Legacy and heritage are two things that don’t go away. That’s the case with the Indy Jazz Fest, thanks to the Herculean efforts of the American Pianist’s Association. They’ve taken on the fiscal responsibilities of an event that honors the artistic heritage of Indy’s street of jazz: Indiana Avenue.
With a prominent career in jazz spanning five decades, Buddy Montgomery has never forgotten his hometown roots, and especially Indiana Avenue.
The APA is a non-profit entity founded in 1979, which is dedicated to identifying — through piano competitions — world-class jazz and classical pianists with their two-year fellowship programs. Now, the APA has expanded its reach to embrace this city’s rich jazz tradition. After acquiring the Indy Jazz Fest this summer, the APA wants to make certain that jazz lovers don’t go a year without celebrating Indy’s jazz heritage. Time constraints led the APA to come up with a one-day Taste of Indy Jazz Fest. This will be a way to preview the new direction for the full festival that will be held next June 18-20, 2004, on two stages in Military Park and Celebration Plaza in White River State Park. This year, for 10 hours on Saturday, Sept. 27, from 1-11 p.m. in Military Park, great jazz can be heard by artists who helped create Indy’s jazz heritage, along with some of the nation’s best jazz artists. Many styles of jazz will be performed, from big band, Latin jazz, contemporary jazz and straight ahead, to swing. Two of the following musicians have helped make Indy’s jazz tradition, and two are world-class jazz pianists with ties to the American Pianist’s Association.
When you are 19 and you have played jazz piano since 10, been featured live on numerous radio television shows, recorded three CDs as a leader, started college at the age of 14 and won the prestigious American Piano Association’s Cole Porter Fellow for jazz in 2001, you are Aaron Parks — a rising star. Parks’ reign as the APA jazz fellow comes to an end in May of 2004. But his future is extremely bright. After years of leading his own trio as a teen-ager, Parks admits, “When I was playing with my group in the past, I was playing for myself. I still play for myself first and foremost but the thing I realize now is you need to be giving yourself to the audience and invite them into your world.” The world of prodigy Parks, like his musical outlook, is growing. He is now a member of the multi-Grammy Award-winning jazz trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s Sextet. Being in Blanchard’s sextet, Parks says, has given him a whole new perspective on approaching jazz. “I have learned important lessons over the past two years with Terence that music isn’t life and that music only comes from life. So I have been going out and living.” Parks is featured extensively on Blanchard’s latest CD, Bounce, on the Bluenote label, not only as a significant player, but as composer of the opening tune. Parks will perform over two hours at the Taste of Indy Jazz with his trio, and along with the Terence Blanchard Sextet.
Indy is known for its history of great jazz families. The Montgomery Brothers were among the most prolific in playing the new sounds in jazz. Heading the charge was guitar icon Wes Montgomery, supported by older brother Monk and the dual instrumental talents of Buddy Montgomery. Buddy is returning home to perform at the Taste of Indy Jazz Fest. He shared how he and his brothers really got started: “Our oldest brother Thomas was the inspiration that got everybody started. Wes was already playing. He was the hot spot in the family and urged me to check out what he was doing. It finally got through and I started hanging out with him and learning a little more about what he was doing.” Buddy’s piano skills actually got underway with Wes teaching him from a guitar standpoint. Buddy stated that his greatest piano influence overall was the local legendary modern jazz pianist Earl Grandy. Buddy said almost reverently, “He was the man.” In the major jazz circles of the country, Buddy’s skills became known from performing as a pianist and on vibes with the Mastersounds, a West Coast-based quartet that attained national recognition, made up of three former Indy jazz players: brother Monk on bass and Benny Barth on drums. Buddy became interested in playing the vibes after watching Lionel Hampton when Wes was in that band, which led to a great demand for Buddy’s talent. He later joined the famed Miles Davis Sextet, playing vibes after Cannonball Adderley left the group. This was a group that included John Coltrane and Bill Evans. With a prominent career in jazz spanning five decades, Buddy has never forgotten his hometown roots, and especially Indiana Avenue. “Indianapolis was a fantastic city. A lot of good players came out of there. The saddest thing about Indianapolis is our history was taken away from us when the Avenue was taken away. That was the big thing and that would certainly help these festivals they are doing now if they left some of the history there so it would be live. You certainly need one or two or three of the clubs from the past back on Indiana Avenue to help justify the reason people are celebrating jazz.” Buddy Montgomery is a consummate jazz artist of the first order. To listen to his playing on either piano or vibes is to hear a passionate elegance by a masterful teller of musical stories.
The Hampton Sisters
How can you not love two sisters, entertainers as they call themselves, who have given their hearts to provide their brand of music for seven decades? Aletra Hampton, who plays piano, and Virtue Hampton-Whitted on standup bass, continue to play their style of swing and rhythm and blues today. Both ladies are into their 80s. Talking to the Hampton Sisters about their years of playing in Indy and the surrounding region, you realize they represent the essence of why jazz is celebrated. Ironically, they don’t consider themselves jazz musicians. Aletra says, “We give the public what they want.” Virtue adds, “We did a lot of playing for the dance studios back in the late ’20s and that gave us a variety of music. The only thing we didn’t go into was the bebop. We all came from the same stock but we all had different attitudes about music.” Their baby brother, the renowned jazz trombonist/composer/arranger Slide Hampton, carried the family name into the bebop movement. Aletra summed up the passion that drives them: “We are not what you call musicians. We are musical entertainers — we don’t read. And what we play we feel and we work as hard as we possibly can to feel it so that we can make the audience feel it.” They are proud of the fact they can play in the schools for children. They also have strong feelings about the impact of high tech instruments. “Real music, real horns, real everything has a soul in it. This is what you have to find within yourself to be able to express so the listener can feel what you are doing,” Aletra stated. Even stronger feelings were expressed by Virtue about a generation’s loss of interest in jazz in Indy’s African-American community. “It used to be you go by a certain time of day in every house on the block and you would hear jazz. It’s a shame. The ones that came out of Attucks High School, they lost out in the arts and in the way of music. The movies at that time had a variety of music, even symphonic music, that was important for children. They missed out on all of this.” These dynamic sisters have received the state’s highest award, the Sagamore of the Wabash, along with numerous other honors and laurels, and they are finally recording their first complete CD to be released soon. They perform in a quartet setting with Indiana Avenue legend, saxophonist “Pookie” Johnson, and drummer Larry Clark. The Hampton Sisters only know one way to play and that is honestly — with a lot of passion added.
Hilton Ruiz is a household name in the world of Latin jazz and bebop. A New Yorker who was born in Puerto Rico, Ruiz is an exceptional pianist who has been playing professionally 30 years, since the age of 18. He has worked with major jazz and Latin artists like Dizzy Gillespie, Clark Terry, Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria. As a leader, Ruiz has 22 recordings under his name and has performed on over 100 others. Adding to his credits are television appearances on the David Letterman show and BET specials with Ramsey Lewis and Lou Rawls. His music scores could be heard in numerous films, like the Academy Award-winning American Beauty and Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors. Ruiz is no stranger to this city and the American Pianist’s Association. He was a judge for the jazz competition in 2001 and now returns as a performer at the Taste of Indy Jazz Fest. Ruiz believes in keeping his music simple and accessible. He said, “Latin jazz is getting bigger and stronger, people are really enjoying it. The thing is that it is very danceable music. When I do concerts I notice that little children are just jumping up and down in front of the bandstand and just dancing. It creates an energy and a really happy vibration, it puts that feeling in your body that you really want to move. I do know that I make a lot of people happy when I play.” His new CD, Enchantment, on the Arabesque label, is a prime example of the flavors of Ruiz’s music. He will be performing with his quartet as heard on the CD.
WHAT: The 2003 Taste of Indy Jazz Fest WHERE: Military Park, downtown Indianapolis WHEN: Saturday, Sept. 27, 1-11 p.m. Festival lineup and approximate performance times: • Buselli Wallarab: 2-2:45 p.m. • Buddy Montgomery: 3-3:30 p.m. • Cathy Morris: 3:45-4:30 p.m. • Hilton Ruiz Quartet: 4:45-5:45 p.m. • The Hampton Sisters: 6-6:30 p.m. • Aaron Parks Trio: 6:45-7:30 p.m. • Terence Blanchard Sextet: 7:45-8:45 p.m. • Count Basie Orchestra with Patti Austin: 9:15-11 p.m. HOW: Tickets are $20 the day of the event and $15 in advance. Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets. For festival information: 800-3344-4639 or www.Indyjazzfest.net.