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