A snazzy, jazzy fest for all, excites Indianapolis

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Entertainment, Featured

Published on August 31, 2011 with No Comments

George Benson

When you mainline jazz, you quickly realize Chicago is the epicenter of its true birth as the best of the best journeyed there in the Roarin’ 20s to establish a new music subculture.

But Chicago is not the only Midwest city with dramatic jazz innovations.

As the 13th annual Indy Jazzfest will put on display Sept. 12-17, the Hoosier capital can claim a substantial piece of developmental history.

Besides the big names performing on a multitude of stages, the Indy Jazzfest has established its own educational programs

Some of them include collaboration with the Ball State University Jazz Fest; a six-week All-City Band workshop featuring Indianapolis Public Schools’ students; multi-media jazz presentations depicting the history of jazz; master classes, other concerts and artists in residence; the workshop, where professional jazz musicians work with students in jazz combos focusing on playing in a jazz ensemble and the specific roles involved in creating a jazz combo; and the “Jazz in the 20th Century Performance Program” for high school and middle school music students, this program is performed by the Indy Jazz Fest Band comprised of top jazz musicians.

“Indy Jazz Fest and its education partner. The Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, are dedicated to preserving the jazz legacy of Indianapolis,” said Fest Director Al Hall. “We join in celebration of community, culture, food and family fun.”

But the performers are certainly the big draw. The headliner this year is George Benson. He by no means tops Aaron Diehl, Spyro Gyra, Rufus Reid or Mevin Ryhne.

And those names just scratch the surface of the shows.

George Benson is known even to those music lovers who don’t know anything about jazz. He has defined jazz guitar. He has won 10 Grammys. He had a triple-platinum album, “Breezy” in 1976. The Pittsburgh native established himself at age 21 with his first album as the icon of his generation. He started with a ukulele at age 7, was playing for money in after-hours clubs on the guitar by age 8 and had his first record by age 11. He was not afraid of reinterpreting a Beatles album with “The Other Side of Abbey Road” along the way. He has collaborated with singers of all genres and with guitar greats such as country legend Chet Atkins.

Spyro Gyra has as its name a background as flippant as their music. As they were getting established in the 1970s in their native Buffalo, N.Y. area, the local club decided the time had come to feature them on the front placards. But they had no name. Put on the spot, founding member Jay Beckenstein jokingly said, “Call it spirogira,” a reference to an algae that he had remembered from biology class. It is another name for “pond scum.” The name stuck, incorrectly spelled as “Spyro Gyra” on that first placard.

Constantly on tour, with more than 100 appearances each year, the group includes the Indianapolis stop as one of their favorites. They have issued more than 25 albums, representing more than $10 million in sales.

Melvin Rhyne

Melvin Rhyne is particularly welcomed in his hometown. He is jazz organist, transitioning from early success on the piano. When he began backing B.B. King and T-Bone Walker, the legend was solidified. He took 20 years off to determine his mission and returned in 1991, having released eight solo albums in the decade since.

Aaron Diehl: Perhaps even better known in Europe and Japan for his “Mozart Jazz” interpretations, he pays respect the founders of jazz like the music of Scott Joplin, “Jelly Roll” Morton, Art Tatum and Duke Ellington.

Rufus Reid, first established himself as the top bass educator before revealing his original compositions to the world. He has written for string orchestra, jazz ensembles large and small, concert band, double bass ensemble pieces and a solo bass composition.

The Saturday schedule, at Opti Park, Indianapolis Art Center Grounds, 820 East 67th St. Gates open at noon, music starts at 1 p.m.
Main Stage
Yellowjackets – 2 p.m.; Rufus Reid’s “Out Front” Quintet – 3:45 p.m.; Spyro Gyra – 5:30 p.m.; George Benson – 7:30 p.m. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue – 9:30 p.m.


Legacy Jazz Stage
Cathy Morris – 1 p.m.; WOW featuring Tim Warfield & Bobby Floyd – 2:45 p.m.; Melvin Rhyne Trio – 4:30 p.m.; Indy Guitar Summit – 6:15 p.m.


Emerging Jazz Artist Stage
IUPUI Jazz Ensemble – 1 p.m.; Bloomington North Jazz Ensemble – 1:55 p.m.; Butler University Jazz Ensemble – 2:50 p.m.; Fort Wayne Snider Jazz Ensemble – 3:45 p.m.; University of Indianapolis Jazz Ensemble – 4:40 p.m.; Indiana University Jazz Ensemble – 5:35 p.m.; Ball State University Jazz Ensemble – 6:30 p.m.


Tickets are $30 per person; there are various combination tickets for the other activities of the week, including a Friday performance by Freda Payne.


To get tickets, you can go to any Marsh Supermarket in the Indianapolis area (Marsh is a corporate sponsor) or online: https://2011ijf.theregistrationsystem.com/en/1041.


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About Mike Siroky

All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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