Tables and people filled every nook and cranny of the lobby. I’m sure if one more person had said they would come, space for them would have been found, but I don’t know where.
American Jazz Museum is closed on Mondays. However, on this Monday,
early in April, board members and friends of the museum had invited
friends and associates to a free lunch, to hear presentations on how the
museum and its programs are reaching out into and benefiting the
community, and to ask for financial support.
why we were invited. I walked in determined that I would not give a
donation, it was just not in my budget at this time.
when you’re sitting at a large table, and you’ve just eaten a good
lunch that your hosts didn’t have to feed you, and donation cards are
handed out, and pens are handed out, and you’re asked to make a
donation, and you look around the table, and you see everyone else at
the table, including the friend who invited you, filling out the cards
and making donations, and you’re the only one at your table not using
the pen you’ve been handed, and everyone else is using theirs, not just
at your table but everywhere you look in that packed room, including
people you know, some of whom might be looking at you not using your
pen, and the lunch was good, and, well….
Don’t underestimate the peer pressure. I caved and made a donation.
was for the American Jazz Museum’s PEER Into the Future initiative.
PEER is an acronym for the museum’s mission: Performance, Exhibition,
Education and Research.
I don’t know if the luncheon
was the culmination of a campaign or the entire initiative. But a thank
you letter noted that PEER Into the Future 2014 reached its goal of
raising $120,000 for general museum operations.
That is impressive. Other jazz organizations could learn from the American Jazz Museum.
of its battle, from the start, is that this was never the museum that
advocates of a jazz museum envisioned. In 1989, a complex was announced
by the city with two grand halls and a theater embracing historical
study, education and performance. In 1997, a smaller building opened,
sharing space with the Negro Leagues Museum. Its collection was limited
by funds, showcased relatively few musicians, and was derided in The New York Times
by the Executive Director of The Count Basie Orchestra. To many who had
pursued a dream since the 1960s, this was not the American Jazz Museum.
This was the American Jazz Museum Compromise.
A feature in the 913 and 816 sections of last Wednesday’s Kansas City Star
highlighted jazz education opportunities for the young. The article
opened with the American Jazz Museum’s monthly Jazz Storytelling
program, aimed at introducing children to jazz. The program has been
entertaining and educating children for a dozen years.
last month, the museum co-hosted, with Penn Valley Community College,
the 18th and Vine Jazz Festival, giving middle school, high school and
college music students the opportunity to learn from professional
musicians and perform in the Gem Theater.
outreach is critical to the survival of jazz. The American Jazz Museum’s
efforts are under-recognized and under-appreciated.
museum also reaches out to the community with its annual Kansas City’s
18th and Vine Jazz and Blues Festival. Never mind that the event
desperately needs a more succinct name. And overlook for the moment that
this is a self-proclaimed jazz and blues festival that seems afraid to
book much jazz or blues. The last two years the event was stung by
misfortune beyond its control (rain and the death of a headliner). But
for the two years prior, museum officials showed the wisdom and
foresight of taking an event that had covered Parade Park, then couldn’t
sustain its weight through the recession, and downsizing it to where it
turned a profit. If both the weather and headliners’ health hold out
this year, the festival should again turn a profit.
of it is animosity from the remaining dreamers. Part of it could be
jealousy in seeing a professional staff while other jazz organizations
run on the hopes of a few. I suspect some of it is simply leaders with
conflicting ambitions who don’t like each other. But there are still
pockets of the jazz community that look derisively on the American Jazz
Museum. In doing so, they hurt themselves. This is an institution
accepted by the community as a whole – I saw that in the packed lobby –
which benefits Kansas City.
Saturday night, I drove through sparse traffic in the Crossroads
district. It was a holiday weekend. Kansas City goes out of town for
holidays. I probably wouldn’t have any trouble finding a table at The
The Blue Room, a part of the museum, was packed. Students from
Omaha lined the seats along the edge of the upper level. Other guests
hailed from other cities and towns. I shared a table with a couple who
spoke Russian (I don’t think they they were visiting from overseas, but
I can't be certain; I don’t speak Russian).
The Blue Room is more than a jazz club. Standing at Kansas City’s most historic corner, it is a destination for visitors.
let’s not forget that just a couple years ago, after Jardine’s expired,
The Blue Room, solidly, reliably, stood as this city’s principal
location for jazz and a drink, until new club owners had the
opportunity to help fill the void.
For the record, on Saturday night, the Jazz Disciples delighted everyone in that room.
The American Jazz Museum isn't ideal. When I walk through, I crave more space and more exhibits. But sixteen
years after its opening, nobody else has built a monument to jazz more
grand, or more smartly operated. It’s past time to
Monday, May 26, 2014
The Smart Museum
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Comments are welcome. If you prefer, you can reach me directly at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com.