Musician Lancton says he is dedicated
to promoting jazz
His parents helped develop his interest
in music at early age
(January 2015) – Jazz, defining a range of styles from ragtime to blues to bebop, has played a major role in American music culture since its origin. It is a complex and intricate style of music that is constantly changing and evolving. Jazz musician J.J. Johnson said it best when he remarked, “Jazz is restless. It won’t stay put, and it never will.”
Madison, Ind., is fortunate to have its own strong music culture and talented musicians to help foster this interest. Among the ranks of musical artists is Bill Lancton, a 2005 Indianapolis Jazz Hall of Fame Inductee and one of the six owners of the local Red Bicycle Hall entertainment venue. A New York native, Lancton grew up in Yonkers, a suburb of New York City.
His proximity to New York City helped to develop his love of music and jazz in particular, but his parents were also a strong inspiration.
Jazz musician Hall of Famer Bill Lancton has New York roots but now spends his time between living in Indianapolis and Madison, Ind.
“My dad was a musician, and he was a band leader back in New York and Detroit in the 1930s and 1940s,” said Lancton, 63. “I grew up listening to my parents’ records. They loved jazz and had an extensive jazz record collection.”
Lancton moved to Indiana when he attended Indiana State University. After a couple of years at ISU, he transferred to Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and has more or less remained in Indy ever since. However, he also resides part time in Madison.
“I’m friends with Kevin Watkins, one of the other partners of Red Bicycle Hall,” Lancton explains. “Prior to the building coming for sale, I had played a show in the building on the history of jazz... At some point, we were all talking about finding a venue to do more of that thing. The building came up for sale, and a group of us decided to continue with the idea to have a performance venue in Madison.”
The Red Bicycle Hall has played host to a variety of events, including theater, concerts, wedding receptions and parties.
Lancton said Madison is a great music town. “Per capita, I would say that Madison has more musicians than any other town I’ve ever been. Recently, there was a night when seven different music events were going on in Madison, and each one had a full house. People in Madison generally support music and get out to do so.”
Jimmy Davis, a songwriter and musician in Madison who has studied and played with Lancton, echoes Lancton’s appreciation for the Madison music scene. “Madison’s definitely thriving, musically. They have a wonderful music venue with the Red Bicycle Hall.”
Davis, 37, gives credit to Lancton for his impact. “Bill does a lot for music. He does a lot to proliferate jazz music, and he’s one of the really important people in Indiana promoting music.”
Part of this influence came from Lancton’s five years as president of the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation. The foundation has been promoting jazz in Indianapolis and central Indiana for the past 20 years.
“There was a time when the foundation was either going to continue or fold,” shares Gene Markiewicz, Lancton’s successor as president of the foundation. “During Bill’s tenure, he basically got the Jazz Foundation back on its feet and successful again. He got people to buy into it again.”
A major initiative Lancton undertook as president was partnering with the Indianapolis Jazz Fest. “This gave us a lot of exposure in the media,” Lancton said. “Over the last seven years, we have increased our ability to fund different programs, which include scholarships for high school and college kids.”
Markiewicz, 57, acknowledges Lancton’s influence on his current presidency. “I admired his leadership as president, so I definitely constantly ask him for advice. He’s such a good leader and a great role model for me.”
Lancton was inducted into the Indianapolis Jazz Hall of Fame in 2005. Admission to the hall of fame is decided through a vote of the board members of the Indianapolis Jazz Foundation. The hall of fame is a way for the foundation to embrace the legacy of Indy’s talented musicians. Included in the hall of fame among the greats of Indianapolis jazz are Wes Montgomery, J.J. Johnson, and Freddie Hubbard.
“When I was inducted, I was the only other guitar player aside from Wes Montgomery. It was a huge honor,” Lancton said. “I remember how I felt when they called me. I was astonished, and it was so exciting to be told that. When I was president, I would call the new honorees, and I loved the reaction.”
Lancton has certainly earned his place in the hall of fame. He began playing in 1973 and started touring in 1974, doing around 300 gigs a year. In the late 1980s, he began teaching private lessons, which he continues to do today, while playing locally in Indy. In the 1990s, he began playing with the award-winning reggae funk band, Dog Talk. He has released two CDs with his band, The Coalition, and three with Dog Talk.
Lancton has not only influenced those who listen to music but also fellow musicians. “People play guitar their whole life and never get as good as Bill,” said Davis, who has played music with Lancton. “He’s a joy to play with. Always smiling. He just gets it. He loves music.”
Lancton said he plans to move to Madison on a more permanent basis in the next few years. “I love Madison. I’m looking forward to spending more time down here.”
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