Blue lights illuminated a giant, superimposed image of three “Indiana Jazz Legends” Saturday night in the Musical Arts Center.
A densely packed audience sat to pay tribute to some of the most popular tunes of the 20th century.
IU presented its Jazz Celebration at 8 p.m. in honor of famous Hoosier jazz musicians.
Along with several guest musicians, including the IU Vocal Jazz Ensemble, the 50-plus-piece Studio Orchestra performed works written by guitarist Wes Montgomery, trombonist J.J. Johnson and pianist Hoagy Carmichael, a Bloomington native whose iconic statue sits outside the IU Auditorium.
“It was like being in a 1940s club,” IU student Alex Black said. “It swung. I loved the feel of it.”
The concert opened with Hoagy Carmichael Overture, arranged by Musical Director Brent Wallarab.
Referred to as “America’s first songwriter” by guest announcer and WFIU’s classic jazz director David Brent Johnson, Carmichael is responsible for writing some of the most popular American songs of all time.
His 1930 release “Georgia on my Mind,” the official state song of Georgia as of 1979, became enormously popular after pianist Ray Charles released a cover in 1960. Two of Carmichael’s other songs, “Stardust” and “Heart and Soul,” were performed Saturday night with a similarly warm reception from the crowd.
Along with his musical career, Carmichael’s image has been ingrained in popular culture as the inspiration for an iconic 20th-century character. Writing in the early 1960s, James Bond creator Ian Fleming decided that his famous Secret Service operative should resemble Carmichael.
Direct references to Carmichael appear in the dialogue of Fleming’s “Casino Royale” as well as “Moonraker.”
The sounds and sights of jazz were both honored at Saturday’s performance. As a tribute to the late jazz photographer Duncan Schiedt, who took some of the most famous pictures of 20th century jazz icons, a massive poster depicting his images of Montgomery, Johnson and Carmichael hung above the orchestra.
“The pictures really help you understand the people you’re listening to,” Black said. “They were people. They weren’t just musicians.”
With celebrated guest soloists such as jazz guitarist Dave Stryker, Grammy-nominated trombonist Wayne Wallace and vocalist and IU graduate student Richard Baskin Jr., Saturday’s celebration treated patrons with the music of Indiana icons.
“You wouldn’t have thought of the Midwest as a place for music,” Black said. “IU does a great job getting everyone to listen.”
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