Monday, October 20, 2014

Kansas City's 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival 2014

The event’s name, Kansas City’s 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival, at nine words, is semi-officially the longest title of any jazz festival anywhere. On Wikipedia’s page of jazz festivals around the world (here) – a listing of hundreds of jazz events – only two others are as long as eight words: the United Kingdom’s Glenn Miller Festival of Swing, Jazz and Jive and Northern Ireland’s City of Derry Jazz and Big Band Festival. Two are seven words long. The rest run three to six words. Organizers, there’s nothing wrong with a succinct title.

Especially when organizers at the American Jazz Museum present such a stellar music event. Staging and sound at the festival’s three venues clustered around 18th and Vine (the outdoor Main Stage and the indoor Blue Room and Gem Theater) were excellent. The flow through the grounds is well planned and executed. The friendliness and helpfulness of volunteers makes you feel like the event’s most important guest. The assortment of food and other vendors adds a welcome variety that other festivals lack. The one element out of organizers’ control, beautiful fall weather, capped the day.

Don’t believe me? Take a look at the photos below of local acts from each of the venues and the jazz and blues headliners on the main stage. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

The main stage with Hearts of Darkness

Hearts of Darkness commands the main stage early in the afternoon

The Groove Axis with Houston Smith on sax in The Blue Room

Book of Gaia. Left to right: Michael Warren on drums, Eddie Moore on piano, D'Andre Manning on bass, Nedra Dixon, vocals, Pam Watson, vocals, Angels Hagenbach, vocals, Karita Carter on trombone.

Book of Gaia in the Gem Theater

The vocalists: Nedra Dixon, Pam Watson and Angela Hagenbach

Blues headliner Lucky Peterson

Lucky Peterson mugging on the main stage

Lucky Peterson, with guitar, leaving the main stage...

...and joining the audience.

Lucky Peterson surrounded by hundreds of fans

Lucky Peterson

Jazz headliner Roy Hargrove. Dig those shoes.

Roy Hargrove enjoys his quintet, with Larry Willis on piano, Justin Robinson on sax, Ameen Saleem on bass and (not seen) Willie Jones III on drums.

Justin Robinson and Roy Hargrove

Unexpectedly, Roy Hargrove sings

Pianist Larry Willis

Roy Hargrove on the main stage

Monday, October 13, 2014

A Week Away

A death in the family precludes me from offering a new post this week. I hope to be back next week with photos from this weekend's festival at 18th and Vine.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Take Five, Version 1.0

Four years ago, Lori Chandler offered up her six month old Leawood coffee shop to host a fundraiser for a jazz band trying to go to Paris. Up until then, she had made a seat available for a guitarist, just as coffee shops are supposed to do, I suppose like Phoebe on Friends. But a jazz band? Lori didn’t really know what to expect.

She was blown away by the music of Diverse – Hermon Mehari on trumpet, Ben Leifer on bass and Ryan Lee on drums – and by the acoustics in her little coffee shop. Soon, Take Five was hosting bi-weekly Sunday night jam sessions. Musicians asked if their groups could perform there, too. And Take Five Coffee + Bar developed into a quaint coffee shop by day and a serious jazz club on weekend nights. Many nights, bodies squeezed into every corner of the room, to the delight of musicians and the crowd.

At 151st and Nall, in Leawood, Kansas, audiences turned out for jazz.

Jazz fans weren’t the only people to notice. So did developers of nearby shopping centers. Later this month, Take five moves into more than double the space in the Corbin Park shopping center at 135th and Metcalf, behind the Von Maur department store.

On Sunday, August 28th, Taske Five closed its original space with its first jazz band, Diverse. Below are photos of how it looked. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Take Five Coffee + Bar on its last night in its original location with the band that started it all, Diverse.

Diverse. Left to right: Hermon Mehari on trumpet, Ben Leifer on bass and Ryan Lee on drums.

Trumpeter Hermon Mehari

Bassist Ben Leifer

Early in the evening on the original Take Five’s last night.


Drummer Ryan Lee

Hermon and Ben

Diverse on the last night in the original Take Five

The last night in Take Five, Version 1.0

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Foundation 627 Big Band at the Green Lady Lounge

Sunday nights are as much about the club as the big band.

The Foundation 627 Big Band, the newest in a long line of big bands born since the 1930s at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, performs every Sunday night from 8:30 to 12:30 at the Green Lady Lounge. I don’t know the names of all of the musicians in this group. But this is a solid collection of KC talent. Consider a front line of saxophonists Steve Lambert, Mike Hererra, David Chael and Brett Jackson; a rhythm section with Chris Clark on keyboards, Dominique Sanders on bass and John Kizilarmut on drums; and players like trumpeters Stan Kessler and Ryan Thielman, and trombonist Jason Goudeau.

Now place this big band in a room where stepping through the front door feels like stepping seven decades back in time. Red walls and drapes, faux classic paintings adorning the walls, a long narrow space with a classic bar lining one wall and leather lined booths the other. This feels exactly like the kind of place where you ought to hear jazz.

Place the big band in the front of that space, get yourself a drink and, well, you can DVR all those Sunday night TV programs you wanted to see. Watch them later. The Foundation 627 Big Band in the Green Lady Lounge isn’t going to show up on your DVR.

They’re going to show up as you see in the photos below, this time presented without captions. These were taken the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, on August 31st. As always, clicking on a shot should open a larger version of it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 PV Jazz Fest: The Headliners

The weather and the music were as close to ideal as they could be. The local acts brought their best for the 2014 Prairie Village Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 6th. But the audience size grew to its peak as Kevin Mahogany took the stage.

I’d long considered bringing in Kevin with a big band (and may yet do that someday), but for various reasons the festival couldn’t accommodate a big band this year. So instead we paired Kevin with Joe Cartwright’s trio. Backed by Joe on piano, Tyrone Clarke on bass and Michael Warren on drums, Kevin’s baritone voice connected with the audience from that big outdoor stage to a grassy hill full of people in an intimate way I never anticipated.

Then Deborah Brown took the stage. Backed by Joe Lovano on sax, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Richard Johnson on piano, Leon Anderson on drums and Tyrone Clarke (putting in a long but wonderful night) on bass, Deborah’s amazing voice shined. Stafford’s solos, ripe with power and inventiveness, owned the stage. Lovano’s solos, this night reimagining a trio Charlie Parker compositions, proved too contemporary for a suburban Kansas City audience, which thinned before the set ended. But they also proved why Lovano has repeatedly won Downbeat’s Critic’s Poll as best tenor saxophonist. All of us who stayed enjoyed more than an hour and a half of jazz in 2014 at its best. Unfortunately, the sound system was not at its best, though I’m not sure that feedback which haunted the stage area was discernible more than a few short times to the audience.

Below are photos from the night. As always, clicking on a shot should open a larger version of it.

Singer Kevin Mahogany

Left to right: Joe Cartwirght on piano, Tyrone Clark on bass, Kevin Mahogany, vocals, Michael Warren on drums

Connecting with the audience

Kevin Mahogany with the Joe Cartwright Trio

Kevin Mahogany sings

On stage at the Prairie Village Jazz Festival

Kevin Mahogany

Left to right: Deborah Brown, vocals, Richard Johnson on piano, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Tyrone Clark on bass, Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Leon Anderson on drums

Deborah Brown and Terell Stafford

Joe Lovano

Deborah Brown and Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson

Leon Anderson

Deborah Brown with Terell Stafford and Tyrone Clark

Deborah Brown and Joe Lovano

Richard enjoys Deborah’s vocals

Deborah, Terell and Tyrone appreciate Joe’s solo

Deborah Brown with Joe Lovano and Terell Stafford brilliantly conclude the 2014 Prairie Village Jazz Festival