Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Hole in the Middle of the Map

At 2 a.m. on Easter I'll be in a basement in Westport listening to the jarring attack of Acid Mothers Temple. The experimental Japanese band will be the last of over 75 acts scheduled to perform at this week's Middle of the Map festival.

The inspired rock and electronic-oriented three-day event is the brainchild of a handful of passionate, hard-working music lovers. Although only one of the bands performing at the eight participating venues has enjoyed an actual hit, the second edition of the festival is almost assured of being a commercial success. Sponsors include a brewery, a professional sports franchise, a car dealer, a law firm and several distilleries. The institutional support is a reflection of the organizational prowess of the festival's planners.

What if the entirety of Kansas City's jazz community worked together to create a similar event? My experience at the Portland Jazz Festival in February showed me what's possible in a metropolis that's just 10% larger than Kansas City. I caught a sold-out performance by Enrico Rava and well-attended sets by a couple regional acts. Spread out over nine days, the event also included appearances by the duo of Branford Marsalis and Joey Calderazzo, Bill Frisell, Charles McPherson, Charlie Hunter, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Roy Haynes, the Jazz Passengers, Vijay Iyer's Tirtha, Ben Williams and dozens of Portland-based musicians.

By incorporating everything that's already happening on the Kansas City jazz scene over a two-week span, a new festival would complement rather than undercut existing programming. The Prairie Village Jazz Festival, Jazz In the Woods, Rhythm & Ribs and Jazz Winterlude are terrific events that receive my enthusiastic support. The new concept would be an all-encompassing city-wide jazz festival that could take place at Johnson County Community College, Kansas City Kansas Community College, UMKC, the Folly Theater and Helzberg Hall. Established jazz venues would also be a crucial part of the mix.

In addition to Kansas City-based talent, performers might include the likes of Brian Blade, David Sanchez, Medeski Martin & Wood, Kurt Rosenwinkel, Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Rudresh Mahanthappa, the Soul Rebels, the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, Cuong Vu, Flying Lotus and Matana Roberts. Kansas City's event could be timed to pull in artists performing at the annual Chicago Jazz Festival.

Ambitious? Sure. But with Kansas City's jazz scene undergoing an artistic renaissance, the time is right to think big. And Kansas City boasts several established institutions that should be able to provide logistical support. In addition to Bobby Watson's jazz program at UMKC, fine collegiate programs are thriving at JCCC, KU, KCKCC, Ottawa and UCM. Prominent area institutions include the American Jazz Museum, KC Youth Jazz, the Mutual Musicians Foundation, the Jazz Ambassadors, the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, the Folly's jazz series and the Artists Recording Collective. Perhaps most importantly, many locally-based musicians might be compelled to call in favors. Heck, there are even a couple jazz bloggers who might be eager to get their hands even dirtier.

All of these organizations and musicians are already doing great things. If they pooled their resources for an annual event, everyone would win. I'm assuming, of course, that the dysfunctional and ruthlessly territorial reputation of a few of these entities is unmerited. Furthermore, I'm operating under the assumption that there are at least 2,500 people in the Kansas City area willing to purchase tickets to hear serious music performed by the world's most important jazz-based artists.

If you share my enthusiasm for returning Kansas City to the center of the jazz universe for a couple weeks every year, let's talk it over on Sunday morning. You can find me here. A note to smart alecks- I realize that I riffed on a similar proposal eleven months ago. And no- this post is not an April Fools' Day gag.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...

we all know what happens when you assume things dont we?

Gary said...

I'll be with you on Easter, Bill. Gonna take a huge nap before the vigil.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Bag,

Musicians and ORGANIZERS need to be paid for this stuff. It takes dedicated people to pull these things off and to DO THINGS WELL WITH LONGEVITY.

Someone needs to piggy back on an existing non-profit (or start yet another) and write grants, grants, grants and develop a board of directors. That way everybody gets paid and enthusiasm won't dwindle.

As you know the sacrifice of organizing these things takes a huge toll on you.

All those other jazz producers in town that you mentioned...UMKC, AJM, KCYJ etc, these people are paid well to produce, some of them make over 100K to run these ventures.

A great idea Mr. Bag but favors only go so far and for so long.
Portland can pull it off because of the demographic.

Anonymous said...

It's that kind of me-first, can-do attitude that'll take us far.

Anonymous said...

Its that kind of me first, can-do attitiude that keeps me out of personal debt and leaching off the government. Its that kind of attitiude that allows me to donate to non-profits and hire people to work for my small business. Its that kind of attitude that allows me to underwrite scholarships for students and give my time, energy and money to people that are down on their luck.

Happy In Bag said...

Here's a worthwhile new think piece from NPR about DIY jazz festivals.