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

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