First temptation is to call it something new at someplace old. But reality is, it’s a revitalization of what always was.
The Mutual Musicians Foundation is known for jam sessions that start when the clubs close then run the night. Once the black musicians union hall, any name associated with Kansas City jazz has jammed inside the building at 1823 Highland. In 1982 it was named a National Historic Landmark, recognizing its significance to American history. Walk through the door and that history embraces you.
But this is no museum. This is a thriving jazz venue which still hosts jams on weekend nights from 1 to 5 a.m. Everyone is invited.
Especially Friday nights (Saturday mornings, really), when the younger musicians in town have started something new. They’ve organized a second jam session, downstairs. Upstairs is more spacious and sports the new piano. But downstairs, with walls lined by photos of the musicians who made jazz and Kansas City synonymous, is where history lives.
Downstairs, for this new jam session, the younger musicians have turned on the lights. They’re streaming the session live on the web. They’re drawing more musicians their age. They’ve brought new spirit and energy and youthful fun into Kansas City’s most historic space.
And it fits. Put it in perspective: When Lester Young, Herschel Evans and Ben Webster (all born in 1909) took down Coleman Hawkins in a 1933 cutting session at the Cherry Blossom, a block from here, with Mary Lou Williams (born 1910) on piano, each was 23 or 24 years old. Basie was five years older. When, on other nights, those same musicians walked into this building and jammed, they were around the ages of most musicians playing today’s downstairs jam.
Sit there, downstairs in the Foundation, on a Friday night/Saturday morning, and close your eyes and listen. You’re in the same spot, exactly, where Lester and Herschel and Ben and Mary Lou and Basie played. You’re hearing music with the same verve and vitality from musicians the same age they were when they jammed here three quarters of a century ago. This music is new, but the experience is not. You’re hearing what the Foundation always was.
You’re hearing history, revitalized, repeat itself.
I was there the night of August 27th (28th morning). Alto sax great Bobby Watson joined the jam that night, playing, mentoring, organizing riffs. And raising the musical bar, because everyone wanted to prove they belonged on that stage.
Upstairs, another jam is happening at the same time (Saturday nights, it's the only jam), and it's jazz you want to hear.
(Clicking on any photo should open a larger version of it. The live web stream can be seen and heard each Friday night/Saturday morning from 1 to 5 a.m. Central time here. An archive of previous downstairs jams is also found there. The musicians hosting the jam are on Facebook here and on Twitter here. The Mutual Musicians Foundation web site is here. The Foundation's Facebook page is here, and its Twitter feed is here.)