Sunday, December 31, 2017
Two of the 137 experts participating in the 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll included Bobby Watson’s Made In America in their year-end best-of lists. No other project by a Kansas City artist who released an album in 2017- a group that includes local luminaries Hermon Mehari, Matt Otto, Molly Hammer, Steve Lambert, Deborah Brown and Julian Vaughn- was among the 470 releases that received at least one vote.
The previous two years weren’t much better. Shift, Logan Richardson’s debut on Blue Note Records, placed #46 in 2016. Pat Metheny’s collaboration with Cuong Vu came in at #57. In 2015, releases by Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle (#296) and Pat Metheny (#453) were acknowledged.
There are three possible reasons for the snubs in the most comprehensive and least arbitrary annual jazz survey: no Kansas City based jazz aficionados contributed to the poll, Kansas City artists don’t effectively promote their releases and/or the jazz scene in Kansas City isn’t nearly as strong as Plastic Sax asserts.
The first point is easily verifiable. It’s unfortunate that local observers like Joe Klopus, Larry Kopitnik or (heaven forbid) yours truly don’t have a seat at the table of tastemakers. The second assertion is less demonstrable. Watson’s album was released by the New York based Smoke Records label, a reputable association that undoubtedly increased the visibility of Made In America enough to place it at #342. It’s possible that few critics and tastemakers received copies of the other albums by locally based artists.
The final possibility is the most problematic. Are Kansas City’s jazz artists really not worthy? It’s not an issue of style. While critics tend to favor groundbreaking sounds, plenty of mainstream recordings make the cut. And the strong showings of musicians from Chicago, Denver, Houston and St. Louis indicate that the rebuff of Kansas City’s jazz scene can’t be entirely chalked up to coastal bias.
Civic boosters regularly repeat the talking point about Kansas City being “one of the four pillars of jazz.” From the perspective of the music’s authorities, however, the city lags far behind New York, Chicago and New Orleans in 2017. Here’s to correcting that lowly status in the new year.
(Original image by Plastic Sax.)