Monday, November 25, 2013

What the Jazz Museum Was Going To Be, Part 2

On March 11, 1989, Dizzy Gillespie attended the official announcement in Kansas City of the International Jazz Hall of Fame. The complex unveiled that day would evolve into what we know today as the American Jazz Museum.

I was there, as chairman of the Kansas City Jazz Commission. A booklet was distributed, full of plans, illustrations and hyperbole for the press to reproduce and quote. Last week and this week I share that booklet, so you, too, can see what the jazz museum was originally going to be.

(Clicking on any image should open a larger and more legible version of it.)

This illustration shows Vine Street, looking north from 22nd Street, as it would look upon completion. On the left, the former public works buildings have been converted to the International Jazz Hall of Fame. On the right, the Vine Street castle is home to the Black Archives of Mid-America.

These two pages describe all of the elements that would comprise The International Jazz Hall of Fame.

The Site Plan

These architectural plans detail the two floors planned for The International Jazz Hall of Fame. 

Introduction to a section providing background on the 18th and Vine Historic District.

These two pages put the location in context.

The significance of 18th and Vine.

The booklet closes with The Black Archives of Mid-America.

Monday, November 18, 2013

What the Jazz Museum Was Going To Be, Part 1

Next March marks 25 years since the official announcement that an International Jazz Hall of Fame would be built in Kansas City.

As I recounted nearly four years ago, here, on March 11, 1989, Dizzy Gillespie joined a grand announcement, attended by politicians, civic leaders, the press and area jazz officials (I was transitioning from chairman of the Kansas City Jazz Commission to president of the Kansas City Jazz Festival at the time). Renovation would convert the public works buildings at 21st and Vine into the International Jazz Hall of Fame. Two wings would house jazz archives and embrace performing arts education, including the Parker-Gillespie Institute of Jazz Masters and the Mahalia Jackson University of Gospel Music. New construction would add a theater, offices, classrooms and a jazz radio station. The Count Basie Orchestra would relocate here and conduct workshops. A walkway would connect the Hall of Fame with the Black Archives, in the castle building across Vine Street.

Kansas City jazz fans had pursued the dream of a jazz museum, or a jazz hall of fame, at least since the 1960s. But the grand plan announced at this 1989 press event is the one that would evolve into the Jazz Museum / Negro Leagues complex we know today.

A brochure was distributed at the announcement, full of accolades and details. I still have my copy, autographed by Dizzy Gillespie.

And now I’ve scanned it.

This week and next, I offer the brochure that lays out in drawings, architectural plans, budgets and explanations, the International Jazz Hall of Fame announced in Kansas City in 1989.

(Clicking on any image should open a larger and more legible version of it.)

The front cover, autographed (in red) by Dizzy Gillespie.

The Table of Contents

Introduction Page

This illustrates the development as announced. The one-time public works buildings between 21st and 22nd Streets facing Vine would have been renovated. A walkway connecting the Hall of Fame to the Black Archives would have crossed the street, adorned with statues of Charlie Parker and Count Basie.

A statement from Eddie Baker of The Charlie Parker Foundation. The announced plan was the realization of the vision Eddie had long advocated.

A statement from Dizzy on behalf of The International Jazz Hall of Fame.

A statement from the Mayor.

In 1987, Congress had passed this resolution recognizing jazz as “a rare and valuable national American treasure.”

A statement from the Kansas City Jazz Commission.

The Hall of Fame was to be constructed in three phases. Here is the space that was to be built out in each stage and the schedule for the completion of stage one.

This was the announced budget. The Hall of Fame would be completed for just under $9 million, including a $3,250,000 endowment. Of course, that couldn't be done. The city spent $26 million opening the American Jazz Museum / Negro Leagues complex that was built instead.

Next, the Conceptual Design Section

Next week’s pages include more illustrations, more detailed explanations of each section of the Hall of Fame, and architectural plans which provide the greatest insight into the institution that was going to be built.

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Kansas City Trumpet Summit

It was during the 1987 Kansas City Jazz Festival. I was an organizer that year, and Mike, then living in Boston and having just released a new CD, headlined Saturday night. That’s when I first met Mike Metheny. Another trumpeter, Wynton Marsalis, headlined the festival’s other night that year. Mike’s was the trumpet set the crowds enjoyed most. Mike’s was more fun.

I don’t remember when I first Stan Kessler, but I knew his brother first. I took over as chairman of the Kansas City Jazz Commission later in 1987. The Commission was in disarray and Stan’s brother, a young attorney, spoke before City Council committees to advocate its defunding, then advised groups in conflict with the Commission. It took me awhile to see Stan as a trumpeter and not as that pesky young attorney’s brother. But when I did, I recognized an extraordinarily talented and hard working trumpet player. He could make a living playing jazz in Kansas City by headlining a variety of ensembles, never compromising the quality of the music.

I became aware of Hermon Mehari first through his award-winning group Diverse, but then through his showing up regularly to sit in with other musicians. It was Megan Birdsall’s gig one night at Jardine’s when Hermon joined the last set and I tweeted that this must be what it was like to hear Ella and Sweets together. Sitting in that dingy dinner club, I meant it. The music was that good. Since then, whether in a tribute to Michael Jackson or gigs with rappers, Hermon has spread his talent across genres while remaining one of the most original and engaging jazz trumpet soloists in Kansas City.

I first heard T.J. Martley when he subbed one night for Mark Lowrey in Shay Estes’s group. Young, with scraggley hair and beard, he sat in with scant rehearsal and owned the music that night. Since then, I’ve heard T.J. own the keyboards, through solos of thoughtful intricacy, with a variety of jazz ensembles and on his own solo CD, Meditations, Vol. 1. There’s nothing scraggley about this piano playing.

I’m not going to try to recall when I first heard Gerald Spaits on bass. Let’s just say he dates closer to the Mike and Stan generation than to Hermon’s and T.J.’s. Whether backing Marilyn Maye or Karrin Allyson, whether leading an ensemble with superb alto player Charles Perkins or joining any number of groups playing everything from jazz standards to the music of The People’s Liberation Big Band, Gerald is a master.

Brian Steever, I’m reasonably certain, I first heard at The Drum Room, in a trio with Hermon and Zach Beeson. Brian was young and performed with unmatched energy. This was the first time I’d heard Hermon in his own group with a drummer other than Ryan Lee. A couple years later, I received an email from Stan urging me to attend the premiere of a new group he’d assembled, Parallax, featuring two drummers, Brian and Ryan. This unique ensemble showcased Brain’s and Ryan’s new maturity, driving rhythms under a chorus while challenging each other through inventive solos. Heck, I used to disdain drum solos. Brian and Ryan changed that.

Now put these musicians together: Mike Metheny, Stan Kessler, Hermon Mehari, Gerald Spaits, T.J. Martley and Brian Steever. Three veterans, three young cats. Three trumpeters, three rhythm. Musicians who have anchored the Kansas City jazz scene for decades with musicians who not too many decades ago wore diapers. Put them together and write some arrangements for them, a mix of standards and blues and bop and bossa nova and originals.

Then call them, A Kansas City Trumpet Summit.

This new CD is a smart snapshot of some of the diverse talent elevating Kansas City jazz in 2013. Here are two generations of musicians complementing and driving each other with a grace that belies their mutual musical respect. This is music which avoids the jazz fringes, a CD of Kansas City masters playing easily engaging jazz.

In fact, there may be a bit too much perfection here. In live performances, I’ve heard the ensemble take Back at the Chicken Shack at a much more aggressive pace. I’ve heard Hermon weave a solo through Body and Soul with more adventure. Capturing a little more of Trumpet Summit’s live looseness would have been fun. Number 36, a duet between Mike and Stan backed by Brian’s drums, takes the biggest chance, and succeeds.

A Kansas City Trumpet Summit is a wonderful celebration of Kansas City jazz trumpet today. It’s an illustration of the music that continues to integrate itself into Kansas City’s identity in 2013. And even more, it’s a celebration uniting KC jazz musicians of my generation with the generation who will carry Kansas City jazz beyond my lifetime.

I photographed a June performance of Trumpet Summit at The Blue Room here. A Kansas City Trumpet Summit can be purchased here.

Monday, November 4, 2013

In Lieu of 1000 Words: Kelley Hunt and the Messenger Legacy Band

Reasonable people could reasonably disagree over how many acts on the main stage of Kansas City’s 18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival were actually jazz or blues. But neither of these two acts would be in question.

Kelley Hunt’s music breathes the blues, with an undercurrent of gospel and a splashy dose of boogie-woogie. The festival’s main stage couldn’t have opened with more vibrancy or life than Kelley gave it.

The Messenger Legacy Band is assembled with representatives from several generations of Art Blakey’s legendary Jazz Messengers. Led by drummer Ralph Peterson, the band includes bassist Reggie Workman – whose fame includes stints with John Coltrane – alto saxophonist Donald Harrison, tenor saxophonist Billy Pierce, trumpeter Brian Lynch and pianist Donald Brown.

The crowd was building by the time the Messenger Legacy Band took the stage on October 12th. If you missed them, or Kelley Hunt, you can see below how the festival stage looked. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Kelley Hunt

Messenger Legacy Band

The Messenger Legacy Band. Left to right: Donald Brown on piano, Billy Pierce on tenor sax, Brian Lynch on trumpet, Donald Harrison on alto sax, Ralph Peterson on drums. Not pictured: Bassist Reggie Workman.

Reggie Workman on bass

Saxophonist Donald Harrison

Trumpeter Brian Lynch

Saxophonist Billy Pierce

Leader and drummer Ralph Peterson

Pianist Donald Brown

Reggie Workman and the front line