Colorado is like a planet of its own. The air is thinner, the trees are greener, the people are nicer. It makes anything you do feel like you are doing it in some otherworldly place. Like you’ve passed through the Looking Glass.
The first few days of our “Blue Engine” tour took place in this idyllic state, starting off with Breckenridge, which, at 9,600 feet elevation is like base camp to Everest. Climbers usually have a few weeks to acclimate, but we jumped right in, playing a full concert the day we arrived. Cats in the band were struggling with reeds that wouldn’t speak, and having to take more breaths during long phrases. The next morning the band had what felt like a collective hangover.
Our second concert was in Aspen, which is a little down the hill. At 8,200 feet the band was still gasping a bit, but I think overall the band sounded better. During the day Elliot and I played tennis, which made my lungs feel like they were going to explode.
Aspen is a popular retreat for celebrities and rich business folk. The drive to the venue takes us past a tiny airport lined with private Lear Jets and later through quaint neighborhoods where modest homes start at around three million dollars.
We have played here several times over the years. In fact, during my first year with the band (1998) we were rehearsing in the conference center at the hotel, preparing for our concert which took place in a huge tent (the concerts have since moved to a beautiful performance space, whose design recalls the tent of earlier years). During this rehearsal things got heated between a couple (former) members of the band and words were exchanged, some of which were of such extreme passion and expression that Wynton had to call an immediate break and ask our student audience to kindly leave.
Our concert here the other night felt better than in Breckenridge, although those of us using reeds were still having sound issues. Despite this we did manage to get a few sweet notes through the horns. After the concert, the very suave actor Robert Wagner came backstage and enthusiastically complimented us.
Next was our return to Denver’s Botanic Garden. The audience, many in shorts and T-shirts, were spread out with lawn chairs, plates of food and jugs of wine. Despite being an outdoor gig we felt intimate and connected to this enthusiastic audience. After our set closer, a ripping version of Dizzy’s Things to Come our long walk back to the main building had us squeezing through cheering and high-fiving fans. A couple rain drops appeared, and despite the insistent ovation, I assumed we wouldn’t do an encore and went to use the restroom, which was a bit of a walk. When I came back to the green room I saw a couple cats putting their horns away and I began to do the same. Boss Murphy, our tour manager, always cool, approached me and said they were looking for me on stage. It was decided we were doing an encore after all, a piece that featured a smaller band. When I arrived at the Garden and made my way back through the crowd, people yelled “There he is. He’s here” and applauded as I stepped up onto the stage where the band was waiting.
Our last concert in Colorado was in Boulder and at just over a mile elevation, the band was well acclimated. This was clearly one of the best, most swinging concerts we have played in a while. We performed a complete range of material, from Duke to some of our band members’ original compositions. Everyone played inspired solos and the ensemble was tight and loose at the same time.
Leaving Colorado felt a little like coming back Planet Earth.