Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Other Jazz Museums That Weren't, 9

In the 1960s, a group of Kansas City jazz enthusiasts explored establishing a jazz hall of fame near 12th and Paseo. The group disbanded in 1975 (part 1).

In 1983, the Kansas City Council passed a resolution to establish a jazz hall of fame in the 18th and Vine district. But a key advocate, Eddie Baker of the Charlie Parker Foundation, argued for a different vision and a different location (part 2). In 1985, he staged an induction ceremony at the Music Hall with less than successful results (part 3).

Meanwhile, a 1984 study identified different scenarios for a jazz hall of fame, including the one which opened 13 years later (part 4).

In 1989, all parties came together and announced that the hall of fame would be built in former public works buildings at 21st and Vine (part 5). But the estimated cost came in nearly $17 million over budget (part 6). So a new plan plopped the buildings into Parade Park while a committee of civic leaders was formed to move it forward (part 7).

Finally, the mayor decided there would be just one building facing 18th Street, and a 1993 study confirmed that could be developed within budget (part 8). Final planning could begin.

But they needed something to put in it….


“Early Thursday morning, the city's 18th and Vine Authority successfully bid $140,000 for an alto sax used by jazz great and native son Charlie Parker….

“Cleaver, with four aides, bid by telephone from his church office about 4 a.m. with the help of a representative of Christie's auction house in London. Christie's had estimated in its catalog that the horn would sell for $45,000 to $60,000, but…Cleaver’s spokeswoman said most items in the Parker consignment sold for two to four times the presale estimates….

“[An aide said that] 75 percent of the money for the purchase would come from a $20 million fund the city already has established for the 18th and Vine projects. The rest of the money will come from private donations the city is still soliciting.”

The Kansas City Star, September 9, 1994


I’m skipping details on a year of political bickering.

In January, 1996, an executive director was hired. Construction of the jazz museum finally began in the spring of 1996.


“More than 1,500 people flocked to the 18th and Vine Historic District on Friday night for a black-tie gala to mark the formal opening of the Kansas City Jazz Museum. Music legends and local stars capped the evening with a rousing concert at the refurbished Gem Theater.

“The occasion was one to celebrate. After eight years and $26 million, the city completed a permanent shrine to its musical heritage and one of its largest redevelopment projects ever....”

The Kansas City Star, September 6, 1997


“To Mayor Emanuel Cleaver, the new Kansas City Jazz Museum, which opened in a historically important but long abandoned neighborhood here in September, is a symbol of optimism and hope….It is the first major museum in the country devoted to jazz, intended to serve both as a monument to the music that flourished here in the 1920's, 30's and 40's and as a spur to redevelopment in the neighborhood that nurtured it.

“But to Eddie represents nothing but a disappointment, not even a shadow of what it could have been. At a mere 10,000 square feet, Mr. Baker points out, it is too small. Besides, he says, its exhibits are too rudimentary, it excludes too many musicians, it is not interactive enough and it doesn't even have its own building, really. It shares the place with the Negro Baseball Hall of Fame.

“‘It’s being run by politicians who don't even own a record player,’ Mr. Baker said. ‘It’s evident jazz wasn't important to this Mayor or anybody else….’

“Supporters of the new Kansas City museum tend to dismiss Mr. Baker as embittered because he ended up with little or no influence in the development of the project. But over the years, Mr. Baker's own vision has had the active support of jazz legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton. And, more pertinently, of Aaron A. Woodward 3d, the adopted son of Count Basie, the musician who, more than any other, was responsible for the style of jazz known as Kansas City swing.

“Basie died in 1984, but the band is still active....Mr. Woodward is now its executive director, and in part because of his disappointment with the new museum, he has withheld permission for anything connected to Basie not in the public domain to be included in the exhibits.

“As a result, there is a prominent hole at the center of the collection. ‘They had the opportunity to create the worldwide home of jazz,’ Mr. Woodward said. ‘I don't consider that to be a jazz museum. Why would you build something not comparable to the skill of those it was supposed to honor?’….

“Unfortunately, the [Charlie Parker] saxophone turned out to be a hindrance to assembling the collection…Collectors were loath to donate or lend memorabilia to an institution that they assumed, because of the notoriety of the saxophone purchase, had a great deal of money to spend. In reality, the collection budget, after that purchase, was only about $100,000.

“The museum is small, to be sure, and its collection, assembled after the design was already complete, has a catch-as-catch-can feel to it. For example, Billie Holiday was initially chosen, by a panel of consulting musicians and scholars, as one of the four masters at the heart of the collection, but when memorabilia of Holiday's life proved difficult to collect [others] decided to replace her with Ella Fitzgerald.

“Some prominent local musicians have…[expressed] the sentiment that the current museum is far better than no museum at all. Among these is Jay McShann....

“‘If a guy does you a nice favor, all you can say is thank you,’ Mr. McShann said, referring to Mayor Cleaver. ‘Maybe things could've been done a little differently, but the fact is he got it done. Ain't nothing to do but go along with the scene, I guess.’”

The New York Times, January 5, 1998.


Next week, final thoughts.

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