Monday, March 2, 2015

No Post

No new thoughts this week, profound or otherwise. And nobody called me any names last week (as far as I know). So I’m taking a week away from this blog.

Monday, February 23, 2015

It Must Be Something I Said

I first visited the Mutual Musicians Foundation (MMF) over thirty years ago. Back then, you could sit across a table from musicians who participated in the birth of Kansas City jazz. I remember talking to legendary saxophonist Joe Thomas, discussing Charlie Parker. He wryly (and back then, accurately) observed, “You like hearing a lot of notes.” I still have the program from an early 18th and Vine Festival signed by Baby Lovett. I heard Herman Walder lead a chorus of When the Saints Go Marching In. I stood an arm’s length from Big Joe Turner as he sat on the stage one Saturday afternoon and shouted the blues.

This is one of the most historic buildings in Kansas City. The Paseo YMCA, where the charter creating the Negro Baseball Leagues was signed, carries equal stature. But MMF is open every weekend night, all night, for a jazz jam while the YMCA is inaccessible to the public. Today, the Paseo YMCA is a monument. The Mutual Musicians Foundation is vibrant, living history.

Over the years, posts in this blog have fawned over MMF. A Day in the Life of the Mutual Musicians Foundation and Friday Night at the Mutual Musicians Foundation are virtual love letters to the institution. I haven’t agreed with all the organization has done. I still find replacing the unique collection of first floor photos with murky graphic panels to be a mistake. But when I voiced objections twice, the Foundation complained and I offered them a post to outline their rationale.

However, last week’s post on the Foundation’s new low power radio construction permit, apparently, crossed a line.

One MMF leader left me an angry voice mail. The same person (verified through an IP address) attempted to post a comment that, among other accusations, labeled me as “a hater” and this blog as “racist.” I blocked the comment. I will not permit name calling here.

I recognized long ago that when you offer your work to the public, the public has every right to evaluate it and respond. When I was part of a group staging jazz festivals in Volker Park, public criticism of our volunteer efforts stung. But we were asking the public to attend, so when we got it wrong the public could complain. The same applies to the Prairie Village Jazz Festivals I help with today. The same applies to this blog.

And the same applies to the public-facing efforts of the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

Last week’s post attempted to establish a base, a starting point, for the story of the Mutual Musicians Foundation launching a radio station. It collected documents and links of the applications and FCC approvals until now (which are not easy to find if you’re new to looking into radio licensing). It provided examples to illustrate why there is skepticism in the community that MMF can pull this off (and nobody should kid themselves, in some quarters doubt is strong). Then it defined the unique opportunity that the Mutual Musicians Foundation has created for itself, to dispel that doubt and establish a voice no other jazz organization in Kansas City can match.

The current board of the Foundation is strong. The members I’ve met bring exceptional abilities and dedication. I’m expecting this story to climax with Rocky-like success.

Unless they chase away all of their friends.

I’ve heard stories of vitriolic attacks by a representative of MMF at musicians and other jazz community participants. Most likely, some lashings are justified; there’s strong personalities out there only looking out for themselves. But others remain perplexed at what they did to provoke an outburst.

Some at the Mutual Musicians Foundation complain of money going to the American Jazz Museum (AJM) and not to their programs. But people who now feel alienated from MMF have coalesced around the museum. Last year, AJM’s PEER program raised $120,000 in donations from the public. Some of those donations were from people formerly associated with the Foundation and from donors recruited by those people.

When the Foundation shuns its friends, and when it declines to participate in events such as the August Charlie Parker celebration, it is distancing itself from the rest of Kansas City’s jazz community. Like a pebble tossed into a pond making ripples, the impact of these actions multiplies. Surely, stories of estranged supporters and that a little tepid criticism can get you labeled a “hater” and “racist” make recruiting new donors a greater challenge.


From my post, A Portrait of the Foundation Last Saturday Night:

On stage, a rhythm section anchored the Saturday night jam session (Sunday morning, actually; it started at 1 a.m.). They were joined by trumpet, trombone and tenor sax. There was solid experience, a veteran of Kansas City jazz, behind the piano. But on trumpet, Chalice is young and here regularly. I’ve heard him before, and before he sounded inexperienced. But tonight his sound is more controlled. He’s growing in mastery of his instrument. I’m not the only one who noticed.

Is this what Kansas Citians had the chance to hear 75 years ago, when a young Charlie Parker once squeaked his sax – in, among other places, this building – then gradually grew and mastered his instrument? Sure, we don’t know where any young player will end up. It’s improbable that I’m hearing the maturing of a future jazz great. I understand odds stand stacked against that.

But it’s possible. Because in this building, history touches back.


There’s why so many of us want the Mutual Musicians Foundation to succeed.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Potential of a Radio Station

The press release, already sparse on information, didn’t even get, arguably, the most important fact right. It gave 104.1 FM as the frequency of the new radio station. According to FCC documents, it’s going to be at 104.7 FM. I understand they’re new at this. But we’re talking basic information that you cannot promote wrong.

FCC Permit, Page 1
Last month, the Mutual Musician’s Foundation (MMF) won a construction permit from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build a radio station. The call letters will be KOJH-LP. The -LP identifies it as a low power radio station. KOJH, MMF official say, stands for Kansas City’s Oldest Jazz House.

The permit, FCC file number BNPL-20131114ARG, was granted on January 20, 2015. MMF received notification of the approval on the 26th. The permit allows 18 months, until July 20, 2016, to have the station operational. MMF officials have set the goal of being on the air one year from the date of notification, January 26, 2016.

FCC Permit, Page 2
The antenna will be built atop of a tower at Arts Asylum at 1000 E. 9th St. The station will broadcast from the Foundation’s offices. MMF places the cost of bare bones equipment and installation at $25,000. They’ve already raised the first $1000, a donation from the Ben Webster Foundation in Copenhagen, Denmark.

They won the permit over evangelical churches and applicants who would have broadcast a Spanish language station. In a mission statement filed with their application, MMF said:

Mission Statement
“With a radio license, the Mutual Musicians Foundation would be able to educate the public about Kansas City’s jazz heritage by broadcasting live and recorded jazz music, conducting interviews with local jazz musicians, and playing historical programs that cover jazz history and Kansas City history. The station will also include the surrounding neighborhood which is eclectic mix of Vietnamese, African, Hispanic, Italian and African American for six to ten miles of the historic jazz district. The musical heritage of each of these ethnic groups makes up an opportunity to present the World Music aspect of preservation and educational programs that support inclusion, understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures. Foreign language programs, classes and information will be an integral part of the station utilizing music as the ‘universal’ language entree.”

MMF Press Release
Initial plans are to broadcast eight hours a day, seven days a week (the permit requires broadcasting a minimum of 32 hours a week), with a block of world music on Saturdays and traditional gospel on Sundays. Otherwise, the station will be all jazz. They say they will grow into broadcasting 24 hour a days, seven days a week. From the start, MMF expects to be simulcasting KOJH-LP on the internet.

The low power station will broadcast at 22 watts, 207 feet above the ground. According to a blogger who knows more about these details than I do, a modern car radio should be able to receive the signal twelve miles away. A mapping tool places that as far as I-435, including northeast Johnson County, on the West; Independence and Raytown on the East; Highway 50 on the South; and Highway 152, including Parkville, Gladstone and Zona Rosa, on the North.

Tower Placement, Page 1
The application can be viewed here. The FCC’s page on it is here. Details on the permit granted is here. A summary of the station’s technical information is here. The FCC’s page on technical details is here.

The Mutual Musician’s Foundation’s weekend overnight jam sessions remain an unreplicated Kansas City treasure. It’s a National Historic Landmark. Along with the Paseo YMCA (where the charter officially creating the Negro baseball leagues was signed) and Harry Truman’s home, the Foundation stands one of this area’s most historic structures. They’re approaching their hundredth anniversary. Local 627, Kansas City’s Black musician union from which MMF evolved, was founded in 1917.

Tower Placement, Page 2
But at a time when much of Kansas City’s jazz community is pulling together, the Mutual Musicians Foundation has positioned itself as an independent outlier. They were the city’s only major jazz organization which chose not to participate in last August’s Charlie Parker celebration, and for half a month jazz awareness in Kansas City focused everywhere except 1823 Highland.

They complain of being under recognized, noting highway signs directing visitors to the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Museum, but not to the Foundation. But those signs are earned by what an institution has done lately, not by being around for a hundred years. And outside of the jams and their Saturday youth education program, the Foundation has not been known for its successes.

Here’s an example. Last June, the Foundation sponsored a blogger’s summit, including a tour through the area of Kansas City where Black residents could live when jazz flourished. It was fascinating history. But transportation was an old church van with a cracked windshield. Two would-be participants left rather than ride in it. A couple months later, as part of the Parker celebration, the American Jazz Museum sponsored a tour of Kansas City sites associated with Charlie Parker. This tour carried guests aboard a comfortable and sold out trolley.

Professionalism wins highway signs.

The announcement of MMF winning the FCC permit has been greeted by both congratulations and skepticism. One journalist told me he would believe they’re operating a radio station when it’s been on the air for three years. Yet, this is an opportunity that can change perceptions. With the possibility of eventually broadcasting jazz 24 hours a day on the air from Overland Park to Parkville, and worldwide on the Web, the Mutual Musicians Foundation has the chance to build a voice nobody else in Kansas City jazz can match or ignore. But, while a shake-down period is inevitable, by the time of the Foundation’s hundredth anniversary, KOJH-LP cannot be sounding like the equivalent of an old van with a cracked windshield.

The Foundation has taken on a terrific challenge with terrific potential. A good start to building KOJH-LP success might include not putting out any more press releases with the wrong location on the FM dial.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Chris Hazelton's Boogaloo 7 at Take Five

They need more chairs.

On January 31st, Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 took a week off from their weekly Friday at Green Lady Lounge to slum in the suburbs. Taking over Take Five for a night, they jammed the joint. I got there shortly before 8 p.m., and already every regular seat and temporary folding chair were filled. Except one. I got it.

About a half hour into the first set, I counted at least 25 fans standing and swaying, chairs long since filled. So what do you do when listening to the Boogaloo 7 and there’s no place to sit? You dance, of course. And that wood floor right in front of the Take Five stage is the perfect place.

With Chris Hazelton on Hammond B3 organ, Nick Rowland on sax, Nick Howell on trumpet, Brett Jackson on baritone sax, Tim Braun on guitar, Pat Conway on congas (and some weird-looking percussion thing), Danny Rojas on drums, and vocals by the wonderful Julia Haile, this room was swinging in a way rarely seen at 135th and Metcalf. I mean, come on, I thought these were the sleepy suburbs.

Not this night, they weren’t. But one suggestion, before the Boogaloo 7 invade Overland Park again: Invest in a few more folding chairs.

Below are photos of how the night looked. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Chris Hazelton's Boogaloo 7. Left to right: Chris Hazelton on Hammond B3 organ, Pat Conway on congas, Danny Rojas on drums, Tim Braun on guitar, Brett Jackson on baritone sax, Nick Howell on trumpet, Nick Rowland on tenor sax.

Bandleader Chris Hazelton

Pat Conway on congas (and that weird round percussion thing). Behind him, Danny Rojas.

Brett Jackson, Nick Howell and Nick Rowland

Brett Jackson on baritone sax

Nick Rowland on tenor sax

Nick Howell on trumpet

Tim Braun on guitar

Danny Rojas on drums

Vocalist Julia Haile

Julia Haile with the Boogaloo 7

Dancers take the floor

Hazelton swings

More dancers fill the floor (might as well...all of the seats were used).

Monday, February 2, 2015

Pete Eye and Tommy Ruskin

Plastic Sax bought the LP at a used record store and loaned it to me. That was, maybe, four years ago. I haven’t returned it. I knew I had it.

When Tommy Ruskin passed away last month, some fans bemoaned the lack of his performances available online to hear. But I knew I had this extraordinary and obscure album, of the Pete Eye Trio recorded in 1978, with Pete Eye on Steinway piano and Fender Rhoades, Bob Branstetter on bass, and Tommy Ruskin on drums. Everyone has an opportunity to stretch. Everyone has a chance to display his musical brilliance.

So I have digitized the album and have uploaded the songs, barring complaints, to YouTube. The uploads are embedded below. Yes, you’ll hear the crackles worn into a 33-1/3 album first played 37 years ago. But you’ll also hear affirmation that that over the decades Kansas City has consistently been home to some of the greatest musicians playing jazz. I suspect most people who stumble across these songs will have never heard this trio and will be amazed at how spectacular they sound.

But do one favor for me. Don’t tell Plastic Sax I still have his album. I’m hoping after four years he’s forgotten about it so I don’t have to give it back.

Monday, January 26, 2015


I may have retired The Magic Jazz Fairy prematurely.

I created The Magic Jazz Fairy a few years ago to sarcastically criticize club owners who felt promoting the music they booked wasn’t their responsibility. At the time, a new downtown restaurant was featuring a variety of jazz ensembles and asking the band leader, as he set up each night, how big an audience he was bringing in. Scrawling across their windows that they had jazz a couple nights a week was, they thought, enough promotional effort on their part.

They didn’t last long.

At the time, no online calendars or ones not updated for months were the jazz club norm. The American Jazz Museum employed a marketing person who gave The Kansas City Star the wrong dates for Blue Room shows. Jardine’s did a good job of maintaining a calendar. But finding out who you could hear at most other clubs required some dedicated research, or following the musicians on Facebook with the hope they would post a heads up.

Let’s be clear. I’ve always maintained that promotion is partly the musician’s responsibility. Names who build an audience that will follow them into clubs are, obviously, likely to find themselves in higher demand. Facebook has made it relatively easy for musicians to let their followers know when and where they can be heard. Most musicians have become adept at promoting their shows online. It’s 2015. The days of the union being a musicians’s primary booking agent ended decades ago. Any artist needs to know and use the tools of this century. Promotion is part of the business of jazz.

And it’s an even greater part of the business plan for a club. The more people who show up, the more dinners and/or drinks the club will sell. At clubs where musicians get some or all of a cover charge at the door, the performer has a financial incentive to draw a crowd. But in general, the club owner gains the most from a full house. So the club owner bears the greater incentive to draw people through his door.

Of course, the real world is a smidge more complex than that. Clubs look to build loyalty and repeat customers for their total experience. Take Five Coffee + Bar is a growing a formidable base of customers, ranging from suburban high school students engaged in the music to those of us with grey hair and oversized bellies. Sure, part of the audience turns out for that night’s ensemble, but part of it just trusts the venue to book good music. And they do.

The Broadway Jazz Club is working to build the same trusting, repeat business. On weekends, this is where you’re likely to find some of the best female vocalists, a fine complement to a fine dinner. I’ve argued that location and evolving habits are challenges to growing their base and establishing their own unique identity within Kansas City’s jazz world.

Promotion is key to that effort. Hopefully, every hotel concierge from North Kansas City to The Plaza knows to send any guests looking for dinner and jazz to 36th and Broadway (there’s where their location works as an advantage). But they can do more to entice the locals.

Most people who know me know that I write a weekly hundred word jazz preview for The Pitch, KC’s alternative newspaper (so if you want to know kcjazzlark’s real name, go see who writes about jazz in The Pitch). Does it help draw people to clubs? I haven’t a clue. But it doesn’t hurt. It’s free praise and publicity both in print and online that’s available to whichever show piques my interest, and which I believe will interest readers each week. I write these articles two weeks before the shows. A few years ago, uncovering what’s coming would have proven a mostly futile endeavor. How do I know today?

The American Jazz Museum long ago replaced the marketing person who announced wrong dates. Today, they post a perpetual calendar of Blue Room shows online, often months in advance, in addition to a web page for those needing nothing more than the current month’s offerings. PR people reach out to promote special events, such as Jammin’ at the Gem shows or the annual festival. I credit Gerald Dunn and Chris Burnett and a staff of names I don’t know for bringing a stellar and nationally recognized consistency to The Blue Room and its promotion and turning it into, I am told, a profitable operation. This is where concierges send guests who want to experience jazz and drinks without the dinner.

The Green Lady Lounge, The Majestic and The Phoenix keep their online calendars up to date. Take Five has recently been less consistent, but sends emails detailing the next month’s offerings. I know the shows each of these venues will offer when I need to write the next preview.

Broadway? Their calendar stretches to the end of this month, covering jazz fans looking to make dinner plans for next weekend. But musicians have posted to Facebook late weekend shows never noted on Broadway’s calendar. The club needs to be pointing out nights their music stretches past midnight. And unlike other clubs, their plans for next month are currently a mystery.

The Broadway Jazz Club recently reopened, following upgrades, in time to participate in Kansas City’s annual Restaurant Week. Hopefully, they’re simply maneuvering through a brief shakedown period. Hopefully, their promotion will soon meet or exceed the marketing of their local jazz club brethren.

Hopefully, there’s no need to resurrect The Magic Jazz Fairy from a short retirement.

Monday, January 19, 2015

No Post This Week

A busy weekend left no time to prepare a new post this week. So go out, listen to jazz, and check back here again next week.

Monday, January 12, 2015

The 2015 Crystal Ball

Over two weeks at the end of December, I took a look back at the year just completed. This week: A murky gaze forward.

Many Little Festivals

The tickets sold for the jazz festivals at 18th and Vine and in Prairie Village combined wouldn’t have filled Starlight Theater for a night. These festivals may be significant to their respective neighborhoods but, let’s be honest. they are relatively minor civic events.

And both saw audiences decline this year. In Prairie Village, moving from free admission to a $5 charge took a small but noticeable bite. At 18th and Vine, going head-to-head with the Royals in the playoffs was an unexpected snag.

But more importantly, both festivals last year were financial successes. Both turned a profit, so we should expect them to return this year. The Prairie Village event will remain the first Saturday after Labor Day. It will be interesting to see how the 18th and Vine festival, which has comfortably settled into the second Saturday of October over the last few years, contends with their date possibly falling into perennial competition with a Royals playoff run.

Meanwhile, the Mutual Musicians Foundation is establishing what they’re calling an educational festival, showcasing KC swing where it began. It’s June 18 through 20. Their web site is here. The schedule is mostly made up of workshops and breakout sessions, with swing bands promised throughout the jazz district in the evening and a Saturday band competition.They're asking $175 for a full festival pass (or $75 per day, or $25 per workshop, or $20 per breakout).

The area’s annual January jazz showcase, Johnson County Community College’s Jazz Winterlude, takes this year off as organizers work to adjust its financial formula.

New Patterns for the Clubs

When this blog started, hearing jazz in Kansas City happened like this: You went to Jardine’s or you went to The Blue Room. Enjoying a small group at The Majestic or on some nights at The Phoenix were also possibilities. And if you were up late on weekends, you could stop by the Mutual Musician Foundation.

To listen to jazz, you went into the city.

The old location of Take Five Coffee + Bar started to change that. Unexpectedly, there was this little place out in the suburbs where you could hear all of the good combos on weekends.

The new location of Take Five throws the old patterns into turmoil. Now Johnson County boasts a genuine jazz club, one with a 26 foot long stage, superb sound, a welcoming and intimate atmosphere, and a schedule that spans nearly the full spectrum of jazz offerings in Kansas City.

Take Five is drawing in new audiences, including a surprising number of Blue Valley High School students. But more importantly, Johnson County residents craving this city’s best jazz no longer need to trek into the city.

This disruption of decades-old habits hits The Broadway Jazz Club hardest. Broadway needs to draw the audience that spent money on dinner at Jardine’s. A significant portion of that audience once regularly drove down Shawnee Mission Parkway into The Plaza. No more. Today, dinner and jazz is in their back yard.

The Broadway Jazz Club is closed during the first couple weeks of January, reportedly making upgrades. They say they will reopen by January 16th to participate in Restaurant Week. They need to reopen with a splash and grab some attention.

There’s still plenty of jazz audience in Kansas City to share between The Broadway Jazz Club, The Blue Room (which has successfully positioned itself as a jazz destination), Green Lady Lounge (a neighborhood bar with wonderful atmosphere and jazz), The Majestic (jazz with elegance), the Mutual Musicians Foundation (history and tradition) and on some nights The Phoenix (energetic jams) and the Westport Coffeehouse. You can also find jazz most weekends at Louie’s Wine Dive at the north end of Waldo and at The Hotel Phillips downtown. And don't forget Chaz in the Raphael Hotel on The Plaza or the American Restaurant in Crown Center, where small ensembles entertain people with oodles of money to spend.

Today, there’s choices. The Broadway Jazz Club needs to refine its identity among those choices. Their challenge: Recognize that many suburbanites who supported Jardine’s don't see a need to go into midtown, then provide an irresistible reason to go.

Growing Forces

Do not underestimate the influence of KC Jazz ALIVE or the American Jazz Museum on Kansas City’s jazz community in 2014. Both promise to grow more dominant in 2015.

KC Jazz ALIVE shed its organizational training wheels last year. Armed with a 501(C)3 not-for-profit status, this group pulled together most of this city’s jazz groups with a level of harmony and cooperation unseen in decades. They presented seminars educating musicians on how to survive in this field in this century. And they organized an exceptionally well promoted celebration of Kansas City’s most famous jazz son, Charlie Parker. Jazz groups which chose not to participate in the Parker event were marginalized for half of August.

A key force within KC Jazz ALIVE is the American Jazz Museum. The contributions of their paid staff were essential to the success of the Parker celebration. More importantly, here is an institution operating a profitable jazz club, a profitable festival, and one that appears to have hit its stride in mobilizing financial contributions from the community. The Museum is succeeding in the business of jazz.

Other organizations will have their moments and their successes. But KC Jazz ALIVE and the American Jazz Museum appear positioned as key drivers in Kansas City jazz this year. Their biggest challenge will be to maintain the harmony among other jazz groups which has never before lasted long in Kansas City.

Faces to Watch

Pay attention to trumpeter Nate Nall, who may be the next graduate of Bobby Watson’s UMKC program ready to make a name for himself in Kansas City’s growing community of extraordinary young jazz talent.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Tommy Ruskin

This is what I remember first:  Saturday afternoon at The Phoenix, with Milt Abel on bass and Tommy Ruskin on drums. I can still see Milt mesmerizing the audience with his take on Big Wind Blew in From Winnetka. And then Tommy drumming on everything in sight for Caravan. What amazing fun.

2015 opened with a harsh jolt. The morning of January 1st, the Kansas City jazz community lost an anchor when drummer Tommy Ruskin passed away.

Others worked with Tommy and learned from him and knew him better than I did, and their memories can better pay proper homage. Following is a collection of accolades, mostly posted to Facebook, in honor of Tommy Ruskin. Mixed in are a few photos of Tommy that I’ve been fortunate enough to capture over the last few years.

“Just heard that drummer Tommy Ruskin died. When I first got to Kansas City, everyone told me if I really wanted to find out what KC swing was all about, go see Tommy. Every time I saw him play, I had a better understanding of why. Every time he saw me play, he made sure to throw some encouraging words my way, even if it was weeks later. As hard as KC has always and will always swing, it’ll swing just a little less without him.”

— Drummer Zack Albetta

Tommy at The Blue Room

“The news of Tommy Ruskin's passing has stopped me in my tracks. He was the quintessential Kansas City jazz drummer, a huge influence to several generations of great KC jazz musicians in spite of his eternally youthful appearance and demeanor. The times I played with him I was in way over my head, but he never even remotely let on about that. Tommy leaves behind a family of truly great Kansas City artists. All I can do is wish miz Julie and Brian peace, as soon as they can have it. We love you, like we love Tommy.”

— Pianist Larry van Loon

“Tommy was one of the first KC guys I got to play with and know — what a positive mentor he was to so many, just by setting such a good example of being a great musician and a nice human. I always thought one of his greatest skills was to make everyone he played with sound better. Honored to have made music with this man, and wishing his family peace.”

— Pianist Jo Ann Daugherty

Rod Fleeman and Tommy

“Hearing of the passing of Tommy Ruskin saddens many of us very deeply. Obviously he was a marvelous musician, as someone called him the Dean of KC drummers. But by far the greatest thing about Tommy was how kind hearted he was. Always a smiling face and an engaging personality, Tommy was a one of a kind guy and we will miss him greatly!”

— Saxophonist Brad Gregory

“Man.... We truly lost one of the nicest, most sincere people I’ve ever met not only in Kansas City, but anywhere! I was blessed to play with Tommy many times and hang out with him and get to know him beyond music! I strive to be half the man he was when it came to the true outright love of music, and professionalism! Thank you, Tommy, for all the knowledge and wisdom you graciously shared with a hard-headed 20 year old (myself). It will never be forgotten!”

— Bassist Dominique Sanders

“I always looked forward to playing with him. He was humble, but he had tremendous pride, and it showed in everything he did. It’s hard to speak his name without using the word ‘great’.”

— Pianist Wayne Hawkins

Left to right: Pat Metheny, Tommy Ruskin, Mike Metheny, Bob Bowman, Paul Smith

“So very sad for Kansas City and the world. So fortunate to have been touched by this true jazz legend.”

— Bassist Steve Rigazzi

“I'm hurting. Tommy Ruskin died this morning. He was a constant and true friend, always supporting and encouraging. Tommy was the swingingest drummer I ever played with. He was a mentor to so many musicians, not just drummers. Countless were his minions and admirers, including some of the top drummers in the world. For decades, Tommy set the example for all players as to what laying down a groove was all about. He was so easy to play with! Many times on gigs I would see drummers kneeling at the foot of the master, learning by example. He was the template by which all other local jazz drummers were compared. He always had time to give advice to those who asked for it. With Tommy, you always knew where you stood, musically and personally. I loved that about him. He was smart, generous, witty and charismatic. Oh, and did I say handsome? We all lost a true icon of the jazz world today. My heart goes out to Julie Turner, who has loved him so dearly for 52 years. They always seemed like the perfect couple. Life goes on, but for me it will never be the same. See ya later, Tommy.”

— Trumpeter Stan Kessler

Tommy Ruskin

Monday, December 29, 2014

Snapshots of 2014, Part 2

More quotes from posts this year:


KC Jazz ALIVE describes itself as a jazz catalyst organization, intended to “facilitate dialogue and design methods to help the greater Kansas City jazz community connect and collaborate to meet their collective missions.” Stakeholders include performing and visual jazz artists, club and venue owners, education leaders, jazz patrons, faith based community leaders and civic leaders….

The organization has secured 501(C)3 not-for-profit status in record time. It is developing a web site at It is partnering with Jazz Near You to provide comprehensive local jazz listings (something the Plastic Sax Kansas City Jazz Calendar has done for years, here). They are establishing a speaker’s bureau to reach out into the community.

Long after the Jazz Commission dissolved, there remains a need to bring Kansas City’s disparate jazz organizations together.


Museums and the Gem dominate 18th Street in the district, and the Blue Room, rightly regarded as one of the country’s premier jazz clubs. In those buildings, you can peer at history behind glass. But at the Foundation you feel the space and walk the rooms that Basie and Prez and Mary Lou Williams and Bird and so many other jazz innovators and geniuses worked and enjoyed. It’s integral to the experience of 18th and Vine. And whether you agree with its current leaders or find its direction misguided, this building demands the respect and inclusion of all of Kansas City’s jazz community.

That respect works both ways. The American Jazz Museum is celebrating 16 years on 18th Street. It is an established Kansas City jazz institution with leadership that has shown the wherewithal to raise funds, stage programs, and operate a superb jazz club in good times and in recession. They have kept alive an annual music festival through adversity…. The American Jazz Museum has earned the community’s respect.

The 18th and Vine district is big enough for the Mutual Musicians Foundation and the American Jazz Museum. The Kansas City jazz community is not big enough for the thorns I see hurled at each.


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.


Kansas City’s Charlie Parker Celebration included a few original, generally educational, events. A trolley touring Kansas City sites associated with Parker sold out. The 21-Sax Salute at Parker’s gravesite, a lapsed tradition recognizing his birthday, was revived and welcome. There was a Charlie Parker puppet show at the Gem Theater for kids. But mostly the Celebration threw a unifying theme over already scheduled jazz acts in clubs, restaurants and a shopping center, and declared them two weeks of performances honoring Charlie Parker….

The Celebration was officially sponsored by a new organization, KC Jazz ALIVE. But to its credit, and to the credit of CEO Greg Carroll, the American Jazz Museum threw its full weight and staff behind the effort. Don’t underestimate the value of having paid staff available to smartly and relentlessly promote. This was public relations-style marketing through social media including Facebook, through scheduling appearances on TV and radio talk shows, through preparing schedules and posters. This kind of promotion doesn’t require a huge budget. But it requires a tremendous commitment of time, and that’s a resource few volunteer organizations can muster.

The 2014 Charlie Parker Celebration was a masterful success. In general, events promoted as part of it saw greater attendance than they normally would. The promotion raised the awareness of jazz and where to hear it in Kansas City, raising hopes for a longer term benefit to the jazz community. An article in the Business Journal online declared jazz is not dead. And the marketing built awareness not just locally, but in the online version of national jazz publications Downbeat and Jazz Times as well.


I walked in five, maybe ten minutes after the music started, and nearly every seat was filled. There were a few open ones in the booths by the espresso machine, the area where talking over the music isn't discouraged. I snagged one in the back. Before the end of the set, folding chairs were being set up for the crowd continuing to flow in. That's how it's been since the place opened, I’m told.

The audience was overwhelmingly young. I wasn’t the only gray-haired guest, but I sat largely surrounded by high school students. Most others in the audience looked like twenty- and thirty-somethings. And everybody was listening. The few conversations heard here and there while musicians played were short. These people came for jazz.

135th and Metcalf is as suburban as life on this earth gets. And out here in a glistening new Johnson County club, the current and next generation of jazz's audience is turning out to hear Kansas City’s extraordinary musicians. The next time someone tritely proclaims "jazz is dead," escort them to Take Five on a Friday or Saturday night. Then see if they can still honestly mouth those words.


The Broadway Jazz Club needed to build its own following. This night it appears to be succeeding at exactly that. The crowd is older than the crowd at Take Five. Nobody here is a high school student. This is an audience which wants to hear jazz and which is comfortable in an urban locale that isn’t The Plaza. It includes some of the old Jardine’s audience. But mostly, The Broadway Jazz Club is uncovering its niche.


Not mentioned in posts, but among those lost this year were flutist and saxophonist Horace Washington and trombonist Stephanie Bryan. They are dearly missed.