Five Points Jazz Fest uses the Rossonian for the first time, kicking things off with a local musician

Danette Hollowell played the festival’s first show inside the historic hotel, a legendary venue that’s been closed for decades.
4 min. read
Danette Hollowell and the Old Souls play the Rossonian Hotel during the Five Points Jazz Festival, May 18, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Danette Hollowell was a single mom struggling to make it as a singer when she used to pass by the Rossonian Hotel and peer through its windows. She lived near Welton Street's hallowed jazz venue, and she'd imagine her idols on stage inside the abandoned, crumbling space.

The venue is still an unfinished construction site, but its doors have opened up since a team of developers announced they would renovate the building last year. On Saturday, the Five Points Jazz Festival used the Rossonian for the first time. Hollowell and her Old Souls, a band that's made music together since college, played the first show.

"I am so honored to be here. We're at the Rossonian, y'all!" Hollowell yelled into the mic. "I'm just so happy. I love Five Points. This is my neighborhood."

Hollowell has become a staple in Denver's jazz scene since her days peering through those windows. Five Points was once known as the "Harlem of the West," attracting the biggest names in jazz's golden age. Her performance there is just the latest in a musical legacy, albeit after a period of dormancy.

Arturo Gómez, a host and jazz archivist with KUVO who helps run the festival, said Saturday was a big deal.

"The fact that, for instance, an artist like Danette Hollowell could come in and perform inside the Rossonian is historic in itself," he said. "Because, as they say: if these walls could speak! Some of the biggest names in the history of jazz have performed here. Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington."

"I stand on the shoulders of some pretty epic people," Hollowell told Denverite. "They are some big shoes to fill, but I am up to the task."

Danette Hollowell poses for a portrait with KUVO's Arturo Gómez. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The audience applauds after a number. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

The hotel opened in 1912 as the Baxter and was renamed in 1929. According to the Colorado Encyclopedia, it was the "most important jazz club between Kansas City and Los Angeles" and part of the bedrock beneath Denver's black community and culture. It began to decline in the 1950s, when the clientele shifted to a whiter, more affluent crowd who could afford the cover charges. The building changed hands a few times over the next decades and finally closed. Though several redevelopment efforts seemed hopeful, it sat largely empty for decades. Only a few pop-up performances have graced it in recent history.

New growth in Denver and Five Points has made it possible for the Rossonian to welcome musicians, and soon, it will welcome guests once again. But those same forces have made it difficult for long-time locals to remain in the neighborhood. Hollowell was one of many pushed out by rising rents after 17 years living nearby.

"I actually got gentrified out of Five Points about a year and a half ago. So, unfortunately, Five Points isn't even my neighborhood anymore," she said. "I think that times are definitely crazy in Denver right now. As an artist, I think affordable housing is so important."

Neighborhood leaders have struggled to maintain Five Points' legacy as new residents and money continue to flood in.

Exposed brick inside the Rossonian. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
Mikey Smith plays with Danette Hollowell and the Old Souls. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

But the Rossonian's current redeveloper, Palisade Partners, has included longtime stakeholders like Norman Harris III, Haroun Cowans and Chauncey Billups. It's an effort to oversee growth at the heart of the neighborhood that does not exclude locals or overlook the site's historic prominence.

Though she was forced to move, Hollowell said she's excited to see the Rossonian move towards a new future.

"It definitely represents a new era in Five Points," she said. "I would like to think that opening the Rossonian is looking to the future while holding on a little bit to the history and the past."

During her set, she sang "God Bless The Child," released in 1942 by Billie Holiday. Hollowell used to conjure her presence on stage as she gazed into the once-dormant hotel.

"I should have brought a candle," she told the crowd, standing where she imagined the legend once stood. "Lit one for sista, Billie."

Jacquelyn Nason dances with her daughter, Alma, in her arms. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)
The Rossonian Hotel during the Five Points Jazz Festival. (Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite)

Recent Stories