Now that NUVO is celebrating its twentieth anniversary, it doesn't seem possible that I have been writing this column about Indy's jazz scene for seventeen of those years. A lot of changes have taken place in two decades on the local jazz scene.
Indy's jazz scene in the Nineties was burgeoning mainly due to a commercially appealing new style called smooth jazz. It was also an era when numerous local jazz festivals and outdoor events took place all over the city. The Indianapolis Zoo launched its ongoing six-week series, "Animals and All That Jazz," during this period.
Restaurants and hotels were hotbeds of activity for local jazz musicians. Groups led by electric violinist Cathy Morris, saxophonist Jim Farreley and his band True to Form and Gregg Bacon's group were the most popular ensembles among local smooth jazz fans.
David Allee started the Jazz Kitchen April 1, 1995, giving jazz purists an outlet to go along with the Chatterbox, Indy's oldest jazz venue.
Radio station WTPI was the major innovative force impacting Indy's jazz scene during this period, bringing smooth jazz to Indy. Rated shows Nightbreeze
and Sunday Morning Jazz
spawned innovative smooth jazz marketing efforts. WTPI's successes included running a smooth jazz festival to benefit Broad Ripple Park, partnering with Coat and Tie Productions for 10 years of smooth jazz concerts with national artists at the Indiana Roof, and producing jazz CD samplers featuring local artists to benefit student jazz education in the community.
In 1999, the Indy Jazz Fest brought major changes to Indy's jazz scene. All other local jazz festivals were eclipsed by this mega Festival, which ran for five days and nights, and featured five stages of top-flight jazz, blues and pop stars. It was a huge success.
The dawning of a new century saw a reversal of past jazz glories and gains. Especially notable was the ending of the Indiana Avenue jazz legends era with the passing of Jimmy Coe, The Hampton Sisters, Freddie Hubbard, J.J. Johnson, Pookie Johnson, Russell Webster and David Young.
The Indy Jazz Fest was financially battered by three straight years of rain. The American Pianists Association took control of the festival and presented a scaled-down version for five years. In spite of a dismal economy, jazz made gains when a locally owned jazz recording label, Owl Studios, headed by J. Allan Hall, gave local jazz artists a chance to be heard nationally.
J. Allan Hall and David Allee assumed ownership of the Indy Jazz Fest from the American Pianist Association in April of 2009. Hall and Allee gave the event a pure jazz sound and a new location and date.
A sour economy took its toll on local jazz artists as venues scaled back on live music. The Chatterbox and the Jazz Kitchen remain steadfast though, offering jazz musicians and fans live music. Jazz is still on radio in Indy seven days a week on WICR 88.7, which covers every style of jazz and features local and national artists.