Monday, April 27, 2015

Evolutions and Descendants

Volume 2, Number 1 of K.C. Jazz Ambassador, A Guide to Jazz in Kansas City, dated February, 1987, lists 18 clubs and hotel lounges where you could find jazz.

The April/May, 2015 issue of Jam, Jazz Ambassador Magazine, lists 38 locations. I question some of them – does The Kill Devil Club still have jazz? – but the comparison is impressive.

As I prepare to take over editing Jam, I’ve examined my own archives for old issues, and I’m amazed at how little has changed.

The October, 1987 issue includes a page of five jazz organizations in Kansas City: The Charlie Parker Memorial Foundation, Friends of Jazz, Kansas City Jazz Festival Committee, Mutual Musicians Foundation and International Association of Jazz Record Collectors. Not listed are Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors, which published the magazine, and the Kansas City Jazz Commission, with which at that time the Ambassadors were closely aligned.

Today I count The American Jazz Museum (largely carrying on the ambitions of the Charlie Parker Foundation), The Folly jazz series (which is what the Friends of Jazz series evolved into), the Mutual Musicians Foundation (unchanged), The Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors (still publishes the magazine), KC Jazz ALIVE (with the same unifying ambitions that the Jazz Commission was formed to foster), and the Prairie Village Jazz Festival (significantly smaller event, but sub it for the KC Jazz Fest).

Further evidence of today echoing the 1980s was spied in a press kit in my files for 1988’s Jazz and Heritage Month. The press release in it announces: “By official proclamation of the City of Kansas City, Missouri, August has been declared Jazz and Heritage Month. The proclamation recognizes an umbrella program established by the Kansas City Jazz Commission, under which more than 30 jazz related events will be held throughout the metropolitan area in the month of August….”

Sound a smidge like a certain 18 day Charlie Parker celebration organized by KC Jazz ALIVE this past August, perhaps?

Today’s organizations and activities are to a remarkable extent evolutions and descendants of what Kansas City was doing to promote its incredible jazz heritage 28 years ago.

Yet, two key differences stand out. Today we have the American Jazz Museum anchoring the 18th and Vine district. And the abundance of outstanding young jazz talent dominating this city offers a genuine reason to believe this isn’t ending any time soon.


That October, 1987 Jam includes an interview with Claude “Fiddler” Williams. Among the exchanges is this one:
Ambassador: Do you have a message for Kansas City about jazz?

Williams: I think it’s a wonderful thing they’re doing in Kansas City to get jazz going again… the festivals, the concerts in the park, and companies matching funds to have these things because, otherwise, it would be too expensive to have them. But they, the Festival Committee and Parks and Recreation, will bring musicians from out of town, pay four or five hundred more… while not wanting to pay the local musician hardly anything. They don’t want to do the hometown musician right! Like at the jazz festival… they didn’t do the public right. I played a jam session. Now, I have two or three groups of musicians I work with regularly – ssSlick, Frank Smith and a few individual musicians. We could have arranged some things where we all would know what we were going to do. But, I just told the piano player to call something out.

Ambassador: That was a jam session. You don’t think that was right for a jazz festival?

Williams: No, especially when they’re going to bring in somebody like Wynton Marsalis – he only had four pieces, but they all knew what they were going to do.

Ambassador: They were tight.

Williams: Right! Do the hometown musicians right and pay ’em a little taste. If you want me to head a group, let me know in time – we’ll rehearse and people will really have something to listen to.
On the jam groups, we heard the complaints and discontinued that experiment (it seemed like a good idea when we tried it). On the discrepancy in pay, well, I’m still booking festivals and I still hear grumbles.


There will be an increasing number of weeks when I don’t offer a fresh blog post. Alas, I only have the weekends to write and, with three decades behind it, I'm giving Jam the attention it has earned.

But while this blog may become a wee bit less frequent, it is not ending. Jam brings a different attitude to the Kansas City jazz scene, and I respect that. Jam will not see my snarky side. This blog will remain the forum where I speak my feeble mind, mixing photos and praise with occasionally pissing people off.

Retiring Jam editor Roger Atkinson and I will co-edit the June/July issue, the last of Roger’s decade at the helm. August/September will be the first on which I swim or sink alone.

Well, maybe it’ll see a little snark.

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