Monday, January 28, 2013

In Lieu of 1000 Words: Saturday at Jazz Winterlude

I wasn’t sure what to expect. Sure, it was free. But it was indoors on an unexpectedly pleasant Saturday afternoon. It was jazz in suburban Johnson County starting at 1 p.m. And basketball was on TV. Two jazz fans told me they would love to come but they couldn’t because they’d be watching basketball.

So I was surprised to see probably a hundred fans start to fill Johnson County Community College’s Polsky Theatre when Megan Birdsall took the stage to open Saturday’s Jazz Winterlude. The crowd was easily up to 150 by the time her set ended. And it continued growing throughout the day.

Audiences rambunctiously cheered Everett Devan and Chris Hazelton’s dual Hammond B3s, sat thrilled by Diverse Quartet’s set of classic Ellington, and took to their feet for the New Red Onion Jazz Babies.

Meanwhile, the next door Recital Hall, a more intimate setting, needed more seats each time I looked in. In there, I caught some of Candace Evan’s wonderful trio and the Turkish jazz of Alaturka. Micheal O’Shiver and Alice Jenkins also packed the room.

At night, hundreds filled Yardley Hall for an opening set by Killer Strayhorn then the incredible piano of Eldar, who grew up in Prairie Village and who we in Kansas City will always consider to be one of our own.

Congratulations to the Winterlude staff for a magnificent weekend of jazz. Those of you who stayed home watching basketball have no clue about the magnificent music you missed. So let me show you a little of it. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version.

Saturday opened in Polsky Theatre with Megan Birdsall's quartet. Left to right: Wayne Hawkins on piano, Megan Bridsall, vocals, Bob Bowman on bass, Tim Cambron on drums.

Wayne Hawkins and Megan Birdsall

Next up in Polsky was the Everette DeVan / Chris Hazelton Group with a pair of Hammond B3 organs. Left to right: Everette DeVan on Hammond B3, Matt Hopper on guitar, Danny Rojas on drums, Chris Hazelton on Hammond B3.

Everett DeVan and Matt Hopper

Everett, Matt, Danny and Chris

I've photographed Diverse before. This day they performed as Diverse Quartet with, left to right, Andrew Ouellette on piano, Ben Leifer on bass, Ryan Lee on drums, and Hermon Mehari on trumpet.

Evening performances in Yardley Hall opened with Killer Strayhorn. Left to right: A hidden Chris Lewis on piano, James Isaac on saxophone, Greg Clinkingbeard on bass, Pablo Sanhueza on percussion, and Mike Shanks on drums.

Chris Lewis, Greg Clinkingbeard, Pablo Sanhueza and Mike Shanks

Headlining the night was pianist Eldar Djangirov, better known these days just as Eldar.

Eldar with his trio

Eldar on piano, leading his trio

Eldar in Yardley Hall

Monday, January 21, 2013

In Lieu of 1000 Words: Friday at Jazz Winterlude

If this past weekend’s Jazz Winterlude, staged Friday and Saturday at Johnson County Community College’s Carlsen Center, proved anything, it proved that Kansas City today is home to a wealth of extraordinary jazz talent.

Whether it was Deborah Brown on Friday night or Alaturka on Saturday afternoon, whether you enjoyed Diverse Quartet or the duo B3s of Everett DeVan and Chris Hazelton, whether you heard the saxophone of Matt Otto or Steve Lambert or Rich Wheeler, whether Mike Warren or Brian Steever or Ryan Lee drummed, whether Brandon Draper or Pablo Sanhueza played percussion, whether Joe Cartwright or Andrew Oullette or Wayne Hawkins was on piano, whether Jason Goudeau’s trombone or Hermon Mehari’s trumpet or Megan Birdsall’s vocals filled the stage, you had the chance to hear jazz mastery throughout the weekend.

And I haven’t even mentioned yet the national names organizers added to the mix: Julian Lage and ex-Kansas Citian Eldar.

I took photos throughout the weekend. So let’s start by taking a look at Friday night in Yardley Hall. Next week, we’ll see some of Saturday’s magic. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Winterlude opened with the David Basse Orchestra. Talk about a wealth of talent, take a look at the musicians on this stage. Left to right: Joe Cartwright on piano, David Basse, vocals, Zach Beeson on bass, Brian Steever on drums, Steve Lambert on sax, Clint Ashlock on trumpet, Jason Goudeau on trombone.

David Basse, framed by Joe Cartwright ans Zach Beeson.

Yardley Hall filled as Basse's Orchestra performed.

Next up was a national act: Julian Lage Duo. Julian Lage is on guitar on the left, Jorge Roeder is on bass on the right.

Julian Lage and Jorge Roeder

Yardley Hall continued to fill for the Julian Lage Duo.

The night concluded magnificently with the Deborah Brown Quartet with Matt Otto. Left to right: Joe Cartwright on piano, Ben Leifer on bass, Mike Warren on drums, Deborah Brown, vocals, Matt Otto on saxophone.

Deborah Brown and Matt Otto

Joe, Ben, Mike, Deborah and Matt

Deborah Brown

Deborah surrounded by Ben, Mike and Matt

The Deborah Brown Quartet with Matt Otto in Yardley Hall

Monday, January 14, 2013

Three Tales

It must have been the mid 1970s, because I started driving in 1973 and it wasn’t long after that.

The family business stood on Locust, just south of 18th Street. I worked there that summer. One afternoon, I drove a customer back to his business, on 18th Street between Vine and Highland.

I pulled the car up to a worn door, paint peeling from it, of an old brick building. Before stepping out of the car, the man turned to me in his seat and said, “You’ve heard of the ghetto, son? This is the ghetto.”

I had heard of the nation’s ghettos. I’d heard talk of them on TV, on The CBS Evening News, at dinner time in our suburban home. I’d wondered if Kansas City had one and where it was.

I didn’t know Kansas City’s heritage then. The closest our family came to jazz was listening to Frank Sinatra on 8-track tapes in the Buick, our nicer car.

All I knew was that a man who worked in an old building on 18th Street between Vine and Highland, in the mid 1970s, identified his neighborhood as the ghetto.

I’d ridden through there dozens of times, going to the ballpark on Brooklyn, to see the A’s play, or the Chiefs, or to eat at Arthur Bryant’s.

I never realized that was the ghetto.


It was 1983 or 1984 and I was three or four years out of college. A friend I’d attended high school with now sold records at Penny Lane in Westport. He’d introduced me to Kansas City jazz. He’d sold me albums by Count Basie and Charlie Parker and Big Joe Turner. He steered me towards the classic Basie and Big Joe, not their newer recordings on the Pablo label. Those, he advised me, weren’t nearly as good.

I was attending the first or second 18th and Vine Heritage Festival one Saturday afternoon, walking down 18th Street, blocked off from The Paseo to Woodland, from stage to stage. My friend, who sold records, saw me and grabbed my arm. “Come with me,” he said.

We walked over to Highland Street then up to 1823 and into what I would later learn was the Mutual Musicians Foundation. There, on a chair on stage, sat Big Joe Turner. I worked my way up front, through the crowd, and stood an arm’s length away from Big Joe. I listened, awed, while Big Joe Turner shouted the blues.

I returned to the Mutual Musicians Foundation repeatedly through the 1980s. That decade, more than once, on a summer afternoon or evening, a woman might lean out from a second or third floor window of the Rochester Hotel, next door to the Foundation, and ask me if I wanted to come up for a good time.

People lived in the houses across the street from the Foundation and the Rochester then. Older people, who had probably lived there forever. Over time, they moved out, or died, I’m not sure which. Plywood replaced the houses’ windows and doors. Surely, eventually, those houses would fall down.


I’d heard the homes were nearing completion. Then, last Thursday, a story on them spanned the front page of The Star. So I went to see for myself.

The 18th and Vine district once thrived through a mix of businesses and homes. A smattering of churches attests to the residential. Churches generally don’t locate where you only find music and booze. And the Mutual Musicians Foundation building itself was originally either a duplex or apartments (I’ve seen references to both).

I parked on Highland at 18th Street and walked south, past a church. About midway up the block, I stopped.

Music flowed from the Mutual Musicians Foundation. Inside, a band was rehearsing. Across the street I heard hammering and sawing. And I stood and gazed at beautiful homes. Rebuilt, quaint, nearly ready to rent. 

Three of the houses on Highland, as a workman walks by.
It’s not the Rochester Hotel next to the Foundation anymore. A new sign identifies the building as The Rochester at Highland Place. An enclosed staircase has been added to the north side. This building looks clean, inviting, a blue awning shading each new window. A banner facing Highland proclaims, “Your Search Is Over! Apartments at Highland Place.”

The Rochester, left, and the Mutual Musicians Foundation, from the porch of one of the houses.
Just to the south, wrapping the corner of 19th and Highland, stand more newer and occupied apartments. And directly across 19th Street, where Highland dead ends, sits a modern residential community.

It’s a piece of the 18th and Vine District. There’s still work to do in the district. Historic Vine Street remains an embarrassment.

But this piece is bustling with music and life. People will come to the Foundation for music. People will live here, too, in enviable homes and apartments. It’s a piece of the district, presumably, much as it thrived long before I knew it.

Nobody will lean from these windows.

This is not the ghetto.

Monday, January 7, 2013

In Lieu of 1000 Words: Parallax at Take Five

Granted, the place isn’t huge. But I arrived 45 minutes before the show was to start and already every seat was filled. Stan carried folding chairs out of the kitchen. I was lucky to nab one of those.

By the start of the show, the audience packed every nook and every cranny available. And they paid a cover charge – first time ever here – to do that. When it was announced a weekend cover was something new, the crowd applauded.

This must be Bizarro Jazz Club.

But it’s not. It’s Take Five Coffee + Bar, packing ’em in for perhaps the hottest new jazz group in Kansas City, Stan Kessler’s Parallax. With Stan on trumpet, Roger Wilder on keyboards, Bill McKemy on bass, and Ryan Lee and Brian Steever on sometimes complimentary, sometimes dueling drum sets, this audience came for the night’s best jazz.

Think about it, and this night is mostly unbelievable. We’re in a coffee-shop-slash-bar on 151st Street in Leawood, Kansas – this is as suburban as the world gets, folks – and people applaud paying to be packed in sardine-like to hear jazz. Not only that, but when the band starts playing, the audience stops talking to listen to the music. To listen to jazz.

If it’s difficult to praise highly enough the venue Lori and Doug Chandler have grown, likewise it’s hard to say too much about this band. Playing mostly original compositions (though I also loved their take on Monk), Parallax pairs a trio of some of KC jazz’s most experienced and talented musicians with a pair of young drummers driving the band and driving each other to their musical best. The crowd didn’t applaud and cheer because most were standing and could probably only see someone else’s back. We applauded and cheered because this jazz earned it.

You can find out for yourself this Thursday, January 10, when Parallax plays again, at the Westport Coffee House.

Until then, here’s what it looked like on the last Friday of last year at Take Five. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Parallax. Left to right: Roger Wilder on keyboards, Brian Steever on drums, Bill McKemy on bass, Stan Kessler on trumpet, Ryan Lee on drums.

Trumpeter Stan Kessler. Behind him, drummer Ryan Lee.

Roger Wilder on keyboards. Behind him, drummer Brian Steever.

Bill McKemy, who ususually looks happier than this, on electric bass.

Drummer Ryan Lee

Drummer Brian Steever

Parallax, with Bill McKemy on sousaphone

Leader Stan Kessler

Parallax, when the two drummers square off, at Take Five Coffee + Bar