Big Rock in Cherokee Park always sparkles this time of year, with the autumn sun reflecting off Beargrass Creek and highlighting a portfolio of fall foliage. What a setting for the Ninth Annual Big Rock Jazz Festival.
This year’s event marks new directions for the fest, not the least of which is a wider range of music, with the Steve Allee Quintet, the Juggernaut Jug Band and the Stray Cat Blues Band Reunion joining the bill.
Allee, a pianist who performs regularly in Indianapolis, has been a faculty member of the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops at the University of Louisville, and digs fresh air.
“I love playing outside, especially when it’s not raining,” he says. “There’s a certain sound that you get outside that’s very cool. You can hear the sound project as you’re playing. One time I played the Indy Jazz Fest with (trombonist) Slide Hampton, and his sound was so great, it would actually bounce off a building about two blocks away and come back.”
Allee’s enthusiasm about Louisville stems in part from the presence of a certain instrument: “I understand there’s going to be a great piano, a Bechstein grand piano at Big Rock, and I’m really excited about that. I think that when there’s a Bechstein grand piano, I would feel guilty if I didn’t play every note on that piano — it’s a beautiful piano.”
His recent Owl Records release, Dragonfly, is doing well on the national jazz and college charts. Dragonfly and its predecessor, Colors, are trio recordings, with occasional guest saxophonists on the newer CD. One of them is Rob Dixon, a longtime member of Allee’s Big Band. Dixon joins Kevin Kaiser on percussion, Frank Smith on bass and Kenny Phelps on drums.
“I thought it would really be fun in an outdoor setting to have a percussionist,” Allee says. “Kenny Phelps and Kevin Kaiser work so well together in that setting.”
Among the songs from Dragonfly making it into the set is “Art’s Groove,” which was used as the theme music for the home page of The Jazz Factory’s website.
The always-entertaining Juggernaut Jug Band will bring its healthy sense of humor to Big Rock, as will the Stray Cat Blues Band Reunion, which includes Bruce Lively on vocals, Lamont Gillespie on vocals and harmonica, Ricky Mason and Greg Martin on guitars, Jimmy Brown on bass guitar and Andy Brown on drums. Many hope Steve Ferguson, who had to cancel due to illness, will sit in.
The Big Rock Jazz festival is part of the Week in the Highlands celebration. Allee’s website is www.steveallee.com.
Big Rock Jazz Fest
Sunday, Oct. 5
Featuring Steve Allee Quintet, Stray Cat Blues Band Reunion, Juggernaut Jug Band & more
Big Rock in Cherokee Park
Free; 2 p.m.