Maybe you just don’t know that you’re a fan of big band music.
Try what tenor saxophonist Brad Eastin calls a free “baptism” into the music Wednesday at Johnny’s Navajo Hogan, 2817 N. Nevada Ave., where the Colorado Springs Contemporary Jazz Big Band will play from 6 to 8 p.m.
The band is a precious and resilient Colorado Springs institution started by trumpet player Steve Rempelos and tenor saxophonist Dennis Hoshijo in June 1990.
“I knew there were good players in town who wanted to play in a group like this,” Rempelos says. “I wanted to provide the opportunity to play the kind of music they wanted to play and an opportunity for fans to come in and hear it.”
Over the decades, the band has performed at Dublin House, The Ritz, Bogart’s, Rum Bay, Thirsty Parrot and The Warehouse.
The big room at the Hogan is a distinctive destination, with a high-rising wooden dome created by Nicholas Fontecchio. The word “unique” often is misused. The big room is unique.
The Hogan, built in 1935, has served as roadhouse, dance club, strip club, high-end restaurant and depressingly low-end hangout. Under owner Johnny Nolan, it’s enjoying a rising wave. This venerable destination, on the National Register of Historic Places, serves as the ideal home for America’s music, jazz.
The acoustics are superb, a vital plus.
“The dome spreads the sound out nice,” Eastin says. “Some of the sound goes up there, and I think that kind of controls the volume a little bit.”
These performances are filled with passion. The 17 to 19 musicians play for free because they love the art form. The crowd is filled with regulars who adore the music, too. This is no casual musical experience. The room pulses with energy. It’s loud. It’s fun.
“It’s truly American,” says Eastin, who teaches saxophone and jazz studies at Colorado State University at Pueblo. “I tell my students, ‘A thousand years from now, when the aliens are going through what’s left of us, these will be the two things they’ll appreciate, jazz and baseball.’
“The rest, they’ll say, ‘I don’t know, but I like this jazz and I like this baseball.’”
Eastin has played with the ensemble 19 years. He’s busy, but he never could walk away from these Wednesday shows. There’s too much joy to depart.
“You get to play music you don’t get to play anywhere else,” he says. “There’s not a lot of compromise. It’s, ‘Here we are, here’s what we do. If you like it, great. If you don’t, you can leave.’”
He laughs. “As a musician, you usually play to the crowd. And during this, you’re not playing to the crowd.”
So far, Wednesday nights have been packed at the Hogan. Hoshijo says he hopes the surging popularity will inspire an increase in shows from every other Wednesday to every Wednesday.
“Playing this kind of big band music is fun,” Hoshijo says. “We enjoy it so much, we’d like to do it more.”
In recent performances, Eastin has savored the crowd, the sound and the experience. He says the band never has sounded better.
He hopes to baptize new friends into big band belief.