Monday, July 30, 2012

This 'n That 'n Chastised

So who among Kansas City jazz fans doesn’t receive this email?

This listing of area jazz events, emailed weekly, has become an increasingly invaluable calendar of where to hear our favorite music around KC. Currently The Blue Room and other American Jazz Museum venues, and The Phoenix, participate. If Take Five, The Majestic and the Mutual Musicians Foundation would also submit listings, this could become the most complete place to find where to find live jazz in the area.

I can report that the Magic Jazz Fairy (whose tales we’ve related many times before) was delighted to see this schedule. Absolutely thrilled. Well, there was one thing that didn’t thrill it, but never mind about that.

The email is free. It’s sent weekly by You can sign up here. After you do, select Update Profile and from there the Content tab to enter your zip code and to click on a box to receive the emailed schedule.

If you’re a club, to enter an event after signing in, go here (instructions for uploading multiple events are here) or click on Calendar on the site.


One advantage of having all area clubs participate would be the inclusion of this event: Parallax at Take Five on August 9th.

This is Stan Kessler’s new group with a pair of outstanding drummers.

I noted last week, after hearing Matt Otto’s sextet at The Blue Room, that some of jazz’s best musicians reside in Kansas City. Parallax is further proof, as demonstrated during their first performance at the Westport Coffee House. Stan Kessler on trumpet and flugelhorn, Roger Wilder on piano, Bill McKemy on bass, and both Ryan Lee and Brian Steever on drums, are jazz musicians who could perform anywhere, anytime, with anyone.

The unique sounds of Ryan and Brian driving each other on drums, one responding to the other, edged further by Roger and Bill, and complemented by Stan, sets this group apart.

Even more….


Hey, this is the Magic Jazz Fairy. I’m jumping in here. I’m taking over the rest of today’s blog, because I got to tell you about what a moron it is who’s writing this.

Not about Parallax. Everything he says about them, he’s got that right. That show, you got to see.

But let’s talk about this weekly schedule he started with.

I’m looking the schedule over. I’m looking to see what’s there and what ain’t. Now, you know how this blogger, the moron who writes this blog, you know how he jumps all over venues that don’t promote their jazz events. You know how he’s always talking about how some places don’t use the free media available to them. You’ve read that stuff, right? And he’s on track with that talk.

And you know how he’s talked about his helping with the Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

So I’m looking over this schedule, this free media schedule that this blogger moron’s been getting for months.

Guess what event ain’t on there.

Oh, there’s a festival on there all right. Rhythm and Ribs, the one he wrote “bleh” about, that one’s promoted.

But the one mister raving-about-not-using-social-media helps with? The festival mister moron blogger booked?

Well, it’ll be on that schedule this week. Moron blogger and me, we had a talk. He understands the way I see things now. At my urging, he spent a little time on the computer to get that Prairie Village festival listed.

You know, I try to spread the word on jazz. I try to keep everyone informed. I try to do my job and help. But the organizers, do they help?

Some, yeah, they do. But sometimes, they turn out to be a damned moron blogger.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Changing of the Jazz Club Guard

Step inside and you first notice everything not there anymore. There’s no piano, no soundboard, no speakers. The stage lights have been stripped from their hooks. The stage is stacked with unopened mail, mostly bills. If you stepped in the pile, it would cover your ankles.

A group contemplating a jazz club where Jardine’s once ruled recently asked for my assistance. I walked through the empty space then met with restaurant consultants who had also seen it.

There’s good reason that space still sits empty. Deferred maintenance is apparent. A knowledgeable operator will see the need for investment before reopening, especially anyone planning to stay there awhile. We’re talking investment in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which needs to be balanced against the potential financial return of a relatively small space (less than 1800 square feet on the main floor).

For instance, there’s no grease traps, a modern necessity of most full-service kitchens. But balance the costs of adding those (likely in the tens of thousands of dollars) against a different concept, maybe one featuring more limited food offerings. How would those adjusted income projections impact a business model supporting a substantial annual cost to book live jazz?

That’s just one example in an admittedly enticing space – because a jazz club did operate there, for decades – full of such considerations.

The Jardine’s space can reopen as a jazz club. But only a savvy, experienced operator, with a solid concept and a carefully considered business plan, is likely to succeed there.


So, look elsewhere.

The Kill Devil Club is under construction in the second floor space at 14th and Main in the Power and Light District, and is scheduled to open in September (delayed from a previously announced August opening). At their website,, you can sign up for a promised email newsletter but, currently, little more. They also offer a Facebook page, here, and a Twitter feed, here.

(Hint, Kill Devil people: Link to your Facebook page and your Twitter feed on your web site. And on your Twitter and Facebook pages, link to your new website, not to the Power and Light District site.)

An email describes the music the club will feature as, “upbeat and vivacious jazz music, funk, and other tunes that local artists bring to the venue,” with an emphasis on upbeat.

It’s a solid and promising direction for a new jazz club. The fact that they’re already getting their promotional toes wet with an online presence is encouraging. So is the fact that they’re reaching out to the jazz community. And so is the involvement of Manifesto owner Ryan Maybee.

My main concern is that Power and Light’s Marquee Lounge (now the Chesterfield Club) started as a live jazz club, but tales of operational discord quickly upended that focus. I trust district operator Cordish learned some lessons from those travails and will give The Kill Devil Club the time to find its jazz audience.


Besides, another newer jazz spot keeps looking more and more enticing.

At the other end of the Kansas City world, geographically, in suburban Leawood, sits Take Five. Its bookings as a jazz venue rank second to no other establishment. There’s no coddling a Johnson County crowd here. Last Friday night, Rich Wheeler, Matt Otto, T.J. Martley, Ben Leifer and Sam Wisman performed Matt’s complex contemporary jazz compositions to a standing room only house. And, unlike so many other places, everybody was listening (except maybe the yawning little girl, who might have been out past her bedtime).

It’s a unique environment, a cozy living-room-like space, not designed for music which nonetheless captures the sound with near perfection. It’s like listening to a live jazz band at home among friends.

Take Five has blossomed into a bona-fide jazz venue while Jardine’s wilted then closed. It does not completely fill the Jardine’s void. It programs fewer nights. And its suburban context cannot replace Jardine’s gritty urbanism or Plaza panache. It’s a different place. But it’s a place in the Kansas City area where you’ll consistently find outstanding jazz.


Last Saturday night, I heard Matt Otto again, at The Blue Room, with the sextet I photographed last January (here). The room was packed. The music proved that some of today’s greatest jazz musicians reside in Kansas City.

The Blue Room reigns as this area’s premiere jazz club. We can also boast of The Majestic. Some might toss The Phoenix into the mix, though I’ll argue it’s more blues than jazz. Meanwhile, the Mutual Musicians Foundation swings unopposed on weekends overnight.

But beyond those venues, we’re witnessing a changing of the jazz club guard. The Jardine’s space could yet reopen with jazz. Making the business case is challenging but possible. The empty club is waiting for the right operator. Yet, regardless of what happens there, Take Five is thriving as a suburban jazz hotspot. And The Kill Devil Club promises that the chance for a little more downtown grit with your jazz is in KC’s very near future.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Classic Shots: Claude "Fiddler" Williams

I miss the Julys in Kansas City of the 1990s.

Not because it was cooler then (though it may have been), but because that was the month of the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival, a much grander jazz event than any this city hosts today.

The festival was a combination of the KC jazz fest I once helped organize and the city’s annual blues festival. To the credit of its organizers, most years it was far greater than the sum of its parts.

And most years, the festival delivered the treat of hearing Claude “Fiddler” Williams. Claude first recorded with Andy Kirk’s band in 1929. He was guitarist with the Count Basie band which left Kansas City in 1936. He was part of our jazz history, internationally renowned on jazz violin, who until the end played magnificently. Every opportunity to hear him was a delight.

I’ve posted photos before of Fiddler playing with Bobby Watson in the 2000 festival (here). Below are more shots of a genuine KC jazz legend. These are from the 1998 Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival, staged in Penn Valley Park 14 years ago this month, and five months past Claude’s 90th birthday. As always, clicking on a shot should open a larger version of it.

I miss hearing many of the Kansas City jazz greats who have passed since I discovered the music in the 1980s. I miss none more than Fiddler.


Monday, July 9, 2012

PV Jazz Fest: The Photo Schedule

I hold a vested interest in this one.

I booked the talent for this year’s Prairie Village Jazz Festival, with the mayoral-appointed committee’s advice and consent. The festival takes place September 8th in Prairie Village’s Harmon Park (at 77th and Mission Road, next to Prairie Village City Hall and Shawnee Mission East High School). The sponsor is BRGR, with a pair of terrific restaurants in Prairie Village. The lineup was announced last week.

This suburban festival aims at celebrating Kansas City jazz, seeking headliners with KC roots and filling out the schedule with a sampling of some of the best local talent. Last year’s event was rained out after the second act. This year’s number one goal: Clear skies.

With the lineup officially announced, let’s take a look at the September 8th headliners and the full schedule, peppered with photos I’ve taken of these KC jazz all-stars over the last couple of years.

The Headliners

Karrin Allyson performed a few songs with The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra in the first Prairie Village Jazz Festival a couple years back. This year she returns for a full set with her own group, her first KC performance in nearly a year. Since then, her album, ’Round Midnight, was nominated for a Grammy.

Bobby Watson was rained out last year, so of course we wanted to hear what the drenching made us miss. After all, Bobby is an international jazz superstar from whom we cannot hear enough.

The Schedule

3:00 - 4:00 p.m: Diverse – I've raved about the various incarnations of this young group since the blog began. After the festival, I get to rave once more, because drummer Ryan Lee (pictured above) leaves town in August. Brad Williams will join trumpeter Hermon Mehari and bassist Ben Leifer (also pictured above) to open the day.

4:20 - 5:20 p.m: Rich Wheeler Quartet – Rich is one of KC’s best saxophonists whose name few beyond musicians know, because he usually plays as a sideman. But not this time. At the festival, the secret is out, as he heads most of the group I photographed in May: Rich Wheeler on tenor sax, T.J. Martley on piano, Bill McKemy on bass and Sam Wisman on drums (Brian Steever drums in the photo above).

5:40 - 6:40 p.m: Mike Metheny Quartet – I’ve told Mike repeatedly we have far too few opportunities in KC to hear him play. Last year’s festival was going to correct that but Mike, like Bobby, was rained out. When you hear Mike Metheny on trumpet, flugelhorn, and/or EVI, with T.J. Martley on piano, Gerald Spaits on bass and Todd Strait on drums, you’ll understand why we were thrilled when Mike agreed to try again. You’ll also find him at the Metheny Foundation tent at the festival.

7:00 - 8:00 p.m: Megan Birdsall Quartet – Megan is one of KC’s most magnificent vocalists. I can’t say it any more plainly than that. If you haven’t had the delight to hear her live, here's your chance. If you have heard her, you know why you want to be in the audience on September 8th. Her group will include Megan Birdsall on vocals, Wayne Hawkins on piano, Bob Bowman on bass and Matt Leifer on drums.

8:20 - 9:20 p.m: Bobby Watson Quartet – Bobby will be performing with the quartet pictured above, the one with whom we’d hoped to showcase him with last year. With Bobby Watson on alto sax, his longtime bassist Curtis Lundy flying in from New York, Chris Clarke on piano and Michael Warren on drums, it’s hard to imagine a better headliner in any jazz festival.

9:40 - 10:55 p.m: Karrin Allyson Quintet – When Karrin lived in KC, I went to The Phoenix nearly every Tuesday night and sat at the piano bar to hear her on vocals and piano with Rod Fleeman on guitar. I knew I was hearing a talent who would someday be internationally recognized as a jazz star. With multiple Grammy nominations now under her belt, here's a chance to see one of jazz’s best vocalists, with Karrin Allyson on piano and vocals, Bob Sheppard from Los Angeles on tenor sax and flute, Rod Fleeman on guitar, Gerald Spaits on bass and Todd Strait on drums.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Compared to Our Peers

It was the middle of the week, a Wednesday night. I didn’t recognize the name of the leader of the group, but he was a drummer from California, and quite good. He brought a clarinetist with him. The group was rounded out with a local bassist and trumpet player.

Much of the audience was in their 40s, and younger. The cover charge was $15.00. Nearly everyone held a drink. Maybe half had ordered dinner. The jazz club, about a hundred seats by my guess, was sold out.

On a Wednesday night. With a $15.00 cover charge.

In Denver, Colorado.


I wanted to hear them, last Saturday night at Take Five, because these are five of Kansas City’s best young jazz musicians. I knew I’d hear good jazz. But I didn’t expect this.

Andy McGhie on tenor sax and Hermon Mehari on trumpet meshed like a single instrument, then on solos individually exploded. Andy and Hermon play a more modern sound, but I know where I’ve heard this before: On recordings of “Sweets” Edison and Jimmy Forrest. This is what “Sweets” and Jimmy would sound like if they were raised a couple of generations later and recorded in 2012 instead of 1958.

Behind them, Andrew Ouellette on piano and Ben Leifer on bass provided perfect support and provocative solos. But the night’s best interplay was between Hermon and drummer Ryan Lee. The synergy between these two musicians, the way one drives the other and each instinctively responds, is jazz at its best.

Some groups of young musicians try to stretch the music's edge, and sometimes that doesn’t work. But Saturday night, I heard young masters playing modern jazz, and everything worked. The music was fresh, accessible and superb.


A vacation in Denver a couple weeks back included a peek at the city’s jazz scene. With a metro area population about 600,000 more than Kansas City, a large downtown thriving day and night with new art and history museums and Coors Field, an expansive light rail system, nearby University of Colorado, and mountains, Denver is home to a couple of well known downtown jazz clubs.

Most famous is Dazzle, sporting a reputation as Denver’s premiere jazz and supper club. Walk in and choose to sit at a bar outside the music area or pay the cover charge and slip through black drapes into the entertainment room. There, a large stage stretches across the front. Small tables are packed together, wait staff barely able to slip between them. Maybe 100 patrons will fill the room. Sound is excellent. Meals run in the $16 to $20-plus range. Food is good but not exceptional. This is the Denver equivalent of Jardine’s.

Dazzle’s website says cover most weeknights runs $5 to $7, so apparently I caught a special act. Regardless, I was impressed that the room was filled in the middle of the week despite the substantial cover. And this was the first of two shows that night. Another cover was required for the 9:00 performance.

I left impressed but despaired. Dazzle made obvious the hole ripped through Kansas City’s jazz scene by the loss of Jardine’s. Kansas City currently hosts no comparable venue.

The Blue Room is an outstanding jazz club. But no suppers – or any kind of food – are found there. The Majestic serves suppers, but priced to make them a rare experience. Take Five offers meals, and its environment is wonderful, but it’s not a jazz club.


The music at Dazzle was good but, outside of the drummer leading the group, the musicians seemed tight. At the end of the set, I sensed more relief than enthusiasm.

The night before, I visited other Denver jazz spots. El Chapultepec, a couple blocks from the baseball stadium, has featured jazz for over thirty years. Walls are lined with photos of Milt Hinton, Slide Hampton, Budd Johnson, Buddy Tate, Sweets Edison, and dozens others. It’s a mix between Milton’s and The Phoenix when Karrin Allyson played there. A piano dominates the small stage. Music starts at 9. This night, the singer was fun, and her pianist and bassist were good. But with a drummer who pounded his instrument like his goal was to break it, one set was enough.

The bartender suggested checking out Herb’s, an easy walk away. There a jam session, anchored by a Hammond B3, was swinging the bar, with some fine musicians rotating in and out. The manager said Herb's books a variety of music, but Tuesday is jazz jam night.


In Kansas City, there’s hope. A new jazz club opens next month in downtown’s Power and Light District, where Peachtree once served. Developer Cordish has brought in Ryan Maybee, who knows Kansas City’s jazz scene and whose bar Manifesto is arguably the best place in town to buy a drink.

To be called The Kill Devil Club, its 5400 square feet and 120 seats sounds large for a jazz venue. And they’re talking a food menu of small plates, which was not a rousing success when Cordish tried to open the nearby Marquee Lounge as a jazz club. But between Cordish’s backing (they will own and operate the club) and Ryan’s experience, there’s reason to be optimistic that The Kill Devil Club will be given the chance to find its audience.

Meanwhile, the Marquee has been rechristened the Chesterfield to recount KC’s jazz age, though it’s not clear whether that recounting will include live jazz.

And I’m aware of at least one other group working to establish a new jazz club in Kansas City.


We do not have a jazz supper club. Not right now. But we have the musicians. That’s what sets Kansas City apart.

Granted, a couple weeknights on the town provides just a glimpse of Denver’s jazz scene.

But the jazz I heard in Denver does not approach the quality and excitement of the jazz I heard in a Kansas City suburb last Saturday night.

I’m jealous of Denver’s venue.

But we have the musicians.