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.

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