Jazz made a welcoming return into its traditional mode with the debut of Avenue Indy Jazz Quintet on June 4 at the Jazz Kitchen. Featuring close harmony between co-leaders trumpet/fluglelhorn player Jeff Conrad and saxophonist Rich Cohen, with smooth theme-building transitions and solo trade-offs between Gary Potter at the piano, Steve Dokken on electric bass [subbing for regular Scott Pazera] and Mitch Shiner on drums, you'd think they've been playing together for eons. The fact is except for Shiner who just graduated from IU-Bloomington, the other four have been gigging nationwide with prestigious groups for what seems like eons.
Conrad toured with Ray Charles, Harry James and Maynard Ferguson and with Broadway show orchestras including Sweeney Todd, Barnum, Dancin', 42nd Street, Dreamgirls, Me & My Girl, My Fair Lady and Cats..
Cohen, a physicist by training and jazz player by avocation, has been working in clubs and festivals throughout Indiana and Southern Mich. Following a successful career as a trombonist working with Woody Herman and many other jazz greats, Dr. Potter's 30-year career with Jacobs School of Music at IU-Bloomington included freelancing as an electric bass player. In retirement he's a freelance jazz pianist. Dokken "is a fixture on the Indianapolis music scene showing up in recording studios, Broadway show pits and live venues all day everyday." He's toured with many greats, including Henry Mancini.
Conrad explains, "The concept for Avenue Indy was developed on the shared belief that the casual jazz listener likes the music and the "jazz vibe" but has limited interest in extended improvised solos and long tunes." Working off charts developed by Cohen, Avenue Jazz ran through Dixie, bebop, post bebop, Great American songbook, fusion, smooth jazz, Latin feels and comedic tunes. "Our goal is to engage our listeners and keep the music interesting and accessible to them, not to "educate" them."
The full-house chatter subsided as Shiner entered a drum vamp on brushes; the others melted in for a singerly "Autumn Leaves." The rest of the hour was a romp through "It Could Happen to You," "Caravan, Softly," "Jitterbug Waltz," "Parker's Mood," "The Preacher," "Gentle Rain," "That's A Plenty," "Hearts & Numbers" and "Take Five." The second show, which this reviewer did not attend, included "Hassan's Dream," "Pools," "Si Tu Vois Ma Mere," "Alone Together," "Night in Tunisia," "Willow Weep for Me," "Chloe," "African Queen," "Giuseppe," "Francisca" and "Estate."