Monday, December 31, 2007
Present Magazine recently invited readers and critics to submit year-end lists. One of my contributions comprised one of three jazz-related submissions. I've included it below. Andrew Zender of the American Jazz Museum offered his choices for local jazz releases, while K.C. of KKFI made a few thoughtful picks. And don't overlook Present's extensive library of MP3s. It includes a handful of jazz selections.
The Ten Most Important Jazz-Related Events and Stories of 2007
1. Continued audience erosion - Lots of empty seats at both large and small shows.
2. Closing of the Phoenix jazz club - An ominous sign of the times.
3. The 18th & Vine Street Festival - Easily the most engaging event of the year.
4. The arrival of Greg Carroll - A lot hinges on the new director of the American Jazz Museum.
5. Rebellion- A few creative musicians are forging new paths with new audiences.
6. Rush Hour at the Mutual Musicians Foundation - The best place to spend Friday afternoons.
7. The departure of Lee Ingalls - It's the end of consistent local jazz programming on KCUR.
8. The Peachtree Restaurant leaving 18th and Vine- Uh oh.
9. Megan Birdsall's health problems - Awful timing for the rising star.
10. The inception of Plastic Sax - All eight readers agree!
(Image pilfered from the internet.)
Friday, December 28, 2007
I've recounted my introduction to Kevin Mahogany elsewhere. This video is a fine showcase for his warm voice and personality. It begins with a Kansas City reference. "You see, 12th and Vine's not there any more," Mahogany tells an appreciative Rhode Island audience. He explains his progressive approach to jazz at the 3:30 mark.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
*Dynamic Kansas City blues singer Annetta "Cotton Candy" Washington died yesterday.
*Kansas Citians and potential visitors to our city won't want to miss this official-looking documentary about the 18th & Vine district. Dennis Winslett serves as guide.
*Variety comments on the inception of the Metheny Foundation.
*Jon Bauer reports that the recent feature in JAM is just the beginning of a local media blitz to promote the January 20 memorial gig for Gregory Hickman-Williams at Jardine's.
*The curator of another jazz site is attempting to stimulate some conversation at his forum by asserting that St. Louis is a better jazz town than Kansas City. Any takers?
*Oscar Peterson died Sunday.
(I took this picture of Cotton Candy and Eugene Smiley at the American Jazz Museum's street party on September 15.)
Monday, December 24, 2007
The staff of the American Jazz Museum may have had mixed emotions about Congressman Emanuel Cleaver's announcement last week. They were surely ecstatic about the $312,000 in
But what are they supposed to do with the tenor saxophone Bill Clinton played at his presidential inauguration? Should it be placed next to Charlie Parker's plastic sax? Will part of Ella Fitzgerald's exhibit be removed to make room for it?
Like Plastic Sax, they may have also speculated about Cleaver's next "gift." Will the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum receive a baseball glove used by George W. Bush when he an owner of the Texas Rangers?
Given a few days to reflect, however, Plastic Sax has spotted the potential benefits of this mellow saxophone.
It's certainly a public relations coup. Even the New York Times took notice. How can this sort of invaluable publicity be extended?
Here's Plastic Sax's plan. First, ask Clinton to provide a list of his favorite jazz-related saxophonists. I suspect they'd include Grover Washington, Jr. and Stanley Turrentine. He might toss in a few melodic instrumental hits like the immortal "Honky Tonk". As it does at several other exhibits, the museum would provide visitors with the opportunity to listen to representative selections. People would love it.
The museum could even license tracks to create a unique compilation disc that would be sold in the gift shop. It's already been done, but this title would be far more compelling. Heck, I'd buy it.
Secondly, it's crucial to get the President to stop by the museum at least once during the 2008 presidential campaign. He'll be in Kansas City anyway. Break out his sax and have him play for a bit. The media will eat it up, providing even greater international exposure for the museum.
That's the ticket...
(Image of the sax in question liberated from the internet.)
Friday, December 21, 2007
Not much information is available online about Born To Swing, a film documenting various alumni of Count Basie's finest band. I gather that it's a 50-minute British program from the early '70s.
Through the miracle of YouTube, segments from the film about drummer Jo Jones, tough tenor Buddy Tate and trumpeter Buck Clayton are posted here.
This footage shows Jones in his capacity as co-owner of a drum shop. One of the revelations to me is that Jones spoke with a twang not unlike that of Jay McShann's. I'm also amused by Gene Krupa's assertion that drummers should know when to curtail their solos.
Wouldn't it be wonderful if this out-of-print and largely forgotten film could be screened by the American Jazz Museum, either at the Gem in the museum's small theater?
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
*Frank Morgan died December 14. He was perhaps Charlie Parker's premier protege, in the best and worst sense of the word.
*The Star reported that the Peachtree Restaurant is leaving the 18th & Vine district for a new downtown location. That means the American Jazz and Negro Leagues museums are losing much of the area's foot traffic. A local television station also posted a fine report. Some scathing commentary from a well-known voice in the jazz community is here.
*What the heck is this nonsense? Maybe it's the real reason the Peachtree is leaving the jazz district.
(Image of Frank Morgan appropriated from a proper jazz site.)
Monday, December 17, 2007
Bobby and Pamela Watson are playing the Blue Room on New Year's Eve. There's really no need to look any further for jazz on the big night in Kansas City.
Still, I was astounded that the New Year's Eve advertising sections in the Star and the Pitch listed only three jazz-related events. Beyond the Blue Room, the Wild Women of Kansas City are at Jardine's while Everett DeVan and Max Groove will both be in residence at the President Hotel.
Can that really be all? A little research shows that several popular acts- including Alacartoona, Karrin Allyson, Eldar, Ida McBeth and Tim Whitmer- aren't working December 31. A sign of the times?
I did manage to turn up a few additional options. David Basse leads a trio at the Kansas City Cafe. Details are here. Grand Marquis will be at 40 Sardines. The Argosy Casino booked the McFadden Brothers. And Julie Turner and Tommy Ruskin perform from 6:30-10:30 p.m. at the Majestic.
Me? I'll be under this bridge. Cheers!
(Incredible image of the West Bottoms stolen from this photographer.)
Friday, December 14, 2007
Here's fine saxophonist Chris Burnett leading a band at the Drum Room earlier this year. Don't miss Will Matthews' always-tasteful guitar work. And that's James Ward on bass. Fun fact: Burnett has a better Wikipedia entry than Fletcher Henderson.
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
*Miles Bonnie offers a free podcast with John Brewer. The pianist talks about recording with his father, trying to create a viable scene for younger listeners and the state of the music industry. He also has an active performance schedule.
*Joe Klopus wrote a proper story about the Metheny Music Foundation.
*Bobby Watson is currently enjoying a five-night run at Dizzy's in New York.
*Jardine's issues a helpful email newsletter. I encourage you to sign up.
(Image of John Brewer merch via Blue Collar Distro.)
Monday, December 10, 2007
When I began exploring Kansas City in my teenage years I was dumbstruck by the handmade solicitations for guitar lessons that Sonny Kenner had posted on dozens of utility poles in midtown and on the east side.
And when I first snuck into a club to see the man perform I was dismayed to discover that Kenner earned his keep playing R&B covers. A MySpace tribute page features a few examples of his work in this style.
How can it be, I wondered, that this acclaimed jazz musician- a man prominently featured in The Last of the Blue Devils- plays "Mustang Sally" at night and gives guitar lessons during the day? Ah, sweet naivete...
(Art stolen off the internet.)
Friday, December 7, 2007
Former Kansas City resident Eldar received a Best Contemporary Jazz Album nomination for Re-Imagination. Winners will be announced at the 50th Grammy show on February 10.
The category's presumptive favorite is Herbie Hancock's tribute to Joni Mitchell. Yet Eldar's label seems to possess a great deal of clout, so don't count our homeboy out just yet.
In his two sets of performances in Kansas City this year, Eldar demonstrated his rapid artistic progression. It's also worth noting that a handful of other jazz artists recognized by the Grammys have recently performed in Kansas City. Dee Dee Bridgewater (Best Jazz Vocal Album) dazzled a small audience at the Gem Theater in October, Bill Charlap (Best Jazz Instrumental Album) and Joshua Redman (Best Jazz Instrumental Album) were featured in the Folly's jazz series in the last eight weeks. Furthermore, Kurt Elling (Best Jazz Vocal Album) hits the Folly next week. Clearly, local jazz promoters are prescient.
This footage from an Amsterdam television studio deftly captures Eldar's spirit. And look who's on drums- Kansas City's Todd Strait!
Wednesday, December 5, 2007
*Mike Metheny writes: "Thanks to the initiative of some good folks (and music fans/historians) in Lee's Summit, Missouri (my and Pat's hometown) the Metheny Music Foundation came into existence in January 2007."
"According to its mission statement, the new Foundation 'preserves, promotes, and perpetuates an informed appreciation for all styles of music, honoring the history of the Metheny family through four generations and the rich musical heritage of the city of Lee's Summit, the state of Missouri, and the surrounding region.'"
"On March 7, 2008, Pat will bring his trio (featuring Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez) to Unity Village, which is near Lee's Summit, for the Foundation's first major fundraiser. I will join the trio as a guest (as long as it's a ballad...), and students from the Lee's Summit school district will also perform."
*The Kansas City Kansan put together a nice profile of Nick Rowland. The Kansas City Kansas Community College student will be playing first chair in an "all-star band" at next month's jazz educator's shindig.
*Lawrence's Journal-World ran a very positive feature about a youth jazz program.
*The Star provided an update on Megan Birdsall's health.
*According to a press release, Michael Wolff is booked at the Blue Room on February 22.
*One of the best blogs muses about a cornet once owned by Bix Beiderbecke. It's housed in a Davenport museum. Hmm- that sounds vaguely familiar...
(Incredible Kansas City jazz album art discovered via the wonderful LP Cover Lover.)
Monday, December 3, 2007
One of the most crucial components of my jazz education was totally illegal. I discovered that Milton's Tap Room on Main Street would serve me alcohol when I was still a teenager. The fact that Milton's was a jazz-oriented tavern was initially a secondary consideration. But I quickly became fascinated by the impressive collection of jazz albums prominently displayed behind the bar. Hearing scratchy recordings by Grant Green and Jimmy Smith in the smoky, scotch-drenched joint demonstrated to me that jazz was anything but a stiff, academic exercise.
(Image nicked from the internet.)
Friday, November 30, 2007
Ben Webster was cooler than you. The Kansas City native's ballad work, as exemplified by his playing here on "Chelsea Bridge," could make you cry. It doesn't hurt that he's abetted by sterling musicians at this 1959 television session. Here's a bit of solace- pianist Hank Jones is still going strong at 79.
Wednesday, November 28, 2007
*Joe Klopus has me excited about Dennis Winslett's new band.
*Food'n'Things congratulates Dean Hampton on his official status as an Elder Statesmen.
*The Croatian men in the Donna Lee Saxophone Quartet base their sound on Bobby Watson's 29th Street Saxophone Quartet. There's even a video. Go figure.
*Are you soaking up the Art Pepper documentary on YouTube? It's hip, man.
*If Michael Buble counts as "jazz," he's easily the genre's most popular artist. He'll be at the Sprint Center on March 7. (Tip via Back To Rockville.)
(Image appropriated from the internets.)
Monday, November 26, 2007
The death of Gregory Hickman-Williams on August 26, 2006, was a devastating loss. The vocalist had just completed the amazing Passages. I wrote a glowing review of the album while Hickman-Williams was hospitalized. Per this handbill, a tribute to Hickman-Williams will be held January 20 at Jardine's.
Friday, November 23, 2007
The YouTube treasures just keep on comin'. Here's beloved Kansas City jazz personality Ruth Rhoden interviewing guitarist Emily Remler in 1989. Unlike Rhoden's infamous exchanges with Ginny Coleman on KCUR's Just Jazz, her conversation with Remler is merely mildly awkward. Here's some live footage from the Boulevard Beat, which I believe was located in the space now occupied by Lulu's Thai Noodle Shop at 333 Southwest Boulevard. Remler died the following year.
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
*Hey, the jazz museum followed through on my idea about hosting a jazz film series! They even kicked it off with a Basie-themed night. What's that? Oh. Unfortunately, the series is happening at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, not at Kansas City's American Jazz Museum.
*The Rocky Mountain News gave Charles Gatschet a nice gig preview.
*Plastic Sax readers know I'm extremely fond of the Foundation's "Rush Hour" on Fridays. Harold O'Neal is on tap this week.
*It's only indirectly related to jazz, but this interesting feature story in the Los Angeles Times concerns a documentary film about Kansas City's downtown revival.
(Image of dessicated reptile from my internet friend Bruce Dene. The ex-Kansas Citian's outstanding Flickr collection is here.)
Monday, November 19, 2007
I often wonder if I'm the last person in Kansas City still spending money on jazz recordings.
After all, everything's free for savvy internet users. And sadly, the population of Stan Kenton fans is rapidly diminishing.
Back in the day, Kansas Citians could easily acquire jazz at Penny Lane, the Music Exchange, Classical Westport, Recycled Sounds, Exile and many other music purveyors. Today, the nearest Borders outlet probably stocks the new Keith Jarrett and Stacey Kent discs, but fans are forced to go online for Matthew Shipp and David Ware.
(Image of Love Garden in Lawrence, KS, captured by Plastic Sax.)
Friday, November 16, 2007
Rejoice, fellow fans of Kansas City jazz! Over an hour of footage of Jay McShann leading an all-star band in a tribute to Charlie Parker has been posted at YouTube. It's apparently from a 1989 French documentary.
I'm ecstatic about discovering this priceless material.
The video featured above is the film's introduction. It contains rehearsal and formal concert footage of jazz giants including Carmel Jones, Phil Woods, Al Grey, Clark Terry and Benny Carter. Terence Blanchard is the only young guy in the group.
Here are links to just a few of the related videos. This one features Jimmy Heath's excellent explanation of Parker's legacy. McShann is interviewed here. His distinctive accent always cracked me up. Max Roach and Dizzy Gillespie work out a chart in this clip.
Prepare to shed tears of joy.
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
*Those who appreciate Kansas City's several outstanding jazz guitarists are advised to check out Wichita's Jerry Hahn. He plays like an angry Jim Hall (that's a compliment) in this 2006 performance at Jardine's. The video also features an excellent Joe Cartwright solo. Hahn plays the Blue Room on November 19.
*Sometime Plastic Sax contributor Dan Jaffe is profiled in a Florida newspaper.
*Our old friend Lee turned me on to a 14-second clip of live jazz at YJ's.
*The Star reports on a jazz-related art project downtown.
*The UMKC student paper reviews a night at the Blue Room.
*Add Weather Channel viewers to the long list of people who hate Charlie Parker's music.
*Don't forget that Bill Charlap, the "new Bill Evans," headlines at the Folly Theater this Friday.
(Random image of young woman brandishing a "plastic sax" found on Flickr.)
Monday, November 12, 2007
If you've managed to find your way to Plastic Sax, the most remote corner of the internet, you're probably already aware of Pandora. The innovative service creates customized streaming radio using its "Music Genome Project." It shouldn't work; but it's uncannily effective.
I've been tinkering with a Plastic Sax Radio stream for a few weeks. Click on the link to hear the results.
Because Pandora doesn't allow users to set parameters by geography, Plastic Sax Radio will forever be a work in progress. But it'll play Kansas City institutions like Mary Lou Williams, Charlie Parker and Andy Kirk with regularity. And my love of early Basie makes the system think that I want to hear the likes of Les Brown and even Michael Buble. So please don't blame me if Sammy Davis, Jr. pops up. Just skip what doesn't suit you. In theory, each alteration brings you one step closer to musical bliss.
But beware- Pandora can encourage consumerist tendencies. It has me coveting an out-of-print Don Byas album I didn't know existed.
When Tim Anderson, Pandora's founder, visited Kansas City in February, he reiterated that all submissions it receives are added to its database. Yet pitifully few of the Kansas City artists featured in the right column have their music listed at Pandora. I wish I could have Mark Southerland, Harold O'Neal and other innovators featured, but alas, they're not available. Mike Metheny and Doug Talley are among the few local artists taking care of business.
The addictive diversion is entirely free; the only drawback is that it seems to drag computer speed down a couple of notches while it's running.
(While that's not me in this stolen image, it's pretty darn close.)
Friday, November 9, 2007
Does Harold O'Neal represent the future of jazz in Kansas City? Area jazz fans should be so lucky. The original composition O'Neal performs in this video is dedicated to innovative pianist Andrew Hill, who died in April. As with Hill, O'Neal deftly balances outside explorations with the post-Art Tatum tradition. O'Neal works frequently in Kansas City and New York, and is a pianist in one of Bobby Watson's touring ensembles. O'Neal's debut recording as a leader, Charlie's Suite, is reviewed positively here. His MySpace account is slightly less buggy that his own site. I also highly recommend the three free downloads recorded at Denver's KGNU.
Wednesday, November 7, 2007
*NPR offers a preview of Karrin Allyson's next release. She's joined by guitarist Rod Fleeman. I'm partial to the Randy Newman cover.
*Joe Klopus urges the passive jazz audience to frequent clubs and concerts in a thoughtful editorial. I agree with everything Joe writes, but it's telling that fans of country, rock, R&B and blues don't require any such prodding.
*I heard a song from Alice Jenkins' new Almost Christmas release on The Fish Fry, but there's no mention of it at her site.
*Bobby Watson and Brian Kennedy aren't the headliners at the November 10 fundraiser billed as a Buck O'Neil birthday party. That'd be Morris Day and the Time.
*I sure hope Santa brings me the new Roy Haynes retrospective. Has anyone else recorded with both Charlie Parker and Pat Metheny?
*Alaadeen's new release received a brief but positive review in Jazz Times.
*I just discovered that the Lawrence Public Library hosts a jazz film series. Unfortunately, it concludes Friday.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)
Monday, November 5, 2007
The following is an abbreviated version of an essay I wrote for another site in June 2005. I attempted to decipher the meaning behind the sales tabulations of Charlie Parker's recordings. I no longer have have access to Soundscan, the music industry's primary sales reporting tool.
Local sales of Charlie Parker’s recordings tell a far different story than the happy version recited by Kansas City's cultural and political elite.
Soundscan lists 328 individual Parker titles. Of these, 79 have zero sales. Assuming that those 79 titles were never issued, that leaves 249 actual titles. The total sales for those releases since 1991 is 1,496,695. The average sales per title is 6,011. The average cumulative sales per year is 106,906.
While those numbers aren’t world-beaters, I find them entirely palatable. Jazz is a difficult music, and Parker was anything but smooth. The bebop revolution, led by Parker, remains controversial to this day. Along with the advent of rock’n’roll, the gauntlet laid down by bebop permanently displaced jazz music from the forefront of the American popular culture.
By comparison, today’s most acclaimed serious jazz saxophonist, Joe Lovano, averages sales of 15,000 units each of his Blue Note recordings. Keep in mind, too, that sales of Parker in Europe and Japan are likely at least a significant portion of what they are domestically. Of course, it’s all relative. We live in a world in which country-pop star Toby Keith sold 125,000 units last week.
It’s no surprise that the three best selling Parker titles are on Verve. First, Parker made his most commercial recordings for the label, including the controversial "with strings" sessions. Secondly, Verve enjoys major label distribution, which helps force product into retail. Jazz ‘Round Midnight, the top seller, was issued in 1991, and has sold 126,475 units, including 49 last week. Ken Burns Jazz, compiled in conjunction with the PBS series, was issued in 2000, has sold 90,039, including 107 units last week. Bird: Original Recordings, issued in 1988, has sold 104,753, including 26 last week. The title I recommend most highly, a budget-priced 5-CD set called Studio Chronicle: 1940-1948, has sold 3,010 units since its release in 2001, including 17 last week.
But what about sales in Kansas City? Jazz ‘Round Midnight has sold a total of 939 units in Kansas City, including 2 last week. Ken Burns Jazz has sold a total of 721 in here, including 1 last week. Bird: Original Recordings, has sold 851 in Kansas City, with no sales last week. The Studio Chronicle box has sold a woeful 10 units in Kansas City, including 1 last week.
Kansas City is Soundscan’s 29th largest market. Correspondingly, even dismissing favorable regional hometown bias, Parker should account for every 3 in a 100 Parker sales. Does it? Not even close. Kansas City represents significantly less than 1% of total sales in the United States.
(Image of Parker found via random image search. It's for sale here.)
Friday, November 2, 2007
It's easy to take Bobby Watson for granted. The genial saxophonist has retained his Kansas City-style friendliness in spite of his status as one of the most respected artists in jazz. He's featured here with what appears to be a Russian student band. That's not surprising. Not only is Watson UMKC's director of jazz studies, he also travels the globe with the frequency of a Fortune 500 CEO. His solo commencing at the 2:25 mark is typical Watson. He opens with beautifully lyrical playing and gradually builds to an ostentatious but completely logical peak. Just because we get to hear this brilliance regularly in Kansas City doesn't make it any less extraordinary.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
*The Pitch discloses the terms of a "new deal" for development at 18th & Vine. Follow-up notes are here.
*"The Dennis Kucinich of jazz"? That's what Pat Metheny calls himself in this profile in a Rochester paper.
*Metheny has a new trio album scheduled for a January release. (News gleaned from Contemporary Jazz.)
*Acclaimed music blog Soul Sides recently posted an MP3 by the Pete Eye Trio.
*The opening reception for If Jazz Was a Color is Friday at the American Jazz Museum.
(Image discovered and appropriated via the internets.)
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Of the many pleasures afforded by the Folly Theater's venerable jazz series, one of the most consistently satisfying is each concert's "Jazz Talk." An hour prior to show time, the headliner chats with Folly executive director Doug Tatum on the historic stage. Depending on the artist, these discussions can be vastly entertaining or painfully awkward. They're almost always insightful.
Curious jazz fans discovered Friday night that saxophonist Joshua Redman is remarkably gracious, humble and engaging. He clearly relished talking about his craft. Here are a few choice quotes from Redman's discussion with Tatum.
*On the idea of inheriting a gift for music from his father Dewey Redman: "The majority of musicians I work with have more natural talent than I do."
*On his progress as a musician: "A lot of holes have developed in my playing and I'm in the process of filling them"
*On his years at Harvard: "I was basically a nerd. Not basically- I was a nerd."
*On his mother's music collection: "A Love Supreme and Sgt. Pepper's are the first albums I remember being albums." He noted that he was particularly impressed by Coltrane's album cover.
*On Sonny Rollins: "When I heard Sonny Rollins I understood what jazz improvisation could be."
*On Rollins' solos on Way Out West: "They had beginnings, middles and ends. They had an organic structure"
*On the trio format he presented Friday: "It's pretty terrifying. It's very difficult... You have to embrace the economy and sparsity of this context."
*On the development of his writing skills: "Composition is something that's come slower for me... I would write for the sake of improvisation... The more I compose I see it as the process in and of itself."
*On improvisation: "What I strive for is to be completely spontaneous at all times... (but) realistically, it's impossible." Redman added that he attempts to "systematically excise" routine and obvious licks and quotes from his playing.
*About a good performance: "There's a sense of being an agent. The music is playing you as much as you're playing the music."
Unfortunately, Redman's performance was less successful than his jazz talk.
Joined only by bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland, the trio's two sets were technically flawless. The rhythm section was superlative, while Redman's tone on tenor and soprano was impeccable. The shaved heads sported by all three men symbolized their musical unity.
Yet much of the show seemed like an academic exercise, as if Redman had consciously limited himself to lurking in the towering twin shadows of Rollins and Coltrane.
One of the evening's few emotionally engaging moments was Redman's unaccompanied introduction to "Zarafah." His soprano conveyed a fierce debate with dialogue worthy of David Mamet. Each of Redman's "characters" pleaded, screamed and attacked until the fight was settled by the entrance of Rogers and Harland.
Too often, Redman's extended solos became tedious, so that it sometimes felt as if Harland had waited a couple minutes too long before bailing Redman out with a percussive explosion.
The trio format is a dangerous tight rope walk. Stumbles and even a few nasty spills are inevitable. When the three risk takers left the stage two and half hours later after they began their venture, they had earned their standing ovation.
Two final comments: I missed the first portion of the second set due to an impromptu meeting with a man regularly mentioned on this site. Secondly, it was discouraging to see hundreds of empty seats. I hope that when Bill Charlap's sublime piano work graces the Folly on November 16, more than the 450 people on hand to witness Redman show up.
(Original images by Plastic Sax.)
Friday, October 26, 2007
Even though this video doesn't feature the band accompanying Joshua Redman to Kansas City for his performance at the Folly Theater tonight, it's notable for two reasons. The footage serves as further proof that young artists are bringing fresh energy and enthusiasm to a music in desperate need of such vitality. Secondly, the fact that a straightforward clip of a traditional jazz artist can garner 144,000 YouTube views indicates that a successful generational transfer might actually be taking place.
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
*The Pitch's music blog notes that the shuttered Phoenix jazz club may become a donut shop.
*The Star paints a gloomy picture of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. It's the comparatively popular companion of the American Jazz Museum. The museums' neighborhood is disparaged by a few Kansas Citians here.
*How can we miss Lee Ingalls if he won't go away? He interviewed Charles Gatschet for KCUR. The Kansas City jazz guitarist talks about Antonio Carlos Jobim, his fondness for melody and the color of Cindy Sheehan's hair. What?
*Joe Klopus provides an appreciation of the ongoing career of Michael Carvin.
*According to the internet, Marilyn Maye hardly exists. The Star makes reference to Maye's supposed 76 appearances on Johnny Carson's Tonight Show. So how is it possible that not a single clip is posted at YouTube? I demand a recount. The Kansas City favorite began an extended run at Quality Hill Playhouse yesterday.
*How dare a jazz blogger mock Pat Metheny's hair!
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)
Monday, October 22, 2007
Nine of the ten discs I've selected as the best Kansas City jazz recordings have one thing in common- they exude a sense of joyful celebration. The melding of blues and jazz that characterizes the Kansas City sound is intended as the soundtrack to a party. Even Frizzell and Metheny, the two artists on my list who veer farthest away from the city's traditional sound, radiate positive vibrations. The revolutionary work of Charlie Parker, manic and confrontational, makes him the odd man out. But he never fit in. In chronological order:
1. Bennie Moten- Band Box Shuffle (recorded 1929-32, Hep Records compilation released 2000)
Kansas City jazz didn't begin with Moten, but he was the first significant area bandleader to be extensively recorded. This set contains two-and-a-half hours of intoxicatingly vibrant music featuring the likes of Count Basie, Harlan Leonard, Hot Lips Page and Jimmy Rushing.
2. Count Basie- The Best of Early Basie (recorded 1937-39, Decca compilation released 1996)
The mother lode. Just the names of the participants- Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Claude Williams, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Jo Jones- inspire awe. When someone in Tokyo or Paris thinks of Kansas City, they have "Jumpin' At the Woodside" or "Doggin' Around" in mind. This set also includes Jimmy Rushing's reading of "Blues In the Dark," which may be my favorite recording of the twentieth century.
3. Jay McShann- Blues From Kansas City (recorded 1941-43, Decca compilation released 1992)
Impossibly hip titles like "Say Forward, I'll March" and "Hootie's Ignorant Oil" hint at the good times provided by these classic sides. And yes, the young Charlie Parker's first recorded honks are here.
4. Julia Lee- Kansas City's First Lady of the Blues, (recorded 1944-47, JSP compilation released 2001)
A full sixty years later, many of Lee's raunchy songs are fully capable of inducing blushes. Local legends like Sam "Baby" Lovett play alongside stars including Benny Carter and Red Norvo on these wild and wooly sessions.
5. Charlie Parker- Complete Dial Sessions (recorded 1946-47, Stash compilation released 1993)
As with his personal life, Parker's discography is complicated and somewhat messy. This selection comes down to personal preference; I really dig the mind-bendingly creative Dial sessions, which emphasize Parker's compositional skills.
6. Dwight Frizzell & Anal Magic- Beyond the Black Crack (recorded and self-released in 1976; reissued on Paradigm in 1998)
Does this obscure title by Kansas City's favorite oddball actually exist? Does it matter? The Sun Ra-obsessed Frizzell went on to make many experimental recordings with BCR, which for years was arguably the best band in Kansas City, jazz or otherwise.
7. Pat Metheny- American Garage (recorded and released in 1979, ECM)
As with Aaron Copeland's most popular works, the majestic compositions of American Garage evoke the generous vistas of the American plains. Metheny's incorporation of folk and country elements paved the way for explorations by both fellow guitarist Bill Frisell and new-grass acts including Bela Fleck and Nickel Creek.
8. Count Basie- Kansas City Shout (recorded and released in 1980, Pablo)
This late-career summit of Basie, Joe Turner and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson reminds me of great late-night sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foudation, except there's nothing casual about the sophisticated big bands charts on "Blues For Joe Turner." Swinging came as easily to the old veterans as breathing.
9. City Light Orchestra- Raised Spirits (recorded and released in 1984, City Light Entertainment)
The sound captured by swinging traditionalists Dave Basse, Tim Whitmer, Ahmad Alaadeen, Jano and Laverne Barker continues to dominate Kansas City's jazz scene twenty-three years after this perfectly-titled set's release.
10. Myra Taylor- My Night To Dream (recorded in 2000, released in 2001, APO Records)
Even at ninety-years-old, Taylor shows more energy and spunk than almost every other entertainer in town. With Sonny Kenner's guitar and Eddie Saunders' tenor sax, this crisp recording unites Kansas City's jazz and blues legacies.
Disagree with my selections? I should hope so. Please add your list and thoughts to the comments section.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)
Friday, October 19, 2007
Although this session was recorded in Chicago on October 23, 1929, it captures the wild sound that provided the soundtrack to Kansas City's renaissance. As the fine notes for the video indicate, the band was in a transitional phase, evolving from a formulaic sound to a more cosmopolitan style that would rival the bands of Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson.
Even so, it's still exhilarating almost eighty years later.
Several members of the band played more than one instrument, but my best guess is that the personnel on this track are Ed Lewis and Booker Washington on trumpet; Thamon Hayes on trombone; Eddie Durham on guitar; Harlen Leonard, Vernon Page, Jack Washington and Woody Walder on saxophones and clarinets; Count Basie on piano; Leroy Berry on banjo and Willie McWashington on drums. Having ceded the piano chair to Basie, Moten directs.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
*It's taken every ounce of my willpower to repress the impulse to comment extensively on Dave Helling's damning story about the financial aftermath of the American Jazz Museum's tenth anniversary celebration. Plastic Sax readers know that I'm anything but a cheerleader. Yet it seems unfair to pile on, especially given how much I enjoyed the museum's street festival. I'll just say that Helling's piece is mandatory reading. The author of this letter points out just one of many problems the institution must overcome. And the consensus of the general public is reflected by these bitter perspectives.
*It's deeply discouraging that empty seats outnumbered live bodies for Dee Dee Bridgewater's revelatory performance Saturday at the Gem. In spite of tremendous advance notices and heavy advertising, only 250 people showed up. And almost as troubling was audience's median age of about fifty.
*Present Magazine offers a fine profile of Candace Evans.
*The paperback edition of Chasin' the Bird: The Life and Legacy of Charlie Parker was published in April. It's reviewed favorably at All About Jazz.
*The Pitch catches up with Megan Birdsall. The benefit performance for her forthcoming medical procedure is at Jardine's tonight.
*Lincoln Center is the site of a discussion titled "Charlie Parker: The Myth vs. the Reality" on November 8.
(Art by Sanford Biggers. His work is on display at Grand Arts.)
Monday, October 15, 2007
This broad-shouldered intellectual is Lee Ingalls. Public radio listeners are familiar with his mellifluous voice in his capacity as KCUR's morning anchor, reporter and jazz critic.
It's telling that I first met Ingalls at a UMKC jazz jam at Mike's Tavern. In addition to being an absurdly nice person, he's a knowledgeable and deeply passionate fan of jazz.
So it's with great sadness that I report that Ingalls is moving to Chicago at the end of this week.
Although I hope I'm wrong, Ingalls' departure represents the end of jazz on KCUR. Ingalls hosted the station's Just Jazz program after long-time personalities Ginny Coleman and Ruth Rhoden's retired. Since that show's demise, the station has broadcast Ingalls' profiles of local jazz events and artists. He has also made regular appearances on Steve Kraske's Up To Date to review recent jazz releases.
Can anyone at KCUR fill Ingalls' shoes?
While he's a leading jazz authority, Chuck Haddix's excellent weekend Fish Fry is dedicated to "blues, soul, rhythm & blues, jumpin' jive and zydeco." Back when KCUR featured jazz programming nightly, I recall that Haddix would end his shift with Bill Evans' "Peace Piece."
I admire reporter and producer Sylvia Maria Gross' off-the-chart smarts and engaging personality, but I hold her responsible for the recent controversy at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. As I learned when I mentioned it to her, Gross was oblivious of the unwritten rule among jazz fans and drinkers to never speak publicly of the Foundation's late-night liquor situation. Her broadcast led to the government crackdown.
I'm not demanding that KCUR drop its news or classical programming to focus on jazz. The internet and satellite radio have rendered conventional music broadcasting obsolete. I do feel, however, that KCUR has an obligation to regularly cover the local jazz scene. Just up the dial, KKFI offers some fine jazz programming, but the community station lacks both KCUR's reach and resources. Area jazz musicians desperately need and merit KCUR's support.
You're going to be missed, Lee.
(Original photo by Plastic Sax.)
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
*She's big in France. Dee Dee Bridgewater, who goes all Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf in this video, will perform with a ten-piece band October 13 at the Gem Theater.
*Lee Ingalls interviews Eldar here. Lee also recorded a compelling conversation with Alaadeen about the saxophonist's new album.
*UMKC's student newspaper dared to highlight the school's jazz program. (Link via Tony's Kansas City)
*Joe Klopus' interview with Greg Abate is here.
*The American Jazz Museum's Dennis Winslett and Greg Carroll get a little ink for their efforts in jazz education here.
*Reminder: The City Light Orchestra reunites for a jazz brunch Sunday, October 14, at the Athenaeum.
*An advertisement for "Johnson County's Premier Jazz Event" recently began appearing in the Star. It states that Joe Cartwright and Roger Wilder will appear Sunday afternoon at the Overland Park Marriott. I've asked the contact person for further details and I'll provide an update when I receive a response.
Update- Russell Simmons, the event's organizer, responded to Plastic Sax with the following information about Sunday's 4 p.m. concert:
*Seating capacity is limited to 300. It's table seating in the hotel's ballroom.
*Smoking is not allowed. Two cash bars are available.
*Tickets are $20, and can be obtained at the Marriott or directly from Simmons (913/226-8401). Simmons recommends the latter option.
*"I see this as an opportunity to present the best KC jazz to Johnson County," Simmons said via email. "I believe there is substantial interest in live jazz music in Jo Co. However, people can't/won't always go downtown. We'll determine what we do regarding future events based upon the response we get to our offer."
Monday, October 8, 2007
Dan Jaffe is a Kansas City-based poet and composer. He shares his impressions of Arch Martin's September 8 farewell concert with Plastic Sax.
After a musical conversation of more than half a century with Kansas City, Arch Martin said goodbye as a great jazzman must, in concert. He was with players able to scorch the room, old friends who had played together many times. They all showed soul enough to play the blues with joy.
For four hours, except for the briefest intermissions, Arch, Paul Smith, Bob Bowman, Tommy Ruskin and Mike Metheny reminded the audience how jazz can surprise, in old ways, in new times.
I remember first hearing Arch in 1962 with George Salisbury, Milt Abel and Vince Bilardo, an outing I have never forgotten. How would this "older" Arch Martin fade out I wondered. He wouldn't. The 2007 Arch kept the audience's full attention, reinspired the Blue Room's reputation as a "listening" room. No, they didn't chatter, they didn't leave, and they repeatedly expressed love and enthusiasm.
What mattered most was the feeling that filled the room and informed the music. It was powerful yet complicated, subtle yet clear. This was clearly celebratory, a hallelujah for great playing and years of devotion to jazz.
The final standing ovation was extended and spontaneous, nothing ritual or forced about it, the natural response of those deeply moved and appreciative.
But this was also an evening full of sorrow. Arch was leaving for Los Angeles and there was no way to relive all those glorious Kansas City moments, the rhythms, the humor, the great phrases from Arch's trombone and the great answers he evoked.
(Image nicked from an instrument dealer.)
Wednesday, October 3, 2007
*John Hilderbrand has relaunched Kansas City-based Contemporaryjazz.com. It's linked in the right column.
*Joe Klopus considers the success of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra's concert series.
*Here's the Star's review of Friday's performance by Eldar and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.
*Miguel De Leon is the unlikely subject of an editorial in a Georgia newspaper.
*Doug Ramsey reviews a recent performance by Karrin Allyson and Bill McGlaughlin.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)
Monday, October 1, 2007
I posted a set of photos from the American Jazz Museum's tenth anniversary "street festival" celebration here. Although traditional jazz wasn't the attraction for the most of the people in attendance, the Blue Room was full most of the day and big bands led by Leon Brady, Bobby Watson and Louis Neal performed outdoors.
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
*The City Light Orchestra, arguably the most successful Kansas City-based jazz group of the last quarter century, will reunite for a "KC Jazz Brunch" Sunday, October 14, at the Athenaeum, 900 East Linwood. Alaadeen, David Basse, Joe Cartwright, Jason Goudeau, Jack Lightfoot, Chris Burnett, Will Matthews and Tyrone Clark are scheduled to participate.
*Our friend Lee gets busy with jazz on KCUR, commentary and notes on Kansas City artists.
*The Star's Steve Paul wrote a front-page feature about Megan Birdsall's ailment.
*Tim Finn conducted an interesting interview with Karrin Allyson. Stop by the bank on your way to her show tonight- tickets to the benefit are $175.
*Joe Klopus' weekly column focused on organist Melvin Rhyne.
*Steve Penn offers final thoughts on the American Jazz Museum's anniversary celebration.
*The Village Voice reports on an infiltration in New York of "a tribe of KC bohemians" including Plastic Sax faves Dirty Force.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)
Monday, September 24, 2007
A companion told me that Kerry Strayer seemed annoyed when I raised my camera to photograph him Sunday during his performance at the Plaza Art Fair. (EDIT: Strayer has since informed me that "nothing could be further from the truth.") Even if true, that won't prevent me from praising the saxophonist's impeccable sound and exquisite taste. His versatility affords him many of Kansas City's most coveted jazz gigs, including a show with his "orchestra" tonight at the Blue Room.
Vocalist and trombonist Earlie Braggs, who was slated to host a CD release party later that day at Jardine's, sat in with Strayer's outstanding band.
(Unpopular original images by Plastic Sax.)
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
*A local artist made an excellent video that captures the spirit of the American Jazz Museum's "Street Festival" last weekend. It's above. Even though I stood right next to this guy a couple times, I don't make any accidental cameo appearances. His editing skills are commendable. Note that the R&B cover band he identifies as Event is actually Karma.
*Here's the Star's review of the event.
*The Star's Steve Penn addresses progress at 18th & Vine. He touches on related subjects here. Blogger impresario Tony is not a fan.
*The politics of jazz in Kansas City can be unpleasant.
*Joe Klopus considers the American Jazz Museum's future. He quotes museum director Gregory Carroll, who also offers his perspective here.
*I'd like to know more about this Jay McShann film project.
*Lawrence.com offers a Snuff Jazz podcast.
*The Boulevard Big Band has a new release.
*Guitarist Danny Embrey gets a little attention here.
Monday, September 17, 2007
There are a few unwritten laws for residents of the Kansas City area. Rooting for the Chiefs isn't optional. A firm preference for Gates or Bryant's must be established. And attendance at the Plaza Art Fair is mandatory.
Not everyone realizes that the annual ritual is more than ceramics, couch paintings and people-watching. Many jazz-oriented artists are included among the over two dozen musical acts featured at the event. Here's a partial listing:
Friday, September 21
Dan Bliss, 6:45 p.m., near Starbucks
Saturday, September 22
D.J. Sweeney, 1:00 p.m., near Plaza III
BCR, 5:00 p.m., Wornall Bridge
Sunday, September 23
Kerry Strayer with Earlie Braggs, 11:00 a.m., Wornall Bridge
Grand Marquis, 1:00 p.m., Grand Marquis, Wornall Bridge
Beau Bledsoe, 2:00 p.m., near Starbucks
Ken Lovern's OJT, 3:00 p.m., Wornall Bridge
(Dandy R. Crumb image used without permission.)
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
*It doesn't bother me that the two biggest draws at this weekend's "Turning X on 18th & Vine" celebration aren't jazz artists. I've always loved randy funksters Cameo, and Patti LaBelle's presence is probably the reason Friday's high-dollar fundraiser is sold out. Here are listings of events on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. The "Street Festival" on Saturday looks especially promising.
*Details on Kansas City's new sister city relationship with New Orleans are here.
*Surely the late Joe Zawinul played here a few times, but I don't recall seeing him perform in Kansas City. Here's one definitive Kansas City connection- Zawinul backed Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson on this album when he was in Cannonball Adderley's band.
*Joe Klopus previewed Arch Martin's last gig in KC for the Star.
*Here's Lee terrific audio of the recent ceremony at Bird's grave. It's the single best report from the event.
*Steve Paul's photos from of the recent Charlie Parker tribute are here .
*The second part of NPR's podcast on Charlie Parker is now available.
*A local woman was the inspiration for the composition "Dream a Little Dream of Me".
*Why mention Barry Manilow in this space? He's releasing a jazz-oriented Christmas album through Kansas City-based Hallmark. Details are here.
*The Kansas State alumni magazine published a charming history of the university's jazz band.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)
Monday, September 10, 2007
According to a press release submitted to the Kansas City Star last week, Megan Birdsall has been diagnosed with a devastating medical condition. The chanteuse is reportedly "in extreme pain most of the time, and if left unchecked, her condition will continue to deteriorate to the point that singing and eating would be completely impossible." The press release also promotes an October 17 Birdsall benefit at Jardine's. As Plastic Sax wrote here and as demonstrated in the video featured above, Birdsall is one of Kansas City's most exciting and engaging talents.
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
*I began frequenting the Phoenix in the '80s in part because the jazz club afforded me the opportunity to rub shoulders with Speedy Huggins and the Scamps. That history makes this development especially difficult. Both Plastic Sax and Hearne Christopher have been reporting that the Phoenix has been dark for weeks. Their web site now confirms it.
*The great untold story in Kansas City music is the tragic saga of Gregory Hickman-Williams. It looks like Lee plans to spread the word.
*NPR produced a fine podcast about Charlie Parker.
*The Star's Joe Klopus profiled Chris Burnett.
*Star columnist Steve Penn wrote a positive account of the local jazz scene. In another column, he tells the story of Loren Pickford.
*I'm not sure I'd have gone with the headline "Jewish Jazz Musician Releases CD". The story reveals Andrea Pharr's ill-advised marketing strategy. Unfortunately, she's not the only area jazz artist with a deliberately difficult approach. (Story tip from Tony.)
*The savvy jazz-oriented acts performing at the Crossroads Music Fest include the Scamps, Mike Dillon and Malachy Papers.
*Here's a newly uploaded Snuff Jazz video.
*Here's a lengthy blog post about a night at the Blue Room.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)
Friday, August 31, 2007
On each of the dozens of occasions I've seen Luqman Hamza perform, I'm struck anew by his urbane persona and consummate musicianship. He recalls the sophistication of Nat "King" Cole, Charles Brown, Mel Torme and Bobby Short. It seems like he should be the featured attraction at an elite New York cabaret instead of playing for a handful of people in a Kansas City tavern. Consequently, Hamza's program last Friday at the Mutual Musicians Foundation's "Rush Hour" was somewhat surprising. The unpredictable behavior of the guest vocalists- including his wife, pictured here (I can't recall her name)- seemed to rattle Hamza's placid veneer.
(Original photo by Plastic Sax, 8/24/07.)
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
*The New York Times' recent historical revisionism of Charlie Parker's career did not sit well with some locals. The gist of the piece seems to be that Kansas City represented nothing but an unfortunate roadblock for Parker.
*Meanwhile, the Star's Steve Penn mused on Parker's influence and Steve Paul offered an analysis of the state of jazz in Kansas City.
*The New York Times and jazz blogger Darcy James Argue offer differing opinions on the Charlie Parker Festival.
*Eldar garnered some ink in the New York Daily News.
*The American Jazz Museum receives a lot of flack. So it's nice to see a positive review of the facility on a travel blog.
*Lee Ingalls produced an excellent audio profile of preparation for a recent Snuff Jazz concert.
*The Pitch provides a fun video of a gal tap-dancing and goofing with Bobby Watson at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.
*One shouldn't put much- if any- stock in the Missouri state fair's annual mock elections. Still, it's telling that "Kansas City Jazz" was trounced in a slate of four candidates.
(Photograph of Parker sculpture by Plastic Sax.)
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Fans, journalists and family members gathered around Charlie Parker's grave in Lincoln Cemetery Sunday afternoon for a memorial service. Parker would have been 87 years old on Wednesday.
The highlight of the ceremony was a spirited round of "Now's the Time." Amateur enthusiasts joined some of Kansas City's most notable musicians. It was nice.
The 150 people at the service are more than I've seen at the last six or seven jazz shows I've attended. Combined. Parker merits remembering, of course. But living jazz musicians have a hard time drawing enough fans to carry a casket. Perhaps that's one reason Parker left Kansas City in the first place.
While I was pleased by the presence of New Orleans-style brass band Dirty Force, a few people were put off by their sloppy and irreverent performance after the formal service ended. "Are they supposed to sound this bad?" a crank complained.
For his part, Parker probably would have asked everyone to play a little longer and quite a bit louder.
(All images by Plastic Sax, 8/26/07)
Friday, August 24, 2007
Music is just one element of any public appearance by The Wild Women of Kansas City. Bickering, story-telling and off-color jokes always threaten to make music an afterthought. Their free show last Sunday at Ironwoods Park in Leawood was no different.
All four women in the group- Lori Tucker, Geneva Price, Millie Edwards and Myra Taylor (left to right in the photo)- have strong personalities. Each is eager to take the lead.
Unfortunately, a sudden summer storm shortened Sunday's show. It was disappointing but not a disaster- the women have steady gigs separately and together.
The series continues August 26 with Ken Lovern's OJT.
(Original image by Plastic Sax, 8/19/07)
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
*Max Roach died August 16. The drummer's contribution to the development of jazz- including a major role in Charlie Parker's career- is inestimable. (That's Roach in the video above.) At my music blog, I recalled Roach's visit to Kansas City in 1997. Many jazz fans would do well to consider Roach's response when asked why he chose to collaborate with free jazz artists:
"A person like an Anthony Braxton is more like Charlie Parker than a person who plays like Charlie Parker. Bird was creative and different and looked inside himself. He knew what Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter and the rest of them had laid down. That was the foundation. Bird built on that foundation. Now you have people like Phil Woods who preserve the tradition. And then there are people who push forward, who perpetuate the continuum by trying out things. Cecil Taylor is more like Art Tatum than a guy who plays like Tatum. It may not always come off, but that's what creativity's about. Anyway, by now people accept me for what I am."
*Trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, who also played with Charlie Parker, died August 11.
*Kansas City mayor Mark Funkhouser blogged about the Wall Street Journal piece I referred to last week.
*Jazz received short shrift in a recent USA Today piece about Kansas City's "renewal."
*Jason at the Pitch commented on my open letter to the American Jazz Musem posted at Plastic Sax last week.
*A nice Star profile of Marty's Blues Cafe indicates that jazz may be in the club's future.
*I'm desperately trying to avoid getting into the "Jazz Calendar" business. The Jazz Ambassadors already do an excellent job with the thankless task. But I'm still compelled to point out a few unique events happening this week:
8/23 Dr. Lonnie Smith gets funky at the Blue Room
8/24 New American Jazz Museum director Greg Carroll sits in with Angela Hagenbach at Jardine's
8/25 Greg Carroll sits in with Angela Hagenbach at a $28 dollar benefit at CocoBolos at 151st and Nall
8/25 Snuff Jazz makes scary noise at All Souls Unitarian Church
8/26 Charlie Parker Gravesite Memorial Service, Lincoln Cemetery 1pm
8/26 "Charlie Parker's Birthday Party" at Mutual Musician's Foundation