Friday, November 30, 2012

Now's the Time: John Stowell

One of my favorite jazz performances of 2012 featured a band led by saxophonist Matt Otto at the Westport Coffeehouse in February.  Otto and the comfortable listening room beneath the cafe are a terrific combination.  Otto, bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Brian Steever will support guitarist John Stowell on Tuesday, December 4.  Not unlike Otto, Stowell falls into the dreaded "musician's musician" category.  Even so, receptive listeners without any formal training should be able to appreciate what promises to be a sublime evening of refined musicianship.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Bassist Johnny Hamil is featured in a brief but striking video.  (Via Tony's Kansas City.)

*Even more live Jay McShann is made available by KCJazzLark.

*Joe Klopus previews performances by Holly Hoffman, John Stowell and Lori Andrews. 

*B.A.C. Horn Doctor recently posted a series of videos.  A typical example features Matt Otto.

*A couple episodes of 12th Street Jump's "Blues In the News" have been set to video.

*A collaboration with Reach is among the videos The Project H recently uploaded to YouTube.

*Tweet o' the Week: kcstage- Plastic Sax apologizes for UMKC Conservatory review…

*Comment o' the Week: The Phonologotron- I know most J@$$ers are on the leading edge of a bell curve and prone to thinking their feces smell like roses, but goddamn that 1st amendment.  I can't help but think that perhaps I might have appreciated knowing that someone beyond my parents and roommates had attended my combo concert. As all well know, parents are mostly terribly biased in their support.  I am of the opinion that most people just graduated from high school are some of the most sheltered, over-insulated, and self-centered people I have ever met. (Even myself at that age, probably more-so than most) As a result you know what most of them need? A clout to the ear and a contusion to the ego.  Add to this the common practice of parents and teachers praising "talent" over "work" and what do you get? Thin-skinned youngsters who won't try things outside of their comfort zone for fear of looking foolish or experiencing failure.  Guess what folks, thats what improvising is all about, not fearing failure. And if you fail, which hopefully is more often than not, then f&*@ing learn something from it rather than nurse your boo-boo.  People gang up on me all the time. The most common refrain is "that dude is so lame, he needs to get hisself ina practice room yo" Does it hurt my feelings? Not especially. I either have no idea or a fairly good idea who most of you anonymes are anyway so why should it matter?  Having this conversation (more like typing this monologue) I wonder how many of you will read this, how many will gloss over it, how many will take the chance to make a dig on me, and how many will use their critical faculties to have an open mind. Maybe we can all come out the other side with a changed point of view.

*From the KU School of Music: The KU School of Music is pleased to present Jazz Vespers at the Lied Center on Thursday, December 6, 2012, 7:30pm.  This year’s concert will feature the KU Jazz Ensemble I and Jazz Ensemble II, both directed by Dan Gailey, KU Director of Jazz Studies; the KU Jazz Singers, directed by David von Kampen; and the KU Jazz Combo I, directed by Matt Otto. Also featured will be Professor Chuck Berg, saxophone and master of ceremonies; Professor Vince Gnojek, saxophone; Professor John Stephens, voice; and KU School of Music Dean Robert Walzel, clarinet and saxophone.  The program will include performances of various holiday favorites, including What Child Is This?; Sleigh Ride; O Come, O Come Emmanuel; Four Santas; Bach’s Aria; Jingle Bells; Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of the Flowers; and more.  The concert is $7/general admission and $5/students and seniors, and tickets are available at the Lied Center Box Office, 785-864-2787 or at

*From a press release: Wednesday, December 5, 2012.  The Incredibly Soul-full Vocals of Ron Gutierrez, accompanied by Charles Williams and Tim Whitmer & The Consort Band.  For Ron Gutierrez, vocal versatility developed naturally through his exposure to a wide array of music at an early age. His father, saxophonist Tony Gutierrez, was a founding member of the Topeka Jazz Workshop and his mother loved country music… He’s toured as vocalist with the world-renowned Tommy Dorsey Orchestra and other top Big Bands in the country.

*From Jim Mair: Jazz by the Lake.  Thursday December 6.  Joe Cartwright Trio- Noon to 1:00pm.  Conference Center. Free.  KCKCC, 7250 State Avenue, Kansas City, Kansas 66112.

From Miles Bonny: Hola. Im back from europe to share some international soul jazz beats. Let's hang out at the new Kill Devil Club. I'm hoping this place is the beginning of the tide turning for P&L. Focus on local jazz, locally owned by Ryan Maybee who will be at the bar.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I Can Feel Your Energy From Two Planets Away

Allow me to begin with an apology.  I acknowledge that the Plastic Sax post of November 19 was ill-advised. 

I'm sorry. 

Instead of deleting the post or editing its contents, I'll let it stand as a permanent record of my poor judgement.  My intention was to remind readers that UMKC's Conservatory of Music and Dance- one of Kansas City's most significant cultural assets- regularly offers concerts that are free and open to the public.  I now recognize that I abused the institution's community service.  I hope any students I may have offended use a blogger's misguided opinions as motivation rather than as a roadblock.

While I accept the personal attacks I suffered among the numerous comments left at the post, I can't help but think that part of the animosity is rooted in our shared frustration about the diminished role jazz occupies in Kansas City.  I witnessed another prominent affront last week. 

Most everyone from Pittsburgh to Paris associates Kansas City with two things- jazz and barbecue.  If pressed to offer a third hallmark of the Kansas City experience, many would mention the Plaza's holiday lights.   That's why the fact that the annual lighting ceremony on Thanksgiving no longer features jazz seems to epitomize jazz's declining prominence.

Unless I'm mistaken, jazz acts played an integral role in the ceremony until a Glee-style ensemble provided the entertainment in 2011.  Last week The Elders performed before and after the light flip was switched.  The Elders are one of Kansas City's most popular rock-based bands for a reason, but a performance by a jazz band would have been far more inclusive.

Until jazz manages to regain a conspicuous position in Kansas City's cultural landscape, I expect the discourse at Plastic Sax to remain disconcertingly contentious.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, November 23, 2012

Remembering Claude "Fiddler" Williams

I wasn't terribly concerned about my legal right to purchase alcohol in Kansas and Missouri when I turned 21.  Instead, I was relieved that I could show up at barroom performances by living legends Jay McShann and Claude "Fiddler" Williams without the risk of getting turned away.  The violinist's performances served as life-affirming experiences.  Williams' sprightly demeanor and phenomenal playing never failed to inspire me.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The work of the Coda Jazz Fund is lauded by The Kansas City Star.

*Additional live recordings of a band led by Jay McShann are unveiled by KCJazzLark.

*Another saxophone associated with Charlie Parker was slated to have been auctioned last weekend.  Here's a photo of the item that was expected to sell in the range of $22,000 to $26,000.

*Pat Metheny's The Orchestrion Project will be released on January 29.

*Chris Lewis calls Rahsaan Roland Kirk the "greatest jazz performer of all time" in an extended essay.

*Joe Dimino's interview with Hubert Laws touches on Kansas City once or twice.

*Tweet o' the Week: loveleehartley #Blue Room K City, Mo. Is the bomb! Thanks folks for getting me to Dance! Great Fun @AmericanJazzMuseum

*Comment o' the Week: Hunter- Black House- I think it is in extremely poor taste to criticize students who are in the early stages of their development and performing in a school setting. I also question your judgement that a critique of a student recital is worthy reading material. Even the UMKC student newspaper doesn't cover events like this.  Let's also keep in mind that school-assigned jazz combos are notoriously bad because most of the time the players don't get to choose who they play with or what material they get to play.  Feel free to criticize people who take your money and are actually being paid to perform. Spare the young and stuggling your half-assed musings on whether or not you think they're destined for greatness.

*Is Hunter right in suggesting that writing in general, non-specific terms about a public recital of university jazz students "is in extremely poor taste?  Feel free to join the angry mob here.

(Original image of the mirror ball from the original El Torrean Club on display at the Science of Rock exhibit at Union Station by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, November 19, 2012

Review: UMKC Student Jazz Combos at White Recital Hall

Jazz is hard.  The music's advocates in Kansas City are so accustomed to hearing performances by exquisitely refined musicians that it's easy to take their virtuosity for granted. 

I was one of about 50 people who witnessed 14 students of UMKC's Jazz Studies program struggle to master their craft as members of three ensembles at White Recital Hall on the evening of November 12.  The concert concluded with a performance of a band led by Paul Roberts

I was unable to identify a player that seemed destined for greatness but that doesn't mean that none of the students won't develop into extraordinary musicians.  It usually takes time to develop an individual voice.  There's a big difference between achieving technical proficiency and becoming an interesting musician.  One drummer, for instance, played with the lifeless efficiency of an intricate drum machine. 

Much of the problem may have been a function of the format.  The members of a couple ensembles seemed constricted by the inclinations of both their bandmates and by the presence of their instructors.  I suspect that the students are fully capable of playing with far more passion in looser settings with likeminded musicians of their own choosing. 

That's why I was disconcerted that I was laying my eyes on all but two or three of the students for the first time.  Maybe if these budding musicians had spent more time attending confident performances by the likes of Vijay Iyer and Jeff Harshbarger they wouldn't have seemed quite as uncomfortable on stage Monday. 

With the addition of a little more seasoning in the real world, I'm confident that Bobby Watson and his excellent staff at UMKC will transform at least one of these promising kids into the next Hermon Mehari or Logan Richardson. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Now's the Time: Les McCann

With all due respect to bandleader Javon Jackson and poet Jessica Care Moore, Les McCann is the main attraction of Saturday's show at the Blue Room.  As the embedded video indicates, the soul-jazz icon, 77, was a genuine star forty years ago.  Mercilessly panned by jazz critics for decades, McCann's crossover approach seems prescient in the post-hip hop era. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCJazzLark previews Jazz Winterlude and offers brief reviews of T.J. Martley's new solo album and the debut release of the collaboration between Beau Bledsoe and Stan Kessler.

*The Baker Jazz Festival in Baldwin City, Kansas, is this weekend.

*You're in luck if you've been hankering to hear a robot read the Wikipedia entry about Kansas City jazz.

*Tweet o' the Week: ChrisHazeltonB3- Enjoying some spacey grooves by @theprojecth at @TakeFiveCoffee. I love Ryan's writing!

*Comment o' the Week:  Low Rider- Charisma is an important ingredient to any top tier performer. Depending on how you define the word of course. Is charisma in the eye of the beholder.  Diana Krall has a lot more charisma then Dee Dee. Dee Dee is hard to watch. She has these unorthodox mannerisms and gestures that distract from the music. Shirley Horn on the other hand had great charisma. Not what you would call glamorous though.  Karrin's voice has charisma but she looks awkward on the bandstand. Too macho perhaps.She translates better on recordings.  To me, Kurt Elling and Eddie Jefferson have charisma. Eddie had some funky mannerisms but he had an endearing quality. Kevin Mahogany, not so much.  Deborah is a fantastic musician, So is Marilyn Maye.  What separates the "big names" from the not household names?  Please weigh in.

*From Jim Mair: The Kansas City High School Jazz All Stars directed by Hermon Mehari will perform Wednesday November 14 from 7-8pm at Planet Sub at 75th and Quivira.  A Jazz Jam session will take place immediately following their performance until 9:00pm. The jam session is open to any interested high school students. 20% of all sales will benefit the Kansas City High School All Stars program.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, November 12, 2012

Review: Deborah Brown- All Too Soon

I've said it time and time again and I'll say it once more- Deborah Brown is Kansas City's premier jazz vocalist. 

Brown's superb new album All Too Soon serves to solidify my opinion.  Brown's lustrous voice is in spectacular form.  Unlike far too many so-called jazz vocalists, Brown doesn't sound like a frustrated pop artist who only recently discovered Ella Fitzgerald.  She's the genuine article.  It's no coincidence that Brown can regularly be spotted in the audience at instrumental jazz gigs.

An expert band led by Eric Ineke backs Brown on All Too Soon.  While the recording is pristine, Brown and Ineke's charges sound as if they inhabit 1962.  The project holds its own against Nancy Wilson's 1960 album Something Wonderful and Ella Fitzgerald's 1962 album Clap Hands, Here Comes Charlie!.

Yet until now, the internet doesn't contain a single review of All Too Soon.  Brown remains a virtual non-entity among jazz fans- both in her home town and throughout the United States.  Brown's low stature isn't a complete mystery.  She's her own worst enemy.  Brown's woeful site doesn't list her forthcoming tour dates nor does it even mention All Too Soon.  I assume she hasn't solicited jazz journalists about the project. 

Even if the "right" people received press kits promoting All Too Soon, there's no guarantee that the album would be well-received.  The taste-makers who advocate Vijay Iyer and Jason Moran might be inclined to believe that Brown's throwback swing is passé.  That argument is playing out locally here and here.

Finally, race, age and appearance almost certainly contribute to the ongoing neglect of Brown.  As has been suggested elsewhere, non-musical considerations help explain why Diana Krall fills large venues while Dee Dee Bridgewater performs in clubs.  Meanwhile, friends and family continue to tell me about the "great new jazz singer" Nikki Yanofsky.  The Canadian teen, not coincidentally, looks as if she belongs on the cover of Cosmopolitan magazine.  It's the difference between a McDonald’s McRib and a mixed plate at Gates Bar-B-Q or between Miller Lite and The Sixth Glass from Boulevard Brewing.

All Too Soon is the seasoned work of a consummate swing-based jazz vocalist. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, November 9, 2012

Now's the Time: Julian Vaughn

In its publicity materials for the Buck O'Neil Celebration 2012, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum suggests that "Buck loved virtually every music art form but surmised them all by saying 'It's all Jazz'."  That's an excellent workaround for the divisive fact that Tuesday's "It's All Jazz" concert at the Gem Theater doesn't feature what most people would consider jazz.  I'm not most people.  Avery*Sunshine is an Erykah Badu-style neo-soul artist.  Her sensibility is entirely in keeping with the spirit of Billie Holiday.  Bassist Julian Vaughn is poised to become to the biggest smooth jazz artist with a Kansas City connection since Norman Brown. The fine double bill is close enough for jazz.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCJazzLark hauls out heavy artillery- two previously unreleased live tracks by Jay McShann- in an adamant retort to this Plastic Sax post.  My friend knows that I'm deeply devoted to McShann.  For the record, I stand by my assertion that "(s)wing-based jazz will never die, but I expect it to take a permanent seat next to Dixieland on the cultural sidelines by 2042."

*A lengthy essay by Bob McWilliams praises the efforts of Take Five Coffee + Bar and the Blue Room.

*Robert Trussell admires a Marilyn Maye performance at the Quality Hill Playhouse.

*Pat Metheny was voted "Guitarist of the Year" in the 2012 DownBeat Readers Poll.

*Bobby Watson is the subject of an interesting interview in a Pennsylvania newspaper.

*A video documents the construction of the Folly Theater's new signage.

*A stammering buffoon extolled the virtues of Pat Metheny, Deborah Brown and The Project H on KCUR's Up to Date last week.  The show about Kanas City's music scene is available as a stream or as a download.

*Tweet o' the Week: IsleOfCapriKC- #FREE LIVE Jazz and Blues EVERY SUNDAY in the Lone Wolf Bar @IsleOfCapriKC! (performance schedule)

*Comment o' the Week: Matt Leifer- As to anon's comment and the responses to it...  I think it's safe to say that the primary base of readers of this blog are A) musicians or B) jazz fans, most of whom fall in to that born before 1960 category. Aside from the fact that it's obviously not the opinion of someone who would belong to category B, people born before 1960 have higher standards of grammar and generally present themselves in a more educated way.  So, since I would put money on Anon being a musician of some sort I'd deduce that either 1) everybody just was trolled, hard, or...  2) Anon is a musician, and a plebe, destined to continue on a course of musical mediocrity until he either dies or gives it up. (The former, if we're lucky.) Now, I'm not saying that musicians that don't play jazz are plebes, I'm saying that musicians who don't RESPECT jazz are destined for f***ing failure. Whatever musical path someone is on, I don't think there's anyone worth a god damn who doesn't at least accept its validity and importance, whether or not they choose to be a practitioner of it. If you are that musically shallow and narrow minded, your music is going to suck.  I'm going to go with troll, however.

*From AfterGroove: Some of you may not be aware, but we lost our good friend (& drummer) Quinton McDonnell to cancer in August. We have planned a fund raiser/celebration event on what would have been his 46th birthday at Aftershock Bar & Grill. AfterGroove will be performing with the various great musicians who have had the opportunity to play with Quinton throughout the years. It will be an exciting evening with LOTS of great music. There will be a $5 cover and we will also be selling raffle tickets for $5 each. We have $1000.00 worth of merchandise donated by various businesses. So your odds of winning are extremely good! The lose of Quinton has left his family in a very bad financial position. Please come out and support the cause. (November 18, 5-8 p.m.)

*From Jim Mair: A full house stood and applauded the Bram Wijnands Trio long and loud at Kansas City Kansas Community College Thursday.  The second in a “Jazz by the Lake” noon concert jazz series held the first Thursday of the month, the performance drew a standing room only crowd in the College’s Conference Center adjacent to the campus lake… The Joe Cartwright Trio will be featured in the third concert of the series from noon-1 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 6. The 2013 schedule will feature Diverse Feb. 5, Chris Hazelton and Friends March 7 and Tim Whitmer April 4.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, November 5, 2012

Review: The Owen/Cox Dance Group at H&R Block City Stage Theater

The People's Liberation Big Band's monthly residency at the RecordBar is one of the most consistently rewarding events in Kansas City.  The opportunity to hear Brad Cox lead an inventive band of forward-thinking musicians in an exemplary listening room is deeply fulfilling. 

Only one thing is lacking- patrons of the Westport venue tend to sit passively even when the music demands movement.  That's just one reason the three performances by The Owen/Cox Dance Ensemble at the H&R Block City Stage Theater in Union Station during the last weekend of October were so essential. 

Motion provided the central theme of the ensemble's showcase.  Titled Theme and Variations, an all-star band led by Brad Cox performed bracing jazz-based compositions as dancers including Cox's partner Jennifer Owens displayed stunning athleticism.

The world premiere of "Theme and Variations for Nine Dancers and Nine Musicians" was the highlight of the program.  Filled with surprises, the multifaceted piece included segments with free jazz, space-age bop and exuberant studies in rhythm.  George Russell and Sun Ra would have been delighted by the contributions made by co-bassists Ben Leifer and Jeff Harshbarger.  And the choreography?  Spectacular!

Saxophonists Matt Otto and Rich Wheeler stood out on "A Tree that is a Tree is not a Tree."  The piece ranged from Gil Evans-esque passages to noisy nods to No Wave.  Fluid blue-clad dancers added congruency.  The introspective minimalism of "Long Day/Good Night" was my favorite selection while the frolicsome skronk of "I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream" served as a colorful send-off.

The Owen/Cox Dance Group will reprise their acclaimed version of The Nutcracker and the Mouse King with the People's Liberation Big Band on December 22 at the Folly Theater.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

"Loosening Spaces" with Lester Young

Lester Young, the most distinguished of the Count Basie Orchestra's great saxophonists, is the subject of a forthcoming documentary.  The embedded clip is a sample of Henry Ferrini's film.