Local Indianapolis Musicians hope to Keep Jazz Alive

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Local jazz band The Phelps CONNECTION played a concert promoting jazz awareness on Jan. 23 in the auditorium of Christel DeHaan Fine Arts Center. The group consists of a lead singer, percussionist, saxophonist, pianist and bassist. At the event, they played jazz standards as well as some pop songs reimagined as jazz songs.

The band’s namesake comes from husband-wife duo Kenny Phelps, percussionist and Valerie Phelps, lead singer. Kenny Phelps said that as a child, he used household objects like pots and pans as percussion instruments. 

He said moving from cookware to a legitimate instrument involved playing in multiple music styles with different people.

“In 1994, they opened up this place called The Jazz Kitchen, and a friend of mine owns it,” Kenny Phelps said. “…I had listened to jazz before, [but I]  never really had played it. I really fell in love with it. They had a little trio in there and I thought ‘Man, I want to learn how to play that.’”

From there, Kenny Phelps began playing jazz professionally, he said. He has toured around the world with many acts. He said he most recently finished a six-year tour with vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, which was his first tour overseas.

“I’ve been on the road almost all my life,” he said. “From George Duke to playing with Wynton [Marsalis], and just different people I’ve been fortunate to work with. I’m very thankful for that opportunity.”

Photo by Sam Lohner In Ruth Lilly Performance Hall, the band The Phelps CONNECTION played a variety of jazz and pop songs on Jan. 23. The band has been performing together since 2017.

According to Valerie Phelps, she began singing in a  jazz vocal style casually at home. Three years ago, she began singing jazz at venues such as The Jazz Kitchen and the Palladium.

“I was just singing at church, but as [Kenny] was playing his music all around the house, I just started singing jazz,” Valerie Phelps said. “I think we were at The Jazz Kitchen and someone pulled me up on stage, and they said ‘How come you never let your wife sing?’”

Valerie Phelps said she previously thought her talent was insufficient to perform professionally. However, she said she still develops her singing voice as she continues to perform at different venues.

Since 2013, the Phelpses have owned and operated the Owl Music Group record label, Kenny Phelps said. The record label is a youth outreach program to teach students about music, according to the program’s website.

“We just want to keep jazz alive and keep the music going,” Valerie Phelps said.

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