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.