Denver jazz club Nocturne aims to offer local musicians something more than a one-night-stand

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A view of Nocturne from the second floor on Oct. 11, 2023, in Denver’s RiNo neighborhood.

Jazz has a rich history in Denver; at one point, the city was regarded as the "Harlem of the West", with legends from Billie Holiday to Duke Ellington appearing at Five Points venues. 

Today, just a bit further west, in the RiNo neighborhood, Nocturne Jazz & Supper Club strives to keep the music playing.

Nicole and Scott Mattson, the married team behind the club, began building their vision for Nocturne eight years ago. A club centered around live jazz, cocktails, and dinner is cool, but not all that uncommon today, so they aimed to give the concept a twist.

“To be adjacent to Five Points — we can feel the reverberations of that, and we want to make sure that it continues to be so, especially by supporting our local artists,” Nicole said.

When it comes to their approach to booking artists, Scott said he draws from lessons learned in his earlier days as a musician about what artists need to really shine.

Eden Lane/CPR News
Patrons enjoying Nocturne at 1330 27th Street, Oct. 11, 2023.

“Is it just a one-off gig where folks show up, take instruments out of cases, do their thing? I don't want to be that place,” Scott said. “I want to be a place where someone can come and hone their craft, work their art, and really feel like artists in an environment that wants them to be artists.” 

To that end, Nocturne primarily showcases Colorado-based musicians and books them for month-long residencies rather than single nights. 

“Being able to offer those cats a home to come in for a month to focus on original music or honoring an icon is just such a cool way to engage with them in a unique way,” said Scott. 

The residency model offers musicians a unique opportunity, according to Briana Harris, a Greeley-based musician and artist manager who performs at Nocturne. 

“It gives a band an opportunity to test out a set of material and repertoire and develop it over a number of weeks. Whereas a lot of similar clubs in the area, you might do just a one-off performance or a lot of their business is built around touring acts coming through, or a mixture of local and touring acts,” Harris said.

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Briana Harris, a Greeley-based musician and artist manager, performs at Nocturne in Denver's RiNo neighborhood on Oct. 11, 2023.

The Louisa Amend / Eric Gunnison Quartet just completed their latest Nocturne residency. Pianist Eric Gunnison said having time to really dig deeper into the music over the course of a month doesn’t just benefit the artists, but also audiences. 

“Sometimes you have return customers who come back and they might hear the band at the beginning of the residency, then they can hear how it's developed over the course of the month,” Gunnison said.

Louisa Amend, the vocalist for the quartet, said Nocturne also allows local artists to grow their musicianship together. 

“We have such a rich and wonderful group of musicians here in Colorado and… you can hear them in so many different capacities, in different settings, in different arrangements. And a really great place that you can hear them is at Nocturne,” Amend said.

When Nicole and Scott created Nocturne eight years ago, they envisioned a unique, welcoming, and glamorous experience for the guests, musicians, and staff. 

Nicole said from the beginning, she and her husband have tried to combine their love of jazz with their love of hospitality — fine dining and craft cocktails — to attract an audience that may be a “little jazz curious but loves great hospitality and great food.”

Scott said it can be a tricky combination, one other restaurateurs are sometimes skeptical about.

“And then I think music people look at us as being totally insane by having a music venue and also doing fine dining. But we love it.” Scott said.

Nocturne’s philosophy of going local extends to its menu and bar offerings, highlighting Colorado products and ingredients. 

“I think our food system's a pretty messed up thing right now in the world,” said culinary director Dustin Beckner. ”So anytime you can work some level of sustainability or local or more humane or that kind of thing into your program, it's important.”

Assistant General Manager Bryan Hirst has worked with the Mattsons since before they opened Nocturne. He noted that many of the staff have worked together for years and said the philosophy of service the business champions resonates with him. 

“I personally believe that gratitude is sort of the mother of all good qualities, and I think that living a life of service really helps you really achieve that end of serving and being able to be grateful for your life and help others;” Hirst said.

Nocturne’s music residencies for December include Swinging Holiday Songbook nights With Drew Morell & Friends, and The Louisa Amend Quintet. The month wraps up with Nocturne’s 8th Annual New Year's Eve Celebration.