Denver's City Park Jazz bounces back a year after officer was killed
The Denver Post, By Joey Bunch
Denver's City Park Jazz wrapped up its 2013 season on a high note under low clouds Sunday night.
"The rain is just something new," said Kim Sperling, 22, of Aurora, doing a wavy motion she called a rain dance. "I want it. Come on, rain."
Thousands ignored the threatening dark skies to listen to the bouncing freestyle piano of New Orleans jazz legend Henry Butler as dusk set in.
The thumps of volleyball and the scent of grilled burgers almost masked the smell of burning marijuana and loud conversations on the show's fringe.
"The thing I love best about Colorado is how people come together," said Tracy Bell, 40, a transplant from Wisconsin, as she danced to the syncopated beat near the bandstand. "I'm here every week every summer."
Collectively, an estimated 100,000 people attend the 10-week series of free Sunday night shows each year.
The event began 27 years ago to encourage people to instill a sense of safety at the park.
That history was marred last year when Denver police Officer Celena Hollis was shot and killed while trying to break up a gang fight after the June 24 show.
Almost a year to the day, her confessed killer, 22-year-old Rollin Oliver, was sentenced to 26 years in prison.
Sgt. Betty Hale, a Denver police spokeswoman, said officers are hired to provide security for the event, and she did not know of any specific changes the department had made to increase safety at City Park Jazz.
Chris Zacher, president of the City Park Jazz board, said the shooting had been a cloud over the event, but the community remained supportive.
"The first show of the 2013 season reassured us that the support we received from the community after June 24, 2012, was just as strong if not stronger than it was before June 24, 2012," he said. "The Denver community is resilient and supportive."
He said the effect of Hollis' death has been "awareness and self-reflection as a community."
A memorial at the park honors Hollis, and a rooftop garden in her name was planted at the Jerry Kennedy Police Building at 1240 West Bayaud Ave.
The Hollis Foundation raises money for Hollis' daughter, 13-year-old Amyre, and other causes. Donations, by check or money order, can be sent to P.O. Box 172731, Denver, CO, 80217, or made online at celenahollisfoundation.org.
Zacher said it was too soon to speculate about the 2014 season.
"I would expect some of Denver's favorite bands to be back," he said.
To bring in new acts, the event has a policy that won't allow acts to perform more than two years in a row.
Zacher expects that popular Denver performers Hazel Miller and Chris Daniels and the Kings could be back at City Park Jazz next summer.
He added: "They are ambassadors for the Denver music scene and for City Park Jazz, and it's a pleasure to hear them play on our stage."
Joey Bunch: 303-954-1174, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/joeybunch