Monday, March 30, 2015

Clint Ashlock's Jazz Messengers Tribute Sextet With Bobby Watson

This is what you could hear for a five dollar cover charge in a Kansas City suburb on Saturday night:

At Take Five Coffee + Bar, Clint Ashlock on trumpet, Michael Shults on alto sax, Brett Jackson on tenor sax, Andrew Ouellette on piano, Ben Leifer on bass and Matt Leifer on drums are playing the music of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers. They’re proving that some of the most talented young musicians in jazz today are living and performing in Kansas City.

Then Bobby Watson - whose career took off as one of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers - walks in and joins them.

Jazz just doesn’t get much better than this. The evening ended with a standing ovation.

Think about that. Jazz with Bobby Watson, a standing ovation, in a coffee shop in Overland Park, Kansas, for five dollars.

If you missed it, kick yourself.

But before you do, enjoy a sampling of how it looked. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Clint Ashlock’s Messengers Tribute Sextet with guest Bobby Watson. Left to right: Clint Ashlock on trumpet, Michael Shults on alto sax, Bobby Watson on alto sax, Ben Leifer on bass, Brett Jackson on tenor sax, Matt Leifer on drums. Not pictured: Andrew Ouellette on piano.

Bobby Watson

Clint Ashlock

Michael Shults

Andrew Ouellette and Clint Ashlock

Brett Jackson

Andrew Ouellette

Enjoying Bobby’s solo

Ben Leifer

Matt Leifer

Michael Shults and Brett Jackson

Bobby Watson on alto sax

Clint Ashlock’s Messengers Tribute Sextet with guest Bobby Watson...

...on stage at Take Five Coffee + Bar

Monday, March 23, 2015

This 'n That 'n Thriving Ambassadors

My earliest memories of the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors are of fighting with them.

The year was 1988. I had taken over as chairman of an embattled Kansas City Jazz Commission, on the front page of the newspaper because a previous treasurer was accused by the county prosecutor of stealing over $6000 of city funds from the commission. The chairman of the City Council’s budget committee wanted to end funding for the Jazz Commission.

I’ve recounted the story more than once in this blog. The ugly details aren’t particularly relevant to this tale.

These are the facts that are relevant: Members of the Kansas City Jazz Commission were appointed by the mayor. It wasn’t an organization you could pay a fee to join. The membership rolls were filled with appointees who the mayor owed a favor and were appointed to the Kansas City Jazz Commission as a harmless thank you. We never saw those individuals at meetings. Others sincerely wanted to use the forum to benefit the jazz community. Some of them remain active today in other Kansas City jazz organizations.

But some commission members viewed appointment as a mark of distinction, a badge of being better than people who weren’t appointed. Their attitude did not make chairing that troubled commission any easier.

The Jazz Ambassadors was a group started to support the Jazz Commission, and a way for jazz supporters who were not appointed to be involved with the organization. Ambassadors were a good resource for volunteers for the Jazz Lovers’ Pub Crawls, which the Jazz Commission staged.

But there were some Jazz Commission members who looked down on the Jazz Ambassadors because they weren’t appointees to a city commission.

Between that attitude and the Jazz Commission’s public troubles, the Ambassadors wanted out from under the commission’s mangled thumb. The Ambassadors boasted some effective leadership who had, among other things, started a little digest sized jazz publication.

But at the time, the Jazz Commission fought the Ambassadors. The disagreement escalated to a professional arbitrator. A young attorney who had testified before the City Council’s budget committee in favor of ending the Jazz Commission’s funding joined the Ambassadors in arbitration. In the end, the arbitrator mostly sided with the Jazz Commission. The Jazz Ambassadors remained tied to the commission.

Actually, that’s not where the story ends. Sometime after my two years as chairman, the Kansas City Jazz Commission disbanded. The commission turned over the Pub Crawl and Mini Pub Crawls (aimed at tourist groups) to the Jazz Ambassadors.

Decades after the Kansas City Jazz Commission’s end, the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors survive. And that little digest sized publication, JAM (for Jazz Ambassadors Magazine) grew into a full size glossy magazine which still prints over 10,000 copies (estimated readership: 40,000) every other month. It’s been publishing now for over thirty years.

I don’t remember who edited JAM when the Jazz Commission battled the Ambassadors. But not long afterward, Kathy Feist took over and grew it. Next, Mike Metheny served as editor, with some of the largest page counts in JAM’s history. And for the last decade, Roger Atkinson has shown a steady hand with profiles and reviews that have consistently presented Kansas City jazz at its best, even through years when the music’s survival seemed questionable.

This summer, Roger is retiring as editor of JAM.

The new editor will be me.

(Technically, I’ve been hired to edit one issue. But I’m optimistic that this gig is going to work out fine.)

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.

And I’m especially pleased that my days of fighting with the Jazz Ambassadors ended decades ago. There’s no lingering bad feelings on my end, guys.


Michael Shults is one of those stellar young musicians referenced above (who has also written some excellent articles for JAM). He skipped town last summer to take a teaching position at the University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire. But apparently he skipped town without completing his doctorate, because this week he returns to make amends. Saturday night at 7 p.m. at Take Five Coffee + Bar, he will present a lecture recital for that doctorate on the compositions of Bobby Watson. That’s followed, from 8 to 10 p.m., by Michael with Clint Ashlock’s Messengers Sextet, for a tribute to Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, where Bobby’s career took off.

Bobby Watson’s compositions have not received the attention in the jazz world that they deserve. Bobby plans to be there Saturday night. This is an opportunity to give back a little to the man who has done more than anyone else over the last decade to prepare the musicians who are perpetuating and growing jazz in Kansas City.

See you there.

Monday, March 16, 2015

A Quarter Century Later

Twenty six years ago last Wednesday, the plan was announced that would lead to construction of today’s American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Museum complex.

The announcement was the culmination of intense negotiation and compromise.

Eddie Baker, a musician and executive director of the Charlie Parker Foundation, had advocated an International Jazz Hall of Fame in Kansas City since 1977. But not at 18th and Vine. That neighborhood, he felt, was too closely tied to Kansas City jazz to be the location for a museum embracing all styles of jazz. In 1983, after the Jewish Community Center announced plans to move to Johnson County, Eddie promoted their soon to be vacated building at 82nd and Holmes as the perfect location for the Hall of Fame he envisioned. In 1983, the Kansas City Council passed a resolution stating that a Jazz Hall of Fame in Kansas City would be located in the 18th and Vine district. In 1984, Count Basie Enterprises donated $10,000 from Basie’s estate (Basie died in 1983) for a Jazz Hall of Fame that met Eddie’s vision. In 1986, Eddie trademarked the name International Jazz Hall of Fame so nobody could use it without his permission.

On March 11, 1989, at a press conference attended by Dizzy Gillespie (who was in town for a show at the Folly), the city announced that an agreement had been reached to build the museum and jazz institute that Eddie had championed in the former public works buildings at 21st and Vine. The city accepted Eddie’s dream as the plan. Eddie accepted the 18th and Vine district as the location.

That compromise fell apart. The city allocated $20 million to the project. Cost estimates grew to $32 million. Space was slashed in half and the location moved. Eddie withdrew his support and permission to use the name International Jazz Hall of Fame. Count Basie Enterprises denied use of Basie’s image except for photos already in the public domain.

The museum known today as the American Jazz Museum opened in September, 1997.

Battles over the museum were typical of the infighting prevalent in Kansas City’s jazz community in the 1980s and the 1990s.


A poster of the 11th Jazz Lover’s Pub Crawl in 1992 lists 31 locations where jazz could be heard that night. Don’t misunderstand. That doesn’t mean jazz could be found in over thirty clubs and hotel bars each night. Many clubs booked jazz just this one evening because the Crawl was so popular they would see little business if they didn’t.

Still, 31 places to hear jazz in Kanss City, even for one night, is remarkable.

In 2011, Jardine’s closed. That left The Blue Room, The Majestic, Take Five, the Mutual Musicians Foundation and on some nights The Phoenix or The Record Bar as all the clubs in the area with jazz.



Young musicians dominate Kansas City’s jazz scene. They know the standards, sure, but they’re invigorating jazz with fresh sounds and ideas. And they’re finding opportunities to play. I'm told some young New York jazz musicians have discussed moving to Kansas City. They're hearing stories about gigs and a more agreeable cost of living.

A second live recording made at Green Lady Lounge is scheduled to be released next month, with owner John Scott planning more. A page on his web site sells CDs by Kansas City jazz musicians. He wants to bring back into circulation local CDs that have been unavailable. He’s an evangelist for today’s Kansas City jazz. He wants it to be known worldwide, because the music is that good.

New club owners are building audiences. Take Five is bringing jazz to a part of the city that never before heard it live. And they’re drawing Blue Valley High School students, part of tomorrow’s audience, to the shows.

Planning has started for the second Charlie Parker celebration. An expanded bus tour, encompassing more historic sites tied to Kansas City jazz, is being discussed. Events that pull together more of the metropolitan area seem likely.

The celebration is the hallmark event of KC Jazz ALIVE, an organization that has unified an unprecedented portion of KC’s jazz community. Not every group is a part of this organization. Some outliers seem determined to plot their own direction. At one time, the Kansas City Jazz Commission was appointed, in part, to bring a fractured jazz scene together. I chaired that commission for two years in the late 1980s, so I understand the challenge. And I marvel at the amount of harmony, though still fragile, that I’m seeing.

(By the way, I sucked at unifying the jazz community.)

Integral to the Parker celebration and KC Jazz ALIVE is the American Jazz Museum. They are devoting staff and other resources to promotion and education. They employ thousands of jazz musicians each year. They are educating young people and exposing them to our internationally renowned heritage.

The Charlie Parker Foundation, which Eddie Baker directed, advocated the education of youth in jazz, developing opportunities for our stellar musicians, and promoting our incredible jazz heritage to the public. The American Jazz Museum may not be the institution that Eddie imagined. But in 2015, it is doing more to perpetuate the Parker Foundation’s goals than any other jazz organization in Kansas City.

I’m not sure whether that’s ironic or beautiful.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Two CDs With Dominique, Ryan and a Green Lady

A correction: Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! was recorded at The Broadway Jazz Club, not at Green Lady Lounge. So as you read the reviews that follow, please keep in mind that these albums prove at least two KC jazz clubs are exemplary sites to record a CD. And to enjoy outstanding jazz.


Two new CDs come with three points in common: Dominque Sanders, Ryan Lee,and the Green Lady Lounge.

Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! and Paul Shinn Trio – Easy Now: Live at the Green Lady Lounge were both recorded just as the title of Shinn’s CD describes it. Green Lady Lounge is well known as one of the most perfect atmospheres for jazz, where stepping through the door feels as if Mr. Peabody’s Way Back Machine (any fan of Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons will surely remember that) has brought you to 1940s Kansas City. But most nights you need to sit close to the band to appreciate the music. I’d never have expected this venue could give birth to a technically magnificent recording, shedding all of the ambient noise. But here’s two albums that prove it can.

These albums prove something more: Some of the best young musicians performing jazz today reside in – or often return to – Kansas City.

That’s not news to anyone frequenting KC’s jazz scene for the last half dozen years. But both of these albums bring a maturity to the music, built with experience and with the familiarity of musicians playing together repeatedly over time.

I’ve heard Lambert through these years perform the gamut of jazz, from standards behind singer Megan Birdsall, to big band hits with the Foundation 627 Big Band and Bobby Watson’s big band, to be-bop that caught the attention of Marilyn Maye’s drummer at the 2013 Prairie Village Jazz Festival with the Mutual Musicians Foundation All Stars, to the music of Lennie Tristano in Sam Wisman’s group Crosscurrent, to jazz as modern as it gets with the KC Sound Collective.

Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! finds Lambert in a contemporary groove. Sometimes on this CD, the tenor sax storms in at a frenetic pace. Unfinished Melody and both takes of No Reason pepper the listener with originality in a wealth of freshly imagined and intelligent ideas. Contrast those numbers with the ballads Trust and Love Letters, where a more tender pace draws you in. On Mariah, Lambert’s flute and Andrew Ouellette’s piano intrigue, each pulling you along a sublime journey.

Lambert is joined by Ouellette on piano and keyboard, Sanders on bass and Lee on drums. Everyone has a chance to shine: Ouellette’s solo on For You stands out, as do Sanders and Lee on Children of the Night. But more importantly, this is a group of musicians who know and drive each other. There’s an integrated sophistication here that’s sometimes lacking in modern jazz.

Where Lambert’s CD can be a juggernaut, Paul Shinn Trio – Easy Now: Live at the Green Lady Lounge, from its first notes, is marked by a more intimate yet no less energetic sophistication. On this album, the piano is the star. The opening number, Lucidity, builds joyfully, weaving this way and that with an intricate playfulness. Swing has been around for over eighty years, the blues even longer, yet Handful of Keys, High Five Blues and Birth of the Blues are sway-your-arms fun while performed with an originality that marks them as Shinn’s take alone.

And as much as Shinn’s piano excels, Ryan Lee’s drums and Dominique Sanders’s bass are vital. Sanders starts a conversation with the piano then carries it back and forth on Ton of Simple, before joining Lee in laying the perfect base for Shinn’s compelling improvisation. Drums and bass add a uniquely intricate depth to A Desolate Cath. On this CD, we’re eavesdropping on conversations between musicians who instinctively understand each other. And, with Paul Shinn in control, the conversations are complete delights.

Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! and Paul Shinn Trio – Easy Now: Live at the Green Lady Lounge make one more point eminently clear: You can hear some outstanding jazz at the Green Lady Lounge.

Steven Lambert – Quartet and Trio…LIVE! can be found on CD Baby here, on CD Universe here, and on iTunes here. Paul Shinn Trio – Easy Now: Live at the Green Lady Lounge can be found on CD Baby here, on CD Universe here, and on iTunes here.

Monday, March 2, 2015

No Post

No new thoughts this week, profound or otherwise. And nobody called me any names last week (as far as I know). So I’m taking a week away from this blog.