Ten days of adventure at high sea and top speed is mild compared with Jazz Fest. It’s as much about a social and cultural whirl as it is about aesthetics. It’s meeting up with people you regularly see, making brand new connections and being amazed by surprises — such as the number of people who make a pilgrimage back to Indy just for Jazz Fest. I bump into a brother and sister who grew up in Broad Ripple who report “We have nothing like this where we now live.” An artist friend I’ve not seen for the past six years and I bump into each other at the IMA’s Terrace – he’s back from Holland. A new Arts Council of Indianapolis staffer is introduced and we learn we have connections back in Lexington. A seemingly unrelated event set up by another group beautifully expands the Jazz Fest experience — Sept. 14 Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation presented Pianist Peggy Reich for the Puerto Rican-centered Homenaje la Danza an hour prior to Musica Cubana at Central Library. Hustling, you can make both, and hustle a bit more and you catch up with Indianapolis School of Ballet at the Arts Garden with jazz and blues segments in their program.
And then I dream up “what if’s”: such as, what if dancer/choreographer Jeffrey Page came back home to connect with Kenny Phelps and the Owl Music Group and Rob Dixon & the Indianapolis Jazz Collective? And they work together with our pool of amazingly fine local talent to create a national television show that could be every bit as WOW as Austin City Limits?
From my notebook:
Sept. 11 The Indy Jazz Fest Band opened Jazz Fest 2014 and set the standard at The Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center at the University of Indianapolis. In a lovely convergence, both the DeHaan and the Jazz Kitchen are celebrating their 20thanniversary, and both extend the Jazz Fest immersion all year.
Sept. 12 at the Jazz Kitchen saxophonist Claire Daly demonstrated the consummate talent of a performer—she works the room, recognizing who is out there and brings them into her set to showcase their talents. So we got to hear Valpo/Gary-based pianist Billy Foster and Cincinnati-based scat artist Napoleon Maddox. A representative from North Coast Brewing was in the audience. They’re as passionate about supporting jazz as they are about brewing. The Blue Note Tribute Band took the stage at 10 p.m. as a late night add-on and we were loathe to go home.
Sept. 13 Gust Spenos showcased Blues Night with vocals from everyone with trombonist Wycliffe Gordon, whose expansive personality fills JK’s cozy room trice round.
Sept. 14 brings joyful audience participation filled Central Library when Sancocho Dance and Gerardo Gonzaez joined Pavel & Direct Contact.
Sept. 15 Brian Nova matched his endearing blend of jazz guitar with the Stan Hillis Quartet.
Sept. 16 Phil Ranelin celebrated his 75th birthday with a tribute to his mentor, J. J. Johnson. What is a player’s signature? It’s there when you hear it with Ranelin’s Quintet in their blend of call and answer, conversation and ruminating, moving and poised to move. Their rendition of J. J.’s “Little Sunflowers” is classic. Ranelin ruminates,“It makes you feel good.”
Sept. 17 at IMA’s Terrace Rob Dixon introduced the ‘Let’s hear more from them’ Indianapolis Jazz Collective along with the Cynthia Lane Band.
Sept. 18, at Apparatus, the old WFYI studio embraced the delightful composer/saxophonist/vocalist Grace Kelly. Sophie Faught added zest with an interview of the equally youthful Grace.
Sept. 19 rivaled Vegas at Latitude 39. Everyone showed up at high velocity. It was amazing.
Sept. 20’s Block Party cooled it down and pumped us up to support our rich home talent all year-round.
It’s been a journey of discovery. What is it that connects me with jazz? It’s a language with which I feel comfortable – together we’re caring about things of the heart and mind and gut. Jazz is a place I like to come to, be in, with a mix of people who elevate the mundane and burnish the jewels of every day life. Ultimately, it’s the dedication of the people who make it happen, the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation leadership, the talent, sponsors, partners and volunteers and the people who take the time, put out the money and attend.
(Editor's note: A short version of this piece ran in the Sept. 26 issue of NUVO.)