Steamboat-grown Kenyon Brenner releases jazz record, participates in Nocturn residency
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Kenyon Brenner was in high school, he and his saxophone would spend Friday nights sitting in with the local jazz ensemble’s happy hour set at Three Peaks Grill in Steamboat Springs.
In the dozen years since, he’s earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music from the University of Northern Colorado, performed on several continents, been named a semi-finalist in the North American Saxophone Alliance’s 2014 jazz saxophone competition and joined the ranks of UNC’s music school faculty. And as of the beginning of November, Brenner can also add “bandleader of a modern jazz album.”
The album, Brenner’s debut, is called “The Long and Short of It,” and it was produced by the Greeley-based jazz label Moddl Records. Consisting of 10 original, autobiographical compositions, songs range from two minutes and 25 seconds to just over seven minutes.
“They’re all fairly personal,” Brenner said. “They all tell a story of some part of my life. It’s been fun to try to play all these again.”
Among the tracks, Brenner’s saxophone sings the story of the feeling he found during a late-night, post-gig moonlit drive through Denver; the story of the memory of a hike with a friend during elementary school; the story of a musical concept one of Brenner’s early mentors taught him; the story of Brenner’s finding his place and pace as a music school faculty member; and more, from heartbreak to high-energy zest. All of the compositions were written over the past decade, then reformatted in the past few months.
The record also features several of Colorado’s top jazz musicians, including guitarist Steve Kovalcheck, pianist Dana Landry, bassist Erik Applegate and drummer Jim White.
Alongside the record’s release, Brenner and the group — The Kenyon Brenner Quintet — are taking part in a five-week artist-in-residency program at Denver’s Nocturn Jazz and Supper Club. During the residency, the quintet plays two evening sets for the supper club every Friday.
“It’s nerve-wracking to play two sets of your own original music in front of people you’ve never met,” Brenner said. “It’s also a thrill. It’s awesome to hear the audience’s reception (of the music).”
The residency began Nov. 1 — the same day as the album’s official release — and continues Fridays through Nov. 29.
“(Compared to a one-night gig,) the length of the residency allows the music to evolve and develop,” Brenner said. “Because it’s jazz, the songs have all these openings for improv. Every time we perform, they’re a little different within the confines of the composition.”
Brenner noted his appreciation for Nocturn’s hosting musicians.
“To play in such a phenomenal club — it’s incredible,” he said.
Alongside his career in saxophone performance, Brenner also has taught jazz saxophone at UNC since fall 2015.
“I have the greatest students ever, and I get to teach alongside my mentors,” he said. “It’s a joy to be here.”
And while there are no solid plans yet for an upcoming performance back in Steamboat, Brenner is hoping to play a local show soon.
Julia Ben-Asher is a contributing writer for Steamboat Pilot & Today.
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