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.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Potential of a Radio Station

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professionalism wins highway signs.

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

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


Monday, February 9, 2015

Chris Hazelton's Boogaloo 7 at Take Five

They need more chairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bandleader Chris Hazelton

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

Brett Jackson, Nick Howell and Nick Rowland

Brett Jackson on baritone sax

Nick Rowland on tenor sax

Nick Howell on trumpet

Tim Braun on guitar

Danny Rojas on drums

Vocalist Julia Haile

Julia Haile with the Boogaloo 7

Dancers take the floor

Hazelton swings

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


Monday, February 2, 2015

Pete Eye and Tommy Ruskin

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

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

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

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

















Monday, January 26, 2015

Promote

I may have retired The Magic Jazz Fairy prematurely.

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

They didn’t last long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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