Indianapolis musicians celebrate 20 years of Indy Jazz Fest

By Mark Johnson
For the past two decades,
Indy Jazz Fest has featured some of the most iconic artists and performers from the realms of jazz, blues and R&B. Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Dave Brubeck, Herbie Hancock, B.B. King and Tony Bennett are just a few to have headlined or performed at the festival, which will celebrate its  20th anniversary Sept. 13 to 22.
Even as the festival has grown into a showcase for music’s superstars, local and emerging artists have maintained a high profile during the multi-day event. Saxophonist Amanda Gardier and guitarist Charlie Ballantine, both from Indianapolis, are two of this year’s talents who will  share the spotlight. Gardier will perform on the same bill with Anat Cohen and Trio Brasileiro at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 16 at The Cabaret, 924 N. Pennsylvania St., Indianapolis.
Gardier, who has performed with other local artists like Ballantine and Rob Dixon, saw the August release of her debut album, “Empathy.”
“‘Empathy’ is so important in music, especially in jazz because you really have to be aware of others and what they’re doing,” Gardier said. “Also, where the world is today, we could all use a little empathy. It’s a good concept. I started writing the music for it in September of 2017 and recorded in February of 2018. I’m really excited to share it with everyone.”
Although Gardier said she enjoyed her time in the  studio, she said it’s the live experience she loves the most.
“It feels more organic when you’re on stage with other players,” she said. “That might change later because of all the tricks and things you can do in the studio.”
For Charlie Ballantine, both stage and studio have their merits.
“I love both,” he said. “I’m at place where I enjoy the studio just as much as the stage, but some things can only happen live.”
Ballantine will appear with The Blue Side at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 19  at the Jazz Kitchen.
In April, Ballantine released “Life Is Brief,” a collection of jazz interpretations of Bob Dylan songs.
“This was a fun one to record because I grew up listening to Dylan, The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Jimi Hendrix,” he said. “Hendrix was one of the first guys I was obsessed with as he showed what the guitar could do and the limitless possibilities.”
Ballantine said he believes in order for jazz to grow and remain vibrant, it must be open to other influences and genres.
“I really enjoy the young, modern generation. They’re really fun to watch because they bring in different genres, and jazz has to be open to that. There’s room for all of it,” he said. “That’s why it’s such a huge, huge honor to play the 20th anniversary of Jazz Fest, to be playing with Amanda Gardier, Rob Dixon, The Tucker Brothers. Every year is great.”
For a full schedule of events at Indy Jazz Fest, go to For more artist info, visit and

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