George Benson, who burst onto the jazz scene in the mid-1960s as a guitar star and found a large popular audience when he added vocals to his arsenal, will headline the 2011 Indy Jazz Fest.
The artist roster was announced Thursday afternoon in the Civic Plaza at Indianapolis International Airport during a public event, with entertainment by local singer Cynthia Layne and her band.
The annual festival — presented by Marsh Supermarkets — will be Sept. 12-17, culminating at the Optimist Park in Broad Ripple. Other sites are the Madame Walker Theatre, Cabaret at the Columbia Club, the Jazz Kitchen and the DeHaan Fine Arts Center. Musicians and ticket prices have yet to be announced for these indoor concerts.
The festival’s outdoor finale Sept. 17 will include 10 hours of music on three stages, beginning at 1 p.m. Performers include:
» Main Stage: George Benson, Spyro Gyra, the Yellowjackets, the Rufus Reid Sextet, and Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. (Both Benson and Spyro Gyra appeared in the inaugural Indy Jazz Fest in 1999.)
» Jazz Legacy Stage: Organist Melvin Rhyne and his trio; electric violinist Cathy Morris; the Indy Guitar Summit led by Bill Lancton; Aaron Diehl, 2011 Cole Porter Fellow of the American Pianists Association; and Wow, a three-saxophone Hammond B-3 organ group from Ohio that includes organist Bobby Floyd and saxophonist Tim Warfield.
» Emerging Artist Stage: Hoosier jazz ensembles from two high schools (Bloomington North and Fort Wayne Snider) and five universities (Butler, IUPUI, University of Indianapolis, Ball State and Indiana University).
“I think we have the best lineup of any since the festival started in the late ’90s,” jazz fest education director Rob Dixon said during the public event, which drew cheers from the audience when names such as jazz fest headliner Benson were announced.
Benson, who was born 68 years ago in Pittsburgh, first recorded as a singer when he was 10 years old. His agile guitar playing got him widespread attention during three years, beginning in his teens, as a sideman with organist “Brother” Jack McDuff.
In addition to recordings and concert appearances as a leader, Benson was sought after as a sideman to such stars as Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard, Ron Carter and Lee Morgan. Hits such as “This Masquerade” and “On Broadway” led to a long commercial phase in his career, but he continued conventional jazz outings, including a reunion with McDuff and stints with Benny Goodman.
Tickets for the Indy Jazz Fest go on sale Aug. 1 at metro Indianapolis Marsh stores. Patrons can buy general-admission tickets for $25. Online sales (at www.indyjazzfest.net) will include VIP membership tickets and the weeklong “JAZZpass.”