Monday, December 5, 2011

Clubs in Transition

Restaurant leases typically contain a clause allowing them to not pay rent for any days they’re closed due to repairs needed to the landlord’s property. That’s why, when a restaurant closes and the business owner is still liable for lease payments, it’s not uncommon for the restaurant to post a sign saying it is closed for repairs.

Jardine’s, arguably Kansas City’s premier jazz club for two decades, has a sign posted in its front window which reads, Closed for Repairs. Internet chatter says the staff was laid off last week.

Meanwhile, in New York City, a renowned jazz club has changed formats. The Iridium is where electric guitar pioneer Les Paul played each Monday night. But it’s also a jazz institution, where Harry “Sweets” Edison, Frank Wess, Clark Terry and Junior Mance recorded a live CD in 1997, and where an Art Blakey alumni group recorded in 1998.

A November 12th New York Times article, here, describes the Iridium’s transition “into a guitar Mecca:”

“The club’s new emphasis becomes obvious from the moment you walk in. A score of electric guitars are displayed on the walls, some in glass cases. all signed by famous musicians: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Tom Petty, Steve Miller.”

The article explains, “These are difficult times for jazz clubs, as shrinking audiences and an aging clientele make it harder to stay in business. The steps the Iridium has taken mirror the moves that jazz labels like Verve and Blue Note have made over the last decade to remain profitable, putting more pop musicians on their rosters to subsidize jazz recordings.”

So I guess that’s it. Will the last aging clientele to leave a repair-bound jazz club turn out the lights?

But first, consider this:

On October 29th, Kansas City jazz trumpeter Hermon Mehari and a group of musicians filled the Record Bar with 20-somethings for a tribute to Michael Jackson. The show mixed jazz and pop to the thrill of a large, youthful crowd.

And pianist Mark Lowrey fuses jazz with hip-hop at the Record Bar on the 21st of this month. Hip Hop may not appeal to me, but it doesn’t need to. I’m part of the aging clientele. Mark will be exposing the music to an audience packed with the next generation of clientele.

Kansas City’s spectacular young jazz musicians are reaching out to a broader base through jazz plus something shows. They’re expanding the music and its reach. They’re growing jazz.

Not that my generation is ready for lights out. The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra sold over 200 deals on Groupon for this Friday’s show. Considering that most of those were for multiple tickets, it’s a terrific new-media response for a 1000-seat house (and far better than I predicted they’d do. Sometimes, I’m thrilled to be wrong).

Also, before reaching for the light switch, take look around town (and at recent blog posts). Kansas City is home to two new jazz venues, 1911 Main and Take Five Coffee + Bar. That’s not enough locations to showcase all of the talent bursting this city’s jazz seams. But it’s not lights out.

A couple months ago, I was in Toronto, Canada, a huge metropolitan area with an all-jazz radio station. On Friday night, I went looking for jazz. I found a downtown club, with an atmosphere similar to Jardine’s. Before the band started, background music included Basie, “Lockjaw” Davis and Big Joe Turner. I felt right at home.

The night’s live band was one that plays the club every weekend. They were enthusiastic, rattling through standards and jazz-infused R & B, not unlike what City Light Orchestra once played. But this was not the quality of jazz you’ll hear in Kansas City. It wasn't close. The pianist pounded the keys like a pugilist. The trumpeter soloed with more subtlety, but lacked the sophistication of a Stan Kessler or a Hermon Mehari.

The difference, I suspect, lies with Kansas City’s jazz tradition and culture, and the lessons handed down from one extraordinary musician to the next. I still remember, years ago, a young guitarist describing a technique Claude “Fiddler” Williams taught him, with “Fiddler” adding, “I taught that to Barney Kessel.”

I don’t know that one band heard one night was typical of Toronto. I don’t know Toronto’s jazz culture. But I question whether the city is home to jazz masters passing on their knowledge and support to the next budding jazz master, like Kansas City.

A jazz culture thrives here.

I don’t know Jardine’s situation. I sincerely hope the club reopens, and soon. And let’s not forget that in recent years both The Phoenix and The Majestic reopened, under new ownership, after closing. This city has a history of jazz club revivals.

But what if Jardine’s is done? We have weekends at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. The Blue Room and The Majestic remain. Two other new venues are already open. Young jazz musicians are enticing their generation.

This may be a time of transition.

Because restaurants and clubs post a Closed for Repairs sign more often on advice of attorney than because they’re closed for repairs.


  1. nice posting! you make some good points. - mike t. (aka fiddler)

  2. Uh... 1911 Main has closed.

  3. I'm hearing that 1911 Main is currently open.

  4. Good piece, and thoughts about the current state of the clubs. Certainly, we're in a time of transition.

    As to 1911 Main? It's sure looking like they're gone. Beau, and others, have started moving their late Dec. gigs to other locations. Dang...and I haven't even used my Groupon yet.

  5. There is a benefit/party for the fired Jardine's staff this coming Monday at The Point at 7pm here is a link to the Facebook Event Page

  6. Thank you, Mike and Dana, for the kind words.

    Posted by what I consider a reliable source on Facebook: No music at 1911 Main after Friday.

  7. Confirmed tonight. No gigs at 1911 Main after Friday.

    On the other hand, you get to see what makes Kansas City really great at times like these. Terry and Aaron, at Californos, have reached out to the Jardine's staff, and Grunauer is opening their doors to some of the lost gigs at Jardine's and 1911.

    This is just a bump in the road. The timing, I'll grant you, is awful...but there are good folks making sure the music goes on.

  8. 1911 Main was PACKED yesterday with an early show with Everett n the Super B3 Sound...then followed up by Miguel "El Mambo" Orq with hot Salsa and dancing....It Was A PARTY FOR SURE! On behalf of my musicians, 1911 Main..we wish you all a POSITIVE Holidays and a BETTER transition in 2012!
    A $5 cover in support of some of the Best Jazz and World music here in Kansas City!!! COME OUT and SUPPORT!...AND You'll Always Have YOUR CLUBS!
    Forever Grateful... Miguel "MAMBO" DeLeon - 25yrs on the MAMBO SCENE..Thank you Kansas City!


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