Monday, December 1, 2014

The Magic Jazz Fairy Calls It a Career

It chuckled. There was the bar on Locust, about 13th Street, it recalled. Didn’t last long. When the musicians walked in for their gig, the manager asked how big a crowd he should prepare for. He hadn’t promoted anything. He just expected bands to arrive with an entourage. That place was probably the worst.

So many years and so many clubs. The Magic Jazz Fairy leaned forward in its chair, wings folded neatly behind its back, smiling at the memories. It was about to leave on one last flight. Tonight Kansas City’s Magic Jazz Fairy would make a final visit to all of the area’s sleeping jazz fans and whisper in their ears. Then it would retire.

Five years ago the Magic Jazz Fairy couldn’t imagine retiring in peace. Five years ago, Kansas City’s jazz scene was mired in turmoil, and the Fairy only made the situation worse.


But first, the basics. Historically, some bar and restaurant owners have booked jazz but failed to promote it. You can’t blame them. Just running that establishment fills their day. You also want them to market the music they book to draw guests? For pity’s sake, if these owners wanted to be music promoters they would have gone out and discovered the Beatles.

No, they expect word to get out despite their not helping. They expect jazz fans to know where jazz can be heard and to show up. And if we don’t, they proclaim that jazz is dead.

Because they know word will be spread by the Magic Jazz Fairy.

In every city, the Magic Jazz Fairy ferrets out where and when jazz is happening. Then late at night, while jazz fans sleep, it flies quickly and quietly into every fan’s home and whispers into their ear where to find the music, so we wake up knowing, just knowing, where to go.

That must be how it happens. No other explanation makes sense.


Five years ago in Kansas City, jazz struggled, trapped in a deadly spiral. Few jazz clubs promoted their schedules. Sure, one or two would post them online. But most found maintaining public calendars a mundane, even evil, burden. One club would give the wrong day and time for special performances to The Kansas City Star’s columnist. Fans, confused, didn’t know where to go. Clubs closed or abandoned jazz in a fit to survive. You wanted to hear jazz in Kansas City? Right. Now quit being a troublemaker and go find yourself a nice country bar.

Our Magic Jazz Fairy looked out over the Kafkaesque landscape and murmured, yeah, like I can make a difference. In fear and despair, it started to drink. Soon it was spending its days and nights in dark urban bars, shirking responsibilities, flying nowhere and whispering nothing.

Few dared to promote jazz. Few dared to face the community’s scorn. From all appearances, jazz in Kansas City was doomed.


From the wilderness, in one of the city’s few remaining jazz clubs, a stunning young voice sang standards. Another mixed jazz with pop, swinging late at night with a vibrant, contemporary lilt.

Another musician reached out with his saxophone, another with his trumpet, a couple more with a bass, a few on piano, and on drums. Their talent was extraordinary. What was wrong with these young musicians? Didn’t they understand that nobody played jazz anymore?

These young musicians didn’t just want to play jazz. They approached jazz with a 21st century sensibility. Sure, a club owner stands to reap the greatest benefit from drawing a crowd and has the greatest incentive to promote. But these young sprites understood that they they could promote, too, by establishing a following and telling that following where they could be heard. Selling yourself is part of building any career. They recognized that today, for a musician offstage, that’s largely accomplished online. They recognized it’s not 1930 anymore.

Kansas City’s jazz scene started to capture attention, to nudge those who would listen, with the energy of youth. A new club featuring jazz opened. Then another. Then one more. And these new owners, these jazz entrepreneurs, were equally 21st century savvy. Their online presence prominently featured calendars and schedules. Finally, people could go online and find out when and where to hear jazz at a variety of locations. And fans turned out for it. The remaining established clubs reworked their web sites and started updating their calendars, too.

The Magic Jazz Fairy looked around, amazed at the activity swirling around it. Quickly, it sobered up.


The night air was a bit chilly for this final flight, so the Magic Jazz Fairy pulled on a jacket.

Put the jazz resurgence in perspective, it thought. No bars are giving up country for big band music. But the growth is real. Real enough that an aging mystical being can again look out on a self-perpetuating scene. Young talent continues to populate it. At some venues, younger faces are filling the audiences, too. Weeknights can be iffy, but clubs are drawing crowds on weekends. Calendars are easy to find online, and mostly maintained. The smarter owners and musicians are finding just enough time to tease performances with social media. This isn’t the 1930s, or even he 1980s. But jazz in Kansas City is, modestly, starting to thrive.

Kansas City jazz had outgrown a need for the Fairy’s services. The public was finding the music without its help. Now was the right time to relax and retire.

Then a thought hit it. The mystical being’s eyes narrowed. “If anyone starts screwing up,” thought the Magic Jazz Fairy, “I’ll be back.”

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