Most jazz lovers know the contributions made through our embrace of ragtime late in the 19th century, as well as the important efforts of New Orleans and Chicago jazz musicians. The small groups were soon joined by big bands and the USA suddenly realized it had a new art form it could call its own. Indiana played a key role with making it become a “big deal.”
One Hoosier city, Richmond, played a huge role when Gennett Records became the place to record those ponderous 10 inch 78 rpms for use in the windup victrolas, most of them made…you guessed it…Richmond, Indiana! People all over the USA fell in love with another Richmond contribution, the Starr piano! For the more complete story, read Jelly Roll, Bix, and Hoagy by Rick Kennedy. Up in Northern Indiana in Elkhart, C.G. Conn and his friends were busy making the city into the band instrument center of the world, a title it still holds today.
Hoagy Carmichael’s biography, Stardust Road, shares his excitement with creating jazz and listening to other great bands touring the Hoosierland in the ‘20s and ‘30s, especially his close friend Bix Beiderbecke. They became the best of friends, according to Hoagy Bix Carmichael, Jr., Hoagy’s son. Both recorded at Gennett, along with King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, to name a few.
Another great songster, Cole Porter, from Peru, Indiana, later supplied a ton of tunes to Broadway and with jazz musicians. Goodland, Indiana was the birthplace of guitarist Eddie Condon who made Eddie Condon’s a very popular NYC jazz venue for many years. While in Chicago, he spent many nights and summers at Hudson Lake, near New Carlisle, Indiana with several well known Chicago players.
Duncan Schiedt’s book, Jazz State of Indiana, covers the four-decade period of Indiana jazz from the late teens into the ’50s with a very complete review of the period. It especially identifies the hundreds of Hoosiers who made jazz their career! For those interested in the ragtime years, especially in Indiana, read Dr. John Hasse’s Ragtime: Its History, Composers, and Music.
Today, active jazz pockets exist all over the state. The Gennett Starr Foundation provides a steady dose of jazz in Richmond, including a jazz festival. Festivals for jazz can be found in Indianapolis, Ft. Wayne, and Elkhart. Most important, hundreds, if not thousands, of Hoosier students have an active interest in playing jazz in high school and the universities and colleges and their concerts are very well attended. Another very important Hoosier, David Baker, from Indianapolis, built the strongest jazz school in the country, serving as a model for other schools throughout the world.
Yes, Indiana can be very proud of its highly important role in championing America’s music and the rest of the world appreciates it. Now, go enjoy it, folks.
Also Read: The Music Makers of Gennett Records
Van Young has helped keep the Elkhart Jazz Festival a swinging proposition for the past three decades. He also hosts Patterns in Jazz, Sundays at noon (Central) at WGCS-FM 91.1, Goshen, IN. Listen online at www.globeradio.org.
He is currently writing a series of short memories from his interactions with jazz folk over the years. These don't count against your monthly article limit.