Fort Collins’ hidden jazz gems

According to PBS filmmaker Ken Burns, “Jazz is the most formidable artistic contribution that our country has given the world thus far.” So how is Fort Collins helping with that contribution?

Two Fort Collins staples, Ace Gillett’s Lounge and Jay’s Bistro, “provide all that jazz.”


“At Ace Gillett’s you can hear jazz five nights a week — Jay’s three or four — that’s pretty awesome,” said Ben Markley, a CSU jazz teacher. “Then you sprinkle in the college, which has two big band concerts a semester and then other people playing on separate nights. So yeah, the jazz scene is pretty strong here.”

Ace Gillett’s is located down below the Armstrong Hotel on S. College Avenue, and Jay’s Bistro is located a stone’s throw across the lot near Oak and College. Gillett’s offers live jazz music five nights a week — Wednesday through Sunday — and Jay’s offers live jazz four nights a week Wednesday through Saturday.

“I think that for a town this size Fort Collins has a lot of music and jazz going on on any given week,” said Mark Sloniker, the piano player for Jay’s Bistro. “I play four nights a week at Jay’s, with established players known on a state and national level playing with me often. The two jazz-centered places in town are a block within each other and most people just hop between the two.”

Jazz isn’t like pop music or rock music in the sense that players don’t usually create ‘bands’, but they instead play with many different musicians.

“It’s kind of rotating musicians that play at Gillett’s and not really a band,” said Ray Harvey, the bartender for Ace Gillett’s. “The one good exception to that is The Rainchecks who play on Sunday night.”

Jay’s isn’t so much a jazz bar — like Ace Gillett’s — as it is a restaurant with a jazz lounge that play while you enjoy your meal.

“Jazz is an amazing art form and I think we bring that to the community and give people a place to listen and enjoy,” said Sloniker, who has been playing in Fort Collins for more than 30 years.

“Sometimes when an art form takes place in the midst of your culture it’s a joy and kind of a mission for the people who live there to see that it grows and stays healthy”

Because Fort Collins isn’t a bustling metropolis, you need a large population pool to support it.

“Even Denver doesn’t have many more jazz places. There are a couple staples, but they have been there forever,” Harvey said. “Jazz has always been a little bit on the periphery; it’s not really mainstream music.”


Jay’s Bistro draws on a wide talent pool to play the lounge. Sloniker said he constantly draws talent from the Front Range and also plays with people from CSU consistently.

“There is no lack of good musicians to draw from,” Sloniker said. “When people play at Ace’s, then they play at Jay’s, it’s more of a co-creative energy than a competitive one. There is a lot of good friendly energy, which I think is the most important part about playing music and jazz.”