Jazzed up: Indy Jazz Fest brings national, local acts together

One of jazz music’s titans would have turned 100 years old this year.

But even though Wes Montgomery died in 1968, the Indianapolis native’s impact and sound still resonates. So in honor of the mesmerizing guitarist, the Indy Jazz Fest has planned a musical throwdown worthy of Montgomery’s centennial.

“Jazz in Indianapolis is such a big part of the city because of Wes Montgomery,” said David Allee, director of the Indy Jazz Fest. “Even though it’s been 50 or so years since he passed, his mark is still made today, and we’re still seeing the benefits of his being from Indianapolis.”

The Indy Jazz Fest kicks off Sept. 18 with nearly two weeks of music. World-renowned performers such as Pat Metheny, Boney James and Sheila E. & the E-Train are set to come to town for unforgettable shows throughout the Indianapolis area.

Russell Malone, a prolific guitarist, will play with the Indianapolis Jazz Collective in a special tribute to Montgomery. Malone cites Montgomery as a big influence in his career as the local jazz community continues the #WesAt100 celebration.

“We’re making a big push with Wes this year. It’ll be a show featuring arguably one of the top-three guitarists that comes directly from that Wes mold,” Allee said.

Joining the lineup are some of the best local and regional players, dabbling in everything from contemporary jazz to Latin-tinged music to funk.

“We try to strike a little bit of a balance between celebrating what we have here locally, as we have for many years, but then bringing some national acts in, some big star power if you will,” Allee said.

Since it was founded in 1999, the Indy Jazz Fest has been dedicated to promoting jazz and music education throughout central Indiana. Indianapolis has its own noteworthy jazz heritage, dating back to when the Indiana Avenue neighborhood served as an incubator of great musicians on the same level of Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans. Icons such as Cole Porter, Hoagy Carmichael, JJ Johnson, Freddie Hubbard and of course Montgomery all helped shape the Indy jazz scene.

The festival is a celebration of that, as well as helping support jazz education programs in local schools and youth outreach events throughout the year.

Over its history, the festival has been presented in a variety of different formats: a 10-day series of concerts all over the city, a block-party celebration, even virtual shows held during the pandemic.

After hosting the festival at Garfield Park the past two years, organizers have tried to blend the best of indoor and outdoor venues for this year’s festival, Allee said.

“Creating an elevated experience for our listeners was where our heads were at,” he said.

The festival revs up on Sept. 23 with “Naptown Sound,” bringing some of Indy’s most notable jazz performers together to share the stage in celebration of the city’s jazz heritage. Musicians such as the Indianapolis Jazz Collective featuring Amanda King, Steve Allee and Rob Dixon, the Tucker Brothers, Goldie, Bashiri Asad & From the 317, and many more, will provide the soundtrack for this VIP experience.

“Although we have a lot of national and international artists who perform, the festival also focuses on the musicians that live in the Indianapolis area,” said Dixon, a well-known saxophonist in the area. “We want to celebrate the Indianapolis musicians, as well as honoring the great history of jazz in Indy.”

Other concerts include Superblue on Sept. 28, featuring Grammy Award-winning vocalist Kurt Elling paired with seven-string guitar funkster Charlie Hunter. On Sept. 29, 20-time Grammy Award winner Pat Metheny will wow crowds at Clowes Memorial Hall playing multiple guitars while composing on stage.

The centerpiece of the festival is the Indy Jazz Fest Grand Finale. Held inside TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park, the day-long concert features James, a smooth-jazz saxophone superstar; Sheila E., who is known as the “Queen of Percussion” and has played with Prince and Marvin Gaye; and Stanley Clarke *N* 4EVER, a new project by the NEA Jazz Master and a jazz-fusion bass legend.

Organizers hope the diverse lineup attracts music lovers of all kinds.

“When we bring in somebody like a Sheila E. or a Bonny James, we’re aiming to grab people who wouldn’t necessarily think of themselves as jazz afficianados. That’s not what we’re about; we’re trying to introduce people to this music,” Allee said.

The Indy Jazz Fest Legacy Band, led by Dixon, will also perform a musical bow to the city’s jazz heritage.

“It’s a really exciting time to showcase a lot of the local Indianapolis talent,” Dixon said.

But to capture the heart and soul of the Indianapolis jazz scene required not just shows in the city’s largest venues, but intimate club shows too. The Jazz Kitchen and the Cabaret will host a series of concerts starting on Sept. 18, including Veronica Swift, Christian Sands, Pedrito Martinez and Lizz Wright, to provide a full scope of the talent cultivating in Indianapolis.

Local favorites Andrew Danforth and Bashiri Asad will each host CD release parties during the run of the festival.

“The whole premise of the fest is, we want it to be a celebration of what we do jazz music-wise throughout the year. This helps us tie all of that together,” Allee said.

With such a wide variety of options at the festival, organizers hope that everyone finds something at the festival that appeals to them.

“The music is eclectic, it’s diverse, I call it inclusive. It’s one of the few places where you can truly see a diverse group of people coming to it,” Allee said. “It’s white, black, old, young, other cultures as well. That’s how jazz has permeated the world.”


Indy Jazz Fest

When: Sept. 18-30

Where: Venues throughout central Indianapolis


Sept. 18 and 19: Veronica Swift, 7 p.m., the Cabaret, 924B Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis

Sept. 20: Christian Sands, 6 and 8:30 p.m., the Jazz Kitchen, 5377 N. College Ave., Indianapolis

Sept. 21: Pedrito Martinez, 6:30 p.m., the Jazz Kitchen

Sept. 23: Naptown Sound, official Indy Jazz Fest 2023 kick-off celebration, 8 p.m.-midnight, the Jazz Kitchen

Sept. 24: Lizz Wright, 7 p.m., the Cabaret

Sept. 24: Andrew Danforth CD release, 7 p.m., the Jazz Kitchen

Sept. 27: Russell Malone with the Indianapolis Jazz Collective, 6:30 and 9 p.m., the Jazz Kitchen

Sept. 28: Superblue featuring Kurt Elling and Charlie Hunter, 7-9:30 p.m., the Cabaret

Sept. 29: Pat Metheny, 8 p.m., Clowes Memorial Hall, 4602 Sunset Ave., Indianapolis

Sept. 29: Bashiri Asad CD release, 7 and 9:30 p.m., the Jazz Kitchen

Sept. 30: Indy Jazz Fest Grant Finale event featuring Boney James, Sheila E. & the E-Train, Stanley Clarke *N* 4EVER and the Indy Jazz Fest Legacy Band, 3 p.m., TCU Amphitheater at White River State Park, 801 W. Washington St., Indianapolis

Information and tickets: www.indyjazzfest.net