Jazz is not suddenly, dreadfully dead. Start with that.
Kansas City jazz took a wallop last week when Take Five Coffee + Bar announced Friday morning that it is closing on August 15th. Few in the community saw this one coming. Adored by every jazz fan who stopped there for a night (I was going to say by virtually every jazz fan, but no qualifier is needed), Take Five is a coffee shop built around a 26-foot long stage and a superb sound system. Owners Lori and Doug Chandler offered the full breadth of this city’s jazz, from the exquisitely delivered standards of Megan Birdsall to the anything but standard People’s Liberation Big Band. National names, like Avishai Cohen, were starting to book shows there. And they were drawing crowds in Johnson County, Kansas where, before Take Five, live jazz was about as foreign as a bad note in a Bobby Watson solo.
But Take Five is closing, didn’t work, told you so, jazz is dead, accept it, c’mon, just listen to hip hop like everyone else.
When I spoke with Lori for a story on Take Five’s closing for The Pitch (here), she emphasized this: “The music part of it really did work.”
Building the foot traffic necessary to sustain a coffee shop while surrounded by eerily empty storefronts didn’t work. Plumbing and structural issues costing lost business and threatening closure on some of Take Five’s biggest nights didn’t work. A Starbucks inside the new sporting goods store fifty yards from Take Five’s front door didn’t work.
Take Five as a Johnson County jazz destination worked. But jazz alone couldn’t sustain the business the rest of its hours.
Take Five’s Corbin Park landlord told The Kansas City Star (here), “I believe she needed to adjust her concept and offer more food.”
So, Mr. Landlord, which part of “Coffee + Bar” don’t you understand?
Mr. Landlord also told The Star, “There is a huge amount of traffic now with Scheels open....”
Yeah, a Scheels with a Starbucks in its lobby.
He said this to The Star, too: “The restaurants in Corbin are exceeding all their expectations.”
And the restaurants around Take Five, helping build foot traffic, are...? That’s a fill in the blank question, Mr. Landlord. Because a year and a half after signing its lease, surrounding Take Five, I see blanks.
Maybe the back side of Corbin Park is destined to remain a shiny Overland Park ghost town with bad plumbing. Maybe Take Five helped make that discovery the hard way.
Because the Take Five business model is solid. Draw a crowd in the morning with coffee, eggs and quiche. Draw a different crowd at noon with salads and more substantial meals (and more quiche). Draw a jazz audience on weekend nights for drinks, dinner, dessert and jazz (and the rest of the quiche). Turn the venue three times in a day, generating fresh revenue with each turn. Ever wonder why some restaurants in Westport, which most see as a hub for drinking debauchery, are open for breakfast and Sunday brunch, too? Same business model. It works.
Rather, it works when surrounded by people and activity and not just forlorn brick veneer and glass.
That said, the closing of Take Five is a Kansas City jazz sucker punch. It hurts. This was a wonderful venue, built to showcase KC’s abundance of jazz talent and to help that talent thrive and grow the music in fresh directions. While I’ve argued that it was partly responsible for keeping Johnson Countians away from the midtown club that tried to be the next Jardine’s, Take Five mostly grew its own audience. It offered an easy and comfy style, a no grit, no-excitement-here-but-the-music ambiance that no other jazz club in the area replicated. Take Five didn’t fill a hole. It cultivated a sparkling niche.
And it’s going out in style. Mark Lowrey and the La Fonda All Stars take that 26-foot stage on its last jazz night, August 15th. After their show, musicians are invited to stop by and jam into the night. Who knows, this might be the last life the hindquarters of Corbin Park ever sees.
Lori and Doug term the closing a “set break.” Take Five started in Leawood in 2010 and moved to this location last year. Six years of opening early and closing late every day takes its toll. For now, they need to step back.
Kansas City’s jazz community pulls together when it loses one of its own, whether a musician or a beloved venue. We understand. Lori and Doug promise to return when they’re rested and after a meticulous site search. Guys, we understand, but we’re going to hold you to that.
Because Kansas City jazz needs Take Five, take three.