Monday, June 29, 2015

No New Post

No new thoughts, profound or otherwise. No photos, either new or old. No excuses. But no post this week.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Molly Hammer and Samantha Fish at Jazz in the Woods

The most integrated place in the Kansas City area last weekend was Corporate Woods.

In 1984, the organizers of The Kansas City Jazz Festival chose Volker Park, just south of the Nelson-Atkins Museum, as the site for that outdoor festival in part because it was near the city’s then more sharply defined racial dividing line of Troost. An underlying hope was that the music could bridge some of this city’s legacy barriers with fun and celebration.

We did a bunch of things right when staging that festival. We did a bunch of things wrong. But an idea we had right is that the joy of jazz and its musical descendants can bring together people of all backgrounds.

Jazz in the Woods last Friday and Saturday was proof. More than three decades after the Kansas City Jazz Festival started with lofty, idealistic goals, people mingled and laughed and danced and loved music together as if that’s how all of Kansas City always was, everywhere.

This past weekend, near College Boulevard and Antioch, tens of thousands of people gathered. Some were in strollers, a few walked with canes. It was probably four times the best attendance of the 18th and Vine and Prairie Village jazz festivals combined. Tens of thousands of dollars of profits were generated for charities. You can argue whether the range of music presented truly fits a jazz event. But in its 26th year, by every other measure, Jazz in the Woods is clearly the area’s preeminent jazz festival.

I captured some photos Saturday evening of Molly Hammer’s and Samantha Fish’s sets. They’re below. As always, clicking on an image should open a larger version of it.

Molly Hammer

Steve Lambert on tenor sax

Joe Cartwright on keyboards

Rod Fleeman on guitar

James Albright on bass

Sam Wisman on drums

Molly sings


An impressive crowd


Samantha Fish sings blues, not jazz. I don’t care. Her dynamic performance stole Corporate Woods. Any time she’s dominating another jazz festival in Kansas City, look for me there. Go-Go Ray was her drummer. I didn’t catch the name of her bassist (if you know, email me and I’ll update this post).

Monday, June 15, 2015

KC's Greatest Collection of Jazz (and It's Not in a Museum)

Think jazz artifacts in Kansas City.

At the American Jazz Museum you can gaze on Charlie Parker’s plastic saxophone, Ella Fitzgerald’s dress, the neon sign from Milton’s. You can watch snippets of the John Baker jazz film collection.

But elsewhere you can see all of the photos that once graced the walls of the Mutual Musicians Foundation. You can peruse the photo collections of Dave Dexter and The Grand Emporium – each indexed at over 100 pages with 20 photos per page. Online, this same source offers the photo collection of Buck Clayton. That one’s index is 1441 pages of 20 shots per page.

You can hear recordings from Warren Durrett’s big band, ranging from a 1954 performance at the Pla-Mor Ballroom through 1970s Kansas City Jazz Festival recordings with guests like Pat Metheny, John Park and Julie Turner.

You can examine the contracts, scores, clippings and memorabilia of Jay McShann, Claude Williams, Priscilla Bowman, Gene Ramey, Ahmad Alaadeen and Bettye Miller and Milt Abel.

And this is home to the Frank Driggs Oral History Collection, over 300 interviews recorded between 1956 and 1986 with the people who created jazz. Among those with ties to Kansas City are Buster Smith, Andy Kirk, Thamon Hayes, Myra Taylor, Herman Walder, Oliver Todd and Buddy Tate.

All of this is part of the Marr Sound Archives and the LaBudde Special Collections at the Miller Nichols Library at 51st and Rockhill Road on the campus of UMKC.

UMKC might not jump to mind when considering premiere resources in Kansas City for researching jazz. But with recordings, photos and documents cultivated over decades, these archives stand apart. To most fans in Kansas City, they’re under-appreciated and rarely recognized. To many, they’re unknown.

The online home of the Marr Sound Archive is here. The jazz portion of the LaBudde Special Collections is here. The Frank Driggs Oral History collection is based here. The music of Warren Durrett’s band can be heard here. The photos of Buck Clayton can be viewed starting here.

The photos below offer a glimpse at history - much of it integral to Kansas City as the world know us - indexed and saved.


Step in to record players you don’t find anymore

More records

Recordings are digitized in this room

  The jazz display from the lobby of the LaBudde Special Collections

One row of the library’s collection of over 800,000 items

On the top row, cases from Warren Durrett’s big band

Chuck Haddix pulls an album

Monday, June 8, 2015

KC's Oldest, Most Successful Jazz Festival That We Never Discuss

We don’t boast about it. Maybe we should.

In 1990, two board members of the Kansas City Jazz Festival, then staged in Volker Park, south of the Nelson-Atkins Museum, decided to start a new jazz festival. They didn’t like the direction the Kansas City festival was headed that year. So the woman who handled the festival’s marketing the previous year and a man who helped organize concessions left and found a sponsor in the Corporate Woods office park in Overland Park.

The Kansas City Jazz Festival in 1990 wound up sponsored by radio stations, which provided good promotion but raised little money. The festival ended earlier in the evening that year so they wouldn’t need to pay for lights. It would go on to merge with the blues festival and build an event larger than the sum of its parts. It would grow into a celebration with multiple stages and large crowds in Penn Valley Park. But it would start to build debt and eventually it succumbed to money owed.

Meanwhile, the festival in Corporate Woods continued. It survived some shaky years. But the pair who founded it turned its operation over to a civic group (the female co-founder went on to become a rabbi, one of the more unlikely careers to follow starting a jazz festival), which in turn developed it into a premiere charitable endeavor.

Last year, Jazz in the Woods, as the Corporate Woods Jazz Festival was rechristened somewhere along the way, celebrated its quarter century mark by attracting 25,000 fans and raising over $90,000 for area children’s charities. It boasts of raising over a million dollars for charities over the years. The 26th annual event will be staged the weekend after next, on June 19th and 20th. Admission is free (the festival raises money through sponsorships and by keeping a portion of concession sales). If the weather cooperates, they’ll attract over 10,000 people each evening. No other area jazz festival approaches those numbers or that record of success.

Jazz in the Woods has been dismissed by jazz fans for its emphasis in recent years on smooth jazz, the stuff of radio stations that border on easy listening and elevators. And last year’s parade of half hour slots for Bobby Watson, Eldar and Angela Hagenbach suggests an indifference by organizers to Kansas City’s jazz scene (if you book names of that stature, give them the full set they deserve). Then there was the year they turned a day over to country music. Smooth jazz, contemporary jazz, fusion, blues, reggae and ragtime I understand. A bit of soul, R and B or funk, okay. But country music is a different festival.

With those kinds of missteps, respect among jazz fans starts to dart down a rabbit hole. But look at this year’s lineup. Najee and Julian Vaughn are as smooth as jazz gets. Yet Najee opened last year’s Jammin’ at the Gem series – and sold the house out – and Julian Vaughn opens next year’s series. This is jazz you’ll find at 18th and Vine in the 21st century. Molly Hammer, on Saturday night, is the real thing. So is local blues superstar Samantha Fish, also on Saturday.

This is not jazz intended to soothe fans of Count Basie. The same weekend, the Mutual Musicians Foundation is hosting an educational festival on swing, if that’s what you want. This is jazz intended to fit a broad definition of the music and draw 25,000 people to hear it in Johnson County.

And this is a festival organized by people whose day jobs are as business professionals and who operate this event as tightly and as expertly as they do their paid work. The longest page on is the one of legal gobbledygook. There’s insight into who’s running this show. But who’s running this show is why the festival is entering its 26th consecutive year and has raised over a million dollars.

Jazz in the Woods has stubbed its programming toes over the years and has earned its reputation for psuedo-jazz. Some years it can be one of those jazz festivals that I’ve criticized as keeping jazz in its title only because that’s what they used to book.

Now look at this year’s Jazz in the Woods lineup another way. Just as The People’s Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City (hey, Jazz in the Woods people, you should feature them) expands what your granddaddy knew as big band jazz, and just as Dominque Sanders’s latest CD incorporates all of the influences absorbed by a young musician in 2015, and just as Mark Lowrey has played hip-hop and Shay Estes has sung the music of Radiohead, Jazz in the Woods is embracing a modern sense of what is jazz.

And weekend after next, they’re ready to turn Kansas City’s oldest, most successful and least respected jazz festival into another year of triumph.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Another No Post Week

No great insights, no new historic tales, no revelatory photos, no snarky comments this week. As the first issue of Jam magazine to which I've contributed hits the streets, and as a new monthly email newsletter from the Jazz Ambassadors is initiated (I’ll let you know how to get on the list for that when I find out), and as meetings pile up, I’m taking a week away from the blog. This weekend, I decided I’d rather go out and hear jazz. No regrets about that. None at all.