Monday, January 27, 2014

On My Fifth Visit to the Broadway Jazz Club

I pulled into the parking lot behind The Broadway Jazz Club at about 10:40, maybe 10:45 p.m. I looked at the large lights overhead. This parking lot is well lit, I thought. It feels safe. I need to mention that in my blog.

I’d come from Jazz Winterlude at Johnson County Community College. But this night I also wanted to see singer Dionne Jeroue at The Broadway Jazz Club. I’ve heard her several times in Everette DeVan’s Tuesday jams at The Phoenix, and I’ve been taken by her exceptional voice. But those are Everette’s jams. I wanted to hear her leading her own group.

I was a bit disappointed when I walked in. Dionne was accompanied by Hammond B3 organ, guitar and drums, same as Tuesday nights at The Phoenix. I was hoping to hear that voice backed with different instrumentation. But Rod Fleeman was the guitarist. Several weeks ago, at Take Five, he helped drive Shay Estes’s group to an inspired level. This, I realized, was a promising mix.

Dionne is young and gaining experience in commanding a stage. Her voice is exceptional, smooth yet bold with a punch at the right spots, on jazz standards, pop hits and Motown classics. And there’s charisma on that stage, a sexiness without trying to be sexy, a playfulness exuding joy. Her story of confronting a raccoon in her bedroom worked. It was well told and funny, and it broke up the set. However, that second set featured too long a string of up-tempo songs. It would have benefitted from some pacing. She’s learning. But between her vocal talent and presence, Kansas City, this is a singer watch.

Rod stopped by to chat between sets. This was his first time in this club and, like all of us, he liked what he saw. I voiced concerns about the neighborhood. He decided to move his car, parked on a side street, closer. I mentioned the well lit lot in the back.

The show ended after 1, and I stood to leave. My camera pack was strapped to my waist. I’d photographed Winterlude earlier in the evening and thought I might take some photos here, but didn’t.

I don’t know the exact time I walked out the door, and down 36th Street to the parking lot. But after the incident, the clock in my car read 1:23.

I stepped into the lot. I took my iPhone out of my pocket. On the way home, I’d listen to NPR stories I’d missed earlier in the day, I thought.

I opened my car door.

Suddenly, from across 36th street, a youth, probably in his mid teens, yelled unintelligibly at me and ran towards my car.

I tried to get in and shut the door quickly. If I could just lock the door and start the car, I’d escape him. But the camera pack made sitting in the seat slow and awkward. I slumped in and yanked the car door shut, but the youth was there and pulled the handle from the outside. He was stronger and faster. He opened the door before I could lock it.

“Give me that phone!” he yelled. I didn’t. It was in the hand away from the door. Instinctively, I clasped it tighter.

“Give me the phone!”

Another youth, similar age, ran up from the back of the lot, from Central Street. He stopped at the open car door and looked at me, eyes all open and crazed. He pulled from his pocket what looked like a small gun. He pointed it at my leg, then at my groin, then at my leg.

“Get out!” he demanded.

In the mid 1980s, when I lived off The Plaza, I was mugged one night while walking home. I was on Brush Creek Boulevard, across from Winstead’s. Daylight Savings Time had just ended. The week before it had been light outside at this time, but this night was dark. Four youths walked up Brush Creek Boulevard and demanded my wallet. I wouldn’t give it to them. They started hitting me, knocked me to the ground, broke my eyeglasses, on Brush Creek Boulevard across from Winstead’s. I started to scream for help. When I did, they ran off. I decided then that if I was ever assaulted again, I would scream.

“Help me!” I yelled, as loud as I could. “Help me!”

“Get out! Get out!” yelled the youth with eyes all open and crazed, waving a gun at my leg.

“Help me! Help me!”

The first youth kicked the car door, swinging it as far open as it could go before bouncing back on its springs.

“Help me! Help me!”

Nobody came. But both youths turned and ran off, towards the back of the well lit parking lot, towards Central Street.

I slammed the car door shut and locked it. I tried to put the key in the ignition. But my hand shook, uncontrollably, as I stabbed the key repeatedly at the dashboard and the steering column. Somehow, finally, I found the ignition.

I started the car. I looked at the time. I drove off.

Going home, NPR stories I’d missed earlier in the day streamed from my iPhone through the car radio. But all I heard, on the drive back to Johnson County, was my voice in my head yelling “Help me! Help me!” And just beyond the windshield, throughout the drive, I saw two eyes staring back at me, all open and crazed.

Monday, January 20, 2014

This 'n That 'n Chuck 'n Stanley

Imagine two highly respected writers simultaneously publish new, finely researched yet easily readable books offering fresh details and the most accurate histories yet on Kansas City’s famous jazz son, Charlie Parker. Imagine both books are honored by a broad swath of positive reviews and are quickly accepted as definitive Parker biographies. Now imagine that these authors are scheduled to appear together on a stage in Kansas City to discuss their books, their research, and Charlie Parker.

Nothing in that last paragraph is imaginary.

The books, of course, are Chuck Haddix’s Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker and Stanley Crouch’s Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker. Haddix oversees UMKC’s Marr Sound Archives – one of Kansas City’s most under-recognized treasures – and stands alone as KC’s premiere jazz historian. Crouch is an internationally-recognized jazz author and critic.

They have agreed to share the stage at the Bruce R. Watkins Cultural Center on the evening of June 19th to talk about Charlie “Yardbird” Parker. This should be a fascinating discussion between two men who have established themselves as the contemporary “Yardbird” experts.

It’s being arranged by Anita Dixon, Vice President of the Mutual Musicians Foundation (MMF) as part of a June Kansas City Jazz Blogger Summit. This summit is organized by Dixon and MMF with Brand USA, which describes itself as “a public private partnership with the mission of promoting international travel to the US.”

Jazz bloggers from throughout the country, many invited from a list supplied by Crouch, will descend on Kansas City to be immersed in our jazz history and culture. For instance, the morning of June 19th, they will tour the areas where Kansas City jazz thrived, in order to walk away understanding why and how a unique voice in jazz grew here.

(Then, hopefully, they go write about it. Plastic Sax, next summer, we have colleagues.)

Some blogger events will be open to the public. Especially the joint talk by Chuck Haddix and Stanley Crouch. Any chance we might see some professional jealousy there? Don’t count on it. On the contrary, Dixon tells me both authors were excited about appearing together. Crouch’s reaction to seeing Haddix: “I have questions for him.”


This weekend, Johnson County Community College celebrates its fifth annual Jazz Winterlude. This year, jazz shares the Carlsen Center stages with world music. From 1 to 5 p.m. next Saturday, each hour a different jazz ensemble fills Polsky Theatre while a different world music group fills the Recital Hall. That’s free.

But the headliners are pure Grammy-winning jazz. This Friday night, percussionist Terri Lynne Carrington plays Polsky Theatre with selections from her CD honoring the 50th anniversary of the classic Duke Ellington / Charles Mingus / Max Roach album, Money Jungle. Her band includes pianist Gerald Clayton. Saturday night, trumpet legend Arturo Sandoval promises to do some roof-raising in Yardley Hall.

The full schedule is here.

Tickets to Carrington are $20, and to Sandoval are $25. Or, they’re just $5 with any valid and current student ID. Tickets are available here for Carrington and here for Sandoval.

Festival organizer Doreen Maronde has been making Kansas City area jazz festivals a reality since the 1980s, when she worked for Kansas City Parks and Rec and I was a volunteer on the Kansas City Jazz Festival (which was staged in a Kansas City park with Parks and Rec as our invaluable partner). I salute a force – there are many in this city – who has long labored behind the scenes to see jazz in Kansas City thrive.


I came to jazz through swing. And while music doesn’t necessarily need to swing for me to appreciate it, there needs to be an accessible element to draw me in, whether it’s the whimsey of The People’s Liberation Big Band or an inviting musical hook or phrase.

I don’t find that personal invitation often enough in jazz fusion, so that’s a style I generally avoid. As such, after reading Plastic Sax’s review of the new album by Dojo, Road Trip, I was a bit apprehensive before listening to the CD. He called it jazz fusion. He compared it to names who, except for Billy Cobham, I’ve never heard. He compared it to music jazz purists detest. I’m not a purist, but my sympathies lie more closely there than to fusion.

I needn’t have worried. Each of the original compositions filling Road Trip offers that musical invitation. Each draws me in with a musical phrase or hook, an invite to grab onto repeated like a riff, that even ol’ more-purist-than-fusionist me can enjoy. Most often, these lead to Brian Baggett’s guitar exploding in imaginative directions. I lack the musical vocabulary to know to whom Baggett’s style can be properly compared (this ain’t Charlie Christian), but listening closely carries you along intriguing and original, but rarely subtle, lines. Jeff Harshbarger’s and Chris Handley’s bass, and Luke Stone’s drums, provide the base along which Baggett travels.

Road Trip can be purchased on CD Baby, here, or downloaded from iTunes, here.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Megan Birdsall Quartet at The Broadway Jazz Club

Maybe this will be where the musicians hang out. It certainly was two days after Christmas.

Singer Megan Birdsall came to the new Broadway Jazz Club armed with some of the best KC jazz musicians you could hope for: Paul Smith on piano, Danny Embrey on guitar, Steve Rigazzi on bass and Sam Wisman on drums. Then Steve Lambert walked in, tenor sax in hand. Trombonist Kevin Cerovich and bassist Ben Leifer stopped by after their Take Five gig ended. Pianist Andrew Ouellette, bassist Bob Bowman and drummer John Kizilarmut all showed up. So did Mambo DeLeon, with congas.

For the third of her four sets, Megan called the guests to the stage and joined them for an unexpected jam. It was a wild glimpse at more of the breadth of jazz talent bursting through Kansas City today.

And it was a glimpse at the potential of the new Broadway Jazz Club. Its location is in a part of town that KC jazz fans have not been asked, for many years, to consider. The club’s challenge is convincing everyone to come on down and sample the inviting atmosphere, the solid staging and sound, and the good food and drinks. If word builds that nights like this are what you’re missing, that challenge becomes considerably easier to conquer.

So take a look at the photos below. If you weren’t at the new Broadway Jazz Club on Saturday night, December 27th, this is what you missed.

Now, make a point not to let that happen again.

(As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.)

Megan and the band she brought. Left to right: Paul Smith on piano, Megan Birdsall, vocals, Steve Rigazzi on bass, Sam Wisman on drums, Danny Embrey on guitar.

Megan Birdsall

Paul Smith on piano

Danny Embrey on guitar

Steve Rigazzi on bass

Little Jimmy Rushing and Paul Smith watch Megan.

The guests jam. Left to right: Kevin Cerovich on trombone, Steve Lambert on sax, Miguel “el Mambo” DeLeon on percussion, Ben Leifer on bass, John Kizilarmut on drums. Hidden: Andrew Ouellette on piano.

Kevin Cerovich on trombone and Steve Lambert on tenor sax

John Kizilarmut and Mambo DeLeon

Ben Leifer and Megan

Megan and the band she didn’t bring. Left to right: Andrew Ouellette on piano, Megan Birdsall, Bob Bowman on bass, John Kizilarmut on drums.

Bob Bowman on bass

Megan Birdsall sings in The Broadway Jazz Club

Monday, January 6, 2014

Shay Estes Quintet at The Broadway Jazz Club

It was, I believe, the second weekend they were open. And I took the shots late, during the last set, so I wouldn’t get in everyone’s way. As a matter of fact, the crowd earlier in the evening wasn’t bad, especially considering jazz fans are just discovering The Broadway Jazz Club.

So don’t try to tell me that the empty tables in these shots mean jazz is dead or some other hokum. They only mean it was late at night during the second week of a brand new club.

They also mean some of us heard wonderful jazz that you missed.

Last week I offered initial impressions of The Broadway Jazz Club. This week and next, I offer photos so you can see for yourself.

On Saturday, December 12th, Shay Estes took the stage accompanied by Matt Otto on saxophone, T.J. Martley on piano, Karl McComas-Reichl on bass and Sam Wisman on drums. I hadn’t heard Shay backed by this particular quartet before. But with the club’s exceptional sound system, this night just about every corner of 36th and Broadway filled with delight.

The final set opened with just T.J and Matt. Wow. How do I hear more of just these two? Maybe T.J. and Matt as an early evening opener some night? Just throwing the idea out there.

More of Shay Estes, too, please, with whatever quartet she chooses.

As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

The Shay Estes Quintet (for this night, anyway). Left to right: T.J. Martley on piano, Karl McComas-Reichl on bass, Shay Estes, vocals, Sam Wisman on drums, Matt Otto on sax.

Shay Estes and Karl McComas-Reichl

T.J. Martley on piano

Matt Otto on sax

Shay Estes

Sam Wisman on drums

Paintings of KC jazz legends line the wall at The Broadway Jazz Club. Here, the view from Marilyn Maye to the stage. Even back here, you can gently converse without noise overwhelming the music you came to hear.

Karl McComas-Reichl on bass while Shay Estes sings

T.J. Martley plays piano while being watched, on the wall behind him, by little Jimmy Rushing.

The Shay Estes Quintet at The Broadway Jazz Club