Monday, December 28, 2009

In Lieu of 1000 Words: Shay Estes at Jardine's

Let's wrap up the year with some photos.

I don't pretend to know what's the best jazz CD of the year. But I'll tell you my favorite: Shay Estes and Trio ALL's Despite Your Destination. It's a terrific snapshot of the music and musical interplay singer Shay Estes, pianist Mark Lowrey, bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Zack Albetta deliver live.

The group played the late show at Jardine's on Saturday, December 12th, minus Mark Lowrey, who was out at another gig. Sitting in was T.J. Martley, a pianist I had not heard before but who I'm really looking forward to hearing again.

Here's a little of what we saw (clicking on a photo opens a larger version...I think).

Left to right: T.J. Martley on piano, Ben Leifer on bass, Shay Estes singing, Zack Albetta on drums

Ben in the background while Shay sings

T.J. and Shay

Ben, Shay and Zack

Drummer Zack Albetta

The group

Enjoying the piano solo

And this is what they're enjoying

Shay sings some more

Monday, December 21, 2009

This 'n That 'n Jazz Winterlude

This holiday week, a couple of unrelated thoughts.


I write often of the terrific young jazz talent populating Kansas City today. After all, their music inspired the start of this blog. But that means I haven’t raved nearly enough of the outstanding musicians who preceded those young’uns and who still perform some of the best jazz heard anywhere. Now is my chance, thanks to, as far as I know, KC’s first January jazz fest.

Johnson County Community College turns juke joint January 8th through 10th for Jazz Winterlude. And what a chance it is to catch a sampling of KC’s jazz best.

For instance, for decades one of my favorite saxophonists has been Charles Perkins (Eddie Baker first pointed me his way when I chaired the Jazz Commission). He joins Rich Hill on Friday. Same day, the Danny Embry/Rod Fleeman performance doesn’t just pair two magnificent guitarists, but adds most of what was singer Karrin Allyson’s regular group when she lived here. I just pulled out a 1988 LP with Mike Ning and Sherry Jones and put it on the turntable to play while I write. Man, that’s good. Hear them on Saturday. Or at the same time you might choose Stan Kessler and Sons of Brazil. Then later that night, if you’ve ever heard Jim Mair’s Kansas City Jazz Orchestra you already know that here is a big band you do not want to miss.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

The festival web site is here. The complete list of musicians is here. Or, if you want to just take my word for it and head straight to the tickets, go here. And I’m told that students (any area school or college) with a valid student ID can get tickets at the door for just $5.

(A side note: Should you ever see the 1984 Kansas City Jazz Festival poster, you’ll see a shot looking down on a pianist in a Count Basie-style captain’s hat, hands poised over piano keys. The pianist in that photo is Luqman Hamza. Hear him in a group with KC native and current Basie guitarist Will Matthews on Friday.)


So what’s going on with The Majestic?

They talked of Friday and Saturday night jazz downstairs when they reopened. But if there’s an easy way to find who’s playing, I can’t figure out what it is. Their newly redesigned web site (here) doesn’t tell. And they stopped maintaining their Twitter feed.

So I stopped by on a Saturday night a couple weeks back to see. What I saw (and heard): A jazz trio mostly providing what I’d call background lounge music.

When I was hoping to open a jazz club recently, I looked at The Majestic space. The consultants I engaged felt it would work best with a pianist upstairs weeknights and the downstairs club open weekends. Interestingly, that’s exactly what the new owner is doing. A reason I didn’t pursue that spot was that I want a rollicking jazz club every night.

But when I visited, rollicking it was not. Everyone there was extremely friendly and welcoming, and for that part of the experience I’d return. But not for the jazz club, at least based on what I saw that one night.

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I really don’t understand what will work there. But I still think that space, especially downstairs, could be a jazz club renowned for nightly fun if properly programmed and promoted. I remember when the building was Fitzpatrick’s bar, before it became The Majestic. Fitzpatrick’s was on the Pub Crawl one of the years that I chaired the Jazz Commission. I went in and it was a blast. I’d love to have the chance to experience that, or something like it, driven by jazz, again and again.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Future of Jazz Is This

What is it about the holidays that brings the vultures out to circle?

Last Thursday, our friend and the original KC jazz blogger, Plastic Sax, decried “shockingly small” jazz audiences. “The vast majorities of entire generations of music fans have been lost,” he says (here). “…It is a crisis.”

He cites pianist Mark Lowrey’s Radiohead tribute, last Friday at the Record Bar, as the type of concept which could pave jazz’s future.

Meanwhile, same day (was there something in the water last Thursday?), Newsweek posted an article titled Jazz is Dead. Long Live Jazz (here). The writer largely (though less succinctly) concurs with the Plastic Sax stance. He praises modern stylists “who can speak to that splintering pop audience.” But, he tells us, it’s time to accept that “as a mass-culture force, jazz is dead.”

It’s true: Jazz as a mass-culture force is dead. Has been since before I started listening over a quarter century ago. All that time, jazz has accounted for around 3% of music sales. Chicago’s web site touts the city's rabid jazz fans, but do the math and the number totals 3% of their population. About 3% of us out here are jazz fans. That’s not a mass-culture force. 97% non-jazz fans qualifies as decidedly not winning the vast majority of music fans.

And it’s true: Some KC jazz audiences have been shockingly small. Only 200 at last month’s Folly jazz series show? That’s embarrassing (I wrote about it here). The small crowd at Kurt Rosenwinkel’s Blue Room show still leaves me miffed at an opportunity lost (I wrote about that here).

And I have no objections to expanding the jazz audience through pop appeals. Jazz once was pop music. Charlie Parker turned Slow Boat to China into a bebop standard. Ella and Sarah sang the hits of their day (sorry, Judy Collins, but the best version ever of Send in the Clowns is by Sarah Vaughan). Miles played Michael Jackson hits. So send in the pop if that will draw new fans.

Maybe, then, these guys aren’t circling vultures to deride? Maybe they’re right? Maybe the size of the jazz audience is a crisis nearly lost?

Well, before I join in kicking the jazz bucket, I have a few questions.

* What’s the next step beyond pandemonium?

I have to ask because a couple Saturdays back, KC Star editor Steve Paul tweeted, “Pandemonium between sets for Shay Estes CD release gig at Jardine’s.” Now, had this been a show with a music style not death-bed-bound, no doubt the scene would have raged beyond pandemonium. What would that have been?

* What crowd size exceeds wall-to-wall?

I need to know because that’s how we were sardined into Jardine’s at 10:30 last Saturday night. Every table was filled, every bar stool in use. Yet people kept streaming in. But, of course, if this wasn’t music nobody goes out to hear anymore, I’m sure the crowd would have been larger. How big a crowd would that have been?

* Should I fear the 30-somethings?

Because they were a good percentage of that packed Jardine’s room. And we know they’re part of jazz’s lost generations. So why were they there? What’s their agenda? They’re 30-something jazz fans. And I was sitting next to them. Should I have been afraid?

* Why is Johnson County Community College warping our youth?

I’m concerned because at the Jon Faddis/T.S. Monk performance, which followed a day of mentoring, the upper level of The Blue Room was shoulder-to-shoulder with college students entranced by every note. Why is the college exposing those students to jazz? Don’t the students realize their passion will not be shared by 97% of their peers? Why is the college dementedly allowing this impressionable Johnson County youth to pack a bar at 18th and Vine on a school night?

* One more question: They’re all so young…what is this?

(Top photo: Shay Estes with Ben Leifer and Zack Albetta at Jardine’s; Middle photo: Diverse at the Record Bar; Bottom photo: Megan Birdsall at Jardine's)

Answer: The future of jazz is this.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


Lately I've been posting new entries to this blog early in the week. But lately I've had a computer with which to do that. Sadly, mine is currently in the shop for a video card transplant. So until it returns, later this week, my next post is delayed. Because typing out one of my way-too-lengthy diatribes on the phone ain't gonna happen.

-- Post From My iPhone

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Just Had to Tell Someone

I started this blog, last August, because I heard some great music and I just had to tell someone.

It was like this: I knew the names of some of the young jazz musicians making an impact on Kansas City but, for the most part, I’d yet to hear them. I hadn’t been out to a jazz club in some time.

Then one day, last April I think, a friend mentioned a big band playing The Blue Room that night with one of those names I’d heard of but had never gone out and actually heard, a singer. I needed to get down there, Bill told me. He’d seen the band and singer separately, and together he expected to hear something spectacular.

It hadn’t been a good day. If nothing else, getting a drink wouldn’t hurt. So I went, and was at The Blue Room for the third set.

That night, that big band with singer Megan Birdsall blew me away. Turned out it wasn’t the drink that would hammer at my blues, that would make me feel good (no, make me feel great). It was the music. In particular, their up tempo take on Miss Otis Regrets was, well, Bill was right, it was spectacular.

I left The Blue Room knowing I needed to get out and hear those other young jazz musicians I’d been hearing about but had never gone out and actually heard. And when I did, I discovered that the jazz talent in Kansas City today is simply astounding, and by August I had to exclaim that somewhere, and somewhere turned out to be here.

(I had no idea what I’d write about after that post, and some of the entries since read like it.)

Well, these last few weeks I’ve been out and I’ve heard some great music. And I just have to tell someone.

Start with Trio ALL. Pianist Mark Lowrey, bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Zack Albetta each smartly drive the others’ strengths, delivering jazz that’s intriguing and compelling, and downright enjoyable. Solos can be wild yet precise or complex and controlled. A KC Star review last May called the group inventive and propulsive. That still fits.

Now add singer Shay Estes. When I first heard Shay last summer my thought was, fantastic voice on very traditional stylizations. I don’t know if it was just that performance (at The Phoenix, not with Trio ALL) or if her repertoire has evolved, or if Trio ALL just propels a different dynamic, but last month at Jardine’s and backed by Trio ALL, wow. I was taken not just by that voice, but by Shay and the group’s dynamism and wonderfully personal interpretations of jazz and some pop. The way Shay, Mark, Ben and Zack musically play off each other is a night of delight I’ll take any time it’s offered. Every song they perform, they own.

Matter of fact, KC is currently blessed with an abundance of don’t-miss-‘em vocalists, from Ida McBeth to The Wild Women of KC to Shay to Megan Birdsall. Photos of Megan and her group adorned my last post. Her voice turns any song into a unique musical gift, delivered as only Megan will sing it, from tempo-busting versions of Miss Otis Regrets and Lover Man to Wichita Lineman performed like it was meant to be a jazz classic. If you weren’t at Jardine’s last month to hear her version of Fire and Rain, you missed the song done as jazz that’ll break your heart.

And let’s not forget the night internationally renowned trumpeter Jon Faddis and drummer T.S. Monk came to The Blue Room, and our own Roger Wilder (on piano) and Ben Leifer (on bass) fleshed out the group. Ben’s bandmate from the group Diverse, Ryan Lee, played the drum set for a couple numbers before Monk sat down. Each one of them belonged on that stage. I sat in front for the second set, and I could see respect in the way Jon Faddis eyed Roger and Ben. I could see he was seeing talent that could play with anyone, any time, anywhere. I know that’s what I heard.

The quality of jazz in Kansas City today continues to astound me. Sure, the jazz scene now is not what it was twenty years ago. We need more locations to showcase our abundant talent. Then we need those locations and the musicians to market themselves 2010-style so everyone knows. But I don’t need to look hard to see all the pieces -- everything needed for the music to thrive -- out there, ready to grasp. I refuse to believe those pieces will not come together. When I hear the young musicians who this decade have started making their mark, I hear solid reason for optimism for jazz’s future.

Somewhere, I suppose, someone heard better live music these last few weeks than I did.

But I don’t know who. I don’t know where. I don’t know how.

Monday, November 30, 2009

In Lieu of 1000 Words: Last Wednesday at Jardine's

Today, I’ll mostly shut up. After an explanation of what we’ve got here.

My hobby is photography. But I’ve rarely taken a camera into clubs because I don’t carry a pocketable camera (I have one, and it and I don’t seem to like each other), and I’ve avoided walking in while sporting a hefty hip pack strapped to my considerable waist. Recently, though, I overcame the fear of looking like a freak (or, some might say, like more of a freak than usual), and nabbed a few shots of one of KC’s terrific young singers, Megan Birdsall, and her terrific group in performance.

So, here’s a visual sense of last Wednesday, the day before Thanksgiving, 2009, at Jardine’s (clicking on a photo should bring up a larger version of it):

Megan lovin’ Paul Smith’s piano solo while Bob Bowman plays bass. The drummer was out ill this night.

Megan Birdsall sings. In black and white, she looks like quite the chanteuse.

Bassist Bob Bowman, while Megan enjoys his solo on the group’s outstanding interpretation of Fire and Rain. We were all enjoying it.

The group in performance.

Megan singing some more. Can’t get enough of that voice.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Festival Tales 3

From time to time I’ll recount stories from my days with the Kansas City Jazz Festival and the Kansas City Jazz Commission. This is one of those times.


The 1986 festival headlined KC legend Jay “Hootie” McShann. We asked Jay to choose anyone - anyone - with whom he’d like to perform and told him we would try to book them. His choices: Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis on tenor sax, Buddy Tate also on tenor, Harry “Sweets" Edison on trumpet, Al Grey on trombone, Milt Hinton on bass and Gus Johnson on drums.

Milt was in Japan for the summer and unavailable, so Jay chose Major Holley instead. “Lockjaw” was too ill to perform (he would pass away a couple months after the festival). We suggested Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson on alto as a replacement, and Jay agreed. But “Cleanhead” was already scheduled in San Francisco that night and couldn’t break the engagement. So we settled on a group without the additional horn.

But there was one more complication: Buddy, “Sweets”, Al and Gus were booked in Europe (Belgium, if I remember correctly) in another festival that same weekend. Nonetheless, they wanted to play Kansas City, too.

Gus left the other festival a day early, deciding he needed a little rest between shows. But Buddy, “Sweets” and Al played the complete overseas event. They then traveled for over 30 continuous hours, sleeping on flights, and were in KC only about 5 hours before climbing the steps to our stage.

Al Grey was making arrangements for the group. Frankly, we were not paying these jazz icons all that much. One day, our contact asked Al why he, Buddy and “Sweets,” all in their 60s or 70s at the time, were putting themselves through such tortuous travel. It sure wasn’t for the money. They didn’t need our gig. They had more leisurely return plans in place before we called. So why do this? Why put themselves through this sleep-deprived travel hell?

Answered Al: “It’s a chance to play with Hootie! We’d never turn down a chance to play with Hootie!”


Friends with a tape recorder were in the audience at that performance. I’ve since digitized the tape and keep mp3s of it among the music on my iPod and phone. From time to time, I’ll listen to the concert again.

“Sweets” Edison is clearly tired. Buddy Tate is good and some moments great. The others are consistently amazing. The way Jay drives the group and the way Al Grey and Major Holley in particular respond is Kansas City jazz at its best. It’s fun, a joyous reminder of why I love this music.

Every time I hear Buddy and Al sing, “She got it, she keeps it, she sits right on it, she just won’t give it away, anybody get it sure does got to pay,” then that transitions into a “One O’Clock Jump” tribute to Count Basie (who had died two years earlier), I smile. Anybody would.

(One tip from our sound man: The best place to record a festival is in front of the mixing tower, because that’s where the music is being adjusted to sound its best.)


The next January, “Cleanhead” Vinson called us. He was booking his schedule for the coming year and wanted to know if we were putting together the same group for that year’s festival. Because if we were, he would leave the date open.

He did not want to miss another chance to play with Hootie.


Instead, one of the most memorable happenings at the next year’s festival was the owner of our largest sponsor, a beer distributorship, driving his extraordinarily large personal RV over the curb, onto the grass and into Volker park, and parking it next to the stage.

We organizers looked at each other and asked, “What do we do?”

So what do you do when the owner of the company which gave you the largest chunk money to stage the event, whose money you couldn’t have done the festival without, and whose contribution you hope to see again next year, drives his extraordinarily large personal RV into the park and parks it next to the stage?

You tell him you’re glad he could make it and hope he enjoys the music.

(He did, and he sponsored the festival again the next year.)


In my festival years, I had opportunities to meet Kansas City jazz history. Such as the year 87-year old bandleader Andy Kirk sat down with me for a half hour and told tales of Kansas City and jazz in the 1930s, and of Mary Lou Williams. But that’s a story for another blog post.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Fairness Follow-Up

Great minds, goes the cliche, think alike. Like, say, me and The New York Times?

A story in last Thursday’s Times begins, “Business owner, you might want to friend Facebook.” Sounds like one of the points I tried to hammer home in last week’s post.

Matter of fact, an author quoted in the article’s third paragraph makes my point precisely: “You need to be where your customers are and your prospective customers are. And with 300 million people on Facebook, and still growing, that’s increasingly where your audience is for a lot of products and services.”

Such as, maybe, jazz performances?

The story doesn’t address jazz specifically, but cites a theatrical play whose Facebook page “has 300 to 600 interactions every week” and is “one of the show’s top sources of new ticket sales.” It also cites a musical’s Facebook ad campaign which “generated 18 million impressions, more than 5,700 clicks and $40,000 in ticket sales - all for $4,400 spent on advertising.”

The article takes on much more, including the best ways for a business to utilize Facebook. It’s a good primer for businesses still needing to tackle one of the essential elements of new media. It can be read here.


A comment following my last post (thank you, Burnett Music) makes excellent points on marketing jazz in 2009. One of them: “You also have to bundle things together - concerts, clinics, tv interviews/stories, radio and web technologies.”

When I helped stage Kansas City jazz festivals, TV and radio interviews were one of the most effective forms of event promotion. They still are. We knew who were the media jazz fans and would provide us a forum. For instance, back then Stan Carmack co-hosted channel 5’s noon news. Each year, we knew he would give us a slot on the show to plug the fest. Likewise, a then-afternoon host on KMBZ (whose name now escapes me) knew more about jazz organists than did I (much to my embarrassment) the year we brought in Jimmy McGriff.

I haven’t promoted a jazz fest in two decades. I don’t know who the jazz fans, ready to help, are amongst KC's broadcast media today. But surely jazz promoters (or their PR firms) do know and call them when there’s an event to promote.

While the many-tentacled media octopus has grown some new media limbs since my festival years, the traditional PR and promotional avenues remain every bit as viable today as they were way back when. Today, though, there’s more tentacles with which to tangle.


In Cincinnati, a 30-year old jazz club has promoted a 23-year old marketing major to general manager as a “key to attracting a younger crowd and growing the influence of jazz in the region.”

What’s one way she’s accomplishing that? “I started marketing more. I made Facebook and Twitter accounts to bring it up to electronic times.”

Imagine that.

(Another way: “I want to find bands that infuse modern music with jazz.” I suspect that’s an approach Plastic Sax will heartily endorse.)

The full article can be read here.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Fairness Folly

I was asked the other day why, in a couple of recent posts, I picked on the Folly Theater. They’re booking jazz, the questioner posed, so aren’t they one of the good guys?

(The person who asked, by the way, is not associated with the Folly.)

I know from my jazz festival days the inherent feeling of unfairness in fielding criticism when the critic doesn’t know what went into booking an event. I’m not privy to the limitations of Folly budgets or artist availability. I don’t know why they booked Eldar just five months after his Jardine’s shows. I don’t know why the show week before last showcased a group of relative unknowns. But I’m sure that when made those seemed the best choices within the theater’s constraints.

I also know from my jazz festival days that when you present an event to the public, public criticism is valid. The festival which headlined the Modern Jazz Quartet was coming off a money losing year and paying off debts. That year’s festival president (not me) thought he had an agreement with The Star’s publisher not to print reviews, to avoid possible negative comments at a sticky time with vendors. I don’t know if he hadn’t reached the agreement he thought or if the publisher didn’t pass it along, but the newspaper did review the shows. And that was fair, no matter our constraints, because we were urging everybody who would listen to come and listen to those shows.

(The idiot reviewer compared the Modern Jazz Quartet to Muzak, but that’s a different matter.)

So when it pains me to read that the audiences for the first two Folly jazz series shows put together would barely half fill the theater for a single show, I comment. Especially when it used to be so much better and could be still.

During my fest years, the 1980s, what is now the Folly jazz series was transitioning from the presenting group Friends of Jazz to the theater. And each year we coordinated with Friends to insure the festival was not looking to book acts they were also considering. Those were good years for jazz in KC, with plenty of clubs around town, crowds at the fest and the Friends of Jazz series regularly filling the Folly.

Today, no doubt the recession makes $30 tickets a questionable expense for too many budgets. And jazz today is not as trendy as it was in the ‘80s. But that means it’s incumbent on the presenter and the artist to reach beyond the niche, to educate, to sell.

Here’s what I mean. Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing Trio plays the January show. Never heard of him in my life. So I checked him out on the Folly’s web site. It tells me that he’s a violinist and composer who “is widely recognized as one of the brightest talents of his generation” and that the Trio “captures the electricity and nuance of performances that can only be described as ‘spectacular.’” Okay, that’s a nice (if generic) start. But it’s only a start.

I found his videos on YouTube. But why did I have to search that out myself? Link to them. Embed one on your Mark O’Conner page (it’s easy to do). I just watched a video. He’s good! Don’t just tell me generically that this dude’s “spectacular.” It’s 2009. It’s Missouri. Show me.

And how about some music links? Give me a chance, on your home page, to click a player (there’s plenty of good ones available) and hear immediately what “spectacular” means.

How about a Facebook page with links? Jardine’s has a page with nearly 1000 fans. How about updates on Twitter? The Phoenix tweets daily to twice as many people as came to the last Folly jazz concert. That’s how I know who’s playing there each night. So do you know how I find out who’s playing the Folly? Neither do I.

(Okay, that’s kind of mean. I can find out on the web site or by phoning. But the point is, that’s not as effective as pushing the news regularly -- not in a single direct mail drop -- to those of us interested. And those links to music and video can be in your tweets, too.)

You'll need rights from the licensing firms to stream music from your web site. I checked. They'll total around $1000 a year. That's a cheap marketing expense for the benefit they'll drive.

That they'll drive, that is, if, once those multimedia samples are embedded and available, you promote them. Tell people, want to hear this trio? Want to know what we mean by "spectacular"? Come to the front page of our web site. See us on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter. Reach beyond the jazz crowd. Reach to the younger audience, some of whom, if exposed to this music, will like it.

You say this media doesn't reach your base? You may be right. But those 200 people at the last show? There's the base. You're reaching them. Now grow the base. I chose this show as an example because there’s still plenty of time to implement new media to promote it.

And artists, artist agents, and artist PR people, you’re just as culpable as the promoters. It’s no longer good enough to provide a glossy of a nicely coiffed violinist to post next to the word “spectacular.” Supply the links. Supply the embed. Supply the music files. Don’t make the promoter work to find them. It’s your talent he’s selling. Give him the tools 2009 requires.

Why so passionate about this? Because it makes me as sick to read of 800 empty seats as I suspect it makes the Folly to see them. I remember what this series used to be. Maybe it will not be selling out regularly any time soon, but it sure ought to draw more than 200 a show. The current crowd size screams, jazz is dead.

Well, jazz is not dead, dammit. It’s inadequately promoted. By everyone involved.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

KCYJ Breakfast

A quick post to spread the word from a tweet I just saw.

Nobody is making greater contributions to the Kansas City jazz community than Mr. Leon Brady (and I’ve never heard a musician address him as anything other than Mr. Brady), through his Kansas City Youth Jazz program. For those unfamiliar with KCYJ, among other goals, they (from their web site) develop and maintain “a multicultural, jazz education program in metropolitan Kansas City where students in grades six through twelve, learn respect, responsibility and tolerance through music.” A donation to KCYJ is a check I write each Christmas.

A complimentary breakfast is being hosted for them at the Hotel Phillips downtown next Thursday, November 12. See the invitation on their web site, here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

This 'n That 'n Amen, Bro

Plastic Sax and I don’t always agree (and that opinion diversity is a good thing) but today’s PS thought I salute with a hearty Amen, Bro! The post (here) bemoans the pitiful paucity of KC jazz Twitterers, especially in comparison to other KC music fans.

I’ve touched this topic more than once. The longer we fail to engage the communications of this century, the harder it becomes to engage new fans of jazz.


Case in point: The Plastic Sax post also notes a pitifully paltry 200 jazz fans anything but filling a 1000 seat theater on Saturday. Safe to assume this references the latest Folly jazz series performance. Neither theater nor performers, the post tells us, tweet.

I wasn’t there. Frankly, I knew nothing about the performing group until reading Joe Klopus’s column in the Thursday Star, and by then my weekend plans were long since set. Why didn’t someone inform those of us who might have had an interest prior to that? It’s a new media world out here, Folly, and we invite you to join us. Clearly, ads in the newspaper and columns in JAM magazine are no longer enough.

In fact, Folly, how many patrons did you attract beyond season ticket holders? And how much did those newspaper ads cost? Then, if we assume everyone who came besides subscribers saw your ads, how much did those ads cost you per additional ticket sold? More than the price of the ticket sold, that’s my guess.

More people came out to see Julie Othmer at Jardine’s last month with, as I recall, nary a newspaper ad in sight. Jardine’s built interest through blogs (their own and others) and email blasts, all of which built word of mouth which built excitement.

Twitter and Facebook and new media give you, Folly, the opportunity to build the same interest and excitement at little cost. Seems to me, with 800 seats empty, there’s little to lose by dipping your theatrical toe into the new media waters.


I’ll be out a lot, in clubs, this month (and I’ll tweet from them, that’s a promise). A preview of this week alone shows why.

Wednesday night at Jardine’s I’ll be delightfully hearing Shay Estes and Trio ALL. I’ve written repeatedly about the spectacular young jazz talent overflowing KC, and here’s four of the best. Shay’s magnificent voice delivers the standards as they were meant to be. Her backing of Mark Lowrey on piano, Ben Leifer on bass and Zack Albetta on drums would put all too many jazz trios to woeful shame.

Then, Thursday at the Blue Room, you cannot top a group with Bobby Watson, T.S. Monk and Jon Faddis. Can not. This Thursday, anyway, New York City has nothing on jazz to be heard in KC.

(An aside: I saw T.S. Monk his first time in KC, at the Blues and Jazz Festival. From the stage, he looked out in wonder, and told how amazing it was to be in Kansas City, which his father -- the great pianist Thelonious Monk -- spoke of so often.)

Saturday afternoon I’ll return to Jardine’s for Kim Park’s CD release party, a CD of his father’s music. I was involved with the jazz festival when Kim came to KC. We worked with Kansas City Parks and Rec that year. I recall the Parks and Rec’er booking concerts, when she first heard Kim, commenting that you could tell from his playing that his father had been a musician, too. But it wasn’t until I bought an LP collection of John Park playing that I knew how great a saxophonist he was. I’ve digitized that now-scratchy record to make a John Park playlist on my iPod. I don’t know whether the CD to be released on Saturday is the same music or not. But I know this: I want it.

Saturday night and Shay is singing again, this time at the Phoenix. May be a different group backing, I’m not sure. And I may well head back out to find out. Two nights of hearing her sing in a week is decidedly not too much.


KCUR’s excellent KC Currents program this week features a feature on pianist Bram Wijnands, playing excerpts from his Majestic 7 CD. It’s the last story of the hour. As I write this, the podcast is not yet online, but when it is, it will be found here.

(Bram and the Majestic 7 will be playing Jardine’s Wednesday of next week. Guess where I’ll be that night….)

An update: KC Currents tweeted a direct link to their Bram Wijnands segment (starting to understand, guys, how Twitter can spread the word?). You can find it here.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Saturday Night Blast

I was expecting a quiet hotel lounge. Man, was I wrong. What a blast.

That’s the mini-review. Now, the details.

I hadn’t been to the Drum Room, 13th and Baltimore, before. But this past Saturday night, with Megan Birdsall singing there, it seemed a good time to check the place out.

The room is small and, with all hard surfaces for music and talk to bounce off, it’s not a listening room. The harsh acoustics are particularly unforgiving to vocals and drums, and to ambient noise. You’re never far from the band, but if you’re not settled in the direct path of a speaker, don’t expect to hear the vocalist clearly.

And it doesn’t matter. Not a bit. Because, at least last Saturday, that’s not what this space, at its best, is about.

It’s the crowd, which loudly talks, makes noise, masks the music, bumps you in your seat, walks in and out, blocks your view, occasionally yells, it’s the crowd propelled by the music which makes this space so much fun.

You’re not at a table. You’re sitting next to everyone. Next to the guy or the gal who will break from their own conversation to engage you. Next to the group that jumps from their seat to take the floor and dance. All, and this is important, driven by the fantastic band playing the room.

This city has been host to some terrific vocalists (two of them were there on Saturday; more on that in a moment). And Megan is one of the unsurpassed, one of the young KC jazz performers who are just too damn good to remain known only to us. With a voice playfully best in live performance, and backed by more of KC’s greatest (this group: Danny Embry on guitar, Bob Bowman on bass, Matt Leifer on drums), it's a group which knows how to drive the room. Hey, the music drove a stranger seated next to me tap my shoulder and half ask/half exclaim, “Have you ever heard anything better?"

Answer: Not so easy to clearly hear, but the raucous room made the night plenty easy to enjoy. And, after all, isn’t having fun what going out for a night of fun all about?

Former KC resident and Grammy-nominated jazz singer Karrin Allyson stopped by to hear a set. Beena, owner of Jardine’s, was there and was, during the last couple of numbers, coaxed out to the dance floor.

I don’t know if this is what the Drum Room is like every week. I’ve now been there just once. But this last Saturday it was, well, no better word for it, it was a blast.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

This 'n That 'n Missed Opportunity

It’s Thursday. The weekend is approaching. A good time, it seems, to collect miscellaneous thoughts.


Kurt Rosenwinkel is a name known among jazz literati. But while we jazz folk excel at preaching to ourselves, we’re rather rotten at spreading the word beyond our insular blogs, tweets and publications. Which is a shame when a talent like Rosenwinkel comes through town and just 60 or so of us show up at The Blue Room. And especially when the bulk of those 60 are the coveted under-30 youth this music needs to attract.

Rosenwinkel’s performance was entrancing. His solos tell a story. They draw you in with a tight beginning, walk (or jump, or drive) you through the middle, then drop you off at an oh so satisfying conclusion. His is contemporary guitar built on a base of tradition.

Many more people than those of us who showed up Monday night would have thoroughly enjoyed the music. In fact, this music could have introduced a broad range of younger listeners to jazz in 2009. Because Rosenwinkel’s sound is jazz with appeal which broaches the connotation of jazz. As Metheny is known beyond jazz, so could be Kurt Rosenwinkel.

And he might be, were we any good at telling anyone besides ourselves.

The name needs to be more than what’s in the Monday night square of a club calendar. The performance deserved publicity. Where’s the Facebook push (definitely not on the American Jazz Museum, home of The Blue Room, page)? Where’s the tweets? Where’s any social media mention? Where are the links to Rosenwinkel’s music, so others can sample this talent making his first visit to KC? Was a press release released? I knew Rosenwinkel’s name from various jazz blogs and websites. But we need to inform beyond those boundaries. We need to push the introduction to more under-30-somethings through the media they frequent.

With music like this, if we expose it, they will come.

Well, some will. A heckuva lot more than came last Monday, anyway.

The biggest disappointment of Monday night was the opportunity missed to introduce to those outside the jazz circle just how broadly encompassing and accessible and relevant and entertaining this music can be.


A Chicago Tribune critic (here) reviews a book of essays, including some on windy city jazz, starting with this preface:

“But I still hate jazz. The music leaves me cold -- yet perversely, I love the idea of jazz. I love the image of hip, swinging, subversive people who live by their own rules, who revel in melancholy, who blow sexy, dangerous notes in out-of-the-way places.

“It’s just the music I can't stand. It always sounds like rehearsal, not performance. It sounds to me the way a kid's scribbled picture looks: It's the sort of thing only a parent could love.”

I sure hope the Tribune doesn’t send her out to do music reviews.


And staying on the Tribune web site for a moment, a blog post (here) tells that 115,000 CDs (total, not just jazz) were released in the U.S. last year. Only 110 of them sold over 250,000 copies. Only 1500 of them sold over 10,000 copies. And less than 6000 of them sold over 1000 copies.

Daunting figures for anyone hoping to release a CD.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Festival Tales 2

Through much of the 1980s I volunteered as one of the organizers of the Kansas City Jazz Festival. For a couple of those years I also served as chairman of the Kansas City Jazz Commission. Occasionally, I’ll recount stories from those days.


Through several festivals, I got the posters signed.

Each year, we asked the festival headliners to autograph a dozen or so copies of that year’s poster to give to the volunteer organizers who contributed most.

Our 1985 headliner was the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet (MJQ). This was my first year to gather autographs. Sheepishly, I stepped into the hospitality room where the musicians rested prior to going on stage. The room was tense because the airline lost Percy Heath’s bass.

I was greeted at the door by MJQ drummer Connie Kay. He immediately introduced himself and shook my hand. I told him why I was there. He stepped to a table and signed each poster. He then walked me around the room and introduced me to each member of the MJQ -- pianist John Lewis, vibraphonist Milt Jackson, Percy Heath -- and he personally saw to it that each signed all posters.

Sometimes working jazz festivals you meet sinners and sometimes you meet saints. I never met anyone nicer than Connie Kay.

(Percy’s bass was found and rushed to the festival before the MJQ took the stage.)


If I ever get the jazz club mentioned in an earlier post off the ground, my copies of many years’ autographed festival posters will hang there.


In 1985 I also served as co-emcee, introducing acts on stage. I wrote a short introduction for each. Later, a friend asked me, as someone who spent his then short advertising career in an office, if it was scary facing the crowds. No, I told him. During the night, a spotlight shined in my eyes, blinding me to anything beyond the stage. And during the day that year the temperature hit 103 degrees and there was no crowd.

The night the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet was to perform, I stood on stage, preparing to introduce them. Then Milt Jackson stopped me. “Are you in charge?” he asked. “Did anyone tell you how to introduce us? Just say, the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet. No individual names, nothing else. Just, the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet.” So I did. And that’s how I’ve referred to them ever since.

Somewhere in the basement, in a stack of papers, I think I still have that never-delivered introduction.


In 1989, our radio sponsor was KY-102, then the biggest rock station in town. We wanted the party-goers at the event, and that’s the station which reached them. As part of the promotion, the day before the festival began, we were booked on KY’s morning show to discuss the event.

But booked ahead of us that morning was a beautiful porn star. She was in the studio with her pot-bellied husband/manager. And as two of us from the festival looked through the studio window, awaiting our turn, she stripped. Totally naked. As the hosts talked and joked with her.

Understandably, her segment ran long. So we were invited to join them in the studio, to discuss the festival, while the totally naked, beautiful porn star and her pot-bellied husband/manager stood next to us.

I don’t remember what I said. I don’t know if I was coherent. My mind was not on the festival.


Then there was the year that our largest sponsor drove his personal gigantic RV onto the festival grounds and parked it next to the stage. But that’s a story for another blog post.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Weekend This 'n That

The weekend seems a good time for a few short thoughts.


A discussion has swirled of late around one-time local pianist and now Sony Classical label prodigy Eldar Djangirov’s recent performance at the Folly Theater and the paltry crowd it attracted. The talk can be read on the excellent KC jazz blog Plastic Sax, here. But one important point which stands out to me has yet to come up.

What the hell was the Folly thinking in bringing back Eldar just five months after he played Jardine’s? There may well be many reasons the crowd totaled only about 350, but without doubt one of them is that there is a limited number of folks around here willing to pay thirty bucks to again hear a jazz performer they just heard. Sure it’s a different venue, but the venue is selling to the same audience. And the jazz audience is small to begin with (remember, just 3% of music sales). Only a small percentage of that small percentage will double dip in a short time span.

When I organized jazz festivals, Jimmy McGriff was among our headliners one year. But I got word that another local group was looking to bring him to town a few months before the fest. I refused to sign the contract until I was assured he would not book the earlier gig. I couldn’t have expected much of an audience had Jimmy played KC just months prior. The same applies to the Folly.


It will be interesting to see how the crowd size compares for Jimmy Cobb at the Gem Saturday night, with a group celebrating the 50th anniversary of Miles Davis’ best selling album, Kind of Blue. But I will not be there. A review from a previous stop for this group said they played each song of the album, in order. If true, I’m not sure a live album recreation is what I'd want to sit through.


Instead, I’ll spend my money at The Blue Room on Monday night.

I started listening to jazz when Miles Davis, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan were still performing. I’ve not faithfully kept up with the young performers who followed those greats. Until recently. Between discovering the spectacular young talent now populating KC, and reading a few blogs championing young players with national renown, I’m learning new names.

One of them is guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel. An American who now resides in Europe, All About Jazz has called him “the next big thing in the world of jazz guitar.” What I see on You Tube and hear on iTunes has me intrigued and excited to see him live Monday night.

Much more excited, in fact, than by the thought of seeing a 50 year old album recreation.


Bassist and composer Ben Allison is another name I’ve learned. The New York Times says he “has a knack for assembling hardy and sophisticated ensembles like this one” which performs in New York this weekend. Among those hardy and sophisticated band members is Steve Cardenas.

I’m sure many in town remember when Steve was a hot young guitarist in Kansas City, and a musical highlight of Ida McBeth’s band.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Marketing Addendum

A lengthy thought was deleted from my last post, Social Media and Marketing and Kansas City and Jazz, to reduce its length from Monstrously Too Long to just Way Too Long. As a follow-up (hey, it was already written anyway), below is the additional rumination.


When I was organizing jazz festivals 20 years ago, we marketed the fest as a big event. We wanted you to think this was the greatest thing happening in Kansas City. If you missed this, you’d miss where everyone else would be over the weekend. You’d miss what everyone would be talking about on Monday morning. We plastered midtown with posters. Our volunteers returned to Westport every week to replace the posters stolen from windows. We appeared on every local show that would have us, from the TV’s noon news to area NPR affiliates to talk radio. We recruited the biggest rock radio station in town as our sponsor (a light jazz station in KC at the time was angry that we didn’t ask them, but they didn’t have the listeners and the big guy demanded logo and on-site exclusivity).

The event happened to feature jazz. But what we we sold was an event.

I haven’t given much thought to how I would market a jazz festival today. But, unquestionably, it would include hitting every medium available, from articles in The Kansas City Star to TV and radio to the internet.

And just what role would social media play? Sure there would be a web site, tweets and a Facebook page. But how do those feed excitement in marketing an event? Do tweets become increasingly enthusiastic as the event nears? Does the web site offer audio samples of the performers? Does the Facebook page repurpose what the other resources push?

Then let’s take this a step further. Let’s try to apply all this to jazz club promotion. I’ve tossed around in my head how a jazz club could utilize some of the marketing strategies that we used to sell a jazz festival. Clearly, just as a weekly magazine can’t make every issue a special (a topic of a recent New York Times article), a club operating nightly can’t make every night a big event.

But could the internet and social media be better utilized to inexpensively build a club as a destination? I suspect it could, and I’m grappling with how. I’m also contemplating how much responsibility belongs to the club (which stands to gain from sales) and how much lies with the performer (who stands to gain from being known as a draw). A proper mix is there somewhere, but I’ve yet to sort just what it is.

For instance, Jardine’s maintains a very nice web site and has been posting updates to Twitter which then populate their Facebook page. On paper, they’re doing everything right. Yet on a Tuesday night a couple weeks back, I was one of maybe 30 patrons to enjoy an exceptional group. What more could have been economically accomplished online -- by club and/or performer -- to build excitement among others for the night?


If you have thoughts on how social media could be better utilized for jazz promotion, locally or nationally, I’d love to hear them. I’m convinced there’s marketing solutions waiting to be pulled together. And I mean solutions which require an outstanding product to be promoted but don’t need the luck a quirk going viral to succeed. I’m at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com (with the punctuation spelled out here to try to foil the spambots).


And speaking of Jardine’s Twitter feeds and Facebook page, where did the updates go? As I write this, nothing new has been posted for over a week. Frankly, I liked finding the daily update in my Twitter feed and on my Facebook wall, and it certainly gave the club an edge when I decided to get for the night. But perhaps the social media were not delivering results for the club as marketing in 2009 says they should?

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Social Media and Marketing and Kansas City and Jazz

A Saturday morning story on NPR caught my ear, so to speak. Because it addressed a topic I’ve been thrashing through my head of late, though I’ve been tying it to jazz and Kansas City.

In the interview (here), a wine merchant enthusiastically trumpets how he rebranded then grew his business via social media. Through social media, he says, “the cost of creating your voice over the thing that you’re most passionate and knowledgeable about is zero.”

He goes on: “And now, because of things like Twitter and Facebook…[you can] socialize and network, kind of like working a cocktail party. Build your business. Word of mouth is how all businesses have always been built, anyway. And that costs zero. Now it’s time…. It’s time to build a brand around yourself.”

So how can this social media serve as a vehicle to market our spectacular Kansas City jazz talent, both locally and beyond? That’s the question that’s been burning through my brain.

I look at Twitter and some of the jazz tweets. JazzTalk boasts over 22,300 followers. Accujazzradio, among my favorites, has over 1000 followers. And NPR’s Blogsupreme tweet, another I enjoy, attracts just over 900. All tweet often. But why does one attract 900 fans and another more than 22,000?

Do you start small and gradually grow as your tweets are discussed, retweeted and mentioned in blogs and elsewhere? Do you need to tweet profoundly and prolifically for that to occur? Is that the word of mouth, virtual cocktail party aspect?

In short, how do you get found?

It clearly helps if you’re an established brand. Comedienne Sarah Silverman is approaching 325,000 Twitter followers. CNN is approaching 3 million. That suggests to me that Twitter may be a better place to maintain a brand than to establish one.

Same for Facebook. With over 300 million users, how do you break through the clutter? Where’s the cocktail party?

I don’t ask for me. I’m on Twitter and Facebook with no grand desire to build myself a crowd. But if Kansas City’s sterling young jazz talent wants to be noticed -- and they deserve to be noticed -- or if a promoter cares to take that task in hand, how is the the internet harnessed to establish a brand?

Does the online cocktail party need to envelop a broader approach? Do the social media need to be complimented with videos and mp3s, photos and biographies, an online media barrage? If so, how are those virtual treats discovered? Or does the presence of one help build awareness of the next? Do all of the social and online tidbits collectively work to define the brand?

My guess is yes, but that online alone may not be not enough.

Let’s look at this another way: Jazz is a niche product. It’s generally accepted that about three percent of music sales are jazz. iTunes claims over 100 million accounts. Three percent of those music-buying accounts should be our jazz-buying niche. So, unless I’m making an illogical leap of logic, there should be an online audience of three million potential music purchasers considering jazz. Those aren’t Michael Jackson numbers, but it’s a compelling crowd to target jazz towards. If you can reach them economically.

Now let’s look at a recent success. Singer Melody Gardot has a compelling personal story, having been hit by a truck on at age 19, surviving head injuries and a shattered pelvis, she was hospitalized for a year. Music therapy helped damaged neural pathways recover. She began recording songs and made them available on iTunes, then released an album in 2006. That album was re-released by the jazz label Verve in 2008, with a media push. An interview on NPR (here) placed her story before millions. The album is short but the music fantastic. According to one online report, it was downloaded just 400 times before 2008. After her interview, it captured the top of iTunes’ jazz charts for weeks. This year, Verve released her second album.

Word spread virally on Melody Gardot. And when it did, it sparked thousands of downloads by those (I think) millions of potential iTunes jazz buyers. But word started through a traditional medium, radio.

Now let’s look at a local success. I’ve written of the group Diverse. Their fabulous August night at The Blue Room sold the place out. But that performance was preceded by a profile in The Kansas City Star and an appearance on KCUR’s Up to Date. Traditional media drove that crowd.

Maybe the solution is that traditional media can provide a push to start sales or a brand quickly, which social media can then drive further. Maybe marketing solely through the social internet is a slower slog, built through an abundance of posts and media which start people talking, spreading the news, then building over time.

Or maybe there’s a middle ground to which I’m oblivious. If you’ve followed me this far, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Because I suspect there’s a practical social media answer that I’m overlooking.

Now let’s return to the wine merchant with whom I opened. He was on NPR Saturday morning because he’s selling a book which describes how he rebranded and grew his business through social media. As a result of the interview, I’m buying the book. I want to know his insights and secrets. I want to know how he apparently made social media succeed for him in ways, right now, I don’t see. Maybe as a result of this blog, or as a result of hearing the interview online, others will buy the book, too. If so, social media will have sold copies. But I can’t ignore the fact he needed traditional media for the opening push.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Vocal Greats

Yesterday, NPR posted another fun challenge: 50 Great Voices. Between now and the end of next week they ask the following: “Tell us who in the whole world possesses the most beautiful, singular voice you have ever heard.” They’ll compile the public nominations with those of experts, academics and critics, then winnow the list to 50. Starting in January, as they put it, “we're hoping [we will] discover and re-discover awe-inspiring vocalists from around the world and across time. Through archival material, interviews and music, NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered will spend the year delving into the lives and legacies of these voices.”

NPR’s page on the nominations is here. They ask that submissions, with a sentence defending each choice, be made on that page or emailed to . I’ve compiled a list of 25 voices to send. On my list, some are jazz, some are blues, some are pop, one is country. Only a few are KC-connected. They’re listed alphabetically.

And they're here:

Louis Armstrong - Nobody else ever had a voice like this and nobody will. Louis’ voice was as much an instrument in the band as was his trumpet, and whether it was playing Mack the Knife or Basin Street Blues, Louis’ vocal instrument made every interpretation his alone.

Johnny Cash - I’m not a country fan, but I’m a Johnny Cash fan, particularly his American Series albums. By then his is an often tired voice, but it’s a voice echoing decades of life and emotion, a voice that’s lived and tells you how.

Shemekia Copeland - This lady’s blues are fun. She owns a song when she shouts it out to you with sass, sway and swagger. There’s attitude in her delivery that you gotta love.

Ella Fitzgerald - Jazz and swing just don’t get any better than this. Actually, music, period, doesn’t get any better than Ella. If the dictionary adds a listing for “the best music can possibly be” and that listing includes a photo, the photo will be of Ella.

Roberta Flack - A story-teller’s mix of smoothness and force, and a mix that happens to hit every note just right.

Aretha Franklin - The power of gospel, soul, blues and hard-blowin’ pop, a voice that could drive a man to do anything she cares to drive him to, and I mean anything.

Melody Gardot - Her voice is whispery with a dash of salt. Melody has a compelling personal story but, more importantly, a unique voice and a way of telling a story in song that sets her apart and pulls me back for more.

Billie Holiday - A voice that can make me cry, make gasp in awe, draw me in so I tilt my head to get my ear just that much closer to the stereo’s speaker. There’s one Billie Holiday with delivery more like some magical instrument in the ensemble than a voice. If I need to pick a number one favorite, this is it. Oh man, this is it.

Janis Ian - Simultaneously sensitive and bold, sweet when that’s right and demanding when that’s required, her voice tells a tale I want to hear.

Mahalia Jackson - Deeply soulful, she visits every valley then boldly pulls me from each with inspired joy.

Etta James - Ain’t nobody hollerin’ the blues like Etta, with such force and swing that I just can’t sit still.

Janis Joplin - Gravel and sugar, whether she’s molding a tune to shout it hard or to tell a story, she delivers every song as uniquely Janis.

B.B. King - You wanna hear a story and hear it now and hear it bad, ‘cause, baby, here are the blues and B.B.’s gonna tell it as only B.B. can.

Peggy Lee - Now this is the definition of sultry. There’s a near-sarcasm to Peggy Lee’s style which comes across as mighty sexy and mighty appealing.

Stevie Nicks - Delivering a song exactly right yet slightly off-kilter, her voice adds a dimension to draw me in and make me want to stay to see how it ends.

Jimmy Rushing - Swingin’ the blues Kansas City style, Jimmy’s voice propels a song off the bandstand and into your lap. I dare you to listen to a Jimmy Rushing album and not swing, and not listen happy. I dare you.

Nina Simone - Powerful in a way that pushes me back while intriguing me to the point that I cannot go away, Nina Simone is a never to be repeated vocalist whose voice challenges me to think.

Frank Sinatra - Sinatra delivers every song exactly as it should be delivered, with a lift in his voice when the song requires a lift, or a smokey edge when the song needs a smokey edge. Every song, he gets it.

Bessie Smith - Mama’s got the blues and if you don’t feel why after hearing Bessie tell you as only Bessie can, then you ain’t human.

Mavis Staples - A voice which uniquely molds itself around life lived hard and is here to tell us about the experience, and thank God it is.

Koko Taylor - Blues done the Chicago way, Koko’s rough edge puts you in the middle of her troubles and leaves you there to find your own way out, and as soon as you do you want more.

Big Joe Turner - Big Joe was born in Kansas City and tended bar while shouting the blues at 12th and Vine. During his rhythm and blues years his songs turned extremely popular and extremely silly. But when he shouted the blues, he sang with the swing, the force, the soul and the clearly stated deep experiences that no other voice captures and that surely no other voice will ever match.

Sarah Vaughan - When I think Sarah I think ideal tone, ideal pitch, ideal pace, ideal interpretation, a song recorded as magnificently as you’ll ever hear it.

Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson - Eddie played the alto sax and sang the blues with the same inflections, but his were playful, happy blues peppered with a jump beat that makes me smile.

Dinah Washington - Dinah’s singing to me, just to me, I know she is, and I want to hear every story, because I hear her telling me her version of the story each time she sings.

Monday, September 28, 2009

5 CDs, KC Style

Among the blogs I enjoy most is NPR’s jazz entry, A Blog Supreme. A couple weeks back they solicited listings, here, of 5 CDs per, from 20-somethings of recent albums (within the last decade or so) they would recommend as an introduction to jazz. Which started me thinking, what albums of recent vintage -- with a Kansas City connection -- would I recommend?

I’d start with an octogenarian violinist who first recorded with Andy Kirk’s band in 1929. But 70 years later, on the 1999 CD Swingin’ the Blues, Claude “Fiddler” Williams is still at his best. Kansas City jazz started as blues-based swing and you’d be hard pressed to find an album blues-based-swingier than this. Claude plays with the vitality and bounce of a 20-something. And alto sax man Bobby Watson sits in for a couple of numbers.

(A fun aside: Following this album’s release, Claude and Bobby played the Kansas City Blues & Jazz Festival. At one point, after an exceptional violin solo, Bobby looked towards the 80-something “Fiddler” and told the crowd, “I want to be like him when I grow up!”)

Pat Metheny hails from KC suburb Lee’s Summit. Over the years, I've enjoyed some of his albums while others launch into musical pyrotechnics not quite to my taste. But one of my favorites is just Pat and his guitar, 2003’s One Quiet Night. Recorded at home, this is solo guitar at its most intimate. Listening to the music, I can hear what Pat’s thinking. I can feel what he’s feeling. There’s an accessibility to the music which can be, at times, almost uncomfortable but is consistently intriguing.

I’ve written in earlier blog posts of going downtown to The Phoenix Tuesday nights, some 15 years back, to hear Karrin Allyson. Among her last decade albums I enjoy most is 2002’s In Blue. I hear other jazz vocalists today who just don’t swing like (I think) jazz should. But on this album you can hear the influence of years spent in KC. Mostly blues done fun, this is as fine an introduction to the three time Grammy nominee as you’ll find.

For my next selection I’m going to cheat a little, because Kevin Mahogany’s 1997 Another Time, Another Place dates back a dozen years. But it’s my favorite of Kevin’s CDs. Kevin lived and performed in KC around the same time as Karrin (good years, yes). The sometimes playful sometimes soulful selections on this album delivered with Kevin’s extraordinary voice bring back fond memories.

My fifth CD showcases some of the outstanding young talent that has followed Karrin and Kevin in KC. I’ve written about the group Diverse a couple of times. Their 2009 CD, Diverse, is an excellent example of Kansas City today. This is less traditional than the other albums listed, but the music is equally exciting, equally engaging, equally accessible. Individually (I’ve heard Diverse members around town with other groups) or as an ensemble, these guys can play.

Bobby Watson is a guest on one of the Diverse numbers. Which in a way brings these selections full circle. From Bobby's joining a musician who first recorded near jazz's start to joining musicians who are part of jazz’s tomorrow, it’s all Kansas City connected jazz.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


Much of the last week was spent with family. An uncle passed away, and other uncles, aunts and cousins gathered from afar to mourn and talk and reminisce.

My aunt reminisced about dating in Kansas City in the 1940s. Specifically, she remembered going to Milton’s, a jazz club then at Armour and Troost, to hear Julia Lee, piano and vocals, with Baby Lovett, drums. She recalled Julia’s double entendre songs, titles like All This Beef and Big Ripe Tomatoes and The Spinach Song (better known as I Didn’t Like It the First Time). Her sex education, she said, came from listening to Julia Lee at Milton’s.

To know Kansas City jazz is to know, too, Milton’s. It was the iconic Kansas City jazz club.

When I knew it, Milton’s Tap Room stood at 32nd and Main Street and no longer featured live bands, instead playing Milton’s enormous record collection day and night. Anyone of drinking age in KC in the early ’80s or before (or those somewhat near drinking age; that wasn’t necessarily an issue at Milton’s) more likely than not knew the joint, too.

Milton’s neon sign glowed out front. Inside Milton Morris, jazz era raconteur, sat at the front, big black eyeglasses on his owl-like face, cigar in hand, scotch nearby, telling tales. Music by Ben Webster or Count Basie or Buck Clayton or Julia Lee or dozens more filled the darkened room. Large backlit silhouette cut-outs of musicians and musical instruments graced the back wall. Milton knew how to run a jazz joint. It’s what he’d done since the 1930s.

A friend talks of a Saturday afternoon when he stepped into the barely lit club and Milton called out to him, told him to come join him at the table where Milton sat with a friend. Milton wanted to introduce him to a buddy. And Milton introduced him to Count Basie. When Basie passed through town, he’d usually stop by to see his old friend Milton, who had employed Basie in a KC club decades before.

You never knew who you might run into at Milton's. What you did know is that you'd enjoy good drinks, hear good jazz and have a good time.

Both Milton and Basie passed in 1983. Milton’s niece inherited the club and a year later sold it to a group of investors and fans. Another friend was part of that group. He tells of the day they turned on the lights to clean the place. Maybe the first time the lights had been on in years. They found walls stained by decades of cigarette smoke. They found dead bugs and rat droppings behind the silhouettes.

And in the loft, they found Milton’s spare false leg.

I’m working now to open a new jazz club in KC. I don’t know if I’ll be successful (lately I’ve faced more discouragement than encouragement). But if I am, Milton’s is the model. If I’m successful, among my intentions: Live Kansas City jazz nightly. No dead bugs. No rat droppings. And any false legs in the club must be attached to paying customers.

Friday, September 18, 2009

A Post Delayed

I'd hoped to have a new blog post up today or Monday. However, an unexpected death in my family yesterday has delayed new contributions until later next week and has left me, for now, listening to the blues (yesterday some Big Joe Turner and "B.B. King in Kansas City").

Monday, September 14, 2009

Festival Tales

Through much of the 1980s I volunteered as one of the organizers of the Kansas City Jazz Festival, then in Volker Park. For a couple of those years I also served as chairman of the Kansas City Jazz Commission. From time to time (meaning, when I can’t think of anything else to write about), I’ll recount stories from those days.


While Jazz Commission chair, I helped the coordinator of the 18th & Vine Festival, then a free outdoor music fest held each September (and a separate event from the much larger Kansas City Jazz Festival).

At that time The Kansas City Star published crowd estimates provided by professionals, such as the police. Previously, they printed numbers festival organizers quoted, until it became apparent we organizers might, um, exaggerate a bit (or a lot).

One year, as the 18th & Vine Festival wound down on a Sunday evening, several of us gathered around a concession stand and chatted. We agreed among ourselves about 5000 people had passed through the event that weekend. A few police officers, assisting with security, walked by. We asked if they’d like some hot dogs and soft drinks. The hot dogs would just be discarded anyway, we told them, so they took us up on the offer. They thanked us, adding those were a good end to a long day. Then the officer in charge asked, so what do you want the weekend crowd estimate to be? 20,000? Sure, we said, 20,000 sounded good.

And that’s how (then, anyway) published crowd estimates were derived.


Festivals are funded by corporate sponsorships, foundation grants and concession sales. At the Kansas City Jazz Festival, we sometimes joked that we might make more money if we gave away the beer and charged for the Porta-Johns. That is, until the year a Porta-John tipped over with someone in it.

The guy was drunk. He stepped into a Porta-John and swayed back and forth. It was an end unit. He kept swaying. And the unit fell on its side to the ground.

Inside, the disoriented drunk couldn’t figure out where the door went.


Today, The Kansas City Star has knowledgeable writers covering jazz, like Joe Klopus and Steve Paul. That wasn’t always the case. Such as when our 1985 headliner was the Modern Jazz Quartet and The Star’s reviewer compared them to Muzak.

But we needed The Star to help publicize an event with a meager budget. So at times we endured a love-hate relationship with the newspaper.

By the 1990s I had stepped away from organizing the festival, and the event had merged with the blues fest to create something much larger. I still attended each year. One of those years, The Star’s then jazz writer (who has long since left town) published an article critical of the festival’s talent lineup. After the event, I wrote a letter, which The Star printed, praising the organizers on what was an exceptionally good event that year, even in the face of critics who didn’t understand the limitations of talent availability and budgets.

The next year, I was walking through the festival grounds when a mutual friend stopped and introduced me to The Star’s jazz writer. When he heard my name, the writer pointed a finger at me and exclaimed (all these years later, this isn’t really an exact quote), You! You’re the one who wrote the letter! I heard from so many people on that article! But you didn’t get my point! Nobody got the point!

Now, it seems to me that if nobody got his point, he didn’t express it very well.

But more importantly, to find out that my letter had caused him so much grief, and that a year later it still bothered him, felt wonderful.

That was one of my favorite days at a jazz festival.


The year the Modern Jazz Quartet headlined, I learned to refer to them as the legendary Modern Jazz Quartet. Milt Jackson told me. But that’s a story for another blog post.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Credit Due

I’ll not hesitate to criticize when deserved. But the other side of that coin means giving credit when due. So let’s give the KC jazz club Jardine’s credit for working to correct the few annoyances there. And succeeding.

A few blog posts ago, I took club owners to task for making schedules difficult to figure out, and difficult to figure the players behind some obscure group names. Since, Jardine’s has started a blog, here, which provides background the limited calendar space cannot.

Additionally, clicking on the date in their online calendar reveals a pop-up usually including a list of musicians.

(Was that pop-up always there? And was it always populated with all that info? Did I miss that before writing my earlier post? If so, Jardine’s, I owe you a honkin’ big apology.)

And just last week they started a Twitter feed of updates under JardinesJazz. Add in their Facebook page and when it comes to social media marketing, here’s a club that gets it. Jardine’s is making their nightly talent schedule easier to find and find out about.

Hopefully, that Twitter name and references to the blog and Facebook page will adorn Jardine’s next calendar. I’d urge a card or table tent promoting these outlets on every table. Given the number of smart phones I spy in customers’ hands when there, I’ll bet the social media will be noted quickly. Then, how better for a club to inexpensively stay in touch?

Other clubs, take note. As someone with a marketing background, trust me when I say this is a critical part of marketing thyself in 2009. I’ve seen the research. Example: 50 to 60% of Twitter users match the demographics of most folks I see in your joints (Nieslen Demographics, February, 2009 and Comscore, March, 2009).

Another as yet unmentioned criticism seems resolved as well. I’ve written but not yet posted a post on noise in our jazz clubs. In general, I sympathize with owners needing to attract a diverse crowd to make ends meet. But, after visiting a popular blues spot with the volume turned up to hear music over talkers, the unpublished piece cajoles our jazz club owners to do the same.

After two visits last week, sounds to me like Jardine’s has. For Trumpet Summit last Thursday the music was delightfully easy to enjoy over the ambient noise. And late Saturday, despite a wonderful-to-see wall-to-wall first set crowd for Shay Estes with Trio ALL, music could still be heard pretty darn well. On past visits, that wasn’t the case. If last week is the new norm, now we can have our talk and music, too.

(But now I need to rewrite my post on club noise. Glad I hadn’t put it up yet. After all, I’d hate to owe two honkin’ apologies….)


I’ve added links to the calendars of KC’s jazz clubs at the right. For links to anything and everything to do with KC jazz, visit the excellent blog Plastic Sax, here.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

An Extraordinary Progression

It was during the mid ‘80s, maybe 1984, when Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Harry “Sweets” Edison, legendary Basie alumni, were booked for the 18th & Vine Festival. An outdoor event, it stormed all day. So that evening, Sweets and Lockjaw, backed by Rich Hill, claimed a corner bandstand in Eblon, then a club at the corner of 18th & Vine (where Harper’s stands today).

I walked in and took a seat near the stage. People talked, and noise ricocheted around the room. Noisy is the kindest description of Eblon when packed. And that night it was packed with festival goers huddling out of the rain.

Then, amid the noise and talk, Lockjaw launched into a solo like I’d never heard live before, or since. Some quieted. The solo, resonant and exuberant, continued. More stopped and turned to the stage. Then the rest. The room silenced, except for what memory assures me was one of the most extraordinary tenor sax solos, ever.

We sat, some stood, in awe. We knew we were hearing something magic.

I recall The Phoenix on Tuesday nights some 15 years back. Karrin Allyson played piano and sang, with Rod Fleeman on guitar. I sat at the piano bar most weeks. The talent on stage was obvious. Weekly, Karrin displayed the gifts of a to be internationally recognized jazz vocalist (today, for those who don’t know, she resides in New York and can claim three Grammy nominations). Not every performance, not every song, but often enough amazing music flew from that tiny stage. Few knew Kansas City was hosting regular performances most any jazz fan would envy the chance to hear.

I reminisce of Saturday afternoons in the same room with Milt Abel and Tommy Ruskin on stage. I can still see Milt entrancing the crowd with Big Wind Blew in From Winnetka and Tommy drumming everything in sight to Caravan. I’m smiling now, ear to crazy ear, remembering rapt audiences and a room brimming with joy.

Now forward to July this year, at Jardine’s, last Wednesday of the month. Megan Birdsall is on stage at her regular gig. It’s the third set and the noisy part of the crowd has left for the night. The room feels more intimate now. Megan, wondering what to sing next, jumps on a jam of Ellington’s I Got It Bad. The room, musicians and audience, hear something special coming together up there. Next she tears into an up-tempo Lover Man. Stunning. At the end of those songs, the other musicians on stage look at each other and smile. You know they know they were just part of a remarkable set.

Now to Wednesday last week at Jardine’s and again Megan’s monthly gig. A different pianist this month brings a different dynamic to the group. Midway through the second set, it’s coming together. Vocalist, pianist, bassist and drummer are driving each other. The audience, thinned, is engaged. Through Good Morning Heartache, I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Squeeze Me (But Please Don’t Tease Me), Wichita Lineman then Love for Sale, a rush of great music, just plain great.

One more stop, last Friday at The Blue Room. Diverse is a group of recent UMKC students that exemplifies the young jazz talent cascading through this city today (Joe Klopus of The Kansas City Star profiled them recently, here). Recent winners of a national competition, their CD is 49th and rising on the jazz charts (the KC jazz blog Plastic Sax reviews it here). Hermon Mehari, William Sanders, John Brewer, Ben Leifer and Ryan Lee meld into a group as simultaneously lyrical and dynamic, as unexpected but precise, as any exploding in jazz today.

The evening was exceptional. From the overflow, standing room only crowd, young and old, packing The Blue Room and wildly celebrating each set; through Kenny Loggins (of Loggins and Messina, in town for a concert) showing up and joining Diverse and saxophonist Bobby Watson at the end of the second set; through Bobby driving the group for more and more again on the final number; it was one of my most enjoyable evenings in nearly 30 years of following jazz in KC.

Looking back, I’ve heard in KC some of the all time jazz greats, names like Lockjaw and Sweets. I’ve heard current stars back when they played local clubs, like Karrin. I’ve heard local heros we’ll remember for generations, like Milt.

And looking ahead, today in KC I can hear jazz’s tomorrow. I can hear an overflow of great young musicians starting to dominate this town, setting the stage with excitement driven by unbridled talent. I’ve made this point before and I’ll make it again: Jazz is poised to surge in Kansas City. The talent here, young, mid and old, is too collectively overwhelming to not be noticed, to not be heard, to not overtake jazz apathy.

It’s an extraordinary progression. I’ll be out again this week. I’ll risk hearing something great.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Diverse Friday

I'll post one of my too long essays later this week. But today, a shorter post to recount a terrific Friday night at The Blue Room.

The group was Diverse, some of the outstanding young KC musicians I've previously blogged about (and will again). The great saxophonist Bobby Watson (also head of UMKC's jazz program) joined them at the end of each set. As did, on the second set, a surprise guest.

For the first set, The Blue Room was packed, standing room only (I counted more than 20 without seats). On Diverse's web site (here) they say there was a 45 minute wait to get in (fortunately, I arrived early enough to avoid that). People crowding the room ranged from 20-somethings to 60-somethings. Don't tell me there's no interest in jazz in KC, or that jazz doesn't appeal to younger people. Friday, I saw otherwise.

Midway through the second set, another patron walked in with his girlfriend and, coincidentally, sat down next to me at the bar extending along the ramp to the upper level. He just looked to me like someone who missed combing his hair before heading out. I paid him no further attention until it was announced that Kenny Loggins was in the audience, and that guy next to me raised his hand. Turns out Loggins and Messina was in town for a show at the Ameristar Casino, and afterward Kenny Loggins came down to The Blue Room for some jazz, and he was sitting next to me.

At the end of the set, Kenny joined Diverse and Bobby on stage for two songs (he needed to Google the words for the second one). Gotta say, Kenny Loggins still has one helluva voice and can belt out a jazz standard spectacularly. You could see on their faces the members of Diverse (after all, these are guys right out of college) were amazed to find themselves backing Kenny Loggins singing jazz standards.

Diverse was outstanding. Their CD is getting national airplay and deserves it. Just hearing them would have been a great night of jazz. But Bobby Watson and Kenny Loggins joining them made for a more-special-than-anyone-expected night at The Blue Room.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Knock, Knock, Who's There?

Club owners, listen up.

Some gripe about noise in your establishments. In general, not me (I’ll post on that another time). Some gripe about cover charges or drink prices. Both, to my mind, are fair and justified. Overall, Kansas City jazz club owners, you’re doing a pretty darn good job.

But not totally good. One nuisance which irks me no end: Quit making me work to figure out your schedule when making plans.

Last night, I was at Jardine’s to hear Megan Birdsall (terrific show, especially the second half; I’ll get back to that in another post as well). I walked to the back windowsill where schedules lie. Why was the August schedule the only one to be found? This month is nearly over. I want to know when I want to return next month. The September schedule’s on your (nicely improved) web site. Why isn’t it in your club?

For that matter, why isn’t it front and center on your web site? I have the home page open now. Its scrolling calendar, at this moment, is telling me who was there August 6th, now August 7th, now August 8th. Why?

Trio ALL plays Jardine’s next Wednesday. Terrific group, with some of the sterling young musicians I’ve written of before. Heard them there a couple months back. I may be there next week. But I should have had an easy and obvious way to know the headliners a week away before I left last night. If I wasn’t researching this post, I might not have known until well past the date. The music is a key reason to go to Jardine’s. Tell me who it is.

Another gripe: Tell me more about the group. Thursday of next week Trumpet Summit is listed. $5 cover charge, more than usual for a weeknight. Who are they? Who’s in the group? I may like them. The cover may be a bargain. But how do I figure that out? How do I find out more about Trumpet Summit? Tell me, on your calendar, on a link, on a blurb, somewhere, who these guys (and/or gals) are. Don’t make me work to find it. Stick it in my face. Worst thing that could result? More customers.

Earlier this month, HoracesScope played Jardine’s. No explanation of who they were. I figured it was Horace Washington’s group. Not until I read a review on the wonderful blog Plastic Sax did I know it was a band playing Horace Silver’s work including, among others, the excellent Stan Kessler. Had I known in advance, I’d have gone. Between dinner and drinks, Jardine's, you’d have probably raked in another 30 or 40 bucks off me. It’s to your benefit that we know about the band before, not after, the show.

Okay, Phoenix, you’re not off the hook, either. I just checked your calendar as well. Even printed it out. So explain the partial listings. September 3, 7 pm: Mark. September 4, 4:30 pm: George. September 12, 4:30 pm: Grand. Mark who? George who? Grand what? I’ll bet Mark and George and Grand are good guys. But who are they? Is it too much to expect a schedule which tells me who’s scheduled?

(Each Tuesday’s “Open Jam With” and Saturday afternoons listing only “Lonnie” on the Phoenix calendar look bad, too, though I know enough to complete those blanks. But for potential customers who don’t, the incompletions are a problem.)

The aforementioned Plastic Sax blog posts a compilation calendar (here), but that doesn’t lessen what the clubs themselves need to do.

Club owners, if you want us to come, tell us what’cha got. Don’t hide your schedules. Don’t make them incoherent. There’s too damn few of us fans wandering KC and looking for good music to begin with. If you want us in your clubs, at the very least, tell us why we should be there. And don’t make us do all the work to figure it out.