Monday, March 7, 2011

This 'n That 'n KC CDs

I know the date because I still have the poster. It was April 21, 1985. The Count Basie Orchestra played in the ballroom of what was then the Vista International Hotel, on 12th street, downtown, where rows of small shops and jazz clubs once stood. They played a set, and then Jay McShann took the orchestra’s piano seat.

With an impish grin, McShann started playing classical music. The band, silently, watched and listened. Then the classical music flowed into Moten Swing. Every member of the Count Basie Orchestra smiled, even Freddie Green, and joined McShann on the most classic of Kansas City jazz.

That moment came to mind as I listened to the start of the last recording by Kansas City piano great Pete Eye (and others), Live From JCCC’s Yardley Hall. It starts with a Mozart Improvisation. But this is Mozart by jazz pianist. This Mozart swings with a jazz sensibility. This Mozart makes me smile. All of the music on this CD makes me smile.

At the end of last year, I wrote a post playfully summarizing (in quite bad verse) some the year’s CDs by Kansas City jazz musicians. It wasn’t meant to be a comprehensive list, but rather a mention of those new KC jazz CDs which, over the year, I’d acquired.

It turns out there were a few released last year which I hadn’t acquired.

Such as the joyous recording capturing Pete Eye and Scott McDonald on piano, Tyrone Clark on bass and Tommy Ruskin on drums. Next month will mark a year since Pete’s passing, and this live recording was captured about 13 months before that. Here’s a musical illustration of the talent we lost. Here’s piano which swings with delight, with a gets-under-your-skin-and-dares-you-to-resist-smiling pure jazz bounce. Here is jazz meant to engage and entertain.

Kansas City’s jazz history has a continuity. We’re more than just the legends who birthed a unique style here in the 1930s or the fantastic young talent here today. Pete Eye obtained his union card in 1957. Here’s proof that great jazz talent and Kansas City have been continuously synonymous.

But while Pete may be gone, other pianists carry on the Kansas City excellence, among them Michael Pagán. And Michael released two CDs last year.

12 Preludes & Fugues is written by a jazz pianist and performed by a saxophone quartet. But the 24 short compositions strike me as too structured to call this album jazz.

Not so with Three for the Ages. Here, the Michael Pagán Trio, with Michael on piano, Bob Bowman on bass and Ray DeMarchi on drums, plays a more sophisticated brand of jazz. This isn’t the consistently upbeat, free-wheeling swing of Pete Eye. This is jazz of a more precise, more purposeful bent. Some numbers certainly exude a similar playfulness – How Deep is the Ocean, for instance – but much of the CD swings in a more exacting manner.

Michael Pagán, Bob Bowman and Ray DeMarchi at Jazz Winterlude in January

If Pete Eye’s music is jazz which builds emotion, Three for the Ages is more often more serious and contemplative music. One style is not inherently superior to the other. Rather, here are styles in elegant contrast. And here is proof that in Kansas City, jazz is not just one thing. Kansas City jazz covers a wide breadth of brilliance.

Michael Pagán’s Three for the Ages is available from Amazon here, from CD Universe here, and on iTunes here. His 12 Preludes & Fugues is on Amazon here, on CD Universe here, and on iTunes here.

Live From JCCC’s Yardley Hall with Pete Eye and Scott McDonald is a little harder to get your hands on but well worth the effort, in part because its sales help to fund the free weekly noon jazz concerts at Johnson County Community College. You can purchase it at those concerts, or you can email or or phone 913-469-8500, ext. 3605, to arrange to obtain a copy.


Speaking of those free noon jazz concerts, they kicked off last week with Shay Estes singing, Mark Lowrey playing piano, Dominque Sanders on bass and Sam Wisman on drums. It was a blast.

The concerts continue each Tuesday through April 5th in Johnson County Community College’s Carlsen Center, and with one exception are in the Center's Recital Hall. Each concert starts at noon and is free.

(And you can buy the Pete Eye CD there.)

Here’s the remainder of the schedule:

March 8 – Killer Strayhorn

March 15 – David Basse and the City Light Orchestra, in Yardley Hall

March 22 – Dennis Winslett Quartet

March 29 – James Ward Trio

April 5 – Rob Whitsitt Quartet

Parking is free. And note that next week’s concert with David Basse and the City Light Orchestra is in the exceptional setting of Yardley Hall.

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