Judkins' jazz quartet delves deep

Chandler Judkins' jazz quartet has been playing around Las Vegas for about eight years now. Problem is, unless you happened to be invited to the wedding or private function at which the ensemble was playing, you didn't really have a chance to see them.

But that changed a little more than two months ago when the Chandler Judkins New Jazz Testament began playing a weekly Thursday evening gig at the Mandarin Bar at the Mandarin Oriental.

"It's something I've always wanted to do, but I just never pursued the opportunity, I guess, because I was always busy with the private stuff," Judkins says.

For Judkins, the new gig offers the quartet the chance to delve more deeply into the songbook of classic American jazz.

"This is pure, straight-ahead jazz, not smooth jazz," he says, and listeners on any given night are apt to hear songs by the likes of Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Duke Ellington, Clifford Brown and Dizzy Gillespie.

"There has always been a complaint that there wasn't enough (jazz) on the Strip," Judkins says. "So this is a wonderful thing they're doing in terms of the preservation of America's only art form."

While growing up in Delta, Utah, Judkins, now 32, played trumpet but was "a typical '90s kid" who was into Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails and "the alternative grunge of the era."

Then he went to a Wynton Marsalis concert on a double date.

"I honestly barely knew who he was at the time -- this was '94 -- and it really changed my life," Judkins says.

"I mean, from that moment, I went home and started practicing three hours a night. I never looked back."

After high school, Judkins earned a music education degree at Utah's Snow College and in 2001 moved to Las Vegas with plans of making a living as a musician.

Joining trumpet player Judkins in the Chandler Judkins New Jazz Testament are Tony Branco on piano, Boris Shapiro on drums and Geoff Neuman on bass.

Judkins is enjoying the group's latest venue. Audiences "seem very appreciative," he says, "and we get a lot of compliments.

"Sometimes we get standing ovations and we get people who stay at the bar all night, for four hours. They were just swinging by for a drink and hear us playing and next thing, they're there until we close."

The Chandler Judkins New Jazz Testament plays from 7 to 11 p.m. Thursdays at the Mandarin Bar at the Mandarin Oriental, 3752 Las Vegas Blvd. South.