Sunday, August 24, 2014

No Post

The weekend got away from me, so I am taking this week off from the blog. Thank you for checking in. A new post will return next week.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Bird Tour Plus One

I was angry at myself.

I’d known about the tour for weeks. On Saturday, as part of the 17-day Charlie Parker Celebration, a trolley would be driving participants to Kansas City sites associated with Charlie Parker, with Chuck Haddix explaining the significance of each location. I was looking forward to this. I discussed it in last week’s blog post.

So, at noon last Friday I was standing at the desk in the lobby of the American Jazz Museum to buy a ticket. And they were sold out.

Congratulations to the American Jazz Museum and KC Jazz ALIVE, organizers of the tour and the Parker Celebration. Selling out every seat at $15 each is impressive.

But I wanted one of them. I stood at the desk. I asked the host if she was sure they were gone. I frowned. I fidgeted. I whined. None of that opened up a seat.

But in sympathy (or maybe to get rid of me), the host handed me a pair of sheets stapled together. Here was the itinerary, she told me. It listed each stop on the Saturday tour, with its address. I could take that. Maybe I could drive to each location myself.

Now there was an idea.

Between Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning, after the official tour concluded, I visited each site with my camera and photographed it.

So below, for everyone who, like me, missed the bus, are the stops of Saturday’s Charlie Parker Historical Tour, in order, with a photo of each. And I’ve added one site where Bird performed that wasn’t on the tour.

One critical element missing from a stack of photos is Chuck Haddix’s commentary. So with each, I’ve added Chuck’s description of the location, mostly from his terrific biography, Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker. If you haven’t read the book yet, you need to.

And next time I need to buy a ticket sooner.

*****

3527 Wyandotte. The Parker apartment was on the upper floor on the right.

“[In the summer of 1927], the family moved into a spacious upstairs apartment in a brick fourplex at 3527 Wyandotte Avenue, just north of the apartment building where Charles Sr. worked. Tall, white, fluted Ionic columns framed the unit’s broad, gray, wood front porches. Charlie played on the sidewalk in front of the apartments beneath elm trees arching over the street. He attended Penn School in Westport, a historic area located a mile south of the family’s apartment….

“Arthur Saunders, a classmate of Charlie’s at Penn School, recalled, ‘There was not much prejudice in Westport. There were three main groups - white, black and mixed. At a club in an area known as The Valley, mixed-race couples gathered to socialize. No one bothered them.’”

109 W. 34th St. 109 is the door on the left, by the steps.

This residence isn’t mentioned in Chuck’s book. But on Steve Kraske’s Up to Date program on KCUR-FM last Friday, Chuck explained: “This is where Charlie Parker and his family lived from 1930 until 1932… When [Chuck and a friend] discovered  this, it was actually empty and in a horrible state of disrepair - it’s owned by a bank - and since then they’ve renovated it. Fortunately, they haven’t overdone it. It’s pretty much what it looked like back in the day….”

Century Room, 3605 Broadway. The Broadway Jazz Club is at 3601 Broadway, on the left. 3605 is the purple awning.

I didn’t find the Century Room mentioned in Chuck’s book, and a cursory Google search unveiled nothing. But it’s a close walk to Charlie’s homes.



Penn School marker. This can be tough to find. On the west side of Broadway between 42nd and 43rd Streets is a concrete sidewalk leading to the limestone where where this plaque is embedded.

“Penn School, located at 4237 Pennsylvania Avenue, was the first school established west of the Mississippi River devoted to educating African American children. The red-brick three room schoolhouse, named after Quaker William Penn, stood on a limestone outcropping just west of Broadway. Parents of students who attended Penn worked as janitors, domestics and laborers in the area. Art Saunders’s mother, the school’s janitor, fired up the potbellied stove on chilly mornings. Students shared a cup for drinking water. The ring of an old-fashioned bell marked the day’s schedule. During recess, students played on the grassy knoll down the hill south of the school. After school, Charlie and his friends flocked to Manor Bakery, located a few blocks north, to pick up day-old cakes and cookies.”

Martin’s on the Plaza, 210 W. 47th St.

Chuck with Steve Kraske on KCUR: “It’s where Charlie Parker played with Jay McShann…. Martin’s 210 on the Plaza was the first club on the Plaza to employ African American musicians, and Jay McShann played here with a small ensemble in [1938], and Charlie Parker was a member of that group….”

Paseo Hall, Truman Rd. and The Paseo

“[In 1935] Charlie joined Lawrence Keye’s Ten Chords of Rhythm, launching his musical career at age fourteen….

“The Chords played occasional dates at Paseo Hall….”

1516 Olive St. today. The Parker house was torn down by the city in the 1980s.

“In the summer of 1932, [Charlie’s mother] Addie left Charles Sr. for good. She found work as a custodian in the offices of Western Union in Union Station and rented a spacious two-story house at 1516 Olive Street located northeast of Eighteenth and Vine, the business and spiritual center for the African American community….”


Lincoln Cemetery, off Truman Rd. east of I-435. Addie, Charlie’s mother, is buried on the left and Charlie on the right.

“Members of Local 627 carried Charlie to his final resting place atop a hill in Lincoln Cemetery, an African American cemetery located in an unincorporated area between Kansas City and Indepencence. Addie buried her son under a shade tree, so he would be cool during the summer….”

That was the official tour. But I have one more stop for you. Another building which housed a club where Charlie Parker played, during his formative years with Buster Smith’s band, still stands.

1717 W. 9th St. (basically, 9th and State Line Rd.) in the West Bottoms. 

From John Simonson’s wonderful blog, Paris of the Plains (here): “It was once part of what was known in the 1890s as ‘the Wettest Block in the World,’ the block of West Ninth Street between Genessee and State Line in the West Bottoms. So named because almost every storefront on both sides of the street were saloons that served the roughneck stockyards cowboys and workers from nearby meat-packing plants.

“Around that time the second floor of the building at 1717 W. Ninth became home to a young Thomas J. Pendergast, just come to town from his native St. Joseph, Mo., to work in the family business. The Pendergast Brothers Saloon, on the street level, was owned by his older brothers Jim and John….

“Fast forward to the 1930s.... The former Pendergast Brothers Saloon has become the Antlers Club….”

From Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker: “At the end of June [1938], the [Buster] Smith band closed out at Lucille’s and moved to the Antler’s Club.... Once again, Smith was forced to abandon his dream of a big band for a small ensemble to suit the size of the club. After a few weeks at the Antlers, Smith decided to go to New York and find work for his big band….”

Monday, August 11, 2014

Bird Promotion

The Business Journal beat me to it.

I was ready to fill a post with accolades for the promotional work being done to spread the word – both locally and nationally – on the seventeen day Kansas City Charlie Parker Celebration, organized by KC Jazz ALIVE. But last Friday’s online Social Media Matters column of the Kansas City Business Journal (here) did it first.

The article asks and answers: “What about the nonprofits? What about citywide events? It’s…important that these entities integrate social media and online communications into their larger strategies.”

The article then tells how the Charlie Parker Celebration is doing it: “[Organizers]…created a ‘Tactical Social Media Promo Kit’ for participating organizations and venues. The kit contains suggested scripts for social media posts and includes links to any rich content like videos, websites, ticketing, etc.

“A Facebook Event was created, along with custom event-specific pages found on the KC Jazz Alive and American Jazz Museum websites. The purpose is to educate Kansas Citians about Charlie Parker and his global influence on jazz, provide useful information on the event (Where can I go to hear live Jazz?), provide a link for ticket purchases, recognize valuable sponsors and generally drum up excitement and enthusiasm for the first-time event….”

Promotion done right on this celebration extends beyond social media. Graphic artists at Boulevard Brewing contributed a poster that established a cohesive graphic look encompassing specific colors, type fonts, and a posterized image of Charlie Parker. These elements have tied together web sites, emails, posters, schedule cards and all online and printed promotional materials, bestowing a unified image and voice - unified branding - on the individual shows.

That’s especially important for an event that mostly throws an umbrella over already-scheduled jazz performances and calls them a tribute to Bird. There’s nothing wrong with that approach. That was essentially the formula used to revive the Kansas City Jazz Festival in 1983 and 1984. Done right, it can draw attention and excite.

And the promotion extends beyond Kansas City. An article on Downbeat’s web site (here) by KC writer and jazz enthusiast Rick Hellman, extols this event to the world. So does an article on the web site of Jazz Times (here). Jazz fans worldwide know that Kansas City is (finally) celebrating our most culturally significant native son.

*****

One of the celebration’s more intriguing events is Saturday’s Stories From The Vine – Charlie Parker Historical Tour and Musical Salute.

When bloggers visited in June, the Mutual Musicians Foundation hosted a fascinating tour of what were Kansas City’s Black neighborhoods during the era when jazz flourished here. Seeing the areas today with a guide who explained what once was there, brought a deeper understanding of the culture and of the limitations segregation imposed on a Kansas City’s black community. It’s context too often acknowledged only in passing.

I anticipate similar context when Chuck Haddix hosts a tour that, according to the promotional materials, “visits special sites in Kansas City that played a significant role in the life and development of Charlie Parker.” Afterward, Kent Rausch’s outstanding big band, Vine Street Rumble, performs.

The bus leaves at 1 p.m. this Saturday, August 16th, from the American Jazz Museum. The cost is $15.

*****

But this celebration isn’t perfect. The most glaring omission among participants is a cornerstone of Kansas City jazz: The Mutual Musicians Foundation. They were scheduled to host a luncheon following August 30th’s 21 Sax Salute at Parker’s gravesite. I don’t know whether officials at the Foundation decided to pull out or whether celebration organizers chose to move the lunch.

The event spotlights, in most promotional materials, participant logos. They range from the American Jazz Museum to the Jazz Ambassadors to eight clubs and hotels to Zona Rosa to UMKC to Johnson County Community College. Notably not there: a logo for the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

That spotlights a division in today’s Kansas City jazz community which must be overcome.

*****

Seventeen continuous days of jazz concerts and events. Kansas City, this umbrella celebration could not have happened not too long ago. Not too long ago, you couldn’t have found seventeen continuous days of jazz in Kansas City to toss an umbrella over. Today, that’s easy.


Monday, August 4, 2014

Five Years of kcjazzlark

Next Saturday, August 9, will mark five years since the first blog post of kcjazzlark.

Typically in the anniversary post, I recall how discovering the abundance of young jazz talent in Kansas City prompted me to cry out about it (recalled). I note that I didn’t think anybody was actually going to find or read this blog (noted). And I thank you readers who did find this blog, and the extraordinary musicians dominating Kansas City’s jazz scene today, who make this blog possible, and who continue to provide the inspiration to post something new most weeks (consider yourself thanked).

The anniversary obligations met, let’s try something new this year. Because since early in this blog, photos have been a popular part of it. So let’s look back through the first few years of kcjazzlark and see again some favorites among the photographs posted here.

I also regularly state that when others maintain anything put on the internet will be there forever, I’m counting on it. Decades from now, I want others to be able to see the remarkable talent carrying on Kansas City’s unique culture of jazz (stated).

And then, anytime I post photos, I write something about how if you click on a photo you should see a larger version of it (written).

Logan Richardson with the original, award-winning lineup of Diverse at the Record Bar, from January, 2010

Bobby Watson with Horizon at The Blue Room, from January, 2010

Deborah Brown at The Blue Room, from January, 2010

The late Myra Taylor, performing in The Blue Room in March, 2010

Junior Mance in The Blue Room in April, 2010

Matt Otto and Sam Wisman with Crosscurrent in The Blue Room in July, 2010

Hermon Mehari and Megan Birdsall at The Drum Room in August, 2010

A surprised Mark Lowrey, costumed for Halloween, at Jardine's in October, 2010

Brad Cox directs The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City at The Record Bar in December, 2010

Harold O'Neal at the Mutual Musicians Foundation on the morning of New Year's Day, 2011

Beau Bledsoe with Matt Otto's ensemble in Jardine's in March, 2011

Gerald Dunn with Matt Otto's ensemble in Jardine's in March, 2011

Stan Kessler with the Sons of Brazil at Jardine's in June, 2011

Ernie Andrews at The Blue Room in August, 2011

Pat and Mike Metheny at a Celebration of Life honoring their mother, Lois Metheny, at the Arrowhead Yacht Club at Lake Winnebago in December, 2011

Shay Estes with Jeff Harshbarger in Polsky Theatre for Jazz Winterlude in January, 2012

Rich Wheeler's quartet in Take Five in May, 2012

Steve Lambert and Hermon Mehari with the KC Sound Collective in The Blue Room in May. 2012

Monday, July 28, 2014

Don't Fear Jazz

Apparently, two types of festivals today use jazz in their name. One is a jazz festival legitimately full with  jazz acts. This year’s Chicago Jazz Festival, for instance, stars Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tootie Heath, Terrence Blanchard with Ravi Coltrane, Gary Burton, and Dave Holland with Kevin Eubanks. Each act, without question, is jazz.

Then there’s the event with jazz in its name which sports a token jazz act surrounded by other, presumably more popular, genres of music. The Capital Jazz Festival, situated between Washington D.C. and Baltimore, is an example. This year, Dianne Reeves shared the billing with Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, John Legend, Peabo Bryson and The O’Jays.

I’m not sure why an event like that is branded a jazz festival. Perhaps it’s a legacy title, recalling a day when its schedule was dominated by jazz. Or maybe it’s because the event is located in a jazz district.

That would explain the 2014 Kansas City’s 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival.

Let’s state upfront: Organizers at the American Jazz Museum stage a first class event. Last year cut a few corners compared to previous years, such as less and less elegant signage. But the museum still mounted an outstanding music festival, complemented with a variety of vendors, tight staging, a good flow through the grounds, and deep respect for visitors once you’re inside the festival (but not when you’re trying to find a parking space; unless you’re an organizer or a sponsor who paid oodles, parking is a problem).

But whatever you name it, this is a music festival, not any more a jazz festival than one starring Chaka Khan and the O’Jays. Look at the announced headliners.

Trumpeter Roy Hargrove is the event’s legitimate connection to jazz. But the festival’s website does everything possible to downplay that connection. It says, “Ever stretching into more challenging and colorful ways to flex his musical chops, Hargrove has left indelible imprints in a vast array of artful settings. In 2003, he introduced his own hip hop/jazz collective The RH Factor….” And it quotes Hargrove as musing, “I’ve been doing more touring with RH Factor than my quintet lately….” It doesn’t state whether he’s coming with his quintet or his don’t-worry-everybody-it-doesn’t-really-sound-like-jazz group.

Headliner Meshell Ndegeocello is described by the festival’s website “as a redeemer of soul music. Her music incorporates funk, soul, hip-hop, reggae, rock and jazz.” I listened to some of it on iTunes. The jazz influence is exceptionally well hidden.

The festival site makes no pretense at all of tying headliner Midnight Star to jazz. Good thing. I’d never heard of them. After listening to their Greatest Hits album on iTunes, I never want to hear them again. You will if you like 1980s vintage electronic dance music.

Finally, headliner Lucky Peterson fills the blues portion of the festival’s lengthy title as, frankly, the act I’m most looking forward to hearing. With a modern groove laid down on a true down-n-dirty blues sound and the occasional boogie, this music is authentic. Maybe authentic enough to scare off everyone the other acts seem aimed at attracting.

I understand the expense involved with staging an outdoor festival. I understand the need to attract more people than attend a concert at The Gem or spend a night in The Blue Room.

But I also understand the message being sent implies a fear of jazz. The American Jazz Museum is staging a music festival that tries to associate itself with jazz though its name but disassociate itself through the actual music. This appears to be a festival booked with marketing in mind, by defining an age group who organizers think will buy tickets to a music event at 18th and Vine and booking the acts they can afford with the broadest appeal to that defined group.

I work in marketing. I deal daily with research and target marketing. It’s a fine, science-based method for building campaigns designed to move merchandise to consumers or for driving business-to-business sales.

I hate art defined by marketing. Especially when I know organizers don’t need to fear jazz.

You see a comparable mentality to the Corporate Woods Jazz Festival. I haven’t decided yet whether that event’s decision this year to book Bobby Watson, Eldar and Angela Hagenbach in half hour segments was a misguided experiment or booking by someone who doesn’t have a clue.

Legitimate jazz names properly selected, correctly marketed – that’s critical – and fairly priced will draw people to an outdoor music festival. You need to sell the event. You need to sell the experience. You need to sell the idea that if you miss this, you’ll miss what everyone in the office will be discussing on Monday morning. There’s where research-based marketing benefits an arts event: In knowing how to sell it. And that’s where you set a festival apart from, say, a jazz concert at the Folly marketed with a few ads in the Sunday Star.

I remember in the early 1980s, at an 18th and Vine Jazz and Heritage Festival, hearing Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Harry “Sweets” Edison perform with Rich Hill’s trio in Eblon, a club then at the corner of 18th and Vine where Danny’s Big Easy stands today. A small stage was set up because rain had forced the outdoor tents to come down. And as “Lockjaw” blew an unforgettable solo, the noisy club quieted, every conversation stopped, and the audience listened. We were hearing musical magic.

The 2014 equivalent of an act like that should be playing a music festival at 18th and Vine. Properly marketed, it will draw a crowd. It will just be a different crowd than comes to hear 1980s vintage electronic dance music.

Monday, July 21, 2014

This 'n That 'n Celebrating August

Two festivals bookended the month back then, the 18th and Vine Jazz and Heritage Festival early in August and the Kansas City Jazz Festival late in the month. Conveniently, both Count Basie’s and Charlie Parker’s birthdays fell during the month. Saks Fifth Avenue, then on The Plaza, hosted a classy jazz awards celebration on a Friday night. Other special events popped up from year to year.

So, in the latter half of the 1980s, the Kansas City Jazz Commission obtained proclamations from the Mayor’s office and from the Missouri Secretary of State – they were easy to get if you submitted the parts about your event written in their style – naming August as Jazz and Heritage Month in Kansas City and Missouri.

The Kansas City Jazz Festival eventually merged with the blues festival and moved to July. The 18th and Vine event moved into September. Saks ended the awards celebrations. And the Jazz Commission stopped asking for August proclamations.

This August may be time for somebody to ask again.

KC Jazz ALIVE, with its freshly-acquired not-for-profit status, has branded a compilation of events as an 18-day Kansas City Charlie Parker Celebration. It mostly promotes already-scheduled-with-no-idea-they’d-wind-up-being-connected-to-Charlie-Parker club dates. But give credit where it’s due. This is an inaugural effort to recognize one of the greatest icons in jazz history, in the city where he was born and raised, a city which until now couldn’t even see the benefit in saving his home or put the right saxophone on his tombstone.

From August 14th through the end of the month, over 18 days, KC Jazz ALIVE will promote the collection of concerts and events as recognition of one of this city’s most culturally important sons, even reviving the Twenty One Sax Salute at Parker’s gravesite at noon on August 30th. Boulevard Brewing has designed an impressive poster.

The 1983 revival of the Kansas City Jazz Festival was a two week collection of events under a single banner. So was the 1984 festival. This format has worked before in Kansas City. It has the potential to bring welcome attention to Kansas City jazz while honoring a legend who should have been honored decades ago.

Unassociated with the Parker celebration but falling within its 18 days is an August 23rd unveiling of a new American Jazz Walk of Fame along 18th Street, between Vine and Highland. Six bronze medallions will be embedded in the sidewalk honoring Count Basie, Mary Lou Williams, Jay McShann, Bobby Watson, Pat Metheny and, of course, Charlie Parker. Sounds much like the bronze stars that once faced a hotel on 12th Street. A concert by the Count Basie Orchestra in the Gem Theater will cap the event. It’s all organized by the Jazz District Renaissance Corporation (though word on the street largely places the office of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver behind the effort).

Last year saw the renovation of homes and the Rochester Hotel along Highland Street, finally surrounding the Mutual Musicians Foundation with the inviting environment it needed and deserved. These medallions will bring renewed focus to 18th Street. It’s good to see architectural enhancements spread throughout the district.

Next year, another event or compilation celebration highlighting dates early in the month could again warrant a proclamation honoring the month both Charlie Parker and Count Basie were born.

(Then the Prairie Village Jazz Festival explodes with jazz just a week into the next month.)

*****

KC Jazz ALIVE is on a roll. Their program at the Folly Theater to introduce musicians to opportunities to earn a living resulted in some musicians taking jobs that will allow them to make money and perform.

Some argue that artists should be able to earn their living as artists. And some artists do. But even Jay McShann drove a garbage truck to support his family. Whether we’re talking jazz saxophonists or poets or portrait painters, the reality today is that only the best of the best artists find full time employment in their art, and even then only those who understand how to successfully sell and market themselves.

KC Jazz Alive’s next step will be to help jazz musicians do just that, setting up a chance for promotional photos.

*****

The American Jazz Museum is also on a roll. They’re one of the key organizations behind the Charlie Parker Celebration. On Wednesday they will officially unveil the lineup for October 11th’s Kansas City’s 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival (will someone slice and dice that name into something manageable?), even though if you follow the right orgs on Facebook, you’ve already seen all of the headliners’ names.

And on top of a successful PEER fundraising effort (noted here), they have won a $133,050 grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to add staff to improve collections accessibility. Think easier access to the John Baker jazz film collection in the near future.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Building the 2014 Prairie Village Jazz Festival

I understood the parameters.

The organizers of The Prairie Village Jazz Festival require each act to have a connection to Kansas City (you smooth jazz acts who want to return here can stop emailing me. Having played the Corporate Woods Jazz Festival is not a connection to Kansas City).

The music needs to be dynamic to play well to a large space. Intimate jazz has its place, but an outdoor hill seating thousands of people isn’t it. That doesn’t mean only music that’s brassy and bold need apply (though it can). It means jazz that’s accessible and makes an emotional connection with the families who fill that hill. This isn’t about giving an audience what some snide know-it-all decides is good for them. This is about giving a husband and wife in tee-shirts and shorts and laying on a blanket, jazz they’ll enjoy.

Last year’s festival lost money, and the talent budget was the place to cut. I decided we would not pursue a big band. Last year’s festival showed me we really need a bigger stage to properly accommodate a big band. Between the number of musicians to be paid and increased production costs associated with a larger stage, this wasn’t to be a big band year.

With the abundance of extraordinary jazz talent in Kansas City, and slots for just six acts during the festival day, I wanted to largely consider musicians who were not in last year’s event. That goal influenced decisions on the groups to invite.

And I wanted a link to the jazz district. I’m still stung by memories of The Kansas City Jazz Festival, which I helped organize through much of the 1980s, being contrasted with the 18th and Vine Jazz and Heritage Festival staged those same years. Some back then decided this city had a white jazz festival and a black jazz festival. With a significant festival in the 18th and Vine district five weeks after the Prairie Village event, we need a connection, not a perception of indifference and division.

Those were the parameters. This is what we’ll hear on September 6th at Harmon Park, 7700 Mission Road in Prairie Village, Kansas, next to City Hall and Shawnee Mission East High School, with a $5 admission (children free):
2:00 – 2:10 p.m.    Welcome by the Mayor

2:10 – 2:40 p.m.    Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights
Kim Harrison, director

3:00 – 3:50 p.m.    Project H                           
Ryan Heinlein, trombone, Brett Jackson, saxophones, Nate Nall, trumpet, Jeff Stocks, guitar, Andrew Ouellette, piano, Dominique Sanders, bass, Matt Leifer, drums

4:10 – 5:00 p.m.    Shay Estes with Rod Fleeman and Matt Otto           
Shay Estes, vocals, Matt Otto, tenor sax, Rod Fleeman, guitar, Mark Lowrey, piano, Karl McComas-Reichl, bass, John Kizilarmut, drums

5:20 – 6:10 p.m.    The Jazz Disciples with Jason Goudeau and Stephanie Moore         
Gerald Dunn, alto sax, Everett Freeman, piano, James Ward, bass, Michael Warren, drums, Jason Goudeau, trombone, Stephanie Moore, vocals

6:30 – 7:20 p.m.    Bram Wijnands Swingtet                     
Bram Wijnands, piano and vocals, David Chael, clarinet, Carl Bender, tenor and baritone sax, Mike Herrera, alto sax, Phillip Wakefield, drums

7:40 – 8:40 p.m.    Kevin Mahogany with the Joe Cartwright Trio                  
Kevin Mahogany, vocals, Joe Cartwright, piano, Tyrone Clark, bass, Michael Warren, drums

9:00 – 10:30 p.m.  Deborah Brown with Joe Lovano and Terell Stafford   
Deborah Brown, vocals, Joe Lovano, tenor sax, Terell Stafford, trumpet, Richard Johnson, piano, Tyrone Clark, bass, Leon Anderson, drums

Scheduling begins with the headliners, and I knew where I wanted to start. Anyone who has heard Deborah Brown knows her voice is one of the most magnificent in jazz today. But she rarely plays Kansas City, her hometown. Her extraordinary talent is better known in Europe, Asia and Russia, where she performs much of the year.

Deborah should be recognized here. My goal: At the conclusion of this year’s festival, thousands of fans ask why they had never heard of Deborah Brown before and where can they hear her again.

Maybe we’ll meet that goal, maybe not. But I decided we’d try. I asked Deborah to put together a headline group. She did.

Joe Lovano was Downbeat’s Tenor Saxophonist of the Year last year, and their Jazz Musician of the Year in 2010. And he and Deborah have known each other for decades. She added Terell Stafford, whose trumpet dominated The Blue Room when he played there with Bobby Watson and Horizon a few months back. This will be pianist Richard Johnson’s second trip to the festival. He played with Bobby Watson’s quartet a couple years ago.

Any jazz fan recognizes the potential of that group. But we also needed a name the public at large might better know. Kevin Mahogany, who is always delighted to return to his hometown and to sing with Joe Cartwright’s trio, was available.

For the second year running, a show seen at Take Five influenced a selection. Last year, it was opener Andy McGhie. Earlier this year, when I heard Shay Estes’s quartet with Matt Otto and Rod Fleeman added, I heard a new dimension in her music. They were in.

For the third consecutive year, we open with an ensemble of this city’s younger jazz generation. Ryan Heinlein’s Project H has just recorded a new CD.

Last year, the Mutual Musicians Foundation All-Stars was a fortunate last minute addition. I recognized the importance of connecting with 18th and Vine. This year, the Jazz Disciples, a Blue Room regular, connects.

Last year, Everette DeVan and Chris Hazelton roused the crowd just before the headliners. This year, Bram Wijnands Swingtet will play the crowd rouser.

A formula has evolved over the last few years, of a certain flow of jazz groups that works playing to that hill. And if each of this year’s groups has one thing in common – besides the fact they play jazz – it’s this: These are ensembles whose music and personalities will make an emotional connection with the crowd.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Venues

From the award-winning Blue Room to the living room intimacy of Take Five to the funky eclecticism of the Green Lady Lounge, Kansas City today hosts a variety of jazz clubs, each wearing a unique identity.

Any KC jazz fan knows this. But it became even more obvious while scrolling through a few years of photos, looking for ones that showcase each location's feel, for possible use on a new website.

Typically, photos in this blog feature the musicians. Today, we admire the venues. Not every locale is represented. I’ve yet to carry the camera into The Ship, for instance, which recently opened to everyone in the West Bottoms and is a one-of-a-kind experience. But below is a sampling of the environments where you’ll find jazz in Kansas City in 2014.

Upstairs at the Green Lady Lounge. I’ve yet to photograph the recently renovated downstairs Orion Room.

Red walls, apparently, are in with Kansas City jazz clubs today. So are paintings of KC jazz icons at the Broadway Jazz club.

Ernie Andrews in The Blue Room

You’d never have convinced me that jazz would work in Johnson County until Take Five proved it. Actually, they have more than proved it. Soon Take Five will be moving into double the space.

Don’t overlook the late night weekend jam sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

We have festivals. Such as when Bettye Lavette took over the stage at last year's Kansas City 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival.

Or when crowds started to fill the park for the Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

January’s Jazz Winterlude at Johnson County Community College will take next year off. But here’s proof it has filled Yardley Hall.

A closer look at the stage at the Broadway Jazz Club.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Festival Season 2014

At the Monterey Jazz Festival on September 21st through 24th, in its 57th year, you can hear Herbie Hancock, Robert Glasper, Marcus Miller, Christian McBride and Michael Feinstein. What a lineup. And this appears to be the only festival that Hancock is playing this year.

Don’t feel too jealous, Kansas City. The least expensive tickets that will get you into every show there start at $415.00. Plus another hundred bucks for a three day parking pass.

I’ve griped that Kansas City today is mired in minor jazz festivals. And we are. But when you consider Kansas City’s total scene – the series at The Folly and The Gem, special shows at The Blue Room – over the course of a year we have the opportunity to hear mostly comparable talent. And we're not paying $515 including parking to hear them.

Last year, the Kansas City 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival (still winner of the country’s longest name for a jazz festival) charged a measly $10 for an advance ticket and $25 at the gate. The Prairie Village Jazz Festival was free.

We’re in the midst of jazz festival season and, at a time area festivals have yet to announce their lineups, we can see who other festivals are booking in 2014.

Fewer are headlining names you’d be reaching to call jazz.

The Capital Jazz Fest (held June 6 - 8, midway between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.) bills itself as the jazz festival with soul. It headlined Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, John Legend, Peabo Bryson and The O’Jays. It also sneaked in Diane Reeves and Stanley Clarke, so there was a little legitimate jazz. But there’s no reason to think they’re going to change. An advance ticket for the entire festival cost $200, and two of the three days sold out.

Meanwhile, the Hampton Jazz Festival, in its 46th year in Hampton, Virginia (June 27 - 29; $220 for 3 days) headlines Chaka Khan, Toni Braxton and The O’Jays (who’d have guessed Chaka Khan and the O’Jays would be such popular jazz acts this year), plus Spyro Gyra and Midy Abair to sort of justify the word jazz in the festival name.

And while we’re talking jazz festivals with non-jazz headliners, we might as well mention the mother of all music festivals, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (April 25 - May 4). With headliners like Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton, Christina Aguilera, Phish and Santana, this event has clearly outgrown its jazz roots. But with a schedule that also included Chick Corea, Pharoah Sanders, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Branford Marsalis, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Trombone Shorty, neither has it forgotten its roots. Tickets were $110 in advance or $140 at the gate. VIP Passes with Gold Circle Seating at each stage, at $900, sold out.

However, these exceptions aside, most jazz festivals this year are featuring genuine jazz acts.

The most overwhelming list of names last year was at the Detroit Jazz Festival. This year’s event, their 34th year, covers several city blocks in downtown Detroit on August 29 - September 1, and is free. Among the headliners: Joshua Redman, Phil Woods, Cyrus Chestnut, Regina Carter, Ramsey Lewis with John Pizzarelli, Dianne Schurr, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Pharoah Sanders, Nicholas Payton, Ron Carter, Stanley Clarke, Lou Donaldson, Randy Weston and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. However, Chrysler has ended its $200,000 annual sponsorship of the festival (article here), which is likely to make a profound difference next year.

The same weekend, the free Chicago Jazz Festival this year features Kurt Rosenwinkel, Tootie Heath, Terrence Blanchard with Ravi Coltrane, Gary Burton, Dave Holland with Kevin Eubanks and the Sun Ra Arkestra.

The Newport Jazz Festival celebrates its 60th anniversary on August 1 - 3 in Newport, Rhode Island with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis, Bobby McFerrin, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dave Holland, Gary Burton, Robert Glasper, Vijay Iyer, Dr. John, Ron Carter, Lee Konitz Quartet with Grace Kelly, Dick Hyman, Ravi Coltrane, Kurt Rosenwinkel, the Mingus Big Band, Trombone Shorty, David Sanborn and the Brubeck Brothers. A 3 day pass starts at $155 (plus $39 for parking).

The Playboy Jazz Festival at Los Angeles’s Hollywood Bowl (June 14 and 15) featured Kenny Barron with Ravi Coltrane, Diane Reeves, Dr. Lonnie Smith, a George Duke Tribute with Al Jarreau and Stanley Clarke, George Benson with Earl Klugh, Jon Batiste and James Cotton. Tickets started at an amazingly reasonable $39 per day.

In Indianapolis, Indiana, the Indy Jazz Fest (September 11 -20) puts acts in various venues with a separate charge for each show, ranging from free to $57. Announced acts include Alan Toussaint, Ramsey Lewis, Diane Schurr, Eddie Palmieri and Ravi Coltrane.

Some of these festivals showcase enviable lineups. But many are at decidedly unenviable prices. And while Detroit’s free festival looks awesome, I can assure you, as a festival organizer, a $200,000 sponsorship is a unique situation that will buy you awesome.

I have no idea who will headline this year’s 18th and Vine event. I can tell you that I am genuinely excited about this year’s Prairie Village Jazz Festival lineup (I’m booking it), which we hope to announce in July. However, it does not include any of the names mentioned above.

Sorry, jazz fans. Chaka Khan will not be playing Prairie Village, Kansas this year.

Monday, June 23, 2014

This 'n that 'n History Inside Out

Here’s what I didn’t expect. Because I’ve driven through most of these neighborhoods, I’ve explored them any number of times, trying to understand the context of Kansas City’s jazz history. But I’ve always approached them from my home in the suburbs. I’ve entered them from the south. Approaching these neighborhoods from the north, from the center of the district on out, they way they developed and the way they disappeared, brings a different perspective and broader understanding.

I didn’t expect that.

Last week, the Mutual Musicians Foundation introduced, explained, demonstrated and provided rich context for Kansas City’s extraordinary jazz history to a group of writers and bloggers from around the country. Famous authors and writers for publications as prominent as The Wall Street Journal saw our history and heard, in The Blue Room and at the Foundation’s late night jam, some of the young musicians carrying it forward.

Authors Stanley Crouch and Chuck Haddix discussed their books on Charlie Parker on Thursday night at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center. Next time, someone really needs to test the microphones first. But the intimacy of the conversation forced the audience to concentrate on words being said. Crouch’s responses consistently returned to understanding the music. He elegantly described how in jazz the musicians on stage hear each other and respond, and how that sets a live performance apart from any studio recording. Within that context, we understood the intelligence that elevated Charlie Parker’s music to another level. Haddix concentrated on the history, such as the multiple Kansas City homes Bird lived in, facts unrecognized until researched for his book. Both discussed the influence on Parker of growing up in Kansas City at a time when he could stand in the alley behind the Reno Club and hear Lester Young and Buster Smith blow the magnificent evolution of a music that grew from the streets.

But the true highlight of the conference was a bus tour.

Limited funds changed the transportation from an intended fine tour bus to a church van with a cracked windshield and seating for fourteen. Didn’t matter. This was a fascinating look at the three square miles that Kansas City’s Black population was confined to during the days that musicians in this city invented one of the pillars of jazz. It started at the Black downtown, 18th and Vine, and covered the streets outwards from there.

I’ve visited Troost Lake, off The Paseo. But I’ve always approached it from the south. Driving to it from the north illustrates how it was part of a community, the lake where the Black population was allowed to go. I’ve seen the nearby street that angles sharply towards the east. But I never knew that street was angled to define a dividing line between the portion of Vine Street where Black Kansas Citians could live and the portion where they were not allowed.

It took little imagination to envision the endless grassy fields, extending south to 27th Street and east to Prospect, as neighborhoods once packed with homes and businesses. Driving into them not as an outsider would but from the community’s downtown, brought a fresh perspective. I could understand this as a once-vibrant community welcoming musicians moving here from the southwest and elsewhere in the 1930s to find work.

This land has been cleared for over fifty years. New homes are sprinkled throughout the area. A few of the buildings and homes that have survived the years are gorgeously refurbished, while others look ripe for demolition. It’s an urban area that, with the proper explanation, adds important context to the Kansas City where jazz thrived.

*****

A Friday panel that was part of the gathering looked at the musician union’s place in Kansas City jazz historically and today, and offered unionism as a solution for low wages for musicians. The historical perspective fit this conference. But calls for a revitalized union felt more like grasping at hopes.

A more nuanced program discussing solutions for jazz musicians supporting themselves today is being co-sponsored this Friday, June 27th, in the Folly Theater’s Stakeholder Room by KC Jazz A.L.I.V.E. and the Elder Statesmen of KC Jazz. Admission is free.

The stated goal:

“These organizations have teamed to address the unemployment issues area musicians presently face. Realizing that all musicians will not secure musical work on a consistent basis, many can explore other employment opportunities/options to achieve the same goals. The objective of Musicians Assisting Musicians is for unemployed musicians to work whether it's musical or non-musical employment.”

A press release continues:

“….From 11:00 am until 1:30 pm, a panel of musicians, business owners, union representatives and corporate America, will explain how they've been successful at securing musical employment; bidding on contracts; developing relationships with the Convention and Visitors Association and American Federation of Musicians 34-627, etc.

“Other music organizations, employment services, medical insurance and accounting services, will be on hand for an informative panel of presenters….”

Honestly, I’ve so far been less than overwhelmed by some other initiatives of KC Jazz A.L.I.V.E. But with this panel, the not-for-profit group is carving out a valuable niche for itself in the Kansas City jazz community.