Monday, November 17, 2014

A Tale of Two Jazz Clubs Last Saturday Night

The surrounding shopping center is still being built. And if you try to find a parking spot right out front, but none are available, you have to circle around and drive back to the street to reach the other lot – the one you see right there, in plain sight, but can’t get to – from another entrance. I expect someday this will all connect and the planning for that lot will make sense. But today, it doesn’t. It’s that new.

I walked in five, maybe ten minutes after the music started, and nearly every seat was filled. There were a few open ones in the booths by the espresso machine, the area where talking over the music isn't discouraged. I snagged one in the back. Before the end of the set, folding chairs were being set up for the crowd continuing to flow in. That's how it's been since the place opened, I’m told.

The audience was overwhelmingly young. I wasn’t the only gray-haired guest, but I sat largely surrounded by high school students. Most others in the audience looked like twenty- and thirty-somethings. And everybody was listening. The few conversations heard here and there while musicians played were short. These people came for jazz.

135th and Metcalf is as suburban as life on this earth gets. And out here in a glistening new Johnson County club, the current and next generation of jazz's audience is turning out to hear Kansas City’s extraordinary musicians. The next time someone tritely proclaims "jazz is dead," escort them to Take Five on a Friday or Saturday night. Then see if they can still honestly mouth those words.


By 10:15, I assumed, the dinner crowd will have eaten and many will have left. No problem, I was certain, in finding a seat at this time. But the parking lot was still mostly filled. That was odd, I thought. And when I opened the door to The Broadway Jazz Club, I was greeted by a packed house, easily as many people as had crowded Take Five. They sat focused on the music on stage. I claimed a small table up front. A musician later told me the club had been like this all night.

Nothing is new or glistening at 36th and Broadway. As you approach from the west, on Valentine Road, or from the south, driving up Broadway, you pass Hookah Haven and a Sprint store with its front windows covered by cris-crossing metal bars. This part of town wears a rugged, gritty feel.

The parking lot around back is well lit. It’s easier to figure out how to get to than that new one at the mall. But I walked from the suburban lot to the club’s front door along a path of clean, freshly-laid bricks. Here, I trek up a concrete sidewalk, steam blowing over it through an old vent in the building, and lines spray painted on it, I assume outlining utilities. I’m aware that I’m not in Kansas anymore.

This neighborhood has been The Broadway Jazz Club’s albatross since it opened. This isn't just up the street from the Country Club Plaza location where Jardine’s ruled for years. This is midtown. This club clearly needed to capture the love of all the patrons who frequented Jardine’s. But with a glistening new bar in the suburbs, many of those people don’t need to drive to an area where they feel uncomfortable to enjoy jazz. Scream that this neighborhood really is safe all you want. A storefront with cris-crossing metal bars in the next group of shops doesn't imply safe.

The Broadway Jazz Club needed to build its own following. This night it appears to be succeeding at exactly that. The crowd is older than the crowd at Take Five. Nobody here is a high school student. This is an audience which wants to hear jazz and which is comfortable in an urban locale that isn’t The Plaza. It includes some of the old Jardine’s audience. But mostly, The Broadway Jazz Club is uncovering its niche.


The owner of a Westport restaurant once told me that his venue’s success came in large part by turning the crowd three times each day. For breakfast, he draws businessmen on their way to work or stopping in for a power meeting. At lunch, he attracts a diverse midtown crowd getting out of their nearby offices for a good meal. Then in the evening, Westport twenty-somethings looking for the next fashionable bar flow through his doors.

The Take Five business model appears to count on drawing different crowds at different times of the day. In the mornings, they offer gourmet coffee and good breakfasts. At lunch, they offer all that plus a selection of salads and sandwiches. On weekend nights, add jazz and alcohol to the mix.

The Broadway Jazz Club is only open for dinner and late at night. They serve more expensive (but fairly priced) and more complete dinners. They operate within a narrower window for generating income, leaving less room for errors or off nights. The Jardine’s business model was to fill and turn the room twice on weekends. I suspect Broadway brings similar weekend goals.

Both models appear to be working. These are two very different clubs. One is fresh and new and attracts a family audience. The other carries the grit of an older Kansas City neighborhood and draws an older and more diverse crowd that feels at home there.

But for all their differences, on Saturday night I noted two points in common. Both clubs were filled with people listening to jazz. And the music was spectacular.


Comments are welcome. If you prefer, you can reach me directly at kcjazzlark(at)gmail(dot)com.