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Reflecting on the second half of Indy Jazz Fest

But don't despair: Jazz is happening all year long.


  • Photo by Mark Sheldon
  • Phil Ranelin

On Sept. 25, when I left Jazz Kitchen close to midnight, a standing room audience was still inside and a coterie of people was hanging out at the side door, listening to the final set of IJF 2016. Clint Breeze and The Groove was pushing a high-fever sound into the night — way, way past Wes Montgomery’s conscious effort to play mellow so as not to disturb the neighbors.

Reflecting on the impact of “Remembering Wes,” Robert Montgomery’s opening remarks on Sept. 15 resonated: “We’ve got some of the greatest talent here in Indianapolis. I’m watching for what happens next. Pass it on.” 

Many moments throughout the 10 days of IJF shimmered in space and time, until, hummingbird-like, a sudden dart to elsewhere broke the spell. Throughout, it was a living overview of the 100-year-old genre that grew out of the African American experience from New Orleans, entwined with the European American experience, and transformed itself into a worldwide universal language with layerings of you-name-it-from-everywhere experiences. 

RELATED: Read our interview with Sullivan Fortner 

Initially prompted by late 19th century ragtime fused with blues and floated along our river ways, jazz is hard to define but easy to feel. If you ventured out to Irish Fest you felt jazz; ditto for Latin Fest —and yes, the audience at The ISO’s 100th Anniversary Circle Theatre Celebration Concert on Sept. 25 absorbed Pink Martini founder and pianist Thomas Lauderdale’s inspired rendition of "Rhapsody in Blue."
Premiering in 1924 at An Experiment in Modern Music program in New York City, George Gershwin transporting the decade-old jazz beat into classically-minded  consciousness. 
Indy Jazz Fest 2016 felt like 10 days of another experiment in modern music solidly emanating from what 2015 APA Cole Porter Jazz Fellow Sullivan Fortner described as "those who came before."


“Jazz is still alive, still fluent, still moving,” per Robert Montgomery, because the founders of the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation and Indy Jazz Fest recognize their predecessors made choices that have mattered in the larger scheme of things. The change of a shirt, the swap of leader, the reconfiguration from trio to 10-piece band bring a core of gifted players into new contexts and different texts. University and college teachers are playing side-by-side with their former students, now professionals in their own right. It’s dizzying but fun.

Main Street Speedway is coming into its own with the Farrelly-Markiewiscz Jazz Quintet, the Red Hot Whiskey Sippers; ranging across the region are Jared Thompson & Premium Blend, Si Señor & Pavel, Rob Dixon & Trilogy,; Gregg Bacon, Tucker Brothers, Bashiri Asad, Scott Routenberg Trio, Charlie Ballantine Quartet, Avenue Indy, Sean Imboden; specially created for IJF we heard Jazz Futures, Friends of Fest, Indy Jazz Fest Band; and our enduring gift of jazz singers including Brenda Williams, Everett Greene and Wendy Reed, along with instrumentalists all are out someplace every week keeping alive our rich heritage of Indiana Avenue Jazz. 

I spent Sunday re-reading David Leander Williams’ bountiful history— Indianapolis Jazz— and Duncan Schied’s illustrative The Jazz State of Indiana and Jazz in Black & White. I reflected on Pamela Bliss’ epic mural on the wall of the Musicians’ Repair and Sales building at 332 N. Capitol Ave. I imagined a half dozen jazz clubs alive along Indiana Avenue, and the pantheon of jazz greats growing up in Naptown, including Wes Montgomery, who pushed jazz guitar into a different orbit. 

Following the sterling Ravi Coltrane Quartet program, Robert Montgomery and I talked about the singular choices Ravi has made, in light of his father’s fame. “Ravi is his own person, making his own music,” summed up Robert. “He’s so New York,” flew out of my mouth.

That prompted the location-centric question: “What would have happened to the world of jazz guitar if your dad had not turned down John Coltrane’s offer to join his band, and chose instead to lead his own band, based in (and out of) Indianapolis?” 
Others joined the conversation on "the path taken" providing insight into Wes Montgomery, family man. The consensus — Wes’ humanity is at the center of his compositions, his playing, his choices. Wes Montgomery defined modern jazz guitar in the 1950s and '60s because he believed in bringing the listener into his own soul. Norman Brown, Russell Malone, Phil Ranelin, made that clear in their programs.
The Indy Jazz Fest Band reiterated Wes’ “Indianapolis Sound” and Sullivan Fortner proved that "passing on" is part of the ever-flowing momentum. Steve Allee and friends underscored. The players from elsewhere and down home are all amazing. The support teams of sound engineers, volunteers, funders, photographers, and audience make it viable. Planning for IJF 2017 is already underway; with a bit of luck, the Pub Creep will return.

Jazz is happening all year long. You’ll find good music in clubs all over Indy, on college and university campuses, on newly released CDs and vinyl to enjoy at home, and in schools where educators are indeed passing it on.


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