Maybe this is why it happened.
Three years ago, at the end of the second act of the second annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival, a microburst blew across Harmon Park, site of the festival. Clouds in the west had been darkening, growing more threatening, during that second set. They started moving towards the park more rapidly. They weren’t spread out. This was a dark and concentrated, a frighteningly intense cluster of clouds, like a missile aimed at a precise target. And when they struck, it wasn’t at all of Prairie Village. They ripped Harmon Park with savage winds and rain that pummeled the grounds like it wanted to hurt. Nobody was injured by the storm, but sound equipment was damaged and the second annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival ended.
Among the acts scheduled that day was Deborah Brown. She was to be backed by the group she would assemble for the rare instances she played Kansas City, including Matt Otto on sax. It was going to be an opportunity to introduce Deborah to a larger audience than hears her in The Blue Room, a chance for thousands of people to discover what a magnificent jazz vocal talent we have hidden here in Kansas City.
But maybe the storm was a way for someone bigger to say, “That's not good enough. Deborah Brown is too incredible a talent to play your festival with her Blue Room ensemble. She needs to be showcased with some of the greatest talent in jazz, because her talent is at that level. So I’m wiping out your event today and giving you the chance to present her right. Oh, and when you do, bring back Matt Otto somewhere in that festival, too, or I’ll be pissed again.”
We took the hint.
Saxophonist Joe Lovano has repeatedly won Downbeat magazine’s Critics Poll for best tenor saxophonist. His last album won for jazz CD of the year. A few years ago, he won as Jazz Musician of the Year. He travels the world performing. In the weeks before the festival, he was in France. The Saturday after, he’s in Bogata, Columbia. A stop in Prairie Village, Kansas almost looked like a mistake in his online schedule.
Terell Stafford was last in Kansas City in February, with the reunion of Bobby Watson and Horizon at The Blue Room. His trumpet blowing was incredible. Don’t tell Bobby I said so, but between you and me, that night he was better than Bobby.
This Saturday night, at 9 p.m. at the fifth annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Deborah Brown takes the stage accompanied by Joe Lovano and Terell Stafford, with Richard Johnson from Minnesota on piano (this is Richard's second appearance in the festival; he played piano with Bobby Watson’s quartet two years ago), Leon Anderson from Florida on drums and Kansas City’s Tyrone Clark on bass.
The buzz building for this year’s festival has an intensity unlike any I’ve heard in previous years. Because not only is Deborah Brown one of the greatest vocalists in jazz today, she is one of the most beloved individuals in Kansas City’s jazz community among those who know her. The community is excited by the chance to hear her shine with some of the greatest names in jazz. She does this regularly in Europe. Saturday, she has the opportunity in her hometown.
And for anyone who thinks calling Deborah Brown one of today’s greatest jazz vocalists is hyperbole, come Saturday night and you will leave understanding the description fits.
Below is the complete schedule of this year's Prairie Village Jazz Festival, including the musicians in each group. Preceding Deborah Brown is Kevin Mahogany, one Kansas City’s most popular favorite sons, back in town with Joe Cartwright’s trio.
And earlier in the day, you can hear Matt Otto with Shay Estes.
So everyone in the sky should be appeased.
2014 Prairie Village Jazz Festival
Saturday, September 6, 2014 at Harmon Park, 7700 Mission Rd. (next to Shawnee Mission East High School and Prairie Village City Hall). $5 admission (Children 18 and under are 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