Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Indy Jazz Fest gears up for a run of mostly indoor events

Putting the Indy Jazz Fest on a firm footing year after year requires shrewd judgment about the potential draw of big names while keeping artistic variety uppermost.

For 2013, according to festival director David Allee, that also meant sacrificing the traditional culmination of the festival in one or two days of outdoor performances. "An outdoor setting is expensive, and we couldn't come up with a viable option," he told me at the Jazz Kitchen, where several Indy Jazz Fest events will take place.

"We thought the 2009 lineup was one of our strongest," Allee recalled, "but we couldn't get more than 2,000 to 3,000 people at each of those." The roster included Joshua Redman, Nicholas Payton, Marcus Miller, Claudia Acuna, Poncho Sanchez, Kurt Elling and Branford Marsalis.

Eddie Palmieri is one of the stars of Latin jazz
(Photo by Mark Sheldon).
Allee said that signing big names in jazz, such as 2012's George Benson, did not tend to drive the outdoor attendance past the 5,000-6,000 range. "We would love to get closer to 8,000-10,000," he said. Top acts that might have artist fees of $50,000 each put pressure on the festival to draw really big for the outdoor concerts. "To continue that same format, we would have had to increase ticket prices from $30 to $60, and we didn't want to do that," Allee said.

While he declined to disclose the 2013 budget, Allee is convinced the scope of this year's festival is in line with the likely draw for such varied acts as Ravi Coltrane, Eddie Palmieri and Ramsey Lewis. The festival opens tomorrow night with New Orleans rhythm-and-bluesman Allen Toussaint, playing at one of the festival's new venues, the Schrott Center at Butler University.

A little of the outdoor feeling remains: Palmieri is scheduled to play on the terrace behind the Indianapolis Museum of Art on Sept. 17, and a showcase of local bands (11 of them) is set for the festival finale on Sept. 21 both outside and inside the Jazz Kitchen, 5377 N. College Ave. It will stretch down to the club's compatible Southern neighbor, Yats.  In case of rain, alternative sites for those events are close at hand.

Alleee said that a goal for 2014 is to move the "block party" on the festival's concluding day downtown to Massachusetts Avenue.

Planning by Allee and a steering committee of about a half-dozen volunteers made sure major underwriting was in place first, then engaged artists based on their draw in the appropriate venues.

For the first time, Indy Jazz Fest has spread out to more places than ever. The list includes the Madame Walker Theatre, Apparatus (former home of WFYI on Meridian Street), the Schrott Center, University of Indianapolis' DeHaan Center, the Cabaret at the Columbia Club, and Indiana Landmarks Center, in addition to the Jazz Kitchen and the IMA.

For a full schedule, go here:

"We wanted to balance the known with the unknown," Allee went on, "and expose people to new artists." Several of the top musicians signed have played at preview festivals: Lewis, Palmieri, singer Diane Schuur, and APA Cole Porter Fellow in Jazz Aaron Diehl.

Education continues to be an emphasis: One-third of each $15 ticket sold to the block party will go to jazz education. In addition, the festival features all-ages workshops by Schuur, guitarist Bill Lancton, nationally known educator and saxophonist Jamey Aebersold and three pianists (Zach Lapidus, Steve Allee and Steve Corn) paying tribute to major Indianapolis jazz figure, the late Claude Sifferlen.