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2007 Indy Jazz Fest features Al Green and other Grammy winners

Not only will the 2007 Indy Jazz Fest, presented by Kroger and organized by the American Pianists Association, feature Grammy Award-winning gospel and R&B star Al Green, among more than a dozen other jazz artists, but the annual musical celebration has also “gone greener” this year in his honor. Biodiesel fuel-powered generators will burn cleaner, and a recycling team from Keep Indianapolis Beautiful will encourage conscious living during the festival.

Musical highlights will include Women in Jazz tribute performances, which open the festivities Friday night, June 15, and appearances by artists such as Bela Fleck, Somi and Spyro Gyra throughout the weekend. But the leading appeal of Jazz Fest is hearing global cultures blend musically over three nights of performances spanning Afro-Cuban rhythms to the blues to good old jazz standards. Al Green may even throw in a little soul.

Al Green

Saturday, June 16
APA Stage, 9:30-11 p.m.

Indy Jazz Fest’s headliner Saturday night has touched hearts and helped bring couples together. Now the Rev. Al Green is combining hearts and souls, and he shows no signs of stopping.

“The music does seem to be timeless,” Green says. “I don’t know what Willie [Mitchell, producer] did [to my songs]. He must have put some ‘dabba dabba do’ on them (laughs). I was doing a show in Trinidad. I sang ‘I-I-I,’ and the whole crowd sang, ‘I’m so in love with you.’ They all knew it.”

The song the Trinidadians sang was “Let’s Stay Together,” which was also used in the film Pulp Fiction, helping bring a new audience to Green’s music.

“I hear about little kids borrowing their parents’ records,” he says. “People tell me all the time, ‘We grew up to your music.’… Did you know the Greatest Hits album has been on the charts for 11 years? Willie got a plaque from Billboard, and none of us knew it.”

What a Greatest Hits collection it is, including “Take Me to the River” (later covered by the Talking Heads), “Love and Happiness,” “Tired of Being Alone” and “Here I Am (Come and Take Me).” How about his versions of “How Can You Mend a Broken Heart,” “To Sir with Love,” “For the Good Times” and “I Can’t Get Next to You”? All of these titles are on albums from Hi-Records.

“I sing it from a gut feeling. Willie, Al [Jackson, famed Stax drummer] and I — we didn’t know this music would last forever,” Green says. “We didn’t know we’d be creeping into bed chambers late at night for over 30 years.”

Yes, he brought it up first. His music may have helped populate the globe.

“I’ve been told that all the time,” he says. “I was in L.A. the other day, and this really nice lady showed me a picture of a beautiful girl. Then she said, ‘Look what you made me do!’ (laughs) I hugged the picture and said, ‘That’s a good thing. That’s a part of you.’”

Green was one of the top soul singers and sex symbols of the 1970s. In 1973, at the height of his musical (and sensual) powers, he had a vision of the Lord. By the end of the 1970s, he left soul music behind and turned to gospel, even opening his own church in Memphis, Tenn. He wound up winning eight Grammy Awards in the gospel category.

In 2003, Green signed with Blue Note Records and teamed up with longtime producer Willie Mitchell to record “I Can’t Stop.” Green co-produced Everything’s OK in 2005. Songs like “Build Me Up,” “Perfect to Me” and “Real Love” seem spiritual in nature.

“I just wrote them. I’m an ‘inspiration’ person, as it is … I don’t sit down and write a song thinking, ‘This one’s about a woman,’ or, ‘This one’s about the Lord.’ I just write about the good times and [am] thankful for those times,” he says.

Green says the last few years have been great to showcase his soul and gospel music in the same show. Last year on Super Bowl Sunday, this reporter attended a service at Green’s church in Memphis. The two-and-a-half-hour service included an hour-plus sermon by Green. The music was serious, hand-clapping gospel. When tourists wanting to see the star left early, Green would say to them, “I’m sorry, I’m not singing that today [briefly sings start of ‘Let’s Stay Together’ and ‘Love and Happiness’]. I did that last night.”

Besides the reissue of his 1977 album, The Belle Album (his final ’70s soul album before going gospel), Green has three projects coming up including a new soul album, a new gospel album and an R&B album with possible dips into jazz.

“I’m talking with the Duke Ellington orchestra about that one,” Green says.

And he’s more than happy that people are still paying attention to the new music he’s making and his songs of the past, which he says he doesn’t get bored performing.

“I know. It’s baby-making music,” Green says. “It’s about the fireplace, open some white wine, put on a little Al Green and (sings) ‘Lay your head / upon my pillow ...’ [from ‘For the Good Times’].”

Green says his performance at this year’s Indy Jazz Fest will combine past and present musical passions.

“We’re gonna slow the pace down a little bit,” he says. “Don’t expect every song from Greatest Hits, but you’ll hear songs that I think would make an album a loss if it didn’t have it. Something like ‘Have You Been Making Out OK’ [from Call Me] is a song that holds the album. You’ll also get ‘Amazing Grace,’ ‘Let’s Stay Together’ [and] ‘Take Me To The River.’”

Get ready for a mesh of Saturday night soul and Sunday morning gospel. Bring your own white wine and take your chances.

—Matthew Socey

Matthew Socey is host of The Blues House Party, Saturdays at 10 p.m. on WFYI 90.1 FM.



Jazz Central Stage

7:15-8:15 p.m.

Jazz pianist Hiromi can play a piano with energy like she’s shoving you against the wall. Then on her next song, she plays softly and with grace. Taking piano lessons at age 6, the Shizuoka, Japan, native started performing publicly at age 12. Two years later, she road tripped to Czechoslovakia to perform with the Czech Philharmonic. At age 17, she played with Chick Corea (who’ll headline with Bela Fleck at Indy Jazz Fest on Sunday, June 17). Her influences for songwriting run the board from other musicians (Ahmad Jamal) to professional athletes to cinematic martial arts masters Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. (Check out “Kung-Fu World Champion” from Brain.)

Besides jazz improvisation, Hiromi stirs rock and electronica with her music. She signed with Telarc in 2003. Her albums, Another Mind, Brain and Spiral, have been the mixture of pace and styles. Her new album, Sonicboom/Time Control, features all songs dealing with the themes of time. In her mid 20s, Hiromi has all the time in the jazz world.


APA Stage

Monika Herzig & A Tribute to Women in Jazz
6:30-7:15 p.m.

Monika Herzig is a comprehensive jazz artist, a pianist, an award-winning composer, a bandleader, a music educator and even a record label owner with her partner, Peter Kienle. With a doctorate in music education and jazz studies from Indiana University, where she now teaches, she has been recognized for her compositional skills.

Herzig has released four CDs — one with critical acclaim, for In Your Own Sweet Voice — A Tribute to Women Composers. She is an advocate for women in jazz and a tireless performer in various groups.

Equally as passionate about jazz education for the general public as she is about performing, Herzig has appeared in jazz festivals throughout the Midwest and in regional jazz clubs. She will lead an all-women jazz group, opening this year’s Jazz Fest.

—Chuck Workman

Chuck Workman is the producer/host of the Saturday Evening Jazz Show from 6-8 p.m. on 88.7 WICR FM.

Regina Carter
8:15-9:15 p.m.

Regina Carter, a pioneering jazz violinist who leads her own quintet, works actively as an educator and mentor of the Suzuki method. Most notably, Carter was the first jazz artist to play on the cherished Cannone Guanerius violin of Paganini, and she later recorded After a Dream on the same instrument.

Carter owes switching to jazz to singer Carla Cook. “Carla got tickets to see Stephane Grapelli live in Detroit. A live concert is what really pushed me over the edge,” she says. “The biggest attachment for me was the fact that the musicians could improvise in their own voice and tell their story and I really wanted to do that.”


Sherrie Maricle & the DIVA Jazz Orchestra with Nnenna Freelon and Rachael Price
9:30-10:30 p.m.

For 15 years, drummer Sherrie Maricle has been leading DIVA, a concert jazz ensemble of 16 women in one of the most exciting forms of big band jazz. Maricle admits that there have been times during DIVA’s existence that there were not enough qualified women jazz instrumentalists to fill all of the band positions. “DIVA is not just for women any more, we have had some men players many times,” Maricle says. “The music is very challenging and we would never compromise the musical standards of the band based on gender.”





Jazz Central Stage

Mike Milligan & Steam Shovel
3:30-4:15 p.m.

Mike Milligan & Steam Shovel played last at Indy’s Jazz Fest in 2002. Now the trio is back to bring their Kokomo boogie to town.

“It was great the last time, and this year it’s going to be a lot of fun, too,” Milligan says.

Since their last Jazz Fest appearance, the band won the International Blues Talent competition at the Slippery Noodle Inn. This led to a trip to the finals in Memphis, Tenn.

“After that, things took off. We got a taste in our mouths to travel. We also made a lot of contacts,” he says. “We started hitting every place between Hartford [and] Austin. We [even] played at the original Antone’s.”

MM&SS have released four albums (All My Life, If You Don’t Change, When I Get There and Live), all guitar-driven blues. On the 2004 Live album, Milligan covers Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Goin’ On” and “Love and Happiness” by Al Green (headlining Saturday, June 16 at this year’s Jazz Fest).

Expect to hear new material from MM&SS during their performance. The band is hoping to hit the studio to record a new album, a follow up to Live, which was recorded at the Slippery Noodle Inn.


5:30-6:30 p.m.

An exciting new voice, Somi embraces jazz and West African culture. Born of Rwandan and Ugandan parents in Illinois and raised in Africa and America, she is an accomplished composer with her own distinct vocal sound and a style that she can deliver in seven languages.

Somi defies categorization, but jazz does enter all of her music.

“I think in many ways my music has the foundations of jazz, [but] in no way am I a jazz purist or do I consider myself a jazz vocalist,” Somi says. “What I love about [it] is I think it’s the only genre that is kind of home for my work. Jazz does give you the opportunity to improvise and the space to find your own voice.”

Somi has a magnificent voice that resonates with a tonal purity. She represents all that is blending African traditions, jazz and soul into a new global sound.


7:30-8 p.m.

There’s an exciting new jazz sound coming out of Indianapolis, a city that’s known for producing jazz icons like J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard and Wes Montgomery.

Five men of three diverse musical cultures banded to form ORI, a Nigerian word that means “voice within our heads.”

ORI’s leader is bass guitarist, percussionist and vocalist Tony Artis, who’s spent years studying with the masters in Cuba. The nerve center for ORI, Joe Galvin, is a brilliant steel pan player. Saxophonist Fareed Mahluli completes the front line and is also director of Indiana University’s renowned Soul Revue. Rounding out the highly flexible rhythm section are Raul Pedro on drums, percussion and vocals, and Andre Rosa Artis on congas, percussion and vocals.

The musical stories told in their songs represent a fresh jazz approach to blending Afro-Cuban or Puerto Rican rhythms, bomba and Brazilian bossa nova/samba on jazz standards and even the blues.


Frank Smith
9-9:30 p.m.

Indianapolis jazz bassist Frank Smith is one of the go-to guys in the city’s jazz scene. After playing and recording with numerous local and national acts, Smith finally released a solo album, Chasing Chances.

“I was talking to Steve Allee [pianist and album co-producer], and he heard some of my songs, telling me I should put out a CD,” Smith says. “I thought, ‘No,’ because everyone and their cousin has a CD these days. He really believed in developing these songs. I owe it to Steve.”

Smith spent time playing jazz in New York City, performing on numerous cruise ships with everyone from Florence Henderson to the Fifth Dimension to Carl Anderson. He returned to Indianapolis in 1998. After numerous sessions with other players, Smith was ready to take the reigns.

His album, Chasing Chances, mostly original material, includes “College 54” (about a certain intersection in town), the breezy “Rio Wonder” (based on his first trip to Brazil) and “Stars Over Curacao.” The lone cover, “If I Only Had a Brain,” features Cynthia Layne on vocals. Steve Allee, Kenny Phelps, Charlie Smith and Kevin Kaiser round out the group. Layne, Rob Dixon, Mike Stricklin, Bethany Dunlap, Marcos Cavalcante, Mark Buselli, David Allee and Rich Dole also make appearances.

“I was very fortunate to have all these great players on this album,” Smith says. “It is an Indianapolis jazz album. I can’t believe everyone wanted to participate. It’s a CD full of leaders.”


APA Stage

Monk Legacy Septet
4:15-5:30 p.m.

Drummer Ben Riley heads up the Monk Legacy Septet, a tribute to jazz icon Thelonius Monk. Riley, a product of the ’50s bebop movement, was noted for his ability to add the right textures to a session or recording. During that period, he worked with the likes of Sonny Stitt, Stan Getz and Woody Herman. It was his three-year stint in the highly regarded Thelonius Monk Quartet from which he gained fame, however. Riley was also a founding member of an ’80s tribute band to Monk, Sphere, with Charlie Rouse, Kenny Barron and Buster Williams.


McCoy Tyner Trio
6:30-7:30 p.m.

Jazz pianist McCoy Tyner is a quintessential jazz artist with a distinguished career. With more than 80 albums in his name, he has acquired four Grammy Awards and was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2002. Spending five years as a member of the groundbreaking John Coltrane Quartet, he developed his percussive piano technique.

Tyner is a tireless force in expanding the walls of jazz. He has worked with his quintet in composing for a 14-piece big band but currently performs in a trio setting. He also arranges for strings and unique interpretations of pop music. A prime example is his classic recording of the music of Burt Bachrach with a full symphony orchestra.


Spyro Gyra
8-9 p.m.

Spyro Gyra has been laying a 30-year trail of contemporary jazz. As one of the pioneering forces in the genre, the group has gathered nine Grammy nominations and sold over 11 million records, including one platinum and two gold records. Spyro Gyra’s signature tune is the happy calypso “Morning Dance” that has endured since the early ’80s.

Founder/saxophonist Jay Beckenstein wants something new. “There was a thing that started in the ’90s for us — a kind of running away from ‘Morning Dance.’ There’s a constant effort in the band to do CDs that don’t sound like CDs from the past,” he says. “We tried to slant the thing in a more jazz direction at the time.”

Spyro Gyra’s latest CD, Good to Go-Go, which will be released June 12, is a return to that calypso sound. The group’s new drummer from Trinidad, Bonny Bonaparte, has definitely given the music a new vibe. According to Beckenstein, “Bonny is a force to be reckoned with. He is an incredible drummer [and] he sings beautifully.” What’s old is new on Spyro Gyra’s Good to Go-Go. It’s an island beach party sound that may be the new “Morning Dance.”


Al Green
9:30-11 p.m.

See interview by Matthew Socey.



Jazz Central Stage

Cool City Swing Band
3:30-4:30 p.m.

This year the Cool City Swing Band will make its Indy Jazz Fest debut. Roy Geesa (band leader and pianist) says the CCSB, born in 1999, is ready to help remind folks that big band or swing music never went out of style.

“It’s come a long way,” Geesa says. “The music keeps evolving … This music is a revival of an old style.”

Geesa describes the band as “a little more sports car of a band — more compact and quicker than most big bands.” They will bring four horns, four rhythm players and two singers: Jimmy Guilford and Shannon Forsell.

“You know when Jimmy Guilford was 15 years old, he sang with Hoagy Carmichael. He then evolved into a doo-wop singer,” Geesa says. “What you get with Jimmy is the soul and anguish in his voice … He has real artistic integrity.”

He then praised Forsell.

“She’s an absolute performer, a total professional,” Geesa says. “She’ll embrace the audience with her singing. She’s blood and guts for details. She wants to make sure everything is right.”

The band covers music from the 1940s (Duke, Count) to the horn-oriented bands of the ’70s (James Brown, Average White Band) to the music of today (Norah Jones) with two different vocalists.

“We know there will be some hard-core jazz listeners,” he says. “Certainly there’s enough music in our group to please everyone. There’s plenty to adequate space for solos. We’re not a wedding band doing covers. I got a feeling we’ll please everyone,” Geesa says.


Dan Tepfer
APA Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz
5-6 p.m.

Jazz pianist Dan Tepfer has had a career boost recently thanks to Indianapolis. The 25-year-old musician won this year’s American Pianists Association Cole Porter Fellowship Award in April. Because of the win, he’s appearing at Indy Jazz Fest with his trio.

“It’s fantastic. It’s been great. This came at a great time in my career,” Tepfer says. “It offers the best prize I know. On top of money, they [the APA] go out of their way to advance [my] career.

“It’s funny, because when you see performers, you only see one tiny side of them,” he continues. “I love seeing other people play in other settings. They sound like themselves, but they make themselves whatever happens, musically … I want to do music first and then form an identity.”

Tepfer was born and raised in Paris (with American parents) and spent summers in Oregon with his grandfather, also a jazz musician.

“That’s what really got me, not by pressure but by power of example,” he says. “I started taking classical lessons at 6 at the Paris Conservatory and pretty much improvised right away. I saw my grandfather do it and figured I could do it.”

Tepfer will bring bassist Jorge Roeder and drummer Richie Barshay to Indy, part of his trio of four years. They recorded Before the Storm in 2005.

“We’re still the same players, but we have evolved,” Tepfer says. “We’re not born again or [have] entered a new dimension. We’ve had a natural progression. They’re both really great musicians, and we grew up together.”

Expect a lot of originals and some standards arranged by Tepfer. The trio has even been known to play a pop tune or two.

“We’ve been doing ‘Billie Jean.’ No, really!” he says. “It’s a bluesy tune about a dark subject. Yeah, I’m going to moonwalk while playing.”


James Hunter
7-8 p.m.

English gentleman James Hunter likes to combine blues and soul. It’s not all guitar wanking, and it’s not the umpteenth version of “Sweet Home Chicago” or “Mustang Sally.” The musicianship and his vocals are there, as is his songwriting.

Like the generation before him (Clapton, Mayall and the original Fleetwood Mac), Hunter was turned onto American soul and blues at a young age. A favorite on the English and European festival circuit, Hunter recorded Believe What I Say (Ace) in 1996. Five years later, he recorded Kick It Around (Ruf). His music has started getting attention in the United States.

His album, People Gonna Talk (Rounder), was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Traditional Blues Album category earlier this year. The album also received a nomination for Soul Blues Album of the Year at the Blues Foundation’s Blues Music Awards. Hunter was also nominated for Best New Artist.


APA Stage

Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra High School All Stars
4:30-5 p.m.

Mark Buselli of the Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra will direct the fifth edition of the Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra’s All Star Jazz Ensemble. This highly skilled group of high school instrumentalists is selected by local band directors’ recommendations. The candidates are chosen in September, and music charts are sent to them in November. The ensemble met in January for rehearsals at Butler University in Indianapolis.

Leading them is Buselli, an exceptional jazz trumpeter, composer and arranger who has released two CDs. He also heads jazz studies at Butler University and was recently named the new director of jazz studies at Ball State University. A clinician for Conn/Selmer and the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, Buselli has also played with Artie Shaw, the Benny Goodman Tribute Band, Natalie Cole and Vic Damone. He accepted a 2007 NUVO Cultural Vision Award in May on behalf of the Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, which he co-founded with Brent Wallarab.


Yerba Buena
6-7 p.m.

Yerba Buena is a Latin-funk/Afrobeat outfit from New York City. Musician/producer Andres Levin (who has worked with Tina Turner, Arto Lindsay and Marisa Monte) assembled a band of nine (including three singers and two drummers) to take the passion of the islands and the energy of New York to create music that will satisfy a wide variety of people, no matter what you call the musical genre. Latin hip-hop? Afro-Cuban? Afro-pop? Buena Vista Social Club meets Broad Ripple? Who cares? No matter what’s it called, Yerba Buena’s music cools down the daytime and lights up the night.

The band opened for Dave Matthews before signing with Razor & Tie Records in 2003.

Albums like Con Ritmo Y Sentimiento helped cinch their reputation. President Alien was nominated for a Grammy. The band’s latest release is Island Life. Yerba Buena’s live show will get people up and dancing — even the rhythmically challenged.


Chick Corea & Bela Fleck
8-9 p.m.

Chick Corea has amassed an impressive amount of jazz firsts. Along the way, he has had 45 Grammy nominations and has won 12 Grammy Awards in his diverse four-decade career. His reputation blossomed as a jazz/rock fusion pioneer with his popular ’70s group, Return to Forever. Corea is a prolific composer penning jazz classics “Spain” and “Tones for Joan’s Bones,” among his other numerous tunes. Now he has recorded his latest CD, a duo effort with the eclectic banjoist Bela Fleck (also a multiple Grammy winner whom he is currently touring with). Both of these virtuosos will headline Sunday, June 17 at the Indy Jazz Fest.


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