Over two weeks at the end of December, I took a look back at the year just completed. This week: A murky gaze forward.
Many Little Festivals
The tickets sold for the jazz festivals at 18th and Vine and in Prairie Village combined wouldn’t have filled Starlight Theater for a night. These festivals may be significant to their respective neighborhoods but, let’s be honest. they are relatively minor civic events.
And both saw audiences decline this year. In Prairie Village, moving from free admission to a $5 charge took a small but noticeable bite. At 18th and Vine, going head-to-head with the Royals in the playoffs was an unexpected snag.
But more importantly, both festivals last year were financial successes. Both turned a profit, so we should expect them to return this year. The Prairie Village event will remain the first Saturday after Labor Day. It will be interesting to see how the 18th and Vine festival, which has comfortably settled into the second Saturday of October over the last few years, contends with their date possibly falling into perennial competition with a Royals playoff run.
Meanwhile, the Mutual Musicians Foundation is establishing what they’re calling an educational festival, showcasing KC swing where it began. It’s June 18 through 20. Their web site is here. The schedule is mostly made up of workshops and breakout sessions, with swing bands promised throughout the jazz district in the evening and a Saturday band competition.They're asking $175 for a full festival pass (or $75 per day, or $25 per workshop, or $20 per breakout).
The area’s annual January jazz showcase, Johnson County Community College’s Jazz Winterlude, takes this year off as organizers work to adjust its financial formula.
New Patterns for the Clubs
When this blog started, hearing jazz in Kansas City happened like this: You went to Jardine’s or you went to The Blue Room. Enjoying a small group at The Majestic or on some nights at The Phoenix were also possibilities. And if you were up late on weekends, you could stop by the Mutual Musician Foundation.
To listen to jazz, you went into the city.
The old location of Take Five Coffee + Bar started to change that. Unexpectedly, there was this little place out in the suburbs where you could hear all of the good combos on weekends.
The new location of Take Five throws the old patterns into turmoil. Now Johnson County boasts a genuine jazz club, one with a 26 foot long stage, superb sound, a welcoming and intimate atmosphere, and a schedule that spans nearly the full spectrum of jazz offerings in Kansas City.
Take Five is drawing in new audiences, including a surprising number of Blue Valley High School students. But more importantly, Johnson County residents craving this city’s best jazz no longer need to trek into the city.
This disruption of decades-old habits hits The Broadway Jazz Club hardest. Broadway needs to draw the audience that spent money on dinner at Jardine’s. A significant portion of that audience once regularly drove down Shawnee Mission Parkway into The Plaza. No more. Today, dinner and jazz is in their back yard.
The Broadway Jazz Club is closed during the first couple weeks of January, reportedly making upgrades. They say they will reopen by January 16th to participate in Restaurant Week. They need to reopen with a splash and grab some attention.
There’s still plenty of jazz audience in Kansas City to share between The Broadway Jazz Club, The Blue Room (which has successfully positioned itself as a jazz destination), Green Lady Lounge (a neighborhood bar with wonderful atmosphere and jazz), The Majestic (jazz with elegance), the Mutual Musicians Foundation (history and tradition) and on some nights The Phoenix (energetic jams) and the Westport Coffeehouse. You can also find jazz most weekends at Louie’s Wine Dive at the north end of Waldo and at The Hotel Phillips downtown. And don't forget Chaz in the Raphael Hotel on The Plaza or the American Restaurant in Crown Center, where small ensembles entertain people with oodles of money to spend.
Today, there’s choices. The Broadway Jazz Club needs to refine its identity among those choices. Their challenge: Recognize that many suburbanites who supported Jardine’s don't see a need to go into midtown, then provide an irresistible reason to go.
Do not underestimate the influence of KC Jazz ALIVE or the American Jazz Museum on Kansas City’s jazz community in 2014. Both promise to grow more dominant in 2015.
KC Jazz ALIVE shed its organizational training wheels last year. Armed with a 501(C)3 not-for-profit status, this group pulled together most of this city’s jazz groups with a level of harmony and cooperation unseen in decades. They presented seminars educating musicians on how to survive in this field in this century. And they organized an exceptionally well promoted celebration of Kansas City’s most famous jazz son, Charlie Parker. Jazz groups which chose not to participate in the Parker event were marginalized for half of August.
A key force within KC Jazz ALIVE is the American Jazz Museum. The contributions of their paid staff were essential to the success of the Parker celebration. More importantly, here is an institution operating a profitable jazz club, a profitable festival, and one that appears to have hit its stride in mobilizing financial contributions from the community. The Museum is succeeding in the business of jazz.
Other organizations will have their moments and their successes. But KC Jazz ALIVE and the American Jazz Museum appear positioned as key drivers in Kansas City jazz this year. Their biggest challenge will be to maintain the harmony among other jazz groups which has never before lasted long in Kansas City.
Faces to Watch
Pay attention to trumpeter Nate Nall, who may be the next graduate of Bobby Watson’s UMKC program ready to make a name for himself in Kansas City’s growing community of extraordinary young jazz talent.