Wes Montgomery and other jazz greats of Indiana are getting some larger-than-life recognition, thanks to a recent work by Pamela Bliss, a Herron adjunct faculty member known for her murals.
“I had wanted to paint a mural of Wes Montgomery somewhere in Indy for years,” said Bliss. When Indianapolis conceived the “46 for XLVI” project, to create memorable public art as a welcome for Super Bowl visitors, Bliss was one of the many artists commissioned to provide the 46 murals.
Indiana Avenue Jazz Masters was the second of two murals Bliss created for the project, the other being a 38-foot-tall likeness of Kurt Vonnegut. Jazz Masters is visible from its namesake street, appropriately ensconced on the south exterior wall of the Musicians’ Repair and Sales building on Capitol Ave. The mural is also visible from New York Street a few blocks east of Herron.
Although Montgomery died in the 1960s, a few weeks after the big game it so happened that the Jazz Kitchen in Broad Ripple was holding a record release party for him. The celebration launched a CD of newly-discovered Indianapolis recordings by Montgomery from the late 1950s.
Mark Sheldon, a local contributor to DownBeat, arranged for Bliss to sit with the editor of the magazine for the event. The editor visited the mural, and news of Bliss’s work went national in Bobby Reed’s “First Take” column in the April issue.
Chicago-based DownBeat has been covering the jazz scene since 1934 and is arguably the last word on Jazz and related musical genres.
Montgomery is in good company on the wall of Musicans’ Repair. J.J. Johnson, Freddie Hubbard and IU’s own David Baker are in the mural as well. Bliss is in the process of adding more figures to the work, which will be dedicated in mid-July.
“I have done several jazz-themed murals in Richmond, Indiana, documenting the legacy of the Starr Piano Company and Gennett Records,” Bliss said.
“Whenever I do a mural,” she continued, “especially one that honors or memorializes, I want to be as historically correct and appropriate as possible. Public murals are a very powerful way to communicate. The public is imprinted with an image directly and subliminally and it becomes truth to them after they live with it for awhile.”
Now the truth is there for all to see. Indiana Avenue has a jazz heritage worthy of continued celebration.
Bliss said, “I feel very small—no pun intended—in the wake of what these great people have accomplished. I feel very privileged to help recognize them.”