Monday, April 15, 2013

This 'n That 'n Two Big Bands

It's true, the majority of the audience is of a certain age when they collectively gasp at the announcement that the next number will be Tiger Rag.

But put it in perspective. This was a special performance. Every seat sold was an individual ticket, not sales built on top of a season ticket base, and cost $40 or $50. The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra (KCJO) sold 800 of those seats for their April 4th show, A Tribute to Benny Goodman’s Historic 1938 Carnegie Hall Jazz Concert, in the Muriel Kauffman Theatre at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

That’s a hundred more seats than were built into the brand new concert hall in the acclaimed SFJazz Center. That San Francisco auditorium couldn’t have seated KCJO’s crowd.

Some will hold their nose skywards at a concert full of music that was new 75 years ago. But they wouldn’t be the ones who heard a big band full of outstanding musicians, a couple of whom are also at home with the completely contemporary People’s Liberation Big Band. They wouldn’t be the ones who heard Doug Talley’s wonderful solo on Don’t Be That Way, sparked with phrasing foreign to 1938. And that was just the opening number.

They also wouldn’t be the ones who heard visiting guest Jerry Dodgion join the band for a couple of solos. Or who smiled when ailing artistic director Kerry Strayer took the stage to an accompaniment of cheers (and proceeded to solo wonderfully).

They also wouldn’t be the ones counting the cash on what was, from all appearances, a highly successful fundraising event for KCJO’s 10th anniversary year.

There is an audience for this music, an audience which will pay for a night where the goal is fun. And where the goal is met.


Two nights later, it was The Blue Room’s turn to swing. Last week’s post pictured Bobby Watson’s 18th and Vine Big Band. This was a group originally assembled to join the Kansas City Symphony for a Pops concert. But this Saturday night, tuxes were traded for untucked shirts.

The opening number, Satin Doll, was an arrangement by KCJO’s artistic director. Solos by trombonist Jason Godeau, trumpeter Hermon Mehari, saxophonist Steve Lambert, pianist Roger Wilder, bassist Bob Bowman and leader Bobby Watson established this big band as second to nobody.

Only one member of Bobby’s band also claimed KCJO’s stage. The two nights offered a chance to hear a broad sampling of Kansas City jazz talent swing. The two nights offered the chance to hear two bands excel.

Even so, maybe it was looseness unencumbered by black suits and spit-shined shoes. Maybe it was playing in a genuine jazz club rather than a plushly seated shrine to the arts. Maybe it was playing right on top of the audience, tripping over the front row tables, rather than seeing an orchestra pit of space separating the audience from the stage. Maybe it was the interactions with a younger crowd. Maybe it was just having a drink in hand.

But while Thursday night was unquestionably fun, Saturday night was a blast.


Two weeks ago, I wrote about young musicians who, beyond the Mutual Musicians Foundation, have never known the connections to Kansas City’s jazz past. Many play a more progressive, contemporary music, and draw an audience to jazz clubs.

A week and a day after Bobby Watson’s 18th and Vine Big Band performed, the insanely progressive People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City premiered new compositions at The Record Bar.

The range of jazz which can draw a respectable audience in Kansas City today, including more people than they built seats for in San Francisco, speaks broadly to its vitality in this city. Sure, it’s a niche. No jazz artist is going to fill The Sprint Center. But Kansas City can boast an active and diverse jazz community.


Several tidbits:

•  This Saturday night, Beyond the Blues is a fundraiser for Mental Health America of the Heartland. It features performances by the Blues Notions, Todd Wilkinson and Mille Edwards. More information is available here.

•  Kansas City Kansas Community College and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra team up for the 12th annual Jazz Camp, June 3rd through 7th. Among the faculty:  Doug Talley, Steve Molloy, Everett DeVan, Rod Fleeman, Mike Ning and James Albright. Students can sign up now. More information is available here.

•  Johnson County Community College has announced the lineup for their 2013-14 Performing Arts Series. Among the notable dates: Saturday, January 25th, 2014, when Arturo Sandoval plays Yardley Hall at 8 p.m. as part of Jazz Winterlude.

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