Monday, December 31, 2007

The Ten Most Important Jazz-Related Events and Stories of 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

Kevin Mahogany Is Walking

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

Confirmation: Weekly News and Notes

*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

Clinton Conundrum

Gee... thanks.

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 pork funding Cleaver secured for the museum.

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

Jo Jones: Born To Swing

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

Confirmation: Weekly News and Notes

*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

New Year's Eve Jazz

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

Chris Burnett at the Drum Room

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

Confirmation: Weekly News and Notes

*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

Sonny Kenner Remembered

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

Eldar Up For a Grammy

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

Confirmation: Weekly News and Notes

*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.)