Not among musicians. Musicians in town know all about Rich Wheeler. He’s in Alaturka, in the People’s Liberation Big Band, in Mark Southerland’s groups, in Brandon Draper’s groups. Musicians know Rich is one KC’s best on tenor sax.
But because he’s mostly played as a sideman, the public is less aware of his name. Many in an audience just ask, so who was that fantastic tenor player in the group tonight?
That’s why when Rich Wheeler fronts his own group – especially when it’s in Take Five Coffee + Bar, one of this area’s most delightful jazz spaces – I’ll be there. And when backing Rich up in that group is T.J. Martley on piano, Bill McKemy on bass, and Brain Steever on drums, I know I’m hearing a quartet culled from Kansas City’s top jazz musicians.
Last Saturday night, May 12th, at Take Five, they did not disappoint. Rich fronts this group with natural ease and remarkable talent. His full tenor sound filled the room with solos as exciting as they are imaginative. T.J., Bill and Brian played perfect support or spread-your-wings solos which consistently ended to wild applause. It’s been especially wonderful to hear Brian develop over the last couple of years into a drummer who leaves audience members whispering to each other about what they just heard (Saturday, I saw that more than once).
Let’s also recognize Take Five, which is bringing jazz to the suburbs several nights each week, in one of the most comfortable, most welcoming, and most acoustically solid spaces to hear the music, city or fringe.
If you missed it, here’s how the night looked. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version.
Rich Wheeler Quartet. Left to right: T.J. Martley on keyboard, Brian Steever on drums, Rich Wheeler on tenor sax, Bill McKemy on bass
Enjoying the quartet in Take Five
Pianist T.J. Martley
Rich, Brian and Bill
Bassist Bill McKemy
The Rich Wheeler Quartet performing
Rich and drummer Brian Steever
Framed by Billie on one side and Louis on the other, the Rich Wheeler Quartet in Take Five Coffee + Bar