Monday, January 24, 2011

Scenes From a Jazz Club

• Last September, and the performance was spectacular. The singer hit every note with perfection and the rhythm section, feeling something unique, drove the music hard, with emotion. The audience that night, in that often noisy club, sat rapt and listened, quiet except for applause.

Sometimes when you sit down in this jazz club, the night is magical.

• Next month in that club, I went to hear a sax player, back in town to perform with his old pals. The music clicked, swinging and fun.

This night, I ordered dinner. As usual, I asked for a double order of green beans instead of potatoes (for diabetes control). The server came back and said the kitchen was short of green beans and could only serve a single order. Fine, I said, then just leave off the potatoes. The server said the kitchen told her that it was too busy to prepare special orders and I could just pick off the potatoes.

I looked around and counted 53 customers in the club who might order dinner. A restaurant with a posted capacity of 115 was overwhelmed by preparing perhaps 53 dinners?

I could have had a more personalized meal at McDonald’s.

• I remember a summer night, a Saturday, in the same club. The show started about 10:30. The room was packed, bodies wall to wall. The only available seat was at the bar. People talked, and here the sound system rarely overcomes the chatter. But this night the singer’s voice and choice of songs – it was a different singer – quieted just enough people and grabbed just enough attention to be heard. More people listened, and the performers increasingly commanded the space. Midway through the first set, the musicians owned the room.

This isn’t something you find every night in this club, but when it happens and jazz overtakes the cacophony of talk, you experience the definition of a jazz club.

• It was the last Wednesday of last year in the same club. I don’t usually make reservations, though I regularly walk in to table signs which read “Reserved.” But this time I planned to use a coupon, so when I was in the club on Monday night, for another show, I made a reservation for Wednesday. I watched the hostess write it in the reservation book.

I arrived on Wednesday on time, ready to order flat iron steak. The club was filled. I looked for a table with a “Reserved” card on it, like I always saw for people who made reservations. There was one. But that one, the hostess explained, was reserved for someone else. Well, I had a reservation, too. The hostess proceeded to clear a table right by the front door, a table covered with flowers and papers and junk. She wanted me to sit a few feet from a constantly opening door on the last Wednesday of December in Kansas City? I wasn’t going to enjoy flat iron steak – or anything – sitting there.

I could eat at the bar, she offered. No, I made a reservation for a table. I could point to it in the reservation book. There should be a table with a “Reserved” sign waiting, just like that other table with a sign is waiting for somebody else. If a spot opened up, the hostess offered, she would seat me.

I sat at the bar, angry. An hour later, apparently no spot having opened (or ignored because I looked angry), I left, hungry and mad. When I arrived home, I stuck a Banquet frozen dinner in the microwave. It wasn’t flat iron steak.

The club is Jardine’s, arguably Kansas City’s premiere jazz club. Music at The Blue Room is just as wonderful (and sometimes better), but The Blue Room is open less often and doesn’t serve food. The Majestic has better food, but only a pianist until Thursdays, and then usually just small, unobtrusive combos. The Phoenix offers cheaper but inferior food (extraordinarily bland, in my experience) and seems undecided on whether it’s a jazz club or a blues bar. At R Bar you’ll find vastly superior (albeit higher priced) dinners and a superior sound system, but only occasional jazz.

If you want good and varied jazz with fine drinks and/or a decent meal, most nights in Kansas City, Jardine’s is the choice.

But it’s not the choice because you always like it. Often you do. Often you hear magnificent jazz by Kansas City’s outstanding musicians. Go there enough, and you will experience nights of magic.

But go there enough and you will experience nights when you would have been better off with a CD and a Whopper.

Jardine’s is the choice by default.

And that’s frustrating. A gaping hole floats over Kansas City’s jazz scene, asking to be filled by a club where you can expect consistently – consistency is key here – fine food, good drinks, excellent service, all tightly managed.

I keep hoping that Jardine’s will tighten into that place. But nights like the last Wednesday of 2010 leave me wondering if it will ever be Kansas City’s premiere jazz club for more reason than there just isn’t anyplace better.

Then I have a night like this:

• The group is one of my favorites. I’ve written about them before. Two saxophonists started playing. They’re outstanding. A guest bassist was sitting in, a former Kansas Citian. His solos are spectacular, even better than when he lived here. He was driving the pianist, whose playing I always enjoy, to greater solos. This is a tight group at their best. Nobody heard better live jazz than I heard that Monday night.

It was so good, I decided to return Wednesday. I made a reservation and watched the hostess write it in the book. On Wednesday, I thought, I'd try the flat iron steak.


  1. Great post. We musicians often lament that this the only game in town. If only you knew what goes on behind the scenes there it would make your skin crawl.

  2. Well said. I've had the same experiences there(good and bad) many times. Throwing out your reservation is a big insult and the lack of substitution on the menu is absurd. If it keeps going in that direction, only musicians and bar patrons will show up.


Comments are welcome. If you prefer, you can reach me directly at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com.