It was my first trip to the Indiana Roof Ballroom, and everything I had heard about it held true. Inside you’re outside. That is to say that the ceiling is designed to have the appearance of our sky on a clear night. Light flows through basketball sized openings overhead, and casts shadows on the creamy hardwood floor below. I understand it was built as an outdoor amphitheatre where stargazing was encouraged. The Jazz Mandolin Project and Karl Denson's Tiny Universe are what brought me to The Roof. They joined forces for a night as part of Indy’s 3rd annual Jazz Fest.

The night got off to a beautiful start when a kind soul offered a friend and I free tickets just as we were ready to purchase a couple. And things went straight up from there. Like my friend said, “Sometimes God just smiles on you,” and I smiled back. So, we sat and chatted as he patched into the soundboard, relishing that the music hadn’t even started and we were already fine.

Jazz Mandolin came on first, taking the stage just after 8:00. I was excited to see what they had to offer; last time I caught them was at the Vogue about a year back, when Jon Fishman, of Phish, was beating the heads and cymbals. A good solid trio that peaked the tunes at the right time and could space out when needed.

And I was impressed, this time, when they brought Karl Denson out to play a song with them— a song of improvisation with hints of prior sculpting.

The Roof was only a quarter full, but when Denson and his Tiny Universe took the stage, the place erupted into a trance of blues-funk. They too had a new member in the band… a man that could blow and bellow on his piece of bent brass. Eliciting sweet sounds from the depths and conveying them through the horn of his trumpet. I wandered through the crowd, as I tend to do, sharing in the groove with all. Wanting nothing more than to get deeper into the scene, and help others along the way. Looking for that kind face that inspires me to do what I do, I was searching for something I’d lost somewhere in the show.

I kept on, and briefly drifted to a foreign place. The beat allowed me to take a physical break, and spend time alone... going to wherever my mind would take me. Karl let smooth, mellow belches from his saxophone and even stopped the show at one point to have some fun with a patron that wanted to hop on stage and beat the bongos. He eventually let her, after some friendly crowd persuasion. She didn’t let us down.

I took time to peruse the balcony encircling the stage and dance floor. Taking in a view that isn’t always available. Standing on the terrace gave me the feeling of being in the clouds, gazing down upon a city of constant motion. So I stood and smoked a cigarette, not saying or singing a thing. Simply watching a band put on a damn good show, and savoring the moment.

The night had to end at some point and I had to tend to a fallen friend. Exiting the show, I don’t know why, but I reached for the closet tree and plucked a leaf from its limb. Tucking in my front shirt pocket where I could keep an eye on it. Maybe I took it to help me remember where I went that night, if I ever forget. And perhaps it will remind me of the way back.

Joe Denning

[Published on: 7/20/01]

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