In 1929, Cab Calloway’s band was swinging the El Torreon. A “crystal ball” reportedly made of 100,000 mirrors lit the ballroom where 2000 dancers would pack the dance floor.
Calloway’s music proved so popular that El Torreon’s rival, the Pla-Mor Ballroom, brought in Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy from Oklahoma to compete.
Last Saturday night, eighty four years after Cab Calloway swung El Torreon, and a block east and a block and a half north of the still-standing building:
|The Allie Burik Quintet|
Jazz filled the street. I parked a half block away. I hadn’t been here before. But I arrived after the show started, and I only needed to follow the sound of trumpet and sax to find the front door.
|Clint Ashlock. Behind him, Karl McComas-Reichl|
This is M Productions, the office of jazz chanteuse Megan Birdsall. Here, outside, lights wind through a performance space sporting speakers and a stage up front. Brick walls lining three sides focus the music towards the audience, while a beautiful open sky prevents any of the sound from overwhelming.
This night opens with the Allie Burik Quintet. Allie is the emerging, young – very young, as in starting college in a few weeks young – saxophonist, vocalist and composer, this night backed (and mentored) by Clint Ashlock on trumpet, Andrew Oullette on keyboards, Karl McComas-Reichl on bass and Matt Leifer on drums.
Changing out Allie for alto saxophonist Michael Schults turned the band into Forward, Clint’s and Michael’s originals-playing combo.
|New Jazz Order Big Band|
Next, adding another dozen musicians to the group filled the bandstand – and some seats surrounding the bandstand – with Clint’s New Jazz Order Big Band, a Tuesday night regular at Harling’s and one of the premiere big bands in a city which today is full of big bands.
Clint also conducts The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. Lead trombonist Jeff Hamer sits in both bands. Add Todd Wilkinson, Mike Herrera, the rhythm section and saxophonists who played earlier, just to name a few. New Jazz Order Big Band is a showcase of outstanding musicians.
|Megan Birdsall, singing, with Clint Ashlock, trumpet, Andrew Oullette, keyboards, Karl McComas-Reichl, bass, and Matt Leifer, drums (and a big M).|
Over its ballroom life, El Torreon hosted Bennie Moten’s legendary orchestra and Andy Kirk’s. Today, El Torreon mostly sits empty. But last Saturday night, a nearby neighborhood swung for the better part of two hours to the big band music of Basie and Ellington and Thad Jones.
|New Jazz Order Big Band at the M Productions outdoor performance space.|
M Productions’s space isn’t going to accommodate 2000 dancers. But on a summer night when a band wants to perform there, they’ll charge a cover to pay the musicians and fill with jazz an acoustically delightful outdoor performance area. The surrounding neighborhood will resonate with music, too, eight and a half decades and two and a half blocks from the ballroom that Cab Calloway and Bennie Moten once swung.
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