While the video for contemporary jazz group Axon Radio’s new single looks like a modern love letter to their hometown, Indianapolis, the roots of “Naptown Hustle” run nearly one hundred years deep. The duo that makes up Axon Radio, drummer Travis Brant and bassist Cory Carleton, set out to honor Indianapolis’s jazz history by affectionately crafting an instrumental tribute. Building upon the foundation of a taut rhythmic groove, melodies came from the single’s co-writer and producer Darren Rahn, a multi-time Grammy nominee who has architected 27 Billboard No. 1 singles. Electing to go with electric jazz guitar as lead instrumental voice, two-time Grammy winner Paul Brown, a producer of more than sixty number one singles, plies his bluesy, cool jazz touch to the track.
Back in the 1920s, Indianapolis had a vibrant jazz scene, belying the bucolic city’s sleepy reputation for which the media affectionately coined the nickname “Naptown.” Guitar legend Wes Montgomery was born during that era and carried the mantel proudly when he came of age alongside fellow Indianapolis native and trumpet great Freddie Hubbard.
Before forming Axon Radio, Brant and Carleton performed as a drum and bass duo for a decade, creating an alchemic sound of jazz, funk, and fusion with live looping and interactive audience experiences. They released an experimental jazz fusion EP in 2020 titled “Shadow Logic,” which highlighted fusion guitarist Oz Noy as soloist. Then the group decided to take a deliberate turn towards making more commercial music, teaming up with contemporary jazz headliners such as nine-time Grammy nominee Gerald Albright and chart-topping saxophonist Michael Lington.
Carleton said, “Our approach to songwriting is fairly unique as every song is written starting with drums and bass. This often makes for an eclectic mix of time signatures, key changes and rhythms. We’ve enlisted top-tier producers and arrangers to help smooth things out.”
Among those producers and arrangers are Bud Harner (Mindi Abair, David Benoit, Keiko Matsui), keyboardist Matt Rohde (Jane’s Addiction, “The Voice”), and now Rahn (Dave Koz, Najee, Blake Aaron).
Axon Radio’s first single, 2021’s “Prom Drama,” featured Albright along with A-list session players Michael Thompson (guitar) and Luis Conte (percussion). Last year, the group spotlighted Lington on “Forklift Judy.” Both singles were accompanied by imaginative videos that contained hidden messages and QR codes to download free music. The band will neither confirm nor deny that they utilized that tactic in the “Naptown Hustle” video.