The seeds of the Evergreen Jazz Festival were sown in 1999 at a birthday party for long-time Evergreen resident Sterling Nelson. Sterling had served as president of the Denver Jazz Club as far back as 1960, and his birthday party included unrehearsed performances by eight top Colorado jazz musicians. Inspired by the incredible music of this all-star band, party-goers expressed a desire to “do this every year.”
Happily, Evergreen was no stranger to jazz. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Evergreen hosted jazz greats like Count Basie and Duke Ellington at a club called The Red Ram. Now known as Little Bear, this infamous night club has served as one of our Festival venues. Another of our venues, the Elks Lodge, hosted the Evergreen Ragtime Bash throughout the ’90s, thanks to the efforts of local jazz pianist George Keeler.
Building on this jazz heritage, Sterling and a small group of volunteers staged the first Evergreen Jazz Festival in 2001. Nine world-class bands, including the Golden Gate Rhythm Machine and James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band performed for enthusiastic audiences.
After a one-year hiatus, the Festival enjoyed an even bigger success. James Dapogny’s Chicago Jazz Band returned to rave reviews, while Queen City Jazz Band played an incredible Sunday morning gospel service that has become an annual Festival highlight.
Each year has seen the Evergreen Jazz Festival attract more jazz fans as word spreads about this weekend of great music, and the Festival continues to garner high praise not only from audiences, but from musicians and jazz critics as well.
After Midnight guitarist and vocalist Mike McCullough performs on the Elks Lodge Patio during the Evergreen Jazz Festival.
Vocalist Deejha Marie enjoys a moment with Festival founder Sterling Nelson at the 2010 Evergreen Jazz Festival. Performances by jazz musicians at Sterling's birthday party in 1999 provided the inspiration for Colorado's premier traditional jazz festival.
James Dapogny's Chicago Jazz Band performs in the Elks Lodge Ballroom in 2014. The Evergreen Jazz Festival is one of the few festivals where this marvelous band appears.