Over the last decade, Charlie Ballantine and Amanda Gardier have become pillars of the Indianapolis jazz community, regularly headlining noteworthy venues like The Jazz Kitchen while also amassing impressive music catalogs. With Gardier having recently accepted a role in the United States Navy band, however, the local power couple will now bid the Circle City farewell to embrace new opportunities on the East Coast.
Born the son of Scott Ballantine—an excellent guitarist in his own right—Charlie Ballantine picked up a guitar at the age of 15 and hasn’t looked back since.
“I had a friend who was strumming on a guitar one day,” Ballantine says. “He handed it over and was like, ‘Hey. Here’s a G chord. Here’s a C chord.’ As soon as that happened, it was just like electricity. Like, ‘This is what I’m going to do.’”
In addition to being a guitarist, Scott Ballantine also owned record stores around Indy as Charlie was growing up and would regularly introduce his son to all kinds of music. To this day, Charlie credits his father for making him so musically open-minded.
“I think a huge advantage of mine was that I had no musical education,” Charlie says. “I didn’t have these camps of jazz and pop and rock. My dad would just give me these stacks of records. There would be Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jeff Beck, The Beach Boys, Nirvana, and then some Wes Montgomery or Grant Green would be slipped in there.”
Eventually, Ballantine found himself gravitating to jazz, which led him to pursue a jazz studies degree from Indiana University’s acclaimed Jacobs School of Music. While learning from topnotch professors like the late David Baker, Charlie also met a standout saxophonist, who would later become his wife.
Originally from St. Charles, Illinois, Amanda Gardier admits she never interacted with Charlie in classes at IU. “I know we were in some classes together, but they were morning classes so he was almost never there—or if he was, he definitely wasn’t interested in talking to anyone,” she says with a laugh.
While they never hit it off in the classroom, Ballantine and Gardier eventually found themselves playing in the same Bloomington cover band. As one thing led to another, the guitarist and the saxophonist were drawn to each other.
“We would just play the bars real late at night,” Gardier says. “That’s how we really got to know each other. I think he asked me out for the first time at like 3 a.m. at the end of a gig.”
After graduating from IU, Ballantine and Gardier both relocated to Indianapolis and continued their jazz music pursuits. In looking back on his time in Indy post-college, Ballantine credits local jazz veterans like Jared Thompson and Rob Dixon for whipping him into shape.
“I came up here, and I sucked,” Ballantine says. “I remember going to the Chatterbox to hear Jared Thompson on Sundays, Rob Dixon on Mondays, and Sophie Faught on Wednesdays, and just being like, ‘I’m never gonna get there.’ But luckily, they were super nice people. Jared and Rob especially took me under their wings and showed me the ropes. Then, they’d start to let me sit in when they realized I could maybe hang for a tune or two.”
As Ballantine and Gardier found themselves getting more and more gigs in the Indy area, they were also navigating the often-treacherous territory of sharing the stage as a couple. “It’s a tough line to straddle,” Ballantine says of playing with a significant other. “I love playing with her, but when you have that deep, emotional connection, you’re very honest on stage with that person. So that’s why you don’t see a ton of husbands and wives playing together.” Having now performed together for a decade, Ballantine and Gardier definitely have it figured out, though.
“Sometimes people don’t like playing with their significant other, but I’ve always enjoyed it,” Gardier says. “It just makes you feel comfortable taking risks because it’s not like the person is never going to call you for a gig again.”
Since planting their roots in Indianapolis, Ballantine and Gardier have bloomed into a royal family of sorts, amassing an impressive catalog of music between the two of them while also giving birth to their daughter, River. Having played on both of their albums, local saxophonist extraordinaire Rob Dixon has witnessed the couple’s musical growth firsthand.
“Charlie and Amanda have blossomed as musicians over the last few years,” Dixon says. “Charlie’s really come into his own voice and has a distinct sound. To develop that at such a young age is a great accomplishment, and he’s done it.”
While flourishing on the home front, Ballantine has also embarked on several U.S. tours in recent years and is now at the point where he is playing auditoriums and theaters in other cities. Considering Ballantine is only 33, Dixon says the jazz guitarist’s career is in a great place right now.
“It’s unusual for somebody at a young age to be that focused and driven to record like he has,” Dixon says. “He’s been able to record a lot of music, and he’s been able to go out and build a name for himself in a lot of other markets by setting up multiple tours for himself. When you do those gigs in other cities, it just helps you grow as an artist to connect with people across the world.”
The Jazz Kitchen owner David Allee has had a front-row seat to the couple’s growth over the years. In reflecting on what impresses him most about Ballantine in particular, Allee pinpoints the albums Charlie has released honoring Bob Dylan and Kurt Vonnegut.
“Those aren’t easy things to pull off. They can backfire on you if they’re not done correctly,” Allee says. “He has a natural tendency to do new projects that challenge him.”
Having both made a habit of challenging themselves musically, Ballantine and Gardier will now embark on a new adventure together, as they move their family to Baltimore. The migration is prompted by a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity for Gardier, who has accepted a position with the U.S. Navy’s premiere jazz band in Washington, D.C.
“I’ve always been interested in the D.C. military bands,” Gardier says. “There are rarely opportunities, especially as a jazz musician, to have a salaried position where you’re just playing. I’ve sent in tapes before whenever there have been openings. I had never even been invited to a live audition, but this time it just worked out.”
Before packing up his bags, Ballantine will perform two shows at The Jazz Kitchen on Friday, March 31, at 7 and 9:30 p.m., alongside bassist Jesse Wittman and drummer Richard “Sleepy” Floyd. While they may be billed as “farewell” shows, Ballantine insists this won’t be the last time hometown fans will see him perform in Indy.
“It was tempting to have a million people sit in and make it a big thing, but we’re just going to keep it simple and approach it just like another concert,” Ballantine says of the March 31 gigs. “Because I really do think I’ll be back, and I hope it’s not an official goodbye in any way, shape, or form.”