Thursday, January 28, 2010

Now's the Time: Randy Weston

Randy Weston performs February 4 at the American Jazz Museum. The recording career of the 83-year-old pianist has covered a lot of ground. It includes Monk-like bop, Afro-centric spirituality and CTI's patented pop-funk.

I'm geeked for his appearance, although the billing- "Jammin' For Wellness: Jazz as an International Catalyst for Medical and Spiritual Healing"- is less than promising. The event's description is similarly baffling:
Mr. Weston will perform and discuss elements of his celebrated Uhuru Africa Suite (now celebrating its 50th anniversary) and its role as a spiritual healer within the context of his work in Central Africa.
Alas, the album in question is out-of-print.

Interested parties are instructed to "RSVP by February 1, 2010 to Glenn North at (816)474-8463 ext. 221 or" I've sent an email and left a voice mail. I have yet to receive any sort of confirmation. I've resorted to the power of positive thinking.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Steve Paul investigates Pat Metheny's robots and lives to tell about it. I'm also impressed by this Metheny-related post.

*KCJazzLark shares his gorgeous photos of Deborah Brown's recent appearance at the Blue Room.

*Former Kansas Citian Terry Teachout pitched his new book about Louis Armstrong on Steve Kraske's KCUR show Tuesday. Download the broadcast here.

*According to this business story, "there will be live jazz" at a new Johnson County restaurant.

*The appearance of the late Claude "Fiddler" Williams' instrument at Mark O'Connor's concert at the Folly Theater provided quite a moment. Here's a review of the performance.

*Michael Pagan's new album Three For the Ages was released last week.

*From an email solicitation for a February 7 show at the Record Bar: The People's Liberation Big Band celebrates Super Bowl Sunday by performing the Who's halftime show. I really hope they're not kidding.

*The event is posted on the Kansas City Jazz Calendar, but Plastic Sax readers might appreciate this reminder that Randy Weston is performing February 4 at the American Jazz Museum.

*From a Johnson County Community College press release: The Candace Evans Trio will open the free spring Jazz Series at noon Tuesday, Feb. 23, in the Recital Hall of the Carlsen Center... The Jazz Series continues at noon Tuesday in the Recital Hall except as noted: March 2- Rob Whitsitt Quartet, March 9- Horace Washington Quartet, March 16- Carol Comer with PBT, March 23- Al Pearson Quartet, March 30- Bowdog featuring Jerry Hahn Seating is available first-come, first-served.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An Art Gallery, a Baptist Church and a Rock Club: Notes From Three Unlikely Jazz Performances

Some of the most intriguing jazz performances take place in the unlikeliest of places. The results, as the following notes indicate, range from heavenly to hellish.

The Sam Wisman Group- The Record Bar, January 10

One of the most encouraging trends of the past 18 months is the increased number of jazz bookings at The Record Bar. The intimate venue offers excellent sound and lighting.

The promotion of shows at the indie rock-oriented club is often the responsibility of the artists. That's where this gig got a little dicey. Even on the day of the show, the venue's site maintained that the People's Liberation Big Band was providing the evening's entertainment. Much to the dismay of many, including one of my colleagues, it wasn't the case. Thankfully, keyboardist T.J. Martley took the trouble to inform me via Facebook that he'd be playing in a group led by drummer Sam Wisman (pictured above). Saxophonist Matt Otto and bassist Seth Lee would also be on hand to pay tribute, Markley indicated, to Lennie Tristano.

They were fiendishly good. The attack on Tristano classics like "317 E. 32nd" and "Crosscurrents" ranged from prickly to lyrical. "Lennie's Pennies" resembled music from a cocktail lounge that specializes in absinthe. So stunning was the playing of Matt Otto that I'm seriously considering going Dean Benedetti on him.

Although the group specializes in difficult music that will never appeal to a massive audience, it was a shame that only about 30 people were on hand to hear their first outing. The majority of the meager crowd were other musicians and the band's family members.

It's no coincidence that links to Wisman and CrossCurrent, the unfortunate name for the ensemble, aren't provided here. They don't exist. As regular readers of Plastic Sax already know, that lack of basic promotional work infuriates me.

The Black House Improvisors' Collective- Paragraph Gallery, January 15

While I'm deeply annoyed by Wisman's indifference to promotion, I almost lost my mind during a nightmarish outing by Black House Improvisors' Collective at a downtown art gallery. I continue to rave about their exciting debut last October and I had been eagerly anticipating their second gig. This version of the collective included ringers Chris Burnett and the aforementioned Otto (pictured below).

So how was it? Beats me. I couldn't hear a damn thing. The room was packed with hipsters (above). Their shenanigans completely drowned out the band. I'd hoped they'd leave for a space where a DJ was spinning The xx, but the oblivious bohemians stuck around.

Thankfully, the performance was recorded by someone who was able to filter out much of the noise. Download it here. The collective is also booked at The Record Bar on January 31.

William Sanders- Pleasant Valley Baptist Church, January 19

The senior recital of UMKC jazz student and Diverse saxophonist William Sanders (below) was immensely rewarding. Sanders' playing ranged from the soul-jazz of Gene Ammons to the spirituality of John Coltrane. His sensual work on "B-Day Song" suggested that he forgot he was in a (acoustically perfect) church. Zachary Sanders (presumably William's brother) assisted on drums. Much to the consternation of the wonderfully expressive keyboardist Karren Schiele, Diverse's brash drummer Ryan Lee sat in on one song.

Sanders' presentation didn't end when the music stopped. He noted that it was no accident that the program included hymns like "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and "Jesus is All the World to Me." He offered stern testimony about his faith. While I don't share Sanders' perspective on salvation, I found his plea refreshing. And the music? Sanders' heartfelt performance might find a spot on my year-end top ten list.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Now's the Time: Frank Vignola

Frank Vignola joins fiddler Mark O'Connor Saturday at the Folly Theater. As he demonstrates in this video, which also features the wonderful Bucky Pizzarelli, Vignola is the type of guitarist who can play incomprehensibly fast. Because the concert is billed as a tribute to Django Reinhardt, "Limehouse Blues" will almost certainly be featured Saturday. Heather Masse will provide vocals. Joe Klopus previewed the concert.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Did you know that Count Basie and John Coltrane once met? Here's proof. (Discovered via Jazz Wax.) And I don't know why this footage of Count Basie has received an astounding 10,000 views in five days, but it's a real treasure.

*Robert Trussell spoke with Mark O'Connor. The fiddler performs January 23 at The Folly Theater.

*KCJazzLark tells a charming story about meeting Andy Kirk.

*The American Jazz Museum will feature a day of Mary Lou Williams-related activities on January 23. The authors of a new children's book about Williams are among the participants.

*Joel Francis hangs out with Mouth.

*Pat Metheny's Orchestrion is currently ranked at #51 on Amazon's list of best-selling music titles.

*The University Daily Kansan touts Kansas City's jazz clubs.

*Suburban Prairie Village, Kansas, has seemingly caught the jazz bug. Air Force ensemble The Noteables perform at Asbury Methodist Church on January 31. And I spotted the following notice in the Village Voice (ha!): The 1st Annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival, on September 10th and 11th, 2010, is looking for volunteers to help plan and implement this premier event for our City, as members of the “Friends of PV Jazz Festival” ensemble. Please join us on Wednesday, January 27, 2010 at 6:30 pm to sign up as a member and learn more about how you can help make this fabulous opportunity a big success enhancing our City’s appreciation of the rich and plentiful jazz culture shared by many in our community.

*A new round of 12 O'Clock Jump has been announced. (Tip via a friend of Plastic Sax.) From a Theater League press release:
January 23- Featured Artist Django Reinhardt; Special Guests Rod Fleeman and Dan Bliss
January 30- Featured Artist Stan Getz; Special Guests Kim Park and Doug Talley
February 6- Featured Artist Walter Page; Special Guests Bobby Watson and Sean Jones
February 13- Featured Artist, Harold Arlen; Special Guests Harry Allen and Grant Stewart
February 20- Featured Artist David “Fathead” Newman; Special Guest Horace Washington
February 27- Featured Artist Richie Cole; Special Guests Jim Mair and Kerry Strayer
March 6- Featured Artist Bix Biederbecke; Special Guest Barry Springer
March 13- Featured Artist Quincy Jones; Special Guest TBA
March 20- Featured Artist George Benson; Special Guest Danny Embrey
March 27- Featured Artist, Red Norvo; Special Guest Kent Means

*The twenty comments in response to last week's Confirmation post set a Plastic Sax record. Thanks, one and all, for reading and participating.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Matt Chalk: The Plastic Sax Interview

I've attended innumerable music performances by students. They're alternately charming and tedious. I was startled, consequently, when a remarkable solo jarred me from a daydream at an outing by a high school jazz band in 2008. A kid was quoting Charlie Parker like he actually meant it.

It was Matt Chalk.

I've monitored his progress from a distance ever since. When I saw Bobby Watson greet him like a respected colleague a couple weeks ago, I realized it was time to learn more about the promising 18-year-old. He's performing at the Grammy Awards in a couple weeks and will go on tour this spring as a substitute member of Diverse.

Plastic Sax: I usually know quite a bit about the musicians I interview. Largely because you're a in high school student, you're an exception. I've heard your solos with the Shawnee Mission East bands and with other ensembles around town. Not to take anything away from any of your classmates, but you are clearly a more mature and thoughtful player than most kids. Do you take music more seriously than your peers?

Matt Chalk: I can't be sure that I take music more seriously, but I feel I am very dedicated to it. I can recall the first time I played something jazz-like, not even a year into playing the horn. Something definitely clicked inside of me; I was immediately drawn to the music. I spent a lot of time as a younger kid listening and observing and absorbing everything I could about jazz. At the time (and perhaps even now), most of my friends were all caught up in sports and video games and what not. So in that sense, I was kind of ahead of my peers even then.

PS: Do you think of yourself as "gifted" or do just practice and think about music a lot?

MC: I wouldn't say I am gifted at all, I've just had a lot of early exposure and worked a lot of things out on my own. But yeah, I'm constantly thinking about music. To me, there is nothing more important than music, whether I'm listening or practicing or writing or performing. It is something that has always been inside me, even though I didn't know it until I discovered it.

PS: I see you gigging around quite a bit- sitting in at jam sessions, playing with New Vintage Big Band, New Jazz Order, etc. Can you detail everything you're involved in?

MC: Well, I'm a regular now in both of those bands, which is a great opportunity I am really thankful for. Being in those bands have really helped my reading chops. But other than that, the practicing and networking is really starting to take root and more small group opportunities are starting to open up. I've lead my own groups, and been a sideman in other small groups. This spring, I'll be out more often with other groups as a sideman, which has been one of my career-long goals. There are plans for a brand new group made up of Ben Leifer, Matt Hopper, Ryan Lee, Hermon Mehari, and myself. I hope that the group finds a place to play, I really like those guys and it would be a good experience for me. It's fun to start to see my goals take shape. Stay posted for more to come!

PS: I shouldn't assume that you're purely a jazz guy. For all I know, you're also in death metal and ska bands. What are your musical interests?

MC: Right now, I am really focusing on my jazz playing. I don't really see myself becoming as devoted to any other genre as I do jazz. But I really like funk, reggae, R&B, and world music, and these have all influenced my playing to a certain degree.

PS: Is high school band good for an aspiring musician? Does anything productive come out of being involved in marching bands and pep bands?

MC: As a freshman and sophomore, I really enjoyed high school band: symphonic band, orchestra, marching band, pep band, the whole bit. But as I started to get more and more involved around town by the time I was into my junior year, band had began to be sort of unfulfilling to me. It has had it's purpose, and I can't be more happy with my experiences in high school band. But I really enjoy doing my thing with the older cats too.

I saw Bobby Watson walk off the bandstand to shake your hand the other night. What's your relationship with him?

MC: I first met Bobby years ago when I was just starting to get into jazz, through Leon Brady's Kansas City Youth Jazz Band program. He came and sat in and we got to play with him at a few festivals. I have also participated in the UMKC Jazz Camp, where I was able to work with him one on one. Recently, I've been fortunate enough to take some lessons from him, and plan to in the future as well. I really really respect him as a musician and a person, and he was one of those guys that really got me into it and inspired me. And each time I hear him or see him, I feel the same way; inspired to work harder and really take my musicianship to the next level.

PS: It's my understanding that your mother is a jazz vocalist. Is that correct? What role did your parents play in your musical development?

MC: Yes, my mother Laura Chalk is a jazz vocalist. She is the one person who has always helped me and supported me along the way. Subconsciously, she really pushed me as a younger musician. I knew that one day, once I was good enough, I would be able to play gigs with her. That's what I wanted more than anything, to play a gig. So I worked and worked, and eventually, by the time I was 13 or 14, I was playing with her at clubs all over town. She would always hire the best musicians too, which was a huge benefit. Being able to play with people like Bob Bowman, Danny Embrey, Paul Smith, Roger Wilder, and others at such a young age really exposed me to what jazz is all about. It was such a blessing to have had those opportunities, and is something I am very thankful for.

Who are your inspirations among jazz saxophonists?

MC: It all started with Bird. That's all I listened to for years. He was and still is a huge inspiration. But more recently, I've been getting into a lot of Coltrane, Kenny Garrett, Jerry Bergonzi, Joe Henderson, Wayne Shorter, Vincent Herring, and of course everyone else. You can take inspiration from anyone or anything. But I certainly love to listen!

PS: Who are your favorite Kansas City-area musicians? And if you could form a dream band of local players, who would be in it?

MC: Matt Otto. Matt is one of those guys who is also an amazing musician and person. I really like his playing, especially his shapes. He uses a lot of wide intervals, but not to the point it seems angular. He is such a deep, logical player. I really dig that. Matt would definitely be in my dream band. I also really like Hermon Mehari's playing. His concept is also something I really admire about his playing. He says something with each solo. He tells a story each time he plays. That is something of Hermon's I have been inspired by, and attempt to incorporate when I play. Roger Wilder would be the pianist. I took some lessons from him over the summer, and he is really top notch. He knows so much!! If you catch him in the right setting, be prepared to be blown away. On bass it would either be Bob Bowman or Ben Leifer. I've known Bob for a long time, and he is truly one of the best musicians in town, regardless of the genre. And I really like Ben's playing and I feel comfortable playing with him. On drums, I'm not sure who I would have, Kansas City has a lot of great drummers. I like Sam Wiseman a lot, and Ryan Lee. I've played with Ryan a lot and each time, Ryan really pushes me to places I would have never gone before. Also, Brian Steever. Look out for Brian. He's young but he sounds so mature and has a loose feel, but he swings hard!

PS: You've been honored for your work with the Shawnee Mission East band. Please list the awards you've received.

MC: Our jazz program has been to many regional festivals, we try to go to about two or three a year. We have been to the Baker Jazz Festival, Missouri State Jazz Festival, the Drury Jazz Festival, and a music festival in Winter Park, CO, among others. Since I joined the program in 2007, each one we went to I was named the outstanding soloist of the festival. I also was named to the 2009 Telluride Jazz All-Star Ensemble, a group selected by audition. The eight of us all convened in Telluride CO. for a week last summer and played in clubs in town and also performed twice at the Telluride Jazz Festival. We got to meet Bill Frisell, Donald Harrison, Christian Scott, Greg Osby, Jimmy Herring, and others. That was a neat experience. But just recently, I was chosen as one of the members of the 2010 Grammy Band. I can't wait for that!

PS: You're going to the Grammys! Can you explain how that came about? Do you know what you'll be performing there? If you could have a serendipitous encounter with any one celebrity at the Grammys, with whom would it be?

MC: Yeah, that was by audition too. They picked about 18 or so musicians for a big band from all across North America, and I was lucky enough to make it. They fly us out and for about a week and a half and we play, play, play. We'll be playing at several clubs throughout the week, and at different events including the awards after party. We'll be performing with jazz legends James Moody and Kenny Burrell and others, so we're playing some of their charts. And if I had an encounter with someone, I would have to pick one of the living legends who might be there. Maybe like Wayne Shorter or someone. But that's kind of greedy to say, considering we'll be playing with James Moody and Kenny Burrell!

PS: Do you intend to pursue music as a career? Have you made any post-high school plans?

MC: Music is the only thing I can do (haha). I definitely want to pursue music as a career. After high school, I plan on moving to New York City to go to school. I just got my audition dates for Manhattan School of Music and the New School, so I'm hoping I can get a scholarship to go there!

(Original image of Matt Chalk at the Paragraph Gallery by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Mark Lowrey vs Hip Hop: And the Winner Is...

Other obligations (Allen Toussaint's glorious concert at the Folly Theater) prevented me from attending my dream show. Thankfully, several people filmed much of Friday's showdown at the Czar Bar.

As I suggested last August, the pairing of Mark Lowrey and Sephiroth demanded a sequel. It seems obvious to me that ongoing collaborations between area jazz and hip hop artists can be artistically and commercially fruitful. A friend noted that the "Czar Bar was packed like sardines from 10-12."

Hermon Mehari, the Plastic Sax Person of the Year, was among the jazz musicians contributing to Mark Lowrey's loping grooves. The MCs on stage in this clip include Sephiroth, Swayzorblades, Vertigone and Les Izmore.

The big winner? Why, everyone, of course!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*"I think one could say it's the Wynton Marsalis/Ken Burns style of jazz history that gave us the 18th & Vine 'Jazz District,' which is one of the most depressing places on earth," avers Peter Lawless. The full interview with the musician is at the Black House Improvisors' Collective site. The ensemble performs Friday at the Paragraph Art Gallery and Sunday at the Record Bar.

*Joe Klopus' invaluable weekly column returns.

*The Pat Metheny media blitz is in full swing. The BBC offers a podcast. Metheny's segment begins at the 6:05 mark and ends at 12:45. An Australian publication marvels at Metheny's new project. Further evidence that the Orchestrion mania is real is the fact that this YouTube preview was viewed over 30,000 times in six days.

*Mike Metheny pays tribute to the Folly Theater's Doug Tatum.

*The latest missive from KCJazzLark is, as usual, quite compelling.

*Matt Otto's new book, Modern Jazz Vocabulary, Vol. 1, is now available.

*Hearts of Darkness and The People's Liberation Big Band made Lucas Wetzel's thoughtful top shows of 2009 list.

*Mark Edelman suggests a "jazz crawl" on Thursday.

*Ink previewed the Mark Lowrey vs Hip Hop show. So did Tim Finn.

*Present reviews Mouth.

*The Star offers an enthusiastic review of Allen Toussaint's concert at the Folly Theater. So do The Pitch and the Daily Record.

*A reviewer detected jazz influences in a composition by Menachem Wiesenberg at a performance by the Kansas City Symphony.

*A blogger shares his photographs and thoughts about last year's big gathering on the steps of the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*Here's another road trip alert: Dean Minderman of St. Louis Jazz Notes reports that King Sunny Ade will perform in his town on April 20. I call shotgun.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

Beau Bledsoe: The Plastic Sax Interview

Beau Bledsoe freely admits that he isn't a jazz musician. Yet he regularly collaborates with many of Kansas City's most adventurous jazz artists. Intrigued by his new Alaturka project, I recently conducted an extensive interview via email with Bledsoe. The unique insights of the accomplished guitarist should prove invaluable to Bledsoe's fellow musicians. Discriminating music fans might find Bledsoe's compelling perspective intriguing.

Plastic Sax: The list of accomplishments in your biography is almost overwhelming. You've seemingly been everywhere and played everything. Are you able to provide a concise description of your work as a musician?

Beau Bledsoe: I facilitate “auditory handshakes” between instrumentalists from Kansas City and artists from other parts of the world. I produce musical conversations that honor both artists’ cultural backgrounds and my vision of a new and interesting sound.

PS: You're remarkably versatile. Just how many different styles of music do you perform? And exactly how many instruments do you play?

BB: Most of my work is classical chamber music. I also perform Argentine Tango, Flamenco, Mexican Folkloric, and Turkish Music. I play the guitar and the Arabic oud, which I suspect are really the same thing.

PS: How many different musical settings did you perform in last year? What ensembles are your top priorities in 2010?

BB: If anything, my work is always changing month to month. Last year I composed and performed musical interludes for Carmen with the Kansas City Ballet. I worked in a great ensemble Flamenco Mio including KC tenor Mark Southerland and a great Flamenco dancer from Sevilla, Melinda Hedgecorth. I played a lot of local shows with my wife Zhanna Saparova who is also a great Flamenco dancer. A few Argentine tango shows and a Turkish festival in NYC. Brandon Draper and I did a ton of duo performances around KC. I think my personal favorite was an impromptu “Night of Boleros” at Café Sebastienne with Guatemalan violinist, Sergio Reyes and Paraguayan percussionist, Fernando Achúcarro. I really love those pretty old songs. I also played Baroque continuo for the Bach Aria Soloists and played with my friend Nathan Granner a lot. For January 2010 my top priority is Alaturka. We’re in the midst of recording and defining our sound at the same time. I also have a new recording coming out with Soprano, Victoria Botero that is very close to being finished.

PS: My sincere appreciation for a vast range of music often startles people. It even makes passionate advocates of just one sound angry. It seems only natural to me. I can't imagine limiting myself to just one type of music. What types of reactions do you get from listeners and fellow musicians as you jump between tango, jazz, classical and other styles?

BB: It’s impossible for me to stay in one place musically because the world is such a seductive place! It’s actually very rare that anyone gets theirs feathers ruffled. I can think of one instance last year where I played a classical chamber music concert with a local Baroque ensemble. The director asked me to perform a solo, so I chose an Ottoman classical piece performed on the oud from the same Baroque time period. I played it for all of the members of the ensemble and everyone was very excited about putting it on the program. It was a certain wealthy benefactor that became extremely upset afterwards that I would do such a thing. Most people never seem to be bothered by these kind of issues.

PS: How did you come to explore so many different musics? Did it happen as a result of your own curiosity, was it economic necessity or- this is my pet theory- did you just want to play with the best musicians you could find regardless of genre?

BB: I feel that it’s impossible to be an artist these days and not react to everything else that’s going on. I’m a result of the first internet generation that has access to just about anything we care to hear. I never think in terms of “world music” or “ethno-musicology”. It’s just the normal state of things now. I also love forcing my new interests onto everyone that I play with and seeing what happens.

Sometimes I’ll actively resist getting involved in another culture’s music. During my first trip to Istanbul, I told myself I really didn’t need to buy an oud. “I needed another interest like I needed another whole in my head.” Thankfully, my wonderful wife Zhanna bought one for me one our last day there as a Christmas present.

PS: Your YouTube channel offers a virtual trip around the globe. My favorite footage, incidentally, is of you and your friends Cacho and Martin. I think I like that guy's voice even more than Nathan Granner's. What's your favorite clip?

BB: That’s my favorite too. I love how Martín sings La Misma. I’ve been playing socially with these guys since the early 90’s. They live in a little town called Manuel Doblado in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico. Maybe I’ll drag Nathan down there with me someday. He’d fit right in! The sad an amazing thing is that Martin’s voice is nothing special in central Mexico. He’s the local shrimp vendor and has never had a professional engagement in his life. In Mexico, people that sing well like him are very common. Most all Mexicans regularly get together to sing songs that have the same emotional resonance for teenagers as their grandparents. These Mexican Rancheras such as La Misma are the equivalent to a good country song.

PS: When you're performing in any given format, does your work in other styles come into play? For example, do you have to consciously attempt to block out your interest in jazz as you're working with a classical violinist?

BB: If I’m switching back and forth between styles during a concert it can be a bit jarring. All of these music styles come from a different place inside me and I have to get my head into that place before performing. If it’s only one genre for the whole evening, it’s never a problem. The different voices do tend to leak out and influence one another such as a big Flamenco strum during a performance of a Bach lute suite.

PS: Because you cross genres so frequently, you must have unique insights into what works and what doesn't work both artistically and financially. What have you learned about music and marketing that musicians who never stray from one genre might not understand?

BB: When Nathan Granner and I were touring a lot, (classical music) I almost never played in KC anymore. When I’d return home and run into people around town, I couldn’t tell them where I was going to be next and that made me feel out of touch with my own city. I slowly started building back my local presence and I’ve managed to strike a balance between local, national and international markets. From what I’ve observed, I think the bigger differences lie in the venues that you play in rather than the genres. If you earn locally in Classical Music or Jazz there is a real “glass ceiling” that we all know about. You have to leave occasionally and play out of the country or the next state over to get the better artist fees. Then what happens is that when you play locally, it becomes a special event. Look at what happens when someone like Deborah Brown performs in her own hometown.

PS: How did Tzigane, your record label, come about? What does Tzigane offer that musicians can't get elsewhere? What's the value of record labels in general in 2010?

BB: I can’t imagine ever wanting to be on a record label and Tzigane is actually not a real record label. Brad Cox, Jeff Harshbarger and myself formed Tzigane a few years ago as a response to the question “What are you up to these days?” Answering that simple question had become ridiculously complex as we were all playing in each others’ projects and there had become so many of them. We decided to form an “artistic umbrella” of all of our projects, recordings along with other like-minded artists. Then we could point people there for information and product. It is a “if you like this, try this” approach to marketing. We pool our finances together using sales from shared projects and that allows us to attend conventions and keep up the newsletter/website costs. Tzigane is just an effective loudspeaker for people to learn what were up to and nothing else.

PS: Please share a little bit about your relationship to jazz. I sense that you're a Django Reinhardt guy. Am I right? What elements of jazz most appeal to you?

BB: I’ve never been a jazz musician but I always seem to be around them. I often go to the Mutual Musicians Foundation after work with my guitar and the guys will invite me to jam but I don’t even know a single standard. I listen to a lot of jazz recordings (I’m a Wes Montgomery man myself) and go to many shows every week. I’m always in awe. Its’ very existence is really an amazing story that I often try to convey to people in other countries. When I play with my friends who are accomplished jazz musicians, sometimes I cannot discern what they are doing from magic. When I improvise, what comes out is usually in the vernacular of Flamenco or Turkish music so it has those kinds of scales and phrases.

PS: I believe that jazz must incorporate outside influences and embrace new ideas if it's to remain culturally relevant. It's not that the music is stagnant- the performance last week by Bobby Watson and Horizon at the Blue Room confirmed that- but only a tiny percentage of music fans currently appreciate it. Do you agree with me? And if so, do you consider your work with Alaturka as "important"?

BB: If there are polar attitudes in a genre it is indicative of the health of the genre. You need the conservative guys preaching the canon and the crazy guys blazing new trails and all the people in between to keep an art form vibrant and alive. Once that stops happening then you can put the nail in the coffin and proclaim it “dead”. It seems to me that music now is so “tiny percentage” niche based that everyone can make a place for themselves if they try. The fun thing about Alaturka is that we’re often at a loss as to what to do with it. There’s no precedent that we know of so there is a lot problem solving and invention, which usually results in something fresh to our ears. I do feel it’s important and inevitable that musicians from other genres and locations play together more and try to create something new.

PS: What was the inspiration for Alaturka? How did the band come together? Are you the leader or is it a collaborative effort? What are your plans and aspirations for Alaturka?

BB: When I travel to other parts of the world, all the musicians from other places seem to be insane over American Jazz. I tell them I’m from Kansas City and it always gives me a huge amount of clout. When I was in Istanbul there were a lot of artists trying to fuse Turkish music with Jazz music with fairly dismal results. I would often think to myself that if I could only get some of my KC Jazz musician friends to Istanbul, they could really cause some damage! It was so easy to hear the sound in my head that could be created. My philosophy to these kinds of collaborations is to utilize what I call the “auditory handshake”. I’ve always had a disdain for grafting one genre onto another because one of the genre inevitably gets short-changed. I can’t tell you how many Flamenco groups I’ve heard in Spain that have a Kenny G clone stuck into their ensemble for that special “jazzy” sound. By envisioning an equal “handshake” between two cultures, ideally both parties and cultures are treated with respect. This was the inspiration for forming Alaturka, which I do lead and arrange for. I submit the charts and book the dates but Rich Wheeler (tenor sax) is the most prominent musical voice. Sait Arat (darbuka) is from Istanbul and he’s managed to work his way into the scene here fairly quickly. He’s an amazing musician who is now regularly working with Mark Southerland and Mark Lowrey. Sait and I represent the Turkish part of the group and Rich and Jeff Harshbarger (bass) represent the jazz part. Most of our rehearsing is talking about how to get these two styles to mesh and retain what makes them both great. I’m not interested in having Rich and Jeff learn to play authentic Turkish music with the funny microtones and ornaments. I want them to sound like they already do. Although, we often play in strange time meters such as 9/8 and 10/8 which are very common in Turkey. My immediate plans for the group are to finish our first recording and play more festivals out of town. Sait has been getting us a lot of Turkish festival work around the country and we’ve even been touted as an example for east-west political relations “Hey if these guys can get along then blah blah…etc…”. This is of course very amusing for us. Our semi-regular dancer Burcu Suer, told us that her dad saw us on national television in Turkey. My ultimate goal is to get us all to Istanbul and show them the sound I was talking about at the beginning of this paragraph.

PS: You told me that a Sunday night Alaturka gig with a relatively hefty $10 cover attracted a full house at Jardine's. How'd you pull that off?

BB: Buy using the method and techniques touted by Plastic Sax of course! Facebook, Twitter, email, video, you name it! Actually $10 is on the low end but I wanted to get in the neighborhood of the typical jazz club cover. We charged $20 for the show the month before (Bluestem). I really think these musicians should make a living that somewhat reflects their efforts and if I can get audiences to come, why not? We actually got some ribbing from local jazz musicians about the $10 cover. Weird huh? We made good money that night and it allowed me to pay the guys that sat in with us too and that feels amazing!

PS: Are you a full-time musician? Do you earn a living solely through music?

BB: Yep. That’s all I do. Sometimes I think I should incur a happiness tax. I’ve only had one “worky job” since I’ve lived in KC when I moved here for grad school. I didn’t need it for long and that’s why I love it here.

PS: What Kansas City area musicians do you most respect?

BB: My immediate circle of friends/colleagues are the first to come to mind and they’re mostly Jazz guys. Jeff Harshbarger, Brad Cox, Rich Wheeler, Sam Wiseman, Brandon Draper. I really like what Matt Otto is doing and I hope to play with him soon. I could listen to Will Matthews all day. His sense of swing kills me. I always think he’s going to be too late and it’s just perfect. The classical violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane absolutely mystifies me with her abilities. She’s the best player I’ve ever sat next to.

PS: What's your favorite thing about the Kansas City music scene? Your least favorite?

BB: The musician community is outstanding. I feel my greatest wealth is the group of musicians I work with. There is an underlying etiquette that is part of the musician culture that does not seem to exist in other cities. If you financially undercut someone, everyone knows. If a club stiffs one of our own, everyone knows. We tend to take care of one another. The largest deficit is the communities’ famous self-esteem problem. I see this behavior mirrored in other musical communities around the world. I was staying in a very famous mid-size Flamenco town in southern Spain this summer and all anyone could talk about was how dismal the scene was. As an outsider, all I could see was 24/7 Flamenco. This place was swimming in it and everyone was complaining that it wasn’t there. It reminded me a lot of my jazz friends here in KC. I argue with them all the time about this - usually while we are at a great jazz club or rehearsing a cool new show.

PS: You've literally toured the world. Aside from Bobby Watson and a handful of people who trade in classical music, you're probably the most widely traveled locally-based musician. Wouldn't your life be easier if you moved to Europe, Turkey, Argentina or New York? Why do you keep returning to Kansas City?

BB: Hey, that sounds nice! I wonder this myself sometimes! In all seriousness, I know many musicians in larger cities and I’m not so sure life would be easier. I really like the huge metropolis feel but I’ve never lived in one. The thing with Kansas City is that it has a very attractive balance of work opportunities and low living cost. This has historically been the magic “goldilocks” zone for artists and Kansas City seems to be retaining more and more of them because of this. I get plenty of interesting and challenging work and I don’t need a day job. I bought a beautiful home three years ago and I have my first child due in March. I couldn’t have ever imagined doing that as a musician when I started out.

PS: I know you have a house concert on January 23. Please provide, if possible, a list of other opportunities for people to see you perform in the next few months.

Jan 24 House concert with percussionist Sait Arat

Jan 22 with saxophonist, Matt Otto at Café Sebastienne, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Jan 27 Alaturka at R Bar

Feb 3-6 Concerts with violinist Elizabeth Suh Lane, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Feb 13 Alaturka, Café Sebastienne, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art

Feb 21 Alaturka at Jardine’s jazz club

Mar 17 Concert with tenor Nathan Granner, Sacramento, California

Mar 27-28 Concerts with Bach Aria Soloists

April 23-25 “The Lewis and Carroll Expedition” Owen Cox Dance Group H&R Block City Stage Theater--Union Station

(Image provided by Bledsoe.)

Sunday, January 10, 2010

In My Solitude At Jazz Winterlude

An irrational fear of spending two hours in a room full of geriatric fans of Stan Kenton prevented me from seeing The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra until Saturday. The orchestra's rewarding headlining performance at the Jazz Winterlude festival showed that I've been missing out on a good time.

Yeah, it was square. But it was rarely dull. And there were a handful of bold moments of defiance. Lurking underneath artistic director Jim Mair's obsequious demeanor is a subversive hipster. He slipped in the Charles Mingus version of "Moanin'" heard here, a radical act given the sensibilities of many of the organization's financial supporters. The audience of about 700 tolerated it largely because Kerry Strayer's baritone saxophone work on the piece was undeniably thrilling. He did justice to Mingus' legacy.

The members of the orchestra certainly rank among (in Mair's words) "Kansas City's finest musicians." I'd watched Doug Talley and trumpeter Joe Parisi work through a set of Wayne Shorter material earlier in the day. All the notes were right but much of the fiery spirit of Shorter's originals was absent. The pair's concise solos with the orchestra, however, were excellent. The big band context showcases their strengths. Other highlights were Mair's rapturous solo on "Stardust" and a riotous reading of Kenton's "The Peanut Vendor." (Shows what I know.)

I was already familiar with most members of the ensemble but guest vocalist Brienn Perry was a revelation. He looks like a linebacker but sings like a combination of Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme and Joe Williams. Accompanied only by pianist Charles Wiliams, Perry absolutely nailed "One For My Baby."

Original? Don't be silly. Incredibly enjoyable? Absolutely. The same can be said for the orchestra as a whole. It may be an exercise in nostalgia but it's far from anemic. Even the goofy dance routines at the end of the performance served as an appropriate reminder of the roots of the big band sound.

I hope to attend the orchestra's next concert on April 30. Why should I let old folks have all the fun?

Here are five additional things I appreciated Saturday:

1. Sons of Brasil (above) were very fine. Stan Kessler original "If It Feels Good" was particularly funky.

2. Bassist James Albright played with three groups Saturday. He raised the level of play in each one.

3. Young pianist Sean Giddings did some nice things in Doug Talley's group. I don't believe I'd seen him play before.

4. Ryan Lee (above) just dominated James Ward's trio. The drummer overplayed. I liked it anyway.

5. I'd only seen most of these locally-based players in bars. Hearing the musicians in a formal concert setting was a rare treat. All three rooms at the festival offered excellent acoustics and comfortable seating. The ultra-conservative lineup certainly wasn't booked with me in mind, but I'd happily buy into the concept next January.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Danny Embrey on the Mike Douglas Show

I've struck YouTube gold! Guitarist Danny Embrey is a fixture on Kansas City's jazz scene. Until I stumbled across this goofy time machine, however, I didn't realize that the outstanding guitarist was once in Sergio Mendes' band. But the unmistakable evidence in all its Day-Glo glory is at the 2:51 mark of this footage. Everything goes well until Douglas takes over. Embrey performs Friday at the Jazz Winterlude festival at Johnson County Community College.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Detractors of Plastic Sax should rejoice. KCJazzLark's clever review and gorgeous photos of Saturday's Bobby Watson & Horizon show are so good that I momentarily considered abandoning my Kansas City jazz blog.

*But who aside from Plastic Sax would point out that Jason Harper took a gratuitous swipe at Kansas City's jazz scene in his final column as the Pitch's music editor? "Efforts to revive the old music through appeals to noble concepts, such as 'heritage,' have been hugely ineffectual (the sad Jazz District)," Harper suggests. And who else would note that he agrees with Harper's sentiment?

*Before taking umbrage at my previous statement, note that Harper's, the charming restaurant directly across the street from The Blue Room, has closed.

*Doug Tatum is leaving his position as The Folly Theater's executive director.

*Robert Folsom profiles Hermon Mehari of Diverse.

*The Black House Improvisors' Collective site features a revealing interview with Russell Thorpe. An interview with Matt Otto is less successful. The ensemble next performs on January 15.

*"I hesitate to call myself a jazz singer," Ida McBeth tells John Kreibergs. "There always seems to be someone that'll say, 'She doesn't sing jazz; she sings R&B' or 'She sings gospel.' Instead, I prefer to call myself a song stylist." Read the rest of the excellent portrait of McBeth here. And Hearne Christopher remembers an old story concerning McBeth.

*KCJazzLark shares wonderful photos of Diverse. While it lacks the same degree of artistry, I'm rather proud of the image I took on the same night.

*Jardine's site was hacked last week. Everything seems fine now. Hearne Christopher offers details.

*Can anyone vouch for John Stein? A press release says the "internationally renowned" guitarist was "born and raised" in Kansas City.

*Alaadeen periodically posts stories online. It's good stuff.

*Here's a rave review of a Deborah Brown performance in Europe. She's at the Blue Room on January 15.

*A blogger wonders about the career of trumpeter Carmel Jones.

*Sue Vicory announced that her documentary about Kansas City jazz and blues will premiere at the Gem Theater on May 6.

*A local blogger lists and ranks 43 albums and mixtapes released by Kansas City-area hip hop artists in 2009. How many jazz albums were released by local artists last year? A dozen?

*The 2010 schedule for St. Louis' Jazz At the Bistro is stellar. The Bad Plus and Vijay Iyer play the club in January. Lou Donaldson and Freddy Cole are among the artists performing in February. Meanwhile, Branford Marsalis plays a larger St. Louis venue next month. The organization also provides podcast interviews with Iyer and other visiting artists. Ahem...

*I really enjoy this rendition of Bobby Watson's "Lemon Cello" by a group of California students.

*It may be clumsy, but Plastic Sax's Kansas City Jazz Calendar remains the best tool in town for jazz fans. Jazz advocates have particularly intriguing decisions to make Friday. Choices include Allen Toussaint at The Folly Theater, the opening night of the Jazz Winterlude festival and Mark Lowrey vs Hip Hop at the Czar Bar.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Bobby Watson & Horizon Thrill at the Blue Room

"So much music," Bobby Watson sighed Saturday night. "So little time."

So deliriously rhapsodic was Watson's brilliant performance that I was prepared to abandon all other music as I sat ten feet from the stage of the Blue Room. Why listen to anything else? Watson and the all-star band Horizon were that good.

Watson's first solo of the night was riveting. The entire vocabulary of the jazz saxophone- including Jimmy Forrest's "Night Train," Ornette Coleman's new directions and yes, the living legacy of Charlie Parker- pour out of Watson when he's on. And was he ever on! I wouldn't have traded Watson for Sonny Rollins, Joshua Redman or Rudresh Mahanthappa.

His bandmates recognized that it was Watson's night. All sensational pianist Edward Simon could do was grin in admiration. The bop-oriented setting didn't give Simon many chances to showcase his true strength. Only during a sublime duet with Watson on "Love Remains" did Simon offer a glimpse of his wholly unique combination of classical, Latin American folk musics and third stream jazz.

Watson was clearly inspired by the joyous drumming of Victor Lewis. An animated musician, Lewis knowingly smiled as he pushed Watson and trumpeter Terell Stafford, punctuating their solos with emphatic grunts. The supple bass work of Peter Washington, one of jazz's most unselfish stars, was stellar.

Only Stafford seemed frustrated with Watson's dominance. A tremendous player, his position of Director of Jazz Studies at Temple University makes him the equivalent of Watson in Philadelphia. His solos became increasingly brazen. While a couple of his efforts inspired Watson to dance a la Thelonious Monk, it was no use. Watson was untouchable. Even the saxophonist's support work behind each soloist added intriguing depth and unexpected textures to the performance.

It's not for nothing that Watson was recently named the Plastic Sax Person of the Decade.

Could I have experienced my favorite live performance of the year just 48 hours into 2010? It's quite possible. Many in the audience of approximately 125 might agree. Steve Paul was one of them. His proper review of the show is no less enthusiastic.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, January 1, 2010

Now's the Time: Bobby Watson & Horizon

Lost in the hoopla surrounding New Year's Eve is Horizon's return to Kansas City. The all-star group led by Bobby Watson plays the Blue Room on Saturday. The group consists of Watson, trumpeter Terell Stafford, bassist Essiet Essiet, pianist Edward Simon and drummer Victor Lewis. I was unable to turn up a single Horizon video at YouTube so I opted for footage featuring Stafford. Some will recall that Simon co-led an inspired group at The Folly on Halloween. Essiet and Lewis are also major figures. The year is brand new, but it's quite possible that this show will be remembered as one of the best jazz events of 2010.