Friday, March 27, 2009

Grace Kelly at The Blue Room

Not bad for a kid. In fact, sixteen-year-old Grace Kelly proved that she's worthy of the "future-of-jazz" buzz at her Kansas City debut Thursday night at The Blue Room.

Technically flawless, Kelly's sophisticated and shockingly gruff saxophone tone closely resembles that of Charlie Parker acolyte Phil Woods. In fact, I don't think I'd be able to distinguish Kelly from the 77-year-old in a 30-second blindfold test.

It's not really a criticism to note that Kelly's solos lack the emotional depth of veterans like Woods or Sonny Rollins. There's no reason to think she won't get there after a few decades of hard knocks.

Her coy vocal style was less artistically rewarding but demonstrated that it's plenty good enough to bring commercial Diana Krall-style success should Kelly elect to go that route. In fact, the best moments of her first set came during a scat battle with Greg Carroll. After being challenged by the vibraphonist (and Director of the American Jazz Museum), Kelly responded with stylish aplomb.

Carroll's gratuitous bashing of popular music and Kelly's desultory original ballad "But Life Goes On" were the only sour notes of the first set. Pianist Michael Pagan played with elegance while bassist Bob Bowman and drummer Matt Leifer were excellent.

What does the future hold for Kelly? It's not a good indicator that the two children in the audience of 59 were visibly bored to tears. Pleasing elders is one thing. Exciting her peers poses a more formidable challenge for Kelly.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Now's the Time: Steve Coleman

The Plastic Sax compound is positively giddy with anticipation for Steve Coleman's April 3 appearance at The Blue Room. The video I've chosen to feature shows that Coleman is not your typical, run-of-the-mill jazz cat- and that's a very good thing. See this rough fan video for a taste of what (I hope) he'll sound like in Kansas City. He works in an academic setting here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The New York Times featured the Mutual Musicians Foundation. (Tip via Robert Moore.)

*Congressman Emanuel Cleaver II defends his earmarks at his blog. "If I can’t find money for the historic building that is crumbling on top of the players at the Mutual Musicians Foundation," he writes. "Where will it come from?"

*Jazz In the Woods announced their 2009 headliners. (Tip via friend of Plastic Sax.)

*I'm irritated that Jason Harper scooped me on the official release of the Negro Leagues' benefit hip hop CD True To the Game. I've been on the story since last October, but Plastic Sax clearly doesn't rate as highly as The Pitch.

*Holy Fables of Faubus! Here’s the outstanding lineup for the Mingus Big Band on April 18 at the Gem: Lew Soloff- trumpet, Earl Gardner- trumpet, Kenny Rampton- trumpet, Vincent Herring- sax, Craig Handy- sax, Donny McCaslin- sax, Abraham Burton- sax, Jason Marshall- sax, Frank Lacy- trombone, Conrad Herwig- trombone, Earl McIntyre- trombone, Donald Edwards – drums, Boris Koslov – bass and Helen Sung – piano.

*The mastermind behind the always excellent Kansas City With a Russian Accent blog brought an April 12 concert by The Academic Band to my attention. Based on the video included in the post, it looks like a godsend for trad jazz fans.

*The recent Madeleine Peyroux concert at The Folly was reviewed by Joel Francis and Scott Wilson.

*Steve Penn noted that $895 was contributed to the Coda Jazz Fund in lieu of flowers in memory of the late Vince Bilardo.

*The New York Voices concert was previewed by Joe Klopus. He also noted that Topeka's Coleman Hawkins Legacy Jazz Festival has been canceled this year.

*Do you feel lucky? The American Jazz Museum is selling deeply discounted tickets to this year's Rhythm & Ribs Festival through April 17. The catch? The lineup won't be announced until after that date.

*A tourist gets her Kansas City jazz facts a little mixed up in a blog post.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Now's the Time: Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye returns to Jardine's for a four-night engagement this week. It should be a real "kick," to use the lingo of this video. The diva recalls her time in Kansas City before crooning a characteristically old-school number. Both The Star and The Sun provide previews of the engagement.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Now's the Time: Madeleine Peyroux

While she's most often compared to Billie Holiday, I hear a lot of Bob Dylan in Madeleine Peyroux's approach. As demonstrated in this performance, she clearly shares Dylan's affection for Gary Davis, John Hurt and Lonnie Johnson. It's no surprise that her March 20 appearance at The Folly Theater is presented by Bill Shapiro's Cypress Avenue.

I plan to motor west. Plastic Sax will return in about a week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Fans of Rhythm & Ribs can breathe a sigh of relief. As revealed in this Star article, the powers that be have endorsed the festival. Among the tantalizing details: "This year, the festival will try to drum up interest by offering deep discounts to early birds and have a free Friday night outdoor concert featuring local entertainers."

*The career of Pearl Huston Brown is documented in an invaluable piece by Joe Klopus.

*I recently spotted a two-for-one admission coupon to the American Jazz Museum at VisitKC.

*Corky Carrell photographed the Blue Note 7 for Present magazine.

*A critic at a Florida newspaper reviewed a Kevin Mahogany concert.

*Patchchord recently engaged in one of Plastic Sax's favorite pastimes- analyzing the state of jazz.

*Vine Street Boogie, an American Jazz Museum fundraiser, takes place April 11. Tickets are $100.

*Our friend Lee Ingalls found a cache of old videos featuring Bobby Watson. And Watson continues to stay busy.

*A helpful reader implored me to mention Marilyn Maye's forthcoming gigs at Jardine's. Her four night run begins March 22.

*Lee Hill Kavanaugh wrote an intriguing tribute to Arch Martin.

*Jaleel Shaw recounts a recent visit to Kansas City.

*Steve Penn noted Vince Bilardo's passing.

* Loads of Sue Vicory's interviews with Kansas City jazz musicians are posted at her YouTube account.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sara Gazarek at Jardine's

Apologies to Erin Bode and Megan Birdsall. Sara Gazarek is the best new jazz vocalist I've encountered in the last five years.

The Los Angeles-based artist's second set last night at Jardine's was breathtaking.

It's a shame Gazarek played to a nearly empty room. By my count, I was one of 19 people who paid the $15 cover. And that's only if the handful of prominent Kansas City musicians in attendance weren't comped.

The lack of an audience is especially disappointing because it's difficult to imagine anyone who wouldn't appreciate Gazarek's exquisite taste and seemingly perfect pitch. She combines old-school talent with a fresh sensibility.

Her upper register evokes a less strident Joni Mitchell. And when she hits lower notes, Gazarek resembles Karen Carpenter. Don't laugh. While Gazarek's talent could withstand direct comparisons to Sarah Vaughan, Nancy Wilson and Ella Fitzgerald, Gazarek is completely contemporary.

She covered Mitchell's "Carey" (here's Joni's version) and Billy Joel last night (just like this).

Gazarek was backed by her regular pianist Josh Nelson. The reliably excellent Bob Bowman and Tommy Ruskin provided sympathetic support.

The small audience aside, the only disappointment was that the second set lasted only an hour. I could have listened to Gazarek sing all night.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, March 6, 2009

Jay McShann- Trouble In Mind

Here's an appropriate song for these exceedingly difficult times. "The sun's gonna shine in my back door someday," Julia Lee suggests moments before contemplating suicide. If it's true that we seek refuge in the classics during times of trouble, weary souls need look no further than this 1944 collaboration of Kansas City giants. If you have any money to spare, you can purchase the MP3 here. (It's out of print on CD.)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Trombonist Arch Martin has died. Dan Jaffe covered Martin's final Kansas City performance for Plastic Sax in 2007.

*Betty Crow told me that the Mutual Musicians Foundation would be featured in an upcoming issue of The New Yorker. She also confided that the 12 O'Clock Jump series is being picked up for broadcast by a public media outlet.

*The Star ran a very nice memorial to the late Vince Bilardo.

*The dustup about Cordish's dress codes may effect the Blue Room. Here's the Star's story.

*Heads up, jazz musicians. Don't miss this press release: Leveraging Investments in Creativity (LINC) has awarded a $100,000 challenge grant to a partnership of Kansas City arts and business support organizations to begin new professional development programs for artists in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. The funding will be used to offer: Artist, INC, a series of in-depth entrepreneurial seminars that will reach more than 100 artists over the next two years, and KCArtistLink, which will enable all artists in the region to connect to a network of nonprofit resource organizations that can provide information about business-building and support programs. Additional information is available at ArtsKC and LINC. It's time to dust off my saxophone.

*Exciting news: The American Jazz Museum is seeking promising middle school, high school and college musicians from Kansas City to apply and audition for its newly launched Jazz Institute program, which has been developed to provide an atmosphere where students can combine learning the fundamentals of jazz performance with real world performance and business experience.... The AJMI, which is open to students ages 14-21, will be administered by professional educators and musicians through rehearsals, master classes and live performances. Students will be required to participate in frequent rehearsals, private lessons, and meet individual benchmarks collaboratively established by instructors and students. Dennis Winslett, professional jazz musician and Education Specialist at the American Jazz Museum, will be spearheading the program in its inaugural season in 2009.

*The Star ran a somewhat unsympathetic review of Kevin Mahogany's show at The Folly.

*Ron McCurdy performs at Kansas City Kansas Community College March 11. It's included on Plastic Sax Event Calendar, as is Marilyn Maye's forthcoming four-night run at Jardine's. (If your event isn't listed, musicians, it's because you haven't submitted it.)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, March 2, 2009

The Smooth Jazz of AfterGroove

Few formerly popular genres of music are more out of favor than smooth jazz. The style is derided by elitists and ignored by the masses.

It's never bothered me. I first realized smooth jazz was my friend when I witnessed a classmate's older sister gyrating to Mister Magic in the mid-'70s.

I even chose to spend part of Fat Tuesday checking out smooth jazz band AfterGroove at Jardine's. They focused on the staples- Grover Washington, Jr., Herbie Mann and the like.

It didn't matter that the excellent musicians have virtually no stage presence. They were smooth.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)