Charlie Ballantine’s career as a jazz guitarist would’ve been more convenient in New Orleans or New York City, where clubs to perform in and musicians to perform with are more plentiful. But those jazz-rich cities aren’t home to him. Ballantine, a 2013 graduate of Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, grew up in Indiana, splitting his time between Syracuse and Indianapolis. And now, even as his music receives national acclaim, Ballantine has no plans to leave.
It’s his Midwestern roots and the influence of his father, longtime Indianapolis guitarist Scott Ballantine, that the younger Ballantine credits for his sound—a fusion between jazz, rock, and folk. He also credits his success to the Indianapolis jazz community that has embraced him and his six albums. (The most recent, Vonnegut, an ode to Kurt Vonnegut’s characters, was released last year at the height of the pandemic and a national tour supporting it had to be largely canceled.)
“I can’t overstate the response I’ve gotten here from my music,” he says. “It’s just a pleasant surprise.”
Jazz saxophonist Rob Dixon, who collaborates with Ballantine, began supporting him after hearing him play only a few times. “He has a sound that’s uniquely his own, and that doesn’t happen often with young musicians,” says Dixon, the artistic director for Indy Jazz Fest. “He doesn’t just represent Indianapolis—he has a sound that can represent the entire Midwest.”
Last summer, Charlie and his wife, Amanda, started hosting tiny concerts in their Rocky Ripple home’s front yard. The shows began spontaneously when they started playing outside with their friends and quickly became so popular they had to take reservations to maintain social distancing guidelines. Guests came on Sunday afternoons, bringing refreshments and lawn chairs. They also filled the neighbors’ lawns and spilled into the road—and they went online to send tips.
“It was great to have some sort of income, but it wasn’t just that,” Ballantine says. “Just to get to be creative in front of an audience after six months of not doing that was so amazing.”
The yard concerts ended with the arrival of fall, so Ballantine created a series of livestreams and finally, by the end of the year, The Jazz Kitchen reopened with limited seating. Hoping for the best as 2021 gets going, Ballantine is also back in the recording studio, working on his seventh record in as many years.
“I love being in the studio, and doing it once a year has just become kind of my schedule,” he says. “It’s a timeline of my personal life. These are my photo albums, essentially.”
Thanks to Ballantine’s affinity for his hometown, they are Indianapolis’s, too.