IndyJazzFest preview: Some major stars of the mainstream are heading our way

Rob Dixon, one of the mainstays of the Indy Jazz Fest as both performer and organizer, says that the
absence of the smooth-jazz and fusion sides of the music in this year's schedule was no snub.

Local jazz stalwart Rob Dixon
"We know that smooth jazz is popular around here," he told me last week, "so it isn't due to a lack of effort" that programming for the 10-day festival emphasizes mainstream acoustic jazz. Dixon explained that fellow saxophonist Dave Koz, a major smooth-jazz figure, had set his popular jazz cruise to Alaska for about the same time, and that made a lot of the genre's big names unavailable. It put such conceivable ornaments to the IJF schedule as Jonathan Butler, Chris Botti and Earl Klugh out of the picture, even though the Koz cruise runs just through Sept. 12.

But some of the bestin  local jazz will be featured, however. Dixon had a few things to say about a program he's involved in Sept. 17, featuring a new group, the Indianapolis Jazz Collective. The band will share the stage with mallet percussionist Stefon Harris and local singer Cynthia Layne and her band. "We wanted something outdoors," he said. "People like that, and it will give that real festival feeling. That night we hope to have something like a festival within the festival."

This show, on the Terrace of the Indianapolis Museum of Art, will start at 7 p.m.  Tickets: $35 and $25 (students, $10).

The Indianapolis Jazz Collective will make its debut with this show. The personnel at this point: Dixon, saxophones; Marlin McKay, trumpet; Steve Allee, piano; Nick Tucker, bass; Kenny Phelps, drums. The band is modeled on the San Francisco Jazz Collective, with its core group of performers-arrangers and a blend of standards and new material.

"We wanted to create an ensemble that's eclectic, playing an older repertoire with historical references and a lot of new compositions," Dixon said. "We see it as expanding to an octet, even up to a big band. We'll be trying to create a lot of energy around it."

Here's a look at some of the people I'm looking forward to hearing, with performance information and my recording recommendation(s):

Claire Daly (Sept. 12)

Daly,  a 56-year-old baritone saxophonist from New York, first got excited about jazz as a teenager after hearing the Buddy Rich Band with her father. 

Claire Daly: A maestra of the big horn
A year ago March, Daly wrote on her blog: "The North Coast Brewery made us an offer we couldn’t refuse. They brought my quartet (Steve Hudson, MaryAnn McSweeney, Peter Grant et moi) to the west coast, sponsored a tour from Vancouver to Santa Cruz, recorded us in NYC with Jim Anderson at the board at Avatar Studio, produced “Baritone Monk” and it has been on the charts for about 3 months...." She went on to say all profits go to the Thelonious Monk Institute, adding:  "They also make Brother Thelonious Ale, which kicks in a portion of the proceeds. To say I didn’t see that one coming is an understatement. We are really grateful for this opportunity."

The opportunity has given a boost to Daly's career since then. She will appear under North Coast Brewing Co., sponsorship, at 7 p.m. at the Jazz Kitchen. Admission: $12.

Recording: "Swing Low" (with Eli Yamin, piano; Dave Hofstra, bass; Peter Grant, drums; George Garzone, tenor saxophonist, guests on three tracks), Koch Jazz, 1999. Daly's hearty sound romps through a program of 11 (mostly) standards. She's a very approachable, melodic player with considerable oomph.

Steve Turre (Sept. 14)

A Californian in his mid-60s, Turre is a trombonist extensively influenced by J.J. Johnson, whose memorial service he attended in Indianapolis (Johnson's birthplace and home) in 2001. Turre had sideman experience with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Woody Shaw, and Ray Charles, among others, and got a chance to indulge his exotic tastes (including virtuosity on conch shells) with Dizzy Gillespie's United Nation Orchestra. He has logged over 30 years in the "Saturday Night Live" band, and has forged strong connections to academic jazz, mainly through the Juilliard School.

Steve Turre has a knack for issuing CDs that show various facets.
He will lead a quintet here at the Indiana Landmarks Center, beginning at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $40 and $25 (students, $10).

Recordings: "One for J: Paying Homage to J.J. Johnson" (Telarc, 2003). Fine arrangements for a raft of trombonists and rhythm section (Stephen Scott, piano; Peter Washington, bass; Victor Lewis, drums) paying tribute to the master of modern jazz trombone.
~"T-N-T" (Telarc, 2001). Turre gets back to hard-bop basics with a favorite sound — a tenor saxophonist joins him in the front line. James Carter, Dewey Redman, and David Sanchez are showcased.
~"The Spirits Up Above" (HighNote, 2004). Turre has a high-energy band behind him to pay tribute to Kirk, the first jazz star who encouraged him.  The flamboyant James Carter channels Kirk quite well on tenor, and Dave Valentin makes a cameo appearance on one track with some Kirk-style, vocalized flute-playing. Amid the plethora of everybody's jazz tribute albums, this one stands out.

Stefon Harris (Sept. 17, with Indianapolis vocalist Cynthia Layne)

Born in Albany, N.Y., in 1973, Harris was heading toward a career as a classical percussionist when
Stefon Harris brings his "A" game.
he made a switch to jazz that paid off almost immediately. At 25, "A Cloud of Red Dust"(Blue Note)  introduced him to the world as a formidable vibraphonist and marimba player. Among the established musicians he's worked with is Turre. He is also a member of the Classical Jazz Quartet.

Recordings:  The high quality of Harris' representation on CD has been compromised by his use of the ghastly vocoder in his ensembles, but the early CDs are easy to recommend. In my book, "The Grand Unification Theory" (Blue Note, 2003) is a better example of successful long-form composition in jazz than Wynton Marsalis' much-admired "Blood on the Fields" and "In This House, On This Morning." Harris' playing and arranging has been mature and self-assured from the outset.

Grace Kelly Quartet (Sept. 18)

Raised in a Korean-American family in Brookline, Mass., the 22-year-old Kelly has been a
Grace Kelly has lost no time moving ahead.
well-received vocalist and alto saxophonist since her early teens. She left high school early, later picking up a GED so she could enroll in Boston's Berklee College of Music.

Kelly had already acquired some renown as a 14-year-old soloist with the Boston Pops, under the baton of Keith Lockhart. She has since impressed the likes of David Sanborn, Wynton Marsalis and her longtime teacher, Lee Konitz.

Recordings: I've encountered some arresting examples of Kelly's work on YouTube, but have yet to make her acquaintance musically on a full-length CD.

If you like what you hear when she leads her quartet in a 7:30 p.m. concert at Apparatus, 1401 N. Meridian St., Her website can direct you to a slew of her CDs.

Tom Harrell  (Sept. 19)

Launching his career in the big bands of Woody Herman and Stan Kenton, the 68-year-old Illinoisan trumpeter-flugelhornist Harrell first made his mark with Horace Silver. As a leader, he has varied his stylistic inclination to hard bop through expanded instrumentation and considerable focus on challenging, well-crafted originals and arrangement. It's no secret that Harrell has achieved much in a long career while suffering from medically controlled schizophrenia.

Tom Harrell's discography presents him in an array of settings.
Recordings: You won't hear anything of this sort in Harrell's two sets (7:30 and 9:30 p.m.) at the Jazz Kitchen, but I just have to single out "Time's Mirror" (RCA Victor), a big-band album from 1999. I'll concede the point made by Richard Cook and Brian Morton in the fifth edition of "The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD" that "it's sometimes too thoughtful and accomplished," but I favor that end of the spectrum much more than its thoughtless and slipshod opposite. Harrell is inspired throughout and the band sounds great.

[Photo credits: Turre, Harris, Kelly and Harrell — Mark Sheldon]


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