Monday, April 9, 2012

Jazz Fests

Kansas City, I present the competition.

Last week, the Detroit Jazz Festival, staged over the Labor Day weekend, announced a portion of their 2012 lineup (here): Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Wynton Marsalis, Wayne Shorter, Gary Burton, Randy Brecker, Joe Lovano, Lew Tabackin, Poncho Sanchez, Arturo O’Farrill, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. And I’m just hitting the highlights.

This year’s Newport Jazz Festival (here), staged the first weekend in August, this year features Dr. John, Pat Metheny, Kurt Elling, Diane Reeves, Jason Moran, Bill Frisell, Joe Lovano, Jack DeJohnette, Christian McBride, Maria Schneider and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

The Monterey Jazz Festival, September 21st through 23rd (here), this year stars Tony Bennett, Esperanza Spaulding, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Jack DeJohnette, Melody Gardot, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Christian McBride, Eddie Palmieri and Trombone Shorty.

The Atlanta Jazz Festival (here), staged over Memorial Day weekend, this year features Cyrus Chestnut, Kathleen Bertrand, Roy Ayers and Lionel Loueke.

The Jacksonville Jazz Festival, Memorial Day weekend in Jacksonville, Florida (here, here and here), this year headlines Sonny Rollins, Chick Corea with Stanley Clarke, the Jazz Crusaders, Madeline Peyroux, Trombone Shorty and Karrin Allyson.

The Chicago Jazz Festival will be held the same weekend as Detroit’s. Their lineup is not yet announced, but after looking at Detroit’s, I’m not sure who’s left.

It seems likely that the Kansas City area will again host a pair of jazz fests, Rhythm and Ribs at 18th and Vine and the Prairie Village Jazz Festival. Full disclosure: I’m helping Prairie Village’s jazz festival committee book talent for their September 8th event. Prairie Village’s fest is a small-budget day with a local focus, and no pretensions of competing with any lineup above.

Which leaves us Rhythm and Ribs as Kansas City’s major jazz event. I noted after last year’s festival that the city’s civic community has coalesced its resources behind this festival (here). This year, it’s time for the civic community to step up that support.

Last year’s Rhythm and Ribs headlined a jazz star, an elderly bluesman, and a once-popular funk group with baby-boomer name recognition. This year, that’s not good enough. Look at the lineups above. Sure, some of those festivals also include has-been pop groups which I didn’t bother to list. But you can get away with that when you’re selling an extravaganza of legitimate jazz stars.

I’m not proposing that this year’s Rhythm and Ribs should outshine long-established name festivals in Monterey or Newport. But for pity’s sake, why should we be partying in Jacksonville’s shadow? This is Kansas City. This is a city where jazz was born. This is our heritage, our international renown.

Last week, our friend Plastic Sax posted his annual plea for Kansas City’s jazz community to come together in a kumbaya moment to produce a major jazz event (here). He compared our more tepid jazz festivals to last week’s bigger and broader Middle of the Map music event in Kansas City.

One point of the comparison is solid: Middle of the Map secured a wide breadth of sponsorships to financially support their festival. That’s what it took to stage jazz festivals in Volker Park through the 1980s. Beer sponsorships, soft drink sponsorships, airlines, hotels, an ice cream brand, a retailer in Crown Center, an insurance company, American Express, they all contributed.

Success doesn’t require a jazz community kumbaya, because success means reaching beyond the jazz community. Success requires a dedicated group of people who want to do something for this city. It requires more time and energy than you’ll ever expect. And it requires Kansas City’s civic community stepping in with greater support.

That civic involvement can come from people with high level connections spearheading the festival and drawing on their own network of monied interests. It can come from a spirited leader inspiring civic excitement for the festival.

And it can come from civic leaders realizing that this is Kansas City. This is a city where jazz was born, this is our heritage, this is our international renown.

18th and Vine is where the civic community has chosen to anchor its jazz festival support, behind an event presented by the American Jazz Museum. This is the third year of the reborn festival. The economy is improving. This year, everyone needs to take the next step. The American Jazz Museum needs to assume the leadership that drives a bigger festival. And Kansas City’s civic leadership needs to understand the significance of that event and pull in broader support. Complacency only ignites a path to failure.

After all, wouldn’t it be monstrously embarrassing to Kansas City to see our jazz festival trumped by Jacksonville, Florida? Especially when I run this comparison:

Great jazz names who came out of Kansas City: Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Lester Young, Mary Lou Williams, Jay McShann, Big Joe Turner, Pete Johnson, Ben Webster, Buck Clayton, Jo Jones, Pat Metheny, Bobby Watson. That's for starters.

Great jazz names who came out of Jacksonville, Florida: Um, need a little help here.

1 comment:

  1. I still don't know how to feel about this festival. In its inaugural year, I was pleased with the performances and committed myself to attend all 3 days. At that time, I was just expanding my mind to jazz. It baffled me that there were so few people in attendance for Kenny Garrett on a Sunday. I knew of him from a Miles record my father or uncle played when I was younger. Since there were so few people there, I ended up talking to an older gentleman who put me on to the great tenor man Johnny Griffin. Best thing that ever happened to me and my music library. Meanwhile, Garrett was blowing away on stage to little fanfare. I was simultaneously fulfilled by the knowledge and experience while displeased with the crowd.

    The next time I attended, Al Green was playing and it seemed like half the city was in attendance. No such luck for the jazz musicians. This was a shame. I'm no longer compelled to attend in favor of taking a trip elsewhere for a festival that either offers higher profile jazz artists and/or a higher number of jazz performances. Perhaps this could take place in the clubs/theater on the vine. I must admit that I've been spoiled by years of attending the San Jose jazz/music festival. They may have George Clinton, The Neville Brothers and others playing on their main stage, but the most exciting performances have been on the periphery in the smaller venues. These acts have included but were not limited to Christian Scott, Winard Harper, Chuchito Valdes(Chucho's son). The cost of attending this event is quite affordable considering the talent assembled across the city.

    I'm not having delusions of grandeur in the hope that KC could ever match the magnitude of the previously mentioned festival that takes place in a heavily populated region, but something needs to change. I'll hold out until they announce the talent list. But in the meantime, that Detroit festival looks real nice. Better give my cousins a call. MP is coming to visit.

    -Mike Patterson


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