Annie Booth is establishing herself as one of the biggest new figures in the Denver Jazz Scene. The 25 year old is already an accomplished musician, with a work ethic and enthusiasm for music that puts her elders to shame. Currently performing at the newly opened Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club, as a part of their inaugural Artist-In-Residence program, Booth is pushing her personal limits, both on and off stage. Her career started at Dazzle Jazz and has taken her all over the world. Annie Booth’s debut album, Wanderlust, was released in October 2014. Her original compositions are refreshingly innovative, echoing her dedication to collaboration and extemporaneous performance. Her passion for music is infectious and her performances reflect that energy. The pianist spoke with the author about developing a work ethic, hecklers, and why cruise ships might not be for everyone.
So where and when did you get started?
I took piano lessons when I was 8 or 9 years old and I hated it so much. I had these strict, stuffy teachers. But my dad is a musician, he doesn’t do it for a living but he is extremely talented. He played in bluegrass bands when I was growing up. He played Celtic music. That was my first real introduction, that jamming environment. I loved the being with friends part of it, the camping, and the social aspect of it all. I feel like that really stuck because I never wanted to play written music verbatim. I was never any good at it either (laughs). I played in the Jazz band in middle school because they didn’t have a piano player. I was playing saxophone, because I thought saxophone is a cool instrument, and they were like, “Can anyone here play the piano?” And I was all, “I can! I sort of can!” That was it.
Describe the Denver Jazz Scene.
My perspective on the Denver Jazz Scene is it’s really on the up-and-up right now. I feel like there is this really strong core base of young people, from 22-35, this younger base of people. There is a pretty big pool of us, a really talented stack of local people who play every instrument. There are a lot of people doing really cool things and they are really driven. They are all creating really cool projects and there are a few really great jam sessions where people are really supportive of one another. People go to other people’s gigs and that sort of thing.
But, there is also the older “elder statesmen” part of Denver. These guys have been around for a long time. Those people, in a lot of cases are our mentors. For me, they are the first people I ever saw. They were my introduction to jazz. I really think it is the young people who make the scene grow. The older guys in town, this might sound like a negative term, but they are sort of settled. They play the same gigs every week, not that that is a bad thing, but the fresh blood really helps this scene grow. That’s how jazz has grown throughout the years. It is a music of its time. It’s always reflecting whatever is happening in politics, social events, trends in fashion… It’s all supposed to be moving like that. Al least I think so. I think it’s cool because there are more people moving to Denver. We are getting more and more clubs like Nocturne and we are getting more venues. Maybe it has to do with the Marijuana Industry being so supportive of live music. I think there is a correlation there. It’s really strong and it’s a really vibrant scene.
Why Jazz? Why would you want to be a woman in jazz?
That’s a really good question! Well, I think that it is now a part of my system. I couldn’t go without it now. It’s a part of my DNA. I’m almost addicted to it. Almost. It’s like a couple things: the idea that nothing is necessarily planned out and it can go any direction. I love that. It’s like how life is. Nothing is predetermined. Jazz is very in the moment and it is also shared with other people. I love the social aspect of it. You are with your friends or you are meeting new friends. You are all combining your personalities. The creativity! I love it! I love constantly creating. The woman in jazz thing is very interesting because I’ve been thinking about that a lot recently.
Has anything significant happened?
Well the only thing that happens all the time is I get asked why I’m not singing. That irks me. But I do understand it. A lot of people assume it because a lot of female pianists also sing. It is a very common thing. The other night at Nocturne, this guy kept heckling me and that really pissed me off. It was like it wasn’t enough for me to be playing and writing all of this music.
What were the heckles? What did he say?
Well, I would get on the talk mic to introduce a song and he growled, “Why aren’t you singing?” He was belligerent. So, you know, I get that a lot. I was just thinking, it’s interesting that there are hardly any women. I can count on one hand, the amount of female jazz musicians in Denver. It’s crazy. I don’t know why that is. I guess part of it is the precedent, the history of jazz. But so many things have changed. Things have evolved.
Could you talk about your experience with Dazzle, the release of your record, and recording with them?
Dazzle has been such a huge part of my life. I first started going there when I was 15. I love Dazzle. It is a great performance space and a great listening room. You can present music on a stage and everyone is there listening. Everyone there is so supportive of the local artists. There are a lot of major touring artists as well. I’m so grateful for that because I love being able to check that out. Doing my CD release there was a real joy. Their label, Dazzle Recordings, is a small independent label. I recorded the actual album at Mighty Fine. They just bought a new studio and that is going to be huge. I think they have become the premiere jazz studio in town. Everyone seems to be recording there. Ron Miles and Bill Frisell both did their records there.
What about Nocturne?
Nocturne is a good contrast to Dazzle for a lot of reasons. Like I said, Dazzle brings in national touring artists. Nocturne is starting to do that, but they are focusing on their Artist-In-Residence program, which is all local musicians. Six nights a week, there is a different Artist-In-Residence playing. It’s cool for musicians to have a steady gig and an incredible platform to work on our stuff. We bring new tunes every week. Since it is a four hour slot, we play three one hour sets. For me it is a dream gig because I get to play so much. The understanding, when you go to Dazzle is that there is no speaking over the music. Talking is at a very minimum. They have that picture of Miles Davis at all the tables “shhh-ing” you. Things are different at Nocturne. It’s a little more boisterous. It feels like a real hang. Sometimes it is dead silent and you can really listen, but you can also sit at the bar or a table and talk. You can also go up on the mezzanine and look over the band. It’s really cool.
Describe the band you are playing with now, The Annie Booth Trio.
So, the band I’m playing with now is my own project. It’s me and my friends Alejandro Castano (drums) and Patrick McDevitt (bass). When we were at The University of Colorado- Boulder, we would get together late at night and try to not suck. They are some of the most amazing musicians in town, they really are. We play some standards and it has been really fun. I’ve been writing a new song for us to perform every week. I don’t know how, but the juices have been flowing! So far, it has been really cool to feel the growth as a group over the last 7 weeks. Over the summer, I will be playing with The Tom Gershwin Quartet. That is going to be really different. It is going to be more adventurous and modern music.
How did you like playing on cruise ships?
Did I actually do that? It really feels like a dream. I don’t regret doing that at all. It was the best experience. Traveling was awesome. I worked on tiny ships for Luxury Ships and we went all over the world: The Middle East, India, Southeast Asia, a whole summer in Scandinavia, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Caribbean. We went everywhere but South America. It was cool meeting all of those different people and getting some great life experiences. The music I was playing was not the coolest. A lot of my older friends here thought it was lame or I was selling out. I was 21! But, I think it was a good experience because I had to play with guest entertainers, and I would be sight-reading their music every night. I got my reading chops really strong. I also learned a lot of patience because I had to work with a lot of sub-par musicians who felt entitled. I had to tell myself, “Don’t be a total raging bitch right now. Just play the piano!” It was great, but it ran it’s course. I did that for a year and a half and I was so done. Totally wacky. But it’s a gig.
As a freelance musician, what is your day like? What do you do without a 9-to-5?
It’s cool because it is different every single week. I’ve been teaching piano, which I hate when it’s little kids and I love when it’s older students. I also do admin for the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts. Other than that, it’s just gigs. But that is totally feast or famine. The summer is great for gigs. It’s funny because it varies so much from week to week. You can play the best gig of your life one week and then you can play some terrible thing the next. It keeps you on your toes.
Why would anyone who is a talented musician stay in Denver instead of moving to New York or LA? What is so great about this place?
I’d say that you don’t have to be in New York or LA to be a creative, relevant musician. Denver has a good-sized, creative, and vibrant scene! People are doing really cool things and we live in a city that is supportive of these ventures without the process being overwhelming or intimidating. It’s been easy for me to create new projects and perform at different venues around Denver and I feel very supported by the scene.
Follow Annie Booth on Twitter and Facebook and visit her website annieboothmusic.com