Monday, August 8, 2011

Two Years of kcjazzlark

A couple years back I heard a late night comic tell this joke: "Last month 500,000 people lost their jobs. Which means today there's half a million new blogs."

There's something to that.

I wasn't working when I started this blog, kcjazzlark, two years ago this week. I wanted to shout out my amazement at discovering the abundance of incredible young talent overwhelming Kansas City's jazz scene. I hadn't observed anything like it in twenty years.

Other than a neighbor and my sister, I didn't think anybody would actually read it.

But I kept throwing stuff out there and people did read it. Now here I am two years and 135 blog posts later, employed, and continuing to throw out a new post every Monday, should anybody care to see it.

For these last two years, I've maintained an unbridled optimism over Kansas City's jazz scene. When others have proclaimed a death knell, I've countered. With all the talent here today, jazz in Kansas City is alive. Besides, in the three decades I've known the scene, I've battled jazz death cries from the best.

I remember a column by Tom Leathers back when I was an organizer of The Kansas City Jazz Festival, in the 1980s. For decades, Leathers published a weekly newspaper in Johnson County. After one year's festival, he publicly wondered why we organizers didn't give up on jazz and stage the music festival that, he opined, Kansas City really wanted to hear: a country music festival.

Leathers has been gone for years. But I still don't like him.

Despite public voices like that, despite diminished audiences, despite fewer venues, I've remained positive, because of Kansas City's unmatched heritage and today's wealth of incredible jazz talent.

But now, I'm worried.

I'm worried because one of Kansas City's few remaining jazz clubs, Jardine’s, has cut the pay for most musicians by more than a third.

Though, I hear, musicians have an opportunity to share the door if they draw a crowd. I've always maintained that promotion is a shared responsibility, but mostly the club's because the club stands to gain the most financially. Including musicians in the financial benefit if they promote, too, is smart.

Still, a pay cut this size suggests a club on the precipice.

Part of Jardine's wounds are self-inflicted (the new menu). And they've been hurt by inconveniences beyond their control (their landlord tearing up the parking lot). They've recommended valet parking, but by the time you pay for parking, and by the time you pay a cover charge, just how much are you willing to spend to hear great jazz accompany a mediocre meal?

Jazz fan that I am, even I've passed on the club a couple times recently when contemplating exactly that.

Other restaurants are finding opportunities to present jazz. West Chase Grille in Leawood is a prime example. The Drum Room has remodeled and changed out their jazz offerings. Meanwhile, the second Prairie Village Jazz Festival is set for September, and the Rhythm and Ribs Festival returns in October.

The end is not near.

But it would be difficult to build on two years and 135 posts of unfettered optimism if a premiere Kansas City jazz club succumbed to an apparent rough patch.

So I enter a third year of this blog with some trepidation.

And hope.

Because, between their online calendar, Facebook posts and emails, Jardine's does a good job of marketing. Once the parking lot repairs are complete, the audience will grow. And if they'll acknowledge and address the menu issues, the audience will grow substantially.

Meanwhile, we have The Blue Room and The Majestic, and some nights The Phoenix, to hear jazz. And while few other establishments may claim the mantle of jazz club, more and more around the area are spotlighting the music.

Hope builds knowing I can go out any particular night and hear music from Megan or Shay or Millie or D.J., from Mark or T.J. or Paul or Roger or Bram, from Steve or Chris or Matt or Gerald or Rich, from Stan or Clint or Hermon, from Jeff or Dominique or Bob or Steve, from Tim or Matt or Ryan or Brian or Brandon, from Danny or Rod or Beau.

Each one plays jazz in Kansas City. Each one is world class. And that’s a short list, just for starters.

Then there’s the young people learning jazz, whether at Kansas City Youth Jazz, or in Osmond Fisher’s Saturday morning program at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, or in Bobby Watson’s program at UMKC, or in Jim Mair’s program at Kansas City Kansas Community College.

And let’s not forget eighty years of late night jam sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. They’re still going on, every weekend, often hosted by some of the fantastic musicians named above.

And just how many metropolitan areas the size of Kansas City can claim two special jazz series, like we can at the Folly and the Gem? How many newspapers devote space to a weekly jazz column, like the one by Joe Klopus in The Star? How many communities can boast a bimonthly jazz publication like the Jazz Ambassadors’ JAM Magazine?

This was one of those half a million blogs probably started when half a million people were out of work. Most blogs die as their creators find other ways to spend their time. But I’m enjoying putting up something every Monday and intend to continue. Because, while it’s scary that one of Kansas City’s premiere clubs might be teetering, there’s still a vibrant jazz scene in Kansas City. And I plan to continue documenting and commenting on it. This week starts the third year.

I just can’t contain that optimism.


  1. Congratulations! I really enjoy your posts.

  2. Nice work on an interesting blog - keep it up! I share your concern about Jardines - the food is really bad. It's weird because several years ago, their food was alright - what changed?


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