On Sunday, Sept 18, the Indiana Avenue Alumni will produce a Benefit Memorial Concert for legendary saxophonist "Pookie" Johnson. The concert is sponsored by the Madame Walker Theatre Center, the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation and American Legion Post 249. It will be held in the fourth floor ballroom of the Madame Walker Center from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Local jazz artists scheduled to perform are David Allee, Areta Lamar-Bush, Larry Clark, Vickie Daniels, Rob Dixon, Reggie Duvall, Al Finnell, Jack Gilfoy, Everett Greene, Jimmy Guilford, The Hampton Sisters, Carl Hines, Mary Moss, Bill Myers, Bill Penick, Kenny Phelps, Cliff Ratliff, Frank Smith, Frank Steans, Hazel Johnson Strong, Steve Weakly and the Inner City Music School Combo. Co-hosts for this event are Ralph Adams, Mary Moss and yours truly. Grants Catering will provide an optional buffet.
Tickets are $15 at the door. The proceeds will benefit "Pookie's" widow, Betty Johnson, and a project very close to his heart, the Inner City Music School, a non-profit organization where he devoutly taught children his love of jazz. These children, ages 8 to 16, receive free music lessons on donated musical instruments.
Johnson was a legend in his own time who helped give Indianapolis its jazz reputation. Join in and celebrate the life of Alonzo "Pookie" Johnson and keep his legacy alive.
Conversation with Tyrell
Two male vocalists with totally opposite approaches to singing will play the Jazz Kitchen this weekend. Steve Tyrell is a jazz-oriented pop singer of standards and Kurt Elling is a groundbreaking jazz artist who performs the art of vocalese. Both men have a deep commitment and passion for their respective crafts.
Steve Tyrell will tell you he hasn't had a job since 1969. This singer/producer has gone against the grain and reached mass media popularity in a most atypical fashion. "I was a kid working for a record company in the '60s and I have been a freelance writer/producer ever since," he said. Tyrell's entrepreneurial skills have made him a major player with pop and rock artists and, especially, for producing soundtracks in the movie industry. "I got into this industry accidentally, because I sang 'The Way You Look Tonight' in the movie Father of the Bride. I was working on that movie just to produce the music and I ended up singing that song for the producers and they loved it. They put me in the movie and the song in the movie and that started the new wave for the Great American Songbook. It led to me making a standards album. It was about as far away from pop music of that time with its boy bands as you could get."
1999's A New Standard topped the Billboard charts. Tyrell's follow-up, Standard Time, stayed on the Billboard jazz charts for a record two years. For Tyrell it was a gold mine. He produced Rod Stewart's hit of standards, earning Stewart his first Grammy. Others, like Linda Ronstadt, Aaron Neville and James Ingram, have also recorded albums of standards earning Grammys. Tyrell is one busy man. He told me he is currently recording his own album of Sinatra songs with Frank Sinatra Jr. He admits that his major vocal influences are Sinatra, Ray Charles, Jimmy Reed and Bobby "Blue" Bland. According to Tyrell, he has a second Rod Stewart standard album in the works.
Tyrell's 9 p.m. performance this Friday, Sept 16 at the Jazz Kitchen is sold out with a few seats left for the 11 p.m. show. Backing Tyrell will be a quintet featuring solo trumpeter Lew Soloff. Tyrell stated with fervor, "What I like to do is play music live, that's the thing I love to do."
Kurt Elling's creativity
Kurt Elling is a very unique artist. No one has ever had all of their albums, six in all, get nominated for Grammys like Elling. His phenomenal rise to the hierarchy of jazz in just eight years shows his innovative artistry. "As a singer, I feel like its my opportunity and responsibility to really charge people up in a visceral way about the music and to help educate them and, most importantly, make them feel like they are welcome in the room. Whether they have heard jazz their whole life or whether it's their first time out," he stated.
Elling has a keen philosophical and literary awareness about his art and career due to his graduate studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School. "Jazz is a difficult music and it is challenging. It does require a certain focus that other forms of music don't ask of audiences. So we as artists and people who love the music have to give the audience a break. They are getting hit on so many sides with so much information from the Internet, television and other concepts, its visual mayhem. We are asking them to do something they very rarely do these days. So it's not entirely the audience's fault, we need to take that into account and hook them up with the best stuff that we can."
Though he never went to music school, he did perform choral work at graduate school. Elling's inquisitive mind and drive have led to his working as composer, lyricist, arranger and producer, including dance and theatrical artistic works beyond jazz. Elling's cutting edge vocal jazz art is on display at the Jazz Kitchen Saturday, Sept. 17 with shows at 9 and 11 p.m.