The Denver Municipal band has been entertaining attendees of city functions since the mid-1860s.
Looking back, it performed at the University of Denver’s 150th anniversary, and for many of the grand openings and dedications of Denver’s major venues, including the Pepsi Center (now the Ball Arena), Coors Field and the world-renowned Red Rocks Amphitheater. The Denver Municipal Band performed at the 2008 Democratic National Convention for former President Barack Obama, and continues to entertain attendees of the Denver Mayor’s State of the City address each year.
As much as the band’s focus is on catering to the local communities, the Denver Municipal Band has received some fanfare beyond Colorado. It performed at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair and for the Allied Forces during WWII. Between roughly 1930 and 1950, the Denver Municipal Band participated in nationwide radio broadcasts. More recently, the jazz quintet was set to go to Japan to honor Denver’s sister city, Takayama, in October 2020, but that was postponed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Along with entertaining crowds that attend city functions and staying busy with its summer concerts, the Denver Municipal Band also has a robust educational program.
It boasts a variety of free community outreach and development programming — including a series of free classes for community members that take place in small business venues such as a neighborhood brewery.
During the school year, the band’s musicians will frequent schools across the metro area to perform or work with the students in the school’s music program. During the COVID-19 pandemic when many students were attending classes remotely, the Denver Municipal Band launched its online content for students and teachers — but accessible to all for free on the band’s website — to supplement a school or a student’s music education.
“I believe in the benefits of the joy of music,” said Shane Endsley, who plays trumpet and drums in the Denver Municipal Band, and serves as its director of education. One mission, he added, is to promote “participation in live music and the arts.”
The Denver Municipal Band recently announced its 2021 summer concerts. The list below are the dates for the concerts that take place in the Life on Capitol Hill and Washington Park Profile’s coverage areas. To find more concerts or additional details on these that are listed, visit https://denvermunicipalband.org.
City Park, 2001 Steele St. (pavilion)
Ice cream social in the pavilion and Jazz Band concert in the band shell. Sponsored by City Park Alliance, https://cityparkalliance.org.
James H. Platt Park, 1523 S. Logan St.
Show Band concert and neighborhood celebration, sponsored by Platt Park People’s Association, https://www.3pa.org/.
Washington Park, 701 S. Franklin St.
Concert Band’s annual Patriotic Concert, sponsored by City Council District 6, Councilman Paul Kashmann
Cheesman Park, 1900 E. 11th Ave.
Concert Band concert and neighborhood celebration.
Neighborhood celebration and concert featuring the Colorado Honor Band at 6 p.m. and Concert Band at 7 p.m.
Jazz Band concert, sponsored by City Council District 6, Paul Kashmann
11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
James A. Bible Park, 6802 E. Yale Ave.
South by Southeast Festival featuring the Jazz Band to open the festival, sponsored by City Council District 4, Councilwoman Kendra Black
Brass quintet concert to open Family Movie Night, sponsored by Platt Park People’s Association, www.3pa.org.
Pulaski Park, 3300 E. Bayaud Ave.
Jazz Band concert and neighborhood celebration, sponsored by Cherry Creek East Association, www.cherrycreekeast.org.
Jazz Band concert and neighborhood celebration.
The sun sets over a beautifully landscaped park in Denver on a warm summer night.
Families spread blankets on the grass and start unpacking picnic-style dinners. Neighbors sit on low-back lawn chairs in small groups, chatting about local goings-on. A cyclist pauses for a few moments to listen to the sounds from the stage. Children happily dance to the music of the Denver Municipal Band.
“These evenings in Denver turn into a wonderous time,” said Bob Shaklee, a longtime Denver resident. “It just becomes magical.”
The Denver Municipal Band recently announced it will be performing a regular concert series this summer, which includes a number of free concerts in city parks across Denver.
“What we like about it (attending Denver Municipal Band concerts) is that it’s a great way to build community within the city,” said Barb Shaklee. She and her husband, Bob Shaklee, have served on the Denver Municipal Band’s board since the mid-1980s.
The Denver Municipal Band has been part of the city’s fabric for about 160 years. It formed when people were coming to take “a shot at finding silver and gold in the mountains,” said Joseph Martin, the Denver Municipal Band’s conductor, executive director and artistic director. Martin, a trombone player and professor at the University of Denver, has been involved with the Denver Municipal Band for about 22 years.
Having earned the accolade of being the longest, continually performing band in the U.S., it got its start in 1861 as the Denver City Band to bring culture to the Wild West city of Denver. About 30 years later, the city of Denver guaranteed funding for the band to perform regularly at city ceremonies and summer park concerts, and the band changed its name to the Denver Municipal Band.
In the mid-1980s, the city faced a budget shortfall, so in 1985, the Denver Municipal Band became a nonprofit and formed its board, which consists of volunteers, the Shaklees said.
Barb Shaklee is a pianist, but using her background in law — she is a retired attorney — she helped with the legal filings for the nonprofit. Bob Shaklee “only plays the radio,” he said, but has always been a music fan and feels it’s important for all to be able to experience the joy of music.
Today, the Denver Municipal Band collectively consists of a number of bands — the 40-piece Concert Band, the 20-piece Jazz Band, the eight-person Show Band and a combination of smaller groups such as trios, quartets and quintets.
The band members are professional and include the Denver-metro’s top-of-the-line musicians, Martin said. In fact, many also play with other well-known ensembles such as the Colorado Symphony, the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, Central City Opera, Denver Brass and the Queen City Jazz Band.
The Denver Municipal Band continues to be the cornerstone for major city celebrations, Martin said.
Staying true to its original mission of providing free access to live music for all, the Denver Municipal Band performs all over Denver, and its suburb cities, at all sorts of events.
One can see the Denver Municipal Band at the Five Points Jazz Festival, Littleton’s Western Welcome Week, northeast Denver’s Taste of Ethiopia and the Westminster Latino Festival, to name a few.
These are not to mention the hundreds, if not thousands, of free concert-in-the-park events that have taken place through the years.
“We’re here for the people of Denver,” Martin said. “This music, of the highest quality, is here for everybody. It’s who we are as Denverites.”
Equity, and being able to share music with all, is important to the organization, he added.
“Music has the power to bring in issues of social justice,” Martin said, “and be a vehicle to open up those conversations of moving forward as a community.”
The Denver Municipal Band did not have the large-gathering concert in the park events in 2020, but it continued provide music to local communities. For example, small groups of musicians would perform — socially-distanced and unannounced to the general public — in parking lots of nursing homes, and the facility would air the music through its PA system for its residents.
Though all the Denver Municipal Bands make their way around the city for free concerts, the mainstay band is probably the Concert Band.
The Concert Band performs a variety of music that appeals to a broad audience — Broadway tunes, jazz/swing, patriotic music and marches, and movie themes, for example. This year, the Concert Band has something special in store for concert-goers, said Dan Leavitt, the principal trumpet player for the Concert Band who also serves as the Denver Municipal Band’s manager, and director of the Jazz Band, Show Band and brass quintet.
New this summer, Leavitt said, the Concert Band will feature the music of James Reese Europe, who helped form the Clef Club — a union of African American musicians — and was the first African American to conduct at Carnegie Hall in New York City with the Clef Club orchestra, Leavitt said. Europe, who lived from 1881 to 1919, is “extremely important to the history of American music transitioning from ragtime to swing and jazz,” Leavitt said.
But his music has been lost for about 100 years, Leavitt said, adding that arranging Europe’s music is a project that he had been wanting to do for a long time. Leavitt was finally able to dedicate more time to it during the COVID-19 shutdowns, he said.
Music brings people together, enriches peoples’ lives and has the ability to engage people in culture — that of their own, and introduce them to other cultures that exist nearby, Leavitt said.
“We’ve been doing this for over 150 years. It’s a strong tradition long supported by the (Denver) mayor and parks and rec,” Leavitt said. “Music, and art in general, can define a culture. The more people who participate in music, the richer the whole culture is.”
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