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.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Potential of a Radio Station

The press release, already sparse on information, didn’t even get, arguably, the most important fact right. It gave 104.1 FM as the frequency of the new radio station. According to FCC documents, it’s going to be at 104.7 FM. I understand they’re new at this. But we’re talking basic information that you cannot promote wrong.

FCC Permit, Page 1
Last month, the Mutual Musician’s Foundation (MMF) won a construction permit from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to build a radio station. The call letters will be KOJH-LP. The -LP identifies it as a low power radio station. KOJH, MMF official say, stands for Kansas City’s Oldest Jazz House.

The permit, FCC file number BNPL-20131114ARG, was granted on January 20, 2015. MMF received notification of the approval on the 26th. The permit allows 18 months, until July 20, 2016, to have the station operational. MMF officials have set the goal of being on the air one year from the date of notification, January 26, 2016.

FCC Permit, Page 2
The antenna will be built atop of a tower at Arts Asylum at 1000 E. 9th St. The station will broadcast from the Foundation’s offices. MMF places the cost of bare bones equipment and installation at $25,000. They’ve already raised the first $1000, a donation from the Ben Webster Foundation in Copenhagen, Denmark.

They won the permit over evangelical churches and applicants who would have broadcast a Spanish language station. In a mission statement filed with their application, MMF said:

Mission Statement
“With a radio license, the Mutual Musicians Foundation would be able to educate the public about Kansas City’s jazz heritage by broadcasting live and recorded jazz music, conducting interviews with local jazz musicians, and playing historical programs that cover jazz history and Kansas City history. The station will also include the surrounding neighborhood which is eclectic mix of Vietnamese, African, Hispanic, Italian and African American for six to ten miles of the historic jazz district. The musical heritage of each of these ethnic groups makes up an opportunity to present the World Music aspect of preservation and educational programs that support inclusion, understanding and appreciation of diverse cultures. Foreign language programs, classes and information will be an integral part of the station utilizing music as the ‘universal’ language entree.”

MMF Press Release
Initial plans are to broadcast eight hours a day, seven days a week (the permit requires broadcasting a minimum of 32 hours a week), with a block of world music on Saturdays and traditional gospel on Sundays. Otherwise, the station will be all jazz. They say they will grow into broadcasting 24 hour a days, seven days a week. From the start, MMF expects to be simulcasting KOJH-LP on the internet.

The low power station will broadcast at 22 watts, 207 feet above the ground. According to a blogger who knows more about these details than I do, a modern car radio should be able to receive the signal twelve miles away. A mapping tool places that as far as I-435, including northeast Johnson County, on the West; Independence and Raytown on the East; Highway 50 on the South; and Highway 152, including Parkville, Gladstone and Zona Rosa, on the North.

Tower Placement, Page 1
The application can be viewed here. The FCC’s page on it is here. Details on the permit granted is here. A summary of the station’s technical information is here. The FCC’s page on technical details is here.

The Mutual Musician’s Foundation’s weekend overnight jam sessions remain an unreplicated Kansas City treasure. It’s a National Historic Landmark. Along with the Paseo YMCA (where the charter officially creating the Negro baseball leagues was signed) and Harry Truman’s home, the Foundation stands one of this area’s most historic structures. They’re approaching their hundredth anniversary. Local 627, Kansas City’s Black musician union from which MMF evolved, was founded in 1917.

Tower Placement, Page 2
But at a time when much of Kansas City’s jazz community is pulling together, the Mutual Musicians Foundation has positioned itself as an independent outlier. They were the city’s only major jazz organization which chose not to participate in last August’s Charlie Parker celebration, and for half a month jazz awareness in Kansas City focused everywhere except 1823 Highland.

They complain of being under recognized, noting highway signs directing visitors to the American Jazz Museum and the Negro Leagues Museum, but not to the Foundation. But those signs are earned by what an institution has done lately, not by being around for a hundred years. And outside of the jams and their Saturday youth education program, the Foundation has not been known for its successes.

Here’s an example. Last June, the Foundation sponsored a blogger’s summit, including a tour through the area of Kansas City where Black residents could live when jazz flourished. It was fascinating history. But transportation was an old church van with a cracked windshield. Two would-be participants left rather than ride in it. A couple months later, as part of the Parker celebration, the American Jazz Museum sponsored a tour of Kansas City sites associated with Charlie Parker. This tour carried guests aboard a comfortable and sold out trolley.

Professionalism wins highway signs.

The announcement of MMF winning the FCC permit has been greeted by both congratulations and skepticism. One journalist told me he would believe they’re operating a radio station when it’s been on the air for three years. Yet, this is an opportunity that can change perceptions. With the possibility of eventually broadcasting jazz 24 hours a day on the air from Overland Park to Parkville, and worldwide on the Web, the Mutual Musicians Foundation has the chance to build a voice nobody else in Kansas City jazz can match or ignore. But, while a shake-down period is inevitable, by the time of the Foundation’s hundredth anniversary, KOJH-LP cannot be sounding like the equivalent of an old van with a cracked windshield.

The Foundation has taken on a terrific challenge with terrific potential. A good start to building KOJH-LP success might include not putting out any more press releases with the wrong location on the FM dial.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Chris Hazelton's Boogaloo 7 at Take Five

They need more chairs.

On January 31st, Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 took a week off from their weekly Friday at Green Lady Lounge to slum in the suburbs. Taking over Take Five for a night, they jammed the joint. I got there shortly before 8 p.m., and already every regular seat and temporary folding chair were filled. Except one. I got it.

About a half hour into the first set, I counted at least 25 fans standing and swaying, chairs long since filled. So what do you do when listening to the Boogaloo 7 and there’s no place to sit? You dance, of course. And that wood floor right in front of the Take Five stage is the perfect place.

With Chris Hazelton on Hammond B3 organ, Nick Rowland on sax, Nick Howell on trumpet, Brett Jackson on baritone sax, Tim Braun on guitar, Pat Conway on congas (and some weird-looking percussion thing), Danny Rojas on drums, and vocals by the wonderful Julia Haile, this room was swinging in a way rarely seen at 135th and Metcalf. I mean, come on, I thought these were the sleepy suburbs.

Not this night, they weren’t. But one suggestion, before the Boogaloo 7 invade Overland Park again: Invest in a few more folding chairs.

Below are photos of how the night looked. As always, clicking on a photo should open a larger version of it.

Chris Hazelton's Boogaloo 7. Left to right: Chris Hazelton on Hammond B3 organ, Pat Conway on congas, Danny Rojas on drums, Tim Braun on guitar, Brett Jackson on baritone sax, Nick Howell on trumpet, Nick Rowland on tenor sax.

Bandleader Chris Hazelton

Pat Conway on congas (and that weird round percussion thing). Behind him, Danny Rojas.

Brett Jackson, Nick Howell and Nick Rowland

Brett Jackson on baritone sax

Nick Rowland on tenor sax

Nick Howell on trumpet

Tim Braun on guitar

Danny Rojas on drums

Vocalist Julia Haile

Julia Haile with the Boogaloo 7

Dancers take the floor

Hazelton swings

More dancers fill the floor (might as well...all of the seats were used).

Monday, February 2, 2015

Pete Eye and Tommy Ruskin

Plastic Sax bought the LP at a used record store and loaned it to me. That was, maybe, four years ago. I haven’t returned it. I knew I had it.

When Tommy Ruskin passed away last month, some fans bemoaned the lack of his performances available online to hear. But I knew I had this extraordinary and obscure album, of the Pete Eye Trio recorded in 1978, with Pete Eye on Steinway piano and Fender Rhoades, Bob Branstetter on bass, and Tommy Ruskin on drums. Everyone has an opportunity to stretch. Everyone has a chance to display his musical brilliance.

So I have digitized the album and have uploaded the songs, barring complaints, to YouTube. The uploads are embedded below. Yes, you’ll hear the crackles worn into a 33-1/3 album first played 37 years ago. But you’ll also hear affirmation that that over the decades Kansas City has consistently been home to some of the greatest musicians playing jazz. I suspect most people who stumble across these songs will have never heard this trio and will be amazed at how spectacular they sound.

But do one favor for me. Don’t tell Plastic Sax I still have his album. I’m hoping after four years he’s forgotten about it so I don’t have to give it back.