Trumpet player Jeff Gray jams along with the Wheeler 3 at Bella’s Wine Bar on Aug. 5. The weekly event features local musicians and special guests playing easy jazz in the cozy cellar space.

Photo by Nicole Inglis

Trumpet player Jeff Gray jams along with the Wheeler 3 at Bella’s Wine Bar on Aug. 5. The weekly event features local musicians and special guests playing easy jazz in the cozy cellar space.

Bella’s Wine Bar in Steamboat features house band, special guests for Jazz Night

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If you go

What: Jazz Night featuring the

Wheeler 3

When: 8 to 11 p.m. Friday

Where: Bella’s Wine Bar, below Chocolate Soup at 737 Lincoln Ave.

Cost: Free

— In the cozy cellar room of Bella’s Wine Bar, a trio of Steamboat musicians jammed with a sophisticated ease, as only musicians who have played jazz together for decades can do.

The musical bond of guitarist Randy Kelley, bassist Chris Koebnick and drummer Ron Wheeler clearly had held fast throughout the years as they traded nods, smiles and small gestures in their almost-indecipherable language of collective improvisation.

“This is a room for jazz,” Koebnick said Aug. 5 at Bella’s as the crowded cellar began to warm with body heat and wine glass clinked over the music.

The three make up the Wheeler 3, now dubbed the house band for Bella’s weekly Jazz Night, which takes place from 8 to 11 p.m. every Friday.

Last week’s jam, however, spilled well into the next morning, featuring special guest performances by Broadway star Philip Hernandez, a faculty member at Perry-Mansfield Performing Arts School and Camp.

Bella’s opened 1 1/2 years ago, and owner Nick Ciraldo said he’s always wanted to provide live entertainment in the cellar bar.

“It’s a dream to get live jazz,” he said. “I didn’t know we could find the players in Steamboat, and as it turns out, it’s a gold mine.”

He said that in the close-quartered, cobblestone-walled venue, the music steps out of its usual background territory and into the limelight. On Friday, several women danced inches away from the musicians, while others leaned on the wood bar and gazed into the red-tinted light.

Some seats offered the perfect angle to watch Perry-Mansfield’s Michael Eisenberg dance his fingers across an upright piano, while other positions around the corner allowed listeners to feel the air coming out of Jeff Gray’s trumpet.

“It’s been amazing,” Ciraldo said. “We need this, this sort of atmosphere.”

He looked around and gestured at the 20-something locals shuffling around the floor and couples in their 60s cuddled in the corners.

“That means a lot to me,” he said about the diversity of the crowd of listeners. “That’s really special.”

Gray, a jazz trumpet player, said he didn’t know a single person in the room when he walked into Bella’s for the first Jazz Night almost a month ago.

He asked if he could join in on a jam and has been a regular guest since.

The music, he said, speaks not only to him and the rest of the musicians, but to any audience with an ear for the emotionality of jazz.

“There’s a lot of expression to it,” Gray said. “People make statements with it.”

He said he felt honored to play with the caliber of musicians that show up on Fridays. And that’s all he needs.

“I don’t wait around for a paycheck at the end,” Gray said. “I just come to play.”

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 970-871-4204 or email ninglis@SteamboatToday.com

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