Friday, July 30, 2010

Now's the Time: Eldar and Mark Lowrey

Kansas City jazz fans can take in two noteworthy solo piano recitals in the next eight days. Mark Lowrey is recording a solo piano album at Jardine's on Sunday, August 1. And on Saturday, August 7, Eldar performs at Indian Hills Country Club in a benefit for the Prairie Village Jazz Festival. Admission to both events is more costly than usual, but the opportunity to hear the pianists in (presumably) pristine environments should be priceless.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*It almost sounds too good to be true. Ten dollars buys a ticket to see Fourplay, Kevin Mahogany and three local openers at the 40 Acres & a Mule campus on August 7. Details are here. Steve Penn previewed the event.

*An invaluable history lesson on the Jazz District is offered by KCJazzLark in his endorsement of the proposed reconstruction project on Highland Avenue.

*KCUR's Up To Date featured Alaturka on July 23. Download the podcast here. The Star reviewed Alaturka's July 25 performance at Jardine's.

*All About Jazz conducted an interview with guitarist Steve Cardenas.

*The Pitch catches Pearl Thuston-Brown at GiGi's.

*The challenges facing the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum are detailed by a Canadian newspaper.

*A blogger notes his/her attendance at a lecture held at the American Jazz Museum.

*Here's the lastest dispatch from Black House Improvisors Collective.

*Listen to Bobby Watson working through an Ornette Coleman composition in 1985.

*I received the following message from a reader last week.
I have a problem with the Plastic Sax site. Too many of the links are outdated. I've spent way too much time this morning chasing dead ends. Any chance you can update them? Also, will you please add (my site) to you links?
Can you believe this guy? Still, I suppose he has a good point. I'm putting the local jazz community on notice- I've started the process of reviewing every link in the right-hand column. The dead links will be deleted accordingly. If you've migrated from MySpace, for instance, please email me your preferred address. Thanks in advance.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, July 26, 2010

Grading the 2010-11 Folly Season

Word that Folly Theater executive director Doug Tatum was stepping down was greeted with a great deal of consternation in the Kansas City jazz community. Tatum, a genuine advocate of jazz, had curated the series for years. It turns out that the hand-wringing was seemingly unnecessary. The quality of the forthcoming season is incredibly strong.

The Bad Plus- September 25
Better late than never. A The Bad Plus booking would have represented an adventurous step forward a few years ago. In 2010, the trio is practically part of the jazz establishment. The future has finally arrived.
Grade: A-

Dave Brubeck Quartet- October 14
Jazz Methuselah Dave Brubeck will be two months shy of ninety when he returns to The Folly. Skeptical fans are advised to analyze footage of Brubeck from earlier this month. It's not a particularly exciting engagement, but hey, it's Brubeck.
Grade: B+

Sachal Vasandani- December 10
Youthful crooner Sachal Vasandani is the anti-Michael Buble. Buble covers the Eagles. Vasandani covers Iron & Wine. And Vasandani exudes little of the smarminess that can make Buble unbearable. There will never be a suitable replacement for Frank Sinatra, Mel Torme or Tony Bennett, but Vasandani carries the same torch with tactful aplomb. "Every Ocean, Every Star" is typical. While I believe that he'll eventually find a wider audience, my sole objection with this booking is scale. Vasandani would have a difficult time filling the Blue Room, let alone the Folly Theater.
Grade: B

Earl Klugh Quartet- January 15
Remember when jazz was popular? Earl Klugh once possessed mass appeal. My bias against smooth jazz doesn't apply to the guitarist.
Grade: B

Arturo Sandoval, March 4
I first saw Arturo Sandoval in the '90s when he conducted a clinic at the sorely missed Kansas City Jazz and Blues Festival. The Cuban defector wasn't yet fluent in English, but he had most definitely mastered the word "m*therf***er. His new album, A Time For Love, is a fine Clifford Brown-style trumpet-with-strings project. If I was told that a string section would be sitting in with Sandoval for this show, I'd boost my rating accordingly.
Grade: B

Joe Lovano "Us Five"- April 2
He's not Ornette Coleman or Sonny Rollins. That's about the only criticism that can be laid on this excellent booking. Joe Lovano is a jazz giant. I'm crossing my fingers that jazz giant in-the-making Esperanza Spaulding will still be a member of Us Five come April.
Grade: A

Karrin Allyson- May 7
Karrin Allyson certainly isn't a stranger in these parts. She played Jardine's three months ago and she's scheduled to perform at the Prairie Village Jazz Festival in September. I'm shooting for an attendance trifecta. Allyson's a wonderful talent.
Grade: A-

I conducted similar exercises for the 2009-10 season and the 2008-09 season. And here are my notes on the 2007-08 season.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 23, 2010

Now's the Time: Max Groove

I used to think smooth jazz and fusion musicians were kidding when they talked about the Weather Channel's importance as an outlet for their music. I have no idea how Kansas City's Max Groove feels about the cable television network, but I know that "Fiesta Sol" from 1989's Midnight Rain sounds great in this context. Max Groove performs Wednesday at Chaz on the Plaza.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCJazzLark tells the story behind a historic facade in the Jazz District.

*The 2010-11 season of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra has been announced.

*KCUR's KC Currents eulogizes Ruth Rhoden. She's also remembered by KCJazzLark.

*A visit to the American Jazz Museum rates on JazzTimes' jazz bucket list. (Tip via AZ.)

*The Pitch chats with Mark Lowrey.

*A blogger is mystified by fresh digging at the Charlie Parker grave site. I provided my best guess in his comment section but I suspect I'm wrong.

*Barbara Thomas of the American Jazz Museum is interviewed by the local NBC affiliate.

*KMBZ covered the "piano-thon" at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*The latest album from Michael Pagan's trio is characterized as an "exceedingly pleasant release" by a California publication.

*Mike Metheny created an atmospheric video for a track from his new album. He chats about Miles Davis in this podcast. "It was great music to make out to," Metheny says of Kind of Blue. All of Metheny's commentary is fascinating.

*A blogger reports on his first visit to the American Jazz Museum.

*Here's a fan video of Orrin Evans' recent appearance at the Blue Room.

*Pete Dulin profiled Mixed Method.

*Playboy magazine listed the Mutual Musicians Foundation in its "Guide to America’s Greatest Bars."

*"If Charlie Parker seems a less filthy racket today than he did in 1950 it is only because... much filthier rackets succeeded him." The Independent examines poet Phillip Larkin's difficult relationship with jazz.

*The following notice about a July 25 appearance by Pearl Thuston-Brown was posted at the Facebook account of GiGi's on Troost: Kansas City's Own Legendary Jazz Pianist, Vocalist, and Song Stylist invites YOU to celebrate another fabulous birthday. Come dressed in roaring 20's attire and be transported to the GOLDEN AGE of Jazz and American Song.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, July 19, 2010


One of my favorite viral videos documents an experiment conducted by The Washington Post. They cajoled classical violinist Joshua Bell into posing as a busker at a subway station. Would anyone stop to listen? Here's the story.

That intriguing study came immediately to mind when I saw that four excellent Kansas City jazz musicians were scheduled to perform July 1 at Penguin Courtyard on The Plaza.

I was eager to see if unknowing passerby would linger at the courtyard to appreciate the work of four of the city's finest jazz musicians. Saxophonist Strayer led brilliant guitarist Rod Fleeman, acclaimed bassist Bob Bowman and relatively young drummer Sam Wisman through tasteful but vibrant mainstream jazz repertoire.

I caught about 45 minutes of one set and 15 minutes of another. About a dozen fans of one or more of the musicians were obviously on hand specifically for the event. I'd like to think that they saw the date listed on my Kansas City Jazz Calendar. It's more likely that they received an email reminder from bandleader Kerry Strayer. Or maybe they were friends and family of the band members.

The results of my completely unscientific study were discouraging. I didn't witness a single person in the popular shopping district stop to enjoy the music. Only about one in every five people noticeably slowed their stride. Women bearing shopping bags never looked up but a handful of men acknowledged the band's work with a nod or a smile.

Is this indifference a reflection on the popularity of jazz? No- Joshua Bell didn't fare any better.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Logan Richardson's America

Who says jazz doesn't pay? Kansas City native Logan Richardson performs in Spain this weekend. Italy is on the saxophonist's itinerary in August and September. Richardson also has many dates booked in his current base in New York. Alas, Kansas City is not listed on his schedule. This exceptional performance will make his hometown fans miss him all the more. Personal aside to Logan- I'm still hoping for that interview... (Video tip via Chris Burnett.)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Ruth Rhoden, co-host of KCUR's Just Jazz show for 23 years, has died. Here's her obituary. This video captures much of her sensibility.

*From Alaadeen's (public) Facebook account on July 11: Greetings to all of our friends and loved ones. Some of you may know that Alaadeen has been engaged in a major battle with cancer for the last few months. We are asking you to join in thru prayer and and by sending all of the positive energy and love you have to help honor his fight. Alaadeen has shared that he still has work to do! We will keep you posted. Peace.

*Hermon Mehari placed second in the jazz improvisation competition of the International Trumpet Guild. His misspelled name is on the list of winners here. Mehari is pictured with the other finalists on page 9 of a PDF. (Tip and text courtesy of KCJazzLark.)

*Greg Carroll of the American Jazz Museum was interviewed by KMBC.

*Here's the schedule for January's Jazz Winterlude.

*CrossCurrent is featured by KCJazzLark.

*Former Canadian Jim Mair will lead the Winnipeg Jazz Orchestra in a performance of Benny Carter's "Kansas City Suite."

*Tim Finn composed an excellent review of Saturday's Hearts of Darkness concert. The Pitch posted pictures.

*The Pitch reviewed Mark Lowrey's tribute to Radiohead.

*Mike Malaker of Mixed Method is interviewed by Ink.

*An item in The Kansas City Business Journal suggests that jazz acts occasionally perform in a downtown clothing boutique.

*Here's a promotional video of sorts for an outfit called The Kansas City Jazz Machine.

*A set of Dave Stephens-related photos is provided by KC Dance. (Tip via Tony's Kansas City.)

*A lavish 16-page brochure for the 2010-11 season of Jazz St. Louis hit my mailbox today. Here's a partial list of artists appearing east of Kansas City: Kenny Barron with Mulgrew Miller, Regina Carter, Stanley Clarke, The Jazz Crusaders featuring Joe Sample, Wayne Henderson and Wilton Felder and jazz-artist-of-the-moment Chris Potter.

*While poking around at the American Jazz Museum's site I discovered that discounted tickets to the forthcoming Rhythm & Ribs Festival are on sale now.

*From Chris Ellman: The newly established Kansas City School of Indian Arts would like to invite you to our first event in August. Sandip Burman, an established Indian Classical Musician will be offering two Master Classes on Tabla, Sitar, and Voice. I've attended several of Mr. Burman's Master Classes; this is a wonderful opportunity to discover how Indian Classical Music can integrate with Western Music. All musicians are welcome. Space is limited; reserve your seat soon. Specific date/time to follow. For details regarding location, date/time, and cost, please contact Chris Ellman at or (913) 568-8415.

*From a press release: Jardine’s Restaurant,Kansas City’s preeminent jazz venue, will be jumping to the sounds of The Wild Women of Jazz, along with special guests Chris Burnett (saxophone), Stan Kessler (trumpet), Jason Goudeau (trombone), Greg Richtor (keyboards) and others as they host a very special benefit concert in support of Kansas City Youth Jazz.

*From Chris Burnett: Just wanted to let you know that the KC Youth Jazz Program's Reno Band (Mr. Brady's top group) and the 12:30 Combo that I direct will be performing at the Kansas Bandmasters Convention in Wichita next Friday. I think this is pretty cool, particularly for the young kids that I teach there... Learning how to improvise is what the 12:30 Combo is about.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Clearing the Bar at 12th Street Jump

I can finally reveal one of my most shameful secrets. Until last night, I'd never attended an airing of 12th Street Jump. KCUR began broadcasting the weekly show a year ago. Between my work and sleep schedules, however, I'd never made it to the midnight show. Not only do I feel much better about myself now, I also have a newfound appreciation of the broadcast.

As Jason Harper suggested in his excellent synopsis eleven months ago, 12th Street Jump is like a jazz-oriented Prairie Home Companion. Just as I don't particularly care for Garrison Keiller, I find the comedy bits of KCUR's program hackneyed. It came as an enormous relief to discover that Pete Weber and most other members of the cast obviously realize the limitations of their scripts.

That's just one of the advantages of seeing the show in person. Watching the stage cues is also fascinating. When bandleader Joe Cartwright receives a message reading "30 Seconds To Out," for instance, he calmly steers his fellow musicians to a relaxed but precise conclusion. The pianist's professionalism is extremely impressive.

The music is uniformly excellent, but people with more on their minds than jazz shouldn't hesitate to attend the free event. The friendly waitstaff keeps drinks flowing and socializing is allowed. In fact, revelers at a couple tables last night seemed completely oblivious to the broadcast. The presence of a couple dozen music fans in town for the NAACP convention boosted the size of the audience to about 75. The jazz-themed room inside the downtown Marriott is far bigger than the show's former home at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

I encourage jazz fans and fun-lovers alike to fill those empty tables on Saturday nights. And now that my dark secret is a thing of the past, I intend to return soon.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 9, 2010

Now's the Time: Mark Lowrey's Tribute to Radiohead

Jazz fans shouldn't let the indie rock creeps and weirdos have all the fun at the Record Bar on Saturday, July 10. As the embedded video from Mark Lowrey's first Tribute to Radiohead indicates, plenty of jazz elements from the likes of Lowrey, Ben Leifer and Zack Albetta will be on tap.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*An amazing turn of events in the life of the Basie band's Frank Foster is recounted at A Blog Supreme. (Initial tip via KCJazzLark.)

*A cover story on filmmaker Sue Vicory begins on page 42 of KC Studio magazine.

*Fascinating "final thoughts" conclude KCJazzLark's series on the formation of the American Jazz Museum.

*The Pitch revealed the nominees for its annual music awards. Nominees in the category of "Jazz: Ensemble" are The People's Liberation Big Band, The Jazz Disciples, Snuff Jazz, Organic Proof, The McFadden Brothers and Trio ALL. Nominees in the category of "Jazz: Solo Artist" are Mark Lowrey, Megan Birdsall, Bobby Watson, Everette DeVan, Horace Washington and Gerald Dunn. Diverse is an "Emerging Act" nominee. Mouth is an "Experimental" nominee.

*The Mutual Musicians Foundation is hosting a "Piano-Thon fundraiser" July 15-16. Chris Clarke, Roger Wilder, Charles Williams, Everette Freeman, Rich Hill, Luqman Hamza, Murray Fields, Don Cox, James Hathaway, Karriem Sayles, TJ Martley and Michael Pagan are among the participants.

*Eldar performs at a fundraiser for the Prairie Village Jazz Festival at Indian Hills Country Club on August 7. From the festival's site: Ticket reservations are $50 for individuals and only $85 for couples. VIP reservations are also available which include premium seating, dinner with wine, and a cocktail hour. VIP reservations are $125 for indviduals and $225 for couples.

*An artist reveals his work for this year's Rhythm & Ribs festival.

*The Hannibal Courier-Post profiled saxophonist Michael Schults.

*An 11-year-old traveled from Italy to Kansas City to study with pianist Charles Williams. (Initial tip via Tony's Kansas City.)

*Mark Edelman recommends several jazz gigs.

*Marc Meyers and Ira Gitler provide valuable insights into the titles of a few Charlie Parker compositions.

*Bobby Watson appears on the new album by Tobias Gebb.

*A blogger and photographer had a good time at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*Tony's Kansas City continues an enthusiastic series of items about Dave Stephens.

*The debut CD release of Alaturka's Tamam Abi is July 25 at Jardine's.

*The acclaimed Howard Johnson performed in Kansas City on Monday as a member of Levon Helm's band.

*From Mark Lowrey: I want to tell you about what will be my first solo piano CD. I've decided to record it live at Jardines and I want you to come... The date of the live recording is August 1st with two performances, at 6 and 8:30pm. All that attend this recording session will become "Co-Executive Producers" and will be named in the liner notes of the CD. Cool, huh? Tickets are $20 and can be bought at Jardines (4536 Main st. 816.561.6480) or from me at any of my gigs. There are 100 seats for each show, and I'm really trying for a sell out.

*Big news from JCCC- here's an abbreviated press release: Winter may be howling at the door, but Johnson County Community College will be hosting four days of hot jazz during its second annual Jazz Winterlude Jan. 20-23, 2011, in Polsky Theater and Yardley Hall of the Carlsen Center. This year’s festival features an all-new lineup of performers, including the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Ensemble and former Kansas drummer Todd Strait; jazz clinics for middle and high school students; and a free kick-off performance... Performing groups, all new except the Sunday brunch Dan DeLuca Trio, are mostly local, although some have asked Strait, now of Portland, to join them.

Performers include New Order Jazz Band featuring Megan Birdsall, Dan Thomas Quartet, Kerry Strayer Dixieland Band, Bram Wijnands Trio, Angela Hagenbach Quartet, Westport Jazz Ensemble including Todd Strait, Joe Cartwright Quartet featuring Kim Park, Diverse Trio, Julie Turner/Tommy Ruskin Group, Dwight Foster Quartet, Millie Edwards Quartet, Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Ensemble, PBT featuring Todd Strait and Carol Comer and the Dan DeLuca Trio.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Review: Hearts of Darkness

The highest praise that can be heaped on the stellar new self-titled recording by Hearts of Darkness is that the document successfully captures much of the excitement of the eighteen-piece band's live performances. The album crackles with energy.

By the time I was born the heyday of Kansas City jazz was already decades past. As I noted in 2009, however, using roughly the same instrumentation as the legendary jazz bands of the '20s and '30s Hearts of Darkness evoke the vitality of that era. While a few local musicians specialize in a throwback style, their work is inevitably imbued with a sense of nostalgia. Loosely rooted in the afrobeat sound of Fela, Hearts of Darkness recall the lively sensibility of Benny Moten while crafting a completely contemporary approach.

A free download of "Step First Look Last" is available here. The entire album will be available for purchase at the band's July 10 gig at Crosstown Station .

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 2, 2010

Now's the Time: Orrin Evans

Bobby Watson will probably be in transit to a July 4 date in Denmark, but the music of the Kansas City-based composer, educator and saxophonist will be celebrated July 3 at the Blue Room by Orrin Evans. The pianist's new album, Faith In Action, is loaded with Watson's compositions. With or without Watson, "Love Remains".