The musical legacy of Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard and J.J. Johnson factored significantly in the founding of Indy Jazz Fest in 1999.
Guitarist Montgomery, trumpet player Hubbard and trombone player Johnson rose from mid-20th century nightclubs along Indiana Avenue to become international bebop stars. For the 17th edition of Indy Jazz Fest, trumpet player Pharez Whitted supplies a strong link to hometown greatness.
Performing Sept. 13 at Indiana Landmarks Center, Whitted grew up in Indianapolis — the son of late Hampton Sisters performer Virtue Hampton Whitted and the nephew of two-time Grammy-winning trombone player Slide Hampton. Whitted has played with Branford and Wynton Marsalis, Ramsey Lewis and John Mellencamp, and he presently serves as director of jazz studies at Chicago State University.
Saxophone player Rob Dixon, the face of contemporary jazz in Indianapolis, will play multiple showcases during the festival. Dixon is artistic director of Indy Jazz Fest. Festival director and Jazz Kitchen owner David Allee is the son of Steve Allee, the long-running Indianapolis pianist who last month joined the jazz studies faculty at the University of Cincinnati.
Before the launch of this year’s Indy Jazz Fest, a multi-venue event that runs Sept. 10-19, check out this list — a roster that’s far from comprehensive — of 10 Indianapolis jazz icons (featuring eight graduates of Crispus Attucks High School):
1. Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery (1923-1968). (Photo: File photo)
John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery (1923-1968) transformed jazz guitar after World War II, playing a fingerpicking style initially embraced by the genre’s purists and later by the masses. In annual DownBeat magazine polls, Montgomery was selected as top guitarist five times in the 1960s by critics and four times by readers. The two-time Grammy winner doubled melodies via simultaneous “octave” notes, a warm sound heard on chart-topping albums “California Dreaming,” “A Day in the Life,” “Down Here on the Ground” and “Road Song.”
2. Freddie Hubbard
Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008). (Photo: Matt Kryger / The Star)
Arsenal Tech High School graduate Freddie Hubbard (1938-2008) recorded 57 albums, including notable projects for Blue Note Records (such as “Ready for Freddie” and “Hub-Tones” in the early 1960s) and CTI Records (such as “Red Clay” and “First Light” in the early 1970s). “First Light’s” title track earned Hubbard a Grammy Award in 1972, and he was named a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2006. In the realm of pop music, Billy Joel enlisted Hubbard to play trumpet on his “52nd Street” album (1978), while Elton John featured Hubbard on his “Reg Strikes Back” album (1988).
3. J.J. Johnson
J.J. Johnson (1924-2001). (Photo: File photo)
James Louis Johnson (1924-2001) made the trombone a high-profile instrument in bebop jazz, giving it stature in context with Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet and Charlie Parker’s saxophone. Johnson’s career highlights include popular collaborative albums made with Danish trombonist Kai Winding, playing on sessions that became Miles Davis’ “Birth of the Cool” album and being honored as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 1996. Johnson co-wrote the theme for 1973 film “Across 110th Street” with R&B vocalist Bobby Womack — later used to memorable effect in Quentin Tarantino film “Jackie Brown.”
4. Slide Hampton
Slide Hampton. (Photo: Matt Kryger / The Star)
Locksley “Slide” Hampton, 83, played trombone in the bands of vibraphonist Lionel Hampton (no relation) and trumpet player Maynard Ferguson in the 1950s. The left-handed player later joined ensembles led by Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach. As a bandleader, he formed the Slide Hampton Octet in 1962 and the World of Trombones in 1979. Hampton, honored as a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2005, won Grammy Awards for instrumental arrangements in 1997 and 2004.
5. David Baker
David Baker. (Photo: Danese Kenon / The Star)
David Baker, 83, learned to play trombone under J.J. Johnson’s guidance. In turn, Baker mentored Freddie Hubbard (“Dave Baker was kind of responsible for me getting into this music,” Hubbard told The Star in 1999. “He taught me how to read jazz when I was about 17.”). Following a car accident, Baker took up the cello, and he’s now director of jazz studies at Indiana University. Among Baker’s honors are becoming an NEA Jazz Master in 2000, an Indiana Living Legend in 2001, a Pulitzer Prize nominee in 1973 and a Grammy nominee in 1977.
6. Larry Ridley
Larry Ridley. (Photo: File photo)
Shortridge High School graduate Larry Ridley, 78, played upright bass in bands led by Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie. As a teenager, Ridley was a member of Indiana Avenue’s “Jazz Contemporaries” group featuring Freddie Hubbard on trumpet and James Spaulding on saxophone. As an educator, Ridley taught at Rutgers University from 1971 to 1999. In recent years, he’s lectured at Manhattan School of Music and at Jazz at Lincoln Center.
7. James Spaulding
James Spaulding. (Photo: File photo)
Saxophone and flute player James Spaulding, 78, played in Sun Ra’s avant-garde Arkestra in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In 2004, Spaulding told AllAboutJazz.com about bringing the Arkestra to an Indianapolis YMCA. “The place was packed,” Spaulding said. “They were ready for it and they’re still ready for it.” Later in the 1960s, Spaulding contributed to studio recordings by pianist Horace Silver and saxophone player Joe Henderson.
8. Jimmy Coe
Jimmy Coe (1921-2004). (Photo: Chris Preovolos / The Star)
Saxophone player Jimmy Coe (1921-2004) worked with and eventually replaced Charlie Parker in Jay McShann’s early-1940s big band. One of the most durable symbols of the Indiana Avenue jazz scene, Coe was known as an adept arranger for the big band he led under his own name. In 2004, the International Association for Jazz Education presented a tribute to Coe at its annual convention in New York City.
9. Leroy Vinnegar
Leroy Vinnegar (1928-1999). (Photo: File photo)
Leroy Vinnegar (1928-1999) was known as “The Walker” because of his signature bass lines that rose and fell. After moving to Los Angeles, he recorded 1957 album “Leroy Walks” and 1963’s “Leroy Walks Again.” Vinnegar’s West Coast adventures included his appearance on “Spanish Caravan,” augmenting Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robbie Krieger and John Densmore on the Doors’ album “Waiting for the Sun.” Vinnegar also played on “Compared to What,” a million-selling 1969 single for Les McCann and Eddie Harris.
10. Pookie Johnson
Pookie Johnson (1927-2005). (Photo: Frank Espich / The Star)
Saxophone and flute player Alonzo “Pookie” Johnson (1927-2005) played on Wes Montgomery’s original 1957 recording of “Bock to Bock,” a session that came two years after Johnson played six nights a week with Montgomery at the Turf Bar, 16th Street and Lafayette Road. Before his Turf Bar days, Johnson toured the United States with bands led by trumpet player King Kolax, drummer Eddie Byrd and piano player Sax Kari. Later in life, Johnson worked for the U.S. Postal Service and played music on various Indianapolis stages.
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