Monday, August 27, 2012

This 'n That 'n All Jazz Radio Coming to KC?

On March 11, 1989, plans for The International Jazz Hall of Fame were announced. It would be located at 21st and Vine, incorporating renovated public works buildings facing Vine Street, a new plaza and a new 535 seat theater. Dizzy Gillespie spoke at the press event. A booklet handed out included a color rendering and architectural plans.

The plans show that a smaller existing building behind the structures fronting Vine, connected directly to the theater and to the renovated public works buildings through new corridors, would house administrative offices. And, on the first floor, a jazz radio station.

None of that happened. The Hall of Fame was downsized and combined with the Negro Leagues Museum to fit the available funds. Its name  changed and today it stands as part of the complex at 18th and Vine.

Other than a short-lived soft jazz commercial station, to my knowledge, Kansas City has heard no serious talk about all-jazz radio in the 23 years since those 1989 plans were unveiled.

Until, apparently, now.

Last week, the Mutual Musicians Foundation staged a press event to unveil the new interpretive panels, which I wrote about last week. Among the announcements was news that the Foundation has been granted, by the FCC, a license for a low power radio station.

The Foundation has forged a partnership with Brand USA, established by the 2010 Travel Promotion Act. It began operations in May of last year to “spearhead the nation’s first global marketing effort to promote the United States as a premier travel destination” (from their web site, here). Michael Bennett, a representative of Brand USA, attended the press conference.

When I asked for more details about this radio venture, I was told Mr. Bennett will return to Kansas City for another press event on September 10 and more will be revealed then.


I didn’t know the man sitting next to me at the press conference, upstairs at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. He asked me what I thought about the new panels on the first floor. I told him, as I wrote last week, I found them a mistake, changing the experience of stepping into the Foundation and the character of the downstairs space in a negative way. That was his reaction, too, he responded.

So it’s not just me.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver attended to accept a plaque in his honor. During his remarks, Rep. Cleaver noted that he had helped secure a $163,000 federal grant which made the new interpretive panels possible.

Wait a minute. One hundred and sixty three thousand dollars?

Let’s be clear upfront: I don’t know that the money went only to the panels. A cursory internet search uncovered no further details about the grant. Hopefully, it paid for far, far more than three interpretive panels.

Because I managed art and print production for a large ad agency in the KC area for 14 years. I estimated projects like this every week. And I know three panels like these can be designed, written, assembled, proofed, printed and hung – all three of them – for less than a third of that amount.

I suspect the grant was targeted at a specific cause. Nonetheless, I’m aware of far more pressing needs at the Foundation than fumbled redecorating (I’ve been told the floors contain asbestos, for instance).

So I sure hope that grant covered substantially more than three interpretive panels. Maybe it’s helping to establish the radio station, too.

After all, the only thing worse than calling those panels a mistake would be to call them a $163,000 mistake.


The highlight of the press event, though, was the screening of a new documentary on Kansas City jazz in general and the Mutual Musicians Foundation in particular, titled Still Jammin’.

Stinson McClendon and Rodney Thompson, in the 1980s, produced outstanding documentaries on Jay McShann and Claude “Fiddler” Williams, each released on video tape. Their third documentary was to be on Andy Kirk, but the Kansas City Jazz Commission mistakenly declined to help them secure funding for it (I say that as the Commission Chairman who, after consulting the board, stupidly told them we couldn’t help).

At the time, they filmed interviews with legends of Kansas City jazz when the musicians visited, and with those who lived here. Their archives include unseen footage of Big Joe Turner (shot, they said, at a club on 63rd Street), Andy Kirk, Jay McShann, “Fiddler” Williams, Step-Buddy Anderson, “Piggy” Minor and more.

They started with portions of those interviews. They added new interviews with Chuck Haddix and other historians, and with current KC jazz prodigies (such as Harold O’Neal). Then they included archival photos of Kansas City, 18th and Vine, and our long-gone jazz clubs. The result is a fascinating, well-written and exceptionally well-produced history of the Kansas City the rest of the world knows and wants to know about more.

The documentary will be available soon on DVD at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

(Would it be petty to add that in all of the documentary’s interviews filmed at the Foundation, the subjects are seated before the glorious photos now removed and replaced with interpretive panels?)

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