Venue Voices — Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club Highlights the History of Jazz in Five Points

Photo by Annie French-Mack

Venue Voices is a monthly series shining a spotlight on all the incredible venues Denver has to offer and the people who keep them running. Denver is one of the greatest music cities in the country, having become a mandatory destination for some of the biggest names in music while fostering a vibrant, thriving local scene made up of artists of all types. The over 30 venues that exist in Denver and the surrounding areas make this possible, for there would be no music scene without places to dance with those you love the most and strangers alike. From massive stadiums to intimate rooms, Venue Voices will take a deep dive into a different Denver venue each month, speaking to the people who run them in order to learn each venue’s history, challenges and triumphs while also taking a look at what the future holds. 

Nocturne Jazz and Supper Club sits at 1330 27th St., nestled in the heart of RiNo amongst bustling breweries, restaurants and bars. Among the brick exterior, Nocturne is distinguished by a bright blue door, and a notable mural of Billie Holiday, the famous jazz musician, on the garage door. It is located next door to Denver Central Market, which didn’t exist in 2014 when the owners of Nocturne, Nicole Mattson and her husband, Scott, signed the lease for the adjacent old warehouse.

READ: The Black History of Cervantes’ and the Five Points Jazz Scene

When they first came across the warehouse in the historic Five Points neighborhood, Nicole Mattson, owner of Nocturne, said the space was an indoor garden supply warehouse. Amidst the scattered dirt, fertilizer, and abandoned grow lights, there was a fragmented staircase, forklift, and, most notably, beautiful tall original wood ceilings with amazing acoustics for their jazz club dream. After a year of remodeling and refurbishing to create the perfect space, they opened their doors in March 2015. 

“We saw a lot of potential to hold on to some of the arts and culture that had really made this neighborhood so famous before,” Mattson said. “If you think back to the time of Ella Fitzgerald and John Coltrane and Duke Ellington, Denver was considered the Harlem of the West, and really Five Points was the mecca for that.”

In the 1920s, segregation prevented Black musicians from staying in areas where they performed, like downtown, so they came to the Five Points neighborhood, where they stayed in hotels and often ended up performing as well. Soon, with more touring musicians coming to town, and most notably Black entertainers, more hotels and venues started to pop up all over the Five Points neighborhood. “I think it really does set the tone for what we’re trying to accomplish here, which is to keep the jazz living and breathing in this part of the neighborhood that was thriving here at one point,” Mattson said. 

Denver, and specifically the Five Points neighborhood, is known for its history and roots in jazz music. “The talent level that we have [in Denver], specifically with the jazz musicians in the jazz community, I would put it on par with any other major cities out there,” Mattson said. “I think part of why Denver gets that luxury is because they’re so supportive of each other, and it just makes for a really magical opportunity for the scene to grow and thrive.”

The name Nocturne literally translates to “night song,” but it also pays homage to a jazz standard called “Harlem Nocturne,” originally written in 1939 by Earle Hagen and Dick Rogers. “There’s a lot of different versions out there, but it’s a beautiful song. It just sounds like a great night out at a jazz club,” Mattson said. “If you play that song and sit back and envision it, you get this iconic vision of what it was like to go to a jazz bar in the 50s or 60s. It just seemed like it was all kind of a perfect fit for the name.”

In Denver, there’s no shortage of bars and restaurants where you can get great live music, food and drinks. At Nocturne, they focus on hospitality as an integral part of the experience, from how you are greeted at the door to how your cocktails and food taste to the lighting and how the music sounds. “I think you can go out to a lot of places and you can get a really great meal and a really great hospitality experience,” Mattson said. “But I think there’s a magic about having it all work together.”

With Nocturne celebrating its 9th year of business, Mattson holds the art of hospitality very dear to her heart and says that it is part of what creates that magical experience upon entering the jazz club. “One of the values that we put in place was that we believe hospitality and music are great preservers of our culture,” Mattson said. “And we felt capable of preserving jazz for the community in a unique way. When we’re thinking about the guest experience, we’re thinking about the full experience from start to finish.”

Nocturne is known for its enchanting jazz performances, exceptional cocktail menu, and three-course dining experience. They pride themselves on marrying the art of culinary experience, beverage bar program, and live jazz music all under one roof. Their goal is to create a notable jazz club experience by bringing excellence in all of those areas.

The music at Nocturne also plays into the whole experience, and how the musicians are selected comes with a lot of in-depth thought and creativity. Artists are required to bring a residency to Nocturne, with a focus on something specific inside the jazz genre. “We want them to come to the table with something that they’re studying or exploring,” Mattson said. “So that over the course of four to eight weeks, they’ve had some time to really play together in-depth, communicate and explore that idea.”

When asked about some of her most memorable nights at Nocturne, Mattson said sometimes it’s just the small moments between the musicians that she appreciates. She loves seeing performers gel perfectly together on stage, creating a beautiful moment that floats throughout the venue. Annie Booth is also a favorite local musician of Nocturne’s, known throughout Denver as a beautiful pianist. Booth met her husband at Nocturne, who was bartending at the time but is now the assistant general manager.

As for what’s coming up for Nocturne, Mattson said to keep an eye out for the rendition dinners that they put on a few times a year. These comprehensively arranged dinners dive deep into specific albums or artists and look at the musical motifs and metaphors within them. “We take an album or an iconic musician, and we build a menu inspired by that album, and then we get a band to play that album,” Mattson said, “We try to do them two to three times a year, but it takes a lot of work and requires a lot of inspiration.”

Nocturne Jazz and Supper Club lends an ambiance reminiscent of a place perhaps only seen in old movies. With their vibe of art deco meets rustic warehouse or jazz meets fine dining, Mattson aims to create a lasting impression of a beautiful night out at a jazz club. “I think what we offer in terms of food and drink makes it really easy for somebody who’s jazz curious to come in and have a really awesome time,” Mattson said. “You don’t have to be a jazz lover to have a wonderful night here.”

Get reservations for Nocturne here!

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