Monday, February 23, 2015

It Must Be Something I Said

I first visited the Mutual Musicians Foundation (MMF) over thirty years ago. Back then, you could sit across a table from musicians who participated in the birth of Kansas City jazz. I remember talking to legendary saxophonist Joe Thomas, discussing Charlie Parker. He wryly (and back then, accurately) observed, “You like hearing a lot of notes.” I still have the program from an early 18th and Vine Festival signed by Baby Lovett. I heard Herman Walder lead a chorus of When the Saints Go Marching In. I stood an arm’s length from Big Joe Turner as he sat on the stage one Saturday afternoon and shouted the blues.

This is one of the most historic buildings in Kansas City. The Paseo YMCA, where the charter creating the Negro Baseball Leagues was signed, carries equal stature. But MMF is open every weekend night, all night, for a jazz jam while the YMCA is inaccessible to the public. Today, the Paseo YMCA is a monument. The Mutual Musicians Foundation is vibrant, living history.

Over the years, posts in this blog have fawned over MMF. A Day in the Life of the Mutual Musicians Foundation and Friday Night at the Mutual Musicians Foundation are virtual love letters to the institution. I haven’t agreed with all the organization has done. I still find replacing the unique collection of first floor photos with murky graphic panels to be a mistake. But when I voiced objections twice, the Foundation complained and I offered them a post to outline their rationale.

However, last week’s post on the Foundation’s new low power radio construction permit, apparently, crossed a line.

One MMF leader left me an angry voice mail. The same person (verified through an IP address) attempted to post a comment that, among other accusations, labeled me as “a hater” and this blog as “racist.” I blocked the comment. I will not permit name calling here.

I recognized long ago that when you offer your work to the public, the public has every right to evaluate it and respond. When I was part of a group staging jazz festivals in Volker Park, public criticism of our volunteer efforts stung. But we were asking the public to attend, so when we got it wrong the public could complain. The same applies to the Prairie Village Jazz Festivals I help with today. The same applies to this blog.

And the same applies to the public-facing efforts of the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

Last week’s post attempted to establish a base, a starting point, for the story of the Mutual Musicians Foundation launching a radio station. It collected documents and links of the applications and FCC approvals until now (which are not easy to find if you’re new to looking into radio licensing). It provided examples to illustrate why there is skepticism in the community that MMF can pull this off (and nobody should kid themselves, in some quarters doubt is strong). Then it defined the unique opportunity that the Mutual Musicians Foundation has created for itself, to dispel that doubt and establish a voice no other jazz organization in Kansas City can match.

The current board of the Foundation is strong. The members I’ve met bring exceptional abilities and dedication. I’m expecting this story to climax with Rocky-like success.

Unless they chase away all of their friends.

I’ve heard stories of vitriolic attacks by a representative of MMF at musicians and other jazz community participants. Most likely, some lashings are justified; there’s strong personalities out there only looking out for themselves. But others remain perplexed at what they did to provoke an outburst.

Some at the Mutual Musicians Foundation complain of money going to the American Jazz Museum (AJM) and not to their programs. But people who now feel alienated from MMF have coalesced around the museum. Last year, AJM’s PEER program raised $120,000 in donations from the public. Some of those donations were from people formerly associated with the Foundation and from donors recruited by those people.

When the Foundation shuns its friends, and when it declines to participate in events such as the August Charlie Parker celebration, it is distancing itself from the rest of Kansas City’s jazz community. Like a pebble tossed into a pond making ripples, the impact of these actions multiplies. Surely, stories of estranged supporters and that a little tepid criticism can get you labeled a “hater” and “racist” make recruiting new donors a greater challenge.


From my post, A Portrait of the Foundation Last Saturday Night:

On stage, a rhythm section anchored the Saturday night jam session (Sunday morning, actually; it started at 1 a.m.). They were joined by trumpet, trombone and tenor sax. There was solid experience, a veteran of Kansas City jazz, behind the piano. But on trumpet, Chalice is young and here regularly. I’ve heard him before, and before he sounded inexperienced. But tonight his sound is more controlled. He’s growing in mastery of his instrument. I’m not the only one who noticed.

Is this what Kansas Citians had the chance to hear 75 years ago, when a young Charlie Parker once squeaked his sax – in, among other places, this building – then gradually grew and mastered his instrument? Sure, we don’t know where any young player will end up. It’s improbable that I’m hearing the maturing of a future jazz great. I understand odds stand stacked against that.

But it’s possible. Because in this building, history touches back.


There’s why so many of us want the Mutual Musicians Foundation to succeed.

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