The hubbub of anticipation is inviting on this rainy Sunday afternoon, February 10, as parents usher little ones to comfortable seats in the Central Library's Clowes Auditorium for the opening concert of the second season of Hot Jazz for Cool Kids, presented by the library's Learning Curve, the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, and Indy Jazz Fest.
Young faces stare wide-eyed at the virtual petting zoo of musical exotica on stage below: shiny brassy things on stands with tubes and bells, a tubular table on wheels topped with shiny metal bars, a jumbo guitar resting on its side...
"Are guitars brass?" asks an enquiring preschooler behind me. "No. Guitars have strings," explains his mommy. "Ohh... But are they brass?" And on goes the conversation, and education, in the stands, as parents and children wait for the concert to begin.
Finally fourteen darkly-clad musicians mount the stage, and one over-eager fron-row lad, unable to contain his excitement, shouts, "Come on everybody, it's gonna start!"
After a quick welcome by children's librarian Amy Friedman, the impetus behind the concert series, the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra slams into a full-house, upbeat rendition of Count Basie's "Every Little Beat Helps" -- ten fortissimo horns saturating the room with a velvet clamor, punctuated by drums and upright bass (the "jumbo guitar") -- and the audience is rapt. Three separate soloists add zest to the arrangement: Bob Stright on vibes (the "shiny metal bars"), Josh Weirich on tenor sax and Frank Sawyer on drums.
A quick-paced "Satin Doll," by Duke Ellington, follows, highlighting the band's wide dynamic range.
Between songs, trumpeter and IJO director Jeff Anderson introduces soloists and compositions with an engaging banter, drawing in the younger listeners.
"These are kid-friendly performances," Friedman said. "But, they are real performances, which I think is good for kids. You don't have to sit that still, you can come and go, but it's a first exposure to sitting somewhere and watching a concert."
Seasoned vocalists Lydia McAdams and Rick Vale add a delightful spark, separately, to several IJO numbers, which helps re-ignite cooling attention spans.
With nearly half of the auditorium's 320 seats full, a record for the Hot Jazz series, it's an auspicious beginning to this second season.
"It's all about getting people to this beautiful building, getting kids to the Learning Curve, our children's area," Friedman said. "And there's nothing like live music. Kids don't have many chances to hear jazz; a lot of it's in places where you have to be 21."
On Sunday, March 3, up and coming trumpeter Wade Baker and his quintet will perform, while the April 14 concert will feature veteran guitarist Bill Lancton's Sextet. Concerts run from 3:00 to 4:00 pm.
"It's the perfect afternoon," Friedman said. "You can bring your family, get books and CDs, and hear great music, for free."