Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Steve Paul offers his take on the year in Kansas City jazz.

*Pat Metheny's Day Trip is ranked at #38 in the Village Voice's annual jazz critic's poll. In the reissue category, Mosaic's Lester Young/Count Basie title came in third while a 1948 date by Charlie Parker claimed eighth place. The vast disparity between the relevance of Kansas City's old and current jazz scenes remains deeply troubling.

*Did you know that Kansas State University offers a course in Kansas City jazz? An excitable and sadly misinformed blogger writes about his eagerness to attend the class. Alas, he believes that Jay McShann is still alive. If only it was so...

*In a potentially troubling development for jazz purists, Jardine's booked blues artist Millage Gilbert for a late show on January 3. Here's an excerpt of the club's press release: "Many, familiar with this town's worldwide reputation for Jazz, are less aware of our (even larger) Blues community. In truth, most of Kansas City's historic jazz figures, Basie, Turner, Parker and the rest, were as much stars of Blues as well as they were of Jazz. " It's a topic frequently pondered by Plastic Sax.

*Steve Penn provides an update on the Coda Jazz Fund.

*The Star quotes Andrew Zender of the American Jazz Museum about ticket sales to the Blue Room's New Year's Eve event.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Robert Graham, 1938-2008

Artist Robert Graham is dead. His appropriately gargantuan Charlie Parker piece was installed in Kansas City's jazz district in 1999. I absolutely adore it, and not only because I believe that the saxophonist's full face resembles my own. The sculpture gives a sense of Parker's wit, grace and genius. Perhaps Graham's death will bring additional attention to the outstanding work and to Parker's legacy.

(Original image of Graham's Parker sculpture by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 26, 2008

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*James Zollar, a trumpeter scheduled to perform tonight (December 26) with Bobby Watson at the Blue Room, is the subject of Joe Klopus' weekly column. Klopus spoke to Brad Cox last week.

*The geek wizard behind Plastic Sax was a guest on KCUR's Up To Date December 19. I was delighted to discover that host Steve Kraske is an enthusiastic reader of Plastic Sax.

*Incidentally, San Diego jazz musician Craig Pilo was featured at Plastic Sax's sister site, There Stands the Glass, the day of the KCUR broadcast. Why? He voluntarily reached out to me and sent me his latest album. I'll remind Kansas City musicians that they're welcome to follow Pilo's lead.

*Jason Harper recounts a performance by the People's Liberation Big Band.

*A "Sunday Night Concert Series" featuring national artists commences at Jardine's in January. Check the Plastic Sax jazz calendar for listings.

*A blogger reviews the menu at Jardine's.

*Joel Francis previewed the Mongol Beach Party reunion.

*Steve Penn notes a jazz-related tale of courage.

(Original image of western Kansas by Plastic Sax.)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Spirits All Around Me

Julia Lee is "afraid ol' Santa won't be coming." The band on this '47 date includes Vic Dickenson on trombone, Benny Carter on sax and Sam "Baby" Lovett on drums. That's Lee on piano. Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot?

There's nothing like ringing in the new year in true Kansas City fashion with a renowned jazz band. Perhaps the musicians will precede a swing version of "Auld Lang Syne" at midnight with "One O'Clock Jump" by Count Basie or Charlie Parker's "Confirmation."

Unfortunately for local readers, finding that famous Kansas City feel on New Year's Eve will require some extra effort in 2008.

Last year Bobby Watson played at the Blue Room on New Year's Eve. NPR broadcast Karrin Allyson's live performance in Kansas City two years ago. No such obvious choice for the serious jazz lover is available in Kansas City this year.

Neither of Kansas City's two premier jazz clubs will have a traditional jazz band on stage at midnight on New Year's Eve. The Blue Room is going with Heat Index, a fine R&B and soul-oriented band. And Jardine's has booked the popular blues-based artist Dan Doran. The wonderful Ida McBeth plays from 8-10 p.m. at the Blue Room while the excellent cabaret group Alacartoona plays an early show at Jardine's.

Why? It's only speculation on the part of Plastic Sax, but these savvy clubs know that they need to fill their rooms on one of the year's biggest nights. That might not happen with a jazz act, so the clubs are opting for safer, audience-pleasing choices. I don't blame them. Perhaps the money they make on New Year's Eve can subsidize additional jazz programming in 2009.

Jene Osterheldt's Monday column was a huge help to Plastic Sax. Only because of her do I know that Alice Jenkins is at Cafe Trio. And while radio advertisements had informed me that "two live jazz bands" were peforming at the annual Omega Ball at the Sheraton Overland Park Convention Center Hotel, Jene identifies them as TC Dixon and the KC All Stars Jazz Band. (Before you ask- I don't know who they are, either.)

Other options include Stephanie Laws at Benton's, Dan Thomas at the Phoenix and jump blues act Grand Marquis at Michael Smith at 1900 Main. The jazz-friendly Miles Bonny is booked as a dance DJ at Crosstown Station.

An attractive alternative might be to head to the Lodge of the Four Seasons at the Lake of the Ozarks for Candace Evans.

Edit: Doug Talley will be performing in a trio format at Zest, 106th and Mission Road in Leawood.

Where will you find Plastic Sax on New Year's Eve? I like to celebrate in the middle of a mosh pit.

(Original image of a typical Friday night at Jardine's a punk rock show at the Beaumont Club by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bobby Watson: KC's Premier Soloist

Is any jazz musician in Kansas City capable of reeling off a more viscerally entertaining and intellectually stimulating solo than Bobby Watson? Harold O'Neal, Loren Pickford and Bram Wijnands are possible contenders. Still, it's difficult to imagine any artist topping Watson's display in this recently posted video.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Steve Paul composed an engaging profile of Megan Birdsall. His piece indicates that the vocalist's next recording project may not please jazz purists.

*Congratulations! "The American Jazz Museum pleased to announce that the event program from the 4th Annual Rhythm & Ribs Festival was recognized at the 6th Annual Philly Awards as a 1st Place Winner in the Special Event Publications category."

*In a column about changes at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Jason Whitlock wrote, "An up-to-date Hood Pass is a requirement for leading the museum."

*Lee Ingalls spotted a photograph of a recent Scamps performance.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Ten Most Important Jazz-Related Events and Stories of 2008

One step forward and two steps back. The aphorism aptly summarizes the year in Kansas City's jazz scene. Most but not all of the news was bad. There were just enough positive events and encouraging developments to allow a glimmer of hope. Perhaps the music's slide into commercial and popular irrelevancy isn't irreversible.

1. Ed Fenner. It speaks to the increasingly fragile condition of Kansas City's jazz scene that the death of a fan is the year's biggest story. But Fenner, who died May 18 at 71, was no ordinary fan. Plastic Sax heard many well-intentioned promises at Fenner's memorial service. Alas, few of those pledges have been realized.

Other losses on our scene were the deaths of jazz promoter and sponsor Butch Berman, retailer and musician James DeRigne, blues man King Alex Littlejohn, Scamps member Earl Robinson and Lee Young, brother of Lester. As the country song goes, "who's gonna fill their shoes?"

Adding insult to injury, the Kansas-based International Association of Jazz Educators filed for bankruptcy.

2. The Phoenix Rises. The downtown club reopened in November. It's too soon to judge its vitality, but it sure is nice having it back.

3. Ups and Downs at 18th and Vine. The jazz district lost the popular Peachtree Restaurant in 2007. This year, however, Harper's established itself as the district's new fixture and the Kansas City Blues & Jazz Juke House opened. A new parking lot was built in proximity of the Charlie Parker sculpture. The Rhythm & Ribs festival transpired even without Patti Austin. And in a biter disappointment to Plastic Sax, the Mutual Musicians Foundation's Friday evening Rush Hour jam session was discontinued.

4. Love You Live. Win some and lose some. The Plaza III discontinued its live jazz format. Bar Natasha, a jazz-friendly cabaret, shuttered. The Mango Room, a downtown restaurant that regularly featured live jazz, also closed. The Midland Theater reopened. It's beautiful, but Norman Brown has been the sole jazz act to perform on the refurbished stage. The excellent jazz series at the Folly and the Gem, thankfully, both continue. The Blue Room maintains an exceptionally vital schedule. And the Record Bar is transformed into a jazz club two nights a month.

5. The Role of Jardine's. Jardine's becomes increasingly important as other clubs close. The decision to invest in a new piano is a very encouraging signal. It's true that an increasingly large number of the bookings can't be characterized as jazz acts, but the Jardine's calendar continues to show a savvy balance of art and commerce.

6. Jazz In the Woods? The annual Johnson County event continues to morph into a blues/oldies/country festival. Only one local jazz artist- Megan Birdsall- appeared this year. The headliners at the three-day event were '70s funksters The Average White Band, blues act The Fabulous Thunderbirds and country band Lonestar.

7. The Methenys Step Up. The Metheny Music Foundation established itself as an important contributor in the community with a benefit concert starring Pat. Funds have already been awarded to area students.

8. Radio Radio. KKFI cut its jazz programming to two hours each weekday. Plastic Sax isn't terribly concerned about the development; internet, cable and satellite radio provide an embarrassment of riches on demand. KKFI's decision merely reflects Kansas City's diminishing interest in jazz. And to KCUR's credit, the public radio station produced several excellent segments on local jazz artists.

9. Little Jazz Bird. Why has so much attention been accorded to Megan Birdsall's medical problems? Her struggle represents more than just a compelling story about a rising star. Should Birdsall break out, the accompanying rising tide might lift the entire scene.

10. Plastic Sax. The future of Plastic Sax is in jeopardy if the economy doesn't improve. Just kidding. I don't accept advertising or underwriting. It costs just ten dollars a year to keep Plastic Sax afloat. I'll soldier on in spite of the complete indifference of most musicians and the open disdain of many members of Kansas City's jazz establishment. Plastic Sax has offered 135 unique posts about Kansas City's jazz scene in 2008. That's a lot of jazz.

Here's Plastic Sax's year-end summary of 2007.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Now's the Time: Roberta Gambarini

The audience at the Folly Theater Saturday night is almost certainly going to adore Roberta Gambarini. The Italian jazz vocalist's mainstream swing is an ideal match for the sensibilities of Kansas City's core jazz audience. As this video demonstrates, Gambarini is in the tradition of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae. Joe Klopus' very helpful summary of Gambarini's career appears in today's Star (link not yet available).

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCUR aired a compelling interview with Bobby Watson. Steve Paul covered the Watson show previewed on the radio broadcast. Paul also took notes at a performance by Jake Blanton. A Star reader enjoyed Watson's gig.

*Celebrated Kansas City blogger Midtown Miscreant reports on some troubling trash near Charlie Parker's grave in Lincoln Cemetery.

*The battle over the estate of bandleader Billy Tipton has a Kansas City connection. I'm so confused! Here's Tipton's rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown."

*Kansas City-related jazz artists received seven Grammy nominations. Steve Paul lists the nods to Pat Metheny, Karrin Allyson, Count Basie and Lester Young. Bob Brookmeyer was also recognized.

*An interesting story about the former programming director of Warrensburg's KTBG touches on the station's abandonment of a jazz format in 2001.

*The Pitch gives Plastic Sax a generous shout-out regarding our updates on the Phoenix jazz club. Can a Pulitzer be far behind?

*Thursday's Al Jarreau concert at the Midland has been canceled.

*Here's the complete text of an email sent by Jardine's this week:

Jardine's Thanks You!

To all of you who purchased a piano "key" we invite you to the first official Society Charter Member of the New Piano appreciation party Sunday December 14 from 5 to 7 with Bram Wijnands' Trio.

Appetizers and Soft Drinks Provided! The first half of the evening will be exclusive to those who have contributed to the new piano, then we will open up to the public (minus the free stuff!!) at 7pm. If you know of someone who would like to contribute bring them along.

Anyone who would like to become a member come on by and put your name on a key! The contribution is $100.

We plan on holding these events once a month. Eventually we will have an actual keyboard on the wall with all the members names on the keys.

Many "special" keys have been spoken for (Marilyn Maye got middle C!) but maybe yours is still available. Here is our Current List of Contributors:

Craig Akin, Karrin Allyson, Roger Atkinson, David Basse, Megan Birdsall, Miles Bonny, Carrie Brockman,Walter Bryant, Demasters Insurance, Kay Dennis, Tim Doherty, Dan Doran, Bill Doty on memory of Ed Fenner, Millie Edwards, Sharon Eiker, Christine Garvey, Angela Hagenbach, Greg and Kathy Halstead, Mike Kaplan, Suhud Koker, Howard Lay, Ken Lovern, Mark Lowrey, Doreen Maronde, Marilyn Maye, Erin McGrane, Janet Miller, Michael Pagan, Steve Rigazzi, Kim Sivils, Paul Smith, Gerald Spaits, Mandy Stever, Mike White, Tim & Patti Whitmer, Roger Wilder, Todd Wilkinson, Lori Tucker & Ham, Sonya Yarmat, Eric Smith

(Original photo by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, December 8, 2008

Jazz Carol Fest 2008

The annual Carol Fest at Community Christian Church serves as an excellent survey of Kansas City's mainstream jazz scene. Yesterday's rendition was no exception. Even Scrooge- a character sometimes identified with Plastic Sax- would have tapped his toes with vigor.

Here are a few of the evening's highlights:

*Millie Edwards was the clear favorite of the capacity audience of about 600. The louder she sang, the more they loved her.

*I preferred Ida McBeth's controlled, emotional reading of "The Christmas Song."

*Angela Hagenbach, accompanied only by James Albright's bowed bass and Tim Whitmer's piano, was also outstanding on "I Wonder As I Wander."

*Bram Wijnands shone brightly on "Let It Snow" and "White Christmas." He played accordion to great effect on the latter.

*Guitarist Rod Fleeman anchored the house band. He demonstrated impeccable taste and versatility on every selection.

*Folk musician Danny Cox was a nice addition. His heartfelt original song allowed Fleeman to cut loose a la Duane Allman.

*Jurgen Welge's fine drumming was punctuated by festive seasonal flourishes.

*Other participants included Max Berry, Tom DeMasters, Everett DeVan, Jim Mair, Al Pearson, Diane "Mama" Ray and Lucky Wesley.

(Original blurry image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Now's the Time: Sara Gazarek

Who's up for a road trip? Sara Gazarek performs Sunday in Topeka. Her wonderful performance in this simple video is capable of charming the skinny jeans off the most cynical of indie rock hipsters. Yet the California-based Gazarek does nothing to dismay the elder swing set. Karrin Allyson, Erin Bode and Norah Jones are advised not to look back- Gazarek is gaining on them.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Steve Paul's coverage of the Urban Noise Camp event at the Record Bar sheds additional light on the event featured at Plastic Sax last week.

*Joel Francis includes Dave Brubeck's October show at the Folly Theater in his Top Ten Concerts of 2008.

*The local NBC affiliate offers four sentences about a ribbon-cutting ceremony earlier this week at 18th and Vine.

*I'm working on my annual jazz-oriented guide to New Year's Eve. So far I've uncovered two places in Kansas City that will have jazz bands on stage when the clock strikes midnight. (Yes, that's a solicitation for help.)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, December 1, 2008

From the Ashes

Although a band had yet to set up, I was delighted to knock back a Pale Ale at the Phoenix last Friday night. The jazz venue- an increasingly endangered species in Kansas City- has reopened. The 8th Street tavern was doing solid business. Alas, I was one of the youngest people in the room. EDIT: (I'd link to the Phoenix's site, but none exists.) A reader came to the rescue: The Phoenix Jazz Club.