Monday, November 23, 2015

Kissin' Cousins

Editing Jam takes a toll. Three weeks and nary a new post.

This blog has been neither forgotten nor ignored. But as editor of Jam magazine – I still want to say new editor, but three issues in I’m not sure that holds – I’m finding that every couple of months, a few weekends need to be handed over to producing the next issue. I have neither the time nor stamina to spend a weekend writing and editing articles for the magazine while simultaneously mustering pithy thoughts here.

This week’s post is short, as I recoup from last weekend’s 4 a.m. nights. But the result is worth the effort. The December/January Jam printed last week and is being distributed around town now. It’s far from perfected, but this issue comes closer to my vision for the magazine, which celebrates 30 years of publication in 2016. Jam is developing a new voice and a fresh look. I have found that even in this digital century, holding a slick printed document remains important to many.

I share the new issue’s cover to shamelessly promote it. That’s singer Eboni Fondren decked in Royals gear and standing on the small baseball diamond adjacent to the historic Paseo YMCA at 19th and The Paseo.

Clearly, the photo is inspired by the Royals’ World Series championship. But it works in part because in Kansas City, baseball and jazz have long been kissin’ cousins. In the 1920s and ’30s, when a new style of jazz was growing up in this city, the Kansas City Monarchs dominated baseball’s Negro Leagues and were as integral to the fabric of 18th and Vine as were music and vice. The Monarchs’ office stood on 18th Street, between The Paseo and Vine. They played in Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn.

The Negro Leagues fed the integration of baseball, and the integration of baseball is often cited as one key to the acceptance of integration in America. February will mark 96 years since the charter creating the Negro Baseball Leagues was signed at the Paseo YMCA, in 1920. I’ve long argued that the building deserves recognition as a National Historic Landmark.

Add September’s announcement on plans to build the nation’s seventh Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Parade Park, behind the jazz and Negro Leagues museums. If the city can find a solution to taming crime in the district, and the devastating news stories that crime generates, this development will attract a new audience to Kansas City’s historic jazz district. It further strengthens Kansas City’s historic bonds between baseball and jazz.

But while baseball season has ended for this year, jazz continues. Diana Krall performed at the Midland on Saturday night. And Friday night, she sat in with Matt Otto at The Blue Room on his last set. That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen just anywhere. The loss of Take Five and The Broadway Jazz Club means fewer opportunities for musicians to perform. No question, it’s a setback. But the wealth of jazz talent in Kansas City today will keep the music thriving, and will keep performers like Diana Krall getting out when they visit to sample what we have going on.

Monday, November 9, 2015

No New Post

As work in n the next issue of Jam magazine heats up – with an early close due to Thanksgiving – work on this blog takes a break. No new post this week. (But the next issue of the magazine is going to be awesome!)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Congratulations, Royals!

This blog is about Kansas City and jazz. But today this city is all about our Royals winning the World Series. Next week we can rerturn to what passes here for on-topic punditry. Today, along with all other proud and excited Kansas Citians, I have just one thought: Congratulations, Kansas City Royals!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Another One Bites the Dust

Broadway Kansas City, until earlier this year The Broadway Jazz Club, has been sold. The space will become a Scandinavian restaurant (their website is here). The new owners tell The Pitch (here) 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.

Tentative plans are for Clint Ashlock’s wonderful New Jazz Order Big Band, which had established itself as a Tuesday Broadway favorite, to relocate to the Green Lady Lounge’s downstairs Orion Room early in November on Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m., leading into Ken Lovern’s weekly OJT gig upstairs at 9:00. Recordings scheduled yet for this year of the good music/bad comedy radio program 12th Street Jump will supplant New Jazz Order in the Orion Room on two upcoming Wednesdays, including November 18th for a show featuring Kevin Mahogany.

It’s been six years since I tried – and failed – to open a jazz club in Kansas City (the recession interfered). In researching a plan at the time, I found two successful business models employed by other jazz clubs: Turn the audience twice a night or also open during the day. Either can generate a revenue stream sufficient to pay rent and investors.

The two-shows-a-night model is used by clubs in larger cities, such as the Village Vanguard or Blue Note in New York, or Jazz Alley in Seattle. Jardine’s practiced it on weekends. But Kansas City’s jazz audience clearly isn’t large enough for that model to succeed here nightly.

A friend was among the group that bought Milton’s from Milton Morris’ niece decades ago. He told me that the iconic Kansas City jazz bar was essentially a break-even business. But it wouldn’t have been even that without the lushes who wandered in off a then-grittier Main Street throughout the day.

More than once, as I sat among a crowded but quite settled in weekend audience, I wondered how The Broadway Jazz Club was surviving. Listeners were enjoying outstanding jazz. But they weren’t leaving. The room wasn’t turning over. How could Broadway afford to pay performers what Jardine’s paid yet sell half as many dinners? How were they making financial ends meet?

Turns out, as initial investor and eventual owner Jim Pollock revealed in a timeline six weeks ago (here), they weren’t. They never did. This club wanted, initially anyway, to be the next Jardine’s. But there was never an apparent effort to turn the room on weekend nights as Jardine’s did. It’s not a new notion. Milton Morris boasted of a 1930s New Year’s Eve when he paid police to “raid” his  jazz club and clear it for a fresh crowd (though that’s probably going a bit further than The Broadway Jazz Club needed).

More, this was the wrong neighborhood for the next Jardine’s. My blog post about being attacked by youths with a gun on my fifth visit certainly didn’t help. But approaching 3600 Broadway from the south after dark, visitors drive past a Sprint store with steel bars covering its windows. There’s a rougher, uneasy midtown quality to this neighborhood, unlike Jardine’s just-north-of-the-Plaza, look-you-can-see-Nichols-Fountain-from-here location. This part of town, in 2015, works for eclectic restaurants, like the nearby Hamburger Mary’s. Kansas City will support a dinner jazz club. But not here.

Broadway's demise follows the closing of Take Five Coffee + Bar. Take Five embraced the revenue-throughout-the-day business model, but in a pricey Johnson County development that never developed except, at the end, for another coffee shop in a nearby sporting goods store.

Yet, there is a jazz club success story in our midst: The Green Lady Lounge. With a bar hugging the length of one wall designed to serve a large number of customers quickly, a 3 a.m. license (a rarity in the Crossroads district), an inviting and classic environment, and a simple and direct marketing message of jazz and drinks seven nights a week, owner John Scott has tripled revenues since opening his second stage downstairs.

Green Lady Lounge is a variation of the turn-the-crowd model, with the later license, no cover charge and that long bar facilitating volume business. It’s proof that a smartly conceived and operated jazz business can indeed succeed in Kansas City.

It’s probably best that I didn’t start a jazz club six years ago. While I was working with experienced consultants and remain convinced that I’d targeted a solid location, my lack of service industry experience, in the end, would have likely doomed the venture. Small businesses die every day. But had I tried and failed, the business would have ended because of me, because of my lack of club smarts and acumen, because I wasn’t sufficiently savvy.

It would not have died because it featured jazz. In Kansas City, run right, a jazz business will succeed.

Monday, October 19, 2015

No New Post

No post, no photos, nothing new this week, profound or otherwise.

That's not quite right. I do have one thought new to this blog, though it's not especially jazz related:

Go Royals!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Part 2

A previous post covered how the headline act of the 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival came to be the McFadden Brothers with The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. But the simple fact is, no matter who else may have been considered in the course of developing this year’s festival, nobody, absolutely nobody, could have delighted the young and old, the kids and the parents packing the hill in Harmon Park more completely than the McFaddens with KCJO.

Certain acts just turn out to be a perfect match for a particular setting, a stage, an audience. Sometimes, 5000 people, ideal weather, an orchestra and a couple of tap dancers gel perfectly. That’s what happened in Prairie Village on September 10th.

Angela Hagenbach preceded them with the magnificent vocals that have made her a favorite of Kansas City and worldwide audiences for over two decades. Don’t miss her production of Alice in Wonderland set to the music of John Coltrane – Jazz Alice – on the stage in the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Library on October 28th. It’s previewed in the latest issue of Jam.

And preceding Angela in the festival, playing to a beautiful setting sun, Matt Kane and the Kansas City Generations Sextet matched drummer Kane – now based in New York but originally from Hannibal, Missouri and a graduate of UMKC’s Conservatory – with five of the best of Kansas City’s amazing new jazz generation.

Below are photos from the evening. As always, clicking on one should open a larger version of it.

As the sun set in Prairie Village on September 10th, a growing crowd packed the hill in Harmon Park.

Matt Kane and the Generations Sextet. Left to right: Ben Leifer on bass, Andrew Ouellette on piano, Matt Kane on drums, Steve Lambert on tenor sax, Hermon Mehari on trumpet, Michael Shults on alto sax.

The stage, with Matt Kane and the Generations Sextet, bathed in the setting sun.

Angela Hagenbach sings

Danny Embry with Angela's group

Angela in the spotlight

The McFadden Brothers and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

The McFadden Brothers dance to an audience standing and applauding with joy.

Clint Ashlock directs The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

Ronnie McFadden

Lonnie McFadden

The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

Monday, October 5, 2015

The 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Part 1

The weather could not have cooperated better.

The Prairie Village Jazz Festival is still remembered by some for its second year when a microburst pummeled the grounds and ended the day after two acts. Perhaps the weather gods realize they overdid it that year – and they did – and have have been making up for it since.

This year, on Saturday September 10th, crowds started building early and stayed through the McFadden Brothers and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra bringing thousands to their feet to sway to the magnificent music.

We’ll get to photos of the finale (and Angela Hagenbach and Matt Kane and the Generations Sextet) next week. This week, we take a glance at the day’s first four acts, including Tyrone Clark and True Dig with Lisa Henry, Horacescope, the Peter Schlamb Quartet and the Shawnee Mission East blue Knights.

As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

A decent sized crowd for 2:30 in the afternoon and magnificent weather greeted the Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights to open the 2015 festival.

The Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights

The Peter Schlamb Quartet. Left to right: Peter Schlamb on vibraphone, Karl McComas-Reichl on bass, John Kizilarmut on drums, Hermon Mehari on trumpet.

Peter Schlamb. Behind him, Karl McComas-Reichl.

Hermon Mehari

Tyrone Clark and True Dig. Left to right: Charles Williams on keyboards, Tyrone Clark on bass, Lisa Henry, vocals, Michael Warren on drums, Charles Gatschet on guitar.

Tyrone Clark

Lisa Henry

Horacescope. Left to right: Roger Wilder on piano, James Albright on bass, Stan Kessler on trumpet, Sam Wisman on drums, David Chael on saxophone.

James Albright, Stan Kessler, David Chael and Sam Wisman

As the sun started to set, the crowd grew.

Monday, September 28, 2015

All the Pieces

The difference in body language caught my attention first.

I sat in a meeting early this summer, in a conference room near 18th and Vine, that included several staff members from the American Jazz Museum. I noticed the way one sat angled in his chair, the edge in a voice when one spoke, the wayward gaze of another. We’ve all sat through gatherings on a bad day. This was different. There was an overarching sense of disgruntlement and defiance, not with the topic at hand but with something else.

Two months later, 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. The body language had changed.

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.

That’s especially important following last week’s announcement at the Negro Leagues Museum. 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. From Mayor Sly James’s website (here):
The Academy and park improvements will be developed in two phases:
•  Phase I includes two full-size baseball fields, including one with permanent and portable bleachers for tournament play; two youth baseball-softball fields; a half-mile walking trail with views of the baseball and softball diamonds; relocated basketball courts; relocated and renovated tennis courts, and a new playground near the community center.

•  Phase II includes the indoor training facility with a turf infield, batting cages, pitching mounds, restrooms and concession facilities for the diamonds; a Great Lawn that will serve as a front yard for the Academy and as a shared event space, and additional parking.
Here’s the layout, with the museums highlighted in yellow (clicking on the image should open a larger view):

Phase 1 is scheduled to be completed in a year. Fundraising continues for phase 2 with the hopes that the training facility will be standing a year later.

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.

But this district faces special challenges. I’ve quoted often from a 1979 study commissioned by the Black Economic Union and funded by the Ford Foundation which said, in part, that even then people feared coming into the area. The city needs to address an image ingrained for decades and underscored just this past Sunday when, at 2:40 a.m., four people were shot at 18th and Highland, one seriously (news reports here and here). These incidents must end. This isn’t The Plaza where stories of woebegone youth surprise. This is what too many people anticipate here, so they don’t come. The five o’clock news cannot open with reports from the district of “an uptick in crime” and a resident saying, “This is a horrible street to live on” while you ask parents to send their kids to play baseball in the neighborhood park.

Because the possibilities here are incredible.

If the city can stymie the stories of violence, the coming of the beloved and Snow White-sweet Royals, with Major League Baseball, can bestow the district with equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. They can draw a new audience. Will it be a large enough crowd to entice new restaurants and shops? That’s the hope.

I suspect Mayor James has been pushing for East Crossroads development incentives in part because this revitalization is coming. That’s another element necessary to begin to dispel languishing fears: the district needs a not-so-scary-to-nonurbanites connection to the rest of the city.

I’m aware of two clubs which at least sometimes book jazz being courted to East Crossroads. Could this city, in a few years, boast of Green Lady Lounge accompanied by some new jazz cohorts jamming in an area that leads to an 18th and Vine district with The Blue Room, the Mutual Musicians Foundation broadcasting its new radio station and a Major League Baseball facility training future major leaguers? Many discussions are preliminary. Money needs to be raised. So much could yet fall elsewhere or simply fall apart. But today, all of the critical pieces are dangling for that vision to be a possibility.

The vision. I spoke with Ralph Reid just two weeks after he took over leadership of the American Jazz Museum. He was uncomfortable attaching the word vision to his ideas and plans. Yet, Reid’s Sprint experience in community outreach and his time spent on the boards of other major not-for-profit organizations brings the experience and vision needed at the jazz museum during a time of district transitions. He’s another critical piece.

A few weeks ago, on KCPT’s Kansas City Week in Review, I watched as the panelists speculated on whether Ralph Reid might consider staying on at the museum past his designated interim role. I thought, I know the answer to that. I asked him that question earlier in the week. And the answer is…

…in the next issue of Jam, available around town starting later this week.

(I can be such a tease.)

Monday, September 21, 2015

No Post, Off Jammin'

Every other month, one of my weekends is now filled with completing the next issue of Jam magazine. That weekend was this one. So after two nights that ran way too late for someone of my age (I could stay up this late easily in my twenties and thirties, and I did), I sit here too spent to write or edit or otherwise inspire on this week’s blog. Look for a new post next week.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Want to Buy a Jazz Club?

An ad has been prepared for Craigslist that begins with this:

“Kansas City bar and restaurant for sale. Great design and ambiance. Located in 100-year old historic building where jazz great Charlie Parker once played.”

Broadway Kansas City, which opened two years ago as The Broadway Jazz Club, is for sale. Owner Jim Pollock plans to keep the club operating for at least another two to three months with a reduced schedule, including the New Jazz Order Big Band on Tuesday nights, shows on Fridays and maybe a few other nights each month. The menu will shift to cold plates exclusively.

How did it come to this? Pollock prepared a timeline history of the beleaguered club. Here it is.

The Life and Times of The Broadway Jazz Club

Honoring Charlie
May 2013 – My nephew, Neil Pollock, calls from Kansas City to see if my wife and I would be interested in becoming minor partners in a jazz club which would feature Cajun food and Kansas City jazz, both favorites of my deceased brother, Charlie. We encourage the idea.

The Pitch
June 2013 – Neil arrives in Washington, DC and presents a prospectus and business plan for a club named Jardine’s.  Other partners in the venture include a former manager of Jardine’s and friend of Neil’s with food service background.  Our CPA reviews the figures and deems them reasonable. We agree to become 30% investors.

Opening Pains
July - November 2013 – The Jardine’s name is under proprietary ownership, so we must register a new name, The Broadway Jazz Club.  Design modifications and decor at 3601 Broadway suffer delays and false starts as one contractor or another botch the job. Instead of opening in August, renovations continue until the end of November and require more money than initially forecast.

The Dew is Off the Rose
December 2013 – The club’s opening week is quite successful – as it should be given the thousands spent on a publicist – but staff bickering seems to set in immediately and New Year’s Eve unmasks the fact that the kitchen and wait staff have not had an appropriate shake-down period. Things have not improved by Valentine’s Day.

Uncle, Can You Spare a Dollar
From the beginning, it was obvious that estimates of operating costs had been low. A myriad of state and local assessments, taxes, utilities and fees had either not been foreseen because of lack of due diligence, the fact that no records existed from the previous tenant, or just plain oversight. The minority partners soon became the only source of additional funds. Our ownership percentage began to grow monthly.

Inventory Uncontrol
In addition to spiraling infrastructure and overhead costs, inventory costs for food and alcohol were out of control. The bar followed no regimen, internal controls did not exist, there was no manual of operation for staff members or management. But two or three groups of very capable musicians were paid each night, the music was good, and there was a party going on.

Shareholders Report
May 2014 – My wife and I came out to Kansas City to assess the situation. Even without prior business experience, we could identify glaring faults in operations, highlighted by the fact that a daily accounts ledger had never been kept. If it had been, the confusion that marked management level considerations between what were club funds and what were personal expenses, at least, would have been recorded.

Baptism by Fire
June 2014 – The club’s general manager refusal to respond to a lengthy report and set of recommendations generated by our May visit led to his release. Margaret and I came to Kansas City to support our nephew in running the club. Little did we know it would be a four month stay, resulting in our learning more about supper club management than we ever wanted to know, becoming majority owners of The Broadway Jazz Club, falling in love with the music and its performers, uncovering an embezzlement scheme perpetrated by our payroll company, trying to enforce internal controls and bring inventory and revenue in line, and taking remedial steps to train and realign staff in an effort to shore up a dwindling clientele base.

Better to Sell
October 2014 – Believing we had righted the ship, we returned to Washington, DC.  Things at the club deteriorated rapidly and by November we were back, this time for six months. The idea was to sell the club and transition to new owners as 2015 opened. Consultants convinced us, however, that one cannot sell a club that is closed. So we invested yet more money to keep it open, turn over the staff, do new training and present a fresh, vibrant look to the Kansas City jazz audience in 2015. Despite these efforts, and the accommodating cooperation of our landlord, the catch-22 problems of the supper club model lingered on: Restaurants and bars make their money on customer turnover while jazz club patrons come to sip, nibble and listen for the entire evening. Without generating income, the club cannot adequately compensate its talent, so it begins to cut corners, hiring trios instead of quintets. In a city where good jazz musicians play at several venues nightly, a particular musician’s draw is affected by the number of nights he or she performs each week.

Let’s Try a New Model
June 2015 – From the beginning our business plan and liquor license were predicated on supporting our entertainment costs either through the sale of food or by charging a cover (or by a combination of the two). After a year and a half of tweaking the model, we decided to try a new model, seeking to cover entertainment costs through bar sales, re-branding the club accordingly and appealing to a different demographic as a result.

And the Conclusion Is?
August 2015 – The Broadway is still for sale, and several entities continue to consider purchase. In some cases, those interested will remodel the premises and begin a different business. Other interests will keep the location identified with the Kansas City music scene. From our perspective, we would like to see the locale continue to be associated with the marvelous musical traditions and local performers we have come to know in Kansas City. There are other permutations and combinations that might even keep us associated with the club, of which we are now the sole owners.

Pianist Max Groove is among those interested in the venue. His vision: An urban club open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. with a refreshed menu.

You will not meet a nicer or more generous couple than Jim and Margaret Pollock. Jim says he is striving to keep the club “a supporter of Kansas City music” and to see the location contribute to “the development of midtown as an arts and entertainment district.” But he concedes that “the club has never made money. It will be a bargain basement sale.”