IBJNews

Indy's musical roots remain alive at Jazz Kitchen

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The sultry sounds of saxophone haunt Indianapolis like a ghost.

Trumpet and trombone echo in downtown neighborhoods where the best jazz musicians in the world once played. Deep rhythms of bass and drum reverberate in the memories of audience members who once grooved and tapped with the beat.

The city's jazz heritage started on downtown's Indiana Avenue and has mostly died out.

But the style's simmering hot spot has found a new home.

For the past 20 years, the Jazz Kitchen has offered live jazz seven nights a week, serving as an incubator for local acts and touring musicians alike.

The venue has the power to draw national headliners such as Victor Wooten and Harry Connick Jr. Jazz legends such as J.J. Johnson and Wynton Marsalis have wailed in the venue's intimate main room.

But just as exciting for owner David Allee has been watching the growth of jazz in central Indiana.

"We want you to hang out and have a good time, but we want you to get into the jazz at the same time," Allee told the Daily Journal in Franklin. "There's so many different styles under the jazz umbrella, I'd be hard pressed to find someone who just doesn't like jazz. They just haven't found one they like."

On any night of the week, passers-by at the corner of 54th Street and College Avenue can hear the lilting sounds coming from the Jazz Kitchen.

It may be a seriously rocking jam session coming from the interior stage.

During the summer, it could be a stripped down version performed on the open-air patio. Late nights on weekends bring DJs and world music for dancing.

"We've found that if you give people a little bit of different kinds of music, they can find something that resonates," Allee said.

The Jazz Kitchen was born in 1994, when Allee and a musician friend, Mike Slattery, opened the club. They had been classmates at Broad Ripple High School in Indianapolis and played in the jazz band together.

Allee's father, Steve, was pianist and a fixture in the Indianapolis jazz scene.

He and Slattery were driving through Broad Ripple one day when they noticed the vacant space at the corner of 54th and College. The site had been the home of The Place to Start, a noted jazz club in the '70s and '80s.

"Historically, this corner has been involved with jazz for the last 40 years," Allee said. "There was a need for a jazz club and a lot of great jazz musicians in town. And we were passionate about that genre of music."

Indianapolis' jazz roots date back to the 1920s, when the city rivaled Chicago, New Orleans and Memphis as the hottest scenes in the country. Legends such as Freddie Hubbard, Wes Montgomery and Sun Ra had their start in the smoky clubs on Indiana Avenue.

Although the widespread popularity of jazz died down in the 1960s, its passion still smolders. The Jazz Kitchen could pick up Indy's legacy after all of these years.

For the past two decades, the club has brought in the biggest touring musicians in the country.

J.J. Johnson, the legendary trombonist, came back to Indianapolis soon after the club opened and played three nights at the Jazz Kitchen. The gig turned out to be one of the last before Johnson retired permanently.

"That was the first time we sold out for our three weekend concerts," Allee said. "You can imagine in the early days how money was tight, and to sell out three shows, that really helped us pay some bills that weekend and stay alive."

Harry Connick Jr. has played a few shows on its stage. Terence Blanchard, Jimmy Smith and David "Fathead" Newman all performed at the Jazz Kitchen.

"These people might not be household names to most people, but in the jazz world, they're huge," Allee said.

Ray Brown, regarded as one of jazz's greatest bassists, played his last performance at the Jazz Kitchen before dying in 2002.

Shawn Goodman, who plays the jazz clarinet every month at the Jazz Kitchen, considered seeing that show a seminal moment for her.

"I still have that ticket. It was amazing," she said.

Goodman started playing at the Jazz Kitchen when she was in college. The Greenwood resident, who teaches clarinet at Butler University, has performed on its stage more than 100 times.

Many of her students consider it a career milestone.

"It's the kind of that place where all the young jazz musicians say, 'I'll know I'm really good when I get a gig at the Jazz Kitchen,'" she said.

Once they're reached that milestone, they find that the club is ideal for jazz — intimate but airy, large enough to fit a good crowd but not too big where you can't find a good seat.

"People who come there are jazz enthusiasts. It's not like playing at a loud bar, where people are just looking to get drunk," Goodman said. "People dress nice, they're quiet when you're playing. They're sensitive to the music and want to hear what you're playing."

To celebrate its 20-year anniversary, the Jazz Kitchen has placed an emphasis on scheduling a wide array of special concerts.

The club will again be a partner with the Indy Jazz Fest to feature live performances all week long from Sept. 11 to Sept. 20.

"You hit the 20-year mark in a segmented market of jazz and live music, we're proud we could get this far," Allee said. "What we're looking at, we're going to celebrate all year long and try to include as many of these big shows as we can."

ADVERTISEMENT

  • My Jazz family
    Congrats Dave on 20 yrs of making history stay alive. As you know my Daughter Lisa (Baldwin) Breitweiser and my Grandson Tommy Baldwin are 2 of Indy's finest musicians and Tommy one of the greatest young Contemporary and Jazz guitarists will be there for his graduation party June 22nd . It is by invite only, vie we are ( our family) just thrilled that he will be performing at your famous venue. Thanks for all you do to promote these wonderful artists.
  • jazz kitchen
    Agree with Todd. There are a few jazz notables that are still alive from Indiana Avenue jazz era. Creating thinking maybe from JK to lift up Indiana Ave Jazz and an interactive museum to chronicle and preserve some of it.
  • Indy Jazz Fest
    It is exciting to see The Jazz Kitchen helping bring back The Indy Jazz Fest and promote jazz in Indy. Dave is a great guy and keeps the spirit of jazz alive, especially with younger students that need a place to play jazz and learn the business. Congrats to Dave Allee on his 20th anniversary.
  • Jazz Kitchen
    The Jazz Kitchen is such a wonderful place. One of my favorites in Indy. Thank you David Allee!
  • Jazz Tribute
    I think it would be great to see some sort of jazz tribute on Indiana Avenue. Like a walkway, a gateway, statue, or a museum would be awesome to tell the story of the former glory of the "Avenue". Most people do not know the history, it seems this cultural district needs more life.

    Post a comment to this story

    COMMENTS POLICY
    We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
     
    You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
     
    Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
     
    No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
     
    We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
     

    Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

    Sponsored by
    ADVERTISEMENT

    facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
     
    Subscribe to IBJ
    1. Why should I a home owner pay for this"car sharing" ????

    2. By the way, the right to work law is intended to prevent forced union membership, not as a way to keep workers in bondage as you make it sound, Italiano. If union leadership would spend all of their funding on the workers, who they are supposed to be representing, instead of trying to buy political favor and living lavish lifestyles as a result of the forced membership, this law would never had been necessary.

    3. Unions once served a noble purpose before greed and apathy took over. Now most unions are just as bad or even worse than the ills they sought to correct. I don't believe I have seen a positive comment posted by you. If you don't like the way things are done here, why do you live here? It would seem a more liberal environment like New York or California would suit you better?

    4. just to clear it up... Straight No Chaser is an a capella group that formed at IU. They've toured nationally typically doing a capella arangements of everything from Old Songbook Standards to current hits on the radio.

    5. This surprises you? Mayor Marine pulled the same crap whenhe levered the assets of the water co up by half a billion $$$ then he created his GRAFTER PROGRAM called REBUILDINDY. That program did not do anything for the Ratepayors Water Infrastructure Assets except encumber them and FORCE invitable higher water and sewer rates on Ratepayors to cover debt coverage on the dough he stole FROM THE PUBLIC TRUST. The guy is morally bankrupt to the average taxpayer and Ratepayor.

    ADVERTISEMENT