Thursday, September 15, 2016

Home cooking: Indy Jazz Fest 2016 launches with a party at Indiana Landmarks Center

Just as
the bourgeois adopted
the lyric-winged piano of Liszt in the court at Weimar
for the solitude of his
aeried apartment,
Harlem chose
for its cold-water flat
the hot-blues cornet of King Oliver
in his cart
under the
El pillars of the Loop. 

-- Melvin B. Tolson (1898-1966), from "MU" ("Harlem Gallery")



The festival logo, as projected onto the floor of Cook Theater, Indiana Landmarks Center.
I open this brief welcome by quoting a stanza from a remarkable African-American poet who flourished in
the 1930s. The excerpt reminds us that art always has a home, however much it may transcend it. It grew up someplace, it was nourished there, and the conditions of the life surrounding its gestation and maturation shaped it before it was adopted elsewhere in both venerated and distorted forms.

This seems a good thing to remember as the Indy Jazz Fest gets under way, honoring native son Wes Montgomery this year. What poets and biographers may accomplish to set art in context is beyond those of us who just like the art. 

Who's to say that many fans of this vital jazz guitarist, people who've never come here, who live abroad, can't get just as much out of what Montgomery gave to music as Hoosiers, even those familiar with the old neighborhoods and the heyday of Indiana Avenue? 

By focusing on perhaps the most eminent of all jazzmen who've come from the Circle City, this year's festival revels in home truths. There is of course a lot of jazz to hear that bears the influence of many other places and of masters who had little or nothing to do with Indianapolis. But the dedication of the festival's longest stretch of music— Saturday at IUPUI — to a wide spectrum of active guitarists from around the country makes the hometown theme particularly relevant.

Thursday night at Indiana Landmarks Center, the festival's "Let's Get Excited" Party got the 10-day festival off to a roaring start. There were short speeches by Wes Montgomery's son Robert and festival mastermind David Allee.

A donors' band with a couple of professional ringers got the music started, and after a break the Indianapolis Jazz Collective hit the stage with three well-chosen pieces.

With saxophonist and Indianapolis' "jazz mayor" Rob Dixon presiding, the ensemble — which also included bassist Nick Tucker, guitarist Joel Tucker, trumpeter Marlin McKay, pianist Steven Jones, and drummer Kenny Phelps — represented the best of its kind locally. Montgomery's popular standard "Road Song" opened the set, everyone sounding relaxed and collegial.

The Tuckers' "Dye the Water Green," from their outstanding CD "Nine is the Magic Number," had the two horn men stretching out over the fast, pattering beat. Dixon's soprano sax was lofty, and McKay's muted trumpet was calm, steady and almost ethereal.

The set ended with McKay's neo-hardbop "Three Peas in a Pod," a vigorous but never overdriven number recalling the classic era of Blue Note and the likes of Lee Morgan.

Such comfortable mastery without a hint of the routine is just part of what we have to look forward to over the next ten days. No one should miss connecting with something on the schedule.