As my second sojourn in Denver comes to an end, I begin to feel homesick already. I'll miss the sun setting over the Rockies at the cocktail hour. I'll miss my neighborhood. I'll miss downtown with its eclectic and harmonious mix of the old and the new. I'll miss driving high into the mountains, top down in a fast and flashy red Firebird, and I'll miss hiking up into the clear, thin air and indescribable vistas of the Rockies. I'll miss all this, but it's the people I'll miss most of all. My heart has connected with this town.
On my first visit, I met Melanie Miller at the lounge at the Burnsley Hotel. My husband and I had come to hear Teresa Carroll sing, accompanied by Doug Roche on the piano. Teresa is a jazz vocalist whose delivery and interpretation of a song weave a spell that touches the emotional core of her audience. Doug's piano accompaniment takes the magic to the another level. Melanie, a charmingly gregarious and knowledgeable regular on the jazz scene in Denver, recognized us as fellow jazz-lovers and chatted us up. She even bought us a copy of Doug's CD so we could hear his solo work, and his music has provided the soundtrack for many mountain drives.
Melanie shared with me her vision for a benefit concert that would showcase some of the outstanding jazz musicians in Denver and raise money to help the homeless and the hungry in the city. I caught her vision and agreed to help her make it a reality. We started making the rounds of the clubs to hear the remarkable talent this town has to offer. I met Billy Wallace, an 80+ year old jazz pianist who looks nowhere near his age but whose music is imbued with the wisdom and easy grace of a man who has played it all and seen it all and whose peaceful demeanor comes from navigating a life that was, perhaps, not always so peaceful.
I met Ron Bland, an extraordinary bass player who balances a family, teaching at three colleges, and a mind-boggling schedule of gigs, and who still found time to meet me for coffee to talk about the music scene in Denver. I met Don Grove, a remarkable drummer whose solos galvanize a room and get the adrenaline pumping, Colin Gieg, a bassist whose rendition of Satin Doll is a must-hear, and Charlie Zanichelli, a smooth saxophonist who moves from style to style with elegant ease. I'll miss these guys -- the music and the conversation. And I'll miss Melanie, a classy broad with a heart for Denver, who will be, I sense, a lifelong friend and partner in crime.
In my wanderings about town I've met people who are passionate about making a difference. Looking for a place to eat lunch one day, I spotted an intriguing looking cafe on Broadway in Englewood and pulled in. The menu at Cafe 180 is flatbread pizza made with whole-grain flour that's hand-ground daily, homemade soups, and fresh, fresh salads. When I offered my debit card to pay for my order, I was surprised to learn that it's a "pay what you can" set-up: you pay what you can afford, or a little extra, or nothing at all. The cafe is a non-profit staffed entirely by volunteers. Cathy Matthews, the founder and Executive Director, explained to me that this is the second restaurant of its type in the Denver area and that it's becoming a model for similar restaurants in other cities. About 30-40% of the people who eat lunch there pay nothing for their meals, volunteering an hour of their time instead. It all averages out, and after being open for two months, Cafe 180 is operating in the black. www.appetitesunite.org
There's Michael, a Clinical Case Manager for the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, who provides one-on-one help for the down and out in Denver, juggling a monumental case load and diminishing funding. With winter approaching like a freight train, the Coalition has a backlog of 2,000 on a waiting list, and Michael approaches each long day with the calm perseverance of a professional and the heartfelt frustration of a compassionate man who can't meet every need, pursuing his passion for family counseling in his "free time."
There's Louie, the mail carrier who deals daily with the rudeness of an entitled generation of young people who vandalize mailboxes and intentionally block her parked USPS vehicle. Louie is a single mother who is raising her 17-year-old son to be obedient, responsible, and respectful of his elders because, as she says, "You have to start somewhere to make a difference."
Then there are the new friends who have welcomed me into their homes for a meal, a glass of wine, an afternoon in the garden, an introduction to their friends, a stimulating conversation. Dennis, my husband's offbeat and always entertaining friend, and Joy, opera buff and my role-model for being a grandmother in the 21st century, have given me a sense of belonging.
Au revoir, my Denver. I'll miss you and, God willing, I'll be back for more.
Broadway and Floyd
Tues. - Sat., 11-2