Niki Haris and JAS Café host first ticketed concerts in Aspen since pandemic struck
JAS CAFÉ SUMMER 2020
July 24 Shelly Berg & Tierney Sutton, Aspen Art Museum
July 25 Shelly Berg, Randy Brecker, Kenny Washington & Ken Peplowski, Aspen Art Museum
July 31 & Aug. 1 Veronica Swift and Emmet Cohen, The Collective
Aug. 14 & 15 Ranky Tanky, Aspen Art Museum
Tickets and more info: jazzaspensnowmass.org
After four quiet months of lockdowns and restrictions on gatherings, on July 10 and 11 Aspen hosted its first ticketed concerts since the coronavirus crisis hit.
The James Horowitz Trio and Niki Haris headlined, opening the summer’s JAS Café series in the open-air venue on the rooftop of the Aspen Art Museum. Many new COVID-19 policies were in place to assure health and safety of guests, staff and performers, beginning with no-touch temperature checks for patrons upon arrival.
Haris and the band played to an audience capped at 50, in keeping with public health restrictions. The closest table sat 25 feet from the stage, with each additional table more than six feet apart. Cards on each reminded patrons not to move their tables, not to socialize with guests at other tables, not to leave their seats unless going to get a drink or use the restroom and, of course, reminding everyone to wear masks and social distance when coming in and out. The musicians on-stage were distanced but unmasked.
Welcoming this grateful, compliant and distanced audience on Friday night, Horowitz – the founder and president of Jazz Aspen Snowmass, which produces the seasonal JAS Café – noted how sparse a crowd of just 50 looks from the stage. What looks like safety in the age of COVID-19 would’ve looked like failure just months ago.
“Musicians do not thrive on this kind of space,” Horowitz told the crowd, encouraging people to clap and keep the band’s energy going. “We need your help.”
He noted that the 25-foot rule was instituted by the county health board just the night before this show.
“We are dealing with curveballs everyday, but we are still here,” he said.
After the weekend’s successful launch, Horowitz and his team plan to produce a JAS Café series running over four more weekends this summer: Aspen regular and Frost School of Music Dean Shelly Berg will play July 24 and 25 with guests including vocalist Tierney Sutton at the museum. The following weekend, July 31 and Aug. 1 at The Collective in Snowmass, it’s singer Veronica Swift and pianist Emmet Cohen, who also played the virtual JAS June Experience last month. The series is due to close Aug. 14 and 15 with the Grammy-winning quintet Ranky Tanky back at the museum.
“We are intending to do a few more of these, 50 people at a time,” Horowitz said. “It’s great to be able to be here and keep the music playing, which is why we do what we do.”
That mission was the centerpiece of this opening evening, billed as a “JAS Odyssey.” The nostalgia trip toasted Jazz Aspen’s 30th anniversary with Horowitz playing piano and telling stories, while Haris sang songs to punctuate the journey. Horowitz recalled the nonproifit’s early days when he was working out of a Snowmass Village condo and its breakthrough early moments like hosting B.B. King and Tony Bennett and the biggest nights for Jazz Aspen’s June and Labor Day festivals (both of which canceled their 2020 editions and moved lineups to 2021) over the last three decades.
Haris – a consummate pro and Aspen favorite who has been a regular at the JAS Café since 2017 – nobly led Horowitz and the band through this abnormal concert experience. The longtime Madonna backup singer’s upbeat and all-in performance melted away any anxiety in the audience, singing Tony Bennett’s “Cheek to Cheek” and classics like “Fly Me to the Moon,” before closing the night with a sweet – and bittersweetly appropriate for the moment – rendition of “I Love Being Here with You.”
PHOTOS FROM THE HISTORIC CONCERT
by Steve Mundinger