Meet Your 2019 Jazz in July Artists

July 3, 2019
Jazz in July 2018 Al Cobine Band conducting
The Al Cobine Big Band at Jazz in July 2018. (Photo: Rita Stephens / Indiana Public Media)

After its grand re-introduction in 2018, another return was inevitable for Jazz in July. And now the free concert series, co-hosted by WFIU and the Department of Jazz Studies at the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music is back with a new round of concerts and a diverse new batch of performers.

“All of the performers this year are younger, though that wasn’t really by design,” said David Brent Johnson, WFIU’s jazz director and one of the organizers of the series. “We like to present artists who haven’t perhaps been heard around Bloomington as much.”

Tom Walsh, chair of the Jacobs School’s Jazz Studies Department and another organizer, said the younger range of the artists comes from their recent involvement with IU.

“Our goal this year was to highlight recent alumni who have established groups, as well as Jacobs School jazz students who are graduating. We want to take advantage of the opportunity to hear some of these talented artists before they move away,” Walsh said.

When the festivities begin this Friday, there will be an array of different styles and genres for the crowd to soak in.

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July 5 – Jamaal Baptiste & Descarga Five

One of the standout moments of last year’s concerts was during a set by Latin jazz group Soneros de la Caliza, when a local salsa group gave an impromptu performance of their own. If Jamaal Baptiste and Descarga Five’s pedigrees are any hint, the dancing won’t be a one-off affair.

“Jamaal’s depth as a Latin jazz musician – his work with Michael Spiro and Wayne Wallace, and now his own group, the Batuquê Trio – is very special,” Walsh said. “Performing with him you will hear some of the great percussionists Michael Spiro trained and Ana Nelson, who is an excellent saxophonist and clarinetist.”

Baptiste pulls from a number of genres like Latin jazz, R&B and gospel, and he attributes that range to growing up in the Caribbean.

"This sense of flexibility and willingness to explore these multiple music genres stems from my upbringing in Aruba," Baptiste said. "Growing up, we heard music from all over the world, and we were (and still are) expected to perform American, Latin American and Caribbean popular hit songs for visiting tourists."

In Bloomington, Baptiste used that flexibility to quickly carve a space in local performancer spaces. He's performed with ensembles like the IU Soul Revue, the Batuquê Trio and Ritmos Unidos, a group formed by seven-time Grammy nominee Spiro.

"The jazz faculty at IU are all accomplished educators with extensive performance careers, so I was not surprised to find a thriving jazz scene in Bloomington," Baptiste said.

July 12 – Amanda Gardier

It’s not unusual for jazz musicians to play a combination of original works and old standards, but saxophonist and composer Amanda Gardier has a unique toolset of artists from whom she draws inspiration. Gardier says she's a passionate fan of a number of styles like bebop, Afro-Cuban and even metal and progressive rock.

“[She], like many other young jazz musicians, is focusing heavily on music that she herself has written, and when she does do other tunes they might be written by Hoagy Carmichael, or they might be written by Björk,” Johnson said.

Gardier has made a name for herself around Indianapolis, both playing solo and frequently collaborating with another Jazz in July alum, her husband Charlie Ballantine.

"Normally, I would have performed with him, but I was out of town for his performance," she said. "Charlie said that he had a blast last time, so I'm excited to get to experience it for myself."

And last year, Gardier released her debut album, Empathy, to high praise. Nuvo’s Kyle Long wrote, “Empathy is packed with standout moments…[it] will no doubt raise Gardier’s profile as a uniquely talented jazz composer and soloist.”

“One of the reasons that I pursued music was because I had observed that the music of others helped to create meaningful emotional experiences for me. I figured that it was important for me to release my own album of originals because my music could possibly create a meaningful experience for someone else," Gardier said.

Gardier is currently writing new original pieces for her second album, which she hopes to release in the winter.

July 19 – Elena Escudero

Vocalist Elena Escudero says her style is “subject to change at any moment.” But for the most part, the recent Jacobs School of Music grad works within genres like R&B, soul and funk, with some avant-garde sensibilities thrown in for good measure.

“I love start contrasts of timbre and mood, and I aim to show the entire range of human emotion in every performance I give,” Escudero said. “The human voice is a powerful, malleable instrument, and I am only beginning to learn the full expanse of its possibilities.”

Speaking of possibilities, Escudero as collaborated with a number of IU Jazz faculty like Tierney Sutton and Michael Spiro, as well as other artists like Becca Stevens, Ben Wendel and, recently, Ambrose Akinmusire, whom Escudero says has been a big inspiration on her work of late.

Once Jazz in July concludes, Escudero says she’ll be making the journey up to Chicago to pursue her music career.

“[I’m] very excited for this chance to make music with the talented musicians Chicago harbors,” she said.

July 26 – Tucker Brothers Group

Rounding out this year’s performances is Indianapolis-based quartet the Tucker Brothers Group, which guitarist Joel Tucker describes as thoughtful, positive instrumental jazz.

“Our main focus is listening to each other and bouncing ideas around in the moment,” Tucker said. “To us, that is the ‘art’ of jazz, and we like to keep things interesting on stage.”

The group channels straightforward jazz as well as avant-garde “acid jazz,” plus plenty of non-jazz influences like J Dilla, Deerhoof and Crosby, Stills & Nash.

The core group is comprised of brothers Joel and Nick Tucker, who plays bass, tenor saxophonist Sean Imboden and drummer Brian Yarde.

The Tucker Brothers Group’s latest record, Two Parts, drops the same day as their Jazz in July performance and features a number of local guest artists, including Escudero and Gardier.

“A lot of prolific musicians got their start in Indiana, and that surprises people sometimes,” Tucker said. “It’s important to know your roots and to recognize where you come from, but be willing to branch out and learn from other places.”

While this year’s performers are set in stone, next year’s set of artists is already being coordinated. And since 2020 has five Fridays in July, that means five concerts.

Weather permitting, all four concerts will be at the Conrad Prebys Amphitheater on IU’s campus. Rain locations and other info can be found on the Jazz in July website. And if you can’t make it to the shows, each performance will be live streamed on WFIU’s Facebook page and YouTube channel.