Sunday, June 28, 2009

Al Pearson at the KCK Street Blues Festival

It's awfully nice of the organizers of the Kansas City Kansas Street Blues Festival to feature a handful of jazz artists at their event.

Dozens of working blues bands in town would be honored to play at the free two-day showcase. With the absence of a proper jazz festival in Kansas City this year, I wasn't about to let hellish heat prevent me from catching a bit of Saturday afternoon's jazz segment.

Well aware that the audience of about 250 was largely composed of beer-guzzling boogie fanatics, veteran jazz trumpeter Al Pearson turned on familiar material like Spyro Gyra's "Morning Dance," James Brown's "Cold Sweat" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On."

It wasn't high art, but given that the heat index was in the three digits, Pearson's approach was just right.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, June 26, 2009

Introducing The Kansas City Band

Meet the latest Kansas City jazz sensations. The Kansas City Band have the classic Basie charts down cold. More importantly, these dedicated cats capture the rollicking spirit that made Kansas City jazz so distinctive. If they were based here rather than in Japan, perhaps The Majestic would still be open for business. Check their MySpace for additional fine listening. My favorite track is 話な生活感溢れる日. Bram Winjands had better watch his back.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The announcement of this year's Jazz Journalists Awards confirmed the acumen of Kansas City's jazz presenters. Esperanza Spalding (Up & Coming Artist of the Year)- floored me at the Folly Theater last month. Terence Blanchard (Trumpeter of the Year) played the Folly in April. Lee Konitz (Lifetime Achievement In Jazz) and Bill Frisell (Guitarist of the Year) performed together at the Folly in 2006. The Blue Room has featured Dr. Lonnie Smith (Organist of the Year) both this year and in 2007. And the SF Jazz Collective (Small Ensemble Group of the Year) played the Gem Theater in 2007. Other local connections include Basie alumni Frank Wess (Flutist of the Year) and The Lester Young/Count Basie Sessions 1936-40 (Historical Recording Box Set).

*Rex Reed stays on the Marilyn Maye bandwagon. (Tip via Lee.)

*Joe Klopus implores jazz fans to support the scene.

*The Rest of the Story: Jazz History and Improvisation, a manual by saxophonist Alaadeen, was recently published. Here's Bobby Watson's blurb: "With this book, Alaadeen has opened the door to the complex mind of the jazz musician."

*I'm not sure what to make of Tony's Kansas City's assessment of the previous Plastic Sax post. That's ok- I'm not quite sure of what I was trying to say either.

*Last weekend's jazz festival in Saint Joseph was previewed by the St. Joe News.

*Andrew Zender shares his deep appreciation for Palmetto Records. Bobby Watson is part of the jazz label's roster.

*The reissue of Pat Metheny's One Quiet Night received a good review.

*The Jazz District has two new not-for-profit tenants.

*Here's an amusingly awkward video interview with Beena Rajalekshimi of Jardine's.

*Yours truly will participate in a discussion about the state of jazz in Kansas City on KCUR's Up To Date Thursday.

(Original image by Plastic Sax. This is the interminable line to enter last week's big jazz pop concert at Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone.)

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Get a Gimmick

Get a gimmick.

That's the lesson other jazz musicians might learn from Karrin Allyson.

In her case, it has nothing to do with music. As I noted in my review of the first of her four shows at Jardine's last week, Allyson continues to travel down the same musical path.

Much of the coverage and chatter surrounding Allyson's return to Kansas City focused on her reputation as a temperamental artist. I've seen Allyson express displeasure from the stage in the past. But I'm sympathetic- inattentive audience behavior is a recurring topic at Plastic Sax. I was pleased, consequently, when the card pictured here was distributed to Allyson's audience.

Whether her so-called "attitude" is real or not, many people who wouldn't otherwise care about Allyson enjoy discussing her demeanor. The shtick enhances her performances even as it raises her visibility.

Allyson isn't the only Kansas City-related jazz musician with a gimmick. Dave Stephens continues to expand his audience with a manic visual display. The Scamps are marketed as the city's elder statesmen. The McFadden Brothers dance. And don't forget about David Basse's hat.

Many musicians might suggest that their work speaks for itself and that a gimmick would only cheapen their art. Perhaps. But in an environment in which it's exceedingly difficult for a jazz musician to get noticed, I'd encourage them to embrace every possible angle.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A Rare Look at Mary Lou Williams

The more I learn about Mary Lou Williams, the more awed I become. For years I thought of her in purely historical terms. I only knew that the pianist made essential contributions to the development of Kansas City jazz in the 1930s. Partly because her discography is in shambles, I didn't realize how radically Williams evolved after she moved to New York. She performed in a variety of settings, including organ jazz, bop, funk, and adventurous Christian-themed music. This recently-uploaded footage was captured a year before Williams' 1981 death.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*NPR's jazz blog analyzed the data contained in a recent National Endowment of the Arts study. Here are a few gruesome lowlights: 7.8% of Americans saw a jazz show in 2008; the median age of the jazz audience is now 46; the college-educated jazz audience has dropped 29% since 2002; 7.3% of (18-24 year olds) went (to a jazz show) in 2008. Imagine the results if the contributions of crossover artists Diana Krall, Chris Botti and Michael Buble weren't counted.

*There's no Kansas City-specific content in this item either, but in light of the hiatus of Rhythm & Ribs, I recommend the Los Angeles Times' fascinating study of the challenges related to booking a jazz festival.

*The Pitch announced the nominees for their 2009 music awards. Jazz Ensemble- The People's Liberation Big Band, The Jazz Disciples, Snuff Jazz, Organic Proof, The McFadden Brothers, The Wild Women of Kansas City. Jazz Solo Artist- Mark Lowrey, Bram Wijnands, Everette DeVan, Megan Birdsall, Bobby Watson, Pearl Thurston Brown. Here's the ballot.

*Karrin Allyson's two-night run at Jardine's is previewed by Hearne Christopher.

*The New York Times goes ga-ga for Marilyn Maye. (Tip via Lee.)

*The management of Leawood's Gaslight Grill would like Plastic Sax readers to be reminded that Dixieland artist Lynn Zimmer continues his residency at the establishment.

*Bartlesville hosts Gary Burton and Chick Corea tonight at the OK Mozart Festival. Corea was here three or four years ago but I can't even recall when Burton last played in Kansas City.

*Joel Francis reviewed Roy Ayers' recent appearance.

*I was surprised to learn that there was a second annual Kansas City Memorial Juneteenth Jazz & Arts Festival last Saturday.

*Saxophonist Charlie Mariano died yesterday. Born in 1923, he was just three years younger than Charlie Parker. The man continued to explore new sounds well into the new millennium. (Tip via BGO.)

*Jack Nimitz also died recently. His connections to Kansas City include playing with pianist Ronnell Bright in Supersax.

*Kevin Rabas has published a new book of poetry. Jazz is one of the Kansan's frequent topics.

*The 2009-10 concert season of The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra has been leaked via Facebook. Edited slightly for length: #1- "Big Band Meets Hollywood"; September 25, 2009 - Folly Theater ... a fun evening of songs made popular by movies and TV shows from the 40's through today. These memory invoking tunes arranged for a big band will be easy to recognize and easy to listen to. Popcorn provided. #2: "The Best of the Big Bands" January 9, 2010 - Yardley Hall. ... an assortment of hits from legendary big bands such as Basie, Ellington, Kenton, Herman and Goodman. #3: "Sweet Kansas City" April 30, 2010 - Folly Theater ... a presentation of the complete "Kansas City Suite" by Benny Carter, a ten movement body of work... The shows have been added to the Kansas City Jazz Calendar

*Finally, I'd like to thank commenter L.F.B. who took me to task in a recent post. I don't particularly care for his/her tone or negativity but I love interacting with Plastic Sax's readers. I'm grateful to all 17 of you.

(Original image by Plastic Sax. This is the interminable line to enter last week's big jazz hip hop concert at Capitol Federal Park at Sandstone.)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Not So Majestic

Poor Bram Wijnands.

That was the first thing that came to mind when I read that the Majestic Steakhouse was, as the Star put it, gone for good. As is regularly noted at Plastic Sax, the outstanding entertainer is perhaps the single finest purveyor of Kansas City's classic jazz sound. The Majestic's basement, in my mind at least, was his room.

Beyond the misfortunes of Wijnands and other musicians, however, is an even more significant loss. The Majestic featured what most casual listeners and visitors from out of town have in mind when they think of "Kansas City jazz."

Here's an example. While attending Steve Coleman's performance at The Blue Room in April, a very nice couple asked me if the experimental musician intended to "play like that all night." What the pair wanted to hear instead was old-fashioned swing music. It was nice knowing that I could confidently direct them to The Majestic. The likes of The Scamps, Joe Cartwright, Julie Turner and Tommy Ruskin would be sure to please them.

The three primary jazz-oriented rooms remaining in Kansas City feature a much broader stylistic range than did The Majestic. The music offered at The Blue Room, Jardine's and The Phoenix isn't always a natural fit for tourists and convention-goers.

Visitors to New Orleans know they'll hear "When the Saints Go Marching In" in the French Quarter. "Sweet Home Chicago" is played nightly in many of the Windy City's blues bars. With The Majestic gone, a tourist in Kansas City is no longer guaranteed the opportunity to hear a jazz band performing a Count Basie number.

That hurts.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Plastic Sax Interview With Brian Haas of The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey

One of today's most compelling and forward-thinking jazz-oriented acts, The Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, performs late shows Friday and Saturday night at Jardine's. Plastic Sax conducted an interview with the band's keyboardist and co-founder Brian Haas.

Plastic Sax: I've been enjoying Petting Sounds, your new solo piano album. Given its title and other connections to The Beach Boys, I expected to hear obvious echoes of "God Only Knows." Instead, it's more like Erik Satie. Are you able to showcase your background in classical music at JFJO shows?

Brian Haas: Indeed I am, though the extent depends upon the material of that tour, and even varies from performance to performance. I used to practice classical piano incessantly, at age 16 I was performing Beethoven at the Performing Arts Center in Tulsa, and so in a lot of ways that classical edge is an inseparable piece of my playing. Many sylistic elements rear their head throughout a performance with JFJO. Also, currently JFJO is working on some reinterpretations of Beethoven's 3rd and 6th symphonies. Between that and Petting Sounds the classical background I have is more in the limelite than ever before.

PS: Do you feel that your musical eclecticism- your range includes classical, bop, swing and covers of rock songs- hurts or helps the appeal of JFJO? Or is it- as I suspect- a moot point because your creative vision gives you no other choice but to play all kinds of music?

BH: Great question. As a whole I'd like to think it really helps us, bringing in elements of music that interest and turn on a wide range of demographics. It's great because we can find a fan in some of the strangest places. For instance often a cover tune, by The Beatles, or The Flaming Lips, will bring on many people who might be hesitant to dive into a 'jazz odyssey'. Conversely people like to be able to label things, and when a band like JFJO sounds different every album, every year, every tour, well, people aren't alway comfortable with that change. Luckily we have an incredible fanbase of humans who like to listen.

PS: The remix promotion for "Tetherball Triumph" was incredibly cool. Did any of the submissions surprise you? If software like ProTools and GarageBand existed when you were a kid do you think you'd still have become a "proper" musician or would the technology have seduced you into pursuing performance and composition from a different direction?

BH: Not necessarily surprise me, but definitely made me smile, or do a double take at least. It's quite likely I'd still be playing the piano, but it's also quite possible I'd be playing DJ sets all over the globe!

PS: Petting Sounds is available as a free download. Several JFJO recordings are also available online for no money. What's your philosophy on giving away music? Do you and the band perceive recorded music more as a promotional tool than as a means of earning income?

BH: I think it is a genius incarnation of creative capitalism. Since we released those albums in the past six months, we have had lots of great growth. Our email list for instance, went from about 6,000 to 16,000+ contacts. The music and our message is finding more and more people every day, and that's what it is all about. That and jazz millions, which is why our next album One Day in Brooklyn is a an EP that we are actually selling. There is definitely a balance, but the free dissemination of music has really worked well for us by increasing our fan base, and thus bringing out more humans to our shows.

PS: One of the pet theories I espouse at Plastic Sax is that the future of "jazz"- at least in terms of a viable American audience- lies with the jam band fans. The people who remember jazz as popular music- be it Stanley Turrentine or Glenn Miller- are dying off. Yet many kids who are otherwise into rock bands like String Cheese Incident are also interested in progressive instrumental music- in other words, music like JFJO's. What's your take on this?

BH: JFJO has long been championed and ingrained within the Jam world. We are extremely grateful for our ability to appeal to such a wide range of people. We're also blessed to have found a niche inside such an open minded community as the jam scene.

PS: You played the inaugural Arkansas version of Wakarusa last weekend. How was it?

BH: Incredible. The Arkansas location is in the middle of some gorgeous country. I have hiked, camped, and canoed in the region many times, and our last album Winterwood was recorded in Arkansas, so the location really spoke to me. JFJO played a crushing set at the festival, with an incredible turnout and reaction to the new quartet lineup. I hope the festival continues to thrive in Arkansas for years to come.

PS: Can you share any inappropriate stories about your fellow Oklahomans The Flaming Lips? Since this interview is for a humble jazz blog, you're safe to fire away.

BH: Haha, I love the Flaming Lips, and wish I had some inappropriate stories I could share.

PS: You've previously played Jardine's in Kansas City. Do have any special connections to the club or to Kansas City? Are there any last-minute instructions or warnings you'd like to share with your fans in Kansas City?

BH: We love KC! The show last January was sold out before we got into the city. Our good friend Mark Southerland is a legendary human from KC, and will be joining us both evenings as special guest. Get your tickets early!

Can't get enough? The Star's Steve Paul also interviewed Haas.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*I won't even pretend to play it cool. I am positively ecstatic that Mojo, the self-proclaimed "world's best music magazine," gave Plastic Sax a modest write-up in its June issue. Prior to the advent of the internet, I practically memorized every word printed in the prestigious British publication. Thanks go out to the anonymous reader of this site for the initial tip, BigSteveNO's comment in the previous post and my friend Steve for sending me the text:

Kansas City Here I Come: The website Plastic Sax is named from Charlie Parker's plastic Grafton alto that sold for $144,500 in 1995. The site is devoted to Kansas City jazz, a genre that spawned Count Basie, Ben Webster, Joe Turner, Lester Young, Jimmy Rushing, Coleman Hawkins, Julia Lee and, in more recent times, boasted such names as Pat Metheny, Bobby Watson, Oleta Adams and Marva Whitney. The news and views span past and present, sparked by videos featuring Kevin Mahogany, a vocalist much admired by Clint Eastwood, and the remarkable Krystle Warren, another singer, whose individual way with unlikely material could endear her to a MOJO audience."

*Free outdoor concerts every Friday at 18th & Vine? Maybe- according to this Pitch report.

*The Bonner Springs Chieftan catches up with Myra Taylor, a Bonner Springs native.

*The Star chats with the organizers of this weekend's Jazz in the Woods festival.

*Noted without comment: Not one of the five acts booked for the Kansas City Zoo's annual fundraiser, Jazzoo, was a jazz artist.

*The American Jazz Museum is hosting the "The Next Generation Jazz Summit" July 6-7. From a press release: With a lineup featuring the KCMO All-District Jazz Ensemble, the KCMO National Teen Poetry Slam Team, the American Jazz Museum Jazz Future ensemble, the Kansas City Youth Jazz Ensemble, the Houston All-City Jazz Ensemble and the Monterey Jazz Festival Next Generation Jazz Orchestra, the Summit at 18th & Vine will be buzzing with the sounds of the talented youth who will advance jazz music and spoken word into new territories, injecting it with fresh ideas and concepts, matched with youthful energy and enthusiasm.

*St. Joseph's jazz festival is previewed in an editorial in the St. Joe News.

*The late Jay McShann will be honored at a Juneteenth celebration in Muskogee, Oklahoma, this weekend. Here's a report in the Muskogee Phoenix.

*Young trumpeter Hermon Mehari now has a MySpace account.

*National publication JazzTimes "has temporarily suspended publication of the magazine." I'm convinced that the future of jazz publishing lies with online fans sites like Plastic Sax and with a handful of government-subsidized advocates.

*Cafe Trio has opened at its new location at 4558 Main (near Jardine's).

*Don't forget about the new, improved and exportable Kansas CIty Jazz Calendar.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Logan Richardson At Jardine's

Many jazz instrumentalists play notes simply because it's in their job description.

It's all-to-easy to get away with being utterly uninspired. I often witness polite applause for guys who are settling for playing pretty or are lazily repeating stagnant formulas.

Not Logan Richardson.

A highly-charged May 27 set at Jardine's was loaded with urgent playing. Richardson's insistent solos on soprano and alto saxophones were brimming with intriguing ideas and original concepts.

The audience numbered exactly twenty. A table of four musicians appreciated Richardson, but some in the room seemed put off by the frenetic attack.

His confident work contained echoes of Sonny Rollins, Oliver Lake and John Coltrane. Not to take anything away from Jake Blanton, the night's fine guitarist, but I would have preferred to hear Richardson work with only the support of a rhythm section.

One got the sense that Richardson's musical searches never quite found their destinations. Even so, hearing an artist explore unsuccessfully can be far more compelling than settling for someone who's just going through the motions.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Now's the Time: Roy Ayers

When I think of Roy Ayers, much more than funky jazz comes to mind. The Plastic Sax compound is a drug-free environment, but I can't hear Ayers' 1976 sound without being transported back to smoke-filled rooms filled with paranoid lawbreakers. The 68-year-old vibraphonist will play the Juneteenth Family Festival June 13.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*I suspect the future of jazz looks a lot like this- young, arty, government-subsidized and shared via Twitter.

*All About Jazz enthusiastically reviewed Sons of Brazil's While You Were Out.

*Steve Paul endorses Trio All.

*The sequel to the Metheny Music Foundation video "Pages From the Scrapbook" has been posted at YouTube. Additionally, Mike Metheny's hilarious essay on the noise level in area jazz clubs is once again available at his site.

*Kansas City-based writer Robert Folsom reviews reissues of albums by Freddie Hubbard, Art Tatum and other jazz greats at his new site.

*Drummer Al Foster, 65, plays Jardine's October 14-15.

*Carmell Jones is perhaps the most important "forgotten" Kansas City jazz musician. The trumpeter now has an entry at

*The co-chair of KCRiverFest laments the absence of a 2009 Rhythm and Ribs event.

*Rick Hellman profiled artist Janet Kuemmerlein. He notes that she "has embarked upon a series of portraits of female jazz singers." The series includes the likenesses of Marilyn Maye, Karrin Allyson and Carol Comer.

*Joe Klopus previewed area appearances by drummer Allison Miller.

*John Brewer announces the release of a forthcoming recording project.

*I spotted this text at the Mutual Musicians Foundation's site: August 29: the birthday of Charlie “Bird” Parker. That’s a Saturday and on that day at “The Foundation” there will be 5 special events: 1. MUSICIANS! At 10AM a photo will be taken of all Musicians on the front steps of the Foundation (you remember one was taken in 1999 so this will be a 10 year anniversary). 2. Friends of the Foundation! just after the Musicians photo another photo will be taken of any and all friends of the Foundation (all friends including musicians). 3. FLAGS OF FAME – On each light pole between 18th & 19th Streets on HIGHLAND, banners will be hung and each banner will depict one or two musicians who have been important to JaZZ in Kansas City 4. JAZZ on Stage (you know it will be good). 5. Historian Sonny Gibson bring displays and tell about the life of Charlie Parker. August 30 After the Sunday salute to “Bird” at the Cemetery, all are welcome to come to “The Foundation” for JAZZ and fried Chicken (no entry fee and free Chicken until it is gone).

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, June 1, 2009

The New Kansas City Jazz Calendar

The Kansas City jazz calendar has a new format. I hope you find it helpful even though I no longer include artist links. The calendar's permanent address is still here. As always, artists, agents and club managers are encouraged to email bookings to happyinbag(at)