Monday, September 15, 2014

2014 PV Jazz Fest: The Local Acts

Three years ago it was rained out. Last year, temperatures in the 90s reduced the crowd size until evening. So I started checking the forecast in the Weather Channel app on my phone ten days before the festival. I checked it four or five times some days, and every time it was different. Once – about nine days out – it predicted a high in the 90s with a 90 per cent chance of rain. That’s about as bad as it could get. But as the day of the event drew closer, rain chances dropped to zero and temperature predictions eased down to the mid-70s.

That’s where we wound up. The weather on Saturday, September 6th for the 2014 Prairie Village Jazz Festival could not have been better. Just as importantly, neither could the music. Every act, from start to close, performed at its best and gave the audience a sampling of the terrific range and the outstanding quality of jazz found in Kansas City today.

The audience was a bit smaller than last year. A $5 cover charge will do that. But it also was key to the festival turning its first meaningful profit and to providing much needed seed money for the 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

But before we move on, this week and next let’s take a look at photos from the 2014 festival. Below are shots of the local acts. Next week will offer photos of the headliners. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Under a beautiful sky, an audience starts to gather for the Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights.

The festival lineup for Project H, left to right: Andrew Ouellette on piano, Dominique Sanders on bass, leader Ryan Heinlein on trombone, Matt Leifer on drums, Brett Jackson on saxophone, Nate Nall on trumpet. Hidden: Jeff Stocks on guitar.

The Project H front line of Ryan Heinlein, Brett Jackson and Nate Nall (and in the background, Jeff Stocks).

Shay Estes with Rod Fleeman and Matt Otto. Left to right: Mark Lowrey on piano, Shay Estes, vocals, Karl McComas-Reichl on bass, Matt Otto on tenor sax, John Kizilarmut on drums, Rod Fleeman on guitar.

The front lone of Shay Estes, Matt Otto and Rod Fleeman.

Shay Estes sings

Matt Otto on sax

Appreciating a Rod Fleeman solo

The Jazz Disciples on stage. Lest to right: Everett Freeman on piano, DeAndre Manning on bass, Gerald Dunn on saxophone, Michael Warren on drums and guest Jason Goudeau on trombone.


Pianist Everett Freeman

Saxophonist Gerald Dunn

For the festival, the Jazz Disciples added as guest vocalist the wonderful Stephanie Moore.

Also a Jazz Disciple guest: trombonist Jason Goudeau

Stephanie Moore and Everett Freeman

The Bram Wijnands Swingtet. Left to right: Bram Wijnands on piano, Dave Chael on alto sax, Barry Springer on trumpet, Carl Bender on baritone sax, Phillip Wakefield on drums

Pianist Bram Wijnands

The front line of Dave Chael, Barry Springer and Carl Bender.

As the sun sets, the audience grows.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Luck of the Medallion People

They really lucked out, I mused, those people behind the medallions.

I was looking at the medallions, oversize circles with brass letters glistening in the sun, sloppily embedded in the sidewalk in front of the American Jazz Museum. By themselves, they add little to the jazz district. Kansas City once boasted more medallions than this embedded along 12th Street in front of the Marriott. But if these medallions prove to be the start of a walk of fame, of jazz legends lining Eighteenth Street, reminding visitors of the historic names who once walked right here, they will become a welcome attraction at 18th and Vine.

Despite falling in the middle of the 17 day Charlie Parker Celebration, the medallion unveiling and accompanying concert were not actually part of it. In fact, medallion organizers initially declined to participate in the Celebration in part because they didn’t want to reveal whether any of their medallions would include Parker (as if a set of medallions honoring six of the greatest names in the history of Kansas City jazz wouldn’t include Charlie Parker).

The medallion people got lucky. Their event coincided with one of the greatest promotional efforts I’ve seen in thirty-plus years of following Kansas City jazz, and the prominence of their sloppily-embedded medallions was elevated because of it.

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.

I was dubious. This only works if a continuous promotional effort can sell that theme to the public, and build recognition of the 17 days as something more grand than the sum of its parts.

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. Organizations that chose not to participate were marginalized during the 17 days. Whether that impacts them going forward remains to be seen, but hopefully even they will benefit from the good will this Celebration generated.

And let’s recognize the prominence the Celebration has brought to the American Jazz Museum. Sixteen years ago, this museum opened as the compromise jazz museum, the jazz museum nobody really dreamed of except the people who just wanted to get it done. Previous museum administrations did not always succeed in cultivating the museum’s image or in integrating it into the community at large. Instead, it often stood as a symbol for a 26-million-dollars-spent-then-never-redeveloped-as-promised 18th and Vine. The characterization is unfair, but when it’s in the press repeatedly, how do you shake it?

You shake it by building bridges into multiple Kansas City communities. You shake it with a fundraising effort that brings in $120,000 in donations to fund general operations from individuals in Kansas City. You shake it by reaching out to the business community for sponsorships. You shake it by hiring people who know how to write grant proposals and build admiration in the foundation community. You shake it by replacing woeful promotional efforts with an expert in utilizing 21st century media. You shake it by not letting your admired successes – The Blue Room and The Gem – at all slip.

Then you put the full weight of those successes behind a 17 day promotional effort that is mostly branding a bunch of already scheduled shows, and you play a key role in making that Celebration an unexpected success.

The 1980s visions of what a jazz museum should be – I've posted the specifics before – will never be realized. But in 2014, I see the museum that was realized earning good will, increased respect, increased trust and increased prominence in Kansas City.

Heck, it doesn’t even get the blame for how sloppily those medallions were embedded in its sidewalk.

That’s on the medallion people.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Saturday's Fifth Annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival

Maybe this is why it happened.

Three years ago, at the end of the second act of the second annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival, a microburst blew across Harmon Park, site of the festival. Clouds in the west had been darkening, growing more threatening, during that second set. They started moving towards the park more rapidly. They weren’t spread out. This was a dark and concentrated, a frighteningly intense cluster of clouds, like a missile aimed at a precise target. And when they struck, it wasn’t at all of Prairie Village. They ripped Harmon Park with savage winds and rain that pummeled the grounds like it wanted to hurt. Nobody was injured by the storm, but sound equipment was damaged and the second annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival ended.

Among the acts scheduled that day was Deborah Brown. She was to be backed by the group she would assemble for the rare instances she played Kansas City, including Matt Otto on sax. It was going to be an opportunity to introduce Deborah to a larger audience than hears her in The Blue Room, a chance for thousands of people to discover what a magnificent jazz vocal talent we have hidden here in Kansas City.

But maybe the storm was a way for someone bigger to say, “That's not good enough. Deborah Brown is too incredible a talent to play your festival with her Blue Room ensemble. She needs to be showcased with some of the greatest talent in jazz, because her talent is at that level. So I’m wiping out your event today and giving you the chance to present her right. Oh, and when you do, bring back Matt Otto somewhere in that festival, too, or I’ll be pissed again.”

We took the hint.

Saxophonist Joe Lovano has repeatedly won Downbeat magazine’s Critics Poll for best tenor saxophonist. His last album won for jazz CD of the year. A few years ago, he won as Jazz Musician of the Year. He travels the world performing. In the weeks before the festival, he was in France. The Saturday after, he’s in Bogata, Columbia. A stop in Prairie Village, Kansas almost looked like a mistake in his online schedule.

Terell Stafford was last in Kansas City in February, with the reunion of Bobby Watson and Horizon at The Blue Room. His trumpet blowing was incredible. Don’t tell Bobby I said so, but between you and me, that night he was better than Bobby.

This Saturday night, at 9 p.m. at the fifth annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Deborah Brown takes the stage accompanied by Joe Lovano and Terell Stafford, with Richard Johnson from Minnesota on piano (this is Richard's second appearance in the festival; he played piano with Bobby Watson’s quartet two years ago), Leon Anderson from Florida on drums and Kansas City’s Tyrone Clark on bass.

The buzz building for this year’s festival has an intensity unlike any I’ve heard in previous years. Because not only is Deborah Brown one of the greatest vocalists in jazz today, she is one of the most beloved individuals in Kansas City’s jazz community among those who know her. The community is excited by the chance to hear her shine with some of the greatest names in jazz. She does this regularly in Europe. Saturday, she has the opportunity in her hometown.

And for anyone who thinks calling Deborah Brown one of today’s greatest jazz vocalists is hyperbole, come Saturday night and you will leave understanding the description fits.

Below is the complete schedule of this year's Prairie Village Jazz Festival, including the musicians in each group. Preceding Deborah Brown is Kevin Mahogany, one Kansas City’s most popular favorite sons, back in town with Joe Cartwright’s trio.

And earlier in the day, you can hear Matt Otto with Shay Estes.

So everyone in the sky should be appeased.

*****

2014 Prairie Village Jazz Festival

Saturday, September 6, 2014 at Harmon Park, 7700 Mission Rd. (next to Shawnee Mission East High School and Prairie Village City Hall). $5 admission (Children 18 and under are 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

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