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Blowing the roof off 

Pikes Peak Jazz Festival swings into its fifth year

Jazz saved Flossie Binder's life.

Suffering from a near-suicidal depression several years ago in Pennsylvania, Binder vowed to change her life and move to Colorado. After settling in Woodland Park and volunteering with the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce for a couple of years, she began to feel like something was missing. The daughter of a jazz drummer and a lifelong jazz aficionado, she realized that she'd drifted too far from her roots.

That was when she first teamed up with local band teacher and saxophonist Butch Abersol to present a jazz appreciation class to amateur fans at a local high school. Soon after, she came up with the idea to start a Jazz Festival.

"Jazz is what I love--I grew up with it," she said."For me, the festival is a highly personal, spiritual thing, not a business. It's taken five years to get this far."

As with any fledgling organization, the first few festivals presented some difficult challenges. Because many people see jazz as an elitist and complicated art form, it can be difficult to form new audiences. But even if the musicians' names are not familiar, said local jazz aficionado Lenny Mazel, their artistry should be easy to appreciate.

"I don't want anyone to think this is only for jazz purists," said Mazel. "One key thing to remember is that these artists will appeal to anyone. They know how to entertain as well as play."

This year's list of performers is a who's who list of contemporary jazz performers. Drummer Lewis Nash has over 300 recording credits to his name; Bill Cunliffe, who will play with his acclaimed trio, has been nominated for a Grammy; and Red Holloway has performed with, among others, the legendary Billie Holliday. Perhaps the most recognizable musician on the bill is Plas Johnson, who provided the saxophone solo on Henry Mancini's famous "Pink Panther" theme.

As with any jazz event, these artists will collaborate in improvisatory ensembles. "The last set on Sunday [with Tony Monaco on organ, Lewis Nash on drums, Holloway on tenor saxophone, Johnson on tenor saxophone, and Dave Corbus on guitar] will blow the roof off!" Binder said.

In addition to these acts, top jazz artists from around the Front Range will perform on Friday and Saturday, including Denver's Corbus and local pianist Bruce Pennington. The Springs Contemporary Jazz Big Band will also make a rare appearance outside of their regular Wednesday night gigs at Rum Bay.

The festival also features a special performance by a High School All-Star Band made up of 16 students chosen from around the region for their excellence. Binder recognizes the importance of encouraging young jazz fans: "These kids make me cry--they are the future of this most wonderful art form."

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