Is the Crispus Attucks Museum Indy's best-kept jazz secret? Not for long, hopefully. This week, we'll take a look at the museum, which is attached to a high school that has turned out generations of exceptional jazz talent, not to mention a few fine athletes along the way.
Once a segregated school, Crispus Attucks High School employed exceptional music teachers who helped launch the careers of internationally-known jazz legends J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton and the Montgomery brothers (Buddy, Monk and Wes). Local jazz legends Jimmy Coeand Alonzo "Pookie" Johnson also number among its graduates.
The museum houses a small stage that acts as a tribute to a popular local '40s and '50s jazz trio, The Three Souls, led by drummer Al Coleman. The display is complete with each member's instruments, as well as an outstanding portrait of trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.
Museum curator Robert L. Chester is passionate about his responsibility to preserve the jazz culture of Attucks, as well as Indy's jazz culture as a whole.
"We have here not only in our museum...not only three-dimensional objects, but numerous jazz tapes and recordings in a variety of formats," Chester said.
I was particularly impressed by a display spanning the entirety of a wall titled "Indianapolis Jazz Legends." The tribute contains no less than 30 framed charcoal portraits that cover two decades of local jazz artists.
The Indianapolis Public School system requires fourth grade classes to tour the museum as part of the curriculum, Chester said. "The students are just blown away when they see what we are all about. They really let us know how much they appreciate what we are doing here. That really is the greatest reward of all, when youngsters can relate and approve and are enamored with what we are doing."
Chester thinks the museum is doing unique work. "Our goal is not to compete with the big museums, but to be an undeniable force to be reckoned with right alongside of them," Chester said. "With all humility and a level of respect, I have no knowledge of anyone doing anything close to the level we are doing here at the Crispus Attucks Museum. With all due respect, I am aware there are other professionals doing a great job in their own area of expertise associated with this music of jazz in Indianapolis. None of them are anywhere near where we are with our experience or where we are heading. We hear we are the best-kept secret; we are diligently moving away from that title as far away as we can."
Crispus Attucks Museum, 1140 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Saturday, 12 to 5 p.m.
Admission: $5 adults; $2 youth 6 to 13, seniors over 65 and college students with ID; free for IPS students, teachers and parents.
Last week, Indy Jazz Fest announced several of the artists who will perform during the fest's six day, seven night run, which lasts from Sept. 11 to 17. Four venues are new to the festival this year: The Cabaret at the Columbia Club, the Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center at the University of Indianapolis, Connor Prairie and the Madame Walker Theatre. Opti-Park and Indianapolis Art Center will offer an expanded, 3-stage outdoor concert Saturday, Sept. 17 from 1 to 11 p.m.Tickets go on sale August 1, with VIP and week-long options available. The main stage will feature George Benson, Yellowjackets, the Rufus Reid Sextet with Steve Allee, Spyro Gyra and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. The Jazz Legacy Stage has The Melvin Rhyne Trio, Cathy Morris, WOW and The Indy Guitar Summit.
A major chapter of Indiana Avenue's history closed this month with the passing of "The Voice," Hazel Johnson Strong. Strong, who followed in the tradition of shouters like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, could fill a large room without any amplification.