DU Alumni

Daniels alumna is the force behind Denver’s hottest new jazz club

Nicole and Scott Mattson opened Nocturne in March 2014. Photo courtesy of Lori J Photography

Nicole and Scott Mattson opened Nocturne in March 2014. Photo courtesy of Lori J Photography

Just blocks away from the neighborhood where Denver jazz clubs like the Rossonian and Casino Dance Hall once entertained fans back in the 1930s, Daniels College of Business alumna Nicole Mattson and her husband have created a new jazz nightspot that is earning rave reviews from fans and musicians alike.

Nocturne, open since March in the River North neighborhood near Coors Field, was a dream that took many years to come to fruition, Mattson says. She first had the idea when she was a DU undergraduate studying hospitality at Daniels. She would spend evenings watching her boyfriend (now husband), jazz drummer Scott Mattson, perform at various clubs around Denver.

“I would follow him around to his gigs — he played some pretty interesting places around town, some of which no longer exist,” Nicole remembers. “I would sit there and think, from a hospitality perspective, ‘What could make this better?’”

Steve Wiest, co-chair of the jazz studies program at the Lamont School of Music, performs at Nocturne with his quartet every Friday in October, paying tribute to trombone legend J.J. Johnson. Visit the club’s website for tickets and more information.

The two eventually married and moved out of state, but the idea of opening a jazz club in Denver always stayed in the back of their minds. There came a point, Mattson says, where the time felt right, so the couple moved back to town and Mattson came back to DU, this time in the Professional MBA program at Daniels.

“I went in with the mission of, ‘Is this a feasible business to even go into?’ I literally went there to see if this would fly, and I used it as my business plan for several classes and bounced it off all my colleagues in the cohort,” Mattson says. “They’ve been hearing about it for years.”

Two years later, convinced they had all the angles covered, the Mattsons signed a lease on a former garden supply warehouse near 27th and Larimer streets and began converting the space into the funky supper club of their dreams—a place where jazz wasn’t stuffy or pretentious, but the soundtrack to a good time.

“We wanted people to be able to come in and have this jubilant environment of being able to talk to your date or your friends, of having really great food, a really great drink, then also have really great music going on,” she says. “Millennials, the younger generation, they needed an opportunity to come into a place where it’s not as pretentious and it’s not as scary. Jazz is the music originally of brothels and bars, so why not come in and have fun?”

Host primarily to local musicians — often in weekly residency concerts that allow an artist multiple shows to explore a certain composer or subgenre — the club quickly became a favorite among Denver jazzers like Mark Diamond, a journeyman bass player who has performed at Nocturne as part of three different ensembles.

“It’s just a great concept,” says Diamond, who played a 12-week residency during Nocturne’s first three months with his Big Swing Trio. “They ask you pick a theme or an area of jazz to dig into, so we chose the hard bop era, which has so much great music. We took advantage of that weekly opportunity to really learn some new stuff. We probably added 40 or 50 songs during our run.

“It’s unbelievably fantastic to have another real jazz club in town,” Diamond adds. “The whole setting is great. Scott and Nicole are amazing people who have put their life and sweat and blood and tears into making this happen, and it’s a wonderful thing that they’ve done.”

The club also is garnering acclaim for its unique food menu, which changes seasonally and takes inspiration from classic jazz albums. The fall 2015 menu, chef Greg Weadick’s culinary interpretation of saxophonist Sonny Rollins’ 1957 album “Way Out West,” features song-inspired dishes such as “Wagon Wheel” — a pan-fried stuffed trout with squash, beets and cranberries — and “I’m An Old Cowhand,” pork belly with ancho chiles, rattlesnake beans and a prickly pear glaze.

“The food is inspired by a lot of Western ingredients that align with the Western theme of the album,” Mattson says. “You take the concept of what is being played in the music and then figure out how the food works into that.”

The Mattsons also put a priority on staying connected to the Denver community, hosting concerts and other events in partnership with nonprofits such as KUVO, a public jazz radio station, and Youth on Record, which uses music to empower and educate underprivileged Denver kids.

“For us, it’s why we got into business in the first place,” Nicole says. “If you’re not going to be an active member of the community, then why open up a business?

“In jazz, you have to have a sense of community on stage just to be able to improvise with one another, and it’s the same with anything you do in life,” she continues. “You have to be able to listen to the partner who is across the table from you and figure out, ‘What is their next move, and how can I help support that so that we can make great music together?’ In the business world, it’s the same thing. ‘How do we make business together? Well, you’re going to have to listen to me, and I’m going to have to listen to you.’ It’s give and take; we have to figure that all out.”

All are lessons, Mattson says, that she learned at DU, either as an undergraduate hospitality student or as a student in the Professional MBA program at Daniels.

“I think it helped a lot, from the instructors to the cohort I was in [in the MBA program] to just the general community,” Mattson says. “Some of our investors came from networking events at DU. It was a million different connections that got us to the point where we needed to be.”


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