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Indy Jazz Fest: Keeping the Culture Fresh

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More than a decade ago, an inquisitive Anderson University student by the name of Josh Kaufman was submersed into the vast world of jazz, thanks in large part to many nights spent at Indy's Chatterbox Jazz Club. Now, looking forward to his upcoming appearance at Indy Jazz Fest years later, the most recent winner of NBC's The Voice treasures the countless hours he spent hanging out and performing at the cherished Mass Ave nook, undoubtedly recognizing the impact it had on his music career.

"It definitely taught me a lot and made me a better all-around musician," Kaufman reflects. "I have a definite interest in soul music and R&B, and so much of that is rooted in jazz."

Kaufman is one of many performers participating in the 2014 installment of the Indy Jazz Fest, which kicks off this Thursday. Featuring a diverse lineup of jazz performances, from prolific visitors and local mainstays alike, the 10-day celebration will take place at numerous venues throughout the city as the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation continues with their mission to keep the legacy and future of jazz in Indianapolis at the forefront.

David Allee is the festival's director and one of central Indiana's most prominent jazz enthusiasts. - MARK SHELDON
  • Mark Sheldon
  • David Allee is the festival's director and one of central Indiana's most prominent jazz enthusiasts.

"It's a time where we can get the city to focus on jazz music -- its contributions that are being made in the current day and what's been made in the past," says Festival Director David Allee. "...continually telling the story and keeping it fresh and presenting new artists to people -- that, to me, is kind of what it's all about."

Since its birth in 1999, the festival has undergone several changes, evolving from a tourism initiative to a way for the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation to introduce new ears to the historic Indy genre, while also celebrating the music's rich history here. This opportunity to profess the city's jazz legacy was something that contributed to Artistic Director Rob Dixon's involvement with the event. He explains, "I really wanted to help celebrate that legacy and spread the gospel of jazz to the people in Indianapolis that wouldn't be the wiser about it."

Similar to the structure of last year's event, Indy Jazz Fest 2014 will feature a wide variety of activities, both indoors and outdoors. Dixon explains, "It's basically last year's model but just a lot more to see and a lot more to do." Some of these festivities include:

  • Jazz on Mass, which features performances at four Mass Ave venues. Sept. 11

  • A performance from legendary saxophonist Maceo Parker (known for his work with James Brown, George Clinton, Bootsy Collins, etc.) at the Madame Walker Theatre. Sept. 12

Josh Kaufman will perform September 13 at Old National Center, down the street from the venue that nurtured him, the Chatterbox. - MARK SHELDON
  • Mark Sheldon
  • Josh Kaufman will perform September 13 at Old National Center, down the street from the venue that nurtured him, the Chatterbox.

  • A performance from Josh Kaufman at Old National Center. Allee: "We knew Josh Kaufman as a jazz musician, to be honest. He played the Chatterbox every week, so that's how we think of him as a musician." Sept. 13

  • A series of three concerts paying homage to the quintessential jazz trombonist and Indianapolis native J.J. Johnson, who would've celebrated his 90th birthday this year. Sept. 14, 16 and 20

  • Several free concerts, including the Indy Jazz Fest Band's Opening Night Kick Off Concert at University of Indianapolis' Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center (Sept. 11), an all-day event in Speedway (Sept. 14) and Musica Cubana at the Central Library in Clowes Auditorium (Sept. 14).

  • The Brewers Guild of Indiana's Pub Creep, which features free live jazz at several local beer hotspots over a six-day span. Allee says, "If you think of a pub crawl, you're hitting four or five different pubs on a night. Well, this is a Pub Creep because it takes place a little slower than even a crawl."  Sept. 14-19

  • Performances by Rob Dixon & The Indianapolis Jazz Collective (who will be joined by virtuoso vibraphonist Stefon Harris) and the Cynthia Layne Band at The Terrace of the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Sept. 17

  • A final Block Party to close out the 10-day extravaganza, featuring 12 bands on two stages at The Jazz Kitchen and Yats. Sept. 20

Through this premier lineup of jazz acts, Allee and company ultimately wish to cultivate an increased interest in jazz, all the while facilitating a good time for all. He explains, "We expect people to explore. We expect people to have fun -- have an open mind and have open ears ... I think that's our responsibility as a festival -- to just create an atmosphere where people can have fun." And being part of this hoopla is certainly something Kaufman is very much looking forward to.

"I think it gives me a chance to be involved and do something that shows a different side of what I enjoy about music and the kinds of music that I'm into," he says. "And just to be a part of something that involves so many amazing musicians is always fun."

Rob Dixon will perform September 17 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He is also Jazz Fest's artistic director. - MARK SHELDON
  • Mark Sheldon
  • Rob Dixon will perform September 17 at the Indianapolis Museum of Art. He is also Jazz Fest's artistic director.

As the event moves forward in the future, Dixon admits he would love to see it gain similar international recognition as other jazz festivals, such as New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and the North Sea Jazz Festival. He asserts, "With such a rich history and legacy of jazz here in Indianapolis, I think that Indy Jazz Fest is in a prime position to be one of those festivals -- to be recognized around the world." Nevertheless, the seasoned saxophonist assuredly attributes the festival's longstanding lifespan to one primary factor.

"The festival has struggled with weather. The festival has struggled with money," he says. "I just think it is a reflection of the love of this music by members in the community."

For more information on this year's Indy Jazz Fest, visit the organization's website.

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