In a time of cost-sensitive small musical groups, leading a big band is going against the musical trend of technology and economic thrift. Veteran trumpeter and educator Jeff Anderson had a dream and took a big gamble when he founded the Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra in 1997. Anderson's goal in forming the IJO is to combine the elements of the big band era, featuring instrumentals and vocals in a jazz and pop framework. Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra has just released its first CD, 'Cook the Books.'
He feels that maintaining a large music ensemble is the way to go. "I think probably the future for the big bands in a certain way is the concert hall - much like the symphonies have done. That's our goal. That's how we are organized."
IJO is a large orchestra of 17 musicians along with the Capitolaires, a four-voice vocal group that performs together and individually. The Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra has played many performances that feature dining and dancing at various venues in the city. According to Anderson, the band's music and artistic director, they have also been fiscally lucky performing in a concert setting. "For our concert series we are self-financed. We are a non-profit organization with the Jazz Arts Society and [have] a board of directors just like the symphony. We have done pretty well with our concert series. We do performing arts centers around the state. These performing arts centers, thankfully, have money to spend because they bring in outside acts all the time. We have probably played more concerts away from town than we do here."
There is an interesting musical thread that ties the IJO together. Ten of the 17 musicians attended Ball State University, along with two of the four vocalists. Two band members attended Indiana University and one went to Butler.
Collectively, their musical experience is vast, having performed in big dance bands, symphony orchestras, jazz combos, military bands and a variety of rock and roll groups.
Ryan Fraley is a nationally recognized composer and arranger, and a jazz soloist with the IJO. He is impressed with the response of younger audiences to the band. "We meet people who come up and say, 'This is great music.' They never had a chance to hear a big band live. It's an exciting, visceral music and it's not heard live that often."
The Indianapolis Jazz Orchestra has just released its first CD, Cook the Books, comprised of 14 all-original jazz arrangements by current and former band members. The band romps through a blend of five originals, seven jazz arrangements of standards and Broadway tunes, and a killer brass quintet chart of "Amazing Grace." This is tight, enthusiastic ensemble work of punching precision with fresh interpretations of classic big band lore. As Jeff Anderson stated, "This CD will undoubtedly come as a surprise to many."