Tim Garfield, Indy Jazz Fest

Saxophonist Tim Garfield performs at Indy Jazz Fest in 2018. (Photo provided)

Back in the days of swing dancing and wide brimmed hats, Indianapolis was a jazz mecca. Diverse talent from within and outside the city flourished in clubs along Indiana Avenue. The Indianapolis Jazz Foundation continues this tradition with Indy Jazz Fest.

“Being in Indianapolis, which holds such a strong legacy of jazz, it’s important for people to attend because it is music that is fun and vibrant,” said Rob Dixon, a saxophonist and artistic director for the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation. 

The annual 10-day celebration of jazz, which runs Sept. 12-21, features local, national and international musicians. Performances will be in venues throughout the city including the University of Indianapolis, The Jazz Kitchen and Indiana Landmarks Center. 

In addition to the concerts, the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation includes activities that educate about the origins and history of jazz. The performances aren’t just concerts. 

“It’s important for us to have these opportunities to really get people, especially young people, knowledgeable about the music,” Dixon said. “Jazz is one of the only true American art forms that was invented here.”

Emmet Cohen, who won the 2019 American Pianists Award, will play two shows at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sept. 18 at The Jazz Kitchen. The 7 p.m. show is sold out. Tickets for the 9 p.m. show are $20 for the main dining room and $30 for front-row table seating.

Cohen estimated he’s been to Indianapolis about 20 times in the past 10 years — it’s where he won the American Pianists Award in April — and said he likes coming to a city with a rich jazz history.

“A lot of people don’t really know about Indianapolis’ great jazz tradition,” he said. “… The people in the audience, it gets passed down through them, and they appreciate it on a deeper level.”

Cohen lives in Harlem, but Indy Jazz Fest will be the beginning of a longer stay in Indianapolis. He’ll begin his artist-in-residence at the University of Indianapolis a few days after the festival. It’ll be one way for Cohen to try to prolong an art form that many feel has been undervalued.

“Arts in general are on the incline,” he said. “It’s cool to see new things pop up, students in schools taking it seriously. … A lot of great jazz musicians are starting there.”

Pavel and Direct Contact and Jazz En Dominicana will collaborate to perform Dominican Republic “La Hispanola.” Pavel and Direct Contact’s annual performance focuses on the music and culture of a different Central or South American country. The Dominican Republic will be featured this year and the performance will include native dances and a slideshow. 

“There are different types of jazz in the world,” said Pavel Polanco-Safadit, a jazz pianist and music professor at Earlham College. “There’s afro-Cuban jazz, there is afro-Dominican jazz, afro-Brazilian jazz, and all of that is under the umbrella of Latin jazz. There’s jazz combinations with Middle Eastern music. Jazz is bigger than jazz. There’s more worldwide jazz than straight jazz.”

The performance, which will showcase Polanco-Safadit’s Dominican roots, will be at 3 p.m. Sept. 15 at Central Library, 40 E. St. Clair St.

“It’s funny because it took me five years to represent my own country,” Polanco-Safadit said. “… It’s nice to represent my own country because that’s the music I grew up with.”

Contact staff writer Ben Lashar at 317-762-7848. Follow him on Twitter @BenjaminLashar.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

‘All that jazz!’

The Indy Jazz Fest offers 10 days of performances from Sept. 12-21. Tickets are available for individual events, with prices ranging from free to $50. To get the full schedule and buy tickets visit indyjazzfest.net for tickets.

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