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Nap town' offers world -class international jazz and roots blues festival

Indianapolis is a city that host's great events related to sports like pro racing, basketball, football and the NCAA headquarters. During July however, the city plays host to a world -class roots / blues and jazz festival every year that rivals any other in the US or abroad. With 60,000 in attendance, the third year of the Indy Jazz -Fest has proved to be a charm. The performers ranged from James Brown, The Isley Brothers, Neville Brothers and Los Lobos on the pop stage - to Ramsey Lewis, Diane Schuur w/ Count Basie Orchestra, Poncho Sanchez and the Rippingtons with Paul Taylor on the jazz stage. The two- day city festival is augmented with concerts throughout the week at the Indiana Ballroom, Pan Am Plaza and the famed 1000 seat Madame Walker Theater. Once a thriving jazz center between Chicago and New Orleans, Indy was a proving ground for musicians looking to prove themselves worthy of performing the more than 30 clubs in the downtown area. "The Avenue" as it is still referred to today, was a hot bed of activity producing some of the greatest jazz luminaries in history. Members of this group include; Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Montgomery Brothers (Wes, Monk and Buddy), Slide Hampton, Jimmy Coe, Carl Perkins, Melvin Rhyne, Dr. David Baker and Jimmy Spaulding. All of these musicians would be exchanging their musical ideas with visiting artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Sonny Sitt, Miles Davis and others as they toured the city. On Indiana Avenue each night was a "special event" as the best local talent would jam with the touring bands at venues like; the Cotton Club, Walker Casino, Henri's and the Missile Room. "The Avenue" was also home to many leaders of the African-American community including Madame C. J. Walker (the first black woman in America to earn 1 million dollars), who settled in Indianapolis from New York in 1910. Through the generosity of her family, the Madame C. J. Walker Center was built in 1927. This factory and community center was the venue for touring artist and a cultural meeting place for the African -American community. Today, fully restored to the grandeur of the theaters heyday, jazz fans can encounter the echoes of the past (while looking to the future) in this historic music venue. Perhaps, J.J. Johnson summed up the reason why this festival showcases a varied jazz program when asked about trends and technology in the music of today. "I don't think we should put down musicians today. I don't care what style or genre they are playing as well as they are serious about what they are saying- and playing to their fullest capability." While featuring visiting artists, the Indy Jazz-Fest offers a chance for local and once local musicians to perform throughout the festival - letting the proud spirit of "The Avenue" live on as a permanent festival fixture.

Venue: Pepsi Jazz Heritage Stage-White River State Park (Downtown Indianapolis)

Saturday July 14, 2001

The day's festivities began with 3 local acts Larry Ridley, Marco Paguia and the Charlie Smith Project who performed Latin, swing and contemporary jazz, which prepared the audience for the headlining acts. All of these musicians were superb and received jovial applause from the growing audience.

The first of the large acts to perform was the Afro-Cuban band from New Orleans known as Los Hombres Calientes. This ensemble fronted by Bill Summers (Herbie Hancock's-Headhunter's, Bobby McFerrin, Anita Baker among others) on percussion; trumpet prodigy Irvin Mayfield and a host of other highly seasoned young musicians who seemed to play light years beyond their earthly years. This young but mature group rousted the crowd out of their seats for their spirited cha chas, sambas, congas, bop, African call and response, Cuban chants and cross-cultural funkiness. Mayfield, the young trumpet master, used very melodic solos and virtuosi circular breathing during his solo feature, to bring the crowd to their feet with a raucous applause. The horn section was punctuated throughout the compositions and had great lines. The percussion section featured uncommon percussion instruments along with inventive rhythm stacking from the leader, Bill Summers. Many fans lined up to purchase CD's after the fiery show.

Kenny Garrett and his quartet would enter the stage with their offering of hot straight ahead jazz including a dazzling version of "Giant Steps" which showed Garrett and company improving serpentine lines over the complex changes with ease. The Garrett original "Tick Tock Don't Stop" was interesting- fusing jazz / funk riffing with a hip-hop undercurrent that was "chanted" by the audience. This created a great call and response moment for Garrett and company as they "connected" with the audience very well. Garrett's bassist fired the audience response up a notch when he performed his solo with a bow. Using a marcato bounce bow technique, he used rhythm and scratch tones to etch out a soulful solo that was a highlight of the set. Charles Mingus would have been very proud of such inventiveness with the bow. Kenny Garret was featured on alto and soprano horn and was every bit a Grammy nominee. The only request I would have to this group is an idea of what tunes they were performing. This would make it easier for the listeners to choose CD's and identify with the music more but the performance was right on the mark.

The Ramsey Lewis Trio was next up and featured a well-varied program of Latin, blues, gospel, swing and intriguing jazz renditions of rock pieces. The audience was taken with the trio from the opening tune and gave loud & proud applause to the group throughout the evening. Ernie Adams accompanied Lewis on drums while the fiery upright bassist, Larry Cohut added great walking lines and bowed melodies. Lewis who coaxed great performances from his sidemen played the Steinway masterfully and changed his palette of tonal colors with great ease. The highlight pieces included Chick Corea's "Armando's Rumba", a soulful rendition of "Blessed Assurance", "The In Crowd", a selection from L. Pavarotti's encore and "Summertime". Toying with the audience like a game master he built the audience up for the "sly" encore. During the encore piece (untitled), Ramsey would interject musical quotes from Sly & The Family Stone and other groove hits almost challenging the audience to a name- that- tune game. Lewis masterfully concealed the rock tunes under his masterful harmony and group interaction, while interacting with the audience in a humorous, personable way. This highlight performance was one I have to see again!

The jazz stage would welcome another stellar group, The Count Basie Orchestra (under the direction of Indy's Grover Mitchell) who would feature Diane Schuur and her vocal prowess for the second half of the program. We're talkin' vintage swing from a fabulous band with a 70 years history and top-notch players representing various generations of past members. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is the Count Basie Orchestra! After the opening swing tune the band performed "Basie", "Blues On Top", easy swing via "In A Mellow Tone" from Ellington and "Way Out Basie". The second half of the instrumental set would include the Thad Jones piece, "Basically Yours", "Blue Skies (Jamie Davis vocals) and the "Drum Thing" featuring Butch Miles on drums. Throughout the performance the audience was jubilant and receptive to the soloist after each solo. The fans in attendance we're definitely a hardcore jazz audience because James Brown had taken the Roots & Blues stage at the other end of the park. For the thousands that waited to hear Diane Schuur with the Count Basie Orchestra, their wait was well rewarded with a magical, engrossing performance from the Grammy winner. Schurr's "perfect pitch" vocals were evident in such tunes as "Travelin' Light", "Easy To Love", "We'll Be Together Again", "Autumn Leaves" and "Save Your Love For Me". Her rhythm section was superb and her bassist was the conductor of the orchestra while performing. Diane dedicated the next tune; "Every Day I Have The Blues" to Joe Williams and showed of her bluesy, sassy voice of with ease adding her signature riffing and voice manipulation (ala trombone w/ plunger) to woo the audience over. Schuur's set would continue with "You Can Hear The Music", a relaxed jive blues version of "Lazy Sunday Afternoon". The audience was won over but for the encore, Diane Schuur would not feature any instrumentalist other than her incredible voice for the closer. The trump she was holding all along was her soulful and magical acapella rendition of " Somewhere Over The Rainbow". Schuur's sublime, solo vocal performance was almost too profound a moment to explain in words. Her effect on the audience was full of love, awe- inspiring technique and incredible class and heartfelt emotion. For the thousands of jazz fans at the jazz stage we couldn't have asked for more but the good new was that all day Sunday we would be able to hear more world-class music again. All day!

Venue: Pepsi Jazz Heritage Stage - White River State Park (Downtown Indianapolis)

Sunday July 15, 2001

A welcome surprise for the festival was a Sunday service featuring Indy's own Dr. Willis Kirk. His 'Jazz Oratorio' "Rejoice! Rejoice!" featured 70 musicians and singers in an outdoor setting. "It has been a continuing work in progress during my career as an educator" noted Kirk. " Jazz has a very deep spiritual connection due to slavery times and how blacks communicated back then. We rearranged some things like the order of the service and music."

The hour-long oratorio was an amalgamation of old spiritual vocals, deep country blues and earliest forms of jazz from Dixieland, ragtime and pre-war blues. This historical perspective was fresh and gave light to some of the greatest elements in jazz throughout its development.

The crowd of 1000 was witness to great gospel vocalist and instrumentalist, some who traveled across the country and even 1 musician from Europe to perform! "Rejoice! Rejoice!" was incredible, a once in a lifetime chance to witness such a rare and eloquent performance from a great composer's (life long) labor of love. Thank You, Dr. Kirk!

The next "local" performer was the Benny Barth Quartet. This local group performed heavy hitting performances from bebop to swing and featured excellent solo features which warmed up the stage for the day's jazz festivities.

The Rippingtons (featuring Russ Freeman & surprise guest, Paul Taylor) took the stage and performed tunes from their latest release, 'Life In The Tropics'. The Rippingtons have an identifiable L.A. light jazz sound and had a large number of fans in the audience. The musicians all featured solid grooves and melodic performances in their set. The set opened with "Topaz", "Summer Lover's", "The First Time I Saw Her", "P. T. Avenue, "South Beach Mambo", "Caribbean Breeze" and "Avenida Del Mar". The hot weather and pop grooves of the music was a crossover hit with many of the non-traditional jazz fans as they danced (by the 100's) and gave loud applause. The highlight of the show included Paul Taylor on alto, soprano and electric (midi) horn. Taylor connected with the audience and received focused applause with each of his solos. The bassist really got the crowd going with his Latin, Funk and Caribbean grooves during his solo spot. The only dark spot on an otherwise great performance was an ill-conceived encore selection of "Purple Haze" and "Fire" from Jimi Hendrix. The Rippingtons and Russ Freeman turned in less than respectable renditions of these rock classics and were simply performing "out of their usual environment." Except for the encore, a great performance was turned in by The Rippingtons (with Russ Freeman and Paul Taylor).

Chuck Mangione (sextet) took the stage and brought a trumpet, flugelhorn and even occasional keyboard. Mangione produced a great band of sensitive players to perform his classics and new sounds. Opening with his "Land Of Make Believe" (from the King of the Hill TV soundtrack) he performed Latin and melodic groove pieces throughout hi set. Mangione performed an emotional solo on "Amazing Grace" with muted trumpet then he brought his band in for a surprisingly deep "down home gospel" groove that really reached the audience. Other set list high points included "Bellavia", (named after Mangione's mother and his first Grammy win), "Fun N Games, " Overture From - Children Of Sanchez" and his standard, "Feels So Good". Mangione and his band performances were deeply sensitive, emotional and as pleasant to the ears as any show I can remember. The sly fox used his classic tune to propel his flugelhorns melodies to their heart. Chuck Mangione hasn't left us or lost his touch. The audience would prove by giving him and his sextet enthusiastic applause!

The Poncho Sanchez - Latin Jazz Band would follow with energetic Latin "tinges" of jazz standards. Poncho's group rearranged the "standards" into a Latin fiesta and cornucopia of rhythms and sounds that enchanted the audience. The set included, "Yesterdays", "Oye Lo", "In Walked Bud", Wayne Sorter's "Juju", "Gosa De Elmar" and a 6/8 funk Salsa that opened up the percussion section to the delight of the audience. The crowd's interaction was evident by the dancing and reveling to the Son clave pulses throughout the set. The Poncho Sanchez band rearranges standard blues based tunes and reconstructs them with their Latin rhythms and tonal treatment. This ensemble was quite different from the Los Hombres Caliente's because their music is more Afro-Cuban and uses original compositions for their program. The set would close with an Eddie Harris tune, "Cold Duck Time" where the band performed a great showcase jam for the audience. Poncho Sanchez's Latin Jazz Band sure got the crowd going for the show's final act and received great applause from the thousands in attendance.

A Tribute to J. J. Johnson would end the festivities with great arrangements of the Indianapolis native's great body of work. The Steve Alee Big Band starring Slide Hampton, Dr. David Baker and special Indiana Avenue Revisited Guest would end the program with a jubilant celebration of the "naptown" artist's great contributions to jazz music and the world. The Steve Alee Big Band brandished seasoned pros, which brought the music to life with a sense of respect, remorse and festive-jubilant readings of the trombonist's great works. Alee recalls his attraction and influence of Johnson, "He was inspiring as a writer to me for many reasons. The focus for me is J.J. Johnson. One was his unlimited technique on his trombone and the same in his writing so well in what was important" The set would open with Johnson's "Shortcakes", "Say When", and "El Camino Real". A heartfelt, sublime reading of the ballad, "The Very Thought Of You" was performed by tenor sax ace, Jimmy Coe. The sublime, lyrical solo Coe performed was incredibly beautiful and full of heart drenched bluesy melodies that really affected the audience. His tribute was a highlight of the evening and resulted in a standing ovation and loud applause from the audience who connected with the sax man in a group meeting- of- the- spirits. Dr. David Baker contributed his unique cello soloing throughout the evening. Dr. Baker also penned a great arrangement of "In Walked Horace", which featured the ever-present Slide Hampton on his smooth toned (left handed) trombone. "Slide" played so melodically and heavy with riffs all evening, there seemed to be no end to his mastery of the horn. The band cooked with great stop time rhythm figures and gave a great interactive background for the soloist, Slide Hampton. Throughout the program, soloist such as Jimmy Coe, Dr. David Baker, "Pookie" Johnson, Pat Harrison, Steve Alee, Kenny Phelts, Frank Smith, Juarez Whitted and Slide Hampton would perform stellar solos and arrangements that befitted their departed friends legacy. The Indiana Avenue Revisited Guest's performance was a testament to J.J. Johnson's inspiration, talent and work as a visionary jazz ambassador.

The set would also include the ballad "Lament" which was arranged by Hampton and feature a trombone choir with Hampton soloing. J.J's arrangement for Miles Davis's "Swing Spring" and the dedication piece, simply titled," J ". The tribute set would wind up with "Fat Back Blues" and 10 / 85. It was evident as the music faded away, a great respect and admiration of a native "nap town" jazz ambassador was witnessed by the 1000's in attendance. While the passing of a jazz luminary is met with remorse, this fitting tribute celebrates the great music and "living legacy" of a gracious man and his art in the city he loved- Indianapolis. Thanks to the "avenue" artist for their inspired performances, arrangements and anecdotal testimonies that let us all know about the man known simply as "J".

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Unknown
  • Concert Date: July 14, 2001
  • Venue: Pepsi Jazz Heritage Stage-White River State Park
  • City State Country: Indianapolis, IN, USA
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