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.

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