Indy Jazz Fest
Friday, the rain that threatened the festival’s start relented just as Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel took the stage, opening with “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Bettye LaVette followed with a powerhouse set of blues classics, adding some originals that reflected her life of paying dues on the road.
Saturday, Jerry Gonzalez and the Fort Apache Band set a high level of performance with its leader doing double duty on flugelhorn and congas. The band plays a distinct blend of straight-ahead jazz and Latin accents. Outstanding solos all around by his sidemen.
Dave Koz showed why he’s the kingpin of smooth jazz in front of a massive crowd. He featured many of his hits and had fun getting the crowd involved in a competitive sing-off.
The Jazz Kitchen’s highly promoted after-set on Saturday lived up to its promise, even though some of the jazz heavyweights didn’t appear. Indy premier jazz artists Melvin Rhyne, “Killer” Ray Appleton, Pharez Whitted and Rob Dixon wailed, swung and grooved the night away. Chicago vocalist Stephanie Browning, fresh from the festival, sat in with Dan Tepfer on piano, Derrick Gardner, trumpet, and Frank Smith, bass, wowing the capacity crowd with a version of the “The Nearness of You” that covered many moods and tempi. Trumpeters Cliff Ratliff, Derrick Gardner and even club owner David Allee joined Pharez Whitted for some chase choruses. Saxophonist Jared Thompson joined Rob Dixon on a wailing romp of “Listen Hear.”
Sunday at the Indy Jazz Fest had a rash of unexpected events. Vocalist Robin McKelle lived up to her reviews with her gritty sound and interpretations of blues and ballads. Pianist Aaron Parks was ill and could not make the trip, but his rhythm section of guitar, bass and drums played an adventurous set. The 20-piece IUPUI Jazz Ensemble and guest piccolo artist Oliver Nelson Jr. played a spirit-swinging Basie-influenced set directed by Robert Burns and in memory of ensemble founder Jack Gilfoy.
The Legends of Jazz Tour almost didn’t happen due to airline cancellations and weather. Happily they all got in at the last minute. Ramsey Lewis opened his set with “Wade in the Water,” giving drummer Leon Joyce some work-out time. “Betcha By Golly” was given a light and sensitive treatment. Then Lewis showed his gospel roots in a rangy medley of tunes from “Come Sunday” to “Lift Every Voice.” Clarinetist and alto saxophonist Paquito D’Rivera and pianist Alex Brown gave the most musical and swinging performance of the day without a rhythm section.