Monday, October 22, 2007

The Ten Best Kansas City Jazz Recordings

Nine of the ten discs I've selected as the best Kansas City jazz recordings have one thing in common- they exude a sense of joyful celebration. The melding of blues and jazz that characterizes the Kansas City sound is intended as the soundtrack to a party. Even Frizzell and Metheny, the two artists on my list who veer farthest away from the city's traditional sound, radiate positive vibrations. The revolutionary work of Charlie Parker, manic and confrontational, makes him the odd man out. But he never fit in. In chronological order:

1. Bennie Moten- Band Box Shuffle (recorded 1929-32, Hep Records compilation released 2000)
Kansas City jazz didn't begin with Moten, but he was the first significant area bandleader to be extensively recorded. This set contains two-and-a-half hours of intoxicatingly vibrant music featuring the likes of Count Basie, Harlan Leonard, Hot Lips Page and Jimmy Rushing.

2. Count Basie- The Best of Early Basie (recorded 1937-39, Decca compilation released 1996)
The mother lode. Just the names of the participants- Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Claude Williams, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Jo Jones- inspire awe. When someone in Tokyo or Paris thinks of Kansas City, they have "Jumpin' At the Woodside" or "Doggin' Around" in mind. This set also includes Jimmy Rushing's reading of "Blues In the Dark," which may be my favorite recording of the twentieth century.

3. Jay McShann- Blues From Kansas City (recorded 1941-43, Decca compilation released 1992)
Impossibly hip titles like "Say Forward, I'll March" and "Hootie's Ignorant Oil" hint at the good times provided by these classic sides. And yes, the young Charlie Parker's first recorded honks are here.

4. Julia Lee- Kansas City's First Lady of the Blues, (recorded 1944-47, JSP compilation released 2001)
A full sixty years later, many of Lee's raunchy songs are fully capable of inducing blushes. Local legends like Sam "Baby" Lovett play alongside stars including Benny Carter and Red Norvo on these wild and wooly sessions.

5. Charlie Parker- Complete Dial Sessions (recorded 1946-47, Stash compilation released 1993)
As with his personal life, Parker's discography is complicated and somewhat messy. This selection comes down to personal preference; I really dig the mind-bendingly creative Dial sessions, which emphasize Parker's compositional skills.

6. Dwight Frizzell & Anal Magic- Beyond the Black Crack (recorded and self-released in 1976; reissued on Paradigm in 1998)
Does this obscure title by Kansas City's favorite oddball actually exist? Does it matter? The Sun Ra-obsessed Frizzell went on to make many experimental recordings with BCR, which for years was arguably the best band in Kansas City, jazz or otherwise.

7. Pat Metheny- American Garage (recorded and released in 1979, ECM)
As with Aaron Copeland's most popular works, the majestic compositions of American Garage evoke the generous vistas of the American plains. Metheny's incorporation of folk and country elements paved the way for explorations by both fellow guitarist Bill Frisell and new-grass acts including Bela Fleck and Nickel Creek.

8. Count Basie- Kansas City Shout (recorded and released in 1980, Pablo)
This late-career summit of Basie, Joe Turner and Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson reminds me of great late-night sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foudation, except there's nothing casual about the sophisticated big bands charts on "Blues For Joe Turner." Swinging came as easily to the old veterans as breathing.

9. City Light Orchestra- Raised Spirits (recorded and released in 1984, City Light Entertainment)
The sound captured by swinging traditionalists Dave Basse, Tim Whitmer, Ahmad Alaadeen, Jano and Laverne Barker continues to dominate Kansas City's jazz scene twenty-three years after this perfectly-titled set's release.

10. Myra Taylor- My Night To Dream (recorded in 2000, released in 2001, APO Records)
Even at ninety-years-old, Taylor shows more energy and spunk than almost every other entertainer in town. With Sonny Kenner's guitar and Eddie Saunders' tenor sax, this crisp recording unites Kansas City's jazz and blues legacies.

Disagree with my selections? I should hope so. Please add your list and thoughts to the comments section.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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