Monday, December 28, 2015

Snapshots of 2015

Quotes from posts this year:


This is what I remember first: Saturday afternoon at The Phoenix, with Milt Abel on bass and Tommy Ruskin on drums. I can still see Milt mesmerizing the audience with his take on Big Wind Blew in From Winnetka. And then Tommy drumming on everything in sight for Caravan. What amazing fun.

2015 opened with a harsh jolt. The morning of January 1st, the Kansas City jazz community lost an anchor when drummer Tommy Ruskin passed away.


Take Five Coffee + Bar is a growing a formidable base of customers, ranging from suburban high school students engaged in the music to those of us with grey hair and oversized bellies. Sure, part of the audience turns out for that night’s ensemble, but part of it just trusts the venue to book good music. And they do.

The Broadway Jazz Club is working to build the same trusting, repeat business. On weekends, this is where you’re likely to find some of the best female vocalists, a fine complement to a fine dinner.


Last month, the Mutual Musician’s Foundation (MMF) won a construction permit from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build a radio station. The call letters will be KOJH-LP. The -LP identifies it as a low power radio station. KOJH, MMF officials say, stands for Kansas City’s Oldest Jazz House.

The permit, FCC file number BNPL-20131114ARG, was granted on January 20, 2015. MMF received notification of the approval on the 26th. The permit allows 18 months, until July 20, 2016, to have the station operational.

With the possibility of eventually broadcasting jazz 24 hours a day on the air from Overland Park to Parkville, and worldwide on the Web, the Mutual Musicians Foundation has the chance to build a voice nobody else in Kansas City jazz can match or ignore.


This summer, Roger Atkinson is retiring as editor of Jam.

The new editor will be me.

Jam will remain a publication that supports the Kansas City jazz scene. The criticisms and snarky comments found in this blog have no place in the magazine. But I suspect some of my personality will sneak in. Some of my photos will, too.

New leadership and a board spiked with younger members are reinvigorating the Jazz Ambassadors at a time when younger musicians are reinvigorating Kansas City’s jazz scene. It’s an exciting opportunity to assume the reins of this city’s premiere jazz forum.


In September, the American Jazz Museum celebrates 18 years since its opening. For the last eight of those years, Greg Carroll has served as CEO. Last week, Carroll “resigned” from that position.


Kansas City jazz took a wallop last week when Take Five Coffee + Bar announced Friday morning that it is closing on August 15th. Few in the community saw this one coming.

The closing of Take Five is a Kansas City jazz sucker punch. It hurts. This was a wonderful venue, built to showcase KC’s abundance of jazz talent and to help that talent thrive and grow the music in fresh directions. While I’ve argued that it was partly responsible for keeping Johnson Countians away from the midtown club that tried to be the next Jardine’s, Take Five mostly grew its own audience. It offered an easy and comfy style, a no grit, no-excitement-here-but-the-music ambiance that no other jazz club in the area replicated. Take Five didn’t fill a hole. It cultivated a sparkling niche.


I sat down to talk with the new interim CEO of the museum for a Q and A in the next issue of Jam magazine. As I walked through the jazz museum offices, I was struck by a fresh feel of excitement, animation, a spark not present before. The difference was palpable.

That’s just one of the changes Ralph Reid is shepherding through the American Jazz Museum. Following 35 years at Sprint, retiring as Vice President for Corporate Responsibility and President of the Sprint Foundation, Reid brings unique experience and a new outlook. He’s focused on how the museum’s brand is perceived, a key to the success of any corporate behemoth or civic institution. And his words suggest a comprehensive vision, of recognizing the museum’s role in selling the complete 18th and Vine district.


The museums’ back yard is about to change. In a joint venture between the Kansas City Royals, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the country’s seventh MLB Urban Youth Academy will be built in Parade Park.

This development brings with it the potential to transform the 18th and Vine district. The district never did and never will thrive on jazz alone. In the 1930s, jazz was the soundtrack to vice. It needs a new companion.


Broadway Kansas City, until earlier this year The Broadway Jazz Club, has been sold. The space will become a Scandinavian restaurant. The new owners tell The Pitch that they see their concept as a destination. Presumably, it will be a destination without live music. The sale does not include the sound system or piano.


The Art Factory at 135th and Nall is dipping its toes into Friday night jazz. Louie’s Wine Dive, at 71st and Wornall, features the music in a downstairs alcove most Saturdays. You can find jazz in upscale surroundings at the American Restaurant in Crown Center and at Chaz in the Raphael Hotel on The Plaza. We have the Green Lady Lounge and The Blue Room and The Majestic and on some nights The Phoenix and the Westport Coffee House. The area hosts a couple of relatively small festivals, a Charlie Parker celebration, winter series at both The Folly and The Gem, and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra in the Kauffman Center. Jazz education programs at UMKC and Kansas City, Kansas Community College continue to thrive. The Mutual Musicians Foundation remains open overnight every Friday and Saturday for its historic jam sessions.

The Broadway Jazz Club and Take Five were both unique circumstances and jazz in Kansas City is decidedly not dead.

Monday, December 21, 2015

The Night Before a 2015 KC Jazz Christmas

’Twas the night before Christmas and all through K.C.
Jazz fans sat ’round restless with less shows to see.
Sure, we still had the Folly, the Gem Theater, too,
And Green Lady, Majestic, a Room known as Blue.
But some clubs had closed, fewer places to cheer.
And we lose RecordBar at the end of the year.
The situation’s not dire. Jazz faces no doom.
But the holidays bared just a wee bit of gloom.
Then off in the distance there arose such a clatter
I yanked off my earbuds to see what was the matter.
I ran to the window and to my eyes did appear
A miniature sleigh pulled by eight tiny reindeer.
On my roof it did land. My dog quickly was riled.
My phone I did grasp. Nine-one-one I might dial.
A man dropped down my chimney. I was stunned. In his hand
Was the new Christmas CD by the Count Basie band.
He dressed all in red, with a laugh jolly and quick.
He was either a madman or the elf named St. Nick.
“I mean no harm,” he did say. “Here, this album’s for you.
“It’s music that riffs on the good kind of blues.
“I heard your despair, but you need worry not.
“Not with the jazz talent this city has got.
“Eighty years next November, can you believe,
“Since from Kansas City, Count Basie did leave.
“But a culture was born and continues to live
“In this great city as musicians still give
“Of their time and their talent. To students they teach
“The wonders of jazz. Generations they reach.
“Some honor tradition, some go new directions.
“But both find an audience and make a connection.
“On Mehari! On Lambert! On Megan Birdsall!
“On Eddie Moore, Shay Estes, and all!
“Hear the B-3 played by Hazelton’s hand!
“Or hear the People’s Liberation Big Band!
“On Molly! On Eboni! On Lisa Henry!
“On Jazz Disciples! Tyrone Clark! There’s so many!
“Hear New Jazz Order each Wednesday night!
“Or to K.C. Jazz Orchestra you can delight!
“On Lowrey! On Kessler! And on Hagenbach!
“In Kansas City, all see that jazz has a lock
“On a style that was born here. And talent that grows
“Will find its new venues. This much I know.
“Clubs come and they go, but the culture remains
“And talent this great you will not contain.
“Jazz now may not thrive as in eighty years past
“But in K.C. be assured its presence will last.”
St. Nick stood in the chimney, winked once, then he rose.
He sat in his sleigh and shook soot from his clothes.
As he flew off, I sat up quick in my bed.
’Twas all but a dream. It was all in my head.
I walked to the window and stared into the night.
But all that I dreamed, I knew it was right.
I turned back to my bed and, wait, what did I see?
There on the night stand…how’d I get that new Basie CD?

Monday, December 14, 2015

The People's Liberation Big Band Ends an Era at the Record Bar

To a standing room only crowd, a seven-and-a-half year jazz era concluded on Sunday, December 6th when the People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City performed their last show in this location of the Record Bar.

The Record Bar loses its lease after New Year’s Eve. But while we wait for a new location to be vetted, People’s Lib loses, for now, its home on the first Sunday of each month.

This night the band played the best known and most popular numbers in its eclectic library and recorded the show, presumably for a future CD release. It was a reminder of how its music is so wonderfully inventive. Sometimes outlandish but consistently accessible and fun, this is what an extraordinary collection of jazz talent can produce when given the freedom to explore.

If you missed it, below are glimpses at a few of the musicians on stage. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

The People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City

Leader Brad Cox taking a turn on piano

Shay Estes sings

Mark Southerland on sax

Jeff Harshbarger on bass

Multi-instrumentalist Mark Cohick

Roger Wilder on piano, clearly enjoying the music

Forrest Stewart

Mike Stover

Rich Wheeler on sax

Sam Wisman on drums

Shay Estes

When I've heard Mark Southerland before, it was on odd instruments of his own invention playing music that experimented a bit beyond what I understand and enjoy. This night he played a beautiful and powerful extended saxophone solo that won - deservedly - a standing ovation.

Brad Cox directs the People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City in the Record Bar

Monday, December 7, 2015


Agreed, the story is not “jazz is dead.” But in Kansas City, it’s a little bit wounded.

When talking with Jim Pollock, owner of the Broadway Jazz Club, one of his greatest concerns was that the story surrounding the club’s closing not devolve into “jazz is dead.” He knew his club’s sale would fall on the heels of the loss of Johnson County’s beloved Take Five. And he knew how easy it would be to twist the narrative of two area jazz clubs closing in relatively quick succession into the inevitable end of this music as we know it.

That’s one reason why he contributed his tale on the life and death of the Broadway Jazz Club, published in this blog in September, here. He wanted it known that the club was not well managed and did not keep a business-like rein on expenses until it was too late. Any restaurant / club, regardless of music offered, would fail under such circumstances, and many do every week.

Similarly, Take Five, ensconced in a posh suburban mall, needed more than jazz to meet posh suburban mall rents. Its concept was to thrive as a busy coffee shop by day and jazz club by weekend night. Jazz fans did their part, avidly seeking out the venue. But sufficient daylight business on the barren butt-side of Corbin Park never materialized, and only half a business plan succeeding is not a business plan succeeding.

Despite these closings, the Art Factory at 135th and Nall is dipping its toes into Friday night jazz. Louie’s Wine Dive, at 71st and Wornall, features the music in a downstairs alcove most Saturdays (but good luck finding out who’s there if you don’t follow the musician on Facebook). You can find jazz in upscale surroundings at the American Restaurant in Crown Center and at Chaz in the Raphael Hotel on The Plaza. We have the Green Lady Lounge and The Blue Room and The Majestic and on some nights The Phoenix and the Westport Coffee House. The area hosts a couple of relatively small festivals, a Charlie Parker celebration, winter series at both The Folly and The Gem, and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra in the Kauffman Center. Jazz education programs at UMKC and Kansas City, Kansas Community College continue to thrive. The Mutual Musicians Foundation remains open overnight every Friday and Saturday for its historic jam sessions.

So The Broadway Jazz Club and Take Five were both unique circumstances and jazz in Kansas City is decidedly not dead.

But let’s not stick our heads in the jazz sand, either. We’ve lost two clubs and that (along with turnover at the top of the American Jazz Museum) ranks as one of Kansas City’s major jazz stories of 2015.

In Broadway, we lost a stage that showcased singers. Take Five featured the full gamut of Kansas City jazz. And while The Blue Room and Green Lady Lounge have attempted to plug a few of the holes, they have their own formats and their own regular performers who have made them successful. Plenty of gaps remain. For instance, I love hearing Rich Wheeler’s ensemble. As far as I know, that group hasn’t played a public gig since Take Five’s doors were sealed.

We’ve been here before. Today’s contraction doesn’t feel nearly as dire as when Jardine’s shut down. Then we lost one of the area’s jazz anchors. But soon Green Lady opened, for a while Kill Devil Club featured jazz, Take Five expanded, and Broadway tried to imitate Jardine’s.

As John Scott, owner of Green Lady Lounge and the last manager of The Broadway Jazz Club lamented as Broadway was heading towards its demise, small businesses come and small businesses go all the time. Every jazz club is a small business.

Today, Kansas City jazz is a little bit wounded. We face a void. But a void is an opportunity for a new small business to fill.

UMKC will continue to funnel sterling talent into our jazz scene. By this time next year, phase one of a new KC Royals-sponsored baseball academy should be transforming Parade Park and, assuming the city can control news of crime in the area, fresh crowds could be flowing into the 18th and Vine district. The Mutual Musicians Foundation’s new jazz radio station should be broadcasting. The Record Bar, which features jazz a couple times a month, will be settled into a fresh home.

And just maybe a new small business or two will have opened, recognizing the opportunity to fill a void.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Three CDs Reviewed Simply and Viscerally

In editing Jam, I’ve found some CD reviewers get into what I find to be the musical weeds, praising elements like “rapid fire sixteenth-note bursts.” I’ve never attended a music class in my life and I wouldn’t know a sixteenth note burst from the movie Sixteen Candles. My reaction to music is more simplistic and visceral. It generally boils down to either (a) I like it or (b) I don’t like it.

For instance, I like the Michael Pagan / Bob Bowman / Brian Steever CD, The Ottawa Sessions, recorded at Ottawa University’s Fredrikson Chapel. Starting with the joyous bounce of Lullabye of the Leaves, these musicians are engaged in a musical conversation. Pagan’s piano winds over, under and around Steever’s propelling drums on the rambunctious Hebgen Happy Hour. Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise invites you to pay attention through a more intimate but no less engaging journey. Bowman’s intricate plethora of notes delights on Owe You Blues (“intricate plethora of notes” – that’s as technical as my reviews get).

Repeatedly you’re struck by how integral each musician is to this music. Any piano trio could easily devolve into little more than the pianist’s showcase. And Pagan’s playing, consistently expressive, excels. But it is the artistry and interplay between three of today’s Kansas City jazz masters that gives this CD its exceptional voice.

The Ottawa Sessions can be found on Amazon here, on CDBaby here, and on iTunes here.

No less delightful is Ron Carlson’s new CD, Kind Folk. Carlson was nudged into the studio by Rob Scheps, who joins him on saxophone and flute. Also joining all numbers are bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Brian Steever, who are clearly not spending all of their spare time in Ottawa, and baritone saxophonist and bass clarinetist Roger Rosenberg visiting with Scheps from New York.

Carlson’s name may grace the cover of the CD, but his role here is more often that of host and glue, clearly driving the rhythm but letting the other musicians shine. On the title tune, Scheps and Rosenberg invitingly layer saxophones over and around Carlson’s compelling guitar. On the ballad First Song, Rosenberg’s bass clarinet glides beautifully, followed by Scheps’s smooth but darting flute, before both weave together with grace.

Stellar KC vocalists join three of the numbers. Angela Hagenbach romps with Scheps and Rosenberg on the exquisitely fun Bye Bye Country Boy. A Felicidade finds Scheps’s flute bouncing around Shay Estes’s Portuguese vocals. A Beautiful Friendship opens with Kathleen Holeman over Bowman’s bass before the entire ensemble swings in.

Kind Folk is available on CDBaby here.

Where the first two albums are unabashed swing, Mike Metheny’s new CD. Twelve For the Road, experiments. Our friend Plastic Sax described the sound as “electronic space music.” That fits many of the selections.

But not all. The brief For Parkville is one of the most conventional and most appealing numbers to a non-music-educated luddite like me. Carousel brings to mind a slightly off-kilter score to a Fellini film. Both feature Metheny on keyboards. He’s on keyboards on most numbers here. His flugelhorn comes out on Home, with a sound smoothly dense and welcome.

Much of this music rides the edge of jazz. I understand and appreciate an artist reaching for new directions. But sometimes electronic experimentation in music leads me to greater appreciation of the conventional. I suppose that’s just the simple and visceral in me.

Twelve For the Road is available on Amazon here, on CDBaby here and on Mike Metheny’s website here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Kissin' Cousins

Editing Jam takes a toll. Three weeks and nary a new post.

This blog has been neither forgotten nor ignored. But as editor of Jam magazine – I still want to say new editor, but three issues in I’m not sure that holds – I’m finding that every couple of months, a few weekends need to be handed over to producing the next issue. I have neither the time nor stamina to spend a weekend writing and editing articles for the magazine while simultaneously mustering pithy thoughts here.

This week’s post is short, as I recoup from last weekend’s 4 a.m. nights. But the result is worth the effort. The December/January Jam printed last week and is being distributed around town now. It’s far from perfected, but this issue comes closer to my vision for the magazine, which celebrates 30 years of publication in 2016. Jam is developing a new voice and a fresh look. I have found that even in this digital century, holding a slick printed document remains important to many.

I share the new issue’s cover to shamelessly promote it. That’s singer Eboni Fondren decked in Royals gear and standing on the small baseball diamond adjacent to the historic Paseo YMCA at 19th and The Paseo.

Clearly, the photo is inspired by the Royals’ World Series championship. But it works in part because in Kansas City, baseball and jazz have long been kissin’ cousins. In the 1920s and ’30s, when a new style of jazz was growing up in this city, the Kansas City Monarchs dominated baseball’s Negro Leagues and were as integral to the fabric of 18th and Vine as were music and vice. The Monarchs’ office stood on 18th Street, between The Paseo and Vine. They played in Municipal Stadium at 22nd and Brooklyn.

The Negro Leagues fed the integration of baseball, and the integration of baseball is often cited as one key to the acceptance of integration in America. February will mark 96 years since the charter creating the Negro Baseball Leagues was signed at the Paseo YMCA, in 1920. I’ve long argued that the building deserves recognition as a National Historic Landmark.

Add September’s announcement on plans to build the nation’s seventh Major League Baseball Urban Youth Academy in Parade Park, behind the jazz and Negro Leagues museums. If the city can find a solution to taming crime in the district, and the devastating news stories that crime generates, this development will attract a new audience to Kansas City’s historic jazz district. It further strengthens Kansas City’s historic bonds between baseball and jazz.

But while baseball season has ended for this year, jazz continues. Diana Krall performed at the Midland on Saturday night. And Friday night, she sat in with Matt Otto at The Blue Room on his last set. That’s the kind of thing that doesn’t happen just anywhere. The loss of Take Five and The Broadway Jazz Club means fewer opportunities for musicians to perform. No question, it’s a setback. But the wealth of jazz talent in Kansas City today will keep the music thriving, and will keep performers like Diana Krall getting out when they visit to sample what we have going on.

Monday, November 9, 2015

No New Post

As work in n the next issue of Jam magazine heats up – with an early close due to Thanksgiving – work on this blog takes a break. No new post this week. (But the next issue of the magazine is going to be awesome!)

Monday, November 2, 2015

Congratulations, Royals!

This blog is about Kansas City and jazz. But today this city is all about our Royals winning the World Series. Next week we can rerturn to what passes here for on-topic punditry. Today, along with all other proud and excited Kansas Citians, I have just one thought: Congratulations, Kansas City Royals!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Another One Bites the Dust

Broadway Kansas City, until earlier this year The Broadway Jazz Club, has been sold. The space will become a Scandinavian restaurant (their website is here). The new owners tell The Pitch (here) that they see their concept as a destination. Presumably, it will be a destination without live music. The sale does not include the sound system or piano.

Tentative plans are for Clint Ashlock’s wonderful New Jazz Order Big Band, which had established itself as a Tuesday Broadway favorite, to relocate to the Green Lady Lounge’s downstairs Orion Room early in November on Wednesdays from 7 to 9 p.m., leading into Ken Lovern’s weekly OJT gig upstairs at 9:00. Recordings scheduled yet for this year of the good music/bad comedy radio program 12th Street Jump will supplant New Jazz Order in the Orion Room on two upcoming Wednesdays, including November 18th for a show featuring Kevin Mahogany.

It’s been six years since I tried – and failed – to open a jazz club in Kansas City (the recession interfered). In researching a plan at the time, I found two successful business models employed by other jazz clubs: Turn the audience twice a night or also open during the day. Either can generate a revenue stream sufficient to pay rent and investors.

The two-shows-a-night model is used by clubs in larger cities, such as the Village Vanguard or Blue Note in New York, or Jazz Alley in Seattle. Jardine’s practiced it on weekends. But Kansas City’s jazz audience clearly isn’t large enough for that model to succeed here nightly.

A friend was among the group that bought Milton’s from Milton Morris’ niece decades ago. He told me that the iconic Kansas City jazz bar was essentially a break-even business. But it wouldn’t have been even that without the lushes who wandered in off a then-grittier Main Street throughout the day.

More than once, as I sat among a crowded but quite settled in weekend audience, I wondered how The Broadway Jazz Club was surviving. Listeners were enjoying outstanding jazz. But they weren’t leaving. The room wasn’t turning over. How could Broadway afford to pay performers what Jardine’s paid yet sell half as many dinners? How were they making financial ends meet?

Turns out, as initial investor and eventual owner Jim Pollock revealed in a timeline six weeks ago (here), they weren’t. They never did. This club wanted, initially anyway, to be the next Jardine’s. But there was never an apparent effort to turn the room on weekend nights as Jardine’s did. It’s not a new notion. Milton Morris boasted of a 1930s New Year’s Eve when he paid police to “raid” his  jazz club and clear it for a fresh crowd (though that’s probably going a bit further than The Broadway Jazz Club needed).

More, this was the wrong neighborhood for the next Jardine’s. My blog post about being attacked by youths with a gun on my fifth visit certainly didn’t help. But approaching 3600 Broadway from the south after dark, visitors drive past a Sprint store with steel bars covering its windows. There’s a rougher, uneasy midtown quality to this neighborhood, unlike Jardine’s just-north-of-the-Plaza, look-you-can-see-Nichols-Fountain-from-here location. This part of town, in 2015, works for eclectic restaurants, like the nearby Hamburger Mary’s. Kansas City will support a dinner jazz club. But not here.

Broadway's demise follows the closing of Take Five Coffee + Bar. Take Five embraced the revenue-throughout-the-day business model, but in a pricey Johnson County development that never developed except, at the end, for another coffee shop in a nearby sporting goods store.

Yet, there is a jazz club success story in our midst: The Green Lady Lounge. With a bar hugging the length of one wall designed to serve a large number of customers quickly, a 3 a.m. license (a rarity in the Crossroads district), an inviting and classic environment, and a simple and direct marketing message of jazz and drinks seven nights a week, owner John Scott has tripled revenues since opening his second stage downstairs.

Green Lady Lounge is a variation of the turn-the-crowd model, with the later license, no cover charge and that long bar facilitating volume business. It’s proof that a smartly conceived and operated jazz business can indeed succeed in Kansas City.

It’s probably best that I didn’t start a jazz club six years ago. While I was working with experienced consultants and remain convinced that I’d targeted a solid location, my lack of service industry experience, in the end, would have likely doomed the venture. Small businesses die every day. But had I tried and failed, the business would have ended because of me, because of my lack of club smarts and acumen, because I wasn’t sufficiently savvy.

It would not have died because it featured jazz. In Kansas City, run right, a jazz business will succeed.

Monday, October 19, 2015

No New Post

No post, no photos, nothing new this week, profound or otherwise.

That's not quite right. I do have one thought new to this blog, though it's not especially jazz related:

Go Royals!

Monday, October 12, 2015

The 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Part 2

A previous post covered how the headline act of the 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival came to be the McFadden Brothers with The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. But the simple fact is, no matter who else may have been considered in the course of developing this year’s festival, nobody, absolutely nobody, could have delighted the young and old, the kids and the parents packing the hill in Harmon Park more completely than the McFaddens with KCJO.

Certain acts just turn out to be a perfect match for a particular setting, a stage, an audience. Sometimes, 5000 people, ideal weather, an orchestra and a couple of tap dancers gel perfectly. That’s what happened in Prairie Village on September 10th.

Angela Hagenbach preceded them with the magnificent vocals that have made her a favorite of Kansas City and worldwide audiences for over two decades. Don’t miss her production of Alice in Wonderland set to the music of John Coltrane – Jazz Alice – on the stage in the Plaza branch of the Kansas City Library on October 28th. It’s previewed in the latest issue of Jam.

And preceding Angela in the festival, playing to a beautiful setting sun, Matt Kane and the Kansas City Generations Sextet matched drummer Kane – now based in New York but originally from Hannibal, Missouri and a graduate of UMKC’s Conservatory – with five of the best of Kansas City’s amazing new jazz generation.

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

As the sun set in Prairie Village on September 10th, a growing crowd packed the hill in Harmon Park.

Matt Kane and the Generations Sextet. Left to right: Ben Leifer on bass, Andrew Ouellette on piano, Matt Kane on drums, Steve Lambert on tenor sax, Hermon Mehari on trumpet, Michael Shults on alto sax.

The stage, with Matt Kane and the Generations Sextet, bathed in the setting sun.

Angela Hagenbach sings

Danny Embry with Angela's group

Angela in the spotlight

The McFadden Brothers and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

The McFadden Brothers dance to an audience standing and applauding with joy.

Clint Ashlock directs The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

Ronnie McFadden

Lonnie McFadden

The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra

Monday, October 5, 2015

The 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Part 1

The weather could not have cooperated better.

The Prairie Village Jazz Festival is still remembered by some for its second year when a microburst pummeled the grounds and ended the day after two acts. Perhaps the weather gods realize they overdid it that year – and they did – and have have been making up for it since.

This year, on Saturday September 10th, crowds started building early and stayed through the McFadden Brothers and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra bringing thousands to their feet to sway to the magnificent music.

We’ll get to photos of the finale (and Angela Hagenbach and Matt Kane and the Generations Sextet) next week. This week, we take a glance at the day’s first four acts, including Tyrone Clark and True Dig with Lisa Henry, Horacescope, the Peter Schlamb Quartet and the Shawnee Mission East blue Knights.

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

A decent sized crowd for 2:30 in the afternoon and magnificent weather greeted the Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights to open the 2015 festival.

The Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights

The Peter Schlamb Quartet. Left to right: Peter Schlamb on vibraphone, Karl McComas-Reichl on bass, John Kizilarmut on drums, Hermon Mehari on trumpet.

Peter Schlamb. Behind him, Karl McComas-Reichl.

Hermon Mehari

Tyrone Clark and True Dig. Left to right: Charles Williams on keyboards, Tyrone Clark on bass, Lisa Henry, vocals, Michael Warren on drums, Charles Gatschet on guitar.

Tyrone Clark

Lisa Henry

Horacescope. Left to right: Roger Wilder on piano, James Albright on bass, Stan Kessler on trumpet, Sam Wisman on drums, David Chael on saxophone.

James Albright, Stan Kessler, David Chael and Sam Wisman

As the sun started to set, the crowd grew.

Monday, September 28, 2015

All the Pieces

The difference in body language caught my attention first.

I sat in a meeting early this summer, in a conference room near 18th and Vine, that included several staff members from the American Jazz Museum. I noticed the way one sat angled in his chair, the edge in a voice when one spoke, the wayward gaze of another. We’ve all sat through gatherings on a bad day. This was different. There was an overarching sense of disgruntlement and defiance, not with the topic at hand but with something else.

Two months later, I sat down to talk with the new interim CEO of the museum for a Q and A in the next issue of Jam magazine. As I walked through the jazz museum offices, I was struck by a fresh feel of excitement, animation, a spark not present before. The difference was palpable. The body language had changed.

That’s just one of the changes Ralph Reid is shepherding through the American Jazz Museum. Following 35 years at Sprint, retiring as Vice President for Corporate Responsibility and President of the Sprint Foundation, Reid brings unique experience and a new outlook. He’s focused on how the museum’s brand is perceived, a key to the success of any corporate behemoth or civic institution. And his words suggest a comprehensive vision, of recognizing the museum’s role in selling the complete 18th and Vine district.

That’s especially important following last week’s announcement at the Negro Leagues Museum. The museums’ back yard is about to change. In a joint venture between the Kansas City Royals, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association, the country’s seventh MLB Urban Youth Academy will be built in Parade Park. From Mayor Sly James’s website (here):
The Academy and park improvements will be developed in two phases:
•  Phase I includes two full-size baseball fields, including one with permanent and portable bleachers for tournament play; two youth baseball-softball fields; a half-mile walking trail with views of the baseball and softball diamonds; relocated basketball courts; relocated and renovated tennis courts, and a new playground near the community center.

•  Phase II includes the indoor training facility with a turf infield, batting cages, pitching mounds, restrooms and concession facilities for the diamonds; a Great Lawn that will serve as a front yard for the Academy and as a shared event space, and additional parking.
Here’s the layout, with the museums highlighted in yellow (clicking on the image should open a larger view):

Phase 1 is scheduled to be completed in a year. Fundraising continues for phase 2 with the hopes that the training facility will be standing a year later.

This development brings with it the potential to transform the 18th and Vine district. The district never did and never will thrive on jazz alone. In the 1930s, jazz was the soundtrack to vice. It needs a new companion.

But this district faces special challenges. I’ve quoted often from a 1979 study commissioned by the Black Economic Union and funded by the Ford Foundation which said, in part, that even then people feared coming into the area. The city needs to address an image ingrained for decades and underscored just this past Sunday when, at 2:40 a.m., four people were shot at 18th and Highland, one seriously (news reports here and here). These incidents must end. This isn’t The Plaza where stories of woebegone youth surprise. This is what too many people anticipate here, so they don’t come. The five o’clock news cannot open with reports from the district of “an uptick in crime” and a resident saying, “This is a horrible street to live on” while you ask parents to send their kids to play baseball in the neighborhood park.

Because the possibilities here are incredible.

If the city can stymie the stories of violence, the coming of the beloved and Snow White-sweet Royals, with Major League Baseball, can bestow the district with equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. They can draw a new audience. Will it be a large enough crowd to entice new restaurants and shops? That’s the hope.

I suspect Mayor James has been pushing for East Crossroads development incentives in part because this revitalization is coming. That’s another element necessary to begin to dispel languishing fears: the district needs a not-so-scary-to-nonurbanites connection to the rest of the city.

I’m aware of two clubs which at least sometimes book jazz being courted to East Crossroads. Could this city, in a few years, boast of Green Lady Lounge accompanied by some new jazz cohorts jamming in an area that leads to an 18th and Vine district with The Blue Room, the Mutual Musicians Foundation broadcasting its new radio station and a Major League Baseball facility training future major leaguers? Many discussions are preliminary. Money needs to be raised. So much could yet fall elsewhere or simply fall apart. But today, all of the critical pieces are dangling for that vision to be a possibility.

The vision. I spoke with Ralph Reid just two weeks after he took over leadership of the American Jazz Museum. He was uncomfortable attaching the word vision to his ideas and plans. Yet, Reid’s Sprint experience in community outreach and his time spent on the boards of other major not-for-profit organizations brings the experience and vision needed at the jazz museum during a time of district transitions. He’s another critical piece.

A few weeks ago, on KCPT’s Kansas City Week in Review, I watched as the panelists speculated on whether Ralph Reid might consider staying on at the museum past his designated interim role. I thought, I know the answer to that. I asked him that question earlier in the week. And the answer is…

…in the next issue of Jam, available around town starting later this week.

(I can be such a tease.)

Monday, September 21, 2015

No Post, Off Jammin'

Every other month, one of my weekends is now filled with completing the next issue of Jam magazine. That weekend was this one. So after two nights that ran way too late for someone of my age (I could stay up this late easily in my twenties and thirties, and I did), I sit here too spent to write or edit or otherwise inspire on this week’s blog. Look for a new post next week.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Want to Buy a Jazz Club?

An ad has been prepared for Craigslist that begins with this:

“Kansas City bar and restaurant for sale. Great design and ambiance. Located in 100-year old historic building where jazz great Charlie Parker once played.”

Broadway Kansas City, which opened two years ago as The Broadway Jazz Club, is for sale. Owner Jim Pollock plans to keep the club operating for at least another two to three months with a reduced schedule, including the New Jazz Order Big Band on Tuesday nights, shows on Fridays and maybe a few other nights each month. The menu will shift to cold plates exclusively.

How did it come to this? Pollock prepared a timeline history of the beleaguered club. Here it is.

The Life and Times of The Broadway Jazz Club

Honoring Charlie
May 2013 – My nephew, Neil Pollock, calls from Kansas City to see if my wife and I would be interested in becoming minor partners in a jazz club which would feature Cajun food and Kansas City jazz, both favorites of my deceased brother, Charlie. We encourage the idea.

The Pitch
June 2013 – Neil arrives in Washington, DC and presents a prospectus and business plan for a club named Jardine’s.  Other partners in the venture include a former manager of Jardine’s and friend of Neil’s with food service background.  Our CPA reviews the figures and deems them reasonable. We agree to become 30% investors.

Opening Pains
July - November 2013 – The Jardine’s name is under proprietary ownership, so we must register a new name, The Broadway Jazz Club.  Design modifications and decor at 3601 Broadway suffer delays and false starts as one contractor or another botch the job. Instead of opening in August, renovations continue until the end of November and require more money than initially forecast.

The Dew is Off the Rose
December 2013 – The club’s opening week is quite successful – as it should be given the thousands spent on a publicist – but staff bickering seems to set in immediately and New Year’s Eve unmasks the fact that the kitchen and wait staff have not had an appropriate shake-down period. Things have not improved by Valentine’s Day.

Uncle, Can You Spare a Dollar
From the beginning, it was obvious that estimates of operating costs had been low. A myriad of state and local assessments, taxes, utilities and fees had either not been foreseen because of lack of due diligence, the fact that no records existed from the previous tenant, or just plain oversight. The minority partners soon became the only source of additional funds. Our ownership percentage began to grow monthly.

Inventory Uncontrol
In addition to spiraling infrastructure and overhead costs, inventory costs for food and alcohol were out of control. The bar followed no regimen, internal controls did not exist, there was no manual of operation for staff members or management. But two or three groups of very capable musicians were paid each night, the music was good, and there was a party going on.

Shareholders Report
May 2014 – My wife and I came out to Kansas City to assess the situation. Even without prior business experience, we could identify glaring faults in operations, highlighted by the fact that a daily accounts ledger had never been kept. If it had been, the confusion that marked management level considerations between what were club funds and what were personal expenses, at least, would have been recorded.

Baptism by Fire
June 2014 – The club’s general manager refusal to respond to a lengthy report and set of recommendations generated by our May visit led to his release. Margaret and I came to Kansas City to support our nephew in running the club. Little did we know it would be a four month stay, resulting in our learning more about supper club management than we ever wanted to know, becoming majority owners of The Broadway Jazz Club, falling in love with the music and its performers, uncovering an embezzlement scheme perpetrated by our payroll company, trying to enforce internal controls and bring inventory and revenue in line, and taking remedial steps to train and realign staff in an effort to shore up a dwindling clientele base.

Better to Sell
October 2014 – Believing we had righted the ship, we returned to Washington, DC.  Things at the club deteriorated rapidly and by November we were back, this time for six months. The idea was to sell the club and transition to new owners as 2015 opened. Consultants convinced us, however, that one cannot sell a club that is closed. So we invested yet more money to keep it open, turn over the staff, do new training and present a fresh, vibrant look to the Kansas City jazz audience in 2015. Despite these efforts, and the accommodating cooperation of our landlord, the catch-22 problems of the supper club model lingered on: Restaurants and bars make their money on customer turnover while jazz club patrons come to sip, nibble and listen for the entire evening. Without generating income, the club cannot adequately compensate its talent, so it begins to cut corners, hiring trios instead of quintets. In a city where good jazz musicians play at several venues nightly, a particular musician’s draw is affected by the number of nights he or she performs each week.

Let’s Try a New Model
June 2015 – From the beginning our business plan and liquor license were predicated on supporting our entertainment costs either through the sale of food or by charging a cover (or by a combination of the two). After a year and a half of tweaking the model, we decided to try a new model, seeking to cover entertainment costs through bar sales, re-branding the club accordingly and appealing to a different demographic as a result.

And the Conclusion Is?
August 2015 – The Broadway is still for sale, and several entities continue to consider purchase. In some cases, those interested will remodel the premises and begin a different business. Other interests will keep the location identified with the Kansas City music scene. From our perspective, we would like to see the locale continue to be associated with the marvelous musical traditions and local performers we have come to know in Kansas City. There are other permutations and combinations that might even keep us associated with the club, of which we are now the sole owners.

Pianist Max Groove is among those interested in the venue. His vision: An urban club open from 11 a.m. to 1:30 a.m. with a refreshed menu.

You will not meet a nicer or more generous couple than Jim and Margaret Pollock. Jim says he is striving to keep the club “a supporter of Kansas City music” and to see the location contribute to “the development of midtown as an arts and entertainment district.” But he concedes that “the club has never made money. It will be a bargain basement sale.”

Monday, September 7, 2015

A Week Off From Blogging...But There's a Jazz Festival

I’m taking a break from the blog this week.

But before I do, a reminder: Saturday is the 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival at Harmon Park, 7700 Mission Road (next to Shawnee Mission East High School and Prairie Village City Hall). It opens at 2:30 p.m. (not 2:00 like all of the signs I’ve seen mistakenly state) with the SM East Blue Knights followed by the Peter Schlamb Quartet at 3:20. Tyrone Clark and True Dig with Lisa Henry at 4:30, Horacescope at 5:40, Matt Kane and the Kansas City Generations Sextet at 6:50, and Angela Hagenbach at 8:00. The evening concludes by pairing the McFadden Brothers with The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra at 9:15 in a show that promises oodles of fun. Actually, the entire day ought to be oodling fun. The forecast looks ideal. Just five bucks gets you in. See you there.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Building the 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival

I failed. So I decided let’s just have a whole bunch of fun.

Last year’s Prairie Village Jazz Festival wasn’t perfect. The audience thinned during Joe Lovano’s extended set of Charlie Parker selections (which is a poke at the audience, not at Lovano). Sound glitches during Deborah Brown’s superb performance were an embarrassment. That ratty trailer promoting Ikea was more in the way than a benefit to anyone. While we can do little about a departing crowd, this year those other deficiencies are acknowledged and addressed (with more speakers and Ikea nowhere in sight).

But the occasional botch aside, last year’s festival succeeded on a multitude of levels. Deborah Brown with Joe Lovano and Terell Stafford was artistically unsurpassed. Kevin Mahogany gave a lesson on how to capture a Kansas City crowd. Without exception, local acts stood out. And while the first time $5 cover charge dinged attendance a smidge, it also pushed the festival into its first meaningful profit.

Add that profit to budgeted city support, and this January the festival came into the new year with more available cash than it had ever banked before. Not enough to challenge bigger and more established jazz fests around the country, certainly, but enough to sparkle stars in my eyes when considering who to book into the 2015 Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

This festival looks for every act to bring a Kansas City connection. That doesn’t mean performers without KC ties are forbidden. Look at Lovano and Stafford last year, or Jon Faddis with Bobby Watson’s big band the year before. It means a little creativity is required to broaden the scope.

My brainstorm this year: Book The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra (KCJO) and see who we could entice to join them on the festival stage.

Booking a big band brings greater expenses than you might initially imagine. It’s not just more musicians to correctly pay, but it means investing in a bigger and substantially more expensive stage. After the festival’s second year was rained out with microburstian torrents, the event went to a smaller, more nimble stage. That was fine for groups we showcased until we needed to shoehorn Bobby’s big band onto the platform. If we were going to present a big band this year, a return to the larger stage was a necessary production investment.

Then, it turns out, finding a known jazz name who will give up the security of his or her regular touring ensemble for a night with an orchestra at a price Prairie Village, Kansas can afford is a challenge. It’s a challenge that, at least this year, we were unable to conquer. Those eye sparkles started to dim. The brainstorm was becoming a brain fart.

That is, until I realized what every KC jazz fan already knows: We have all the talent in Kansas City to put together a show that can be the envy of any jazz festival.

A festival wants to showcase something unique, a headliner you’re unlikely to see elsewhere. So consider just how unlikely it would be for KCJO – unarguably one of any city’s premier orchestra of musicians performing jazz – to set up a wood floor for tap dancers in the Kauffman Center.

What’s wrong with just having a bundle of fun?

That’s exactly what the McFadden Brothers with The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra promises to bring to that big outdoor stage. I couldn’t be more excited with where this show has wound up. The eye sparkles have returned.

Angela Hagenbach precedes Lonnie and Ronnie McFadden and the Clint Ashlock-led orchestra with a stellar quintet. And Matt Kane returns to town with his Kansas City Generations Sextet, comprised of some of the cream of KC’s young generation jazz crop. Add Tyrone Clark’s True Dig (with Lisa Henry on vocals), Stan Kessler’s Horacescope, the return of Peter Schlamb’s quartet that once played Take Five the last Friday of each month, and the festival’s next door neighbor, the Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights, and we have built an afternoon and night of outstanding jazz.

The festival is September 12th at Harmon Park, 7700 Mission Road, in Prairie Village. It starts at 2:30 p.m. and runs until 10:30. Anyone 18 years or younger is admitted free. Older than 18 and this year will again cost you a measly $5 to get in. That’s so – assuming the weather cooperates – next year’s festival booker again can dream.

Here’s the complete schedule:
2:30 – 3:00 p.m.    Shawnee Mission East Blue Knights
3:20 – 4:10 p.m.    Peter Schlamb Quartet                           
Peter Schlamb, vibraphone, Hermon Mehari, trumpet, Karl McComas-Reichl, bass, John Kizilarmut, drums
4:30 – 5:20 p.m.    Tyrone Clark and True Dig           
Tyrone Clark, bass, Lisa Henry, vocals, Charles Williams, piano, Charles Gatschet, guitar, Michael Warren, drums
5:40 – 6:30 p.m.    Horacescope         
Stan Kessler, trumpet, David Chael, saxophone, Roger Wilder, piano, James Albright, bass, Sam Wisman, drums
6:50 – 7:40 p.m.    Matt Kane and the Kansas City Generations Sextet                     
Matt Kane, drums, Michael Shults, alto saxophone, Steve Lambert, tenor saxophone and flute, Hermon Mehari, trumpet, Andrew Ouellette, piano, Ben Leifer, bass
8:00 – 8:55 p.m.    Angela Hagenbach                  
Angela Hagenbach, vocals, Roger Wilder, piano, Danny Embrey, guitar, Zach Beeson, bass, Doug Auwarter, drums
9:15 – 10:30 p.m.    The McFadden Brothers with The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra   
Lonnie and Ronnie McFadden, tap dancers, with The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra directed by Clint Ashlock

Monday, August 24, 2015

Clay Jenkins with the Steve Lambert Quartet at The Broadway Kansas City

I was dubious again. I was wrong again.

Organizers of this year’s second Charlie Parker Celebration touted that the addition of an artist in residence, noted trumpeter Clay Jenkins, would raise the bar for this year’s event. Okay, I thought, it’s a nice touch, a little more than the festival did last year, something new to promote. But a visiting musician sitting in for a few numbers at a plethora of clubs wasn’t going to send any bars skyward.

Saturday night Clay Jenkins joined Steve Lambert’s quartet at The Broadway Kansas City (formerly The Broadway Jazz Club) for about half a set. I had a chance to both meet and hear Jenkins. He’s a genuinely nice individual and a genuinely terrific trumpeter. And when he stepped onto the stage, he wasn’t just a guest. He became an integral part of the ensemble. Here were four of Kansas City’s best young musicians – Steve Lambert on saxophone, Andrew Ouellette on piano, Ben Leifer on bass and Ryan Lee on drums – playing at their best with a nationally renowned jazz musician.

The addition of Jenkins to this year’s festival brings a cohesiveness to the Parker Celebration club shows beyond a poster and PR. Saturday night at The Broadway Kansas City, out of the corner of my eye, I may have seen a bar levitate just a bit.

Below are photos of what we saw. As always, clicking on a shot should open a larger version of it.

Clay Jenkins with the Steve Lambert Quartet. Left to right: Andrew Ouellette on piano, Steve Lambert on saxophone, Ben Leifer on bass, Clay Jenkins on trumpet, Ryan Lee on drums.

Clay Jenkins on trumpet

Steve Lambert on tenor sax

Ryan Lee and Clay Jenkins

Andrew Ouellette, Steve Lambert and Ben Leifer

Ben Leifer and Clay Jenkins

Clay Jenkins in The Broadway Jazz Club

Ben Leifer on bass

Ryan and Clay

Andrew Ouellette, Steve Lambert, Ben Leifer, Clay Jenkins

The Steve Lambert Quartet

Clay Jenkins