Monday, September 24, 2012

In Lieu of 1000 Words: 2012 Prairie Village Jazz Fest, Part 2

A photographer craves the perfect light, the setting sun hitting the stage at a unique angle to illuminate the musicians perfectly, a fifteen minute period when you can capture a once in a lifetime shot.

At the 2012 Prairie Village Jazz Festival on September 8, the perfect light hit during the stage change between Megan Birdsall’s set and Bobby Watson’s set. Next year’s festival really needs to time that better.

The sun had settled behind the hill at Harmon Park when Bobby Watson took the stage. Backed by bassist Curtis Lundy, in from New York, Richard Johnson from Minneapolis on piano and Kansas City’s Michael Warren on drums, Bobby’s alto captured the crowd. Co-headiner Karrin Allyson followed with a wonderful set, accompanied by Los Angeles sax and woodwind master Bob Sheppard, and a trio of current and former Kansas Citians, jazz masters all: Rod Fleeman on guitar, Gerald Spaits on bass and Todd Strait on drums.

I offered photos of Gerald and Todd last week, from Mike Metheny’s set. Now here’s photos of the rest of the festival headliners. As always, clicking on a shot should open a larger version of it.

Bobby Watson on alto sax

Bassist Curtis Lundy

Pianist Richard Johnson

Drummer Michael Warren

Curtis and Bobby

At night, the audience filled the hill.
Karrin Allyson on piano and vocals

Bob Sheppard on sax

Karrin Allyson Quintet. Left to right: Rod Fleeman, Bob Sheppard, Karrin Allyson, Gerald Spaits, Todd Strait

Guitarist Rod Fleeman

Bob Sheppard on flute

For her final number, Karrin invited bassist Bob Bowman, who has performed with her often, and Bobby Watson to join her group on stage. Left to right: Karrin Allyson, Bob Bowman, Bobby Watson, Bob Sheppard, Rod Fleeman.

Monday, September 17, 2012

In Lieu of 1000 Words: 2012 PV Jazz Fest, Part 1

Thousands of fans. They crowded the hill at Harmon Park on September 8th to enjoy the music, the food, the beer and the wine – but mostly the music – at the third annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

As one of the organizers of this year’s event, I’ll not feign an unbiased assessment. But I will credit one group above all others for the day’s success: The musicians. Every performance was magnificent.

Opening act Diverse, in their new configuration with drummer Brad Williams, mostly played tunes the arriving audience might recognize, but branded by their own contemporary resolve. Rich Wheeler’s quartet spanned their own compositions to the blues. Everyone who heard Mike Metheny understands why I keep telling him he needs to perform locally more often (and he’s starting to do that). And everyone who heard Megan Birdsall heard a vocalist wrap herself around familiar standards and pop classics to make them entirely hers.

Crowd size reached its height for headliner Bobby Watson. With longtime bassist Curtis Lundy from New York, pianist Richard Johnson from Minneapolis and KC drummer Michael Warren, Bobby owned Prairie Village. Then the night’s second headliner, Karrin Allyson, backed by extraordinary saxophone and flute player Bob Sheppard from Los Angeles, guitarist Rod Fleeman, bassist Gerald Spaits, and drummer Todd Strait, left no doubts about why she has been nominated five times for the jazz vocal Grammy.

I took photos. This week, let’s share shots of the local acts. Next week, we’ll take a look at the headliners’ groups. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Opening act Diverse. Left  to right: Ben Leifer on bass, Hermon Mehari on trumpet, Brad Williams on drums.

As Diverse performs, the audience grows.

The Rich Wheeler Quartet. Left to right: T.J. Martley on Rhodes and piano, Bill McKemy on bass, Rich Wheeler on tenor saxophone, Sam Wisman on drums.

Mike Metheny on flugelhorn

Bassist Gerald Spaits

Drummer Todd Strait

T.J. Martley on piano

Mike invited Hermon Mehari and Rich Wheeler to join him on his set. Here, Hermon and Mike enjoy Rich's solo.

Megan Birdsall

Bassist Bob Bowman

Drummer Matt Leifer

Singer Megan Birdsall with pianist Wayne Hawkins

Megan and Wayne. As the sun starts to set, the audience fills the hill.

Next week: Bobby Watson and Karrin Allyson.

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Mutual Musicians Foundation Responds

Over two blog posts, I commented on the new panels at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. This week, it’s not about what I think. Anita Dixon, Vice President of the Foundation, argued that I have a forum the Foundation lacks. She’s right. So this week, I turn this blog over to the Mutual Musicians Foundation. Because they deserve the opportunity to present, without intrusion, the reasons for the changes at Kansas City’s jazz landmark.


The Mutual Musicians Foundation (formerly known as Local 627 or the “colored” musicians union) has been the heartbeat of Kansas City’s jazz history for almost a century.

Recognized as one of the four pillars of the creation of jazz in America, the building in which it has its storied past has survived. Remembering and honoring our past and those genius minds that created Kansas City’s reason for being on the map internationally is a fact we love to tell over and over again; lest others forget how important it really is. Remembering “what was” is a huge part of securing the future.

However, everything must change. Recently, through a generous fund given to the MMF by Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II, the board of directors decided we would expand the vision for the future into educational panels and an archival film project that would include the history of the neighborhood that nurtured the music and the minds of Charlie Parker, Mary Lou Williams and all of the names aficionados of jazz like to drop but refuse to acknowledge that had it been another time in history, those same people would have had an address next door, down the street or behind the MMF. 

Being volunteer driven, we do not have docents or people who can be at the MMF during the day to speak on the history and the educational panels tell a complete story for those wishing to know more of the history. The archival film Still Jammin’ takes the history of Local 627 and reminds the viewer of the circumstances and situations that made Kansas City jazz and its artists so great. 

We hear we have taken the “spirit” away by replacing photographs with panels, but if we were to be historically accurate, the pictures (that now are a part of the musical experience upstairs) were photocopied and not the originals. At one time, originally signed photographs were stuck on the cork based walls (that were orange colored!) with push pins and tape! These photocopies were also put into frames and attached to walls that had undergone renovation in 1983 and are not a part of the original work done on the building in the 1930’s renovation from apartment building to union hall. So much for interrupting the “spirit” of Basie and the others. 

This total project has been almost three years coming to fruition. That includes the panels and the film. Now, let one take those years, compound them with much infighting (already so well-known and we will not dignify telling it again), and board personnel changes (over seven positions vacated and replaced in less than one year in 2010!), couple that with costs for film crews, meetings, travel, scripts, equipment, research and a plethora of other things it takes to put out a quality project, and the money gifted to the MMF was stretched to the limit. If this had been Ken Burns producing, this city would have thought nothing of a couple of million dollars just to engage him on the subject!

We were very lucky to get Rodney Thompson and Stinson McClendon, two African American film makers in KC who have chronicled the history of KC jazz through names such as Andy Kirk, Big Joe Turner, Jay McShann, Claude “Fiddler” Williams and others they have captured in their personal film archives that enhanced the story of Still Jammin’ for us. Eisterhold and Associates, who work on major museum and archives projects surrounding cultural history in America, were engaged for far less than they usually charge but still treated the project as a priority and produced exactly what we requested. Anyone who would say that “too much was spent” has no idea the sacrifices and time that was spent to bring this to KC and the American public for consumption.

If we had not had the restrictions on the usage of the money dictated by the previous administration, we would have put the money into the building’s much needed repairs. There are stipulations put on many funded projects such as these (if you have never written a government grant or a foundation grant, this is your time to shut up!) and this one was to be used strictly for the project as outlined. It was used for that and nothing more. So much for what you would have done with the money. 

But back to why we are responding to KCJazzLark: the future. We are witnessing a renaissance in the 18th and Vine district in the renovation of the old Rochester Hotel and the homes across the street from the MMF. It is as if the neighborhood is reminding us that once again, we will strive to live amidst the music. We have spoken to the City Manager and those at JDRC and every attempt will be made to populate those apartments and homes with musicians and artists. Imagine a new village of people who respect what we are doing and participate in a whole new generation learning (and living around) the place that started it all internationally. 

We are planning on being the centerpiece of an international plan for educating the world on our part in the history of jazz, starting a 24 hour radio station and creating a synergistic, tourism program aimed at jobs, youth music education and the culture of the African American experience in Kansas City. More on this if you attend our workshop Monday, September 10, 2012. 

Last but not least, thank you KCJazzLark for equal time. So many of the so-called bloggers in the city (and in America period) are just interested in hearing themselves and there are few that qualify as journalists. You have taken the big leap from blogger to journalist and for this we of the MMF are grateful. 

There are always three sides to every story: yours, mine and the truth. Our plans for the MMF will certainly prove to be a truth that will benefit all concerned. 

— Anita J. Dixon, Vice President, Mutual Musicians Foundation

Monday, September 3, 2012

This 'n That 'n McKemy CD

Bass, drums, guitar and accordion. How’s that for a jazz quartet?

I wasn’t getting out for jazz when Malachy Papers was performing around town. So I didn’t know who Bill McKemy was until Ben Leifer left town (he’s since returned). That was when Mark Lowrey and Shay Estes chose Bill as Ben’s replacement on bass in their quartet. That’s when I discovered there’s at least one more terrific bassist in Kansas City than I had previously known.

Mark told me at the time that they had chosen Bill in part for his compositional prowess. That prowess is on full display on Duende, Bill’s 2002 CD which is being rereleased.

Duende, Google Translate tells me, is Spanish for elf. I’m not certain how that applies, except that a couple of of the spontaneous compositions (that’s what the liner notes call them) are elfin in size. But nothing on this CD is elfin in quality.

Jeffrey Ruckma’s accordion may seem on the surface an unusual choice, but the sound fits the Spanish flavor of this music perfectly. Brian Baggett’s electric guitar at times at times reaches for the musical edge and seems to leave apparent Spanish influences behind. But Bill’s bass and Ryan Bennett’s drums keep the proceedings grounded.

Duende will be rereleased at a special show at Take Five Coffee + Bar on September 22. You do not want to miss either the CD or the performance.


But before then, this Saturday as a matter of fact, you do not want to miss the Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

I make no secret of the fact that I booked the talent for the fest this year. Nor do I make a secret of the fact that I’m pleased with how the schedule turned out.

This Saturday, September 8th, at Harmon Park at 77th and Mission Road (adjacent to Prairie Village City Hall and Shawnee Mission East High School), you can hear a sampling of some of the best jazz musicians in Kansas City today, plus some of the best jazz to spring from this town.

Music starts at 3 p.m. with Diverse. It continues with the Rich Wheeler Quartet at 4:20. At 5:40 you can hear the all-too-rarely heard Mike Metheny. 7:00 brings incomparable vocalist Megan Birdsall to the stage. At 8:20, hear not just the best saxophonist in KC, but arguably the best saxophonist anywhere: Bobby Watson. The festival wraps up with jazz star Karrin Allyson’s first performance in the area since last Thanksgiving, starting at 9:40.

I took photos at the first Prairie Village Jazz Festival two years ago. So, to whet your festive appetite further, let’s take a look at a few of those shots not previously posted.

Two years ago, David Basse's group was among the local acts. This year, David will emcee the fest.

Basse's 2010 horn section included Jason Goudeau on trombone, Hermon Mehari on trumpet and Kim Park on sax. This year, Hermon's group Diverse opens the festival.

Eldar Djangirov was one of the 2010 headliners...

...And the crowds danced (I predict dancing again this year).

Two years ago, Karrin Allyson performed a few songs with The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. This year, she headlines a full set with her own band.