After a highly successful 2004 festival, the American Pianists Association has given Jazz Fest a new slant and look under the leadership of CEO and President Helen Small.
Small sees the event evolving. “I think in some ways the festival will stay the same in future years. The one thing that is going to be unique to this year’s festival is the cooperation and collaboration with the new Herron School of Art through the good graces of the Cultural Convergence Committee. The artists at the Herron School of Art are going to be decorating the trees in Military Park. So that is going to give the place a whole new look. It may be a hit this year and become something we may want to continue.”
For the first time, the Indy Jazz Fest will work with two stages in Military Park and stagger operating times on those stages so fans can enjoy all stage performances. Small feels this is the ideal format for Indy Jazz Fest presentations.
“I think that we have hit upon a really terrific way to bring all the music to the whole audience all the time. I think for a few years we will probably do it that way.”
Joel Harrison is the artistic director of the American Pianists Association and is nationally and internationally known for his musical expertise in both jazz and classical genres. Harrison is the guiding force behind what national artists will be appearing at the Indy Jazz Fest.
“This is just the second year we are doing the full Indy Jazz Fest and so we are still getting our feet wet,” Harrison said, laughing.
Making decisions on how to schedule and book artists for a successful Indy Jazz Fest is a gamble Harrison has to take.
“This is quite a challenge — and a steep learning curve for me. You go into this thinking, ‘Oh great: I’m the artistic director of this festival and I get to invite everyone I have always wanted to see, hear and meet in person.’ It doesn’t work that way. You have to juggle a number of things and you always have to keep jazz at the core. But you also want to feature related genres, and we want to go beyond that to some extent and appeal to a somewhat larger market and demographic. Keep in mind this is also our major fund-raiser.”
Don’t let their name cause you any misgivings about the music that The Bad Plus performs. The trio’s counter culture approach to the jazz tradition has caused an uproar among jazz critics but their I’ll be damned we’re going to do it our own way approach has built them a vast following, especially among younger fans who see this as the new millennium for jazz. They are taking pop/rock tunes and originals and musically deconstructing them with unique non-rhythmic tempos and a bombastic timbre.
This group is as far away from the classic jazz piano trio as butterfly collecting is to chumming for sharks. Like Medeski, Martin and Wood they are generating a new type of jazz fusion, but in a different way.
The trio’s debut CD These are the Vistas caused a sensation. Their next release, Give, showed the group was serious about their musical course. Their new CD Blunt Object was recorded live in Japan, where they reinvigorate some of their previously recorded compositions.
This is music to listen to with an open mind. The Bad Plus is definitely establishing a distinct sound for itself.
There is not much left to say about this year’s Indy Jazz Fest super headliner Tony Bennett. Commercially, Tony Bennett is considered a top bracket pop artist. But if you ask him about jazz he is on record: “I have always considered myself a jazz artist.” Look at his recorded output spanning over four decades and you’ll see that’s the truth.
A very select group of pop male singers came out of the ’50s and ’60s with their roots in jazz. Bennett was no exception. He recorded multiple albums, like Sinatra, with his favorite band, the Count Basie Orchestra. His duo recordings with the brilliant jazz pianist Bill Evans are considered to be among his finest work and classics among jazz fans.
The recorded discography of Tony Bennett is enormous. He has sung in every musical setting imaginable. He shines best when he is working with his trio. This is when you get the very essence of what Bennett is all about.
The astonishing thing is Bennett’s consistent ability to ease you into the lyrics of a song and the respect and emotion he has for the words. He takes some subtle melodic freedoms, whether in jazz or pop, but that is what endears him to fans on both sides of his musical fence.
Bennett is as potent with a brush and pencil as a microphone. His sketchpad is never far from him, and his paintings are very much in demand and command a handsome fee.
Bennett has honed his craft with an untouchable musical integrity. Trends, fads and artists have come and gone, but the vocal talent and taste of Tony Bennett has captured four generations of fans. The Bennett magic continues to grow today.
The return of the B-3 organ to jazz prominence now rests with Joey DeFrancesco. Many thought the passing earlier this year of Jimmy Smith, the godfather of modern jazz organ, would create a void in keeping the organ tradition alive. DeFrancesco and Smith teamed up and recorded together. A major alliance and friendship developed and both men worked to raise the status of the B-3 organ and to keep its legacy going.
“Jimmy kind of handed me that responsibility. I kind of brought the sound back too and made more interest in it. I was embraced by Jimmy; I feel that the whole legacy is in my hands.”
Younger musicians want to learn the B-3. DeFrancesco supports that cause.
“They are starting to have organ classes at schools, at the colleges. I have been doing some things like that. The main thing is to get with the younger people, that’s how you do it.”
DeFrancesco is touring all year to honor Jimmy Smith in a tour previously scheduled for both of them together.
“I’m not going to stop. I gotta continue, but I wish he was with us. In spirit he is. Not only did I lose my mentor but I lost my friend.”
Jimmy Smith’s last recording, Legacy, was with DeFrancesco, and came out before Smith died.
It’s been two years since Susan Tedeschi played at Indy Jazz Fest and over a year since she was last in Indianapolis. Since her last visit, a DVD was released (Live From Austin, TX on New West Records), she had baby No. 2 (Sophia was born last August) and she recently signed with Verve … while she was pregnant.
“Not many people get signed when they’re pregnant,” Tedeschi said. “When I met with them, they were offering the most workable offer. I got so excited about it. Now I can taunt my husband [Derek Trucks] that I’m on the same label as Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter. I grew up listening to the ladies of Verve like Ella [Fitzgerald] and Sarah [Vaughn] and especially Nina Simone. Now me.”
Tedeschi’s Verve Forecast (the label’s crossover company) is due out this September, to be titled Hope and Desire. The all-cover album was finished in 11 days.
“No vocal overdubs. It was pretty wild. We used all session players. I got Doyle Bramhall on this one and I actually flew Derek in for one day to be on a song. I love playing with my husband, as long as I remember the words (laugh). What I mean is I get distracted because he sounds so good. I forget that it’s my turn.”
The album will feature songs by Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, The Temptations and the Rolling Stones.
“It’s going to be a soul record with a mix of a Stones sound and country rock. We’ll probably try some of the songs out at the festival,” she said.
Tad Robinson released his album Did You Ever Wonder? (Severn) last year. The new album and label gained the Greencastle resident global exposure. From touring the world with his band to holding court on Monday nights as a member of Soul Bus at Daddy Jack’s, Robinson had a busy ’04 capped off by last month’s W.C. Handy Awards.
Robinson was nominated in two categories: Best Male Soul Blues Artist and Soul Blues Album. While he didn’t win in either category (those went to Bobby Rush and Mavis Staple’s Have A Little Faith), he made his presence known at this year’s festival, putting in a well-received duo performance with guitarist Alex Schultz. Robinson appears on Schultz’s Severn album Think About It.
He also made a boatload of contacts.
“It’s a blues festival with an awards ceremony attached,” he explained. “There were so many artists who performed that weekend. I made a lot of friends and did a lot of networking. Plus, I got to be nominated with cats I grew up listening to. They’re my peers now. They gave Pinetop Perkins a Lifetime Achievement Award this year. He’s 92 years old and as fiery a musician as ever. All of us youngsters realized we have some job security thanks to guys like him.”
Robinson returns to the Jazz Fest for the third time. This will be the first time he performs at the festival with a three-piece horn section. In addition to the summer blues festival circuit, he’ll be performing several Indianapolis dates, including Zoobilation, Concerts on the Canal and Military Park among others.
“Indianapolis has such a wonderful music scene,” Robinson said. “I’m thrilled to get another chance to play the festival. We have so many deserving musicians, so I’m honored to be a part of it again.”
Since the inaugural Indy Jazz Fest, jazz master trombonist/composer and arranger Slide Hampton has graced the event with his enormous talent. This year, he received the President’s National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award to go along with his two previous Grammy Awards.
Hampton’s prowess as a jazz trombonist and arranger is legendary, but his passion as an educator serving universities across the nation is respected in academe. As a major contributor to this artform, Slide has keen insight.
“The real purpose of jazz is for the music to always become better and better. That’s what the purpose of life should be — to always become better and better. Jazz is doing that thanks to the guys that came here before us. We have everything to build on to become better musicians and better people.”
Slide is the musical director of the Dizzy Gillespie All Star Big Band, which he will be touring with at other jazz festivals throughout the year. The lineup for his June performance at the Indy Jazz Fest will include eight Brazilian musicians who recorded Hampton’s latest CD, Slide Hampton Plays the Music of Antonio Carlos Jobim. Vocalist Maucha Adnet, who sang with Jobim for 10 years, will be featured. Completing the group are Claudio Roditi, trumpet, Helio Alves, piano, Andres Bolarsky, saxophone, Guilherme Monteiro, guitar, John Lee, bass, Duduka da Fonseca, drums, and Duke Lee on percussion.
You couldn’t have had a better spring than Mavis Staples. Her latest album, Have A Little Faith (Alligator), is getting global, crossover radio play. She made a killing at the 26th W.C. Handy Awards (the blues version of the Grammy Awards) last month.
She received awards for Female Soul Blues Artist, Soul Blues Album and Blues Album. The album’s title track was also named Song Of The Year. Like Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton and Carlos Santana at previous Grammy affairs, Mavis had her arms full of awards.
“I got a little muscle that weekend,” she said in our recent interview. “I grinned all the way home. When I heard I got nominated, I thought, ‘Maybe I’ll get one.’ No. They kept calling my name all night. It was so exciting and I was so elated. One of the most beautiful nights of my career.
“I made Pops [Staples, her father] happy. When I was on stage accepting, I looked up and started talking to him. I felt his presence. Someone in the audience yelled, ‘Oh, Pops is so proud,’ and that’s when the tears started flowing.”
Staples is best known for her family work as one of The Staple Singers (“Respect Yourself,” “I’ll Take You There”). She’s recorded several solo albums (including one on Prince’s Paisley Lark label) in the last couple decades. Her latest album continues her family musical tradition of Saturday night and Sunday morning (that’s blues and soul mixed with gospel).
Not bad for a 65-year-old woman, who wasn’t ashamed to state her age. In fact, she said it without being asked. To steal a line from L.L. Cool J, just don’t call her recent success a comeback.
“What comeback?” she asks. “I haven’t gone anywhere. We’ve been working. I just hadn’t had a record on the radio. People think you’ve vanished if you’re not on the radio. The Lord has kept us busy. I’m having the time of my life with my peers. I’m just blessed to be still working. I’m booked until 2006.”
A former Hoosier from Princeton, Gary Burton is world-renowned for his jazz mastery as a vibes player. His piano style, using four mallet vibes, was an innovative breakthrough. Legendary vibist Red Norvo pioneered the four-mallet style, but Burton had not heard of him until later in his career.
“I really had never heard Red. His records weren’t available when I was growing up. The only vibes player on record that was accessible was Milt Jackson. When I finally did get to know Red Norvo and hear a lot of his old records and see him play in person, I was struck by how similar my approach to the vibraphone was to his earlier style of playing. Ironically, he gave it up. He told me with great irony for him, ‘I stopped playing four mallets when Milt Jackson became so popular. Now when I see what you are doing I wish I could go back and start over again.’ I found a lot of kinship between what I had developed as a player and what Norvo had done back in the ’20s and ’30s.” The biggest influence in Burton’s highly stylized approach to playing vibes comes from pianists, especially Bill Evans.
“I heard more records by piano players and horn players than I did vibraphone players. Piano in particular is similar to vibes so I could relate to what piano players were doing and translate it over to the vibes. I took lessons on piano and the more I did that, the more the pianistic concept and perspective was sinking in and becoming my way of playing the vibes.” Burton’s recordings delve into country, rock, classical and Latin, and he has played with the likes of George Shearing, Stan Getz and Pat Metheny. His latest CD release on the Telarc label is Next Generation.
Burton says that discovering young players like those in his current band keeps him fresh. Appearing with him at the Indy Jazz Fest are the CD band of 17-year-old guitar prodigy Julian Lage, Vadim Neslovskyl on piano from the Ukraine, Luques Curtis on bass and James Williams on drums.
For over three decades, the hip four-part vocal stylings of the Manhattan Transfer have been the bridge combining jazz and pop. The group has been exceptionally stable through all of this time. Tim Hauser is the brain trust who founded and has guided the group. Under his guidance, Manhattan Transfer has accumulated numerous honors, including multiple Grammy Awards.
Hauser’s ever-fertile mind is not content to rest on the group’s past achievements. He welcomes new musical challenges.
“I think anybody who would say there are no more challenges has gotten tired of what they are doing. There are certain things I look at and say, ‘Can I do that?’ I always hope I can stay that way. When I don’t, it’s time to hang it up.” Janis Siegel and Cheryl Bentyne have both had multiple solo albums. Curiously, neither Hauser nor Alan Paul have had a feature solo album. Hauser said that’s about to change.
“I am halfway through my first solo recording. I am doing an album of very intimate love songs, some happy, some sad.”
There is a resurgence of the American Songbook, with rock and pop vocalists crossing over into jazz singing. As a result, many in the industry feel singers are saving jazz. Hauser agrees.
“I think right now definitely the focus is on singers. How long that is going to last I don’t know. I hope it lasts long enough until I get my album out.”
Manhattan Transfer’s latest CD, Vibrate, on the Telarc label, ranks as their most eclectic effort to date as Hauser leads his team into new contemporary challenges.
Trumpeter Chris Botti’s career has been steady and sure since his days of jazz studies at Indiana University under David Baker. Botti, who is now a well-established star in the smooth jazz world, acknowledges what his time at IU did for him.
“David Baker and my trumpet teacher Bill Adams — I am still to this day most grateful for the experience of being able to be around those two legendary music people. I am always thanking my stars.”
Botti has become a pop culture symbol thanks to his long touring career as a featured artist with Sting. Add to that extensive television exposure — from directing the band for the Carolyn Ray TV Show to numerous guest appearances on programs like the Today Show. He was honored last year as one of the 50 most beautiful persons by People Magazine.
“That whole thing, the pop culture aspect of being successful, is sort of the icing on the cake. The cake itself needs to be something you’re really proud of and the cake itself is the music and ultimately that is what I am most proud of.”
Botti’s latest release is When I Fall In Love, a total departure from his energetic, groove-oriented style of smooth jazz recording. This recording of great standard romantic ballads has been so well-received that it crossed over into the pop market and established Botti as a major ballad performer on trumpet.
“It’s my favorite kind of music. I like the slow stuff and it enables the trumpet sound to kind of luxuriously come through,” he said.
Botti’s band for the Indy Jazz Fest features Billy Kilson on drums, Mark Shulman on guitar, Frederico Keenia on keyboards and John Austin on bass. Botti said he will be playing energetic pieces and doing some songs from When I Fall In Love.