Jazz pianist, band leader and composer/arranger Annie Booth (BM ’11, MM ’20) has been an active presence in the Colorado jazz community for many years, and was named among “Denver’s ten best jazz musicians” (Westword) last August. For her, studying and serving as a graduate teaching assistant at our College of Music was a time of professional growth that prepared her for a multifaceted career in music.
“My experiences at CU Boulder—both at the undergraduate and graduate levels—were invaluable,” says Booth. “I was part of the Concert Jazz Ensemble and Jazz Combos, which helped shape my career in different ways. At the undergraduate level, I became comfortable playing in those settings and learned how to act professionally. At the graduate level, I composed a lot for the band, so it was a great opportunity to not only have the ensemble play my music, but also to gain the experience of conducting my own pieces.”
Today, Booth serves on the faculty of the Lamont School of Music and has numerous projects in the works. She was recently selected as the 2022 Reno Jazz Festival Commissioned Composer, and leads and writes for the 18-piece Annie Booth Big Band. On June 24, she released “Alpenglow”—her album featuring the Annie Booth Sextet (watch for a single/preview this fall!)—and she’s set to release another album in February 2023: “Flowers of Evil”—featuring College of Music faculty and alumni*—is a song cycle of eight Charles Baudelaire poems that Booth has set to music.
“I have the utmost respect for every single person who chooses the path of the professional musician,” she reflects. “It’s taken a lot of versatility, flexibility, hard work, focus and being intentional about whom I want to surround myself with. The people who have helped me—be it musicians who I’ve hired to be a part of my projects or mentors who have guided me and pushed me along—are very important.
“Figuring out how to do it is an ongoing journey. There’s no template because the world and this career space is ever-changing.”
Also an avid educator, Booth created the SheBop Young Women in Jazz Workshop in conjunction with the Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts—the first jazz camp in Colorado for young women. As an extension of her pedagogy-focused master’s thesis, her mission is to create a strong, empowered community of women along the Front Range who express themselves through jazz music.
“Because jazz music is individualistic, everyone has their own voice,” Booth explains. “It’s a priority for me to communicate that message to my students, encouraging them to find freedom in their self-expression.
“Everyone is going to have their own path and do things differently. It’s important for students to use the tools from their teachers to help them grow their own voice at their own pace.”
In addition to her workshop, Booth offers regular jam sessions—these local Girls Jams are open to girls and women of all ages and abilities.
In sum, Booth offers this career advice:
“Ask yourself, what’s best serving me on my path? There’s a fine line between saying ‘yes’ for exposure and becoming overwhelmed with opportunities. I’ve gotten trapped by over-committing myself and have learned to say ‘no’ to things that aren’t serving my overall career goals.”
“Don’t get stuck in the way that things have been done before. There are so many chances for us to share our music and collaborate with others. Keep an open mind and always be on the lookout for opportunities. That said, be careful to choose opportunities that serve your bigger mission in music.”
“Surround yourself with like-minded people. It can be hard to find that community, but seeking out jam sessions, open mics, community orchestras, and so on will help you find your group of people who will support you. Show up, be the best you can be and let people know who you are! Many times it’s about who knows you, rather than who you know.”
*Booth’s piece and forthcoming studio album, “Flowers of Evil,” features Professor of Jazz John Gunther (sax and clarinets) and Associate Professor of Jazz Studies Brad Goode (trumpet). The album also features a cast of alumni, including Dru Heller (MM ’15), Anisha Rush (BM ’16), Matt Smiley (DMA ’22), Rosalee Walsh (BM ’22) and Brian Woodbury (DMA ’21).