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.