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At Dazzle Denver, mental wellness is an ensemble effort

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DENVER — On a recent Thursday night at Dazzle, guests filled the chairs while servers skillfully weaved through aisles between songs, skirting their way around composer Chie Imaizumi who was conducting her “Little Big Band” from the floor in front of the stage, just feet from the audience. 

“Gift of Jazz Presents: Chie Imaizumi Little Big Band feat. Randy Brecker and Greg Gisbert," was part of an exclusive two-night concert series at Dazzle Denver’s new location in the Denver Performing Arts Complex. 

Colorado VoicesDazzle artists and collaborators discuss mental wellness

The series was a collaboration between jazz artists who have experienced challenges with mental wellness. The artists aimed to bring the conversation of mental wellness to center stage, creating a sense of unity and belonging for all involved — including the audience.

A trumpet solo stunned the audience, and Imaizumi grinned and clapped along with them. Her reaction was not only that of a proud composer, but one of a lifetime fan.

The trumpet player was none other than Randy Brecker of the jazz fusion band “Brecker Brothers,” as well as one of the original members of Blood, Sweat and Tears. 

Imaizumi was first introduced to Brecker’s work as a preteen studying music in Japan. According to her, most of the lessons were focused on classical and Japanese pop, until a teacher encouraged her to continue her studies in Tokyo. There, her teacher took her to a concert in a giant, brightly lit concert hall booming with music. Imaizumi recalls telling her teacher, “I don't understand what's going on on-stage, but I want to do something like that.”

“Now I'm here having him, my star, playing my music,” Imaizumi shared, smiling at Brecker. “And that's a dream come true.”

Randy Brecker prepares for a trumpet solo while Imaizumi conducts. (Photo by Elle Naef)

Full-circle moments like this one are far from a rarity at Dazzle Denver. One could even say that venue owner Donald Rossa orchestrates them. 

Thanks to a vast network grown from authentic connections and a healthy dose of vulnerability, connections that develop at Dazzle go much deeper than musical collaborations. In many ways, it creates a community that supports one another in the journey of mental wellness. 

The event was an excellent example of this. Rossa reached out to friend and collaborator Greg Gisbert to fulfill the first residency at Dazzle’s new location. This event was one of many Gisbert helped piece together, this time with the theme of mental wellness. 

The group was curated not only for their talents, but because of their unique bond. Rossa had supported the career paths of Imaizumi and Gisbert however he could, and Gisbert had inspired Imaizumi to try a collaboration with him in a project that, with Rossa’s help, landed them on Capri records.

Even presenters The Gift of Jazz had personal investment in these relationships, as they had partnered with Dazzle to help keep Imaizumi in the U.S. to finish her studies.

From left to right: Donald Ross, Chie Imaizumi, Randy Brecker, Greg Gisbert, David Froman (Photo by Elle Naef)

Here, lifetime friendships were born. One close enough that, while in crisis, they knew they could reach out to one another to feel less alone — all thanks to music. 

“I wish the world and world governments could operate more like a jazz group,” said Gisbert. “We have so much love to give and share, and we want to share it with the world.”

Rossa shared this sentiment, stating, “We all come from music and we met through music, but we share a common bond after that. And is mental health and mental wellness. That is our own personal struggles, that is struggles within our community. It's kind of our support mechanism that we can rely upon each other, but also try to invite other people into our circle.”

The shared intent to invite audience members into the circle of healing these friends had cultivated was clear. Imaizumi composed the lineup of songs so that they align with the stages of a mental breakdown and the recovery that follows.

In the first piece of the series, entitled “Adversity,” the music begins with a dark and lonely bass solo. Imaizumi said this was meant to depict the feeling one gets when they simply can’t get the energy to wake up in the morning and face the day. From there, the songs bring the audience on a journey to hope and healing. 

“It's okay not to be okay all the time,” Imaizumi said about the piece’s message. “It's music that everyone can relate to. I think everyone has different stories to tell, but they can relate to those dark places, traces of pain.”

The performers were just as impacted by the audience as the audience was by the music. “I saw the audience felt that as well, so it was such a beautiful moment,” Imaizumi continued. “I saw color change in the whole room.”

Imaizumi smiles while conducting the band through a mental-wellness themed piece. (Photo by Elle Naef)

Needless to say, audience feedback aligned with Imaizumi’s intuition. “Some women came up to me in tears,” reflected Imaizumi,  “And they're like, ‘I didn't know you until today, and I don't know why, but I keep crying.’ I said, ‘I’m glad that happened for you.’”

Once again, music united once-strangers in a way that only music can. Take it from Randy Brecker himself, who concluded “Music is really the great unifier of the world.”


Elle Naef is the multimedia producer at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at ellenaef@rmpbs.org.

Peter Vo is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at petervo@rmpbs.org.

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