Monday, September 30, 2013

In Lieu of 1000 Words: The 2013 Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Part 2

Last week, I offered photos from the daytime acts. This week, let’s take a look at the 2013 Prairie Village Jazz Festival headliners. Marilyn Maye took the stage just as the sun set (as always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it).

Marilyn Maye and Her Quartet. Left to right: Gerald Spaits on bass, Billy Stritch on piano, Rod Fleeman on guitar and Marilyn Maye. Not pictured: Drummer Jim Eklof.

Marilyn Maye sings

Billy Stritch, Marilyn Maye and Rod Fleeman

Gerald Spaits and Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye

Bobby Watson directs his All-Star Big Band with Special Guest Jon Faddis

Jon Faddis solos while the sax section riffs

Bobby Watson

The view through the screen behind the stage, as Hermon Mehari solos in the spotlight.

Enjoying a solo by bassist Bob Bowman

Faddis and the saxes

Jon Faddis, Bobby Watson and Bobby's big band: A wonderful conclusion to a special day and night of jazz.

Monday, September 23, 2013

In Lieu of 1000 Words: The 2013 Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Part 1

Last week, I offered thoughts on this year’s Prairie Village Jazz Festival, staged on September 7th in Harmon Park. This week, I offer photos.

The festival opened with the Andy McGhie Quintet. Temperatures in the mid-90s kept most of the audience clustered in the shade, under trees up the park’s hill. Surprisingly, despite the heat, I counted nearly as many fans in the audience at the start this year as I counted last year.

Andy McGhie on saxophone

Hermon Mehari on trumpet

Pianist Andrew Ouellette. Also in the band was bassist Karl McComas-Reichl and drummer Ryan Lee.

I’ve featured photos of this group before, so they’re not getting substantial space today. But Parallax, led by trumpeter Stan Kessler, with pianist Roger Wilder, bassist Bill McKemy and both Ryan Lee and Brian Steever on drums, has grown into one of my favorite KC ensembles. When I was at the merchandise booth, an audience member asked if they had a CD available. They don’t. They should.

Brain Steever and Ryan Lee on drums

The Mutual Musicians Foundation All-Stars was assembled for the festival at my request. Kansas City history stands at 18th and Highland, featuring jam sessions every weekend night for over eighty years. Few people attending this festival have ever been there. So, I suggested, let’s bring a piece of the 18th and Vine district to Prairie Village. Let’s assemble some of the regulars who jam at the Mutual Musicians Foundation most weekend nights and put them in the festival.

Tenor saxophonist Steve Lambert, who is on the Board of Directors at the Foundation, assembled the group.

Pianist Chris Clarke is a Foundation weekend jam session regular.

Mike Herrera on alto saxophone

Peter Schlamb on vibraphone

Bassist Ben Leifer

Brad Williams on drums

The front line of Mike, Steve and Peter. Later in the day, back stage, Marilyn Maye’s drummer spoke to me about the Mutual Musicians Foundation All-Stars. He heard them and commented, “That is some outstanding talent.” I agree. I hope Steve can keep the group together and book it in clubs. I want to hear this band again.

The Everette DeVan – Chris Hazelton Quartet (which I also photographed last January), with Everette and Chris on Hammond B3 organs, Matt Hopper on guitar and Danny Rojas on drums.

As Everette and Chris swung the park, the sun began to set, temperatures cooled, and a crowd started streaming in.

The view from behind the stage. With the sun settling behind the hill, the spotlight shined on Marilyn Maye. Next week, photos of the headline acts.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Festival Thoughts

I was mad.

The festival was promoted as starting at 3:00. At 3:00, people were in the park, waiting for it to start.

But the time had slipped well past 3:00, to 3:10, maybe 3:15. The first band was ready to go on. And we were waiting for the Mayor of Prairie Village to find his way to the stage to make opening remarks.

Just introduce the band and start the festival, I argued. Tell the Mayor he missed his opportunity. Nobody, not a soul, was sitting in that devastating heat waiting to hear the Mayor of Prairie Village, Kansas talk, for pity’s sake. They were waiting to hear jazz.

But organizers more respectful of the politics entwined with a city-sponsored festival won the argument. And that’s why the fourth annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival started late.

It was the only time all day I would be mad about anything.


The audience amazed me.

The heat was crippling. The first group stumbled off stage at the end of their set talking about how hot it was up there. But they were young and could take it. During the second set, Stan Kessler nearly seared his lips when putting his trumpet to them to solo – despite keeping the trumpet under a towel. Backstage, my shirt was soaked in sweat (and I decidedly do not sport the physique to model a wet t-shirt).

Yet, an audience nearly the same size at the same time as the audience at last year’s festival spotted the grounds in front of the stage. The majority clustered in the shade under trees a bit up the hill. Others, mostly in wide-brimmed hats, bravely claimed spots directly in front on the stage and directly under the sun.

The sun started setting during the fourth set. Then the crowd streamed in. By the time Marilyn Maye claimed the stage, the park was more densely packed and people covered more of the grounds than last year.

You plan a music festival expecting the largest crowd for the headliners. And when temperatures turn unseasonably stifling, you accept crowd size will suffer. I co-emceed the 1985 Kansas City Jazz Festival on the south lawn of the Nelson Museum, when temperatures reached 103 degrees. Later, when friends asked how I felt about talking before a crowd, I would say that during the evening a spotlight blinded me and I couldn’t see the audience, and during the day there was no audience.

Not so at this year’s Prairie Village Jazz Festival. Temperatures hit the mid-90s two Saturdays ago. The number of fans who defied unreasonable heat that day to hear Kansas City jazz 2013-style truly surprised me. The park was never empty, never close to it.

So don’t tell me nobody will turn out for jazz in Kansas City.


Marilyn Maye is a sweetheart. Bobby Watson and Jon Faddis are absolute delights. It was a genuine treat to host every local musician in the festival.

That’s not always the case when staging festivals. We organizers are a group of volunteers doing the best we can, but we’re volunteers and we make plenty of mistakes. For the second consecutive year, for instance, musicians out early on Saturday for sound checks wound up waiting on us to be ready for them.

Some years, you book prima donnas who make your life miserable and you smile and thank them for gracing your event.

Not this year. This year, gracious musicians as much as an appreciative audience made all of the work involved in presenting this festival a joy. That’s the reward for which a volunteer organizer wishes, but doesn’t always receive.

Thank you, musicians. Thank you, audience.


My favorite backstage quote came from Jon Faddis, when he first saw Bobby Watson at the sound check on Saturday morning:

“Look at that! Bobby grew a tummy! When did Bobby get that tummy?”


Promotion was my biggest disappointment this year.

Don’t take that statement the wrong way. The press treated the festival wonderfully.

But I’m a huge advocate of properly marketing an event. Build an online presence. Spend some money on ads.

At the time we signed the talent, we organizers were projecting raising nearly $10,000 more to stage the event than we wound up securing. Fundraising simply didn’t come through as optimistically anticipated.

Promotional deals were available with the newspaper and a TV station, deals that could have raised awareness of the festival to the next level. But as strongly as I advocate for marketing, I’m an even stronger voice against spending money which hasn’t been raised prior to the day of the event. That’s how festivals go broke.

Volunteers maintained the web site and Facebook. But there’s limits to the time people also working a full time job can offer. Volunteers gave all they could muster. A greater online presence requires more volunteers, or more money to pay professionals to help the festival promote.

Or both.


At this moment, I have no idea who will be in next year’s Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

Prairie Village law requires the festival to have in the bank the money required to pay a contract before the contract can be signed. So a certain level of fundraising needs to precede signing talent.


You’re looking for photos from the 2013 Prairie Village Jazz Festival, aren’t you?

Look next week.

Monday, September 9, 2013

In Lieu of 1000 Words: The Project H and Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle

Consider the breadth and variety of jazz in Kansas City today, what you can hear from one night to the next.

Friday night, two weeks ago, Vine Street Rumble re-imagined the experience of hearing Bennie Monten’s orchestra (and other KC big bands) eighty years later in the neighborhood where Moten lived and worked.

Then Saturday night, at the new M Productions event space, two and a half blocks from a ballroom where Moten’s orchestra swung, young jazz musicians performed. They expertly played their own compositions, with contemporary hooks that pull you in. This jazz flowed and jumped along a different path than the music I heard the night before. This is jazz built on eighty years of evolution, brought fresh into the 21st century by musicians the same age the members of Bennie Moten’s band were when they lit up Kansas City.

The Project H and Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle are two jazz ensembles lighting up Kansas City jazz in 2013.

Trombonist Ryan Heinlein composes the music for and leads The Project H. Joined on the front line by Clint Ashlock on trumpet and Brett Jackson on sax, and backed by Jeff Stocks on guitar, Andrew Ouellette on piano, Dominique Sanders on bass and Matt Leifer on drums, this is a collection of some of the best young jazz talent in Kansas City today. This music grabs you. The hook of their closer, Saturday’s Back!, is still repeating itself in my head two weeks later (thanks a lot, guys).

Eddie Moore has brought together Adam Scholzman on guitar, Ben Leifer on bass and Matt Leifer on drums to mostly perform original compositions by himself, Ben and Adam. These songs tell stories, or musically illustrate experiences, all with an intelligence that pulls you in and sets you on a unique path.

A big thank you to M Productions, not just for a special new performance space, but for the opportunity to hear, in one night, so much original music by musicians carrying Kansas City jazz forward early in this century.

Just like Bennie Moten and his musicians did early in the last century.

If you weren’t there on August 24th to hear The Projcet H and Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle, here’s how it looked. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

The Project H

The Project H. Left to right: Matt Leifer on drums, Dominique Sanders on bass, Ryan Heinlein on trombone, Jeff Stocks on guitar, Brett Jackson on saxophone, Clint Ashlock on trumpet, Andre Ouellette on keyboards.

Leader Ryan Heinlein on trombone

Guitarist Jeff Stocks (in front of a big M)

Brett Jackson on saxophone

Dominque Sanders on bass

Dominique and Jeff

Matt Leifer, drumming for The Project H

Clint Ashlock on trumpet

Pianist Andrew Ouellette

Ryan, Brett, Dominique, Clint and Jeff
 Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle

Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle. Left to right: Matt Leifer on drums, Adam Schlozman on guitar, Ben Leifer on bass, Eddie Moore on keyboards

Leader and keyboardist Eddie Moore

Ben Leifer on bass

Adam Schlozman on guitar

Matt Leifer on drums, this time for the Outer Circle

Adam and Ben

Eddie Moore

Monday, September 2, 2013

This 'n That 'n Not Full Employment, But....

Twice in the last two weeks, I’ve heard it. Maybe to explain alternates in a big band, or a substitute musician for the night in an ensemble, or when rushing off to another gig after this one.

A jazz musician said some variation of, “It’s busy tonight. There’s a lot going on. Everyone's working.”

Jazz and busy and everyone’s working in the same thought? When was the last time Kansas City could say that?

Let’s be realistic. Not every musician in the Kansas City jazz community was working those nights. Some who may prefer to play more esoteric music or who just weren’t lucky enough to be part of one of the groups with a gig may not have been working. And we’re talking two nights, not two weeks or two months or two years. And nobody in Kansas City is becoming a millionaire by booking or playing jazz (as far as I know).

But consider this: We’re less than two years removed from Jardine’s collapse and endless whirls of contemplation over the future of jazz in Kansas City in its wake.

So to hear any jazz musician mutter the words, even for just one or two nights, “Everybody’s working,” in this jazz city so dominated by extraordinary young talent, suggests a corner turned. It suggests a fresh vibrancy.

And that 2013 Kansas City jazz vibrancy feels good.


If you use an iPhone, an iPad or an iPod Touch, a new free app helps you find that Kansas City jazz vibe.

Jazz Near You uses your location to list submitted jazz shows in the area. The Events tab shows them by date, the Distance tab by how far the venue is from your current location, the Venues tab sorts by club, the mostly empty Festivals tab would list festivals if any of us submitted them, and the Musicians tab lists performances by participating musicians.

Never mind that so far most of the listings submitted are from Green Lady Lounge. To tap the Musicians tab in the app and see listings from Andrew Ouellette to T.J. Martley and Tyrone Clarke (alphabetized by first name? Okay, it’s not perfect) feels like bestowing those names with a new-media significance (Look, Ma: Local jazz musicians in an app!).

I submitted all of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival acts on the website. They showed up immediately in the Events tab of the app (but not yet, as I write this, in the other tabs). It’s a bit of a pain to enter them all (uploading a spreadsheet of acts is an option, if other festival bookers – or club owners – maintain such a spreadsheet). Even logging into the site was unnecessarily persnickety.

But being able to open an app and see upcoming jazz in Kansas City to head out and hear? That’s rather wonderful.

(Sorry Apple haters. At the moment, this app is not available for Android devices.)


Speaking of the Prairie Village Jazz Festival….

If you’ve read this blog more than once recently, you likely know I booked it this year.

The festival is this Saturday, September 7th, at Prairie Village’s Harmon Park, 7700 Mission Road (that’s next door to Shawnee Mission East High School and Prairie Village City Hall). Music starts at 3 p.m and lasts until 10:30 that night. Bring a lawn chair or blanket. Admission is free.

And, if I may immodestly say so, the music will be spectacular. Bobby Watson’s All-Star Big Band is the one he first assembled for a pair of Pops concerts with the Kansas City Symphony. Next Saturday, you’ll hear them not just backing Bobby but also backing one of the most respected trumpeters in jazz today, Jon Faddis.

And how many chances have there been to hear Marilyn Maye in KC since Jardine’s closed? Few, very few. In fact, outside of a private fundraiser, none this year. Saturday night, that dry spell ends.

Festival fundraising petered out after I booked talent, leaving the event’s ability to promote itself this year as rather disappointing. So you’ll excuse me while I scream this schedule one more time (including the first public listing of the big band’s all-stars).

3:00 – 3:50 p.m.  Andy McGhie Quintet
Andy McGhie, tenor saxophone, Hermon Mehari, trumpet, Andrew Ouellette, piano, Karl McComas-Reichl, bass, Ryan Lee, drums

4:10 – 5:00 p.m.  Parallax
Stan Kessler, trumpet, Roger Wilder, piano, Bill McKemy, bass, Ryan Lee and Brian Steever, drums

5:20 – 6:10 p.m.  Mutual Musicians Foundation All-Stars
Steve Lambert, tenor saxophone and flute, Mike Herrera, alto saxophone, Peter Schlamb, vibraphone, Chris Clarke, piano, Ben Leifer, bass, Brad Williams, drums

6:30 – 7:20 p.m.  Everette DeVan – Chris Hazelton Quartet
Everette DeVan and Chris Hazelton, Hammond B3 organs, Matt Hopper, guitar, Danny Rojas, drums

7:40 – 8:40 p.m.  Marilyn Maye
Marilyn Maye, vocals, Billy Stritch, piano, Gerald Spaits, bass, Jim Eklof, drums

9:00 – 10:30 p.m.  Bobby Watson All-Star Big Band with Special Guest Jon Faddis
Bobby Watson, alto saxophone, Jon Faddis, trumpet, with
Trumpets: Clint Ashlock, Hermon Mehari, Al Pearson, Nate Nall
Trombones: Karita Carter, Jason Goudeau, Louis Neal, TBA
Saxophones: Gerald Dunn, Horace Washington, Charles Perkins, Dan Thomas, Steve Lambert
Rhythm: Roger Wilder, piano, Bob Bowman, bass, Michael Warren, drums