Three Decades Keeping Jazz Alive In Indianapolis
Three Decades Keeping Jazz Alive in Indianapolis: How The Jazz Kitchen Came to Life
When you bring up famous jazz scenes across the U.S., it’s easy to think of New Orleans with its iconic clubs or New York and the greats who emerged during the Harlem Renaissance and beyond.
But you can’t forget about Indianapolis, Indiana (Naptown) and its rich jazz heritage. Legendary, local musicians like Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard, and JJ Johnson put the Midwest city on the map and attracted musicians to the city’s burgeoning clubs. During its early days in the 1950s, it was dubbed as having “a caliber of jazz quite superior to the often blasé big-name jazz of the metropolitan centers.”
Today, spots like The Jazz Kitchen keep the flame burning, sharing the beauty of modern jazz masters with Indy music lovers.
Shortly after opening in the early 1990s, the club became a respected locale for jazz musicians and enthusiasts. The Jazz Kitchen is now a sought-after stop for many of the genre’s favorites and up-and-comers.
The vision for establishing a new jazz club for Indianapolis came from local entrepreneur David Allee (and friend Michael Slattery), who’d spent his youth listening to his father, celebrated pianist and composer Steve Allee and playing alongside famed saxophonist Jimmy Coe and his Big Band. A lifelong resident of the Meridian-Kessler neighborhood (where the club is located), an opportunity came to light, with a building on the corner of 54th and College as the home of The Jazz Kitchen. The location is no stranger to live music in Indianapolis. More than 20 years before it was chosen to house this new jazz club, it was home to Crazy Al’s, a restaurant and venue that also hosted some of the city’s first alternative, punk, and new wave bands. “A Place to Start” was an 80’s jazz institution dedicated to presenting local and national headliners owned by Pete Pipkin and Pat Holland, both devout jazz presenters. A short stint as reggae joint “Kilimanjaro” ended in 1992, presenting an opportunity for new sounds.
David, along with his wife Jami, and the support of a fertile jazz scene, played a crucial part in continuing the musical legacy of the building. A mission was set to honor Indy’s musical past but also move forward exploring jazz styles of all kinds plus sounds of R&B, soul, Latin, and beyond. Food would become another important component of the venue, with a menu inspired by New Orleans meets Midwest cuisine.
When The Jazz Kitchen officially opened its doors on April 1, 1994, the Allee’s counted on a tradition to grow its community of regulars. They introduced their own version of Indianapolis’ longstanding jazz jam, allowing veteran musicians and emerging talent to take the stage and show off their skills. A year after opening, David and his wife introduced Latin Dance Party to The Jazz Kitchen, a one-of-a-kind dance night where locals could celebrate and learn about Latin Culture through music and food. It’s one of The Jazz Kitchen’s most popular weekly events, and it also remains Indy’s longest-running salsa dancing club night.
But at the heart of The Jazz Kitchen is the music. The club has hosted some of the jazz scene’s most successful and renowned musicians throughout its 28-year run. Noted performances include Harry Connick Jr., Ray Brown, Diane Schuur, the legendary J.J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Kamasi Washington
During the city’s annual Indy Jazz Fest, the club also doubles as a venue for the festival, allowing music lovers from the U.S. and abroad to enjoy world-class jazz performances from one of the city’s most popular neighborhoods. In 2009, the club was recognized by DownBeat Magazine as one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world.
As The Jazz Kitchen nears three decades in operation, the Allee’s are ready to welcome a new generation of jazz lovers to the club, whether they’re ready to dance, celebrate or discover something new.