Friday, August 31, 2007

Luqman Hamza's Hot Seat

On each of the dozens of occasions I've seen Luqman Hamza perform, I'm struck anew by his urbane persona and consummate musicianship. He recalls the sophistication of Nat "King" Cole, Charles Brown, Mel Torme and Bobby Short. It seems like he should be the featured attraction at an elite New York cabaret instead of playing for a handful of people in a Kansas City tavern. Consequently, Hamza's program last Friday at the Mutual Musicians Foundation's "Rush Hour" was somewhat surprising. The unpredictable behavior of the guest vocalists- including his wife, pictured here (I can't recall her name)- seemed to rattle Hamza's placid veneer. (Original photo by Plastic Sax, 8/24/07.)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Confirmation: Weekly News and Notes

*The New York Times' recent historical revisionism of Charlie Parker's career did not sit well with some locals. The gist of the piece seems to be that Kansas City represented nothing but an unfortunate roadblock for Parker.

*Meanwhile, the Star's Steve Penn mused on Parker's influence and Steve Paul offered an analysis of the state of jazz in Kansas City.

*The New York Times and jazz blogger Darcy James Argue offer differing opinions on the Charlie Parker Festival.

*Eldar garnered some ink in the New York Daily News.

*The American Jazz Museum receives a lot of flack. So it's nice to see a positive review of the facility on a travel blog.

*Lee Ingalls produced an excellent audio profile of preparation for a recent Snuff Jazz concert.

*The Pitch provides a fun video of a gal tap-dancing and goofing with Bobby Watson at the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*One shouldn't put much- if any- stock in the Missouri state fair's annual mock elections. Still, it's telling that "Kansas City Jazz" was trounced in a slate of four candidates.

(Photograph of Parker sculpture by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Charlie Parker's Grave Situation

Fans, journalists and family members gathered around Charlie Parker's grave in Lincoln Cemetery Sunday afternoon for a memorial service. Parker would have been 87 years old on Wednesday.

The highlight of the ceremony was a spirited round of "Now's the Time." Amateur enthusiasts joined some of Kansas City's most notable musicians. It was nice.

The 150 people at the service are more than I've seen at the last six or seven jazz shows I've attended. Combined. Parker merits remembering, of course. But living jazz musicians have a hard time drawing enough fans to carry a casket. Perhaps that's one reason Parker left Kansas City in the first place.

While I was pleased by the presence of New Orleans-style brass band Dirty Force, a few people were put off by their sloppy and irreverent performance after the formal service ended. "Are they supposed to sound this bad?" a crank complained.

For his part, Parker probably would have asked everyone to play a little longer and quite a bit louder.

(All images by Plastic Sax, 8/26/07)

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Wet and Wild Women of Kansas City

Music is just one element of any public appearance by The Wild Women of Kansas City. Bickering, story-telling and off-color jokes always threaten to make music an afterthought. Their free show last Sunday at Ironwoods Park in Leawood was no different.

All four women in the group- Lori Tucker, Geneva Price, Millie Edwards and Myra Taylor (left to right in the photo)- have strong personalities. Each is eager to take the lead.

Unfortunately, a sudden summer storm shortened Sunday's show. It was disappointing but not a disaster- the women have steady gigs separately and together.

The series continues August 26 with Ken Lovern's OJT.

(Original image by Plastic Sax, 8/19/07)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Confirmation: Weekly News and Notes

*Max Roach died August 16. The drummer's contribution to the development of jazz- including a major role in Charlie Parker's career- is inestimable. (That's Roach in the video above.) At my music blog, I recalled Roach's visit to Kansas City in 1997. Many jazz fans would do well to consider Roach's response when asked why he chose to collaborate with free jazz artists:

"A person like an Anthony Braxton is more like Charlie Parker than a person who plays like Charlie Parker. Bird was creative and different and looked inside himself. He knew what Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter and the rest of them had laid down. That was the foundation. Bird built on that foundation. Now you have people like Phil Woods who preserve the tradition. And then there are people who push forward, who perpetuate the continuum by trying out things. Cecil Taylor is more like Art Tatum than a guy who plays like Tatum. It may not always come off, but that's what creativity's about. Anyway, by now people accept me for what I am."

*Trumpeter Herb Pomeroy, who also played with Charlie Parker, died August 11.

*Kansas City mayor Mark Funkhouser blogged about the Wall Street Journal piece I referred to last week.

*Jazz received short shrift in a recent USA Today piece about Kansas City's "renewal."

*Jason at the Pitch commented on my open letter to the American Jazz Musem posted at Plastic Sax last week.

*A nice Star profile of Marty's Blues Cafe indicates that jazz may be in the club's future.

*I'm desperately trying to avoid getting into the "Jazz Calendar" business. The Jazz Ambassadors already do an excellent job with the thankless task. But I'm still compelled to point out a few unique events happening this week:

8/23 Dr. Lonnie Smith gets funky at the Blue Room
8/24 New American Jazz Museum director Greg Carroll sits in with Angela Hagenbach at Jardine's
8/25 Greg Carroll sits in with Angela Hagenbach at a $28 dollar benefit at CocoBolos at 151st and Nall
8/25 Snuff Jazz makes scary noise at All Souls Unitarian Church
8/26 Charlie Parker Gravesite Memorial Service, Lincoln Cemetery 1pm
8/26 "Charlie Parker's Birthday Party" at Mutual Musician's Foundation

Monday, August 20, 2007

Will Matthews: Swing Purist

Some say the true test of character is how a person behaves when no one's looking.

Very few people were on hand to witness to Will Matthews' Friday matinee performance at the Mutual Musicians Foundation. He's celebrated for his impeccably tasteful work as the guitarist in the Count Basie Orchestra. So it would have been completely understandable- even expected- if Matthews cut loose with some funk and rock riffs.

Yet Matthews never strayed from his genteel, sophisticated style. It was a sublime performance, ably assisted by keyboardist Dan DeLuca and an unidentified drummer.

A couple of vocalists sat in with Matthews. That's Bryan Hicks and his disturbing hand brace crooning here. (Hicks' home page is listed in the right column, but beware- it's infested by noxious pop-up ads.)

A quick reminder: The Foundation's "Rush Hour" shows take place every Friday. There's no cover, no smoking and no excuse for jazz lovers not to attend. (Details can be found at the link above.)

Friday, August 17, 2007

Open Letter To Gregory Carroll, The New Executive Director of the American Jazz Museum

Welcome to Kansas City, Mr. Carroll. Congratulations on your new position as Executive Director of the American Jazz Museum.

By all accounts, you're an outstanding addition to our community. Everyone who knows you speaks very highly of your energy, enthusiasm and excellent reputation in the jazz world.

I'm a longtime Kansas City-area resident and avid music fan. I launched a Kansas City jazz site,, a few weeks ago because no one was providing the information and opinionated insights I'd been seeking. You won't see any advertising at the site; I'm simply motivated by my love of the music.

I realize that as executive director of the museum you oversee a wide array of functions, but this letter is limited to ten specific suggestions for the American Jazz Museum.

I visited the museum for the first time in years last week. It was only because I felt compelled to check on the status of this site's namesake, the "plastic sax," that I returned. I've been to the Blue Room innumerable times, but the museum itself is just not a "do-again" institution. I'd like to see that change.

The place looked fine, but little had changed since my last visit. Rather than complain about the museum's deficiencies, I've compiled a list of suggestions for improvement. Some of my ideas are simple; others might be difficult to Implement. Some of my proposals will need funding. I'd like to think that this financial hurdle can be overcome. Many institutions would jump at the opportunity to donate products and services. Just as the ticket counter of the museums' lobby bears a plaque indicating that it was financed by the Kemper's foundation, new exhibits in the jazz museum could be similarly labeled (exhibit "courtesy of Sprint", for example.)

Each of my concepts is designed to make the museum more vital, relevant and exciting.

This is the most difficult- but most important- of my suggestions. As you know, jazz is best appreciated as a live medium. Even the most vibrant exhibits imaginable can't compare to a live demonstration. Ideally, a group of musicians would perform every day at a designated time- say 2 p.m.- in the area below the neon signs. They'd discuss and explain the material between each piece. Start by contacting all the musicians listed at My list is easily the most thorough and diverse compilation of links of Kansas City jazz and jazz-related artists ever accumulated- and these are just the ones with web sites. If not enough professionals are willing to contribute, try reaching out to high school and middle school bands. All of them would be honored to play at the museum. If implemented, this concept would make each visitor's trip truly memorable.

Visitors to the adjacent Negro Leagues Baseball Museum are given a brochure guide; visitors to the jazz museum receive nothing. A potential source of revenue is being missed. School children on field trips aside, the museum is mostly visited by tourists- exactly the demographic that every local restaurant, hotel and attraction hopes to reach. A few advertisements would support vital text about Kansas City jazz, recommended music and videos, directions to Charlie Parker's grave, etc.

The museum is designed so that guests can navigate the space independently. Still, wouldn't it be better if an official greeter patrolled the museum at all times, even if they mostly answer rudimentary questions like "How do I get to Bryant's?" and "Where's the bathroom?" Where will you find this volunteer staff? By my calculations, you're open 51 hours a week. You'd need 68 three-hour shifts per month. Put me down for two of those. I'll bet that the Jazz Ambassadors will fill at least half of the remainder. That leaves just 32 more shifts to fill.

In spite of the presence of the great Max Roach (may he rest in peace), the film playing in the screening room is somewhat tedious. Not a single visitor stuck with it longer than two or three minutes while I was there last week. That experience inspired me to come up with a "movie night" concept. One night each week, transform the room into a combination movie theater and cocktail party. Look to Kansas City's Screenland Theater as a model.

There are so many great jazz films, from fictionalized dramas like Round Midnight and Bird to documentaries like Let's Get Lost and Jazz On a Summer's Day. Different films would attract different audiences- The Benny Goodman Story would pull in one crowd while a Cecil Taylor concert video would be attended by an entirely different set of people. Sure, most of these titles are available via Netflix and Amazon, but the attraction would be to see them on the museum's unique big screen, with a group of like-minded people. A post-film discussion could be moderated by an expert.

You don't need me to tell you that it's all about video today. A universe of priceless jazz videos are available on YouTube. Anyone with a computer has access to footage of Kansas City greats past and present. Why not share these treasures with visitors on video monitors? Each screen might feature a menu of a dozen Kansas City jazz musicians' videos. Royalties and copyright issues can surely be worked out with artists and their estates. All should be pleased to have their art showcased at the museum.

On a related note- didn't the city spend a significant amount of money to acquire rare vintage jazz films? What happened to that material? How come it's not shown at the museum?

I'm reluctant to bring this up again- it led to an absurd dust-up with the museum's previous director the last time I mentioned it- but two display cases in the museum needed small repairs last week. Items had fallen to the bottom of their display cases. It just looks bad. Also, I suggest keeping a large supply of extra headphone cushions in stock. At least half the headphones in the museum lacked them last week. I presume that kids pocket them, but their replacement value can't be more than a few cents per unit.

Why not personalize the museum by giving area jazz fans a space for their memorabilia? A new display case would hold the contents of a person's collection- it could be photos, autographs, album covers or even just an essay about their relationship to the music. This exhibit could be placed near the "Kansas City jukebox" room and would rotate monthly. It'd be a lot of fun.

What possible purpose does not allowing cameras into the museum serve? Frankly, there are so few original artifacts in the museum that potential damage from flashes is negligible. And the neon club signs are a natural camera opportunity. The resulting proliferation of images on the internet would only help promote the museum.

What fun would a list be without an entirely outlandish idea? The museum already makes a fine effort to reach out to its youthful visitors. I propose that you go straight to the source of one of today's most popular youth culture phenomenon. You're probably already familiar with the hugely successful video game Guitar Hero. Try extending an invitation to Harmonix Music Systems, a division of Viacom, to partner with them in the creation of "Saxophone Hero"? They're already expanding the brand and they just might be seeking expert advisors on such a project. Who knows where it might lead? In addition to the recognition the museum would receive from the association, it's conceivable that you'd wind up receiving royalties on future sales. And that's to say nothing about the popularity of a Saxophone Hero game booth at the museum, or how this concept holds the potential to generate a new generation of jazz fans unlike any other medium.

I'll be at the Mutual Musicians Foundation around 6 p.m. if you'd like to discuss any of these proposals with me later today. Look for the guy with hair maintenance issues.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Confirmation: Weekly News and Notes

*The Wall Street Journal published William H. Smith's fond recollections of Kansas City's jazz heyday. Smith recalls seeing Charlie Parker sitting in with Jay McShann at Martin's-On-the-Plaza in 1938. The August 14 piece is here, but to avoid fancy-pants registration, try Googling "Wall Street Journal"+"Charlie Parker." (Thanks to M. for the tip.)

*Here's a link to Lee Ingalls' latest installment of jazz on KCUR.

*Hearne Christopher recaps the Mutual Musicians Foundation's good news in the August 15 Star.

*Bobby Watson provides a thorough update of his recent activities at his MySpace page.

*Jazz pianist Sal Mosca died July 28. He worked with Charlie Parker and other giants of jazz.

*Basie At Birdland was reissued with eight bonus tracks August 14.

*The proprietor of jazz blog Song With Orange recently visited Kansas City. He failed to let me know he was here, but he does name-check Plastic Sax in his impressions of our town. Don't miss his excellent photos of the Flint Hills.

*The Phoenix on 8th Street remains shuttered.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Way Out West With Abel Ramirez

Something remarkable happens every Tuesday evening in a nondescript strip mall at the remote edge of western Johnson County. A group of aging music and dance fans pour into an otherwise typical tavern for a vivid big band revival.

There's scarcely room to move at Tony's Bar & Grill as the Abel Ramirez Big Band tunes up. Squeezing onto the packed dance floor seems like the only reasonable option. The bar's adjacent game room serves as an overflow space for dancers.

Just because theirs is a functional music played explicitly for dancers doesn't mean the sound they produce isn't without artistic merit. They expertly work through charts based on the books of Artie Shaw, Perez Prado, Benny Goodman and the Dorseys. It's remarkably well executed.

It wasn't all giggles last Tuesday, however. Bandleader Ramirez was forced to make a difficult announcement before the night's first song.

"Management has asked me to inform you that you will no longer be able to reserve tables," Ramirez said. Cries of horror filled the room.

This minor gem of a video features the Abel Ramirez Big Band starting at the 5:15 mark. I'm sure that the same enthusiastic dancers on stage with the band at the Johnson Community College performance can be spotted at Tony's on Tuesdays.

Move it or lose it.

(Original photos taken by Plastic Sax on 8/07/07. I couldn't resist adding the sepia tint.)

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Confirmation: Weekly News and Notes

*Reviews for Love Letters From Ella range from "charming" to "a shameless cash grab." Some critics are concerned that Fitzgerald's voice is transposed over contemporary recordings on most of the new release's tracks. The current version of the Count Basie Orchestra is one of the groups providing new sounds. Those are the living versions of Fitzgerald and Basie in the 1979 video above.

*The August 3 Star ran a flattering profile of Gregory A. Carroll, the new executive director of the American Jazz Museum.

*The same issue of the Star reported that new management at the Phoenix "hopes it will reopen Aug. 10." As of August 8, however, the club's site doesn't confirm this news.

*Here's an interesting hand-written letter from Mary Lou Williams and a photo from the related Vancouver gig. (Tip from my friend M.)

*I'm just as annoyed by mimes as the next guy. Yet this dramatization of a "jazz dispute" between Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie is pretty well done.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Megan Birdsall: Next Big Thing?

Who will be the next Kansas City jazz artist to claim some of the international stardom enjoyed by Eldar, Karrin Allyson and Kevin Mahogany? Some might select Gerald Dunn, Charles Gatschet or Bram Wijnands. I'd put my money on Megan Birdsall.

Pretty and vivacious, Birdsall knows how to attract talent- that's Danny Embrey on guitar, Bob Bowman on bass and the hands of pianist Paul Smith in the photo. Birdsall also owns a forward-thinking approach to repertoire- she seems happiest when singing new standards by the likes of Joni Mitchell and the Beatles. Oh, by the way, she also has an excellent Ella-esque voice.

A few things still need to be ironed out. If Birdsall made me her manager tomorrow, I'd immediately pull down this unflattering video. Sure, it captures the vocalist's carefree sense of fun, but there are surely better ways to convey joie de vivre. And while I'd actively market her to record labels, clubs and festivals as a crossover artist, I'd fight to keep her recordings squarely in the jazz tradition. The temptation would be to push her into the Norah Jones and Michael Buble camp, but that's not the right move.

At least not until she's already a star.

(Original image captured by Plastic Sax at Blayney's, 8/03/07.)

Saturday, August 4, 2007

This Is My Condition

"This is my condition."

The statement, delivered after two minutes of scraping metal, raging percussion and excruciating feedback, is both funny and disturbing.

Demented one-man-band Craig Comstock, a.k.a. This Is My Condition, makes quite a racket. I witnessed him clear out the Jackpot Saloon in Lawrence during my first encounter with him a couple years ago. The rockers there to see The Hold Steady couldn't handle his fierce raging. It was quite an accomplishment. Only the bravest among Plastic Sax readers should dare watch this video of a typical TIMC performance.

Comstock calls his music "hardcore classical," and he'd probably disavow any connection to jazz. But it's jazz to me. I'll allow his deconstruction of Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" to serve as Exhibit A in my case (MP3 hosted at TINC's site). It embodies a couple of jazz's best attributes- unpredictability and ingenuity.

This is my condition, too.

(Original photo taken by Plastic Sax on 8/03/07 at the Westport Beach Club.)

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Meet Kansas City's Jazz Audience

Meet Kansas City's most enthusiastic jazz supporters. (I'm fourth from the left.) As I told The Pitch a few months ago, I'm tired of being one of the youngest people in the room when I attend live jazz events. And my hair turns grayer by the day.

These are desperate times for jazz. Acclaimed new releases by Ornette Coleman and Sonny Rollins struggle to sell 10,000 units. In Kansas City, The Phoenix jazz club is shuttered, hopefully only temporarily.

Will any jazz enthusiasts remain twenty years from today?

Hippies may be jazz's last hope. They dig improvisation and appreciate a groove. Every decent jam band counts John Coltrane among its influences. Back in May, I attended one of two sold-out shows at the Uptown Theater by jazz-inflected act Widespread Panic. A week or two later, I caught jazz-funk band The Greyboy Allstars at Crossroads. Who was there? Me and 500 hippies.

Ken Lovern knows this. The area jazz organist plays Friday night at Davey's Uptown as part of the "Jerry Garcia Memorial Stomp." That's a good gig, the type that's needed if the music is to forestall its date with a bottle of formaldehyde.

(Lovern gig tip via The New Low Down; photos borrowed without permission from web.)

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Confirmation: Weekly News and Notes

*NPR aired a fine downloadable program about Mary Lou Williams last week. They also list a Bobby Watson concert online here.

*The Shawnee Mission version of today's Star features a profile of Eldar.

*Are you excited about the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival? You'll have to travel to New York. This year's lineup includes Chico Hamilton and Abby Lincoln. Additional events are listed here.

*Did you know that there's also something called the Charlie Parker Jazz Prize? It's given away annually in New York. This year's recipient is Jose Bevia.

*Leon Brady received an award from the Johnson County Library Foundation.

*Kansas City's Jay Sollenberger is participating in a reunion of jazz-rock band Chase.

*Lee Ingalls, KCUR's jazz critic, recaps his recent survey picks in his July 27 post at The New Low Down. He also highlights two upcoming shows at the Blue Room at the site.

*The Call ran a detailed story about forthcoming events at the American Jazz Museum, but the piece is no longer available at its site.

*Chamber Music Northwest recently featured the premiere of an "ode to Charlie Parker" composed by David Schiff.

*The Star reported that the Alloy Orchestra will perform at Screenland Granada in Kansas City, KS, on October 12-13.

(Image of Mary Lou Williams borrowed from Rutgers University.)