Granted, I was there nights when barely twenty people sat scattered around the room. But I was also there when they couldn’t honor my reservation because every table was filled, and on weekend nights when I stood at the bar for lack of open stools.
When I started this blog, coming up on four years ago, two clubs dominated Kansas City’s jazz scene: Jardine’s and The Blue Room. True, the Phoenix still booked The Scamps every Saturday afternoon, but it wasn’t long before they would mostly forsake jazz for the blues. And while The Majestic’s downstairs club was still swinging every night, the restaurant was floundering and would soon close.
Other spots featured jazz here and there. The People’s Liberation Big Band was building a following the first Sunday of each month at the Record Bar. The Drum Room gave over some floor space to a weekend band, but in a bar with TVs tuned to ESPN.
Not long into this blog’s life, if you wanted to hear jazz in Kansas City, you wanted Jardine’s or The Blue Room.
Then Jardine’s died.
One club, 1920 Main, hiccuped onto the scene and was gone.
The state of Kansas City jazz venues looked dire.
But what we didn’t recognize, what is now becoming apparent, is that with the dominance of Jardine’s gone, new opportunities could flourish.
Venues not known for jazz stepped cautious toes into the void. Grunaur in the Crossroads district booked some of the music. The Westport Coffee House hosted the premiere of Stan Kessler’s new group Parallax.
Meanwhile, out south, Take Five Coffee + Bar transformed from hey-did-you-hear-about-that-coffee-shop-in-Leawood-that-books-some-jazz-yeah-jazz-in-Leawood-for-godssake to a genuine weekend jazz bar where the musicians covet playing and where audiences applaud paying a cover charge to benefit the musicians. That’s right, they’ve applauded paying a cover charge. In Leawood.
Same time, The Majestic claimed a new owner and reopened. Cautiously, they first booked jazz downstairs on Fridays and Saturdays. But over time, music in the former speakeasy has expanded to seven nights a week.
And the young musicians started dominating the weekend jam sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. First, they staged and broadcast on the internet their own Friday night jam sessions. Then they moved to the main jam stage upstairs.
The Power and Light District played with jazz. The lounge adjacent to the theaters was deemed a jazz club, but (from stories I’ve heard), internal squabbles doomed that venture. Which is why I was dubious when the Kill Devil Club opened last year. But Kill Devil has hit on a mix of music and high-priced rum that appears to be working and drawing a stylish crowd.
And recently, in the Crossroads district, the Green Lady Lounge quietly opened and started booking jazz. First, a couple nights, and now six nights each week. Where Kill Devil is upscale in a spanking-new abode, Green Lady lives in a building that’s been there forever, with a classic feel and prices the neighborhood can afford. It’s two jazz venues within a close drive, but with atmospheres and business models different enough that both can thrive.
And let’s not forget, The Blue Room continues to be the Kansas City jazz club that makes Downbeat’s 100 best list each year, and deservedly so. Four nights a week, this is where you go to experience where jazz began.
Kansas City boasts more jazz venues now than when Jardine’s and The Blue Room co-dominated. We no longer have a Plaza area jazz supper club lording over the scene. Instead, as it always has, the Kansas City jazz scene has evolved. In 1933, the Eblon Theater on Vine Street was remodeled into the Cherry Blossom, where some of Kansas City jazz history’s greatest moments occurred. In the 1940s, it was rechristened the Chez Paree. Later, it was turned into a bowling alley. Then it closed. Then it burned. Classic jazz dives along 12th Street succumbed to urban renewal. Jardine’s succumbed to a revolt against management. But Take Five and Kill Devil Club and Green Lady Lounge opened.
In Kansas City, jazz survives. I’ll not pretend it claims the dominance it held when Basie played the Cherry Blossom. But it’s not going away.
And one of the quirkier but funnest bands jazz survives with is The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City. The first Sunday of each month this collection of outstanding musicians performs quite untraditional jazz spiced with whimsey at the Record Bar.
This coming Sunday, March 3rd, they’re joined by San Francisco trumpeter Dave Scott. Scott’s resume includes touring and recording with groups as diverse as those of Boz Scaggs, Rosemary Clooney and the Honolulu Symphony.
Sunday night, The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City will be playing Scott’s compositions and arrangements. The fun starts at 8:00. See you there.