Monday, April 27, 2015

Evolutions and Descendants

Volume 2, Number 1 of K.C. Jazz Ambassador, A Guide to Jazz in Kansas City, dated February, 1987, lists 18 clubs and hotel lounges where you could find jazz.

The April/May, 2015 issue of Jam, Jazz Ambassador Magazine, lists 38 locations. I question some of them – does The Kill Devil Club still have jazz? – but the comparison is impressive.

As I prepare to take over editing Jam, I’ve examined my own archives for old issues, and I’m amazed at how little has changed.

The October, 1987 issue includes a page of five jazz organizations in Kansas City: The Charlie Parker Memorial Foundation, Friends of Jazz, Kansas City Jazz Festival Committee, Mutual Musicians Foundation and International Association of Jazz Record Collectors. Not listed are Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors, which published the magazine, and the Kansas City Jazz Commission, with which at that time the Ambassadors were closely aligned.

Today I count The American Jazz Museum (largely carrying on the ambitions of the Charlie Parker Foundation), The Folly jazz series (which is what the Friends of Jazz series evolved into), the Mutual Musicians Foundation (unchanged), The Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors (still publishes the magazine), KC Jazz ALIVE (with the same unifying ambitions that the Jazz Commission was formed to foster), and the Prairie Village Jazz Festival (significantly smaller event, but sub it for the KC Jazz Fest).

Further evidence of today echoing the 1980s was spied in a press kit in my files for 1988’s Jazz and Heritage Month. The press release in it announces: “By official proclamation of the City of Kansas City, Missouri, August has been declared Jazz and Heritage Month. The proclamation recognizes an umbrella program established by the Kansas City Jazz Commission, under which more than 30 jazz related events will be held throughout the metropolitan area in the month of August….”

Sound a smidge like a certain 18 day Charlie Parker celebration organized by KC Jazz ALIVE this past August, perhaps?

Today’s organizations and activities are to a remarkable extent evolutions and descendants of what Kansas City was doing to promote its incredible jazz heritage 28 years ago.

Yet, two key differences stand out. Today we have the American Jazz Museum anchoring the 18th and Vine district. And the abundance of outstanding young jazz talent dominating this city offers a genuine reason to believe this isn’t ending any time soon.

*****

That October, 1987 Jam includes an interview with Claude “Fiddler” Williams. Among the exchanges is this one:
Ambassador: Do you have a message for Kansas City about jazz?

Williams: I think it’s a wonderful thing they’re doing in Kansas City to get jazz going again… the festivals, the concerts in the park, and companies matching funds to have these things because, otherwise, it would be too expensive to have them. But they, the Festival Committee and Parks and Recreation, will bring musicians from out of town, pay four or five hundred more… while not wanting to pay the local musician hardly anything. They don’t want to do the hometown musician right! Like at the jazz festival… they didn’t do the public right. I played a jam session. Now, I have two or three groups of musicians I work with regularly – ssSlick, Frank Smith and a few individual musicians. We could have arranged some things where we all would know what we were going to do. But, I just told the piano player to call something out.

Ambassador: That was a jam session. You don’t think that was right for a jazz festival?

Williams: No, especially when they’re going to bring in somebody like Wynton Marsalis – he only had four pieces, but they all knew what they were going to do.

Ambassador: They were tight.

Williams: Right! Do the hometown musicians right and pay ’em a little taste. If you want me to head a group, let me know in time – we’ll rehearse and people will really have something to listen to.
On the jam groups, we heard the complaints and discontinued that experiment (it seemed like a good idea when we tried it). On the discrepancy in pay, well, I’m still booking festivals and I still hear grumbles.

*****

There will be an increasing number of weeks when I don’t offer a fresh blog post. Alas, I only have the weekends to write and, with three decades behind it, I'm giving Jam the attention it has earned.

But while this blog may become a wee bit less frequent, it is not ending. Jam brings a different attitude to the Kansas City jazz scene, and I respect that. Jam will not see my snarky side. This blog will remain the forum where I speak my feeble mind, mixing photos and praise with occasionally pissing people off.

Retiring Jam editor Roger Atkinson and I will co-edit the June/July issue, the last of Roger’s decade at the helm. August/September will be the first on which I swim or sink alone.

Well, maybe it’ll see a little snark.

Monday, April 20, 2015

The Orchestra's On Top

The band was founded in large part to present jazz with unaccustomed professionalism.

This music was born in buildings housing bars and brothels. It grew up to be recognized – by many of us – as America’s classical music. But it never quite shook the image of grungy bars.

Many of us hold nothing against grungy bars. Their ambiance can be enticing. But in Kansas City, jazz has been performed by some of the finest musicians you’ll hear anywhere for ninety years. And the best of the music deserves the same respect as is bestowed on non-American classical music.

A dozen years back, Jim Mair and Gene Hall assembled a big band to play concert halls, modeled after similar efforts in a few other cities. Its members dressed in black suits with matching blue neckties. They performed the jazz compositions of Duke Ellington and George Gershwin and countless others with the same professional presentation that the Kansas City Symphony brings to the works of Bach and Brahms.

The biggest difference between this band and the Symphony is that this band swings.

In November, 2003, The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra (KCJO) played its first concert, with guest Marilyn Maye, at Unity on the Plaza.

*****

Over the past five years, KCJO has seen transitions. Jim Mair stepped aside as Artistic Director and Kerry Strayer took over. Tragically, Kerry succumbed to cancer. With Kerry’s encouragement, Clint Ashlock stepped in. The orchestra office has been run by four different business managers over that period (including me for a few months).

More significantly, performances moved from Unity to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. The orchestra had struggled to attract 600 people to its fall concerts before the move. Yet they had the audacity to claim 1600 seat Helzberg Hall. An attempt to shift its concerts downtown once before, to The Folly Theater, cost KCJO aging fans who cherished the Country Club Plaza convenience of parking once for dinner and a show. And they raised the ticket price so that, with a service charge and garage parking, the cost of the cheapest seat nearly doubled (except for same day student sales).

But when you strive to position yourself as the jazz equivalent of the Symphony, this is the league you need to play in.

*****

Friday night, The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra concluded its third season in the Kauffman Center with a concert of music from the book of bandleader Stan Kenton.

The center section of Helzberg Hall was almost entirely filled. Yes, empty seats were scattered about the side sections. But, especially with no big name guest artist to attract attention, the size of this crowd was impressive. The audience, clearly, has grown since the orchestra’s Unity days.

The age of the crowd was equally impressive. KCJO, and traditional big band music in general, has generally attracted older fans. But this night, plenty of twenty-, thirty- and forty-somethings spiced the hall. Thanks to a donation from the Tony DiPardo Music Foundation, a large contingent of students also filled seats. The orchestra is no longer attracting an audience that looks like it’s going to mostly disappear over the next ten years.

One pre-teen patron near me bent over in his seat and covered his ears from the night’s abundance of musical brass. He may not be back soon, but plenty of others in Helzberg Hall last Friday night are going to return.

The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is crisp. Here’s some of KC’s best musicians who have rehearsed and performed together for, in many cases, a dozen years. They know each other. Kansas City enjoys an abundance of big bands today, most playing ensemble parts smoothly. But KCJO hits a different level. Their instruments speak as one tight and sophisticated voice, riding the rhythm of Charles Williams’s piano, James Albright’s bass, Rod Fleeman’s guitar and Tim Cambron’s drums.

Solos stood out. Brad Gregory on tenor sax, David Chael on alto sax and Mark Cohick on some really weird instruments have long been among my personal favorites in any number of ensembles. Bob Long on alto, Doug Talley on tenor and Jay Sollenberger on trumpet shined.

Credit the excellence of these musicians first. But also credit the cohesiveness of Clint Ashlock’s musical direction. What he’s done with the New Jazz Order Big Band each Tuesday in uber-grungy Harling’s is wildly enjoyable. But in Kansas City’s still sparkling fresh palace to the arts, The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra has gelled with uncompromised quality and presentation.

The goals set at KCJO’s founding continue to be met. The orchestra continues to prove that Kenton – and Ellington and Basie and Gershwin and others – deserve to be heard on the same stage as Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. And with an audience growing and growing younger, they’re likely to to be heard there for a long time to come.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kane, OJT and Sanders: A Trio of CDs

Here’s the proof.

Drummer Matt Kane hails from Hannibal, Missouri, studied at UMKC’s Conservatory of Music, was mentored by Ahmad Alaadeen, then moved to New York. But like so many others, he has seen today’s Kansas City jazz renaissance dominated by young talent. He has pulled together five of those musicians. Michael Shults on alto sax, Steve Lambert on tenor sax, Hermon Mehari on trumpet, Andrew Ouellette on piano, Ben Leifer on bass and Kane on drums make up the group, Matt Kane and The Kansas City Generations Sextet.

They have recorded a CD, Acknowledgement, performing the compositions of other current and recent KC jazz masters, Bobby Watson, Pat Metheny and Alaadeen. The CD is officially released this week at the Green Lady Lounge with shows on Friday and Saturday nights.

Here’s proof that some of the best young talent playing jazz today is playing the music in Kansas City. These are musicians exploring new ideas and directions with confidence. Shults’s alto intuitively weaves fresh thoughts and grasps new ideas, as on the rambunctious opener, In Case You Missed It. Lambert’s tenor can push aggressively into intriguing spaces, always with a pleasing inquisitiveness, or glide over rhythm with a rich tone as on And the Beauty Of It All. Mehari’s trumpet shows a refinement and maturity that can gently draw you in, unafraid of open spaces – you hear that on ASR – or he can solo fast and hard. Ouellette’s piano is played with enticingly supple finesse. The piano and sax conversation, Jewel, is marvelous. Leifer bass solos tell a story, expecially on Midwestern Nights Dream, riding Kane’s driving drums.

The rhythm section is tight. Credit all of the musicians, but especially Kane, whose accents support and propel, at times with exuberance, at times with subtlety, always with sophistication.

Acknowledgement is a 2015 snapshot of some of the best young musicians playing jazz in Kansas City. It’s a snapshot of music alive and growing.

Acknowledgement by Matt Kane and The Kansas City Generations Sextet can be found on CD Baby here.

*****

Eleanore Rigby may have never swung harder than this.

From Ken Lovern’s rollicking Hammond B-3 organ, to Brian Baggett’s blues-drenched guitar, to Kevin Frazee’s nimble drums, this is an Eleanore Rigby that makes you want to get up and dance. This is decidedly not for all the lonely people.

It’s one of the New Standards For the Green Lady, a new CD from OJT (that’s for organ jazz trio). OJT regularly plays the Green Lady Lounge.

These standards may be mostly new to jazz, but many titles will sound familiar to listeners familiar with the best of pop in the last century. Besides Eleanore Rigby, among the tunes getting an OJT treatment are Layla, I Kissed a Girl, Everybody Wants to Rule the World and The Way You Make Me Feel. That treatment involves a heavy dose of swing doused in blues. It‘s music that’s going to have you swaying your shoulders to and fro. Don‘t try to resist.

If Acknowledgement is a snapshot of outstanding musicians in KC today, New Standards For the Green Lady captures more terrific musicians in KC having a helluva lotta fun.

New Standards For the Green Lady by OJT is available on CD Baby here and on iTunes here.

*****

Bassist Dominique Sanders is a young musician absorbing the full range of modern musical influences. Some may call his new CD, A True Story Based On…, electronic music. Some will hear modern music beyond accessibility. Traditional jazz fans will declare that music laced with sound effects and sampling isn’t jazz.

A True Story Based On… is jazz looking forward. This is experimental jazz embracing every tool available to a musician in 2015. There is sampling. There are sound effects. There is the influence of hip-hop. But you can also hear the influence of R and B and funk and Pat Metheny.

And you can hear KC musicians like Steve Lambert, Hermon Mehari, Andrew Ouellette, Harold O’Neal, Matt Hopper, Ryan Lee, Andy McGhie, Josh Williams, Mark Lowrey, Jordan Shipley, Danny Embrey, and Brad Williams. Nobody is going to question their bonafides.

There’s a certain amount of over-the-top extravagance here. The same audience is unlikely to embrace both A True Story Based On… and New Standards For the Green Lady. But the fact that you can hear both groups – and The Kansas City Generations Sextet – in KC in 2015 speaks volumes about the variety of jazz this city offers and is supporting.

A True Story Based On… can be downloaded from iTunes here.

Monday, April 6, 2015

No Post This Week

A busy weekend equals a week away from the blog and no new post.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Clint Ashlock's Jazz Messengers Tribute Sextet With Bobby Watson

This is what you could hear for a five dollar cover charge in a Kansas City suburb on Saturday night:

At Take Five Coffee + Bar, Clint Ashlock on trumpet, Michael Shults on alto sax, Brett Jackson on tenor sax, Andrew Ouellette on piano, Ben Leifer on bass and Matt Leifer on drums are playing the music of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. They’re proving that some of the most talented young musicians in jazz today are living and performing in Kansas City.

Then Bobby Watson - whose career took off as one of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers - walks in and joins them.

Jazz just doesn’t get much better than this. The evening ended with a standing ovation.

Think about that. Jazz with Bobby Watson, a standing ovation, in a coffee shop in Overland Park, Kansas, for five dollars.

If you missed it, kick yourself.

But before you do, enjoy a sampling of how it looked. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Clint Ashlock’s Messengers Tribute Sextet with guest Bobby Watson. Left to right: Clint Ashlock on trumpet, Michael Shults on alto sax, Bobby Watson on alto sax, Ben Leifer on bass, Brett Jackson on tenor sax, Matt Leifer on drums. Not pictured: Andrew Ouellette on piano.

Bobby Watson

Clint Ashlock

Michael Shults

Andrew Ouellette and Clint Ashlock

Brett Jackson

Andrew Ouellette

Enjoying Bobby’s solo

Ben Leifer

Matt Leifer

Michael Shults and Brett Jackson

Bobby Watson on alto sax

Clint Ashlock’s Messengers Tribute Sextet with guest Bobby Watson...

...on stage at Take Five Coffee + Bar

Monday, March 23, 2015

This 'n That 'n Thriving Ambassadors

My earliest memories of the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors are of fighting with them.

The year was 1988. I had taken over as chairman of an embattled Kansas City Jazz Commission, on the front page of the newspaper because a previous treasurer was accused by the county prosecutor of stealing over $6000 of city funds from the commission. The chairman of the City Council’s budget committee wanted to end funding for the Jazz Commission.

I’ve recounted the story more than once in this blog. The ugly details aren’t particularly relevant to this tale.

These are the facts that are relevant: Members of the Kansas City Jazz Commission were appointed by the mayor. It wasn’t an organization you could pay a fee to join. The membership rolls were filled with appointees who the mayor owed a favor and were appointed to the Kansas City Jazz Commission as a harmless thank you. We never saw those individuals at meetings. Others sincerely wanted to use the forum to benefit the jazz community. Some of them remain active today in other Kansas City jazz organizations.

But some commission members viewed appointment as a mark of distinction, a badge of being better than people who weren’t appointed. Their attitude did not make chairing that troubled commission any easier.

The Jazz Ambassadors was a group started to support the Jazz Commission, and a way for jazz supporters who were not appointed to be involved with the organization. Ambassadors were a good resource for volunteers for the Jazz Lovers’ Pub Crawls, which the Jazz Commission staged.

But there were some Jazz Commission members who looked down on the Jazz Ambassadors because they weren’t appointees to a city commission.

Between that attitude and the Jazz Commission’s public troubles, the Ambassadors wanted out from under the commission’s mangled thumb. The Ambassadors boasted some effective leadership who had, among other things, started a little digest sized jazz publication.

But at the time, the Jazz Commission fought the Ambassadors. The disagreement escalated to a professional arbitrator. A young attorney who had testified before the City Council’s budget committee in favor of ending the Jazz Commission’s funding joined the Ambassadors in arbitration. In the end, the arbitrator mostly sided with the Jazz Commission. The Jazz Ambassadors remained tied to the commission.

Actually, that’s not where the story ends. Sometime after my two years as chairman, the Kansas City Jazz Commission disbanded. The commission turned over the Pub Crawl and Mini Pub Crawls (aimed at tourist groups) to the Jazz Ambassadors.

Decades after the Kansas City Jazz Commission’s end, the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors survive. And that little digest sized publication, JAM (for Jazz Ambassadors Magazine) grew into a full size glossy magazine which still prints over 10,000 copies (estimated readership: 40,000) every other month. It’s been publishing now for over thirty years.

I don’t remember who edited JAM when the Jazz Commission battled the Ambassadors. But not long afterward, Kathy Feist took over and grew it. Next, Mike Metheny served as editor, with some of the largest page counts in JAM’s history. And for the last decade, Roger Atkinson has shown a steady hand with profiles and reviews that have consistently presented Kansas City jazz at its best, even through years when the music’s survival seemed questionable.

This summer, Roger is retiring as editor of JAM.

The new editor will be me.

(Technically, I’ve been hired to edit one issue. But I’m optimistic that this gig is going to work out fine.)

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.

And I’m especially pleased that my days of fighting with the Jazz Ambassadors ended decades ago. There’s no lingering bad feelings on my end, guys.

*****

Michael Shults is one of those stellar young musicians referenced above (who has also written some excellent articles for JAM). He skipped town last summer to take a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire. But apparently he skipped town without completing his doctorate, because this week he returns to make amends. Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Take Five Coffee + Bar, he will present a lecture recital for that doctorate on the compositions of Bobby Watson. That’s followed, from 8 to 10 p.m., by Michael with Clint Ashlock’s Messengers Sextet, for a tribute to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, where Bobby’s career took off.

Bobby Watson’s compositions have not received the attention in the jazz world that they deserve. Bobby plans to be there Saturday night. This is an opportunity to give back a little to the man who has done more than anyone else over the last decade to prepare the musicians who are perpetuating and growing jazz in Kansas City.

See you there.


Monday, March 16, 2015

A Quarter Century Later

Twenty six years ago last Wednesday, the plan was announced that would lead to construction of today’s American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Museum complex.

The announcement was the culmination of intense negotiation and compromise.

Eddie Baker, a musician and executive director of the Charlie Parker Foundation, had advocated an International Jazz Hall of Fame in Kansas City since 1977. But not at 18th and Vine. That neighborhood, he felt, was too closely tied to Kansas City jazz to be the location for a museum embracing all styles of jazz. In 1983, after the Jewish Community Center announced plans to move to Johnson County, Eddie promoted their soon to be vacated building at 82nd and Holmes as the perfect location for the Hall of Fame he envisioned. In 1983, the Kansas City Council passed a resolution stating that a Jazz Hall of Fame in Kansas City would be located in the 18th and Vine district. In 1984, Count Basie Enterprises donated $10,000 from Basie’s estate (Basie died in 1983) for a Jazz Hall of Fame that met Eddie’s vision. In 1986, Eddie trademarked the name International Jazz Hall of Fame so nobody could use it without his permission.

On March 11, 1989, at a press conference attended by Dizzy Gillespie (who was in town for a show at the Folly), the city announced that an agreement had been reached to build the museum and jazz institute that Eddie had championed in the former public works buildings at 21st and Vine. The city accepted Eddie’s dream as the plan. Eddie accepted the 18th and Vine district as the location.

That compromise fell apart. The city allocated $20 million to the project. Cost estimates grew to $32 million. Space was slashed in half and the location moved. Eddie withdrew his support and permission to use the name International Jazz Hall of Fame. Count Basie Enterprises denied use of Basie’s image except for photos already in the public domain.

The museum known today as the American Jazz Museum opened in September, 1997.

Battles over the museum were typical of the infighting prevalent in Kansas City’s jazz community in the 1980s and the 1990s.

*****

A poster of the 11th Jazz Lover’s Pub Crawl in 1992 lists 31 locations where jazz could be heard that night. Don’t misunderstand. That doesn’t mean jazz could be found in over thirty clubs and hotel bars each night. Many clubs booked jazz just this one evening because the Crawl was so popular they would see little business if they didn’t.

Still, 31 places to hear jazz in Kanss City, even for one night, is remarkable.

In 2011, Jardine’s closed. That left The Blue Room, The Majestic, Take Five, the Mutual Musicians Foundation and on some nights The Phoenix or The Record Bar as all the clubs in the area with jazz.

*****

2015:

Young musicians dominate Kansas City’s jazz scene. They know the standards, sure, but they’re invigorating jazz with fresh sounds and ideas. And they’re finding opportunities to play. I'm told some young New York jazz musicians have discussed moving to Kansas City. They're hearing stories about gigs and a more agreeable cost of living.

A second live recording made at Green Lady Lounge is scheduled to be released next month, with owner John Scott planning more. A page on his web site sells CDs by Kansas City jazz musicians. He wants to bring back into circulation local CDs that have been unavailable. He’s an evangelist for today’s Kansas City jazz. He wants it to be known worldwide, because the music is that good.

New club owners are building audiences. Take Five is bringing jazz to a part of the city that never before heard it live. And they’re drawing Blue Valley High School students, part of tomorrow’s audience, to the shows.

Planning has started for the second Charlie Parker celebration. An expanded bus tour, encompassing more historic sites tied to Kansas City jazz, is being discussed. Events that pull together more of the metropolitan area seem likely.

The celebration is the hallmark event of KC Jazz ALIVE, an organization that has unified an unprecedented portion of KC’s jazz community. Not every group is a part of this organization. Some outliers seem determined to plot their own direction. At one time, the Kansas City Jazz Commission was appointed, in part, to bring a fractured jazz scene together. I chaired that commission for two years in the late 1980s, so I understand the challenge. And I marvel at the amount of harmony, though still fragile, that I’m seeing.

(By the way, I sucked at unifying the jazz community.)

Integral to the Parker celebration and KC Jazz ALIVE is the American Jazz Museum. They are devoting staff and other resources to promotion and education. They employ thousands of jazz musicians each year. They are educating young people and exposing them to our internationally renowned heritage.

The Charlie Parker Foundation, which Eddie Baker directed, advocated the education of youth in jazz, developing opportunities for our stellar musicians, and promoting our incredible jazz heritage to the public. The American Jazz Museum may not be the institution that Eddie imagined. But in 2015, it is doing more to perpetuate the Parker Foundation’s goals than any other jazz organization in Kansas City.

I’m not sure whether that’s ironic or beautiful.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Two CDs With Dominique, Ryan and a Green Lady

A correction: Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! was recorded at The Broadway Jazz Club, not at Green Lady Lounge. So as you read the reviews that follow, please keep in mind that these albums prove at least two KC jazz clubs are exemplary sites to record a CD. And to enjoy outstanding jazz.

*****

Two new CDs come with three points in common: Dominque Sanders, Ryan Lee,and the Green Lady Lounge.

Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! and Paul Shinn Trio – Easy Now: Live at the Green Lady Lounge were both recorded just as the title of Shinn’s CD describes it. Green Lady Lounge is well known as one of the most perfect atmospheres for jazz, where stepping through the door feels as if Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine (any fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons will surely remember that) has brought you to 1940s Kansas City. But most nights you need to sit close to the band to appreciate the music. I’d never have expected this venue could give birth to a technically magnificent recording, shedding all of the ambient noise. But here’s two albums that prove it can.

These albums prove something more: Some of the best young musicians performing jazz today reside in – or often return to – Kansas City.

That’s not news to anyone frequenting KC’s jazz scene for the last half dozen years. But both of these albums bring a maturity to the music, built with experience and with the familiarity of musicians playing together repeatedly over time.

I’ve heard Lambert through these years perform the gamut of jazz, from standards behind singer Megan Birdsall, to big band hits with the Foundation 627 Big Band and Bobby Watson’s big band, to be-bop that caught the attention of Marilyn Maye’s drummer at the 2013 Prairie Village Jazz Festival with the Mutual Musicians Foundation All Stars, to the music of Lennie Tristano in Sam Wisman’s group Crosscurrent, to jazz as modern as it gets with the KC Sound Collective.

Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! finds Lambert in a contemporary groove. Sometimes on this CD, the tenor sax storms in at a frenetic pace. Unfinished Melody and both takes of No Reason pepper the listener with originality in a wealth of freshly imagined and intelligent ideas. Contrast those numbers with the ballads Trust and Love Letters, where a more tender pace draws you in. On Mariah, Lambert’s flute and Andrew Ouellette’s piano intrigue, each pulling you along a sublime journey.

Lambert is joined by Ouellette on piano and keyboard, Sanders on bass and Lee on drums. Everyone has a chance to shine: Ouellette’s solo on For You stands out, as do Sanders and Lee on Children of the Night. But more importantly, this is a group of musicians who know and drive each other. There’s an integrated sophistication here that’s sometimes lacking in modern jazz.

Where Lambert’s CD can be a juggernaut, Paul Shinn Trio – Easy Now: Live at the Green Lady Lounge, from its first notes, is marked by a more intimate yet no less energetic sophistication. On this album, the piano is the star. The opening number, Lucidity, builds joyfully, weaving this way and that with an intricate playfulness. Swing has been around for over eighty years, the blues even longer, yet Handful of Keys, High Five Blues and Birth of the Blues are sway-your-arms fun while performed with an originality that marks them as Shinn’s take alone.

And as much as Shinn’s piano excels, Ryan Lee’s drums and Dominique Sanders’s bass are vital. Sanders starts a conversation with the piano then carries it back and forth on Ton of Simple, before joining Lee in laying the perfect base for Shinn’s compelling improvisation. Drums and bass add a uniquely intricate depth to A Desolate Cath. On this CD, we’re eavesdropping on conversations between musicians who instinctively understand each other. And, with Paul Shinn in control, the conversations are complete delights.

Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! and Paul Shinn Trio – Easy Now: Live at the Green Lady Lounge make one more point eminently clear: You can hear some outstanding jazz at the Green Lady Lounge.

Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! can be found on CD Baby here, on CD Universe here, and on iTunes here. Paul Shinn Trio – Easy Now: Live at the Green Lady Lounge can be found on CD Baby here, on CD Universe here, and on iTunes here.

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.