Jazz quartet hits its stride

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Key points Steamboat Jazz Quartet 7 to 10 p.m. today Three Peaks Grill Free 879-3399

It took locals five years to discover the Steamboat Jazz Quartet.

The four musicians -- Dan Isbell, Tim Cunningham, Andy Pratt and Ron Wheeler -- have been playing jazz standards at events and restaurants for half a decade, but it was only this winter that a real buzz started about the band.

Only hard-core jazz fans ventured into the Alpine Bistro years ago, when the Quartet played regular weekly gigs to a small audience. But this time around is different.

Every Friday evening, the Quartet plays a three-hour gig at Three Peaks Grill. Unless you get there early, it can be hard to find a seat. The weekly gig started last November at the beginning of ski season. At first, the seats were full of tourists, but by January, the musicians started to recognize a growing number of locals who were making their shows a Friday night habit.

Pratt thinks a few factors have made this gig more popular than ones in the past. First, Three Peaks treats them well.

"They pay us the standard rate, which is rare for a jazz band. They feed us and give us an open bar tab," he said. "Because they treat us well, we're happy, and I think that comes out in the music."

Another factor, Pratt said, is the regular rotation of local musical guests who sit in with the band. Paul Potyen, Steve Boynton, Mike Lewis and Mary Jarchow have all joined the Quartet since November.

"They bring different tunes, and everyone phrases things differently," Pratt said. "It keeps things exciting."

After five years together, the band slips easily in and out of improvisations of jazz standards by the greats such as Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. This is not the time for being obscure. This is the time for connecting with their audience.

The band takes requests -- most frequently for "Summer-time."

Riding the wave of their new found popularity, the Quartet is planning to expand their offerings with events such as a Dress to Kill night and a Swing night to attract a later crowd.

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