Jazz Destinations: Aspen

The city of Aspen, Colorado, recently wrapped up its biggest musical event of the year: the Jazz Aspen Snowmass Labor Day Experience. For its 2019 edition, this marquee event attracted the likes of Weezer, John Mayer and Sting to a mountain-ringed stage in nearby Snowmass, where a heavenly combination of stunning vistas, pop-up boutiques and some of the greatest musicians in the world made for an unforgettable “last 72 hours of summer.”

For many visitors, the JAS Labor Day Experience is a capstone to a vacation rich with outdoor and cultural adventures. “There isn’t another festival in the world where, within 30 minutes of the site, you can go mountain biking, hiking, ride a gondola, trout fish, and then go to hear John Mayer or Maroon 5,” said Jazz Aspen Snowmass Founder and President Jim Horowitz, who for the past 28 years has been staging events like the JAS Labor Day Experience before increasingly larger audiences.

Today, Jazz Aspen Snowmass is among the leading arts and culture organizations in the area, turning this exclusive ski and outdoor-sports destination into one of the country’s premier hubs for contemporary music. Whether you come to ski the slopes, hit the trail or simply feast on the area’s exquisite food and wine, here’s our guide for how to make your next Aspen vacation an unforgettable jazz destination. 

Where to Listen

JAS Café

JAS Cafe’, Guitar Summit, Andreas Oberg, Kruno Spisic & Ted Gottsegen, Jan. 15, 2016

The JAS Café series features jazz performances at three different venues around Aspen, including Downstairs at The Little Nell, the Aspen Art Museum and The Velvet Buck at The St Regis Resort. Wherever the venue, the focus is on intimacy. You can enjoy candlelit performances from some of the greatest jazz artists from around the world — last season’s lineup included Emmet Cohen, Veronica Swift, Shelly Berg, Catherine Russel and Christian McBride — while feasting on delicious food and beverages. A bistro-style dinner is available for $75  per person at the 7 p.m. Art Museum show, with catering by Julia and Allen Domingos. The menu changes every day, but previous entrées include an Herb-Roasted Chicken with Tangerine Jus; Poached Salmon and Dill Tzaziki Sauce; and Saffron Couscous with Dried Fruits and Pistachios. Bar menus are available for all shows at The Little Nell and St Regis.

As an added perk, all tickets for opening night 7 p.m. shows come with entry to the JAS Listen Up! Sessions. These pre- and post-concert meet-and-greets with the artists are hosted by JAS President Jim Horowitz and feature in-depth discussions focused on expanding music education from the classroom to the community, inspiring knowledge in students of all ages and building a future audience for jazz and related forms of music. During the JAS Academy, a collaboration with the Frost School of Music that attracts college-age music students from all over the world to Aspen for a two-week summer intensive course, the JAS Listen Up! participants included trumpeter Arturo Sandoval.  

The JAS Café Winter lineup is about to be released, so be sure to check the JAS website for updates.

JAS June Experience

Yet another of Aspen’s highly anticipated jazz events is the JAS June Experience, which runs across three days every June and brings dozens of international artists to downtown Aspen. Attendees can make their own schedules, picking from more than 10 performances per night at any one of six venues: the Aspen Art Museum, The St. Regis Hotel, The Little Nell, Belly Up, Victoria’s Espresso and Skye Gallery. The 2019 edition was aglow with international jazz stars. Appearing on the lineup were Patti Austin, Jacob Collier, Bria Skonberg, José James, Wycliffe Gordon, Richard Porter, Gregory Porter and Etienne Charles. (The festival also made sure to keep blues fans happy with the addition of guitar legend Taj Mahal.) VIP, 3-Day and Single-Day passes are available, and of course, the food options are almost too numerous to list. Suffice it to say that the participating venues know how to keep ears happy and stomachs full. 

The June Experience will return next year from June 25-28. The event sells out fast, so if you’re planning on being there, book your tickets now.

JAS Labor Day Experience

The aforementioned JAS Labor Day Experience is Aspen’s grandest destination event, attracting music fans of all stripes to the foothills of the Elk Mountains in Snowmass for three days of world-class entertainment. According to Horowitz’s calculations, of the 10,000 people that regularly attend the festival, roughly 40% are from out of state. They come to see international music icons like Sting, John Mayer and Weezer amid some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States. “When you do a festival at 9,000 feet, you’re in the heavens,” says Horowitz. “You’re in rarefied air. The environment is so strong. The light, the sun, the proximity to the stars. The physical environment is so intense and so beautiful that it permeates everything.” 

Sting performs at the JAS June Experience (Photo courtesy JAS)

Like the June Experience, The JAS Labor Day event also offers VIP, 3-Day and Single-Day passes, and as of 2019, the fest also provides a pre-show Happy Hour at 5-pm. Premium open bars, live cooking stations and grille fare are available for select ticket packages. The lineup for the 2020 edition has yet to be announced, but you can fest assured you will see some of the most famous faces in pop and rock. 

Where To Stay

The Little Nell

The Little Nell is Aspen’s only 5-star, 5-Diamond hotel, as well as the only hotel in the area with true ski-in, ski-out access, located at the base of the Silver Queen ski gondola. It was also the original destination for the JAS Café series. That makes it the perfect place to experience everything Aspen has to offer — inside and out. The hotel comprises  52 guest rooms, 26 premium guest rooms and eight junior suites. All guest floor corridors are inspired by an “Authentic Aspen” motif. The design pays tribute to both Aspen’s lively outdoor and cultural scene, as well as its dynamic history as a charming silver mining town. Also on site are two fine-dining restaurants, Element 47 and Ajax Tavern. Both offer world-renowned chefs, bartenders and sommeliers ready to make your Aspen dining experience one to remember. Between the pool and jacuzzi amenities, boutique shop and signature Audi Test Drive experience (in which guests can test drive the latest luxury Audi vehicles), there’s a world of adventure within The Nells’ walls. Visit The Little Nell website.

The St. Regis Resort

Ideally located at the base of Aspen Mountain, this resort is a majestic destination in any season and is steps from historic downtown attractions. In addition to its proximity to local ski lifts, this chic Aspen hotel offers the perfect retreat from which to explore outdoor activities such as horseback riding, rafting and fly fishing. Indulge yourself with impeccable service and luxury amenities, including fine on-site dining, award-winning Remède Spa and heated outdoor pool. The hotel is steeped in the history of the St. Regis brand, reflected in the opulent exterior comprised of over 800,000 Colorado red bricks. What’s more, the hotel also has a long-running affiliation with Aspen’s jazz scene. JAS has held events there in the past, but the hotel also hosts its own Jazz Confidential series, which provides attendees with a night of Veuve Clicquot, dinner and an intimate evening of world-renowned music. Visit the St. Regis Resort website

Where To Eat

Pyramid Bistro

When it comes to fine-dining options in Aspen, there’s no shortage of supply. The city boasts numerous Michelin-starred chefs, rustic bistros and even a few funky pizza joints. But the city also lays claim to having the first certified “nutritarian” restaurant in the United States. At Pyramid Bistro, overseen by executive chef Martin Oswald, you’ll find a menu that eschews butter, oil, white flour and sugar, and instead tries to focus on foods that pack the most nutrients per calorie. For Oswald, that means lots of whole-food, plant-based dishes that feature fresh local ingredients, prepared in ways to maximize their health benefits. Dinner and lunch service are available, and the restaurant also provides catering services. In fact, Chef Martin Oswald is among the many caterers for the VIP experience of the JAS Labor Day event. “He’s a food genius,” says Horowitz. “And he’s been with us for close to 20 years.”

What To See

Aspen Art Museum

Aspen Art Museum, housed in a stunning, lattice-style building designed by renowned architect Shigeru Ban, presents the newest, most important evolutions in international contemporary art. The museum’s innovative and timely exhibitions, education and public programs, immersive activities, and community happenings actively engage audiences in thought-provoking experiences of art, culture and society. Admission is free, and the museum regularly hosts films, lectures and performances in its black-box theater. The museum also boasts the only roof-top view of Aspen Mountain in the city.

Dancers cut a rug during a performance at the Aspen Art Museum as part of JAS Cafe’ (Photo: Allan Harris, June 11, 2015)

Currently, the museum is hosting works by Rashid Johnson, John Armleder, Walter Price and Etel Adnan, and the museum’s shop features items from these artists as well as apparel, jewelry and homegoods. JAS also regularly hosts jazz events at the Aspen Art Museum, including, most recently, the capstone performance of the JAS Academy featuring bassist Christian McBride. Website: https://www.aspenartmuseum.org/

Feature photo courtesy The Little Nell.

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