Spauldings on Indiana Avenue

James Spaulding

  • James Spaulding

I always feel kind of melancholy when I walk down Indiana Avenue. Aside from the Madame Walker Theater, almost every visible trace of the Avenue's majestic musical history has been wiped away. 

From the 1920s to the 1960s, Indiana Avenue was home to one of the most important music scenes in American history. The historically black neighborhood produced some of the most influential jazz and blues artists of the 20th Century. But the cultural footprint these artists left on the Avenue is gone now, erased and replaced by anonymous apartment blocks and generic fast food chains. As a city, we should be ashamed of this. 

It didn't have to happen that way. With a little intervention from city government officials, the Avenue could have been preserved in the same way Beale Street in Memphis has. The process of gentrification has destroyed nearly all physical and cultural evidence of the Avenue's glorious past. However, on a recent visit to the area I was pleased to become aware of a small but significant link to the Avenue's historic heyday.

Just a little bit of context can completely redefine your perception of a piece of art. For years, I've seen the sculptures "Jammin' on the Avenue" at Lockefield Gardens and "Untitled (Jazz Musicians)" across West Street from Walker Theater. But I never realized both works were created by artist John Spaulding, the younger brother of one of Indy's most progressive and forward-thinking jazz musicians, James Spaulding.

A master of the alto sax and flute, Spaulding was an important member of Sun Ra's Arkestra during the late 1950s and also made important contributions to classic recordings by Pharaoh Sanders, Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard and many others.

In honor of the Spaulding family's contributions to the arts, I wanted to share a few of my favorite James Spaulding recordings.

Sun Ra -  The Nubians of Plutonia, 1958 Spaulding's recording career started with an extended residency in Chicago with avant-garde jazz pioneer Sun Ra's Arkestra. 

Freddie Hubbard -  Blue Spirits, 1964

After leaving Sun Ra, Spaulding linked up with fellow Hoosier Hubbard for a series of classic '60s hard-bop recordings.

Wayne Shorter -  The All Seeing Eye, 1965  A fascinating LP by Shorter that attempts to search for the meaning of existence through the medium of music.

Bobby Hutcherson -  Components, 1965  Spaulding adds soul to vibraphone master Hutcherson's complex bop.

Larry Young -  Of Love

and Peace, 1966

A spiritual session led by one of the only avant-jazz organists Larry Young.

Pharaoh Sanders -  Karma, 1969

A milestone recording in 1960s counterculture. Spaulding's flute is featured prominently on the 32-minute "The Creator Has A Master Plan."

Leon Thomas -  Spirits Known And Unknown, 1969

A thoroughly unique work by the yodeling avant-jazz vocalist Thomas who found fame on Sanders' Karma LP.

James Spaulding -  Uhuru Sasa, 1970  Spaulding's debut as a leader was a self released 45 RPM of funky avant-jazz. An extremely rare piece that sells around the $1,000 mark.

James Spaulding -  Plays the Legacy

of Duke, 1976

Spaulding's first full LP as a leader is one of his most traditional outings. But Spaulding's poetic playing shines on his brilliant reading of the classic "In a Sentimental Mood."

Uncle Funkenstein -  Together

Again, 1983

Spaulding returned to Indy to participate with fellow Naptown legends in this joyful celebration of Indianapolis jazz composed by Russell Webster.

Each edition of A Cultural Manifesto features a mix from Kyle Long, spotlighting music from around the globe. This week's selection features the work of James Spaulding.

1. Sun Ra - Africa

2. Sun Ra - Ancient Aithopia

3. Larry Young - Of Love and Peace

4. Wayne Shorter - Go

5. Sam Rivers - Paean

6. Freddie Hubbard - Blue Spirits

7. Horace Silver - Mary Lou

8. Freddie Hubbard - Little Sunflower

9. James Spaulding - Uhuru Sasa

10. Pharaoh Sanders - The Creator Has A Master Plan

11. James Spaulding - In a Sentimental Mood

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Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.

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