Monday, April 25, 2016

27.6 Mil for 18th and Vine

Probably the earliest efforts to build a jazz hall of fame in Kansas City date to 1969. That group envisioned it near 12th and The Paseo. In 1997, following decades of fits and starts, feints and fights, the jazz museum opened, along with the Negro Leagues museum, the Black Archives and a rebuilt Gem Theater, at a cost of $32 million. The city has contributed ongoing support in the decades since, and rightly so. The Kansas City Museum and Liberty Memorial receive annual budget dollars, so why shouldn’t museums honoring this city’s greatest contributions to the world?

Last week, the city announced plans to consider, from their official press release (here), a “bond-funding commitment of $27,637,162” for the district. Never mind that the figure originally quoted last year for the district was $7 million, then leapt to $18 million in January, and is now hovering at 27.6 (skyrocketing numbers with each public pronouncement is a questionable strategy). Instead consider that the city shovels $12 to $15 million into the Power and Light district every year. By comparison, a one time shot-in-the-arm of $27.6 million to 18th and Vine sounds fair.

The proposal. It can be viewed or downloaded as a PDF here.
Importantly, the list of projects paves some major historic district holes. Three in particular stand out.

New, refurbished and nicely faked facades (towards Woodland) have lined most of 18th Street for two decades. More recently, refurbished homes and apartments have made Highland Street surrounding the Mutual Musicians Foundation wonderfully more enticing. But Vine between 18th and 19th streets has remained the jazz district’s ghost town. That block, boasting the remains of the Cherry Blossom night club and the first black-owned auto dealership in the United States, is arguably one the most significant to 20th century culture. Yet discussion when the new district proposal was first announced was to tear down history in favor of building something deemed more useful, maybe a parking garage.

The original $7 million proposal included $160,000 for demolition. The $18 million version included, per a Kansas City Star article, “$5.3 million to replace dangerous buildings on Vine Street with mixed-use development.” Sanity appears to have prevailed. The new plan, according to the official document, includes $4,960,461 for “stabilization of facades of historic buildings in the 1800 block of Vine Street to prepare the area for construction of new infill development. The facades of historic buildings at 1814, 1816, 1820 and 1822 Vine St. are projected to be preserved and incorporated into this project.” The Cherry Blossom facade stands at 1822 Vine.

The proposal also includes $4,200,000 in public money (up from $1 million in the first two proposals), to be matched with $4 million in private funding and in-kind services, for the Buck O'Neil Education and Research Center, more commonly recognized as the Paseo YMCA. Specifically, the money is to “construct a north entrance including a lobby, elevator, stair tower, and renovation of the Education and Center.”

The charter creating the Negro Baseball Leagues was signed there on February 20th, 1920. This building is a Kansas City historical monument. Completing its renovation and reopening it to the public are key priorities of any historic district funding. This city needs to be celebrating in there on February 20th, 2020.

This map illustrating the projects can be downloaded here.
A new parking lot is in the proposal, between Lydia and Grove streets (Grove is between Lydia and The Paseo) on the south side of 18th Street. But, more importantly, the proposal includes $3,043,350 to “enhance street and pedestrian lighting and bump outs on 18th Street from Lydia parking lot to Attucks School. Provide connection between Bruce R. Watkins overpass and the historic 18th and Vine district.”

The 18th and Vine district will never thrive as an oasis surrounded by an urban moat. It must connect in a welcoming way to the Crossroads area. People who know the area and who are comfortable in the city recognize there’s nothing to fear. But that excludes a substantial number of area residents. The surrounding corridor looks more inviting than it did twenty years ago but it’s not inviting enough. Few improvements will boost 18th and Vine more than extending its welcome mat at least to the Bruce R. Watkins overpass.

Those are the most critical projects. Also in the proposal:

$1,743,194 for the American Jazz Museum for “design and construction of Blue Room expansion and new cafĂ©, construction of exhibit and lobby improvements, and equipment upgrades for the Gem Theater.”

$432,109 for “repurposing of the existing structure located at the north side of the American Jazz Museum to allow for a new fully equipped stage for summer music events.” This one also includes $7 million in private funding. Its title calls this an outdoor amphitheater.

$747,241 to “move Horace Peterson 18th and Vine Visitor’s Center from 18th Street museums building into north space of Archives facility.”

$140,000 to the Mutual Musicians Foundation to “install a wheelchair lift and new masonry walls along the historic building.”

$1,832,016 in city funds plus $1,150,000 in private funding for a “public-private partnership for the design and construction of the KC Friends of Alvin Ailey facility, a multipurpose space with class space and offices” at 1714 E. 18th St. That’s between the Kansas City Call building and the Boone Theater.

$1,229,781 for “rehabilitation of Kansas City’s Historic Boone Theatre.”

$405,000 for “replacement of building systems” in the Lincoln Building.

$5,651,587 for a “public-private partnership for the design and construction of a new retail building with upper-floor market rate housing and office space.” The map accompanying the proposal shows this development fronting the south side of 18th Street between The Paseo and Vine Street, then wrapping around the corner and a bit up Vine.

$105,000 for “construction of a west doorway with enclosed patio for existing restaurant space” at 18th and The Paseo, outside the building where a couple of restaurants have come and gone.

$1,028,821 to “design and construct fountain on City property at the southeast and southwest intersections of 18th Street and The Paseo.”

$1,182,602 for “construction of lighted, landscaped lot on 19th Street between Lydia and Grove Streets.” The project map actually shows this lot extending from 19th to 18th streets.

Finally, management and administration is broken into multiple buckets such as planning, historic preservation, marketing, project management, and maintenance. But it boils down to $2,962,000 for management and administration.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Deborah Brown at The Blue Room

It’s always a treat when Deborah Brown plays Kansas City.

Deborah’s magnificent jazz voice is acclaimed all over the world – her website is available in five languages – but she rarely performs here, in her hometown. So when she does, pay attention. Especially when the guests dropping by to perform with her include Bobby Watson, David Basse, Todd Strait, Bram Wijnands, a saxophonist from Poland and a Dutch bassist. And that’s on top of an ensemble with Rod Fleeman on guitar, Joe Cartwright on piano and Mike Warren on drums.

I’d suggest that nobody anywhere heard better live jazz the night of February 16th than those of us gathered in The Blue Room. Hell, why just suggest it? I’ll proclaim it. If you were there, you know I’m right.

And if you weren’t there, below is a photo sampling of what you missed. As always, clicking on a shot should open a larger version of it.

Deborah Brown

Deborah Brown and Bobby Watson in The Blue Room

Bobby Watson on sax

Polish saxophonist Sylwester Ostrowski

Sylwester Ostrowski, Deborah Brown and Bobby Watson

Joris Teepe on bass

Deborah Brown, Joris Teepe and Sylwester Ostrowski

David Basse and Deborah Brown

Rod Fleeman on guitar

Joe Cartwright on piano

Mike Warren on drums

Bobby Watson and Rod Fleeman

Todd Strait sits in on drums

David Basse and Deborah Brown: mutual admiration. Behind them, Joris Teepe

Deborah Brown and Bobby Watson: more mutual admiration

Deborah Brown sings in The Blue Room. Behind her, a very happy Joris Teepe.

Monday, March 28, 2016

SoJo Blow

That wasn’t less frequent. That was moribund.

When I last posted seven long weeks ago, I said blog posts would continue though less often. Editing Jam magazine was monopolizing more of my meager mind than I expected.

Nothing like a little stupidity to flush the blogger back out.

Last week, the Overland Park South Rotary joyfully announced that the 27-year old Corporate Woods Jazz Festival, better known as Jazz in the Woods, has morphed into the SoJo Summerfest. Announcing a lineup that boasts country rock, Celtic pop and both Elton John and U2 cover bands, organizers proclaimed in a press release, “As you can see from our talented group of home-grown bands from Kansas City, SoJo Summerfest is definitely not a jazz concert.”

The Corporate Woods Jazz Festival launched in 1990, organized by two people on the board of the 1989 Kansas City Jazz Festival that I led and who were displeased with the direction that event was taking the next year. They found a sympathetic sponsor in Corporate Woods. The festival was eventually handed off to the Rotary which has turned it into a major fundraiser for children’s charities, raising more than $1.5 million over its lifetime. That number, frankly, is both wonderful and amazing.

They’ve stubbed their toes occasionally during their stewardship. Adding a day of country music one year was really dumb (I’m told the country fans spent less money and left a bigger mess than the audience festival organizers had spent a decade cultivating). And they haven’t overwhelmed fans in KC’s jazz community with their emphasis on smooth jazz and R&B.

But the fact is that Jazz in the Woods organizers built the oldest, the biggest and the most financially successful jazz festival in this metropolitan area. Overland Park police pegged attendance at last year’s two-day event at 30,000 people. I was there. That number feels right. And just as importantly, the acts booked drew one of the most racially diverse and integrated audiences I’ve seen at a Kansas City music event this side of Stevie Wonder.

Overland Park South Rotary is in this to raise money for charities. The festival has grown into a wildly successful vehicle for channeling volunteers, engaging and entertaining the public and, most years, meeting that primary goal. But the pending sale of Corporate Woods cost the fest a major sponsor and jeopardized the event’s fundraising abilities.

Wisely, they’ve examined costs. The lavish stage flanked by multi-monitor video screens and outstanding sound may be part of the event’s appeal. But Jazz in the Woods in recent years spent half again as much just on staging as the entire budget of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival. Their stage was imported from another city because nobody in KC stocks anything like it.

Remarkably less wisely, they concluded that the only way to draw a larger crowd was to publicly divorce themselves from the audience they’ve grown over 26 years and to rebrand the event with an insipid name. “SoJo Summerfest is definitely not a jazz concert.”

You can argue whether the smooth jazz, blues, R&B and soul music that dominated 2015’s Jazz in the Woods qualifies it as a jazz event. I say that in broad terms it does. It’s not the kind of music festival Count Basie devotees crave. But you’re not going to raise tens of thousands of dollars in this century by catering to Count Basie devotees. You’re going to raise it through a music event with a distinct and recognizable focus that appeals to an audience from throughout the metropolitan area.

And you can do that without adopting a provincial contraction of a name apparently intended to firmly break the event from its heritage. Jazz in the title doesn’t scare away audiences. Just ask the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival how extensively the word has damaged their event (2015 attendance: 460,000).

Focus is a missing key. I don't know just how hard this festival’s budget was hit, though going to an all local lineup suggests heavy damage. Now there’s no distinctive name to build promotion around. Now the schedule is no more significant than a half dozen other suburban music fests – all with smarter titles – that pepper the region’s summer calendar. And when the lineup ranges from Shades of Jade to Big Time Grain Company (that’s the country rock band), there’s a feeling of scheduling by throwing underwear against a wall and seeing what sticks. There’s no focus. The appeal is simply, come because we’ve been big.

Also, going head-to-head with the Boulevardia festival might not be an act of audience-building genius. Could be that an event on the same days in the West Bottoms doesn’t really compete with an unfocused fest in SoJo. But last year’s Boulevardia claimed bigger crowds and charitable donations than Jazz in the Woods.

The real test may come next year. This year’s event may well draw an audience out of habit. But after experiencing this year, will they return for the 2017 SoJo Summer Mess?

Um, I meant Summer Fest.

No I didn’t.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Not Dead But Less Frequent

Other than a promise of a post yet to appear, this blog has been fairly barren the last several weeks. This blog is not dead, but it has become a less frequent endeavor. Fact is, taking over Jam magazine has monopolized more time than I expected. As soon as an issue is done, I’ve discovered, planning for the next one needs to begin. And that takes most of my meager thoughts on Kansas City and jazz.

While I’m striving to bring a new voice to Jam, there will still be ideas and photos which do not find a home there. Jam is not a place for the blunt snarkiness I often delight in here. On the other hand, I don't want this blog to become all snark with the pleasant observations residing only in Jam. I’m still winding my way through the appropriate approach for each forum.

When I was turning out a blog post nearly every week, and occasionally finding them linked to NPR or other well-known media (some weeks making my head grow insufferably big), I was overwhelmed with the opportunities of the internet. The internet was the future, the press for everyone who couldn’t afford a press. Print was passĂ©, so twentieth century, a grandpa medium.

Editing Jam has led me to understand otherwise. There is still something unique and important to many people, maybe most people, to the permanence of print. People still like holding and fondling a photo. It is a different and more highly regarded experience to many to read words on paper versus a screen. That also means the words committed to that paper need to be more carefully considered because, I have discovered and I really didn’t expect this, they are more precious to many readers than thoughts thrown into the internet ether.

I also didn’t take over Jam fully recognizing the significance of its legacy. The magazine’s June/July issue will mark Jam’s thirtieth anniversary. With a print run of 12,000 copies per issue, Jam has become its own Kansas City jazz tradition. I neither understood nor appreciated its importance to many in the KC jazz community until now, with four issues under my sizable belt. I thought I’d assumed editorship of a quaint KC relic. I realize now that I assumed editorship of a publication that matters.

Here’s what I mean. I signed a release last week for the last issue of Jam to be used in an upcoming movie. A feature film is being made which, quoting from the release, “follows a group of U.S. soldiers returning from Iraq who struggle to integrate back into family and civilian life, while living with the memory of a war that threatens to destroy them long after they’ve left the battlefield.” One character is in Kansas City. The filmmakers were looking for set pieces that identified the location as KC. They thought of Jam because it’s been around for three decades. They saw the issue with Eboni Fondren on the cover and their reaction was wow, an image with jazz, the Royals, the Negro Leagues...how much more Kansas City can you get?

Most importantly, they knew Jam. They looked for Jam, these movie makers in Universal City, California.

I’d better start taking that magazine seriously.

This blog isn’t going away. It isn’t going on hiatus. This is a forum to lay out photos and thoughts that don’t fit print, and that’s a forum I intend to maintain. But this blog has become less frequent. I’m no longer pressing to turn out a noteworthy post every week. Rather, when I think I just might have something noteworthy or fun (or, better yet, both), there will be a post.

I’ve retired from booking the Prairie Village Jazz Festival after four years. Between editing Jam and a bit of scribbling for The Pitch, I’d taken on more than my limited skills could juggle. It was time to pull back. With this blog, I’m now pulling back a bit more.

But that means more time will be devoted to continuing to develop the voice of Jam. More effort goes there because it’s more important than I understood.

Oh, and do me a favor? Don’t tell any of the Jazz Ambassadors I thought I was taking over a quaint relic, okay?

Monday, January 25, 2016

New Thoughts Next Week



Last week I offered nary a post as the next issue of Jam magazine came together. It should start hitting the streets later this week, featuring stories that look both back and ahead at jazz in Kansas City. This week, another writing assignment monopolized the weekend, so we’re postless again.

But recently I’ve been struck by both the continuity and change embracing jazz in Kansas City today. Let’s look at that next week.


Monday, January 11, 2016

Hootie is a Hundred

Last week was big for Kansas City jazz. A resolution directed directed the City Manager to find funding sources for $18 million in improvements – curiously up from the $7 million announced just a week and a half earlier – to the 18th and Vine District. This could include improvements to the Jazz Museum, the Mutual Musicians Foundation, the Paseo YMCA, a new district home for Friends of Alvin Ailey, a parking garage, and some suspiciously not-yet-publicly-defined demolition along Vine (an incredibly historic street as long as you don’t destroy the remaining history there).

But more on that another time, because this week is bigger. This Tuesday, January 12th, would have been Jay “Hootie” McShann’s hundredth birthday.

Another resolution passed by the City Council this past Thursday, January 7th read:

RESOLUTION NO. 160010

Declaring January 12th – 16th as Jay “Hootie” McShann Week in recognition of his 100th Birthday and his life, artistry, contributions to Jazz and lengthy career.

WHEREAS, Pianist, Composer, Bandleader, Recording Artist and Singer, James Columbus “Jay” “Hootie” McShann was born January 12, 1916, in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and died on December 7, 2006 in Kansas City at the age of 90; and

WHEREAS; McShann received several national and international awards and recognitions to include the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, Blues Hall of Fame, Rhythm and Blues Foundation, Paris All-Star Tribute to Charlie Parker, The Rolling Stones recording of "Confessin' the Blues", character in 1940’s crime-fiction novel, The Hot Kid, written by Elmore Leonard in 2005, 1991 Grammy Award Nominee for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Performance, and in 2003 for Goin' to Kansas City - Best Traditional Blues Album; and

WHEREAS; from the 1960’s until his passing, James Columbus McShann remained a prominent pianist, bandleader and vocalist often teaming with violinist Claude “Fiddler” Williams and vocalist Jimmy Witherspoon; and

WHEREAS; the City of Kansas City will join with the Jay McShann family (Jayne McShann-Lewis, Linda McShann-Gerber and Pamela McShann), American Jazz Museum, Historic Jazz Foundation, GEM Theater, UMKC Marr Sound Library and Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz in celebrating his 100th Birthday; NOW THEREFORE;

BE IT RESOLVED BY THE COUNCIL OF KANSAS CITY:

That the Mayor and Council hereby declare the week of January 12th – 16th as Jay “Hootie” McShann Week in Kansas City; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Resolution be spread upon the Minutes of the Council in testimony thereof and that a copy hereof be presented to the family of Jay McShann in token of the Mayor, Council and citizens of Kansas City’s highest esteem with which Jay McShann is held in their hearts and minds.

(You can find a link to the resolution, pictured at the left, on the city’s website here.)

I’m not going to presume to lecture anyone who holds even a passing interest in this blog on the importance of a legend like Jay McShann. Until his death nine years ago, Jay McShann defined Kansas City jazz. Out in the world today, names like Count Basie and Charlie Parker may be more widely recognized. But nobody meant more to Kansas City jazz than Jay McShann.

This coming Saturday, his daughter invite the city to celebrate Hootie’s hundredth birthday at the Gem Theater. The evening opens with a presentation by Chuck Haddix on McShann’s history and importance to jazz. Then Joe Cartwright sets the tone for the night leading an ensemble with Gerald Spaits and Todd Strait – McShann’s regular accompanists in his later years – and a trio of vocalists performing Jay’s standards. The wonderful pianist Benny Green takes the stage in a special performance. And Bobby Watson assembles a collection of Kansas City All-Stars to salute Hootie. A new collection of McShann memorabilia will be on display in the Gem.

A reception starts about 6:00 p.m. on Saturday, January 16th. The music starts at 7 p.m. Tickets are $25.

Resolve to be there.


Monday, January 4, 2016

The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra Rhapsodizes

The personality of The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra (KCJO) has evolved under each of its three artistic directors.

Listen to its first CD from a decade ago without anyone telling you who it is, and you could be excused if you guessed this was some of the best of the 1980s-vintage Basie band. Under artistic director and co-founder Jim Mair, the breezy swing, with classy brass and sterling solos barreling over hard-driving rhythm, showed us what the music born in Kansas City had grown up to be. And, heck, I’ll take Lisa Henry’s vocals on that CD over the Basie band’s Carmen Bradford any day.

Kerry Strayer’s time leading the band was, tragically, far too brief. While under Jim the orchestra would venture beyond classic swing, with Kerry it stretched a bit further while never ignoring its roots. I briefly served as KCJO’s business manager when Kerry took over. His plans to perform Bobby Watson’s Gates BBQ Suite in concert concerned some of the orchestra’s board members. That, they felt (without ever actually hearing the suite, but that’s another story), was not the kind of big band music this orchestra performed. Kerry and I reassured them it would be an amazing show. Of course, it was.

The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra’s new CD, Rhapsody, under the direction of artistic director Clint Ashlock, captures an orchestra continuing to grow. Here’s a band of extraordinary talent, many of whom have played together now for a dozen years, emphasizing fresh arrangements performed with crisp precision and a modern elegance.

A somber yet playful Prelude #2 (Blue Lullabye) opens Rhapsody. You hear an exact performance in this music. This isn’t the devil-may-care whimsy of KCJO’s first Basie-induced CD. This isn’t what the Orchestra would have recorded a decade ago.

Next is the album’s centerpiece, Clint Ashlock’s arrangement of Rhapsody in Blue. Joe Cartwright takes over the keyboards, and his piano is our guide through this 27-minute Gershwin classic. There’s an exactly-played joyousness to the ensemble sections, which contrasts with the glib looseness of Clint’s trumpet and David Chael’s alto solos. Then contrast that further with the wicked sultriness of Brad Gregory’s tenor turn. This composition is a journey of wonderful twists performed with refined, never trite, vigor by Kansas City jazz masters.

The CD is filled out with fresh arrangements of big band standards. David Aaberg’s voicing on Swinging on a Star and Brad Gregory’s take on Emily – featuring Jeff Hamer’s loose and light trombone – return the orchestra to its beginnings. We have a selection from each of the band’s two most-often heard vocalists, Kathleen Holeman on Embraceable You and Ron Guiterrez on Alfie. Two of Clint’s arrangements close the CD: Every Time We Say Goodbye, starring Mark Cohick on baritone sax, and the controlled raucousness of I Got Rhythm.

This band takes a category that was new more than eighty years ago – big band jazz – and performs it so a listener in 2015 is intrigued. They grow the music with refinement. You hear it in their Kauffman Center performances – which now regularly draw over 1000 fans to each show – and it’s documented here.

That’s how a jazz orchestra approaching its teen years can thrive.

Rhapsody is available on The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra website, here.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Snapshots of 2015

Quotes from posts this year:

*****

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.

*****

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.

*****

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 officials 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.

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.

*****

This summer, Roger Atkinson is retiring as editor of Jam.

The new editor will be me.

Jam will remain a publication that supports the Kansas City jazz scene. The criticisms and snarky comments found in this blog have no place in the magazine. But I suspect some of my personality will sneak in. Some of my photos will, too.

New leadership and a board spiked with younger members are reinvigorating the Jazz Ambassadors at a time when younger musicians are reinvigorating Kansas City’s jazz scene. It’s an exciting opportunity to assume the reins of this city’s premiere jazz forum.

*****

In September, the American Jazz Museum celebrates 18 years since its opening. For the last eight of those years, Greg Carroll has served as CEO. Last week, Carroll “resigned” from that position.

*****

Kansas City jazz took a wallop last week when Take Five Coffee + Bar announced Friday morning that it is closing on August 15th. Few in the community saw this one coming.

The closing of Take Five is a Kansas City jazz sucker punch. It hurts. This was a wonderful venue, built to showcase KC’s abundance of jazz talent and to help that talent thrive and grow the music in fresh directions. While I’ve argued that it was partly responsible for keeping Johnson Countians away from the midtown club that tried to be the next Jardine’s, Take Five mostly grew its own audience. It offered an easy and comfy style, a no grit, no-excitement-here-but-the-music ambiance that no other jazz club in the area replicated. Take Five didn’t fill a hole. It cultivated a sparkling niche.

*****

I sat down to talk with the new interim CEO of the museum for a Q and A in the next issue of Jam magazine. As I walked through the jazz museum offices, I was struck by a fresh feel of excitement, animation, a spark not present before. The difference was palpable.

That’s just one of the changes Ralph Reid is shepherding through the American Jazz Museum. Following 35 years at Sprint, retiring as Vice President for Corporate Responsibility and President of the Sprint Foundation, Reid brings unique experience and a new outlook. He’s focused on how the museum’s brand is perceived, a key to the success of any corporate behemoth or civic institution. And his words suggest a comprehensive vision, of recognizing the museum’s role in selling the complete 18th and Vine district.

*****

The museums’ back yard is about to change. In a joint venture between the Kansas City Royals, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the country’s seventh MLB Urban Youth Academy will be built in Parade Park.

This development brings with it the potential to transform the 18th and Vine district. The district never did and never will thrive on jazz alone. In the 1930s, jazz was the soundtrack to vice. It needs a new companion.

*****

Broadway Kansas City, until earlier this year The Broadway Jazz Club, has been sold. The space will become a Scandinavian restaurant. The new owners tell The Pitch that they see their concept as a destination. Presumably, it will be a destination without live music. The sale does not include the sound system or piano.

*****

The Art Factory at 135th and Nall is dipping its toes into Friday night jazz. Louie’s Wine Dive, at 71st and Wornall, features the music in a downstairs alcove most Saturdays. You can find jazz in upscale surroundings at the American Restaurant in Crown Center and at Chaz in the Raphael Hotel on The Plaza. We have the Green Lady Lounge and The Blue Room and The Majestic and on some nights The Phoenix and the Westport Coffee House. The area hosts a couple of relatively small festivals, a Charlie Parker celebration, winter series at both The Folly and The Gem, and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra in the Kauffman Center. Jazz education programs at UMKC and Kansas City, Kansas Community College continue to thrive. The Mutual Musicians Foundation remains open overnight every Friday and Saturday for its historic jam sessions.

The Broadway Jazz Club and Take Five were both unique circumstances and jazz in Kansas City is decidedly not dead.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Night Before a 2015 KC Jazz Christmas

’Twas the night before Christmas and all through K.C.
Jazz fans sat ’round restless with less shows to see.
Sure, we still had the Folly, the Gem Theater, too,
And Green Lady, Majestic, a Room known as Blue.
But some clubs had closed, fewer places to cheer.
And we lose RecordBar at the end of the year.
The situation’s not dire. Jazz faces no doom.
But the holidays bared just a wee bit of gloom.
Then off in the distance there arose such a clatter
I yanked off my earbuds to see what was the matter.
I ran to the window and to my eyes did appear
A miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer.
On my roof it did land. My dog quickly was riled.
My phone I did grasp. Nine-one-one I might dial.
A man dropped down my chimney. I was stunned. In his hand
Was the new Christmas CD by the Count Basie band.
He dressed all in red, with a laugh jolly and quick.
He was either a madman or the elf named St. Nick.
“I mean no harm,” he did say. “Here, this album’s for you.
“It’s music that riffs on the good kind of blues.
“I heard your despair, but you need worry not.
“Not with the jazz talent this city has got.
“Eighty years next November, can you believe,
“Since from Kansas City, Count Basie did leave.
“But a culture was born and continues to live
“In this great city as musicians still give
“Of their time and their talent. To students they teach
“The wonders of jazz. Generations they reach.
“Some honor tradition, some go new directions.
“But both find an audience and make a connection.
“On Mehari! On Lambert! On Megan Birdsall!
“On Eddie Moore, Shay Estes, and all!
“Hear the B-3 played by Hazelton’s hand!
“Or hear the People’s Liberation Big Band!
“On Molly! On Eboni! On Lisa Henry!
“On Jazz Disciples! Tyrone Clark! There’s so many!
“Hear New Jazz Order each Wednesday night!
“Or to K.C. Jazz Orchestra you can delight!
“On Lowrey! On Kessler! And on Hagenbach!
“In Kansas City, all see that jazz has a lock
“On a style that was born here. And talent that grows
“Will find its new venues. This much I know.
“Clubs come and they go, but the culture remains
“And talent this great you will not contain.
“Jazz now may not thrive as in eighty years past
“But in K.C. be assured its presence will last.”
St. Nick stood in the chimney, winked once, then he rose.
He sat in his sleigh and shook soot from his clothes.
As he flew off, I sat up quick in my bed.
’Twas all but a dream. It was all in my head.
I walked to the window and stared into the night.
But all that I dreamed, I knew it was right.
I turned back to my bed and, wait, what did I see?
There on the night stand…how’d I get that new Basie CD?

Monday, December 14, 2015

The People's Liberation Big Band Ends an Era at the Record Bar

To a standing room only crowd, a seven-and-a-half year jazz era concluded on Sunday, December 6th when the People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City performed their last show in this location of the Record Bar.

The Record Bar loses its lease after New Year’s Eve. But while we wait for a new location to be vetted, People’s Lib loses, for now, its home on the first Sunday of each month.

This night the band played the best known and most popular numbers in its eclectic library and recorded the show, presumably for a future CD release. It was a reminder of how its music is so wonderfully inventive. Sometimes outlandish but consistently accessible and fun, this is what an extraordinary collection of jazz talent can produce when given the freedom to explore.

If you missed it, below are glimpses at a few of the musicians on stage. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City

Leader Brad Cox taking a turn on piano

Shay Estes sings

Mark Southerland on sax

Jeff Harshbarger on bass

Multi-instrumentalist Mark Cohick

Roger Wilder on piano, clearly enjoying the music

Forrest Stewart

Mike Stover

Rich Wheeler on sax

Sam Wisman on drums

Shay Estes

When I've heard Mark Southerland before, it was on odd instruments of his own invention playing music that experimented a bit beyond what I understand and enjoy. This night he played a beautiful and powerful extended saxophone solo that won - deservedly - a standing ovation.

Brad Cox directs the People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City in the Record Bar