Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Tidal Wave is Near

Jazz in Kansas City rolls in waves.

In the 1980s, when I first listened, we could enjoy two jazz festivals and a blues festival every year. Free Sunday concerts in the parks featured jazz more weeks than not. Pub crawls listed 20 participating clubs (many of which only played jazz that night, but still...). Bars with jazz were found downtown, at 18th and Vine, on 39th Street, on the Plaza, on Troost, in Johnson County and north of the river.

Then interest waned.

Then Karrin Allyson moved to town. About the same time we discovered Kevin Mahogany in our midst. Now there was a buzz and excitement. Karrin's schedule 15 years ago this month shows 20 days of performances in KC. Eventually, both left town, both with national recording contracts.

And interest waned.

Today we can point to just three jazz clubs in Kansas City. Surely interest is at its lowest ebb. Surely all is lost.

Except it's not.

Because the young talent you will find performing in those clubs is beyond belief. It's talent that is as good, no, as downright spectacular, as any jazz talent you're going to find today. A sampling -- not a complete list, mind you, but just a sampling -- of who I'm talking about includes Roger Wilder (piano), Zack Albetta (drums), Megan Birdsall (vocals), Jeff Harshberger (bass), Mark Lowrey (piano), Shay Estes (vocals).

Why the abundance of young talent? I don't know. Maybe they were exposed to jazz in Kansas City during its 1980s resurgence. Surely Bobby Watson's music program at UMKC has something to do with it.

But this I do know: Jazz in Kansas City is poised for a new wave. It's rolling in on the backs of the young talent overflowing this town. Because these musicians are too good not to spark it. These musicians are too remarkable to not be noticed, to not be heard, to lie outside of the public's attention.

Add to this young group the outstanding musicians for decades part of Kansas City jazz, and this city today probably has the most extraordinary aggregation of jazz talent since I started listening nearly 30 years ago.

And Kansas City is about to notice.

1 comment:

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