Jazz on Indiana Avenue

While the Indiana Avenue that we see now consists mainly of commercial, housing, and university related buildings, this street contained some of the most prominent jazz clubs of the mid 1900s. The country saw an increase in jazz music during the 1920s. Many of the jazz bands from Chicago and New York, that flooded the radio, strongly influenced local jazz bands of the midwest. In the early 1930s, hot swing jazz was all the rage in the African American community.


The 1930s not only brought with it the end of prohibition, but a great increase in dancing and nightclub life. At the time, Indianapolis’ only ballrooms were exclusive to white Americans, excluding African Americans in the area. Eventually, clubs for African Americans began to open up near and on Indiana Avenue. In 1931, Sea Ferguson opened up the Trianon Ballroom on 244 West Vermont St. The Recorder called it the finest ballroom in Indiana. The ballroom featured jazz orchestras such as Spaulding’s Brown Buddies, Zack Whyte, and Bernie Young.


Over the next several years, numerous other jazz clubs began opening up in the area, such as The Cotton Club (242-246 W. Vermont St.), George’s Bar (417 Indiana Ave.), Henri’s Cafe Lounge (408 Indiana Ave.), Dee’s Paradise Ballroom (427 Indiana Ave.) and probably the most well known, Sunset Terrace (873-875 Indiana Ave.). These clubs brought in prominent musicians such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Sunset Terrace, opened by Denver Ferguson in 1937, was considered to be one of the largest African American ballrooms in the nation. The club offered food, wine, and beer. It was one of the sites where Indianapolis’ own Montgomery Brothers performed. Wes Montgomery, guitar player in the group, eventually went on to become one of the highest regarded jazz guitarists of all time.


These jazz clubs were one of the few places that had a racially mixed crowd. This integration caused controversy, and some saw the clubs as an inappropriate environment for whites. After a couple of club raids, there was an increase in police presence and violence that created a bad reputation for the club scene. By the 1950s, the clubs had not disappeared but dispersed to areas outlying Indiana Avenue. Though the jazz scene on the Avenue had come to a halt by the 60s, many aimed to keep the memory alive. “Jammin’ on the Avenue,” a sculpture created by John Spaulding in 1989 stands on Indiana Avenue, at the south entrance of Lockefield Gardens, commemorating the scene that used to be.

Images

Indiana Avenue Apartments

Indiana Avenue Apartments

Now an apartment complex near the IUPUI campus, this is roughly where Sunset Terrace would have been located. Image courtesy of Keenan Salla | Source: Keenan Salla | Creator: Keenan Salla View File Details Page

Sunset Terrace

Sunset Terrace

Crowd gathered to catch a glimpse of jazz bandleader Dizzy Gillespie before his performance at Sunset Terrace. Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: James O. Fox, courtesy of Indiana Historical Society | Creator: O. James Fox Collection View File Details Page

Henri™s Cafe

Montgomery Brothers and Willis Kirk performing at Henri™s Cafe Lounge on Indiana Avenue. Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Society | Source: Willis Kirk collection, Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

George™s Bar

Photo of George™s Bar on Indiana Avenue Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Society | Source: Emmett I. Brown Jr. Photography Collection, Indiana Historical Society | Creator: Emmett I Brown Jr. View File Details Page

Cotton Club

Cotton Club

Advertisement for Sea Ferguson™s restaurant, the Cotton Club. Image courtesy of Hoosier State Chronicles | Source: Hoosier State Chronicles View File Details Page

Denver Ferguson

Denver Ferguson

Owner of Sunset Terrace, Denver Ferguson Image courtesy of Indiana Historical Society. | Source: Indiana Historical Society View File Details Page

Jazz Mural

Jazz Mural

Mural commemorating jazz on Indiana Ave. This mural is located on the side of Musician™s Repair and Sales (332 N Capitol Ave.) that is facing Indiana Ave. Image courtesy of Jonnie Fox. | Source: Jonnie Fox | Creator: Jonnie Fox View File Details Page

'Jammin' on the Avenue"

'Jammin' on the Avenue"

Sculpture created by John Spaulding in 1989. Located at the south entrance of Lockefield Gardens on Indiana Avenue, as a tribute to the jazz history of Indiana Avenue. Image courtesy of City Gallery Indy | Source: City Gallery Indy View File Details Page

Cite this Page:

Jonnie Fox, “Jazz on Indiana Avenue,” Discover Indiana, accessed July 28, 2017, http://indyhist.iupui.edu/items/show/156.

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