Monday, December 30, 2013

The Broadway Jazz Club

Step into The Broadway Jazz Club and you’re struck by the music.

Sit at one of the tables up front to be immersed in jazz. Settle there and you’re not going to talk, unless it’s to request a song or ask where the tip jar is.

Clearly, attention has been given to the sound. At the tables to the side of the stage, music is less dominant but still perfectly clear. Sit midway back in the club, at one of the tables where booth seating lines the wall, and you can hear the music or quietly converse without noise dominating the reason you came. Around the bar, you can drink and enjoy jazz, except maybe in that back left corner near the kitchen.

The kitchen. That’s important, too.

Sure, you can dine and enjoy jazz at The Majestic. But prices make dinner there, for many of us, a rare treat. Dinner is affordable at The Phoenix, but there you’re more likely to hear blues than jazz. Or if you don’t sit close enough to the piano bar, you’re more likely to hear the boisterous guy at the next table. Small plates at Green Lady and Kill Devil are nice, but they’re not really dinner. And The Blue Room offers no food at all.

Don’t take me wrong. There are plenty of other reasons to revel in jazz at these clubs, and I do. But a visit to Denver and their dinner jazz club, Dazzle, left me feeling a bit stung. Here was a room crammed with tables and diners and drinkers, comfort food reasonably priced, nothing new, nothing perfect, a large stage up front, ambiance with a dash of sleaze, with good sound, and good jazz. You can find rooms like this in New York, in New Orleans, in Chicago, in Seattle. But for the last two years, not in Kansas City.

The Broadway Jazz Club forgoes the crammed tables. You can comfortably maneuver the space around the large, U-shaped center bar. Red walls, red booths, wood floors and dark lighting set the mood (a little too dark, perhaps, for some of us to easily read the menu. Or maybe the tables need brighter candles). Paintings of KC jazz icons line a wall. Food ranges from sandwiches to steaks, salads to seafood, chicken, pasta and comfort food. A lot behind the building provides plenty of parking. Add wonderful sound and wailing jazz and the ambiance is dinner juke joint circa 2014. Not as straight-out-of-the-1940s as The Green Lady Lounge, but if your table wobbles a smidgen because the floor right there is uneven, you’re not surprised.


But it’s at 36th and Broadway.

This isn’t right off the Plaza, like KC's last dinner jazz club. You can’t see Nichols Fountain from the parking lot. The American Century office tower isn't next door. No hotels full of businessmen and tourists sit across the street. This may be more or less up the block from where Jardine’s thrived, but the neighborhood is different. This is midtown.

On my first visit, the audience was younger than you might expect in a jazz club, more twenty and thirty somethings than fifty and sixty somethings, more of the age group already comfortable with 36th and Broadway. It was wonderful to see a younger audience enjoying jazz. But for a jazz club in Kansas City to thrive, it also needs to attract the older guests who enjoy jazz and will drop a few bucks on dinner and drinks.

R Bar was a wonderful restaurant and bar in the West Bottoms. It opened featuring a stage in the front window, a sound system timed just right to carry music through its long, narrow space, and live jazz. But the owner found that jazz fans would not drive to the West Bottoms to enjoy the music. Musicians who filled other clubs played to a largely empty R Bar.

And there’s the elephant in the room. Will audiences that eschewed the West Bottoms embrace 36th and Broadway? How do you entice older patrons, often from Johnson County, who thought little of driving to the Plaza? Will they travel a little further, into less familiar midtown, to drop a little cash?


Megan Birdsall headlined The Broadway Jazz Club last Friday night. Her group was excellent: Paul Smith on piano, Danny Embrey on guitar, Steve Rigazzi on bass, Sam Wisman on drums. But as the evening progressed, other musicians stopped by. Steve Lambert brought his sax. Kevin Cerovich carried his trombone from a Take Five gig. Bassists Bob Bowman and Ben Leifer showed up. Pianist Andrew Ouellette and drummer John Kizilarmut walked in. Miguel “Mambo” DeLeon brought his congas.

Megan turned over her third set to the visitors, sitting in with them. The set effectively became an unexpected and unrehearsed jam session. And when Cerovich and Lambert soloed, then Kizilarmut and Mambo traded lines, those of us in The Broadway Jazz Club were treated to an Ellington tune performed magically, as you’ll only hear it in a Kansas City jam.


When opening a new club – probably any new business – consultants recommend having enough cash on hand to survive at least three months of inadequate revenue, while building the business, its image, its reputation.

A few weeks old, The Broadway Jazz Club is still in its infancy. But perhaps it’s on track towards building a reputation not just for musical excellence, but for the musically unexpected, because maybe this is where jazz musicians hang out. That’s a club nearly any jazz fan, of any generation, will seek out at least once.

And when they come, they’ll find that short walk from the parking lot to the front door, for a jazz club, offers just the right dash of sleaze.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Night Before a Magic Jazz Fairy Christmas

’Twas the night before Christmas. In a bed in the house
Slept the Magic Jazz Fairy. The Fairy was soused.
Its pre-Christmas tradition: Visit every jazz club,
Once meant two or three, and there was the rub.

For two years ago, when Jardine’s bit the dust,
And critics proclaimed for jazz there’s no lust,
Just foolish musicians with nowhere to play
A music, they said, which had seen its last day.

Few clubs featured jazz. The Blue Room was still here.
Mutual Musicians Foundation brought late night good cheer.
The Majestic on weekends reopened its club.
But The Phoenix booked blues, saying its fans bought grub.

Take Five tried live jazz, its acoustics quite good,
But just who would go to hear jazz in Leawood.
Record Bar booked some jazz, and very good stuff.
Some other clubs tried, but it wasn’t enough.

The Magic Jazz Fairy then reeked of despair.
Because its main mission, to fly through the air
And tell sleeping fans when to find jazz, and where,
Felt mostly futile when so little was there.

Then, on X-Mas Eve, there arose such a clatter
The Magic Jazz Fairy jumped to see what was the matter.
“Oh, I know who that is,” Fairy realized quick.
It was his ol’ buddy. It was a working St. Nick.

The Magic Jazz Fairy and Claus were ol’ chums.
They used to go out and share a few rums.
Fairy peered up the chimney. “Slide down, you old fart!”
The Fairy did yell, “For you, that’s an art!”

Fairy greeted his friend. “Nick! Stay for a rum?”
Santa thought then he said, “I have time for just one.”
“But tell me,” said Clause, “I hear times, they are are rough.”
The Fairy just sighed, “Work, there isn’t enough.”

Each raised a glass and lit a cigar.
“Nick, you know this city. Jazz should be its star.
Fantastic musicians, the best you can hear.
But few places to hear them. That’s how I see the next year.”

Clause leaned in close. “I’m working tonight.
“What can I get you? Fairy, what’s your delight?”
Fairy glared back at Clause. “This isn’t for me.
“It’s for Kansas City. For the whole world to see.

“Great talent is here, but not the venues.
“Nicholas, more clubs for jazz. That would be the best news.”
Santa leaned back and winked then said, “Friend, it is done.
“Next year will be different. But now I must run.”

Fairy leaned in his chair and dipped into sleep.
Did he dream all of this? Fairy heard not a peep.
Yet, when it awoke, Fairy just saw regression,
A jazz scene imperiled by daunting recession.

But then something happened. Fairy found it quite queer.
Some weekends saw Take Five packed front door to rear.
Jazz in the suburbs was drawing new faces.
Musicians and fans found a new jazz oasis.

Then a club was announced for Power and Light.
A new home for jazz, what a welcome delight.
Was the Eve not a dream? Was this by Nicolas’s hand?
The club’s specialty: rum. Said Fairy, “Well, I’ll be damned.”

And ’twas but the start. Soon The Green Lady Lounge
Brought a classic jazz venue to the Crossroads of town.
Then the outskirts of Waldo saw Louie’s Wine Dive
And with jazz on the weekends, a bustling hive.

And then Broadway Jazz Club opened near the Uptown,
A new dinner jazz spot with exquisite sound.
The Majestic now booked jazz each night of the week
And The Phoenix booked more. Jazz fans they did seek.

This isn’t the ’30s. There’s no hundreds of clubs.
But suddenly in KC there’s more jazz than there was.
The talent just grows, with more youth breaking through.
KC’s culture of jazz shines a more vivid hue.

So this Christmas Eve, when the Fairy made rounds
To each KC jazz club, that covered more grounds
For a Magic Jazz Fairy who was happy, not bored.
And the night before Christmas a drunk Fairy just snored.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Paseo Hall, Part 2

1936 saw devastating temperatures, America’s hottest summer on record. As many as 5000 deaths across North America were attributed to the heat.

In 1936, Count Basie led a band at the Reno Club, at 12th and Cherry. He’d assembled the group the year before, after Bennie Moten’s untimely death.

During 1936, Kansas City recorded its hottest day, 113 degrees on August 14th.

1936 was the year Jo Jones threw his cymbal at an inexperienced, teenage Charlie Parker to shame him off the Reno Club stage.

In 1936, Kansas City dedicated Municipal Auditorium, on October 13th, with President Franklin Roosevelt as the keynote speaker.

Through 1936, Basie’s band was broadcast for a half hour six nights a week from the Reno Club on experimental radio station W9XBY.

In July, 1936, the high temperature in two Kansas towns reached 121 degrees.

In July, 1936, New York record producer John Hammond, having heard the broadcasts of Basie’s band, came to Kansas City.

After the 1936 election, 21 Kansas Citians were jailed or fined for vote fraud.

In 1936, the night before Roosevelt was elected to his second term as President, Count Basie and his Barons of Rhythm left Kansas City for New York.

The ballroom at 1414 E. 15th Street (today, Truman Road) had abandoned its identity as The Harlem Night Club and its Whites-only admission policy, and had resumed life as Paseo Hall. Kansas City’s favorite jazz bands played there. Famous black bands traveling through Kansas City from the East might play the Pla-Mor or El Torreon ballroom on a weekend for White audiences, then play Paseo Hall for the Black audience on Monday night.

Before leaving KC, Basie’s band would play a farewell concert at Paseo Hall on Saturday night, October 31st. Then, two nights later, they would return to Paseo Hall to open for a much-anticipated concert by Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra.

The Kansas City Call previewed Monday night:

“Kansas City’s dance lovers are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the one and only Duke Ellington and his celebrated orchestra that will play a one-night engagement at Paseo hall next Monday night, November 2.

“For months talk of Ellingtons’s evening has been on the lips of local fans. The Duke is one of the most popular maestros ever to present his wares here. With typical Ellington swing very much in vogue, a capacity house is expected….

“Count Basie and his Barons of Rhythm, 11 musicians who have skyrocketed in fame within a year’s time due mainly to their distinctive music and regular broadcasts from the Club Reno. The Count, who recently left the Reno in order to start a tour of the Southwest and East under a contract with a prominent eastern booking agency, is a favorite here. His band needs no introduction….”

Basie fondly remembered the weekend in his autobiography, Good Morning Blues:

“…Before we hit the road, we played two more dates in Kansas City.

“The first was a Halloween dance at Paseo Hall that last Saturday night. We advertised it as our farewell dance. They always did like farewells and homecomings in Kansas City, so we called this our farewell thing. But we actually went right back into Paseo Hall that very next Monday night and played our last gig as the local union band. The big headline attraction that night was Duke Ellington…. It was a very special night for everybody, because Duke had been coming to Kansas City for at least several years by that time, but this was the first time he was coming to play a dance at Paseo Hall. All the other times he had been booked into the big theaters downtown….

“But I didn’t get to hear him that night in Kansas City, because we went on first, and we couldn’t stay for the main event because we were scheduled to leave for Chicago that very same Monday night. In fact our bus was parked outside, ready to pull out as soon as we finished our set and loaded our instruments. Our suitcases were already on board….

“We went on early, and of course, we did our best to liven things up in there, and we always did. But then when Duke’s famous musicians began arriving, the crowd couldn’t help showing how excited it was about having them there. So as many friends and well-wishers as we knew we had in Kansas City, I don’t think there were many more than about a dozen people who came outside to see us off.

“But Duke himself came out…. That night he made it his business to come outside of Paseo Hall and give us his congratulations and wish us good luck, and he gave me a few words of encouragement and a big pat on the shoulder just before I got on the bus. He was beautiful.

“‘Go ahead,’ he said. ‘You can make it.’

“That meant a lot to me….”


Five years later, by 1941, reformers had taken hold at City Hall. Political boss Tom Pendergast had served time in prison and had been released. Charlie Parker had long since rebounded from being shamed in the Reno and was a rising star in Jay McShann’s big band. But many of KC’s jazz best had followed Basie’s lead and moved to New York. Clubs were closing.

And St. Stephen Baptist Church took over Paseo Hall, converting it to their auditorium. The cornerstone for the St. Stephen building which stands today at Truman Road and The Paseo was laid in 1945.

But look closely at 1414 Truman Rd. That’s where Bennie Moten and Andy Kirk and George E. Lee and Mary Lou Williams and Lester Young and Hot Lips Page and Count Basie and Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker performed.

That was Paseo Hall.


A special thank you to Kent Rausch for verifying the address of Paseo Hall and providing the top photo, of Paseo Hall in 1940.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Paseo Hall, Part 1

On August 14th, 1936, Kansas City’s temperature hit 113 degrees, the hottest ever recorded here. For 53 days that summer, highs topped 100 degrees.

But now it was November 2nd, a Monday. The next day, Franklin Roosevelt would be elected to his second term as president, over Kansas governor Alf Landon.

Temperatures had cooled.

This night, Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm were leaving Kansas City. They opened for Duke Ellington, but couldn’t stay. When their set ended, the musicians boarded a bus waiting for them on the street. Their suitcases were already on board. They were heading first to Chicago, then east. But before the bus left, Ellington walked out the doors to wish Basie his best.

It happened right here. They performed in this building. The bus was likely waiting on this street. Ellington walked out right here. Today the address is 1414 Truman Road.

This was Paseo Hall.


Paseo Hall, first known as Dehoney’s, was leased by Bennie Moten and opened to Black patrons on March 23, 1924. An ad in The Kansas City Sun declared:


“Society is demanding higher standards in all of its social phases. BENNIE MOTEN and his MUSICAL COHORTS have raised the standard of Dance Pleasure and announce the lease of the BIG HALL located at FIFTEENTH and PASEO for the indulgence of COLORED DEVOTEES OF TERPSICHOREAN DELIGHT. This is indeed the Hall of Halls – with every up-to-the-moment CONVENIENCE for PATRONS. ’Mid those luxurious surroundings you will want to attend every EVENT pulled off in this REAL EMPORIUM OF PLEASURE. With the best possible dance floor, the best installed acoustics for carrying the best MUSIC – a good time is assured at all times.”

Moten’s band would play there Thursdays and Sundays.

Often, when well known bands from the east would come through segregated Kansas City, they played the Pla-Mor or El Torreon ballroom for white audiences. Then, on Monday night, they would play Paseo Hall for black audiences.

A September, 1928 Kansas City Call article reviewed the return of Moten’s band to Kansas City and Paseo Hall after an extended absence:

“That Kansas City’s music and dance lovers are glad Bennie Moten and his orchestra are back was vividly illustrated Wednesday night when 1700 people crowded into Paseo hall to hear and see what they boys had brought back in the way of syncopation, after their nine months absence. Apparently, from the reception given the orchestra, the boys brought back plenty.

“The same 10 men who left with Bennie last year showed their pleasure in being back again by rendering the latest music with such an improvement in style that encore after encore was necessary to satisfy the huge crowd….

“When ‘Tiny’ Taylor, Woody Walder, and Leroy ‘Buck’ Berry featured Mississippi Mud it became clear why Moten’s orchestra played in some of the best places in the East while they were away.

“The boys all expressed themselves as being glad to get home, and Bennie told The Call representative that he had turned down a year’s contract in New York in order to return….”

A Battle of the Bands at Paseo Hall on Monday, December 2, 1929, staged by Musicians Protective Union Local No. 627, raised money to complete converting an apartment building into the union’s new home, known today as the Mutual Musicians Foundation. The Kansas City Call reviewed it:

“Well, who wouldn’t go to a dance when six good orchestras are going to play and the dancing will be continuous from early in the evening until early in the morning? That’s the way about 2200 people looked at it Monday night when the Musicians Union, Local 627, gave its first annual ball at Paseo hall.

“The crowd did everything but hang on the ceiling. The lobby was jammed; the dance floor was jammed; the seats along the wall were jammed; and the balcony was groaning from too much population. And maybe you think those six orchestras didn’t play with that sort of crowd for inspiration! There were more varieties of melody, rhythm, blues, and stomp music than the old dance palace has heard in a long time.

“George Lee and his novelty singing Brunswick orchestra got the crowd in a good humor with a flawless performance. Paul Banks’ nattily attired Rhythm Aces followed in a way that made everybody happy. Andy Kirk’s 12 Clouds of Joy came next with a burst of joy that made the hall rock. Bennie Moten’s Victor recording orchestra made its large following happy with the type of music which has made it widely famous and Bennie himself got out of bed to fill this engagement. And George Wilkerson and his Musical Magnets bore up the tradition and got hot in the approved manner.

“‘We are very pleased with the results of our first dance,’ William Shaw, president of the local union, said. ‘The proceeds of the dance will go to the completion of the musicians home, recently purchased. On behalf of our local, I want to extend our sincere thanks to the public which so generously supported us in our first annual venture.’”


Paseo Hall changed ownership in 1933 and on July 1st was renamed The Harlem Night Club. But the newly renamed hall was restricted to White patrons only. Early in 1933, the Eblon Theater at 1822 Vine Street had been converted into the Cherry Blossom club. Black audiences turned there.

On March 11, 1935, the Kansas City Call announced that Paseo Hall had “turned over to Negro patronage again.”


Next week: Paseo Hall on the night Basie left, and today.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Blueprints and Lost Clarinets

It’s pure coincidence. The Star ran a pair of articles examining the languishing development of 18th and Vine and the American Jazz Museum, 25 years after their announcement. Meanwhile, I was posting a brochure detailing the museum promised us at that time.

The Star’s evaluations of the district ranged from unflattering to downright appalling. But probably most appalling was the anecdote opening the second article:

“Back in 2004, the Woody Herman Society lent the jazz great’s clarinet and a few other things to the American Jazz Museum. But when it came time to return the stuff, the museum staff came up empty.

“It took three years to find the clarinet.

“Herman’s lifetime achievement Grammy award? Missing even longer, although museum staff eventually tracked it down in 2012 after the Woody Herman Society filed a police report and threatened a lawsuit.”

Later, the article notes: “...The American Jazz Museum is a signature institution that needs more revenue if it’s going to improve its own exhibits and programs.”

And when looking to improve those exhibits, don’t use the Woody Herman Society as a reference. I’ve never run a museum. But I can’t imagine that losing loaned historic artifacts is recommended for building donor confidence or winning accreditation.

Yet, disturbing as it is, that tale stands as but one impediment to the museum’s and the district’s growth. The articles touch on what I’ve maintained for decades is the district’s greatest hurdle: its isolation.

In 1987, two years before these articles begin, I was shown plans for the area. I had just taken over as chairman of the Kansas City Jazz Commission, and the then-director of the Black Economic Union (BEU) was recruiting my support.

In the BEU’s office, blueprints covered a table. These were the plans BEU was pursuing to redevelop 18th and Vine. The building known today as the Boone Theater (and then as the Armory building) and the Mutual Musicians Foundation were cornerstones. Structures along 18th Street, eventually torn down to accommodate the museums, would have mostly remained. New buildings would fill long-empty lots at 18th and The Paseo and at 18th and Woodland. Housing would dot but largely surround the core district.

It was a beautiful vision. But the vision was an oasis ringed by blight.

You cannot surround Disneyland with a moat and expect it to thrive. I saw plans for a magnificent island edged by blocks of decay. Driving through streets of industrial buildings and old structures ripe for demolition would not constitute a warm welcome. Surrounding neighborhoods were worse then, more dilapidated, before Bruce R. Watkins Expressway lapped 18th Street, removing some of the rot, and before anyone imagined the Crossroads as an artsy/restraunty district.

Except for people who already knew the area, I predicted that day, few would come.

Oh, I was told, there were plans for more housing and more businesses to ring the district, beyond what I saw in the drawings on that table. But there weren’t more plans. There were unrealistic dreams.

It was obvious that 18th and Vine needed to connect with the rest of the city. Only then could the district anticipate a critical mass, a daily density of people needed for restaurants and retail to prosper.

18th and Vine’s planners needed it to be a core cultural and retail area surrounded by ongoing waves of homes and shops. That’s the Plaza. That’s Brookside. That’s Prairie Village. That’s Leawood’s Town Center.

That was 18th and Vine in the 1930s. And that’s what, in the 1960s, had decayed beyond revival and was removed through urban renewal.

18th and Vine once thrived with homes and movie theaters and service stations and bars and doctors and lawyers and accountants and undertakers and the offices of the Kansas City Monarchs. Jazz was an element that helped build a unique environment at a unique time. But so was gambling and vice and the confinements of segregation.

It’s not coming back.

Today, beautiful new homes along Highland Street are offset by the embarrassment of historic shambles a block over on Vine.

According to The Star’s articles, the Jazz Museum took in just $159,000 on admissions in its last fiscal year. At $10 per adult, less for children, that suggests 20,000, maybe 25,000 people paid to tour the museum last year. That’s the number of people they need to be drawing in one day at their annual festival.

But you can’t put Disneyland in a moat.

How inviting is it to drive past the shell of a building with the word Asylum rising from its roof? That’s the historic Wheatley-Provident hospital, and thank God it’s still standing. But it was last used as a haunted house in the 1990s. Two decades later it’s still branded with Asylum. Doesn’t anyone recognize the image conveyed? Doesn’t anyone understand how that hurts?

It’s just one example.

It’s critical that 18th and Vine and the American history captured in that district survive. But jazz and Negro Leagues baseball alone cannot carry the district. They never did. The area still needs to connect with the city. In isolation, I don’t know how it grows the traffic necessary to thrive.

Twenty five years later, nobody has figured out how to draw people from all of those other waves of homes in the metropolitan area to a museum that can’t find the historic artifacts loaned to it.

That last sentence holds a heckuva lot of issues to overcome.