Monday, November 28, 2011

They're Listening to Jazz in the Suburbs

You drive up, and on one side you pass Zenail and Spa, and His and Her Fitness. On the other side is Nevaeh Salon. Admit it, this strip center is as suburban Johnson County as it gets.

Inside, on a Friday night, the crowd fills every seat. Folding chairs have been set up, but they’re not enough. Some people stand, leaning against a counter or a wall. They range in age from grade school to the gray haired. This crowd is as suburban Johnson County as it gets.

Take Five Coffee + Bar last Saturday night
Except they’re listening to jazz. Stan Kessler and Joe Cartwright are on stage. The audience is not talking, there are not thirty conversations competing with the music. Instead, music fills the room, packed with people who are listening to jazz.

In a coffee house. In suburban Johnson County.

Matt Otto, Jeff Harshbarger and Michael Warren perform
This is one of the Kansas City area’s new jazz venues, Take Five Coffee + Bar, in the strip center at the northeast corner of 151st and Nall in Leawood, Kansas. That’s right, in Leawood. Which is as suburban Johnson County as it gets.

In the quarter century I’ve been listening to jazz in Kansas City, I’ve seen Johnson County jazz clubs come and go. I long ago concluded that jazz doesn’t work in Johnson County. People don’t move to the suburbs looking to slum a little urban grittiness at a juke joint down the street. That – at the risk of unfairly generalizing – is what most Johnson Countians think the city is for.

Matt Otto and Jeff Harshbarger
The thought of jazz in a quiet coffee shop, where customers come earlier in the day for muffins and cappuccino, but which also serves wine (and Coke to those grade schoolers) and stays open long past your Starbucks-on-every-corner, never occurred to me. I equated jazz with urban grittiness, and Kansas City’s jazz clubs delivered.

So credit Take Five owner Lori Chandler for pursuing a different vision and, based on the recent packed house, one which appears to be taking hold in Johnson County. Credit her for opening a clean, suburban room, with some plush easy chairs and a fireplace, tables on which to set your latte or wine, carpeting, and angled beams which contribute to an acoustically wonderful space.

Jeff Harshbarger and Michael Warren
On Saturday night the crowd was a bit smaller, and some high schoolers talked through the first set. But the space seemed to swallow that conversation. leaving the music clear. I sat in one of the easy chairs – which can also swallow you – listening to Matt Otto on tenor sax, Jeff Harshbarger on bass and Michael Warren on drums. These aren’t just some of the best musicians in Kansas City. These are among the best musicians playing jazz in 2011, anywhere. I’ve heard them before, in town, at Jardine’s and The Blue Room. Matt and Jeff will be part of The People’s Liberation Big Band at The Record Bar next Sunday, in Westport. This isn’t take-it-easy-on-the-suburban-neophytes jazz. This is jazz normally served with a slice of urban grittiness. But tonight, it’s in your uncle’s living room where you can savor every unamplified bass note.

(Jeff unpacked his amplifier for the second set. It wasn't needed.)

Matt, Jeff and Michael in Take Five
Well, it’s not exactly like a jazz band in your living room. Your living room doesn’t have floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on Eye Associates or Banana Island or a Walgreen’s drive-through. But it’s a more intimate setting than a typical jazz club, and it eventually pulls in everyone. By the second set, the high schoolers were no longer conversing. Most sat facing the band, listening, and applauding magnificent solos.

They’re listening to jazz in the suburbs.

Take Five Coffee + Bar

1 comment:

  1. Really fine music many nights. Glad you featured this new venue; let's support it!


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