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`Jazz Colony’ airs tonight

Stewart Oksenhorn

Walter “Chip” Comins, an Aspen local for 20 years, did not have much experience in the film-making business. But he did have a pretty clear idea of what kind of projects he wanted to create with his American Spirit Productions, which Comins co-owns with fellow local Harvie Branscomb.

“American Spirit is formed on the premise of adding value to the viewer,” said Comins. “We want the programs to be educational, informational, and inspirational, leaving the viewer with something of value. The idea is to use the medium of film and television to send messages that the world is a good place, it’s working.”

When Jazz Aspen started its Thelonious Monk Institute Jazz Colony, an annual summer program that brings together established jazz masters with some of the world’s most promising young players for two weeks of instruction and jamming in Snowmass Village, Comins saw his subject. The Jazz Colony, a collaboration between Jazz Aspen and the Washington, D.C.-based Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz, began in 1996. By 1997, Comins had his cameras up and rolling.

Tonight marks the world broadcast premiere of “Jazz Colony,” a one-hour documentary of the 1997 gathering. The film, produced by American Spirit, Jazz Aspen and Denver’s Jazz Alley TV and directed by Comins, shows at 9 p.m. throughout Colorado on KRMA, the Denver public broadcast station. KRMA is seen on channel 6 in Aspen. There will be a reception at the Aspen Club Lodge beginning at 8 p.m. tonight, followed by a public broadcast of the program.

Hosting and narrating the program is actor Michael Douglas. Comins is grateful to Douglas for lending his name and talents to the project, and for the profile and publicity Douglas’ participation will add to “Jazz Colony.”

“We’ve certainly never seen the likes of Michael Douglas standing up for” jazz, said Comins, whose only previous film experience was a four-month stint in Los Angeles as an associate editor for a documentary of the making of the feature film “Toys.” “Not many people, outside of Clint Eastwood, have that kind of selling power and are deeply interested in jazz,” he said.

“Jazz Colony,” however, is not about Douglas, but what Comins and Jazz Aspen see as a crucial part of America’s culture – the perpetuation of jazz music. The Monk Jazz Colony, which enters into its fourth year this summer, is about giving top young students the chance to learn beside great musicians. “Jazz Colony” includes footage of the likes of Wayne Shorter, Arturo Sandoval, Nneena Freelon, Dr. Billy Taylor and Jazz Aspen distinguished artist-in-residence Herbie Hancock as they instruct, interact and perform with more than 20 scholarship students.

“This documentary is about preserving jazz into the future, passing the torch,” said Comins, whose non-film experiences in the valley include massage therapy, owning a pair of oyster bars and stints on the boards of Jazz Aspen and the Aspen Valley Ski Club. “And more than that, it’s about giving the young musicians the chance to hang out with the older set of musicians like they used to in the early days of New York, when you could walk across the street and see Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk.

“As the society has grown, and the music progressed, there’s been less chance for that kind of hand-on opportunity. That’s what Jazz Aspen and the Monk Institute provide. I’m glad that the film can be a part of maintaining that tradition.

Jazz Aspen recently announced some of the jazz masters who will participate in the upcoming 1999 Monk Jazz Colony, set for July 26 through Aug. 6 in Snowmass Village. Set to appear for master classes and evening performances are Hancock, vocalist Rosemary Clooney, bassists Ray Brown and Christian McBride, trumpeter Nicholas Payton and percussionist Ray Barretto.


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