Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Now's the Time: Tony Bennett

Eighty-two-year-old Tony Bennett croons at The Midland Theater Saturday night. I don't want to hear any whispers that Bennett isn't a jazz cat. His most recent album was recorded with The Count Basie Big Band. One of his best efforts is a sublime recording with Bill Evans. And just this week, he donated a painting of Duke Ellington to The National Portrait Gallery. Oh, he's a jazzer alright. (Incidentally, I almost featured "Slimey To the Moon" instead of Ellington's "In a Mellow Tone.")

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The publishing catalog of Charlie Parker is changing hands according to this report.

*Barbecue, jazz and dance receive a Kansas City-style mashup.

*Hours after publishing a post in which I whined about the dearth of locally produced jazz videos, I uncovered this two-minute film featuring the music of The People's Liberation Big Band. It's not exactly what I had in mind, but it's quite amusing.

*A new treasure trove of performance videos captures Bram Wijnands at The Majestic.

*"The sshhing is more annoying." That's the handwritten message on a table tent at Jardine's documented in this photo. (Tip via Plastic Sax reader.)

*My friend and colleague Joel Francis traveled to Arkansas to catch a Sonny Rollins gig. Here's his review. What gives, Joel? I would have pitched in for gas money...

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, April 27, 2009

Not So Festive

There's no getting around it. Losing the annual Rhythm & Ribs Festival- even if only for a year- is a major blow to Kansas City's jazz scene.

So what's a festival-loving Kansas City jazz fan to do this summer? Here are a few ideas.

Chicago's world-class jazz festival is held in September.

The Iowa City Jazz Festival is Fourth of July weekend.

For better or for worse, the Telluride Jazz Festival represents the future of "jazz." Jam-oriented bands serve as headliners at the June event but the likes of Bill Frisell, Donald Harrison and Christian Scott are also on the bill.

Don't look to St. Louis. Their annual jazz fest is also on "hiatus." Just down the road apiece is the Coleman Hawkins Legacy Jazz Festival in Topeka. Their lineup in 2008 was remarkable. (Edit: As noted in the comments, this event has also been canceled.)

Smooth jazz fans will get their mellow grooves on at Johnson County's Jazz In the Woods. It's in June.

And jazz fans shouldn't sleep on the Kansas City Kansas Street Blues Festival. Last year's fun event included Leon Brady's outfit (pictured at the festival above) and Myra Taylor.

Finally, there's no rule against barhopping between the Blue Room, Jardine's and other jazz clubs. Improvise your own jazz festival.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, April 24, 2009

Candace Evans At Jardine's

I'm guilty.

More than once I've yakked it up at Jardine's as jazz musicians performed. Watching this clip of Candace Evans working over a loud audience fills me with regret. To all musicians I've talked over- I'm sorry.

Evans is a fine talent. She was recently featured in The Sun. But how could she and her fellow musicians even hear themselves think at this recent gig?

At least these Chatty Cathys made the effort to attend Evans' show. That demonstration of support is wonderful.

I can't speak for Evans, but she'd probably rather play for a loud packed house than for just a handful of intent listeners. And the management of Jardine's, of course, is surely satisfied every time an artist like Evans fills their room with paying customers.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The big news this week is the unfortunate announcement that the 2009 edition of the annual Rhythm & Ribs festival has been canceled. Here's The Star's story. The Pitch's Wayward Blog published the official press release. It's followed by a testy debate.

*Kansas City's jazz musicians should know just how high rapper Mac Lethal has set the bar. His new swing era-inspired video is mandatory viewing. And it's not even as good as his previous effort. Tech N9ne's latest video is also very impressive. These are independent, locally-based and self-financed artists. The creation of such essential promotional tools requires imagination, motivation and (perhaps most importantly) art-school friends with video equipment. Are any Kansas City jazz musicians prepared to meet the challenge?

*A Plastic Sax commenter alerted me to this great review of a recent performance by The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.

*Did you miss The Mingus Big Band's concert at The Gem Theater last weekend? Me too. Thankfully, NPR is streaming a recent live performance.

*Kansas City-based Contemporary Jazz brought this exciting jazz documentary trailer to my attention. It's great. Seriously.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Kansas City Blues

Thirsty for both live music and a cold beverage Saturday afternoon, I intended to hit the jam session at Jardine's.

Alas, it's apparently been suspended.

I attended a blues gig at B.B.'s Lawnside BBQ instead. While I adore both the roadhouse and its owner, Lindsay Shannon, it served as yet another reminder that blues is far more popular than jazz in Kansas City.

Just look at the impressive list of daily events at The Kansas City Blues Society's blues calendar. My own admittedly anemic effort pales in comparison. (Worse still, Plastic Sax's listing is apparently the sole online directory dedicated to jazz.)

Two weeks ago I caught a 29-year-old blues guitarist at a local casino. Over 1,000 fans paid $25 each to see him. Can you imagine a similarly-aged jazz instrumentalist drawing such a large audience in Kansas City?

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Now's the Time: Lonnie Smith

Organist Lonnie Smith will almost certainly make it funky at the Blue Room Monday.

Kansas City has a long and illustrious affiliation with jazz organists. Everette DeVan and Ken Lovern are among our town's current mainstays. The legendary Mary Lou Williams played some organ. Big John Patton was born in Kansas City. Charles Earland died at a local Holiday Inn in 1999.

Videos with higher production values exist, but I appreciate the nasty feel captured on this clip of Smith in action.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Here's an amusing, well-produced video that features a recent performance by The Blue Devils. It would appear these talented guys are affiliated with Kansas City Kansas Community College.

*Here's more on the Claude "Fiddler" Williams collection.

*I checked on the progress of True To the Game. The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum's benefit CD is currently ranked #45,501 in Amazon's music department. That's disappointing for a title with exclusive tracks from many of hip hop's biggest stars. As I suggested several months ago, might a project featuring regional artists outperform it?

*The artier and noisier element of Plastic Sax's readership will want to check out The Pistol's calendar.

*The lineup of this weekend's Greater St. Louis Jazz Festival isn't compelling enough to put me on I-70, but it's still quite solid.

*Who says times are tough? Kansas just received $300,000 in tax dollars to be "redistributed to arts and cultural organizations."

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, April 13, 2009

What's In a Word?

Jazz. What does the word mean in Kansas City?

It gets requisite lip service in travel literature. Dozens of music instructors at area high schools and colleges attempt to make students fluent in the word. Plenty of local musicians are paid to play the music.

Thousands of Kansas City-area residents genuinely love the sound. A few hundred of them might even be under the age of forty.

But for most Kansas Citians, the word is no longer directly connected to music. For these people, Jazz might be a restaurant chain. It could be a women's rugby team. Some might even acknowledge it as the soundtrack of a Robert Altman film.

The disconnect, of course, is not limited to Kansas City. There's Jazzercise, Utah's professional basketball team and the cable channel that broadcasts Steve Harvey.

The music, let alone the word's sordid etymology, has become a secondary association.

What about the inspiration for this essay? It's an auto and tire repair shop in Kansas City, Kansas.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Now's the Time: The Mingus Big Band

The Mingus Big Band performs April 18 at The Gem Theater. As I noted in March, the version of the band appearing in Kansas City is loaded with all-star talent- Lew Soloff- trumpet, Earl Gardner- trumpet, Kenny Rampton- trumpet, Vincent Herring- sax, Craig Handy- sax, Donny McCaslin- sax, Abraham Burton- sax, Jason Marshall- sax, Frank Lacy- trombone, Conrad Herwig- trombone, Earl McIntyre- trombone, Donald Edwards – drums, Boris Koslov – bass and Helen Sung – piano. Plastic Sax is skeptical of most ghost bands, but the combination of this remarkable collection of talent and Mingus' thorny legacy promise to make this concert very worthwhile.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Steve Penn takes note of an exhibit at The Smithsonian featuring Claude "Fiddler" Williams. The museum's site doesn't offer much detail.

*While I sincerely hope that community radio station KKFI survives, its struggles don't represent a major crisis for Kansas City. While I don't endorse his tone or choice of words, I generally agree with the sentiment expressed here by Tony's Kansas City.

*Steve Coleman compliments Brandon Draper and The Blue Room in a comment to my review of his show.

*Here's a brief video about The American Jazz Museum. I'm told it's a high school student's project. And here is a new official promotional video.

*Linda Richter Brady of Kanas City Youth Jazz suggests that The Star feature "young local musicians" instead of pop icon Britney Spears.

*There's no Kansas City content in this intriguing essay about the "death of jazz," but it's a very compelling piece.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Steve Coleman at The Blue Room

Kansas City's cool kids were at The Blue Room Friday night.

You have no idea how gratifying it feels to be able to write those words without a trace of irony. It had been a long time coming.

Indie rock hipsters, forward-thinking jazz musicians and musical adventurers of all stripes accounted for most of the approximately 100 people on hand to see saxophonist, composer and conceptualist Steve Coleman.

His 75-minute second set was my favorite live music experience to date in 2009.

Coleman demonstrated that he still possesses the fire and imagination that he displayed when he burst onto the scene in the mid-'80s. For many music fans, myself included, Coleman represented the future of jazz. He combined the outside concepts of Anthony Braxton, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra and James "Blood" Ulmer with contemporary hip hop, R&B and reggae. That sounds like a mess. And sometimes his recordings were a confused jumble. But just as often, Coleman offered a rare and entirely refreshing approach that promised to reenergize jazz.

Over twenty years later, Coleman works in relative obscurity. His jaw-dropping performance Friday proved that his artistic vision hasn't diminished. Rather, he just hasn't been able to overcome overwhelming public indifference to serious jazz. In fact, the 52-year-old's effort possessed all of the wild-eyed aggressiveness and exploratory spirit that made me fall in love with the music in the first place.

Coleman's playing fused the majestic essence of John Coltrane with the sense of tradition established by the likes of Coleman Hawkins. Yet it was Coleman's skill as a bandleader that most impressed.

Vocalist Jen Shyu played an enormous role in the night's success. She's a miraculously engaging combination of Bjork and Ella Fitzgerald. Trumpeter Jonathan Finlayson might easily be mistaken for a chess master. His cerebral playing matches his appearance. Bassist Thomas Morgan held these disparate elements together.

The set didn't end so much as it petered out. Coleman seemed unsatisfied with last-minute substitute drummer Brandon Draper's interpretation of a rhythm. The show stopped as Coleman conducted a rehearsal-style lesson. It probably wasn't much fun for Draper- who had, incidentally, been spectacular- but it provided the audience fascinating insight into Coleman's strategic vision.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Now's the Time: Terence Blanchard

Terence Blanchard is one of the most thoughtful artists currently working in both the popular music and jazz scenes. He collaborated comfortably with Lil Wayne at this year's Grammy Awards show. He scores films with elegance. And he remains a mean trumpet player. This is the trailer for Flow: Living In the Stream of Music, a documentary about Blanchard that was screened at Kansas City's Fringe Festival in July 2007.

(I have other obligations Saturday but look for me tonight at The Blue Room for Steve Coleman.)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The always entertaining Myra Taylor was featured in The Star.

*I've been informed that Candace Evans' gig at Jardine's on Wednesday, April 1, will be her sole 2009 appearance in Kansas City.

*Plastic Sax is one of the innumerable topics discussed on a new episode of The Miles Bonny Show. Jason Harper characterizes me as "kind of a weird guy." Fair enough.

*Harper analyzes the New York TImes' piece on the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*He also has the scoop on a Medeski Martin & Wood tribute taking place in Lawrence later this month.

*Joe Klopus turns in a particularly newsworthy column.

*Kurt Kloeblen profiles Miles Bonny.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)