Give Now

NEA logo

Prominent Figures in Indiana Jazz

David Baker

David Baker is a leading figure in jazz education.  A gifted trombonist and composer, he was an active member of the Indiana Avenue jazz scene in the 1950s and contributed greatly to the repertoire of George Russell’s 1960s sextet.  Suffering from a jaw injury he endured in a 1953 automobile accident, Baker eventually gave up the trombone for the cello—an unlikely instrument in the jazz world—and focused his efforts on composing and teaching.  Since 1966, David Baker, an Indiana Living Legend and NEA Jazz Master, has been chair of the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music’s Jazz Studies Department and currently serves as conductor and artistic director of the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra in Washington, DC.

Read about and order a copy of David Baker: A Legacy in Music by Monika Herzig here.

Hoagy Carmichael

Bloomington native Hoagy Carmichael is one of the most beloved contributors to the Great American Songbook.  Inspired early on by bandleader Louie Jordan, the law school dropout was ultimately convinced to become a songwriter by friend and jazz musician Bix Beiderbecke.  Upon moving to New York in the late 1920s, a discouraged Carmichael worked for a small brokerage firm before finally scoring such hits as “Georgia on My Mind,” “Rockin’ Chair,” and “Lazy River” in 1930.  He made his mark on Hollywood throughout the 1940s and 50s, winning Oscars for his songs.  In 1999, Carmichael’s “Stardust” was recognized by NPR as one of the 100 most important musical works of the 20th century.

The Four Freshmen

The Four Freshmen, a male vocal jazz group that originated on the campus of Butler University in the late 1940s, first consisted of brothers Ross and Don Barbour, Bob Flanigan, and Hal Kratzsch.  Acknowledged for bridging the gap between groups like the Mel-Tones and the Beach Boys, the original Freshmen specialized in tight improvised harmonies inspired by the trombone section of Stan Kenton’s band.  It was at Kenton’s urging, in fact, that the group was signed to Capitol Records, where the Freshmen recorded their first hit single “It’s a Blue World” in 1952.  Although the quartet’s personnel has changed many times over the years, they sound fresh and innovative as ever.

Slide Hampton

Slide Hampton is one of the most celebrated trombonists and composers in jazz.  Brought up in Indianapolis, Hampton was part of his family’s band, led by father Deacon.  Hampton has performed with and written for a myriad of jazz artists such as Lionel Hampton, Maynard Ferguson, Art Blakey, and Dizzy Gillespie and his groundbreaking 1960s octet was a leading force in the hard bop movement, featuring the likes of saxophonist George Coleman and trumpeter Freddie Hubbard.  A GRAMMY® Award winning arranger, Slide Hampton is also an NEA Jazz Master and member of the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation Hall of Fame.

Freddie Hubbard

Known for his brilliant technique and rich tone, NEA Jazz Master Freddie Hubbard is one of the most exciting trumpeters in jazz.  Growing up in Indianapolis, Hubbard took to jazz at any early age, making his record debut at 19 on the 1957 album The Montgomery Brothers and Five Others.  The following year, the trumpeter found himself in New York playing alongside some of the best musicians in the business.  Acknowledged greatly for his stint with Blue Note Records, Hubbard recorded such albums for the label as Open Sesame, Hub Cap, and the critically acclaimed Ready for Freddie.  After an inspirational yet fabled career, Freddie Hubbard died of a heart attack in 2008 at the age of 70.             

Wes Montgomery

Born to a musical family, hard bop guitarist Wes Montgomery, along with siblings Monk and Buddy, formed the Indianapolis-based trio known as the Montgomery Brothers, releasing their debut album in 1955.  While not a proficient music reader, Montgomery’s keen ear allowed him to copy the guitar solos of Charlie Christian at a young age.  Montgomery is often touted as the quintessential jazz guitarist and has influenced the likes of Joe Pass, Pat Metheny, and even Jimi Hendricks.  In 1968, after leading a brief yet prolific career, Wes Montgomery died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 45.  A GRAMMY® winner, he is also the recipient of numerous Down Beat Critics Poll Awards.

J.J. Johnson

Trombonist J.J. Johnson radically transformed the technique of his instrument by matching or even eclipsing that of his contemporaries, including those who played keyed or valved instruments.  Born in Indianapolis, Johnson toured with the first Jazz at the Philharmonic, the all-star aggregation of jazz musicians assembled by impresario Norman Granz.  An equally gifted composer, Johnson wrote both jazz and third stream works; several of his pieces have become modern standards, including “Fatback,” “In Walked Horace,” and “Lament.”  Johnson, an NEA Jazz Master, fronted several progressive and critically acclaimed bands over the years and his two-trombone quintet with Kai Winding was no exception.

Cole Porter

Cole Porter stood out from many of his songwriting counterparts in that he wrote both the music and lyrics to his songs.  He was born to a wealthy family in Peru, Indiana and disappointed his grandfather by abandoning law to enter the music business.  Although not a jazz composer per se, Porter’s music, much of which originally written for Broadway shows, has been interpreted time and time again by countless jazz musicians and arrangers.  Songs by Porter that have become jazz standards include “Begin the Beguine,” “In the Still of the Night,” and “What is this Thing Called Love?”

Larry Ridley

Bassist and educator Larry Ridley was born in Indianapolis and studied at the IU Jacobs School of Music, performing in David Baker’s big band.  From 1971-1999, Ridley headed the jazz program at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey and has been an adjunct professor of jazz bass at the Manhattan School of Music since 1991.  Reflecting his dedication to teaching, he has been inducted into the Down Beat Magazine Jazz Education Hall of Fame as well as the International Association for Jazz Education Hall of Fame.  Ridley has toured and recorded with many jazz greats such as Freddie Hubbard, Dexter Gordon, Jackie McLean, and Chet Baker and maintains an active performance schedule today.

Claude Thornhill

Claude Thornhill was a pianist, composer/arranger, and bandleader from Terre Haute, IN who is often acknowledged as being a key influence on the 1949 Birth of the Cool recordings by the Miles Davis Nonet.  Although originally a dance band, Thornhill’s group became known for its jazz playing, too, as the leader began to incorporate more and more bebop elements into his arrangements.  Thornhill’s band achieved a sound distinctive from other large jazz groups of the 1940s in that its players didn’t use vibrato, therefore exploiting the individual timbres of their instruments.  This “cool” way of playing is best captured on such classic recordings as “Snowfall,” “A Sunday Kind of Love,” and “Love for Love.”

Read an article about Thornhill in Down Beat Magazine by David Brent Johnson.

[slideshow 1]

Jazz Education in North America

Indiana Jazz Organizations

College Jazz Programs in Indiana

Other WFIU Programming Related to Indiana Jazz

Stories From This Series

October 4, 2012

Birth Of The Cool, Birth Of The School

Indiana's impact on a seminal early Miles Davis record, the sound of West Coast jazz, and the rise of jazz education.

September 30, 2012

A National Road Of Song: Indiana Singing Groups And Songwriters

How Cole Porter and Hoagy Carmichael helped write the Great American Songbook, and how two Indiana vocal groups helped influence the sound of modern pop.

September 27, 2012

Indiana Avenue: Black Boulevard Of Jazz

Exploring the lost world of 20th century Indianapolis jazz and the ways in which its musical influence continues to reverberate throughout today's jazz scene.

September 17, 2012

The Road To Stardust:Hoagy Carmichael And Bix Beiderbecke In 1924

How a college-town springtime in the Jazz Age Midwest paved the way for two legends in the making.

September 13, 2012

Gennett Days: Hot Jazz From The Heartland

In the 1920s hot jazz swept Indiana's campuses—and a Richmond record label introduced the world to Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, and Hoagy Carmichael.

August 29, 2012

Jazz Crossroads Of America: Indiana’s Musical Legacy

From ragtime to the rise of jazz education, the state of Indiana played a significant part in shaping the sound of modern jazz.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from Night Lights Classic Jazz:

Support For Indiana Public Media From

About Night Lights

Search Night Lights

where to hear night lights

This Week On Afterglow

Cry Me A River: Tears In Popular Song

Some of the most tearful songs of the Great American Songbook, including "Cry Me A River," "I Cried For You," and "Willow Weep For Me."

Read more »

Afterglow is WFIU's weekly program of jazz and American popular song hosted by David Brent Johnson.

More from Afterglow »