The organizers of The Prairie Village Jazz Festival require each act to have a connection to Kansas City (you smooth jazz acts who want to return here can stop emailing me. Having played the Corporate Woods Jazz Festival is not a connection to Kansas City).
The music needs to be dynamic to play well to a large space. Intimate jazz has its place, but an outdoor hill seating thousands of people isn’t it. That doesn’t mean only music that’s brassy and bold need apply (though it can). It means jazz that’s accessible and makes an emotional connection with the families who fill that hill. This isn’t about giving an audience what some snide know-it-all decides is good for them. This is about giving a husband and wife in tee-shirts and shorts and laying on a blanket, jazz they’ll enjoy.
Last year’s festival lost money, and the talent budget was the place to cut. I decided we would not pursue a big band. Last year’s festival showed me we really need a bigger stage to properly accommodate a big band. Between the number of musicians to be paid and increased production costs associated with a larger stage, this wasn’t to be a big band year.
With the abundance of extraordinary jazz talent in Kansas City, and slots for just six acts during the festival day, I wanted to largely consider musicians who were not in last year’s event. That goal influenced decisions on the groups to invite.
And I wanted a link to the jazz district. I’m still stung by memories of The Kansas City Jazz Festival, which I helped organize through much of the 1980s, being contrasted with the 18th and Vine Jazz and Heritage Festival staged those same years. Some back then decided this city had a white jazz festival and a black jazz festival. With a significant festival in the 18th and Vine district five weeks after the Prairie Village event, we need a connection, not a perception of indifference and division.
Those were the parameters. This is what we’ll hear on September 6th at Harmon Park, 7700 Mission Road in Prairie Village, Kansas, next to City Hall and Shawnee Mission East High School, with a $5 admission (children free):
2:00 – 2:10 p.m. Welcome by the Mayor
2:10 – 2:40 p.m. Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights
Kim Harrison, director
3:00 – 3:50 p.m. Project H
Ryan Heinlein, trombone, Brett Jackson, saxophones, Nate Nall, trumpet, Jeff Stocks, guitar, Andrew Ouellette, piano, Dominique Sanders, bass, Matt Leifer, drums
4:10 – 5:00 p.m. Shay Estes with Rod Fleeman and Matt Otto
Shay Estes, vocals, Matt Otto, tenor sax, Rod Fleeman, guitar, Mark Lowrey, piano, Karl McComas-Reichl, bass, John Kizilarmut, drums
5:20 – 6:10 p.m. The Jazz Disciples with Jason Goudeau and Stephanie Moore
Gerald Dunn, alto sax, Everett Freeman, piano, James Ward, bass, Michael Warren, drums, Jason Goudeau, trombone, Stephanie Moore, vocals
6:30 – 7:20 p.m. Bram Wijnands Swingtet
Bram Wijnands, piano and vocals, David Chael, clarinet, Carl Bender, tenor and baritone sax, Mike Herrera, alto sax, Phillip Wakefield, drums
7:40 – 8:40 p.m. Kevin Mahogany with the Joe Cartwright Trio
Kevin Mahogany, vocals, Joe Cartwright, piano, Tyrone Clark, bass, Michael Warren, drums
9:00 – 10:30 p.m. Deborah Brown with Joe Lovano and Terell Stafford
Deborah Brown, vocals, Joe Lovano, tenor sax, Terell Stafford, trumpet, Richard Johnson, piano, Tyrone Clark, bass, Leon Anderson, drums
Scheduling begins with the headliners, and I knew where I wanted to start. Anyone who has heard Deborah Brown knows her voice is one of the most magnificent in jazz today. But she rarely plays Kansas City, her hometown. Her extraordinary talent is better known in Europe, Asia and Russia, where she performs much of the year.
Deborah should be recognized here. My goal: At the conclusion of this year’s festival, thousands of fans ask why they had never heard of Deborah Brown before and where can they hear her again.
Maybe we’ll meet that goal, maybe not. But I decided we’d try. I asked Deborah to put together a headline group. She did.
Joe Lovano was Downbeat’s Tenor Saxophonist of the Year last year, and their Jazz Musician of the Year in 2010. And he and Deborah have known each other for decades. She added Terell Stafford, whose trumpet dominated The Blue Room when he played there with Bobby Watson and Horizon a few months back. This will be pianist Richard Johnson’s second trip to the festival. He played with Bobby Watson’s quartet a couple years ago.
Any jazz fan recognizes the potential of that group. But we also needed a name the public at large might better know. Kevin Mahogany, who is always delighted to return to his hometown and to sing with Joe Cartwright’s trio, was available.
For the second year running, a show seen at Take Five influenced a selection. Last year, it was opener Andy McGhie. Earlier this year, when I heard Shay Estes’s quartet with Matt Otto and Rod Fleeman added, I heard a new dimension in her music. They were in.
For the third consecutive year, we open with an ensemble of this city’s younger jazz generation. Ryan Heinlein’s Project H has just recorded a new CD.
Last year, the Mutual Musicians Foundation All-Stars was a fortunate last minute addition. I recognized the importance of connecting with 18th and Vine. This year, the Jazz Disciples, a Blue Room regular, connects.
Last year, Everette DeVan and Chris Hazelton roused the crowd just before the headliners. This year, Bram Wijnands Swingtet will play the crowd rouser.
A formula has evolved over the last few years, of a certain flow of jazz groups that works playing to that hill. And if each of this year’s groups has one thing in common – besides the fact they play jazz – it’s this: These are ensembles whose music and personalities will make an emotional connection with the crowd.