Indianapolis has always had an impressive jazz scene, with greats such as J. J. Johnson, Slide Hampton, and Wes Montgomery all getting their starts here. Recognizing a need to preserve and continue the city’s rich legacy of jazz, a group of music lovers came together in 1996 to form the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation.

Jared Thompson performs during an Indy Jazz Fest block party outside the Jazz Kitchen, 2016
Jared Thompson performs during an Indy Jazz Fest block party outside the Jazz Kitchen, 2016 Credit: Kelly Wilkinson, IndyStar View Source

The foundation provides support and resources for individuals and organizations working to promote jazz in Indianapolis. It also organizes performances, workshops, discussions, and music education in schools. Several programs have been presented in schools across Indianapolis including Jazz in the 21st Century, Jazz Impressions, The Jazz Futures, the Jazz Master Class, and Hot Jazz for Cool Kids.

Perhaps the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation’s best-known program is the annual Indy Jazz Fest–a community celebration of Indianapolis’ jazz legacy. The festival was first held in June 1999, thanks to a group of Indianapolis businesses interested in bringing awareness to Indianapolis’ jazz heritage through a citywide cultural event.

The Indy Jazz Fest has featured performances from both regional and local musicians as well as performances from international stars such as B. B. King, Ray Charles, and Chaka Khan. The festival’s performances, classes, and various events take place over 10 days in September. The events are held in venues all over Indianapolis, often including places like the Jazz Kitchen, the Phoenix Theatre, and the Central Library.

In 2009, the Indy Jazz Fest Corp. was created to manage the festival. This new entity was formed from the partnership of the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, the Jazz Kitchen, and Owl Studios.

Revised July 2021

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