The unexpected passing of jazz “drummist” Jack Gilfoy May 3 at age 68 was like the last beat of an era. Gilfoy, a masterful jazz drummer and director of jazz and business studies at IUPUI, was a master of any instrumental setting. Ever the versatile performer, Gilfoy spent 30 years as the drummer for Henry Mancini’s band, performed with pop acts from Sonny and Cher to Elvis, played with the Indianapolis Symphony and Bloomington Pops Orchestra and even provided the soundtrack to a few circuses.
Gilfoy, who earned a bachelor’s of music and master’s of education from Indiana University — making him the first jazz drummer to complete a degree in percussion at the university — was also a life-long student of the rhythms of the world. Many of his fellow percussionists knew about his collection of drums and percussive instruments. I remember the time I saw Prince Julius Adeniyi’s Drums of West Africa performing at the International Festival in their native African garb. Gilfoy stood near Adeniyi in resplendent African garb, happily pounding away on an African drum.
An astute businessman and audio engineer, Gilfoy formed his own record label, Naptown Records, and ran recording studios in Bloomington and Indianapolis. Gilfoy’s recordings span at least four decades, including some true surprises. One day in the studio, Gilfoy showed me a carefully packaged vinyl LP recording of a young man from Seymour that he produced named Johnny Cougar. It was John Mellencamp’s first recording.
Gilfoy was also passionate about passing on his love of jazz to students. He performed for years all over the state in Young Audiences concerts with his Jazz State of Indiana Quintet. Trumpeter Steve Robinette was part of that group and recently recalled a humorous moment that left Gilfoy speechless. “Our group of the Rev. Marvin Chandler, David Young, Steve Dokken, Jack and I were playing at a grade school in 1999 for Young Audiences,” Robinette said. “The performance day was also Duke Ellington’s 100th birthday celebration. Jack asked the audience if they knew who was 100 years old today. One kid said Elvis Presley. Then, another kid jumped and said, ‘You are.’ We were all so totally broken up with laughing we couldn’t play for five minutes, looking at a stunned Jack.”
Chandler, keyboardist for the quintet, reflects on Gilfoy’s commitment to jazz education: “Jack was very serious, I think, about education. I think he really felt, as I do, that jazz should really be a part of the educational process for young people. They need to know the history and significance of jazz as a part of the American culture.”
Indiana University professor of jazz studies David Baker shares that observation: “He’s somebody who’s a wonderful teacher, who knew the history of this music so well. That is why he played so well. He was one of the top drummers to come out to Indianapolis after spending all of those years with Henry Mancini. He is going to be sorely missed.”
A memorial service will be held Thursday, May 8 at Second Presbyterian Church, 7700 N. Meridian St., at 3 p.m.
Chatterbox owner David Andrichik announced that he’s taking jazz off the music schedule for Monday and Tuesday at his club.
“The last six months we have seen a significant drop off of all business whatsoever,” Andrichik explained. “Even my March and April were down 30 percent compared to last year.”
The unpredictable bad weather this year made a significant deficit in the Chatterbox’s income, because the club makes additional profits from patio seating, according to Andrichik.
“Monday and Tuesday have been so significantly slow, I had to be able to make a change to save a little money,” Andrichik continued. “It had nothing to do with the talent or the quality of the music. Our late night business during the music.”
This is the first time that the Chatterbox has reduced its output of live jazz. “I have only expanded music, I have never contracted it,” Andrichik stated.
Asked if live music would return with better weather, Andrichik’s reply was upbeat. “Yes, absolutely!” he said. “That is so much of our signature to have live music every day.”