Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In Lieu of 1000 Words: Deborah Brown at The Blue Room

I’m not sure I’d believe a human voice could hit such notes if I hadn’t heard it myself.

I knew Deborah Brown’s name, but I’m embarrassed to say that a couple Fridays ago was the first time I’ve heard her sing. Of course, while Kansas City born and raised, she did spend a dozen years in Europe before returning to KC a couple years back. And she does still travel. Her web site (here) shows 2009 performances in Amsterdam, Sweden, Netherlands, Morocco, Germany, Russia and Israel. She’s better known abroad than in KC.

Still, as someone who professes familiarity with Kansas City jazz, to have not heard this magnificent singer until now is probably some kind of a crime.

January 15th, Deborah Brown performed at The Blue Room with Everette DeVan’s trio. Below is a little of what we saw (clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it).

By the way, Deborah returns to The Blue Room on February 19th.

Deborah Brown

Left to right: Matt Hopper on guitar, Mike Warren on drums, Deborah Brown vocals, Everette DeVan on Hammond B-3 organ

Deborah and Everette

Matt, Mike and Deborah

The group performs

Deborah sings some more

Everette DeVan

Deborah Brown and the Everette DeVan Trio in The Blue Room

Monday, January 25, 2010

kcjazzlark on Flickr

Now I'm on Flickr, too. I'll tell you, this kcjazzlark dude gets around.

A photographer's creed is to take a whole lot of photos in the hopes that something turns out right. I select the best — best expression, best composition, the sharpest — and post them to this blog. That leaves other shots, mostly variations of the same scenes, which may not be quite as good but ain't bad. And those will now go into Flickr collections around the same time that new photo layouts show up here.

I've caught up on the photo spreads already posted. I warn you, most of my Flickr sets get rather repetitive. But if you're a glutton for more of the same, you can find the kcjazzlark Flickr page here. And a permanent link has been added to the right side of this page.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Well Done

I'll criticize when I feel it's warranted. But I'll also praise when it's earned. So score the last word on the Folly Theater's Mark O'Connor Hot Swing band concert as a Folly victory.

The combined audiences for the first three concerts in this year's Folly jazz series wouldn't fill the theater for a single show. And I've written less than glowingly about it. But the Kansas City Star review for Saturday night's show (here) reports about 950 in attendance. That's a near sell-out, and that's a job extremely well done. Even better, the review of the show is glowing (though, after viewing some Mark O'Connor videos on the web, that part I didn't doubt).

The promotion for this show captured most of the front page of last weekend's Star Arts section, followed by another mention and large photo on Thursday's Preview section jazz page. Clearly, the press and promotion for this show were just what the theater needed. I've argued hard that social media done well will sell more seats, but when nearly every seat is filled that becomes a harder argument to make.

If I wore a hat, I'd tip it with respect to the success of Saturday's jazz series show. And I plead, please keep it up with the upcoming shows. Because there's nothing like a full house to smother the tired and unwarranted jazz-is-dead cry.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

This 'n That 'n Thigpen

I don’t usually post a compilation of short takes on two consecutive weeks, but with a few timely notes on my desk, today I offer a brief exception of additional briefs.


Drummer Ed Thigpen died last week, on January 13th. His web site is here.

Ed Thigpen was best known for his years drumming with the Oscar Peterson Trio, with Ella Fitzgerald, with Billy Taylor. And he has a Kansas City connection.

His father, Ben Thigpen, was the drummer for Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy from 1930 to 1947.

Andy wrote in his autobiography: “…We played waltzes, too…. Ben Thigpen never could get that Viennese beat - da-rrrmp, da, da - though he was a fine drummer, with me 17 years. His son, Ed, traveled with us before he was born."

Those would have been years that legendary pianist Mary Lou Williams swung the band. No wonder Ed Thigpen knew swing…he heard it at its best while still in the womb.


Count Basie’s hat is about to go on tour, courtesy of UMKC.

The Smithsonian is putting together an exhibition on Basie and has borrowed the captain’s hat that Count Basie wore from UMKC’s LaBudde Special Collections. It’s to be sent off for display in Washington, DC at the end of the month. The exhibit later travels to New York. When the hat returns, the university says, it will be “available for anyone to stop by to take a peek.”

The complete UMKC release is here.

(I never knew UMKC had Basie’s hat.)


Jazz and metal?

New York Times music writer Ben Ratliff finds more similarities than dissimilarities in the current state of each of those music types. He writes, “Both have become increasingly local and international at the same time; they depend on the scenes of certain communities...but their audiences are everywhere. As of the late ’00s both have been the subject of serious academic conferences. And aside from a few tanklike, old-favorite examples…if you want to keep up with either, you have to listen to cuts on MySpace pages and go to gigs.”

I know little enough about metal to recognize if the comparison rings true. But his comments on the state of national jazz recognition certainly do: “Currently, making it in jazz means playing a circuit of sit-down supper clubs and comfortable midsize theaters booked by nonprofit arts presenters, and, in summer, at European festivals.”

The complete commentary is here.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Festival Tales 4

From time to time I recount stories from my days with the Kansas City Jazz Festival and the Kansas City Jazz Commission. Times like today.


Many don’t know that Andy Kirk led what once was the most popular band to come out of Kansas City, Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy. Their 1936 recording of Until the Real Thing Comes Along was the year’s top hit. Count Basie would leave Kansas City that same year, and by 1937 Basie’s band was recording a string of tunes which not only eclipsed the Clouds of Joy’s popularity but which remain jazz standards today.

For the 1985 festival, we brought Andy Kirk back to Kansas City to honor him. The original idea (mine, actually) was to celebrate Kirk and fellow KC jazz era bandleader Harlan Leonard with a battle of the bands, groups we would assemble and they would nominally lead. But we found that Leonard had passed away a year-and-a-half earlier in California. So we flew in 87-year old Andy Kirk and scrapped the mock battle.

I would introduce Andy on stage. I’d prepared remarks, but wanted to make sure all the facts were right. The Nelson Museum hosted our hospitality room that year, and that’s where I sat down with Andy.

I’ll never meet anyone nicer, or more delightful. I intended to cover my list of facts in a few minutes. But as I read off each, Andy asked, “Can I tell you a story about that?” For half an hour he regaled me with tales of Kansas City in the 1920s and ‘30s, of life on the road, of legendary pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams, of the beginnings of Kansas City jazz. Among my great regrets from those festival years is that I didn’t have a recorder on the table that day.

All that Andy told me is in his autobiography, Twenty Years on Wheels (1989, The University of Michigan Press). Yet, for some reason, one particular story sticks with me still.

When Andy took over as bandleader in 1929, a promoter dubbed the group Andy Kirk and his Dark Clouds of Joy, with “Dark” in there to insure no confusion that this was a band of black musicians. But Andy didn’t like “Dark” in the name. As he explains in his book:

“I’d heard that expression back in Denver. It usually came from men hanging around in front of a saloon with nothing to do. When some of us came down the street towards them they’d remark, ‘Looks like it’s gonna rain. Dark clouds comin’.’”

Upon taking charge, Andy’s first change was to rename the band, Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy.


Few who know Kansas City jazz will ever forget Claude “Fiddler” Williams. His first recording (as far as I know) was with Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy in a 1929 session at KMBC radio. Coincidentally, “Fiddler” played in a jam group just ahead of Andy at the 1985 festival. Of course, I know that over the years many people older than I saw “Fiddler” Williams and Andy Kirk together. But I was young and impressionable. And as I watched them greet each other on stage and chat, I was taken by the Kansas City jazz history standing before me.

I still am. I may not be young anymore, but I remain quite impressionable.


The next day, some of the wonderful folks from Kansas City Parks and Rec, who booked the festival that year, took Andy on a tour of downtown. He wanted to see what this city had become. They stopped on 12th Street, in front of the then-brand new Vista International Hotel (today, it’s the Marriott). This, they told him, replaced a strip of old buildings and clubs where he once played. Andy, they later told me, was amazed.

That would turn out to be Andy Kirk’s last visit to Kansas City.


The Kansas City Jazz Commission was a separate organization. And it was an organization, in retrospect, unlikely to survive. It asked the leaders of each of the city’s then too numerous jazz organizations to come together under a chairman who, following the initial chairman (Mike White), had less experience leading a civic organization than they did.

Some of my most memorable experiences as one of those subsequent Jazz Commission chairmen involved just being at the right place at the right time. Or, sometimes, being at the wrong place at the wrong time. But those are stories for another blog post.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Good Job, Folly

I will never hesitate to give credit when due. So let’s recognize that a very nice profile of this Saturday’s Folly jazz series performer, Mark O’Connor, dominates the front page of the Kansas City Star’s Sunday Arts section. You can read it here.

This article and its presentation are exceptional promotion for the show, even giving ticket information in a front page box. I continue to maintain that a strong online presence is necessary to drive ticket sales and develop audiences in 2010. But little beats a display like this in reaching important demographics.

Good job by the Folly Theater and its promoters.

Monday, January 11, 2010

This 'n That 'n Wonderful Winterlude

Johnson County Community College (JCCC) staged their first Jazz Winterlude this weekend. Coincidently, New York City hosted a jazz festival this weekend, too, its annual Winter Jazzfest.

New York’s festival was held in five nightclubs within two blocks of each other in Greenwich Village. JCCC’s festival was held in three acoustically magnificent theaters and halls, all in the campus’ Carlsen Center. The New York Festival featured 55 bands. JCCC’s festival featured a dozen. A ticket to the New York festival cost $25 each night. A ticket to JCCC’s festival cost $20 each night, or $25 for both nights, or $5 per night for students. JCCC’s Carlsen Center has free covered parking. I’ll bet those Greenwich Village nightclubs don’t.

The New York festival, in its sixth year, drew 1200 people on Friday and 2500 on Saturday (according to a New York Times review, here). I don’t have figures for JCCC’s festival, but having volunteered there both days, I’ll hazard a guess. Friday’s Winterlude drew considerably fewer folks, though with people calling the box office and asking if the fest was still on, it’s reasonable to assume weather hampered attendance. Saturday is another story. With a substantially filled Yeardley Hall for the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra performance, I’d say that night JCCC drew one quarter to one third the New York number. And for a first year event in a metropolitan area with one ninth the population, that’s impressive.

Jazz Winterlude was the start of what easily could become a highlight of the Kansas City winter calendar. Audiences skewed older than what I generally see in KC clubs. There’s nothing wrong with that. But it means that there’s plenty of potential customers left to attract, and with whom the fest can grow.

Those who have read more than a couple of my posts know I’m an advocate of the tremendous young jazz talent populating Kansas City these days. And while some were part of some festival groups, none were featured. I realize it’s different attracting patrons to music halls rather than nightclubs. And I realize the jazz demographic of Johnson County differs - likely a lot - from that of Greenwich Village. But I can’t help noting the New York festival featured a broad range of talent, including the city’s hot younger jazz stars. I hope future Winterludes, to some extent anyway, follow that lead. Certainly some young groups will not appeal to the bulk of this year’s Winterlude audience. But just as certainly, some will. And I suspect hearing a sampling of the outstanding talent which will be carrying jazz long into the future will make all audiences smile.

Oh, and if the college needs a volunteer for next year’s Winterlude, consider my hand raised.


KC sax master Ahmad Alaadeen is posting a series of wonderful recollections from his years in jazz and in Kansas City at the website scribd. Stories from a career dating back 60 years include meetings with Billie Holiday, Miles Davis (who punched him in the jaw) and John Coltrane. I particularly enjoyed the most recent entry on encounters at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. You can read them, too, on Alaadeen’s scribd page, here.


Saturday the 23rd, violinist Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Quartet plays the latest entry in this season’s Folly Jazz Series.

So, jazz fans, recount everything you know about Mark O’Connor. I’ll wait.

That was fast.

You’d think the theater would want to be telling us all about him. Like his show this past weekend at the Blue Note in New York. You can read about it here.

You’d think they would want us to know about his glowing profile last week in The Wall Street Journal. You can read that here.

You’d think the artist and his agent would want to provide links to online samples of his jazz performances.

You’d think all involved would want to be educating and promoting to put bodies in seats.

You’d think.

But what do I know.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Night After New Year: Bobby Watson & Horizon

Just the second of January, and KC hosted what will be remembered as one of the great jazz performances of the year, Bobby Watson and Horizon at The Blue Room. Fellow blogger Plastic Sax reviewed it here. KC Star editor Steve Paul reviewed it here. Even the Star’s and KCUR’s Steve Kraske tweeted, “Saw Bobby Watson Saturday night. If you weren't there you already missed the best jazz show of 2010.”

Now, I know better than to think I can compete with the pro’s prose. But I was there, too and, with a blog on jazz and Kansas City, of course I need to add my take on the evening. I call this, ’Twas the Night After New Year (I apologize in advance for some really bad rhymes. And, as always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.)


’Twas the night after New Year, two thousand and ten.
Snow started to fall as I watched from the den.
The show at The Blue Room would be good this night
But outside the cold and the snow were a fright.

Yet, to see Bobby Watson and his group Horizon,
For them it was worth from the sofa a’risin’.
Besides, who would get out on this kind of night?
I could stroll in and enjoy a front row delight.

I’ve seen Bobby often; he lives in KC.
But this famous group I’d heard just on CD.
In jazz they’re renowned, known as one of the best.
So weather be damned, as I drove to my quest.

I parked in a lot right at 18th and Vine
Then walked ‘cross the street. I’d arrived just in time.
And what to my wondering eyes should appear
But a room that was packed with fans, good drinks and cheer.
I walked up the ramp, far away from the door.
It was clear I would not find a seat on the floor.

The crowd spanned all ages: young, mid-age and old.
They came for great music, and out of the cold.
People came from the ‘burbs, from the city, all quarters
(One table was filled with ace Star reporters).
There was even a couple with pre-teens and treats
(I was jealous ‘cause those kids had much better seats).

The band took the stage. We sat rapt at attention.
Expectations were high, there’s no need to mention.
Bobby blew first, fingers nimble, then fast.
Horizon came in. We were there ’til the last.

With Edward on keyboards, Peter on bass,
With Victor on drums, the best anyplace,
With Terell on trumpet and Bobby on sax,
Most numbers blew hard, though some would relax.

They played one by Duke, one by Burt Bacharach.
They played one that’s hard bop, then subtle, then back.
But most were by Watson, and most he would drive.
The music exploded. The room was alive.

One beautiful number, just Bobby and Edward,
Still rolls through my head, may be there forever.
And when the show ended, we stood and applauded,
What better way for a year to get started.

No matter that snow from my car I’d now scrape,
’Twas worth it to sit there, my mouth wide agape.
And the staff did exclaim as we strode out of sight,
“Happy New Year to all, and to all a good night!”

Monday, January 4, 2010

In Lieu of 1000 Words: Diverse at the Record Bar

Let's open the year with some photos.

One of my favorite nights of jazz in 2009 was in late August at The Blue Room. The club was standing room only with a line out the door. The group was Diverse, mostly UMKC students with first place in a national competition and an album in the jazz top 50 both on their resume. Bobby Watson joined them at the end of each set. Pop star Kenny Loggins dropped by and sat in on a couple numbers as well. It was one of those nights where you feel magic in the room.

I had the pleasure of hearing Diverse again on Monday, December 14th at the Record Bar. The club was filled. This time, saxophonist Logan Richardson joined the group. Here's a sampling of what we saw (clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it).

 Diverse. Left to right: John Brewer on electric piano, Ryan Lee on drums, William Sanders on tenor saxophone, Ben Leifer on bass, Hermon Mehari on trumpet

Guest saxophonist Logan Richardson

John and Ryan

William and Ben

John, Ryan, Ben and Hermon

Logan Richardson and Diverse

The front line blows