Permanent Downtown Home for Jazz Aspen Snowmass has been Long in Coming

Permanent Downtown Home for Jazz Aspen Snowmass has been Long in Coming

After years of planning, delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and 18 months of wading through the city approval process, permits were finally granted and construction began earlier this month on Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ performance and education center at 420 E. Cooper Avenue, above the historic Red Onion.

No one is more thrilled by the development than President and CEO James Horowitz, but he said there is still work to be done.

“They’re fully-permitted now, and we’re happy that with construction beginning it pushes the campaign into a new phase,” he said. “It puts a wonderful wind in our sails as opposed to headwind. We’ve raised $19 (million) of our $25 million goal for the project, so the tailwind is great, but we certainly are still looking for people to help us get across the finish line.”

Horowitz, who founded JAS in 1991, said the hope for a permanent home for the organization has been a long time coming. As JAS programming grew throughout the years and higher demand on downtown core real estate grew, it became more challenging to find venues to house all their programming.

“The success of JAS Café led us to realize, boy, there’s a real appetite here and an audience for this kind of music in this kind of setting,” he said. “It was a natural evolution because as we continued to do the series, from winter to summer and year to year, we had more and more challenges with venues. We’ve had to bounce around, and that’s what really drove us to say, well, this is the difference between renting and owning. And maybe we could seriously think about having a permanent place of our own to do this. This is an arts organization. Venue is the start of everything or the end of everything. You can’t really program without a venue.”

The center, which he said will take about two years to complete if everything goes according to plan, will be a multi-use facility with a flexible layout that can accommodate 100 to 300 people, depending on the necessities of the event.

First and foremost, it will be an intimate performance space where JAS can book and showcase a variety of musical acts, ranging from jazz and blues to worldbeat and funk, year-round. The addition of a full commercial kitchen and bar will allow them to provide a complete dinner and show experience under one roof.

“We will have a blank slate, which is a dream for an organization that wants to program,” he said. “Until now, we’ve been pretty much a Friday and Saturday program when we’ve done JAS Café. Once people get used to a venue, we can experiment, meaning we can do things we haven’t really done before. It will give us more flexibility. And beyond JAS Café, there are other kinds of collaborations that become an option.”

The vision is that eventually the center will host everything from musical performances, spoken word, presentations, special events, educational programs, and more. According to Horowitz, the educational usage of the space will be an important function of the center.

“From the get-go, we realized this is a room that will have value — not just for professional performances, but also for classes and rehearsals and performances of kids that are in our JAS educational programs,” he said. “All the middle and high schools don’t necessarily have places where kids can gather and rehearse, let alone perform. To have a room like this — which is a home for a well-established, professional music organization that we can make heavily available for months of the year as a place where they can come in rehearse, gather, and of course do a performance — is invaluable.”

The last piece of the puzzle is the professional state of the art recording studio. Although not part of the initial plans five years ago, the JAS team realized the layout of the space allowed them to add one, which was a very exciting prospect for a variety of reasons, including the ability to help educate students in the valley about the different sides of the music industry besides performing.

“The recording studio opens up another world to us and frankly for the community,” he said. “This is not just about helping kids learn how to play the trumpet, but also the music business. There’s a lot of employment in various parts of the industry that doesn’t have to do with just being a player and that has to do with recording and broadcasting. Local kids that have an interest in music will have a place where they can get their hands on great equipment and learn how a studio works.”

Horowitz said he sees an opportunity for established artists to also use the studio to record or work on tracks while they are in town visiting, adding additional value to the space.

He said he’d like the public to think about the JAS center as an extension of JAS Café and the JAS June Experience, which is running through Sunday, and describes the event as informal, spontaneous, and fun, with a great deal of quality music to discover.

He encourages people to get out and explore the different venues and performances happening over the weekend and allow themselves to go with the flow and interact with the community and get a taste of the kind of programming coming in the future.

“The JAS June Experience is really programmed in a way that if you were able to go see all 12 artists, you would get a magnificent window into what a season at the JAS center could look like,” he said. “Just go around and listen to all the different kinds of music — you’ll get a taste for what the potential of what will be presented on a year-round basis at the future JAS center.”

It’s not too late to enjoy the JAS June Experience. You can purchase tickets online or go to the D’Angelico Box Office to purchase a pass in person.

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