Connecting with jazz |

Connecting with jazz

SILVERTHORNE – In the past, jazz gained a reputation for being snobby, “cool school” music because some players distanced themselves from uneducated listeners. But Ellyn Rucker doesn’t subscribe to that school.

She connects with her audience by presenting jazz in an accessible way.

“There’s a way to present jazz so it says, “Come in and enjoy yourself,’ and I think that it’s our responsibility as musicians to present it that way,” Rucker said. “Even people not versed in jazz might like it because they can feel the vibes.”

One of her closest friends and mentors, Spike Robinson, brought home the idea of connecting with the audience. For three years, Rucker played with Robinson in Denver clubs and at the Genuine Jazz festival in Breckenridge before he died in 2001.

“Spike was a joy to play with,” Rucker said. “He played so pretty, and he swung hard. He lived to play. He was inspiring to be around because his energy was incredible.”

But Robinson’s energy – as well as that of other jazz legends, including Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Carmen McRae and Sarah Vaughn – lives on in Rucker’s music.

“Spike used to say, “You have a good time, and the people will have a good time. It’s contagious. That’s the point,'” she said.

Both Rucker’s singing and her piano playing are contagious. It’s not unusual to encounter a great player or a great singer in the jazz world, but it’s rare to find a musician who pulls both off with distinction. Rucker is a rarity.

“I do have a gift – and I can’t take the credit for it – of hearing jazz, and I feel it,” she said. “I think those are the basic things to have in your bag if you’re going to play jazz. It’s an innate thing.”

Her innate talent has brought her to Europe several times in the past 20 years, and last winter, she spent five months playing at the Ritz Carlton in Shanghai.

This Saturday, she’ll play danceable jazz tunes reminiscent of the big band era at the Silverthorne Pavilion.

“This is musical jazz,” she said. “It’s nothing that’s startling modern or bizarre. It’s pretty straight-ahead, mellow jazz.”

Bassist Mark Simon, sax player Laura Newman, drummer Fill Frederickson and vocalist Paul Romaine will join her.

“There’s a lot of diversity among these musicians,” Rucker said. “Everyone in the band is capable of playing other kinds of jazz. We’re all concert-level musicians, and we’ve all recorded a lot.”

Rucker’s gig is part of the Silverthorne Pavilion’s new After Dinner Night Club Dance Series. Pavilion coordinator Maggie Butler created the series based on the popularity of last winter’s Evening of Elegance with Jill Carr and the Frank Sinatra tribute.

Doors open at 7 p.m. Saturday, and the show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $20 in advance and $22 at the door. They may be purchased by calling (970) 262-7370.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 245, or by e-mail at

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