Monday, September 29, 2014

The Foundation 627 Big Band at the Green Lady Lounge

Sunday nights are as much about the club as the big band.

The Foundation 627 Big Band, the newest in a long line of big bands born since the 1930s at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, performs every Sunday night from 8:30 to 12:30 at the Green Lady Lounge. I don’t know the names of all of the musicians in this group. But this is a solid collection of KC talent. Consider a front line of saxophonists Steve Lambert, Mike Hererra, David Chael and Brett Jackson; a rhythm section with Chris Clark on keyboards, Dominique Sanders on bass and John Kizilarmut on drums; and players like trumpeters Stan Kessler and Ryan Thielman, and trombonist Jason Goudeau.

Now place this big band in a room where stepping through the front door feels like stepping seven decades back in time. Red walls and drapes, faux classic paintings adorning the walls, a long narrow space with a classic bar lining one wall and leather lined booths the other. This feels exactly like the kind of place where you ought to hear jazz.

Place the big band in the front of that space, get yourself a drink and, well, you can DVR all those Sunday night TV programs you wanted to see. Watch them later. The Foundation 627 Big Band in the Green Lady Lounge isn’t going to show up on your DVR.

They’re going to show up as you see in the photos below, this time presented without captions. These were taken the Sunday of Labor Day weekend, on August 31st. As always, clicking on a shot should open a larger version of it.

Monday, September 22, 2014

2014 PV Jazz Fest: The Headliners

The weather and the music were as close to ideal as they could be. The local acts brought their best for the 2014 Prairie Village Jazz Festival on Saturday, September 6th. But the audience size grew to its peak as Kevin Mahogany took the stage.

I’d long considered bringing in Kevin with a big band (and may yet do that someday), but for various reasons the festival couldn’t accommodate a big band this year. So instead we paired Kevin with Joe Cartwright’s trio. Backed by Joe on piano, Tyrone Clarke on bass and Michael Warren on drums, Kevin’s baritone voice connected with the audience from that big outdoor stage to a grassy hill full of people in an intimate way I never anticipated.

Then Deborah Brown took the stage. Backed by Joe Lovano on sax, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Richard Johnson on piano, Leon Anderson on drums and Tyrone Clarke (putting in a long but wonderful night) on bass, Deborah’s amazing voice shined. Stafford’s solos, ripe with power and inventiveness, owned the stage. Lovano’s solos, this night reimagining a trio Charlie Parker compositions, proved too contemporary for a suburban Kansas City audience, which thinned before the set ended. But they also proved why Lovano has repeatedly won Downbeat’s Critic’s Poll as best tenor saxophonist. All of us who stayed enjoyed more than an hour and a half of jazz in 2014 at its best. Unfortunately, the sound system was not at its best, though I’m not sure that feedback which haunted the stage area was discernible more than a few short times to the audience.

Below are photos from the night. As always, clicking on a shot should open a larger version of it.

Singer Kevin Mahogany

Left to right: Joe Cartwirght on piano, Tyrone Clark on bass, Kevin Mahogany, vocals, Michael Warren on drums

Connecting with the audience

Kevin Mahogany with the Joe Cartwright Trio

Kevin Mahogany sings

On stage at the Prairie Village Jazz Festival

Kevin Mahogany

Left to right: Deborah Brown, vocals, Richard Johnson on piano, Terell Stafford on trumpet, Tyrone Clark on bass, Joe Lovano on tenor sax, Leon Anderson on drums

Deborah Brown and Terell Stafford

Joe Lovano

Deborah Brown and Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson

Leon Anderson

Deborah Brown with Terell Stafford and Tyrone Clark

Deborah Brown and Joe Lovano

Richard enjoys Deborah’s vocals

Deborah, Terell and Tyrone appreciate Joe’s solo

Deborah Brown with Joe Lovano and Terell Stafford brilliantly conclude the 2014 Prairie Village Jazz Festival

Monday, September 15, 2014

2014 PV Jazz Fest: The Local Acts

Three years ago it was rained out. Last year, temperatures in the 90s reduced the crowd size until evening. So I started checking the forecast in the Weather Channel app on my phone ten days before the festival. I checked it four or five times some days, and every time it was different. Once – about nine days out – it predicted a high in the 90s with a 90 per cent chance of rain. That’s about as bad as it could get. But as the day of the event drew closer, rain chances dropped to zero and temperature predictions eased down to the mid-70s.

That’s where we wound up. The weather on Saturday, September 6th for the 2014 Prairie Village Jazz Festival could not have been better. Just as importantly, neither could the music. Every act, from start to close, performed at its best and gave the audience a sampling of the terrific range and the outstanding quality of jazz found in Kansas City today.

The audience was a bit smaller than last year. A $5 cover charge will do that. But it also was key to the festival turning its first meaningful profit and to providing much needed seed money for the 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

But before we move on, this week and next let’s take a look at photos from the 2014 festival. Below are shots of the local acts. Next week will offer photos of the headliners. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Under a beautiful sky, an audience starts to gather for the Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights.

The festival lineup for Project H, left to right: Andrew Ouellette on piano, Dominique Sanders on bass, leader Ryan Heinlein on trombone, Matt Leifer on drums, Brett Jackson on saxophone, Nate Nall on trumpet. Hidden: Jeff Stocks on guitar.

The Project H front line of Ryan Heinlein, Brett Jackson and Nate Nall (and in the background, Jeff Stocks).

Shay Estes with Rod Fleeman and Matt Otto. Left to right: Mark Lowrey on piano, Shay Estes, vocals, Karl McComas-Reichl on bass, Matt Otto on tenor sax, John Kizilarmut on drums, Rod Fleeman on guitar.

The front lone of Shay Estes, Matt Otto and Rod Fleeman.

Shay Estes sings

Matt Otto on sax

Appreciating a Rod Fleeman solo

The Jazz Disciples on stage. Lest to right: Everett Freeman on piano, DeAndre Manning on bass, Gerald Dunn on saxophone, Michael Warren on drums and guest Jason Goudeau on trombone.

Pianist Everett Freeman

Saxophonist Gerald Dunn

For the festival, the Jazz Disciples added as guest vocalist the wonderful Stephanie Moore.

Also a Jazz Disciple guest: trombonist Jason Goudeau

Stephanie Moore and Everett Freeman

The Bram Wijnands Swingtet. Left to right: Bram Wijnands on piano, Dave Chael on alto sax, Barry Springer on trumpet, Carl Bender on baritone sax, Phillip Wakefield on drums

Pianist Bram Wijnands

The front line of Dave Chael, Barry Springer and Carl Bender.

As the sun sets, the audience grows.

Monday, September 8, 2014

The Luck of the Medallion People

They really lucked out, I mused, those people behind the medallions.

I was looking at the medallions, oversize circles with brass letters glistening in the sun, sloppily embedded in the sidewalk in front of the American Jazz Museum. By themselves, they add little to the jazz district. Kansas City once boasted more medallions than this embedded along 12th Street in front of the Marriott. But if these medallions prove to be the start of a walk of fame, of jazz legends lining Eighteenth Street, reminding visitors of the historic names who once walked right here, they will become a welcome attraction at 18th and Vine.

Despite falling in the middle of the 17 day Charlie Parker Celebration, the medallion unveiling and accompanying concert were not actually part of it. In fact, medallion organizers initially declined to participate in the Celebration in part because they didn’t want to reveal whether any of their medallions would include Parker (as if a set of medallions honoring six of the greatest names in the history of Kansas City jazz wouldn’t include Charlie Parker).

The medallion people got lucky. Their event coincided with one of the greatest promotional efforts I’ve seen in thirty-plus years of following Kansas City jazz, and the prominence of their sloppily-embedded medallions was elevated because of it.

Kansas City’s Charlie Parker Celebration included a few original, generally educational, events. A trolley touring Kansas City sites associated with Parker sold out. The 21-Sax Salute at Parker’s gravesite, a lapsed tradition recognizing his birthday, was revived and welcome. There was a Charlie Parker puppet show at the Gem Theater for kids. But mostly the Celebration threw a unifying theme over already scheduled jazz acts in clubs, restaurants and a shopping center, and declared them two weeks of performances honoring Charlie Parker.

I was dubious. This only works if a continuous promotional effort can sell that theme to the public, and build recognition of the 17 days as something more grand than the sum of its parts.

The Celebration was officially sponsored by a new organization, KC Jazz ALIVE. But to its credit, and to the credit of CEO Greg Carroll, the American Jazz Museum threw its full weight and staff behind the effort. Don’t underestimate the value of having paid staff available to smartly and relentlessly promote. This was public relations-style marketing through social media including Facebook, through scheduling appearances on TV and radio talk shows, through preparing schedules and posters. This kind of promotion doesn’t require a huge budget. But it requires a tremendous commitment of time, and that’s a resource few volunteer organizations can muster.

The 2014 Charlie Parker Celebration was a masterful success. In general, events promoted as part of it saw greater attendance than they normally would. The promotion raised the awareness of jazz and where to hear it in Kansas City, raising hopes for a longer term benefit to the jazz community. An article in the Business Journal online declared jazz is not dead. And the marketing built awareness not just locally, but in the online version of national jazz publications Downbeat and Jazz Times as well. Organizations that chose not to participate were marginalized during the 17 days. Whether that impacts them going forward remains to be seen, but hopefully even they will benefit from the good will this Celebration generated.

And let’s recognize the prominence the Celebration has brought to the American Jazz Museum. Sixteen years ago, this museum opened as the compromise jazz museum, the jazz museum nobody really dreamed of except the people who just wanted to get it done. Previous museum administrations did not always succeed in cultivating the museum’s image or in integrating it into the community at large. Instead, it often stood as a symbol for a 26-million-dollars-spent-then-never-redeveloped-as-promised 18th and Vine. The characterization is unfair, but when it’s in the press repeatedly, how do you shake it?

You shake it by building bridges into multiple Kansas City communities. You shake it with a fundraising effort that brings in $120,000 in donations to fund general operations from individuals in Kansas City. You shake it by reaching out to the business community for sponsorships. You shake it by hiring people who know how to write grant proposals and build admiration in the foundation community. You shake it by replacing woeful promotional efforts with an expert in utilizing 21st century media. You shake it by not letting your admired successes – The Blue Room and The Gem – at all slip.

Then you put the full weight of those successes behind a 17 day promotional effort that is mostly branding a bunch of already scheduled shows, and you play a key role in making that Celebration an unexpected success.

The 1980s visions of what a jazz museum should be – I've posted the specifics before – will never be realized. But in 2014, I see the museum that was realized earning good will, increased respect, increased trust and increased prominence in Kansas City.

Heck, it doesn’t even get the blame for how sloppily those medallions were embedded in its sidewalk.

That’s on the medallion people.