Monday, June 16, 2014

Crouch and Haddix and History and the Foundation, and All Free

Here’s what I want to find out this week, from the other bloggers: Is this what it’s like in other cities? Do the jazz communities in other towns suffer from the same bitterness and backbiting? Do leaders of one organization dislike the leaders of others in ways that hold back both, and ultimately limit the jazz scene as a whole? Because the Kansas City jazz community has suffered such divisions for as long as I’ve known it, over thirty years, and we could have accomplished so much more without continually squeezing thorns.

To everyone tossing daggers dipped in hurt feelings with every glance towards the Mutual Musicians Foundation: Get over it. This is the Foundation’s week to shine. Thursday and Friday this week, the Foundation hosts a summit of jazz writers and bloggers, brought together from throughout the country, and including internationally acclaimed jazz writer Stanley Crouch. They’re here to see and understand Kansas City’s unique hold on a critical piece of jazz history.

And everyone can be a part of this. All activities are open to the public and are free.

Events start this Thursday, June 19th, at 10 a.m. at the Foundation (1823 Highland) with the Three Square Mile Tour. a walk through the history that encompassed 12th Street and 18th Street and Vine.

(I don’t know which locations this tour will and will not include. But if it overlooks the Eblon Theater / Cherry Blossom Club, Paseo Hall, Wheatly-Providence Hospital, The Paseo YMCA, or the sites of Charlie Parker’s home or the Reno Club or the Sunset Club, and you want to see them, I’ll take you afterwards.)

At 5:30 Thursday evening, Stanley Crouch and Chuck Haddix, authors of last year’s landmark biographies on Charlie “Bird” Parker, meet at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Heritage Center (3700 Blue Parkway) to discuss their books and to jointly discuss Bird.

Friday at 11:30 a.m. at the Foundation, a panel will discuss the history and significance of Black musicians unions.

Friday afternoon the bloggers rest so that Friday night they can enjoy the Foundation’s all night jam.

This is the start of the Mutual Musicians Foundation’s plans to stage 100 events leading up to a celebration in 2017 of 100 years since the founding of Black musicians union 627.

The building at 1823 Highland, once that union’s headquarters, stands as the most historic structure in Kansas City, and one of the most historic in jazz.

The Eblon Theater / Cherry Blossom Club might have rivaled the Foundation for the distinction had it not burned thirty years ago. That’s where Lester Young, Herschel Evans and Ben Webster put down Coleman Hawkins in a legendary jam session, establishing jazz’s new saxophone masters, in 1933. But the Eblon / Cherry Blossom did burn. leaving only its facade.

For years, the Mutual Musicians Foundation stood among increasingly scarred and dilapidated homes, and the boarded ruins of a hotel, leaving the impression of a frightening old street. You needed to know the neighborhood to feel welcome. But that has changed. The homes and the hotel are brightly rebuilt rentals, and this neighborhood now vividly stands out as an 18th and Vine district highlight.

Museums and the Gem dominate 18th Street in the district, and the Blue Room, rightly regarded as one of the country’s premier jazz clubs. In those buildings, you can peer at history behind glass. But at the Foundation you feel the space and walk the rooms that Basie and Prez and Mary Lou Williams and Bird and so many other jazz innovators and geniuses worked and enjoyed. It’s integral to the experience of 18th and Vine. And whether you agree with its current leaders or find its direction misguided, this building demands the respect and inclusion of all of Kansas City’s jazz community.

That respect works both ways. The American Jazz Museum is celebrating 16 years on 18th Street. It is an established Kansas City jazz institution with leadership that has shown the wherewithal to raise funds, stage programs, and operate a superb jazz club in good times and in recession. They have kept alive an annual music festival through adversity. Stories last year in The Kansas City Star detailed embarrassments which should never have occurred. But the museum’s contributions to Kansas City and to jazz outweigh those errors. The American Jazz Museum has earned the community’s respect.

The 18th and Vine district is big enough for the Mutual Musicians Foundation and the American Jazz Museum. The Kansas City jazz community is not big enough for the thorns I see hurled at each.

This week is the Foundation’s turn to claim a little bigger chunk of the spotlight, as it showcases Kansas City’s special history to writers who can tell the world.

I’m not sure how successful these events will be. We’ll know that by the end of the week. But I know the Foundation deserves its week in the Kansas City jazz spotlight.

(Last week I said I’d next expound on festivals. That missive has been delayed.)

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