Monday, March 31, 2014


Some days, this world makes no sense.

Two months ago, I wrote of Dionne Jeroue, “Dionne is young and gaining experience in commanding a stage. Her voice is exceptional, smooth yet bold with a punch at the right spots…. And there’s charisma on that stage, a sexiness without trying to be sexy, a playfulness exuding joy…. Between her vocal talent and presence, Kansas City, this is a singer watch.”

Friday and Saturday, word ricocheted through the jazz community that Dionne had passed away on Thursday night.

Dionne was a beautiful person, in every sense that description can be taken. When you became her friend, you became her best friend. Between her vivacious personality and extraordinary voice, everyone who heard this sprite knew (really, there was no doubt) that here was a key to carrying jazz forward to an amazingly bright future in Kansas City.

Then Saturday morning, I heard Dionne was gone.

My eyes were moist most of the day.

Saturday, this world made no sense.


Others maintain that anything put on the internet will be there forever. I’ve always said that I’m counting on it, that I want people 100 years from now to see the extraordinary jazz talent dominating Kansas City today. So future, take a look at the photos below, taken February 19th at The Broadway Jazz Club. This beautiful woman with commanding talent is someone who all of us who knew her will never forget.

(With Dionne this night was Chris Hazelton on keyboards, Matt Hopper on guitar, Danny Rojas on drums and Ian Corbett on alto sax. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.)


Monday, March 24, 2014


About 10:15 last Saturday night, a guest was growing angry. He and his wife stood just inside the front door and wanted a seat. He had friends inside already. But there were no open tables. Quickly, Pat ran to clear one.

“We’re leaving,” the man grumbled to his wife. “Why?” she asked. Their friends were in there and she wanted to hear the music. Pat returned, took their cover charge and seated the couple.

Later, I spotted them at the table with their friends. The woman was smiling broadly and swaying in her seat to the music. The man’s face still looked like one wanting to grumble. But under the table, his left foot was bobbing up and down to Eboni Fondren’s wildly swinging vocals.

He was having more fun than he wanted anyone to know.

Last Saturday night at The Broadway Jazz Club, Mark Lowrey premiered a new group, with both Dionne Jeroue and Eboni Fondren on vocals. Angela Hagenbach opened the night. I don’t know what it was like in there earlier in the evening, but after 10, the room was packed.

In a glance around the club, I spied heads and shoulders swaying, crossed legs swinging boldly in time, waists twisting in seats forward and back. And more bobbing feet.

Kansas City has lacked a jazz supper club since Jardine’s died, and we all expected The Broadway Jazz Club to be the new Jardine’s. But in so many ways, it’s not.

At Jardine’s, except for a special engagement when everyone was purposely hushed, or on a Sunday night when only Alatruka fans came, a packed club usually meant you were unlikely to enjoy the show. It meant you were more likely to hear about the big deal that jerk at the next table landed last week than hear the vocalist on stage.

Instead, throughout this club you hear the music. And, viscerally, you react. Eboni’s or Dionne’s voice grabs you and swings you this way and that. You can’t help it, even if you came with a grumbly face.

But there was a larger difference Saturday night.

Sitting right in front was an elderly couple, the kind some people will tell you are the world’s only remaining jazz patrons. But two tables over sat a couple in their twenties. Throughout the club, bodies in their thirties, forties and fifties filled seats and swayed.

The crowd spanned generations.

I don’t know if this is the audience which frequents midtown in the 21st century, or if the music and environment here simply appeal to a more diverse demographic. But The Broadway Jazz Club was not just thriving last weekend. It attracted a broader age range, more generations of fans, than is typically associated with jazz.

I noticed the same age diversity at The Green Lady Lounge a couple weeks back. There, the music is not as vibrant throughout the room. The club’s 1940s ambiance, to which the jazz contributes, and its convenient Crossroads address, are likely part of the draw. But whatever the reason, late on a Saturday night, the club was filled with a predominantly younger crowd.

Perhaps the limited number of jazz clubs in this city a few years ago carried with it a self-fulfilling stigma that jazz clubs are where old people go. Perhaps new owners have brought a fresh ambiance and appeal to their clubs.

I’m not ready to declare that new generations are discovering jazz. But the newer clubs are succeeding in creating an experience more generations are enjoying.


Generations of musicians, too.

Twenty years ago, Karrin Allyson played The Phoenix every Tuesday night with Rod Fleeman. And she played at Jardine’s, The Club at Plaza III, the Boulevard Cafe. Angela Hagenbach could be heard throughout Kansas City, too.

Last Saturday night, Angela stayed at The Broadway Jazz Club after her early set. And late in the evening, after midnight, she joined Dionne and Eboni on stage for a masterful take of Summertime.

Then, following her show at the Gem Theater with the 60th Anniversary Newport Jazz troupe, Karrin stopped by. Somewhere around 12:30 or 12:45, she was coaxed on stage. And backed by Mark Lowrey on piano, Jeff Harshbarger on bass and Ryan Lee on drums, she tore into an audience request, Moanin’.

The night sparkled through a blend of generations, on stage as much as in the audience.

Monday, March 17, 2014


I’m taking a week off from the blog. No thoughts – profound or otherwise – or looks ahead or back on the Kansas City jazz scene this week. Instead, use the time normally given to reading this space to going out and hearing some of this city’s magnificent jazz.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Sunset Club

In 1940, 1715 E. 12th Street, between Highland and Woodland, looked like this:

In the 1930s, this was the Sunset Club.

Bassist Gene Ramey:

“…We’d go down to the Sunset Club. That was really something – about twelve feet wide and maybe sixty feet long. It was just like going down a hallway….”

Jay McShann:

“The first time I came to Kansas City I’d never been exposed to anything like was happening then. [At the Sunset Club], Joe Turner and Pete Johnson and Murl Johnson were working together [and] I would go down…the street and listen to Joe sing.

“I had no idea that sometimes he’d be making up the words as he’d go along. The thing that really amazed me was that Joe would keep singing for thirty or forty minutes straight through…. Between times he’d tell Pete to roll ’em and Pete would…roll ’em on piano for maybe ten minutes, then Joe would come back [and] sing ten or fifteen minutes. You know, they’d play one tune and it’d last forty-five, fifty minutes and that was the set. A one tune set…. I’d never seen anything like that….”

Count Basie:

“[Joe Turner] was working for Piney Brown at Piney Brown’s Sunset on Twelfth Street with Pete Johnson, playing piano with Murl Johnson, and sometimes Baby Lovett on drums. And they were something. When I heard him that first time, I said to myself, Jesus, I never heard nothing like this guy. He was the blues singer in that town. Anybody who came to Kansas City talking about singing some blues had to go listen to him.”

Producer John Hammond, on his first visit to Kansas City in 1936:

“So there I was [at the Reno Club, hearing Basie’s band] at eight o’clock and I stayed until four that night. Then afterwards Basie said to me, ‘Come on, John, I’m gonna take you to the Sunset.’ I had never heard Pete and Joe at that time. Joe Turner was singing at the bar and Pete was in the back room playing, and while Pete was playing, Joe would be singing. A room apart, and it was unbelievable. Joe’s invention was just endless....”

Bandleader Andy Kirk:

“…We moved to 1212 Woodland. That’s when I heard a lot of Joe Turner, the famous blues shouter. He was working at Piney Brown’s [Sunset Club] right around the corner on 12th Street. Piney ran the club for Felix Payne, a politician, who owned it. Turner and boogie-woogie pianist Pete Johnson kept rolling out blues till four and five in the morning. I didn’t have to go to the club. It came to me through the windows. Sometimes I’d get disgusted; all that blues shouting and boogie-woogie kept me awake.”

Saxophonist Eddie Barefield:

“Piney was like a patron saint to all the musicians. He used to take care of them. In fact, he was like a father to me…. Most all the playing and jamming happened at Piney’s place. Piney was a man, he didn’t care how much it cost…if you needed money to pay your rent, he would give it to you and take you out and buy booze. He was a man you could always depend on for something if you needed it, as a musician.

Gene Ramey:

“…They hired a piano player and a drummer to come on at midnight, but we’d go over there before that and sometimes there’d maybe be ten musicians up on the stand. That was where I first met Prez and Ben Webster….”

Mary Lou Williams:

“We used to go to Piney Brown’s place on Twelfth Street with Count Basie. He used to play, and there was a little bench. Everybody used to sit on the bench, and whoever was next, they’d go up and play, and they just loved it.”

Singer Myra Taylor:

“Musicians would come in and…sit and talk with their friends. Their instrument would be down at their side. If…they wanted to play, they would just pick up their instrument and play from where they were…. You might hear a trumpet from way over there, or a trombone from way over here. But they always managed to play a background for whoever was playing a solo.”

Gene Ramey:

“The Sunset was not a bucket of blood, but you might see some fighting in it, and you’d have to break out of there….”

In the late 1930s, reformers cleaned up Kansas City. In the late 1960s, urban renewal claimed the last remains of historic 12th Street.

Today, 1715 E. 12th Street is a grassy field leading to fenced-in public housing.

The Kansas City Call building on 18th Street has the same street number as did the Sunset Club. Stop there first to see how far the Call's front door stands from Woodland. Then go to 12th Street and try to picture it. Some eighty years before, right there, stood magic.


Quotes from Gene Ramey are from the book, The World of Count Basie by Stanley Dance. The quote from Count Basie is from his autobiography, Good Morning Blues. The quote from Andy Kirk is from his autobiography, Twenty Years on Wheels. All other quotes are from the book, Goin’ to Kansas City by Nathan W. Pearson, Jr.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Bobby Watson and Horizon at The Blue Room

We can say definitively that the roof of The Blue Room is firmly attached. Because if it was ever going to come off, that would have happened during one of Terell Stafford’s solos a week ago Friday.

Bobby Watson on alto sax, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Edward Simon on piano, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass and Victor Lewis on drums reunited on Friday, February 21st at The Blue Room to celebrate 30 years of Bobby Watson and Horizon. You will not find an ensemble where every player knows and responds to each other more instinctively, more naturally, or more imaginatively or more expressively, than this one. The musicians who make up Horizon may have evolved over the years. They may not reunite as an ensemble all that often anymore. But you will not hear five more talented jazz musicians sharing a stage in 2014. This is jazz at another level.

Especially when Terell Stafford is on fire, and this Friday, he was.

If you missed it, below you can see how the evening looked. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Horizon. Left to right: Edward Simon on piano, Bobby Watson on alto sax, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Victor Lewis on drums.

Bobby Watson on alto sax

Terell Stafford on trumpet

Bobby and Terell

Edward Simon on piano

Essiet Okon Essiet on bass

Victor Lewis on drums

Bobby Watson, Edward Simon and Terell Stafford in The Blue Room

Terell Stafford

Bobby Watson