I remember the old days, when each bi-monthly issue of Jazz Ambassador Magazine profiled a different Kansas City jazz club.
It’s been a long time since the publication could do that.
Since long before I started this blog, Kansas City has been home to three jazz clubs: Jardine’s, The Blue Room and The Majestic. Four jazz clubs if you count The Phoenix, though that bar has mostly veered towards the blues. The Phoenix apparently decided a fourth club in KC couldn’t survive on jazz.
Two new jazz spots beg to differ. And they’re doing it wonderfully.
1911 Main is both name and address of KC’s newest jazz restaurant and club. In the space once known as Bar Natasha, a semi-circular stage pushes musicians forward among listeners and diners, letting their music fill the room.
On my first visit, a Monday with few in the audience, the room’s abundance of hard surfaces (concrete floor, brick walls) presented the music with a harsh edge.
But last Saturday night the space was filled with people and the sound differed, not harsh but excitingly full and alive. Last Saturday night, Matt Otto’s tenor sax, nearly always played with perfect tone, sounded as smooth yet crisp and precise as I’ve heard it. Backed by T.J. Martley on piano, Ben Leifer on bass and Brian Steever on drums, and playing standards and some of Matt’s more accessible compositions, this group in this space was a genuine jazz delight.
And the music could be clearly heard and enjoyed despite a chattering full house. No series of overhead speakers is needed here to carry the sound. No speaker volume needs to be cranked to enjoy jazz over the crowd.
There’s no cover charge. Food is a fraction of the price of its restaurant-and-jazz-club competition 25 blocks down Main Street, maintaining a quality and consistency – everything is served hot! What a novel concept for a jazz club! – those of us who have dined repeatedly at that competition have long dreamed of experiencing with our jazz.
If 1911 Main had a weak spot, until recently it’s been promotion and an easy way to discover just who is playing there each night. But a new website at www.1911main.com tells you everything you need to know. Their online calendar is now linked at the right of this blog. And a recent Groupon promotion found over 820 buyers (excellent results for a new and largely not-yet-known establishment). Given that each of those Groupons was for two or four diners, there’s more than 1600 people ready to discover the new jazz kid on Main Street.
Excellent jazz. Good sound. Good food. Reasonable prices. No cover charge. Ample parking (in a lot at 20th and Walnut, connected by an alley). What more could you want?
How about another outstanding jazz spot, this one in the southern reaches of suburban Johnson County?
Walk into Take Five Coffee and Bar, in the strip mall at the northeast corner of 151st Street and Nall, and you’ll first notice posters of Ella, of Lady Day, of Bird and Diz and Pops. This place is obviously owned by a jazz lover.
Then check out the November calendar posted prominently by the door: Rich Wheeler Quartet, Killer Strayhorn, 9plus1 (every other Monday), Stan Kessler. Matt Otto will be here, too, with a different group, on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.
There’s a lineup to compete with any music space in KC.
But in a coffee shop (where, let’s note, they serve an outstanding cappuccino)? No worry. They offer some excellent wine, too.
Even more importantly, owner Lori Chandler may have hit on the right formula for presenting nightly jazz in Johnson County. Over the years, I’ve seen jazz bars in this suburb come and go. But here is a relaxing atmosphere, where someone may be reading a Kindle while enjoying wine with his live jazz. Quiet talk by patrons serves as a unique contrast to the more bombastic atmospheres in town. Meanwhile, angled ceilings capture and reflect back the music with exceptional clarity and presence.
If you want a meal and a Scotch with your jazz, I know of a couple of places on Main Street to direct you towards. But if your wish is for a more genteel environment to savor exceptional music (and maybe a Kindle), welcome to the suburbs. This is a different but no less wonderful setting for enjoying jazz.
The schedule is not just available on the chalk board by the front door. Check out the excellent web site at www.takefivecoffeebar.com which includes that monthly lineup, now linked at the right of this blog.
Two new Kansas City jazz spots serving live music four to six nights a week…Y’know, I’m not sure it’s possible to write a better blog post than this.