Monday, January 18, 2016

Concert Review: The Jay McShann Centennial Birthday Bash at the Gem Theater

Frequent opportunities to catch Jay McShann playing in informal settings was one of the most delightful aspects of life in Kansas City in the 1980s and 1990s.  It’s odd but inevitable, consequently, that the last two prominent McShann-related events in the area have been orderly affairs.

The Gem Theater hosted Saturday’s Jay McShann Centennial Birthday Bash.  The public wake for the Kansas City icon was held at the same venue in 2006.  Last weekend’s concert featured three strong performances, a historic overview and a presentation to McShann’s family.

Although catching the entirety of the 35-minute opening set by a band led by pianist Joe Cartwright meant missing the conclusion of the Chiefs’ playoff game, most members of the audience of more than 400 were in their seats to hear the band that also included violinist Adam Galblum, guitarist Rod Fleeman, bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Todd Strait.  Contributions from guest vocalists Duck Warner, Everette Freeman, David Basse and Lisa Henry provided the evening’s most faithful evocation of McShann’s earthy approach.

“They didn't leave me any blues up here at all,” Benny Green said at the top of his 40-minute solo appearance. The pianist’s elaborate playing was often antithetical to McShann’s style, but the incongruity was forgotten during a virtuosic 40-minute performance that included renditions of material by Cedar Walton and Horace Silver.

A rousing hour-long set by Bobby Watson’s big band provided an appropriate conclusion to the concert. 

Opening remarks by historian Chuck Haddix and a presentation by Ralph Reid of the American Jazz Museum (pictured) rounded out an event that served as a fitting if somewhat inhibited tribute to Hootie.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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