All that jazz hits Glenwood Springs | AspenTimes.com

All that jazz hits Glenwood Springs

Donna Gray
Glenwood Springs correspondent

Mark Fox/The Aspen Times

The Roaring Fork Jazz Party, a 32-year tradition in the valley, blows into the Hotel Colorado this weekend.

The music begins at 3 p.m. Saturday in the Colorado Room of the Glenwood Springs hotel with music from valley jazz legend Walt Smith and an all-star roster of musicians. The party continues at 6 p.m. with cocktails, dinner at 7 p.m. and music from 8 p.m. into the wee hours. The party revs up again on Sunday with a jam session from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

This year’s musical lineup includes Smith on piano, Chris Goplerud on drums, Mark Gray on bass, Steve Cole on tenor sax, Al Herman on trombone, Tim Fox on trumpet, Rick Chinisci on guitar and vocalist Kathy Morrow.

The Jazz Party began as a back-yard campout at Smith’s home in Missouri Heights, above El Jebel, in 1974. Since then, it has traveled to a variety of venues in the valley, including the Redstone Castle, the Hotel Colorado, the Snowmass Club, Aspen Meadows, and most recently, the Silvertree Hotel in Snowmass Village.

Smith remembers the first party in his back yard, when Hank Peterson showed up in a hearse with his girlfriend in tow. “They camped out in the hearse,” Smith said, and staked their claim to their camping spot by unloading a table for two and “fancy glasses.”

About 40 people came to that first party, which became an annual event from then on.

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Smith has been a jazz legend in the Roaring Fork Valley since establishing his reputation when he moved to Aspen in 1954. Smith soon hooked up with Freddie “Schnickelfritz” Fisher, an Aspen character whose Dixieland band was featured in 15 movies and on some 200 recordings. Smith and Fisher played at venues around Aspen, among them the Red Onion, Aspen Highlands and the long-gone Copper Kettle, where they played for more than 10 years with drummer Bert Dahlander.

Smith has played countless private parties and charity events between Aspen and Vail and beyond. He appeared on the Dave Garroway TV show with Freddie Fisher. Smith wrote a musical adaptation, “Ari,” with Leon Uris, based on Uris’ best-selling novel, “Exodus,” which had a short career on Broadway. He has also played the Telluride Jazz Festival and the Sacramento Jazz Jubilee.

Longtime fan and party organizer Connie McCrudden has been to every jazz party.

“The concept was started by Dick Gibson in Denver,” she said. The idea was to stage something that was not a festival but a more intimate gathering with people sitting at tables listening to good music. While jazz aficionado McCrudden goes to the parties strictly to listen, she said over the years a dance floor has been set up “for people who just can’t sit still.”