Monday, December 31, 2012

A KC Jazz Christmas Carol, Part 2

In a moment, Ebenezer P. Sax sat again in his bed.

Long had Ebenezer intoned that the destiny of jazz is to perish. The young paid it no mind. Those proclaimed its fans were aging, and as they passed so, too, would the music.

Yet, this night a visit to Ebenezer was paid, twice, by winged and glowing Fairies. The first itself named The Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Past, and took the scribe to the music’s prime, when it filled Kansas City streets with carousing multitudes and gaiety supreme. The second, The Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Present, presented Ebenzer an auditorium of over 1200 fans joyous in revelry for the music and, on the same night, jazz musicians of an age and a talent to rival any who came before.

A nighttime visit by a third Fairy was promised. Presently, the clock chimed one, and a glow did fill the room. Ebenezer, but in nightgown and slippers dressed, sat upright in his bed. Beside him, a winged being spoke.

“I’m The Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Future. You been through this twice, you know how it works. I’m takin’ your hand, we’re goin’ elsewhere.”

Ebenezer stood and held forward his arm, ready for the Fairy’s grasp. “Proceed,” he offered.

Man and Fairy, together, stepped through the wall of Ebenezer’s abode. On the other side, they stood in a jazz club.

“I recognize this place not,” Ebenezer spoke, with caution.

“It comes later,” The Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Future did respond. “It’s a jazz supper club, somethin’ Kansas City lost when Jardine’s folded. But it’s a successful business model in other cities, like Seattle an’ Denver, an’ some smart entrepreneurs recognized it could make money here, too. Look around. Tell me what you see.”

“Bah!” Ebenezer spewed, after one quickly placed glance. “I see the aged, those with fifty years of life and more. What disproves my points? What has changed from my day?”

“Keep lookin’,” the Fairy directed. “What are they eating’?”

“Some steaks, some seafood, the meals of the well healed.”

“They’re spendin’ money. Keep lookin’. Who’s on stage? You know him.”

“Aye, the drummer, there be some familiarity to that face, but his name, I know it not.”

“You knew him as an infant. That group’s playin’ a tune he learned then.”

“Praise be!” Ebenezer exclaimed. “’Tis Kiss My Mitten, Miss Kitten by The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City! Be that little Wisman? All grown up now and playing drums like his father?”

“Yep. Remember when his mom took him into The Record Bar an’ put headphones on him to muffle the sound? Didn’t work. The kid knew the drum line at six months. Now keep lookin’ around. There, that table. You know them.”

“Why, ’tis Hermon Mehari, and Ryan Lee, and T.J. Martley, all grown old! And there, be that Jeff Harshbarger?”


“Glory be! I knew not a beard could grow so long!”

“They’re all workin’ tonight. Now take my hand,” instructed The Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Future. “We got someplace else to go.”

A grasp, a step, and presently they stood where the last Fairy also did take Ebenezer, in Hellzberg Hall in the Kuaffman Center for the Arts That Do Perform. The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra again did swing jazz from the stage. The hall, again, filled with the joy of a large, engaged and delighted crowd.

“Humbug!” Ebenezer scowled. “Why this do I see once more? Look at the seats, still filled with the aged. Good Fairy, show me something new!”

“I do,” The Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Future slyly smiled. “How many of those faces were here last time? The crowd’s turned over. Yeah, this orchestra an’ this venue draw an older crowd. That’s who can afford a night at these prices. But they still draw a crowd. They still fill this hall with swing. Now, one more stop. Take my hand. It’ll be tomorrow mornin’.”

The Fairy’s hand Ebenzer did hold, and next he knew he stood inside the Mutual Musicians Foundation. The lower level looked crowded with children, each carrying a musical instrument.

“Friday and Saturday night jams still fill this joint,” the Fairy did explain, “but every Saturday morning another tradition continues. Describe what’cha see.”

“Students,” Ebenezer observed. “And instructors.”

The Fairy placed both hands on Ebenezer’s shoulders and harshly turned the man to look straight into his eyes. Then, the winged and glowing being spoke:

“Mentors. You see students and mentors. That’s why jazz has lived in Kansas City an’ why it always will. The men, the women who created it, in this building, passed their knowledge on to your generation. Musicians of your time, like Bobby Watson, grew the music an’ helped pass it along to others. Others like Hermon and Ryan, who played it magnificently an’ again passed it along. It’s a culture of jazz.

“Nobody’s pretendin’ the music’ll again be more than a niche,” the Fairy continued. “Nobody’s sayin’ most musicians don’t need other jobs to make ends meet. Hey, Jay McShann drove a garbage truck to raise his kids. But it’s a niche with appeal. It’s a niche that can fill a hall with people who can afford to discover an’ enjoy it. It’s a niche that can keep a few clubs thrivin’.

“It’s a music an’ a culture that will be passed along again an’ again.”

“Take me back, good Fairy,” Ebenezer did beseech. “I understand what I have seen. Take me back now, that I may write.”

Next he knew, the scribe sat alone in his bed. With haste, he threw the bedspread back, that he may scurry to his computer desk. Good, he thought, the computer was still on. Without delay, he typed.

“What I have put forth onto the Internet until now I cannot now take back. But these new thoughts I may add. For the future I have seen, and the real truth I now know and can now state is this:

“Jazz will survive.”

Monday, December 24, 2012

A KC Jazz Christmas Carol, Part 1

“The young care for it not,” he scowled, “so its fate I may foretell. Though blessed its audience may once have been, they now pass with the ages, and increasingly swift. Young musicians strike with hip-hop, with rap, and not with this genre now forsaken, its day of prominence passed. And with none to grow its art, its molding scores enjoyed by the withering few, its fate I declare sealed. Nay, not even as a niche may this music survive.

“Now to the Internet I do bid these words, that they may live forevermore. Future generations, then, shall judge the truth I now foretell. That they may be generations that know not the word jazz except as legend their ancestors did utter. ”

With that final period typed, Ebenzer P. Sax set forth to the web his latest missive for all to absorb.

Tired, he changed to his nightgown and slippers and laid in his bed. His eyes closed, he heard the clock strike one.

Odd, he thought, since no clock in his house chimed. Did this he dream?

Suddenly, a bright light lit the room, just aside his bed. He looked up, and there floated a winged being, aglow. A dream this must be!

The winged creature gazed in Ebenezer's direction, and it spoke:

“I ain’t no dream, bud. I’m The Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Past. Look, we’ve been reading the stuff you’re puttin’ out there, the death of jazz, it’s a hip-hop world, everybody’s croakin’. You’re pissin’ on our parade. So me an’ the other fairies, we’re gonna show you the truth. Tomorrow night you’ll hear from the Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Present, an’ after that, KC Jazz Future. Then see what’cha think.”

It was the tacos before bed, Ebenezer thought. Look now what they hath wrought.

“Told’ja I’m real, bud. Come with me.”

With that, did The Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Past take Ebenezer’s arm and pull him hard from his bed. Through the wall of his home they did pass.

And on the other side they did stand at the corner of 18th and Vine in the year nineteen hundred and thirty two.

“You know where you are?” queried the Fairy. 

“Yes, yes,” spoke Ebenezer, amazed. “I’ve read of this time in other blogs, especially the one that keeps spewing words to tell me I’m wrong.

“But this scene before us,” Ebenezer did continue, “it but proves the points I make.

“Look here, good Fairy,” said Ebenezer, pointing to the building before him, “the Subway Club here stands. Listen before its doors, hear the music from within. That’s Mary Lou Williams on piano, and Ben Webster on tenor saxophone. Now step away from that gambling on the street....”

“Just a minute,” said the Fairy.

“I said step away,” spoke Ebenzer as now he took the Fairy’s arm and pulled. “Turn this corner and look. There! There stands the Cherry Blossom, as bustling and complete as in my time it sits as but a shell. Come closer. Be that Bennie Moten’s Orchestra inside? Does Lester Young sit in with them this night? Listen close!

“Now look beyond, as people fill the street! ’Tis a crowd we see! They do party, they do enjoy themselves, they do enjoy the jazz!

“And I thought I told you to step away from the gamblers.

“My point, good Fairy, you do prove. This music was once viable. Once it did draw crowds and inspire merriment. But you hath brought me eighty years past to see it thrive. It thrives not like this in my day.”

“Okay, I’m takin’ you home,” The Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Past intoned. “You got context for what’s to come.”

With that, Ebenzer did find himself again in his home, and in his bed. Straight up he sat.

Then again, the clock struck one. Again, a winged being glowed next to his bed.

“Why doth thou glow?” queried Ebenezer.

“We work at night, it’s dark. Look, I’m the Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Present. Come with me.”

The Fairy grabbed onto Ebenezer’s arm and pulled. Together, they passed through the wall of the abode. On the other side, Ebenezer found himself standing in Hellzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Arts That Do Perform.

“I am wearing but a nightgown and slippers!” Ebenezer exclaimed. “I be not properly attired!”

“Calm down, nobody but me can see you,” the Fairy reassured. “Now tell me what you see.”

“A glowing Fairy.”

“No, out there, in the hall.”

Together, Fairy and man looked upon a full house. On stage, The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra did swing  jazz. The crowd responded with extraordinary merriment and unrestrained applause.

“Over 1200 tickets, they sold tonight,” the Fairy did explain. “Over 1200 people paid $40 to $50 each, plus parkin’, to sit in this auditorium and hear this jazz on the Friday before Christmas, 2012. Not lookin’ so dead to me.”

“Humbug!” Ebenezer cried in retort. “Look at their age. Yes, they come tonight, but will all still live when next this orchestra performs? It be an aging crowd, for a music with no future when these gentlemen and ladies pass.”

“It’s a crowd,” the Fairy answered, “of size and demographics comparable to The Kansas City Symphony. It’s a crowd that can afford a $100-a-couple night in a palace to the arts. It’s a crowd most arts groups would envy.

“But I got somethin’ else to show you tonight. Come on.”

The Fairy grabbed onto Ebenezer’s hand, and in a moment they stood in a coffee house in Kansas. On stage, Matt Chalk blew the saxophone and Hermon Merhari the trumpet.

“Listen,” the Fairy directed. “Tell me what you hear.”

“Huzzah!” Ebenezer did exclaim. “Jazz to rival the sounds I heard last, with the Fairy who did take me in the past! Jazz as good as any!”

“And,” the Fairy pointed out, “they’re about the same age as those musicians you heard in 1932.”

“This,” Ebenezer spoke, without prior thought, “this could be the future of jazz.”

“Indeed,” the Magic Jazz Fairy of KC Jazz Present smiled.


Next week, our story concludes.

Monday, December 17, 2012

KC Jazz for Christmas, 2012

Not a week before Christmas, a friend came to me.
“I need KC jazz! It must be on CD!
It needs to be music released just this year,
Exceptional songs you know I'll want to hear.
I have a new girlfriend who I must impress
With new KC jazz music. So only the best.”

“You will not go wrong,” I said, “with Peregrination.
Chris Hazelton’s trio is a B3 sensation.
With Chris on the organ, Kevin Frazee on drums,
Danny Embrey’s guitar he so perfectly strums.
This trio: It swings, it thrills, it delights.
It’s B3 organ jazz music you’ll love many nights .”

“Or take Keyboard Christmas by Michael Pagán,
With inventive piano, you will not go wrong.
It’s not really music played holiday style
But solo piano to charm and beguile.
It takes unique turns, it captures your ear.
It’s Christmas songs played to hear all of the year.

“Now, Passport will take you a different direction.
World music / jazz masters: A fun intersection.
With Beau Bledsoe on oud, or on the guitar,
And Stan Kessler’s trumpet, this music goes far.
It glides and it soars with wicked delight,
This music will take you on exotic flight.

“Bill McKemy’s Duende is not technically new,
With songs first recorded in two thousand and two.
But a CD rerelease of music long hard to find,
With Bill’s double bass, Jeffrey Ruckman sublime,
Original music Bill composed and arranged.
Count it as new and you’ll not be shortchanged.

“More solo piano marks T.J. Martley’s release
Of Meditations, an intimate feast.
Recording his thoughts and sense at the time,
Improvisational music of feelings sublime,
This young jazz pianist sets you a seat
And invites you to listen, an engaging treat.”

“That’s it! I’ll take all!” My friend did exclaim.
“I’ll arouse my new girlfriend! She’ll revere my name!
Because we know that KC claims some of jazz’s best
Musicians of talent who always impress
These CDs do prove it, unequalled in style,
So listen to all and be thrilled for awhile!”


Don’t let my amazingly bad verse deter you from some amazingly good CDs. Peregrination can be purchased here. Keyboard Christmas can be purchased here. Passport, Duende and Meditations, Vol. 1 can be purchased here.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Eighty Years Ago This Week

It was eighty years ago this week.

Trumpeter Buck Clayton:

“Bennie Moten had the best band [in Kansas City]…. That’s when he had Eddie Durham and Barefield….

Drummer Booker Washington:

“Some [songs] were memorized and some by charts, most of them by charts, especially when Eddie Durham got in the band. Eddie Durham joined the band…[in 1929, and] started making arrangements then. He added [to the sound].”

Trombonist, guitarist and arranger Eddie Durham:

“Of all the arrangements I did for Bennie Moten, Moten Swing was the biggest.

“We were at the Pearl Theater in Philadelphia when the owner, Sam Steiffel, complained about us doing the same things over and over again. ‘You’ve got to get something else,’ he said, but we didn’t have anything else. When Bennie said we’d got to have a new number, I asked him to let me lay off one show to get it together for him.

“I went downstairs and Basie came with me. He was often my co-writer…. This time he gave me the channel. Horace Henderson was there and saw me write it, in pencil. We took it upstairs and the band went over it once, and then played it on the next show.

“It stopped the show every time. When we went to the Lafayette in New York the following week, we played it as the last number and it took seven encores.”

Now forward to December, 1932.

Saxophonist Eddie Barefield:

“We played in Kansas City and down in Oklahoma…then Moten decided to go east once more. He was established, but it was a hazardous trip….

“It was quite a band we had, with Lips [Page], Dee [Stewart] and Joe Keyes on trumpet; Eddie Durham and Dan Minor on trombone; Jack Washington, Ben Webster and myself on saxophones; [Count] Basie and Walter Page in the rhythm section, with Leroy Berry on guitar and Pete McWashington on drums; and Jimmy Rushing as vocalist. Bennie Moten played piano, too, but Basie played most of the time and Buster Moten conducted.

“We were stranded in nearly every city on our way to New York – in Columbus, Ohio, in Zaneville, Ohio, and in Cincinnati…. We were all young...and we didn’t care. We just hung around the town until they got another raggedy bus.

“And those busses were always breaking down. One time in Virginia we were coming down one of those steep hills and the brakes refused to work. The handbrake came out in the driver’s hand, and the bus went careening down through a town at about sixty miles an hour. We were frightened to death and we were lucky we didn’t run into anybody.

“Being stranded meant that you were in a town without work or money. You had to eat and sleep, but you couldn’t get out. Bennie might hustle up enough to get us a meal ticket. We would eat anything. Mostly it was hot dogs and chili, with booze. We weren’t alarmed, because it was a common thing….

“Finally, somehow, we got to the Pearl Theater in Philadelphia. We knew we were going to work for a week and get a week’s salary, so everybody could have some money in his pocket. We were all whooping it up, juicing and taking chorus girls out.

“When payday came, we all lined up to get our money. When I saw Bennie send a guy out to get a plate of beans and some whiskey, I felt something was wrong. Then he told us that the bus and the box office receipts had been attached to pay for uniforms he’d bought on his previous engagement at the theater, when he’d borrowed money from Mr. Steiffel, the theater owner. So there we were, standing out in front of the theater with our bags and horns – and no bus. The man had booked us for a whole week only to get his money back. Now we couldn’t pay our rent, our tabs, or anything.

“But Bennie finally met a little, fat colored guy named Archie Robinson, who was an agent, and they went off together in Archie’s car. They came back with a great big old raggedy bus, and we all piled in to go to Camden to record for Victor, something they’d cooked up at the last minute.

“Now, we were all very hungry, but somewhere or other Archie found a rabbit. We pulled off the highway to a pool hall, where they made a big tub of stew with this one rabbit…. It tasted very good. We stood around the pool table sopping up the gravy and stuff with bread until the tub was empty….

“Then we got in the bus again and went over to the church they used as a studio….

“We recorded ten sides: Toby, Moten Swing, The Blue Room, Imagination, New Orleans, The Only Girl I Ever Loved, Milenberg Joys, Lafayette, Prince of Wales, and Two Times.”

Most of these sides, recorded by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra on Tuesday, December 13, 1932, are still recognized as some of the greatest recordings in jazz history.

Eddie Barefield:

“We never got paid for them to this day…. I don’t know whether Moten originally got money. We were just young, stupid kids at the time.

“The way we played on those records, with those fast tempos, was the way we used to play every night. We didn’t have any music, but we sure used to swing….

“After the Camden session, we set out again and were stranded in Newport News, Virginia. Eventually, we got back to Kansas City.”


Most of the songs recorded that day can be found on YouTube. Here’s Moten Swing:


Quotes by Eddie Durham and Eddie Barefield are from The World of Count Basie by Stanley Dance, Da Capo Press, 1980. Quotes from Buck Clayton and Booker Washington are from Goin’ to Kansas City by Nathan W. Pearson, Jr., University of Illinois Press, 1987.

Monday, December 3, 2012

This 'n That 'n Epitomizing Nothing

From the November 23 Kansas City Business Journal, page 3:

“Behind the scenes at the annual Christmas lights extravaganza on the Country Club Plaza, Harvest Productions Inc. pulled the strings for the third year in a row….

“[Harvest’s vice president] said the company has tried to enliven the Thanksgiving night Plaza lights festivities by incorporating more local entertainers….

“After Plaza owner Highwoods Properties Inc. picked Harvest over several other companies to take over the show from Pat Riha Productions, Harvest moved back the climatic moment to the end of the hourlong TV broadcast to try to keep viewers throughout….”

From the November 25 blog entry of Plastic Sax:

The Plaza lighting ceremony eliminated jazz! The sky is falling!

Okay, that last paragraph was a liberally interpreted paraphrase.

Plastic Sax (here) notes that Kansas City is internationally associated with jazz, barbecue and the Plaza lights. No argument there. “That’s why,” he adds, “the fact that the annual lighting ceremony on Thanksgiving no longer features jazz seems to epitomize jazz’s declining prominence.”

Kerry Strayer, today Artistic Director of the outstanding Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, served as Music Director of the Plaza lighting ceremony for 14 years (from his bio, here). He even offers a CD of music from those years, Christmas in Kansas City: Music From the Plaza Lighting Ceremony (available here).

I’ll bet Kerry wishes he still had that gig. But after 14 years, Plaza officials decided it was time to freshen the ceremony. They brought in a new producer and new bands. That happens with successful businesses. Jazz losing one prominent party a year does not epitomize anything.

After all, I’ll bet after a reasonable break the ceremony features a jazz group again. The year they do, will anyone declare that epitomizes pop music’s decline?


Friday’s Kansas City Star Business pages noted downtown’s new Kill Devil Club has been recognized nationally on a list of The 21 Hottest Cocktail Bars Across the U.S.: Where to Drink Right Now. It was honored for its mix of live jazz and cocktails.

A glance at their December schedule (here) reveals a slate of mostly more traditional and hard swinging jazz sounds: David Basse, Grand Marquis and Bram Wijanads, to name a few.

A club’s success is all about creating an environment people enjoy, where they feel comfortable, a place they will want to return to. In this case, it’s achieved through a mix of superb cocktails, an expansive downtown view and swinging music.

But wait a minute. I thought other internet sites and musicians were sounding a death knell for swinging jazz. Can’t survive. Too old-timey. Only old farts go hear it, and pretty soon they’ll all be dead.

Yet, The Kill Devil Club is building buzz. People are checking it out. Rum and hot jazz are working.

Somebody didn’t get the memo.


I’ve already noted, through the Magic Jazz Fairy’s eyes, the year that has passed since Jardine’s demise (here). Kansas City’s jazz scene today may be no better than it was then, but it’s no worse off, either.

Yet, it is different. Each jazz spot, like The Kill Devil Club, builds its own identity and finds its own favorite groups which tend to return more often than others.

In Kansas City, you can no longer hear Ida McBeth every other Friday. There’s no more last Wednesday every month with Megan Birdsall, or a monthly late night with Shay Estes and Mark Lowrey. You can’t find Sons of Brazils twice most months anymore.

Take Five in Leawood continues booking a broad range of jazz. The Kill Devil Club seems to be finding the acts which work best for it. Musicians may find no fewer opportunities in Kansas City’s jazz scene today, but the opportunities are evolving.

Just as they have for 90 years.


I grew up in a Jewish household, without a particular appreciation for Christmas music. Out of more than 47 days worth of media in my iTunes library, only an hour and a half of it is Christmas songs (some Ella, some Diana Krall, Vince Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Christmas and, of course, Bird’s White Christmas).

So when I received Michael Pagán’s Keyboard Christmas, I expected piano solos on songs I’ve heard and mostly ignored a thousand times in my life.

My expectations couldn’t have been more misplaced.

This is a CD of piano superiority, inventive riffs and engagingly fresh interpretations of a dozen songs which you just happen to run into during December more often than during other months of the year.

Take the opening number, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, which boldly states the theme then creatively circles around it, delightfully weaving it in and out. Or the thoroughly swinging version of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. Contrast that with the somber but no less irresistibley imagined Good King Wenceslas.

All total solo piano fun worth hearing, and during more than one month of the year.

Michael Pagaán’s Keyboard Christmas can be downloaded from iTunes here or purchased from CD Baby here.