A jazzy primer 

click to enlarge MARK SHELDON // IJF
  • Mark Sheldon // IJF

For the 16th year in a row, Indy Jazz Fest is igniting excitement in the city's jazz scene with its annual, multiple-day celebration; and as the slogan states, it's a Jazz Fest taking place "all around town." While currently in the hands of the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, the yearlong project has been handed down from different organizations through previous years. As the torch was passed, the festival grew bigger and better, putting it at a 10-day-long event this year.

"I think it's more grassroots now, more because it's actually involving people that are engaged in the jazz community here," says Rob Dixon, Indy Jazz Fest art director, during a phone interview.

Historically, the festival included a big, outdoor park concert, but organizers soon realized that setup wasn't sustainable. The possibility of inclement weather made it difficult to sell tickets for shows in advance, and coordinators felt the event needed a change to provide the best experience possible.

"We just said, 'You know what? We really want to put on great music and we really want to do it in a setting where we can hear it really well and enjoy it to its full potential' — and that's kind of how we got to where we are now," says David Allee, festival director and Jazz Kitchen owner, via a phone interview.

Last year, Indy Jazz Fest tried out a new, indoor setup that involved shows taking place on different nights in various venues around town. And because the event became more separated, it provided people with the opportunity to attend a different show each night. This year, the festival will follow that same format with the addition of many new musicians to the lineup.

Headliners for this week's festival include Indy native (and recent winner of NBC's The Voice) Josh Kaufman, jazz saxophonist Maceo Parker and Saturday Night Live Band trombonist Steve Turre. (Editor's note: For NUVO writer Rita Kohn's picks see adjacent page.)

"We just really want to continue making jazz an option as people are out there listening to music," says Allee.

This year's headliners and performers will continue to do that by performing and showcasing their favorite styles of jazz to the community.

"I'm excited about the fact that I'll get to do a variety of music, and I hope to incorporate more jazz-influenced stuff, because that's something that I've done before," says Kaufman in a phone interview.

"I'm coming to honor the greatest trombone player in the history of jazz, who happens to be from Indianapolis. And his name is J. J. Johnson," says Turre, a former mentee of the famous musician.

While bringing in jazz musicians to perform at the festival is a big part of that, an even larger component is jazz education. While organizers prepare for the festival throughout the year, they're also hosting workshops, concerts, classes, artist series and school performances support from Lilly Endowment, Inc. introduced local students to the city's jazz heritage.

Many of these learning-based events are hands-on and interactive so that students can have fun and learn about their community at the same time. Both Indy Jazz Fest and the Indy Jazz Foundation are continually promoting the education program, called Jazz Impressions, hoping to preserve some of the music, culture and history of Indianapolis.

Jazz vibraphonist and performer at this year's festival, Stefon Harris, sees only good things coming from Indy Jazz Fest's efforts.

"It's important to keep a jazz scene alive so that each forthcoming generation has the opportunity to have exposure to the art form. By keeping the music alive, you're creating an opportunity for generations of people to be heard," says Harris in a phone interview.

"It's such a tradition in American music that it would be a shame for it not to continue to live on," agrees Kaufman.

It's safe to say that Indy Jazz Fest will figure prominently in Indy's music scene for years to come. The organizers and event staff are all passionate about the diversified genre, and why shouldn't they be? Jazz is at the heart of American music.

"People say, 'Why do you like jazz?' And the only thing that I would argue is that you probably haven't heard the type of jazz that you like yet. So that's one thing we feel proud of — the fact that throughout this whole festival there is probably ten or more styles of jazz represented," says Allee.

Editor's note: a portion of this interview with Josh Kaufman ran in the Aug. 6 issue of NUVO.

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