If it’s Father’s Day, it must be time for this city’s annual celebration of America’s gift to the world: jazz. Indy Jazz Fest is a three-day musical feast that brings some of the best musicians in the world together to play jazz in all its many guises. That so many of these musicians have learned and practice their art right here in Indianapolis — one of jazz’s great proving grounds — only adds to Jazz Fest’s natural strut. This is the weekend where Indy opens its doors and welcomes everybody to what amounts to a great family reunion.
And like all good family reunions, this one, produced by the American Pianists Association and presented by Kroger, will also feature plenty of good food and drink, not to mention the green grass of Military Park. It doesn’t matter what the weather report says, Indy Jazz Fest is one of this city’s coolest weekends of the year.
WHAT: Indy Jazz Fest
WHEN: June 16-18
WHERE: Military Park in White River State Park
TICKETS: $25 per day in advance and $35 per day at the gate. Three-day passes are $55 in advance (not available at the festival). Children 14 years and under will be admitted free when accompanied by a ticket-holding adult. Tickets are available at all Central Indiana Ticketmaster locations, the Murat Centre Box Office, online at www.ticketmaster.com or www.murat.com, or charge by phone by calling 317-239-5151.
Friday, June 16 at 6 p.m. on the Jazz Central Stage
Singer/songwriter Jennie DeVoe has been very busy lately. On July 8, she will be releasing a live DVD called Fifth and Main, recorded on Nov. 5 at the Muncie Civic Theatre.
“There will be some new songs on it and hopefully this year there will be a new record and a Christmas record,” she said.
DeVoe said the new album would plunge her into the roots category of record stores everywhere — a leap from the singer/songwriter or rock or local bins.
“I’ve been listening to a lot of Louis Armstrong and Billie Holiday lately and then trying to write. There’s still some rock and some rootsy rock. There will be some mandolin, accordion and some national steel. Real earthy instruments. Timeless instruments. It will be very fun. I can picture it.”
DeVoe said her career vision is clearer than ever.
“I already like this album better than my other work. I like each one better, but I feel like I grew up more with this one. I now have the ability to say what I’m picturing a lot easier. On this record, I felt like I got what I really asked for from a producer and a band. I’ve learned to not be afraid to ask for what you want. If you really can picture what you want, don’t settle for less.”
Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra with NEA jazz master Jimmy Heath
Saturday, June 17 at 4:30 p.m. on the APA Stage
The Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra has played at every Indy Jazz Fest. The band has performed its versions of the work of Miles Davis and Duke Ellington, among others. Now the BWJO will be backing up this year’s National Endowment for the Arts jazz master tenor saxophonist Jimmy Heath.
Jimmy Heath is the middle of the famous Heath Brothers (with bassist Percy and drummer Tootie). Jimmy has appeared on over 100 albums, 12 as a leader and seven with his brothers. He has also taught jazz in colleges and in workshops across North America and Europe.
“He’s one of jazz’s greatest tenor saxophone players,” Buselli said. “The man played with Dizzy Gillespie and has some great history. When Joel [Harrison, the festival’s artistic director] told me Jimmy was going to be on the bill and he felt we were the only band up for the task was us I was thrilled,” he said.
This will be the orchestra’s first time playing with Heath. Don’t expect a Chuck Berry approach, where the name artist sees the band for the first time on stage, says, “Follow me” and just starts playing.
“Jimmy is sending me the music and I’ll look at it. We’re going to have a rehearsal that morning before the performance,” he said.
The BWJO will be keeping a low profile for most of the summer and popping up for shows in August. The band will be releasing a Christmas album later this year.
“We recorded the whole album in one day. Ten to five with an hour for lunch. It went real smooth,” he said.
Rob Dixon & Trilogy
Friday, June 16 at 7 p.m. on the APA Stage
Jazz saxman Rob Dixon has shifted from sideman to frontman with his solo debut What Things Could Be (Owl Studios). Dixon fuses jazz, soul and a splash of hip-hop and spoken word. The album is more of a well-produced open stage than an album, and that’s a compliment.
Dixon said he drew some inspiration from jazz artists expanding their sound in the electric and/or hip-hop region (Roy Hargrove and Joshua Redman), but wanted to go beyond.
“The record started out as a blending of music like neo-soul and hip-hop and jazz, but during the recording process it took a life of its own. You can call it soul-jazz or hip-hop jazz, but I think it is what it is. I’m hoping people feel the same way,” Dixon said.
Dixon spent six years in New York before returning to Indiana. He did session work with groups as diverse as DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest), Illinois Jacquet and The Jazz Prophets.
“I’ve been on a lot of other people’s records just being a sideman. I’ve never had the financing to do my own record until now,” Dixon said. “I’ve been wanting to do my own record for 10 years. I’m sure it would have sounded a lot different than what I did record. I worked on a spoken word project for Weldon Irving. I got into writing for Cynthia Layne [who appears on two songs]. I’ve been drawing inspiration everywhere,” he said.
Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Sunday, June 18 at 3 p.m. on the APA Stage
There is no tradition more ingrained in this nation’s jazz history than the New Orleans brass band. No band has spread that tradition across the land and around the world more than the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
DDBB has been performing for three decades, and during that time it led the brass band tradition into a more contemporary mode by mixing bebop and R&B into traditional tunes. That opened the door for other and younger groups to help sustain the brass band legacy.
Baritone saxophonist Roger Lewis has been with DDBB most of the way and gave me his insights in a phone conversation about the DDBB’s musical journey. “I have seen a growth in brass bands all over the world, Second Line Music has always been there. It makes me feel good when I hear all of these young guys playing our style of music. Some of these young guys don’t even know where it comes from. These young guys really don’t know the history of the music that they are playing. They don’t realize they are playing a lot of Dirty Dozen stuff,” he said.
Musically, DDBB has changed in some ways in the rhythm section. Lewis revealed that DDBB will release this August their version of a remake of Marvin Gaye’s classic hits.
When I asked Lewis about the Katrina event that has impacted all of their lives, he was very philosophical. “What are you going to do, you have lost a lot of your history of things you have collected over the years. But most important is you have got your family and you have got your life and that’s what it is.”
Saturday, June 17 at 3 p.m. on the Jazz Central Stage
There are very few a cappella vocal groups performing in jazz today. Groove Society is one of those rarities.
Their sound encompasses a wide range of music from bebop, blues, funk, Latin and rock, all performed with a warmth of feeling.
As a working group, Groove Society is 5 years old and was formed at the University of Northern Colorado School of Music. They are led by the wife-and-husband team of Bianca and Joe Herbert. The musicians that make up the group are all instrumentalists, according to the Groove Society spokesperson, Bianca Herbert.
One noticeable aspect of Groove Society is how the vocal parts are delivered like big band arrangements. “My husband Joe is the primary arranger for our group. He has played trumpet most of his life, so you hear a lot of those trumpet sounds coming out of what we do. He definitely pulls that into the intro of events of what we do conceptually into the whole thing,” she said.
Each member of the group can imitate an instrument sound from bass to cymbals to mimicking horns and drums, adding an ear-catching distinctive sound to a tune. I asked Bianca, of all the jazz vocal groups, which is the favorite of Groove Society? “Clearly The New York Voices — they definitely inspired us in what we do. You hear a lot of the same harmonies in what we do.” Bianca added, “Our strongest center is jazz and that the market out there is really embracing jazz again so we are definitely going down that road.”
Groove Society has a new self-titled CD available.
Adam Birnbaum Trio
Sunday, June 18 at 4:30 p.m. on the Jazz Central Stage
This year marks the third straight time New York piano guy Adam Birnbaum has played at Indy Jazz Fest.
“It’s been great,” he said. “It’s been a great opportunity and a great venue. I’m feeling more confident,” he said.
The 27-year-old studied jazz at Julliard and has already recorded two albums plus numerous sessions.
Birnbaum said he still has a lifetime ahead of him as a musician.
“You have such pressure on you to win anything. After the APA, I didn’t want to rest. You don’t want to think that you ‘made it.’ You can’t do that living in New York. Everyone is knocking you, but in a good way. You can’t get lazy.”
Birnbaum also wants to keep concentrating on his trio, which has been getting more attention lately.
“Some of my favorite jazz albums of all time are trios. Chick Corea’s Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. Herbie Hancock with Ron Carter and Tony Williams. Bill Evans, Ahmad Jamal. There’s so much room in the trio. For me it’s ideal.”
Friday, June 16 at 4:30 p.m. on the APA Stage
Jimmy Heath, saxophonist/composer-arranger, author and educator, is one of the most respected artists in jazz. His distinguished music career earned him the prestigious NEA Jazz Master honor.
With a career that spans five decades, he was at the forefront of the bebop revolution with his renowned brothers, bassist Percy Heath and drummer Albert “Tootie” Heath. Miles Davis, an exceptional soloist greatly influenced by Charlie Parker and a prolific composer, rated him ahead of John Coltrane. Heath has an impressive discography of critically acclaimed recordings under his name, where his love of playing was consistently at a very high level of professionalism of hard bop.
He is as passionate about composing as playing, something he still feels strongly about today. “I love it; it is still a dual love affair between writing and performing. I am doing a lot of composing today and I am bringing a lot of new pieces to the Indy Jazz Fest that haven’t been heard. I also have a big band recording that is coming out in September of all new big band music,” he said.
Heath retired from teaching in 1999 at the Aaron Copeland School of Music, Queens College and now just conducts master classes around the country. He will hold a free 90-minute Jazz Master Workshop Friday, June 16 at 2 p.m. at Jazz Works ... Pass It On! at the Junior Achievement Ed Center, 7435 N. Keystone Ave. That same afternoon, Jimmy Heath will be the featured guest artist with the Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra from 4:30 to 6 p.m. on the APA Stage of the Indy Jazz Fest.
Friday, June 16 at 7:30 p.m. on the Jazz Central Stage
Ilona Knopfler may not be a household name for most jazz fans, but once you hear this strikingly attractive vocalist you realize she is more than just a pretty face. She has all of the traits it takes to be an exceptional jazz vocalist.
Knopfler could be called a citizen of the world, traveling with her musician parents. Born in Paris, she was singing professionally at 15 in Hong Kong, where she fell in love with jazz.
She credits Al Jarreau as her major influence. “The biggest impact he had on me, I listened to this man pour out his heart and soul on stage or in a studio and express himself so freely. It was so intimidating because I felt like it would have been like me going on stage naked. Ultimately, this is the point I want to get to, but I hope l never get there because I wouldn’t have anything to look forward to.”
Though Knopfler now resides in Atlanta, Ga., she candidly recalled what moving to New York did for her music career. “It changed my entire life as a jazz vocalist. It definitely put me back in my place in a lot of ways. Living in the middle of it was kind of an earthquake feeling to me.”
Her CD Live the Life has been praised by the jazz critics.
Friday, June 16 at 5:30 p.m. on the APA Stage
This Indianapolis band specializes in music from South America. The band dabbles in Brazilian music, sambas, bossas and even samba reggae. Singer Elizabeth Souza calls samba reggae the quick aggression of samba and the slow, laid-back cool of reggae.
“When you think about Latin music, you think about salsa. We’re along the lines of a Cuban style. Our music is more influenced by Afro-beats. There’s a lot of African influences in our music. We have a large variety of rhythms to explore,” Souza said.
The name comes from the famous beach in Rio de Janeiro and not the Stan Getz/Joao Gilbreto hit “The Girl From Ipanema.”
Is that song in your head now?
“Ipanema is a beautiful beach,” Souza said. “It’s a beautiful walk, a beautiful place to hang out. A magical, beautiful place. You can eat fried fish and drink some beer. You can say I’m the girl from Ipanema since I’m the only female in the band.”
Depending on the venue (festival, corporate, club), many of the songs on the set list can be performed in English, Spanish or Portuguese. Whether it’s background atmosphere for the suits or an Indy Jazz Fest, the band delivers a unique sound.
“This music is so well-accepted. It’s been good for us to get calls from Cincinnati, Chicago and Michigan and they tell us, ‘We don’t have this here, so you gotta come.’”
Afro-caribbean All Stars
Friday, June 16 at 9 p.m. on the APA Stage
Eddie Palmieri is acknowledged as Latin jazz’s premier pianist. For nine straight years, between 1978 to 1987, he was nominated for multiple Grammy Awards. During this period, Palmieri started blending salsa with jazz improvisation, Spanish vocals and R&B with pop and rock. He worked with major record companies during this period, but in spite of his artistic success, he was never able to get a crossover hit.
Palmieri has some concerns about music trends and its impact on salsa and Latin jazz. “The salsa was hurt in the sense of now what they call hip-hop; all of these types of things have taken away a certain portion of spread of the salsa music.”
He is also concerned about the new recording technology. “It’s unfortunate, there is nothing like recording, for me, live with the whole orchestra at the same time. That’s the way that I personally love to record. I believe that you create another kind of wonderful warmth and feeling when you have that interaction.”
Palmieri is looking forward to an extended tour this summer all over Europe and Russia. He is glad he has embraced Latin jazz; it is opening a whole new market for him.
He will bring a Latin jazz septet with him called the Afro-Caribbean All Stars of jazz and Latin heavyweight names such as Brian Lynch, Conrad Herwig, Donald Harrison and Joe Santiago, to name a few.
Saturday, June 17 at 8:45 p.m. on the Jazz Central Stage
The jazz violin of Cathy Morris is pleasantly unpredictable. She’s released several jazz albums and, most recently, a Latin jazz album. What band will she be bringing to Indy Jazz Fest?
“This summer it’s my Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed and Something Blue,” she said. “Yes, it’s a music marriage of my career. I’m pulling from my book of originals that I’ve created over the last 10 years and I’ll be debuting a couple of new tunes. There will be a sample of each album plus the Latin CD.”
Morris will be releasing a new album in July, a duo project with her keyboard-playing brother.
“We just finished recording all-original music. We didn’t write down one note. We just recorded it. It’s like Sufi poetry.”
She recently appeared as a special guest at the American Cabaret Theatre’s production of Divas, where she showed off her vocal talents. Any chance of Morris singing at this year’s festival?
“I might do a little bit of singing. Do you think I should?” she asked laughing.
Saturday, June 17 at 7 p.m. on the APA Stage
East Coast-based brothers, drummer Alan Evans and B-3 organist Neal Evans, crafted a different sound for the organ trio over five years ago. Guitarist Eric Krasno rounds out the group. Their format is groove-oriented instrumental funky dance music similar to the soul jazz movement of the ’60s.
With three recordings under its belt for the renowned Blue Note record label, the band is building a reputation, especially among young listeners, for its quasi jam band approach to a mainstream sound.
Alan Evans gave us his outlook on defining Soulive and the message the trio wants to give its listeners. “We enjoy seeing people having a good time. The jazz thing is definitely one part of our show and one thing we are trying to get people to feel. The new direction we are going in as of late is definitely more of a rock thing, like I have said, the soul is always there. No matter what we play I think it’s always going to be a little groove to it, you will be able to dance to it. Whether it’s more of a jazz-oriented thing or a rock-oriented thing, the soul of it is always there.”
Governor Davis and The Blues Ambassadors
Saturday, June 17 at 2:30 p.m. on the APA Stage
Governor Davis and The Blues Ambassadors are celebrating their 15th year together. Davis brings the blues of Chicago to Indiana. Davis, Allen Banks, guitarist Steve Robbins and drummer Ron Coffman bring a blues party with them wherever they go.
There’s an old new member recently added to the group: Bassist Allen Banks replaces Jimmy V, who joined Kelly Richey’s band. Banks, a Blues Ambassador in 1997, is all too familiar with Davis and his Indianapolis blues boogie.
Permagrin with Pat Harbison
Sunday, June 18 at 2:30 p.m. on the Jazz Central Stage
Permagrin is comprised of Louis Romanos (drums and sampling) and Dan Sumner (guitar and loops), an instrumental duo from New Orleans who cook up jazz, classical, rock and any other style of music they feel like adding to their musical pot. Having just recorded its third album, this two-man band creates complex, layered music that engages the senses.
At Indy Jazz Fest, trumpeter Pat Harbison will join Permagrin. A music instructor at Indiana University, Harbison has also recorded three albums (Conspiracy Theory, A Road Less Traveled and After All). He’s also written several jazz and music instructional books. Harbison’s three decades of teaching/playing mixed with Permagrin should make for a unique session of trio jazz.
Sunday, June 18 at 6 p.m. on the APA Stage
Dr. John is one of those rare artists that no one can guess what his next album will be like. The man who brought the funk (or as he calls it, the “fonk”) to New Orleans has a new album to add to his unpredictability.
Mercenary (Blue Note) is an album devoted to the music of songwriter Johnny Mercer. Songs like “Blues In The Night,” “You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby,” “Personality,” “That Old Black Magic” and “Moon River” are given a tour of the Lower 911. The results are a fresh interpretation of old songs — not a rehash by aging artists desperate for crossover action.
As a result of Hurricane Katrina, musicians from New Orleans have gained more exposure. Dr. John performed at this year’s Super Bowl in Detroit. Yes, “Right Place, Wrong Time” is a fun and funky song, but Dr. John has been a New Orleans staple for decades, releasing an impressive discography. The label One Hit Wonder indicates to many that the artist is no longer in the business. Dr. John has a career and is still going strong.
For another example of the good Doctor’s musical variety, the Clean Cuts Music label has reissued Dr. John Plays Mac Rebennack: The Legendary Sessions, two albums of all solo piano originally recorded in the early ’80s. No matter if it’s a Dr. John original or his take on songs like “Silent Night” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “The Nearness of You,” Dr. John brings the music back to his New Orleans roots.
Sunday, June 18 at 8 p.m. on the APA Stage
The Nevilles are the first family of the New Orleans music scene. Quick, what kind of music do they play? Yes, a little of that. And a little of that. And some of that.
They are their own genre of music.
This family has played together and solo (as frontmen and session players) since the 1950s. The Neville Brothers didn’t “officially form” until the mid ’70s. Aaron had hits with “Over You” and “Tell It Like It Is” in the mid ’60s. A friendship between The Meters and The Wild Tchoupitoulas led the brothers to tour with them in 1975. The Meters later disbanded; they toured with the Tchoupitoulas and then officially became the Neville Brothers in 1977.
Their latest album, Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life (EMI) continues in the Neville Brothers tradition of blending whatever they feel like performing and making it their own.