Monday, April 7, 2008
The Show-Me Jazz Showdown
Brad Mehldau, the jazz musician of the moment, has a four-night residency this week at St. Louis' Jazz At the Bistro. The pianist then plays Columbia on Sunday. There's no Kansas City date.
It often seems like St. Louis has more to offer jazz fans than its cross-state rival. To help determine if St. Louis really is a superior jazz town, I've broken the question down into five categories.
Major caveat: It's been a couple years since I've been to "The Lou," and I've spent a total of about 100 nights in the city. And while I really like St. Louis, I live in Kansas City by choice.
1. LIVE JAZZ Edge: St. Louis
I adore the intimacy of the Blue Room, the consistency of Jardine's, and the beauty of the Folly. St. Louis's venues include Jazz At the Bistro and the Sheldon. St. Louis' festivals break the tie.
2. HISTORY Edge: Tie
Both cities are rightfully proud of their jazz legacies. There's no point in arguing about Miles versus Bird or the World Saxophone Quartet versus Bobby Watson.
3. RETAIL AND RADIO Edge: St. Louis
Jazz experts abound at St. Louis music dealers Vintage Vinyl, Euclid Records and Webster Records. Kansas City no longer offers anything of the kind. KWMU, KDHX and WSIE fill St. Louis' airwaves with jazz. KKFI gives Kansas City ten hours of jazz programming a week. It's no contest.
(Edit- The staff of Vinyl Renaissance disagrees with my assessment. And sure enough, they list some prime vinyl at their site. I look forward to visiting their Shawnee store. Maybe I'll make it out on "Record Store Day," April 19.)
4. INTANGIBLES Edge: Kansas City
The American Jazz Museum, the Blue Room and the Mutual Musicians Foundation are unique to Kansas City.
5. JAZZ TALENT Edge: To be determined
Rather than smugly insisting that Kansas City dominates this category, I'll propose a novel concept. What if representative artists of each city were to trade dates? Better yet, a group of Kansas City musicians- say Bobby Watson, Megan Birdsall, the Jazz Disciples and Chris Burnett- might play together in St. Louis as "The Kansas City All-Stars." Meanwhile, St. Louis might send Hamiet Bluiett, Erin Bode and the Kennedy brothers to Kansas City. Jazz fans and musicians in both cities would benefit.
So which city wins? I'll let Don Denkinger decide.
(Image of Jazz At the Bistro's calendar by Plastic Sax.)