Monday, August 1, 2011

Jolted at the July Jazz Jam

"I hate 'happy jazz,'" a young jazz musician commented at Plastic Sax a few months ago.

If he was referencing the approach associated with Tim Whitmer, he holds the minority opinion. The popular entertainer has been a favorite of Kansas City audiences for decades. They came out in droves to attend Whitmer's latest venture on Sunday evening. The (first annual) July Jazz Jam at Community Christian Church attracted approximately 750 people.

Whitmer regularly proves that there's still a sizable audience for mainstream jazz when it comes in the form of familiar material played by musicians with smiles on their faces. The gentle sound heard Sunday may have been safe, but it was also impeccable. James Albright (bass), Everette DeVan (organ), Rod Fleeman (guitar), Jim Mair (saxophone) and Jurgen Welge (drums) served as the indefatigably swinging house band at "Club 4601."

I've attended S.R.O. Whitmer-led Christmas concerts at Community Christian Church for years, but I didn't expect the same sort of enormous turnout for a first-time event on a balmy Sunday night in July. Shows what I know. If anyone has ever been inclined to say "I told you so," well, now's the time.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Thomas W. said...

You mentioned, "The gentle sound may have been safe, but it was also impeccable"

You might want to clarify that it was "Harmonically" safe because most of the cats on that stage are always pushing themselves technically and rhythmically and developing their solos thematically.

The guest artists were certainly not playing it safe and or phoning it in. Whether you like them or not they pushed themselves to their limits.

Concert producers in Kansas City could learn a thing or two from Tim Whitmer. I love the way he brings musicians together and then stands back and lets them shine!

The first Wednesday of August showcases one of Kansas City's longest running Harmonically safe
Jazz Series' hosted by Mr. Whitmer.
Since 1994, Spirituality and all that Jazz has chugged along with a loyal audience the first Wednesday of every month.

Happy In Bag said...

Good point, Thomas. Almost every solo by Rod Fleeman and Jim Mair, for instance, is a keeper.

Dean Minderman said...

It's always good to hear about an unexpectedly large turnout for a jazz event.

And while I don't know most of the musicians mentioned, from what I've heard of Rod Fleeman, I can't imagine him ever "phoning it in." That man can play some guitar.

Matt Leifer said...

I love "happy jazz." I suppose that my definition of happy is what differs.

I have nothing but the utmost respect for Everette, Rod, James, Jurgen and Jim.

Personally, if I was playing "safe" music in a church for blue-hairs my smile would be fake and the only thing happy would be the size of the check at the end of the night.

I'm not saying I wouldn't take the money either...

Matt Leifer said...

I like harmonic safety the way I like looking at paintings that only use primary colors.

Leo said...

There were some nice younger babes at this concert Matt and maybe 35 to 40% blue hairs. Basically people that had the income to splurge for a couple of tickets.

The musicians you mentioned may not be post Coltrane players but they have a fairly good handle on Bird, Jimmy Smith, Wed Montgomery and Max Roach. I wouldn't call those innovators harmonically safe.

Seems to me Bird and the rest of them employed extensions on the chords. (#9, b9, #11, b13 etc) not what I would call primary colors.

Even when Joe Henderson started pushing some boundaries of harmonic safetythem an analysis of his solos shows still harmonically relevant.

Edward Kennedy Elllington said...

It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing.

Matt Leifer said...

Yeah, again, I can't stress enough how much I respect Rod, James, Everette, Jim and Jurgen...and primary colors can be beautiful, so can black and white for that matter. Not only that, I can't begin to try to type-cast their playing.

I guess what I really take issue with when it comes to "safe" playing is not the specifics of the music but the intention of it. To me intention is critical.

I love playing music that's inside, super swinging and simple, if it's sincere.

What kills me is that "familiar material played by musicians with smiles on their faces," is about all most people look for and it is damaging to the evolution of the art form. Smiles are fantastic...familiar CAN be great, half the time.

Willingly indulging people who look no deeper than that is whoring yourself. I only say this because I have and will continue to do so myself. I've come to terms with it, but I don't think it's appropriate for myself or anyone else to be lauded for it in this way.

Cb said...

Everyone plays the way they "feel it in their souls". And, that is cool. Those old song forms and variants of the blues form are the heritage of our music. There will always be a place for repertory ensembles and the musicians who love to perform that way. All of those musicians mentioned are great artists and seasoned performers. I think the diversity within the jazz artist community does Kansas City a great service.

For many musicians, and listeners alike, the music is and always has been more than that though. It is more than a bunch of historically significant tunes or historically significant players from the past. That fact is neither more or less significant to this dynamic.

The music is also a reflection of current events. That's what I got and appreciated from Bird, Miles and Coltrane whenever I listened to them both, as a kid and now as a middled aged man. I felt the inherent societal ramifications in the music of Andrew Hill, Bill Evans and Monk, in addition to the technically avant garde elements of their work.

Just my opinion based upon my personal assessment of the facts, but the music that really seems to "move the bar" though is that which reaches beyond the known, both harmonically and technically. Any creative artist will validate that is the goal when dealing outside of a repertory context. However, many of the truly (and historically) significant figures who have legitimately impacted the legacy of jazz/improvised music into our modern times were not always great innovators.

Again, music and musicians presenting at the professional level should not be compared beyond certain parameters. The more diversity we have the better it is for all of us.

Peace, Cb

Anonymous said...

Dear Matt,
The problem with your 'happy music" analogy is that most of the "young lions" aren't "happy " playing what the audience wants to hear. It's this 'it has to be outside to be hip" attitude that has turned alot of people wanting to experience jazz away. But when it becomes a self indulgent, multi media, play as angry as you can platform and NOT smile then it ceases to become relevant to a normal crowd. It's all a matter of taste, of course, but check your roots of jazz. Louis Armstrong believed in entertaining. He had a smile on his face and loved every minute of his swingin' music. Oh, and so did the musicians and audience.

Wynton said...

Don't criticize the "old tunes" unless you can competently play them..fellas.

Secondly, Philip Glass once said, "I write until I come up with an idea." Typical of many avant garde musicians. If you don't have skill or fundamentals, fool everybody with facade.

Cb, too many of the students I come across say "they want to do their own thing and or just play and feel it in their souls".

In my thirty years of teaching that quote almost always translates to, "I don't have the work ethic or dedication to study and then assimilate and develop my own concept after mastering the rules." Kids who talk like that are flat out lazy.


Anonymous said...

" Typical of many avant garde musicians. If you don't have skill or fundamentals, fool everybody with facade." The story of the young KC Jazz scene today. Great point Wynton!

Matt Leifer said...

Hey guys, I hope you aren't referring to me specifically.

I know my history, have worked hard on and pay close attention to the tradition.

I know my place, also, and while music is a never ending learning experience, I have done my homework. If I hadn't I couldn't back up what I say, and I wouldn't have said it.


Leo said...

You can groove with the best of them.