Profile: CU alum, professor and performer Josh Quinlan

Josh Quinlan talks about being a teacher and musician at the University of Colorado Boulder. Quinlan is a jazz instructor at CU, a music faculty member at Denver School of the Arts and a saxophone artist. (Allie Greenwood/CU Independent)
Josh Quinlan talks about being a teacher and musician at the University of Colorado Boulder. Quinlan is a jazz studies instructor at CU, a music faculty member at Denver School of the Arts and a saxophone player. (Allie Greenwood/CU Independent)

Workers pull the curtains closed around the listening room at Dazzle Jazz in Denver. The din of the restaurant behind them fades to a muffled whisper as the Josh Quinlan Quartet steps onto the small stage.

CU jazz studies professor Joshua Quinlan comes forward, whips his neck strap over his head and steadies his saxophone before launching into a performance based heavily on the music of legends Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. Accompanied by a piano, bass and percussion, each member of the band also stars in an improvisational break, bringing his own style to every show.

“There’s no wrong in jazz, and that’s really what’s important,” Quinlan said. “Everyone has a voice, and everyone’s voice is developing and changing. I’ll be practicing until I’m an old man.”

Given the man’s passion for the genre, there’s no reason to believe he won’t follow through. Quinlan, a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music and DePaul University, earned his doctorate degree in jazz studies here at CU. Since moving to Denver, he has showcased his talent as a performer, professor and record label director.

His first foray into professional performance came when he was 15 years old. Recruited by his band teacher at the time, Quinlan spent Halloween performing with a big band orchestra while his friends went trick-or-treating.

Quinlan attributes his early success to growing up in a state with a rich history of trend-setting music.

“In Michigan, there’s a huge jazz scene all over,” Quinlan said. “And there’s a lot of jazz players all over, and it’s been like that for a long time. We’re kind of in the middle of nowhere here [in Colorado], but we have a wonderful thing going in Denver.”

He added that small size of Denver’s jazz community creates an atmosphere that fosters musical success.

“One of the best things about this area is that it’s very open to ideas and creativity,” Quinlan said. “That’s a little bit more difficult in a big city, like Chicago, where I lived before. If you have a great idea, it takes a lot more work and development to get that idea pushed through, and often times it’s impossible because there’s so many people and so many ideas.”

As a performer, Quinlan has produced several albums, the most recent of which is “Open Space.” The album was produced by Quinlan’s own label, Dazzle Recordings. Quinlan uses this platform, based at Dazzle Jazz, to promote both his own music and the music of other jazz musicians in the area.

In addition to performing and recording, Quinlan has taught a jazz history course at CU for the last two years. His goal is to help people learn to listen to music differently and appreciate “the basis of jazz.” Student responses, he says, are the most rewarding element of his job.

“I see students who took it last year who come up to me and say, ‘You were right, this is good music. It’s cool, and I like it, and I continue to like it,'” he said. “For me, that’s the main thing.”

Quinlan also heads two jazz ensemble bands on campus, one combo and one big band, which are mostly comprised of music majors.

All this activity is part of Quinlan’s passion for spreading the word about jazz music. He insists that everyone can find a branch of the jazz genre that they like and hopes that his class can help people figure that out.

“There is always something you will like in that art form or in that genre of music,” Quinlan said. “And maybe you just don’t realize it yet.”

Quinlan continues to perform and participate in a range of ways on CU’s campus. On March 14, Quinlan will take the stage again at Dazzle. He brings his show back to Boulder on March 19, where he will play at the Laughing Goat with the Ed Breazeale Quartet.

Josh Quinlan has released two albums recently: "Open Space" in 2013 and "Mountain Time Standards" in 2012. (Allie Greenwood/CU Independent)
Josh Quinlan has released two albums recently: “Open Space” in 2013 and “Mountain Time Standards” in 2012. (Allie Greenwood/CU Independent)

Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Carolyn Davidson at

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