Jazz During three days blessed with exceptional weather (allowing for a 30 minute rain burp on Friday), the American Pianists Association brought a musically diverse Indy Jazz Fest back, like a phoenix, from the ashes. My time was focused on the Jazz Heritage Stage, where some outstanding artistic successes took place in front of very sizable audiences. Friday night, the Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra roared out with enthusiasm and aplomb during its set with winsome offerings, from Everett Greene's "Old Rocking Chair" vocal to the APA's Cole Porter Fellowship winner Adam Birnbaum playing "How Deep Is the Ocean" with the BWJO.
After that it was Latin Jazz Night and Arturo O'Farrill led his 18-piece Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra through a musical history of heated poly-rhythmic big band Latin jazz that paid tribute to pioneers Tito Puente and his dad Chico O'Farrill, among others. Veteran saxophonist from Puente's band Mario Riveria and Bobby Purcello uncorked some sterling solos. The night’s honors clearly went to the Pancho Sanchez band, who absolutely smoldered with their hot, rhythmic Latin grooves. From the opening tune of "One Mint Julep," Sanchez's tribute to Ray Charles, the huge throng was his to hold. Their slick, uninhibited professionalism brought the massive audience to its dancing feet as the band cooked and grooved the night away.
Saturday was special and enlightening for all those on hand when the teen-age jazz group the Notemen Jazz Combo stunned everyone with their level of play. Their average age is 17.5 years, with Sophie Faught, Franklin Central, and Zach Jones, Decatur Central, on tenor sax. Julian Bransby, Bloomington North, was on piano. Eric Herganroether, drums, and Colin Trusedell, bass, just graduated from Decatur Central. The kids swung hard on their own originals and jazz and standard tunes. Antonio Carlos Jobim's "How Insensitive" was given a unique up-tempo swinging rendition with Faught's tenor sax solo burning with intensity. Jones’ tenor solos were muscular and soulful throughout. Bransby's piano solo showed depth and sensitivity with the solid rhythmic foundation of Trusedell's big booming bass lines coupled with Herganroether's sense of dynamics and accents and swing. These young musicians brought the crowd to its feet.
Cynthia Layne gave an energetic, soulful and funky set, complete with backup singers. The hard-grooving band featured Rob Dixon's tenor sax along with Layne’s passionate vocal of Dixon's new song "The Promise."
APA Cole Porter Fellow winner Adam Birnbaum completely captivated the crowd with his set. Backed up by Ben Wolfe, bass, and Rodney Greene, drums, he offered a sterling set with tunes from Miles Davis to Birnbaum's moving solo of Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes." Noteworthy was Birnbaum's original swinging waltz "Kate The Great" with an attractive light melody, written for his dog.
Highly acclaimed pianist Brad Mehldau supported by Larry Grenadier, bass, and Bill Stewart, drums, performed a masterful set of mainly standards that left no doubt in anyone’s mind that Mehldau is the pianist who is setting new standards.
Veteran guitarist John Scofield had a sea of fans when, with Steve Swallow, bass, and Bill Stewart, drums, he wowed the throng with a burning, high energy set of smokin’ tempos, with Scofield pouring out shouting and wailing non-stop choruses. He closed with a complete mood changer, playing Louis Armstrong's "Do you Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" in an easy-flowing, chordal style.
Popular local group Seven Pleasures played an enthusiastic acid jazz, funk-filled set with its four horn front line and rhythm section, complete with turntable scratcher.
Capping the evening in front of what appeared to be a capacity crowd, Nancy Wilson and Ramsey Lewis didn't disappoint their fans. Opening together, they swung into "Moon Dance." Lewis’ set followed with hits such as "Wade in the Water," but the sensuously slow rendition of "Betcha By Golly Wow" was a high point.
Sunday was spirited with gospel sounds that definitely showed their impact on jazz. Minister Stanley Daniels & Company, complete with rhythm section, B-3 organ and saxophonist Gregg Bacon, set the tone of call and response with a hard-driving rhythm. The young Y-Zone Gospel Choir of 30 boys and girls, led by their fiery director Tony Carpenter and B-3 organ and rhythm section, gave a driving, high-energy set of repetitive praise verses. Outstanding and clever was their original jazz tune "The Lord is Coming Soon."
The tribute to Jimmy Coe was moving with a spoken word set from the Rev. Marvin Chandler, who also preached on piano. "Pookie" Johnson's tenor sax spoke the language of emotion throughout and guest trumpeter David Hardiman played brilliantly, along with Cliff Ratliff. Killer Ray Appelton's tasteful, floating swing with Frank Smith's huge bass sound was a joy.
Lamar Campbell & Spirit of Praise returned to the rhythmic chants of gospel in a way that was professional and lively.
Award-winning saxophonist Kenny Garrett was absolutely mesmerizing, blazing out with a totally free avant-garde romp. Especially impressive was his young rhythm section — they never wavered under the intense tempos that Garrett challenged them with.
No festival has ended on a higher note than the one the Blind Boys of Alabama produced. The site became a massive revival in front of the stage. Original member Clarence Fountain was led off the stage into the crowd, where he ignited thousands with his untiring choruses of praise, with his voice growing stronger and more intense with each chorus. From this reporter’s viewpoint, there were thousands of hands waving in the air, moved by his spirit. It was amazing — and a fitting way for the Indy Jazz Festival to end, filled with a new spirit.
Jazz Happenings Downtown Chatterbox, 435 Mass Ave. Tim Brickley, jazz and pop vocals, Friday June 25. "Pookie" Johnson & The Indy Jazz All Stars Saturday, June 26. Music 10:30 p.m. to 2 a.m., with a cover charge. Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, 45 S. Illinois St. "Sizzling Steaks & Jazz Sunday" features vocalist Cynthia Layne June 27 from 7 to 10 p.m. Easley Winery, 205 N. College Ave. Saxophonist Keni Washington plays Saturday, June 26 from 2 to 5 p.m. Randy Evans plays Tuesday, June 29 from 5 to 7 p.m.
Northside Jazz Kitchen, 54th Street and College Avenue. Fresh guitar sounds with The Charlie Smith Project Friday, June 25. Party sounds from Dog Talk Saturday, June 26. Performances both nights at 8:30 and 10:30 p.m., with a cover charge. D'Vine Wine Bar Jazz, 86th and Keystone Avenue, Woodfield Shopping Center. Keyboardist Dave Ellman Friday, June 25. George Middleton Saturday, June 26, playing 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. Jeff Reed plays Sunday, June 27 from 7 to 11 p.m.
Eastside Ramada Limited, 7050 E. 21st St. The Indianapolis Jazz Club has Bill Allred's Classic Jazz Band in concert Thursday, June 24 from 7 to 10 p.m. Southside Smokehouse Cafe, Meridian and County Line Road. "Sunday Jazz Brunch” features The Blue Note Trio each week playing 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Chuck Workman is the producer/host of the Sunday Morning Jazz Show at 107.9 WTPI.