Sunday, November 29, 2009
The Ten Most Important Jazz-Related Events and Stories of 2009
Matt Otto set me straight earlier this month. "I think jazz has never been so strong," the saxophonist asserted in an interview. "Not necessarily from an economic point of view, but due to the sheer number of jazz musicians on the planet that increases year after year." The contentious relationship between art and economics riddles this summary of the state of Kansas City jazz in 2009.
1. Jazzy Home Companion. The weekly 12 O'Clock Jump radio broadcast brought fresh energy to the Mutual Musicians Foundation. It's too soon to know if the program is going to get the syndication sought by its organizers, but even if it fails the experiment is a noble one. (The NPR-centric show was nicknamed by Jason Harper.)
2. No Rhythm. No Ribs. The cancelation of the 2009 edition of the Rhythm and Ribs Festival, Kansas City's premier jazz event, was demoralizing. Adding insult to injury, the festival's site has been hacked.
3. Diverse. The rise of Diverse gives Kansas City music fans an energetic young act to rally around. Musically, Diverse is excellent. But they also "get it." The band's DYI PR model proves that energy and enthusiasm can make good things happen.
4. The Majestic. The closing of The Majestic provided a great deal of hand-wringing. Its re-opening has been the source of cautious optimism. The sometime jazz joint doesn't yet have a dedicated new site, but they do engage customers on Twitter. Our fingers are crossed.
5. Fresh faces. Three notable musicians- Jerry Hahn, Matt Otto and Kim Park- either returned to Kansas City or moved here for the first time. And Dixieland fans must be delighted that Lynn Zimmer is now featured several nights a week at the Gaslight Grill.
6. Non-jazz creep. Venues ostensibly dedicated to jazz feature an increasing number of blues, soul, cabaret, folk and rock acts. Well over a quarter of the bookings at Kansas City's three primary jazz clubs don't play jazz. I'm hardly a jazz purist, but I just can't bring myself to list artists who resemble Tori Amos, James Taylor and Eric Clapton on The Kansas City Jazz Calendar.
7. New media. Some get it. Some are being left behind. Real-time Twitter dispatches from artists, clubs and music fans influence where I spend my dollars at least once a week. Meanwhile, savvy artists make their music accessible to fans. Last week, for instance, Chris Burnett gave fans a free MP3. Diverse boasts a national presence thanks less to radio than to podcasts. Not coincidentally, Burnett and Diverse also understand the power of video. Money is no longer an excuse- I saw an off-brand video camera advertised for $25 on Black Friday.
8. Quiet Saturday afternoons. One of my favorite Kansas City traditions ended this year. Saturday afternoon jazz jams are no more. Jardine's ceased hosting the event several months ago. It has yet to be replaced. And no, Mama Ray's blues-rock jam session at BB's Lawnside BBQ doesn't count.
9. Dwindling audience. I keep hearing about great turn-outs for jazz events, but the majority of high-profile jazz shows I attended at the Folly, the Blue Room and Jardine's were poorly attended. A lot of it is attributable to sad attrition. Vince Bilardo, for instance, was a fixture at almost every jazz event. He died in February. Jazz students aside, I have yet to see evidence of a young jazz audience to replace previous generations.
10. Jazz on film. Decades after it was acquired by the city, portions of The John Baker Film Collection are finally on permanent display at The American Jazz Museum.
I wrote similar lists at the conclusion of 2008 and 2007.
(Original image by Plastic Sax. What I wouldn't give to be a 17-year-old member of this pep band...)