Groups in Kansas City had tried to establish a jazz hall of fame/museum at least since the 1960s.
In an earlier post, I told of the 1989 press conference officially presenting the city's plans. Those particular plans died but eventually led to the American Jazz Museum.
There’s plenty more to the story. So here, part one of a look at Kansas City’s convoluted path to a jazz museum, told through quotes from news clippings, documents and studies collected during my years with the Jazz Commission and the Jazz Festival.
“The move to create a jazz hall of fame in Kansas City began almost 20 years ago when Kansas City Jazz, Inc., a group of Kansas City businessmen with an interest in jazz, began inducting performers into a ‘hall of fame’ in conjunction with their annual jazz festivals. Sherman Gibson, a lawyer and semiprofessional trumpet player who helped organize the group in 1964, said about 13 performers were inducted.
“‘We had inductees,’ Mr. Gibson said, ‘and we had some ideas about coming up with a place for a museum.’
“In 1969 the group explored the possibility of a hall of fame near 12th Street and the Paseo. Kansas City Jazz, Inc. became largely inactive after 1975, he said.
“‘We had lots of people with ideas but nobody with money,’ Mr. Gibson said.”
— The Kansas City Times, December 24, 1984
“The intent of this report is to demonstrate the applicability of a Cultural and Arts Center for the Armory Building at 1701 East Eighteenth Street. The Mutual Musicians Foundation, Inc., and the Black Economic Union, with assistance from the National Endowment for the Arts, have been able to establish a jazz program and the architectural feasibility of such an undertaking. The project is now ready to begin….”
“The Armory…was constructed in 1924. Originally, the building was named the New Rialto. In 1929, the building was renamed the New Boone Theatre in honor of John W. ‘Blind’ Boone, the famous black child prodigy pianist and composer from Missouri, who died in 1927. In 1949, the building was remodeled and renamed Scotts Theatre Restaurant and Show Bar….Scotts housed vaudeville acts, good food, musical entertainment, drama and motion pictures. A subsidiary of the Orpheum Circuit booked nationally touring acts in the building on a regular basis.
“A few years later the restaurant closed and the building was acquired by the State of Missouri. It was converted into a National Guard Armory and became the home of the 242nd Engineering Battalion, an all-black National Guard unit. The 242nd was disbanded in 1960 with the elimination of segregated National Guard units in Missouri. A few years later the City of Kansas City acquired the building from the State for the token sum of $1….
“Eighteen months ago the City agreed to sell the Armory Building to the Mutual Musicians Foundation for a token fee. [Since] the MMF acquired the building they, working with the Black Economic Union, have been attempting to determine the most feasible approach for rehabilitation of the Armory Building into a Jazz and Cultural Center….
“The major use of the building will be to present imaginative programs which will stimulate creativity in the performing arts, with Kansas City jazz highly accented….
“To maximize space, we are proposing that the lobby of the Theatre be used for the Kansas City Jazz Hall of Fame and Gallery. This will be a rotating display of exhibits of historical and cultural interest to...citizens interested in the history of Kansas City jazz….”
— The Tradition Jams On, National Endowment for the Arts Project No. R80-42-76, published by The Mutual Musicians Foundation (MMF) and the Black Economic Union, April, 1979.
The building was to also include a store, a snack bar, and, on the upper floors, rehearsal space, MMF offices, and possibly a recording studio. The renovation budget was $583,128.
The next step was to raise funds.
More than 30 years later, the Armory remains empty.
The final page of the report reproduces sheet music for the song Kansas City autographed by Count Basie, Jay McShann, Buck Clayton, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Al Grey, Clark Terry, Baby Lovett, Milt Abel, Dave Brubeck and others. I wonder where the original is today.
“The idea of there being a Jazz Hall of Fame in Kansas City is a popular idea. During our study, there was a separate effort going on, led by Kansas City Philharmonic music director Maurice Peress and others, to begin a National Jazz Archives in Kansas City - including a Jazz Hall of Fame. As Peress stated, the Archives/Hall of Fame could be ‘a rallying point for jazz festivals and all sorts of related activities.’
“The idea attracted the interest of many civic leaders and also outsiders, including Walter Anderson, assistant to the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. Anderson came several times to Kansas City to confer with local leaders of the idea. There was talk of locating the Archives/Hall of Fame in Union Station….
“….I believe strongly that the black arts leaders…should rally to the Archives/Hall of Fame idea for Union Station….In the first place, the side spaces in the Armory Building are much too confined to house any major collection of museum/archive proportions….Second and most importantly, an Archives/Hall of Fame in Union Station developed with sophistication and marketed with imagination, can draw a huge audience to Kansas City….”
— C’mon Down, A Report on a Possible Jazz Center at 18th and Highland, Prepared for the Black Economic Union of Greater Kansas City, January, 1980. Funded by the Office of the Arts of The Ford Foundation.
This report proposed that the Armory instead be redeveloped as the Midwest's premiere jazz club, with pages of studies supporting why and how. I suspect this influenced the decision to include The Blue Room in the American Jazz Museum complex.
In 1983, the Kansas City Council passed a resolution to establish a Jazz Hall of Fame in the 18th and Vine district.
In 1984, the Count Basie Orchestra committed to moving its home base to Kansas City and to giving Basie's memorabilia to the Jazz Hall of Fame. And they donated $10,000 from Basie’s estate. But not for a Jazz Hall of Fame in the 18th and Vine district.
Details, in another post.