Monday, December 21, 2009

This 'n That 'n Jazz Winterlude

This holiday week, a couple of unrelated thoughts.


I write often of the terrific young jazz talent populating Kansas City today. After all, their music inspired the start of this blog. But that means I haven’t raved nearly enough of the outstanding musicians who preceded those young’uns and who still perform some of the best jazz heard anywhere. Now is my chance, thanks to, as far as I know, KC’s first January jazz fest.

Johnson County Community College turns juke joint January 8th through 10th for Jazz Winterlude. And what a chance it is to catch a sampling of KC’s jazz best.

For instance, for decades one of my favorite saxophonists has been Charles Perkins (Eddie Baker first pointed me his way when I chaired the Jazz Commission). He joins Rich Hill on Friday. Same day, the Danny Embry/Rod Fleeman performance doesn’t just pair two magnificent guitarists, but adds most of what was singer Karrin Allyson’s regular group when she lived here. I just pulled out a 1988 LP with Mike Ning and Sherry Jones and put it on the turntable to play while I write. Man, that’s good. Hear them on Saturday. Or at the same time you might choose Stan Kessler and Sons of Brazil. Then later that night, if you’ve ever heard Jim Mair’s Kansas City Jazz Orchestra you already know that here is a big band you do not want to miss.

And that’s just scratching the surface.

The festival web site is here. The complete list of musicians is here. Or, if you want to just take my word for it and head straight to the tickets, go here. And I’m told that students (any area school or college) with a valid student ID can get tickets at the door for just $5.

(A side note: Should you ever see the 1984 Kansas City Jazz Festival poster, you’ll see a shot looking down on a pianist in a Count Basie-style captain’s hat, hands poised over piano keys. The pianist in that photo is Luqman Hamza. Hear him in a group with KC native and current Basie guitarist Will Matthews on Friday.)


So what’s going on with The Majestic?

They talked of Friday and Saturday night jazz downstairs when they reopened. But if there’s an easy way to find who’s playing, I can’t figure out what it is. Their newly redesigned web site (here) doesn’t tell. And they stopped maintaining their Twitter feed.

So I stopped by on a Saturday night a couple weeks back to see. What I saw (and heard): A jazz trio mostly providing what I’d call background lounge music.

When I was hoping to open a jazz club recently, I looked at The Majestic space. The consultants I engaged felt it would work best with a pianist upstairs weeknights and the downstairs club open weekends. Interestingly, that’s exactly what the new owner is doing. A reason I didn’t pursue that spot was that I want a rollicking jazz club every night.

But when I visited, rollicking it was not. Everyone there was extremely friendly and welcoming, and for that part of the experience I’d return. But not for the jazz club, at least based on what I saw that one night.

Maybe I’m naive. Maybe I really don’t understand what will work there. But I still think that space, especially downstairs, could be a jazz club renowned for nightly fun if properly programmed and promoted. I remember when the building was Fitzpatrick’s bar, before it became The Majestic. Fitzpatrick’s was on the Pub Crawl one of the years that I chaired the Jazz Commission. I went in and it was a blast. I’d love to have the chance to experience that, or something like it, driven by jazz, again and again.

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