You are the owner of this article.
You have permission to edit this article.

Reflecting on Indy Jazz Fest’s big return

The two-day festival brought headliners Thundercat and Victor Wooten to Garfield Park.

  • Updated
  • Comments
  • 2 min to read
Reflecting on Indy Jazz Fest’s big return

It was hard not to smile if you were out at Garfield Park for Indy Jazz Fest last weekend.

After going virtual with three commissioned concerts in 2020, the annual festival returned to a traditional, two-day outdoor format in 2021, with a curated lineup that featured global icons and local standouts alike. Headlined by transcendental bassists Victor Wooten and Thundercat, Indy Jazz Fest drew large audiences out to Garfield Park across Sept. 18 and Sept. 19 — a weekend that also saw events like Gen Con and Holler on the Square happening in the city.

While the largest crowds expectedly came out for the bigger names at Indy Jazz Fest, plenty were still in attendance to catch some of the festival’s supreme selection of Indianapolis talent. On Saturday, for example, Jared Thompson & Premium Blend presented their phenomenal “38th and Postmodernism” commissioned concert, which was then followed by a super-sized version of Rob Dixon and Triology. Then on Sunday, the fest again featured a commissioned concert from Indy hip-hop trio Native Sun entitled “Legalize Being Black” — a performance that also featured guest appearances from Indy soul all-stars Allison Victoria and Mariah Ivey.

The selected local acts at Indy Jazz Fest ultimately showcased the multitude of jazz-inspired sounds Indianapolis has to offer, whether they came in the form of a jazz ensemble or a rap collective. In turn, this variation in sounds was then mirrored throughout the rest of the festival’s lineup, as more traditional jazz artists like Akiko Tsuruga and Marion Meadows preceded more modern jazz-inspired acts like Moonchild and Cory Henry over the festival’s two-day stretch.

All in all, Indy Jazz Fest’s triumphant 2021 return proves there’s still high demand for jazz music in Indianapolis. In going back outdoors for 2021, the festival seems to have also found an equation that works, while still holding strong to the Indy Jazz Foundation’s overall mission of lifting up the local jazz community.

Here’s to many more years of Indy Jazz Fest out at Garfield Park.

Indy Be Jazzed: A Reflection from Mark Sheldon

Indy Jazz Fest, presented by the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation, brought cheers and standing ovations from the crowds this past weekend, Sept. 18-19, 2021 in Garfield Park.  It was a celebration, outdoors, in the spacious and beautiful MacAllister Amphitheater that offered seating and lawn options for all who were fortunate to attend.

Sunday night headliners Thundercat and Cory Henry shook the trees and raised the crowd to their feet as a climax to the two-day fest.  The entire lineup was centered on jazz - but it also brought influences of rock, blues, Latin, gospel, hip hop and everything in between.  You could not help but be uplifted by the music and the feeling of a deep community of folks who truly appreciated experiencing live music once again.  

Indy Jazz Fest went virtual in 2020, with the Indy Jazz Foundation funding commissions of new works, streaming concerts and fundraising for a Musician’s Relief Fund – all designed to help local musicians bridge these past months when gigs disappeared, and work was difficult to find.  

Indy Jazz Fest 2021 celebrated the return of the music, not only showcasing local talent but national talent that admitted it was their first return to live music in 18 months. Two Indy Jazz Fest commission concerts, postponed to November and December, are still planned - and based on this past weekend, concerts not to be missed! 

Seth Johnson can be reached by email at, by phone at 317-254-2400 or on Twitter @sethvthem

Writer - Music, Comedy & Sports

An Indianapolis native, I love all things music, especially of the local variety. My other passions also include comedy, social justice, and the Indiana Pacers.


Freelance photographer. All photos copyrighted. Shoots for Downbeat, Living Blues. Contact me for music/album photography or portraits