Now we know. It’s once every thirty years.
Once every thirty years, apparently, we are given the chance to revel in a new documentary on Kansas City jazz.
1980 saw the premiere of The Last of the Blue Devils, the so far seminal film on Kansas City’s jazz history. The movie is also a lively snapshot of so many of our then-living jazz legends, captured reminiscing and performing.
On May 6th we get a new filmed snapshot of KC jazz, this one circa 2010: Sue Vicory’s Kansas City Jazz and Blues; Past, Present and Future.
I had the pleasure of meeting Sue about a month back. Why did she make this film? Same reasons I write this blog: Joy of the music, adoration of the musicians, infatuation with our jazz and blues culture and institutions. And a loving desire to document it all, today, in Kansas City.
The hour long documentary is split in thirds: KC jazz and blues yesterday, today, and the promise of the future. She’s filmed interviews and performances with our musical stars, ranging from Myra Taylor to Hermon Mehari, from Cotton Candy to Leon Brady’s Youth Jazz students. Also Bobby Watson, Marilyn Maye, Karrin Allyson, The McFadden Brothers, Stan Kessler. And I’m just scratching the surface and ignoring the blues side.
But Sue isn’t just some fan with a camera man. She’s a film making professional, through her nonprofit production company, Heartland Films.
For KC jazz and blues, she’s scoured the city. She’s filmed in jazz and blues clubs and halls and foundations all over town. She’s generally been graciously welcomed, but occasionally evicted (despite first obtaining the requisite permission). She’s been greeted by some with warmth, by some with skepticism, and by some with skepticism then warmth. She’s searched Union Station and UMKC and libraries and more for photos and footage. For three years, she’s done this.
Joy of the music, adoration of the musicians, infatuation with the culture and institutions. And a loving desire to document it all.
So, Kansas City, here’s what I say we owe her: Attend the premiere, May 6th, 6 to 9 p.m., at the Gem Theater in the 18th and Vine district. And you’ll see and hear far more than just a film.
For instance, Marilyn Maye will be there – her pianist is flying in from New York – giving us the wonderful opportunity to hear her sing on stage a month-and-a-half before her Jardine’s engagement. Diverse with special guest Matt Otto will open the night. Trumpeters Stan Kessler, Lonnie McFadden and Hermon Mehari will perform together. A special jam session will close the night.
And we’ll see a documentary, a 2010 snapshot of Kansas City jazz and blues.
The film’s web site is here. Its Facebook fan page is here. Most importantly, call 816-474-6262 for tickets or get them trough Ticketmaster, here.
A bit disappointing, though, is that a few musicians declined to participate. I’ve seen something like this before, around the time I was appointed Jazz Commission chairman, more than 20 years ago.
Then, the book Goin’ to Kansas City was recently published. It’s an excellent history of Kansas City jazz, told through quotes from dozens of musicians interviewed by the author. At the time, the author was making the rounds of book stores, signing and selling copies.
I remember walking into the Mutual Musicians Foundation and sitting across the table from some of those musicians, older men who had lived the history. And I listened to them talk about how someone else was making money off their tales. I heard them discuss gladly donating their time to the author, but then discuss the hurt of seeing him profit from that generosity.
With some, caution prevails today. I understand the sentiment. Music is a business. Through their time and talent, musicians make a living.
But this film is a self-financed labor of love. The only profiting will be by those of us who enjoy the finished product.
Which leaves me a little sad for the non-participants. Because I look back at The Last of the Blue Devils and recognize that future generations will know some of our now-gone musical legends, like Speedy Huggins and Herman Walder and Sonny Kenner, through their presence in that film. There’s a unique record of them there. Likewise, in decades to come, some of today’s Kansas City jazz and blues legends – and some of the musicians you hear in Kansas City today will be known as legends – will be better remembered because of a filmed record of them, available to all. Through that documentary record, like Speedy and Herman and Sonny, they’ll still exist.
That makes this snapshot all the more special.
Once again: It’s Kansas City Jazz and Blues; Past, Present and Future. The premiere is May 6th. The film’s web site is here. Its Facebook fan page is here. Call 816-474-6262 for tickets or get them trough Ticketmaster, here.