 2017

El Chapultepect
El Chapultepec, Denver. “Though it sits on the edge of the city’s dwindling skid row,” J.R. Moehringer wrote in Esquire in 2006, “El Chapultepec smells like New York, feels like New Orleans, and sounds like southside Chicago.”

This story originally aired in March 2015.

From the smoke-filled nightclubs of Five Points to the swanky hotels of Aspen and Vail, jazz has long been an important part of Colorado’s musical landscape, says Bret Saunders. He writes a weekly column about jazz for The Denver Post, and he’s also the morning host on KBCO.

Saunders on Denver’s Five Points neighborhood:
 
“It was known as ‘The Harlem of the West.’ It was the stop between St. Louis and Los Angeles, and a lot of bands would come through and play in Denver. But here’s the part that’s troubling but also fascinating. A lot of artists like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, and Louis Armstrong would play in specific hotels in downtown Denver, but they wouldn’t be able to stay at those hotels, so they would stay in one of the hotels in the Five Points neighborhood.”
 
On Denver jazz club El Chapultepec:
 
“El Chapultepec has been an institution in Denver for decades. Jerry Krantz is probably the most famous owner. He was known for letting Jack Kerouac hang out there even though he didn’t have any money. Great musicians performed there, or even just spent some time there, like Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, even Ella Fitzgerald walked through the doors of El Chapultepec. Even former president Bill Clinton played there when he was campaigning for president…. I think it’s a place that you have to visit if you want to understand the development of jazz in this part of America.”
 
On Dick Gibson and his Colorado jazz parties:
 
“At some point in the 60s, he had the kind of cash flow where he could bring in his favorite musicians — a lot of swing musicians, guys who by the 1960s who were out of fashion — he could bring them to Colorado, and put them on a bus and drive them up to Aspen, or drive them up to Vail, and they would play for two or three days at a time. They were ticketed events. I think he started charging $50 a couple for the shows at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen.”
 
On guitarist Johnny Smith:
 
“He was at the top of his game in the 1950s in New York. He was playing with the Philharmonic, he was part of the NBC Orchestra. He was a fearsome guitarist, technically perfect, incredible. At one point, I believe it was in 1958, his wife died, and they had a child. He decided he wanted his child to be raised in Colorado. He already had some family in Colorado Springs, so he moved there and lived there until he died in 2013.”
 
On cornetist Ron Miles and guitarist Bill Frisell:
 
“They both graduated from East High School in Denver. They have almost an ESP level of communication with each other. They’re both very creative. There seems to be a uniquely Colorado jazz asthetic. I can’t quite put my finger on it. There are aspects of loneliness, openness, and space in their music. No one else sounds like them.”

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