Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Other Jazz Museums That Weren't, 3

Let’s recap: Part one and part two of this series told of initial efforts in Kansas City to create a jazz museum, bringing us up to the 1980s, when the Count Basie Orchestra announced that, at a hall of fame ceremony on August 21, 1985, the band would officially move its headquarters to Kansas City.


“The International Jazz Hall of Fame - an organization that exists on paper but has no physical home - will present an awards and induction ceremony at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Music Hall that will honor some of the biggest names in jazz.

“The ceremony, to feature performances by the Count Basie Orchestra, the Woody Herman Orchestra, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach and others - is one of the biggest single events attempted by Eddie Baker, executive director of the Charlie Parker Foundation and a leading proponent of the project. If the event comes off as advertised, it could be a keynote in the eventual establishment of his long-envisioned International Jazz Hall of Fame.”

The Kansas City Star, August 18, 1985


“An evening of long-winded introductions, heartfelt testimonials and glib humor Wednesday marked induction ceremonies into the International Jazz Hall of Fame….

“The Basie band, under the leadership of Thad Jones, closed the evening with a spectacular set of classics and contemporary material, highlighted by vocalist Carmen Bradford’s emotional, bluesy rendition of ‘Happy Birthday,’ in memory of the Count, who would have been 81 Wednesday.

“Guitarist-vocalist George Benson, accepting Miss Fitzgerald’s award, spoke of his pleasure in returning to Kansas City to hear legendary stories of Kansas City’s jazz era ‘again and again from a different point of view.’ Mr. Benson then performed three numbers with the Basie band.”

The Kansas City Star, August 22, 1985


“On August 21, only about 500 people attended induction ceremonies into the International Jazz Hall of Fame. The event, held in the Municipal Auditorium, featured performances by the Woody Herman Orchestra and the Count Basie Orchestra.

“[The] chairman of the Kansas City Jazz Commission, and others said that the Hall of Fame ceremonies suffered organizational problems and that ticket prices of $150 to $20 didn’t help.

“Disappointment at the turnout may not be the only negative legacy of the Hall of Fame ceremonies. Last week, Mr. Woodward said that in light of the poor turnout he was reassessing a commitment he made last year to make Kansas City the Basie orchestra’s home.

“‘If that (the Hall of Fame event) was an indication of support, perhaps there isn’t as much support as we thought,’ he said.

“He didn’t indicate when a final decision would be made.”

The Kansas City Times, September 16, 1985


“Although Kansas City has been the official home of the Count Basie Orchestra since last summer, the band’s leader said there had been little progress toward actually establishing a headquarters.

“Aaron Woodward, the legendary bandleader’s adopted son and chief executive officer of Count Basie Enterprises, Inc., said he had been unable to find a corporate sponsor to support the band’s Kansas City area activities....

“‘I can’t point to any success or pending success,’ Mr. Woodward said. Therefore, he said, he is concentrating on upcoming recording sessions....

“‘I feel like I’ve wasted a year,’ Mr. Woodward said. ‘I don’t see anything coming of it….Basically, I’m looking in a different direction….’

“Mr. Woodward said he began questioning the support for jazz in Kansas City after seeing the relatively light turnout for the International Hall of Fame induction ceremonies at the Music Hall on Aug. 21, the late bandleader’s birthday. The event also marked the ‘official’ designation of Kansas City as the Basie band’s headquarters.

“Only about 500 people attended the program at the Music Hall to hear performances by the Basie band, the Woody Herman Orchestra and Bobby Brookmeyer.

“‘In almost any place on the planet earth, that would have been [an exceptional] lineup, but you only got a couple of hundred people,’ Mr. Woodward said. It got my attention. What kind of support is there really? Any support? Is it a pipe dream?’

“…Mr. Baker said someone in Kansas City needed to exercise leadership to assist the band in its efforts to find a home and to make peace between different factions pursuing divergent goals. Mr. Baker wants to establish his International Jazz Hall of Fame in the former Jewish Community Center, 8201 Holmes Road, or a comparable facility. Others have advocated establishing a center in the 18th and Vine Historic District….

“’Somebody needs to get all of us together,’ Mr. Baker said. ‘We want jazz back in the city. We could satisfy everybody, but first we’ve got to get together….I’m sick of arguing. I’m sick of fighting. I’m tired of trying to compromise…’”

The Kansas City Star, December 10, 1985

But this wasn’t why the Basie Orchestra never moved to Kansas City.


In 1989, everybody got together, and the plan described in my post The Jazz Museum That Wasn’t was announced. Space for the Count Basie Orchestra was part of the plan.

That plan was one of the options outlined in a study done for the city. Another option in the study was the possibility of restoring the Gem Theater, tearing down the buildings across the street from the Gem and constructing a new facility. That, as we know, is what actually opened in September, 1997.

The study was delivered to the city in September, 1984.

Details, in another blog post.

(Next week it's back to other topics. Other thoughts and photos await posting, and if you've followed this blog any time, you know I can only go so long without shooting my mouth off. But this history will return sometime next month.)

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