Monday, December 27, 2010

Hootie You Haven't Heard

What better way for a jazz blog to end the year than with some music? And what better way for a blog on Kansas City jazz to end the year than with some Jay McShann you’ve probably never heard?

Earlier this year, I digitized for a friend a video tape she could no longer play. I’ve previously posted other videos from that tape, and here’s one more: 28 and a half minutes from Nebraska Public Television of Jay McShann’s trio. I don’t have a date on this one, but I’m guessing for various reasons – including the dates of what surrounds it on the tape – it’s from about 1980, give or take. Jay is accompanied by longtime drummer Paul Gunther and a bassist with whom I’m not familiar. A stereotypical 1980s-PBS-style talking head doesn’t exactly build excitement. But nothing can take away from hearing a Jay McShann performance which probably hasn’t been seen in about three decades, and by most of us never.

The program is divided into two parts, due to YouTube restrictions. Unless someone objects, those two videos are embedded below.

Happy New Year, everyone!

Part 1

Part 2

Monday, December 20, 2010

KC Jazz for Christmas, 2010

’Twas the week before Christmas. I needed a gift
For a new KC jazz fan who wanted a lift.
“I know about Basie, ’bout Lester and Bird.
“But who’s playing now? Tell me, what's today’s word?
“Point me to CDs that are current and clear.
“What new KC jazz was released this past year?”

Well, there’s Metheny’s new one – Mike and not Pat –
Hearing Mike’s E.V.I., can’t go wrong with that.
Add Wilder’s keyboards, Embry’s guitar, what fun!
Bowman’s bass, Draper’s drums, you’ll love 60.1.
A blues and a ballad, then music so brash,
This delivers a sound you can’t otherwise match.

If acoustic’s your preference, I’m sure you’d agree,
When Turkish and jazz blend on Taman Abi,
With Beau Bledsoe on oud and Harshbarger’s bass,
Sait Arat’s darbuka (unmatched anyplace),
Add in Rich Wheeler’s tenor: a CD to seek.
Alaturka plays jazz that’s fun and unique.

Or you want more outlandish? You want less demure?
I know your CD, know you’ll love it for sure.
The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater KC:
It’s not Basie or Benny. It’s jazz that's been freed.
Untraditional big band rattling musical puns. 
Best way to describe it? This jazz is just fun.

You’ve heard him ’round town backing Lonnie and Shay
But here he’s alone. It’s an intimate play
Of piano once subtle, dynamic yet sure,
Pulls you in, turns your head, you listen and you’re
In a Lush Life, or Mars. You are Live at Jardine’s,
Mark Lowrey’s piano you should hear, by all means.

Big band, it returns: The Gates BBQ Suite
KC jazz celebration of our favorite treat.
With May I Help You? and Heavy On Sauce,
Compositions by Watson, not once at a loss.
The Concert Jazz Orchestra, UMKC,
Shines jazz's bright future. They prove it, you’ll see.

“That’s it! I want all!" exclaimed KC jazz fan.
“If they’re all in my stocking, I’m one happy man.
“I’ll always like Basie and Lester and Bird,
“But it’s two-thousand-ten and to this I’ve been spurred:
“To hear today’s jazz and in all of its might.
“So Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!”


You, too, can (and should) have all of these CDs:
  • Mike Metheny’s 60.1 was discussed here. You can purchase it from Mike’s web site, here, or download it from iTunes, here.
  • Alaturka was photographed here. Taman Abi can be purchased from their web site, here, or downloaded from iTunes, here.
  • The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater KC was showcased last week, here. Their CD can be purchased here, or downloaded from iTunes, here.
  • Mark Lowrey’s Live at Jardine’s is available in Kansas City at Streetside Records and at Jardine's.
  • The Blue Room performance of Bobby Watson’s The Gates BBQ Suite was photographed here. The CD can be purchased from CDBaby, here, or downloaded from iTunes, here.

Monday, December 13, 2010

In Lieu of 1000 Words: The People's Liberation Big Band

This is not your daddy's big band. Though there's at least one similarity: Listening to these guys is a helluva lot of fun.

Go to the Record Bar each month to hear The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City, and you might see a head-lamped saxophonist walking the crowd, playing, and accompanied by a cellist. You might hear an opera singer vocalizing. You might hear musical nursery rhymes, 2010 style.

You will hear wonderful music.

Because first and foremost, The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City is a collection of outstanding musicians assembled by Brad Cox to play modern big band compositions, including a fair number of his.

Take those nursery rhyme numbers, for instance. This is not music with which to put the kids to sleep. This is not Jimmy Rushing singing Stop Beatin' Around the Mulberry Bush with the Count Basie Orchestra. These selections are closer in sensibility to Fractured Fairy Tales than to Little Bo Peep.

For this big band, think Mingus before you think Basie. Think Mingus then take it a step further.

And that next step is a mix of eccentricity, experimentation, excitement and fun. Think no fear of stepping to a musical edge while rooted by a professional jazz base. That's what musicians this good bring to the stage. Look, I'm not particularly a fan of jazz which gets too far out there. But anyone can tell these guys are having a ball, and that playfulness, through skillful sections and expert solos, projects to the audience. With this music, even I loosen up and revel in the delight.

You can revel, too. It was a delightful and relatively tame night on November 7th when The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City celebrated their first CD release at the Record Bar. Five of those nursery rhymes start the disk, so if you don’t yet grasp what this group is about, you just need to listen. You can find the CD here.

And you can grasp a look of what it was like at that release gig and again last week, December 5th, from the photos below. As always, clicking on a shot should open a larger version of it.

Brad Cox directs The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City

Brad Cox, Roger Wilder, Jeff Harshbarger

Sait Arat of the group Alaturka sat in on darbuka. Roger Wilder watches.

Brad Cox, um, directs

The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City

Thursday, December 9, 2010

100 Posts and Feet to the Fire

This, to my amazement, is this blog’s 100th post. And now is your chance to get even.

If you’re a subject I’ve criticized in one of the previous 99 missives, or if you’ve long thought my occasional jazz marketing and management rants rank me as all blowhard, now you can claim that pound of flesh. If you’re right.

Because starting on January 1st, I’m the new Orchestra Manager of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra (or, KCJO).

Husband and wife Jim and Mary Mair, with others, birthed the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra 8 years ago and have built it into one of this city’s most respected jazz organizations. But after 8 years of dedicating body and soul, and producing the finest series of big band jazz you will hear anywhere, they have decided to step aside.

The board has wisely hired Kerry Strayer as the new artistic director. I can tell you that Kerry is bringing exciting ideas for the orchestra’s future (though I can’t tell you, yet, what they are).

And in a more dubious decision, the board hired me as the new manager.

So after 100 blog posts on Kansas City and jazz, after posts criticizing other KC jazz presenters for their management and marketing of this city’s heritage, after being handed management and marketing of one of Kansas City’s premiere jazz organizations….

I’d better not screw this up.

The position is part time. This will not become a KCJO blog (in fact, I may start another, albeit less frequent, KCJO-dedicated blog). This blog will continue.

Though how much of the next 100 posts are bombast or contrition may be determined, in part, by whether I’m pulling a foot well-wedged from mouth or, from many of the last 99 posts, successfully practicing the practices I’ve preached.

I will be opening the orchestra’s new office doors fully expecting the latter.

(…the blogger wrote, with shameless bombast….)


But to determine, definitively, how I do, you first need a standard of comparison. Which means you need to go out this Friday, December 10th, to Unity on the Plaza, at 8 p.m., and hear the final Kansas City Jazz Orchestra concert expertly produced by the Mairs. It’s A Big Band Christmas. Midway though, Jim hands off the conductor's baton to Kerry. General admission tickets start at $25. Student tickets are available at the door for just $5 (with student ID). Hear how good this music and presentation can be.

(And I’m not promising you will not see more plugs here. Actually, you will.)

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Importance of Buster Smith. And Lucille's.

In 1987, the city started to demolish the building behind this painted false front. It was dangerous, they said. Protesters screamed that the building is a crucial piece of Kansas City jazz history. The process was stopped and a city department head later said he made a mistake.

Behind there, at 1713 E. 18th Street, next door to the Kansas City Call, stood Lucille’s Paradise Band Box. There, in 1938, Buster Smith tutored a teenage Charlie “Bird” Parker on playing the alto sax.

Buster Smith on Charlie Parker:

“I couldn’t get rid of him. He was always up under me. In my band we’d split solos. If I took two, he’d take two. If I’d take three, he’d take three, and so forth. He always wanted me to take the first solo. I guess he thought he’d learn something that way. He did play like me quite a bit, I guess. But, after a while, anything I could make on my horn, he could make, too, and make something better of it.”

One of the most influential yet today least known names in KC jazz history is Henry “Buster” Smith, also called “Prof.” His name came up repeatedly in my Reno Club posts (here and here).

Bassist Gene Ramey:

“Buster was...a great improviser. He didn’t have the strong sound of Johnny Hodges, Bird or Benny Carter. He had a soft alto sound…. But though it was soft, he was very good playing lead. And when Benny Goodman or any other clarinet players came into a [jam], Buster would get his clarinet out and clean everybody up, including Benny.”

Lester Young, center, Buster Smith, right, 1932
Buster Smith started with the Blue Devils, a band which Bennie Moten raided for the musicians who made his own band great, including Smith.

Buster Smith:

[After Moten’s death] “I...went down to the Reno and carried my repertory with me. Basie told me, ‘Prof, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. We’ll organize the band and have a partnership. It’ll be your band and my band…. I said okay, be fine. So we started the band and split our money.”

Count Basie:

“Prof Smith was the lead man in the reed section, and every now and then he would put a couple of things together for us…. Prof wrote a few things when he felt like it, and when he was in a good mood he would really put something together for you. He could put something together for you, and he could play for you, too. He was great…. There was nobody like him on alto. He had a style that was different from everybody.”

Gene Ramey:

“Buster Smith’s influence was not so direct…. Buster would set riffs. There might be one trumpet and ten saxophone players. Usually, when one horn sets a riff, the other guys play in unison with him, but with Buster the other horns had to harmonize. Then it would sound like a written chorus, and that’s what you hear on records when Basie’s band was jumping so good.

“Buster was noted for that, and for eliminating those who didn’t get the harmonic notes right in the riffs. You may have played your solo well, but you had to get out and not play for a while. Buster would always do that at jam sessions where there were too many horns. The guys would take their horns to a table and listen to the heavy riffs he set.

“It made them think, yes, but it also showed the young guys that they had to learn to team as well as play a solo....

“All this was inspiring to Bird, who learned many tricky riffs that way.”

When John Hammond took Basie’s band East, Prof remained behind.

Buster Smith:

“We’d heard so much about how somebody was going to come and get the band and make it big, I just didn’t think anything about it – figured it was just more talk – so I left.”

Count Basie:

“I guess Prof didn’t really think we were going to make it into the big time. I don’t know.”

Buster Smith:

“I had to do something for myself and I made me up a band, got Charlie Parker and a bunch of boys…and then Lucille’s Paradise wanted me to work up there…. Charlie Parker and about six of us was playing up there every night. I think we was off one or two nights. During them nights I would take [a] big band out on some of them club dates, social functions, like that…. But I used Charlie in both bands….

“I had the band about two years and Charlie was with me all that time. He was the youngest cat in the band…. He was a little hot-headed sometimes, and he wouldn’t stay with nobody but me. He stayed with me longer than anybody ’til he got with McShann.”

But by staying here, Prof rarely recorded. He moved to New York for a short time (Bird followed), and solos as a sideman on recordings made there – 1939 and early 1940s Pete Johnson/Big Joe Turner, Eddie Durham and Hot Lips Page sides – provide glimpses of his genius.

Buster Smith:

“I had saved up a little bankroll…and I said, ‘I think I’m going back to Texas.’ I had lost my father and I couldn’t even be there, to see him put away…. [I] opened me up a restaurant and organized a eight-piece band…playing all them little shows around here.”

Buster Smith from his 1959 album
In 1959, Prof recorded an album in Dallas, but by then he was past his prime. An auto accident in the 1960s left him with dental problems and unable to play sax. He continued performing on piano and bass.

Gene Ramey:

“He was a nice, easy going man…. He told me once he was sorry in a way that he didn’t go with Basie, yet I think it was Buster who really made the Basie band what it was, a riff band with very little music.”

Buster Smith on Charlie Parker:

“He’d listen to you. He used to call me his dad. I called him my boy.”

Basie’s co-leader and Bird’s tutor died in Dallas in 1991.

1713 E. 18th Street, where Buster Smith bridged jazz generations, nearly died in Kansas City in 1987.


Quotes by Count Basie are from his autobiography, Good Morning Blues. Quotes by Buster Smith are from a 1960 interview in The Jazz Review and from the book, Goin’ to Kansas City. Quotes by Gene Ramey are from the book, The World of Count Basie.