Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Bobby Watson shares his thoughts on the jazz scene with the Columbia Tribune. He performs at Murray's on New Year's Eve.

*The photographs of a recent Shay Estes gig by KCJazzLark are stunning.

*The Count Basie Orchestra is under new management. Here's the press release. There's a vastly superior new site as well. Before it disappears, I suggest taking one last look at the organization's absolutely brutal old site. (Tip via KCJazzLark.)

*Darcy James Argue offers an elegant appreciation of Bob Brookmeyer.

*Pat Metheny obsessives will want to take a look at this Flickr photostream chronicling his ambitious new project.

*Pat Metheny ranks #21 on Billboard's chart of the 25 best-selling jazz artists of the decade. A Swingin' Christmas, by Tony Bennett and the Count Basie Orchestra, ranks #40 on Billboard's chart of the best-selling jazz albums of the decade. And Ray Sings, Basie Swings comes in at #47 on the same chart. No other artists with Kansas City ties are listed. It's telling that not a single living purely acoustic jazz instrumentalist made either list.

*Mark Edelman runs down the week in live jazz.

*From Bram Wijnands' site: Bram Wijnands is back at the Majestic... In January, Bram Wijnands Trio will be performing at the Majestic on Friday and Saturday, 7-11 pm (except Friday 1-8 when Paul Shinn's Trio fills in).

*Mouth, the band that's not really a jazz band, offers yet another free download containing selections from a recent performance. How does this relate to "real" jazz musicians? Well, Darcy James Argue (referenced above), developed interest in his big band by disseminating live recordings. His proper 2009 release ranks highly on the year-end lists of many jazz critics. I implore local jazz artists to consider following this lead.

*Here's an amended version of a comment I left at KCJazzLark's site in response to his reference to the commonly cited statistic that three percent of music sales are jazz.

That 3% statistic is horribly misleading. Here's Billboard's ten best-selling jazz artists of 2009, in order: Michael Buble, Harry Connick, Jr., Diana Krall, Chris Botti, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Barbra Streisand, Melody Gardot, Nat King Cole and Boney James. And here are the ten best-selling jazz artists of the decade, in order: Norah Jones, Diana Krall, Michael Buble, Kenny G, Harry Connick, Jr., Chris Botti, Tony Bennett, Boney James, Dave Koz and Herbie Hancock. My hunch is that these 14 crossover artists account for 90% of all jazz sales. If I'm correct, the so-called long tail of jazz is exceedingly thin and malnourished.

*Unlike previous years, I'm not dedicating a post to live jazz on New Year's Eve. Here are a few options:

-The Blue Room- Everette DeVan and Greg Carroll perform from 8-10:00. The James Ward Band plays from 10:30-12:30.
-Davey's Uptown- Plastic Sax favorites Hearts of Darkness will be the life of the party.
-Jardine's- The Wild Women of Kansas City go on at 6:00 and Ida McBeth performs at 9:00.
-Lucky Brewgrille- AfterGroove will make for a smooth celebration.
-The Majestic- The Bram Wijnands Quartet performs.
-Candace Evans plays the Lodge of Four Seasons in the Ozarks.
-Bobby Watson and Horizon bring in the new year in Columbia.

Me? I'm celebrating New Year's Eve a day early with Hot Club of Cowton at Knuckleheads.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Hermon Mehari: The Plastic Sax Person of the Year

Hermon Mehari is far more than the trumpet player in Diverse. The energy and exuberance he contributed to Kansas City's jazz scene in 2009 make him the obvious choice for Plastic Sax's Person of the Year.


*In an environment permeated with cynicism and negativity (guilty as charged), Mehari's upbeat and optimistic demeanor stands out. While many jazz musicians bemoan their plight, Mehari made his own luck. He demonstrated that hard work and a positive attitude can make great things happen.

*Mehari was interviewed many times in 2009. He never failed to speak highly of UMKC's jazz program and of Kansas City. He's also quick to praise his band mates and other locally-based artists.

*Mehari is one of Kansas City's most visible jazz fans. He doesn't merely attend shows- he drags other along and regularly uploads video footage. He embraces the new technology that allows him to share his passion for jazz with others. Accordingly, Diverse's site is excellent.

*And then there's the music. Mehari probably isn't the most gifted member of Diverse, but his artistic vision and genial persona make him a terrific front man for the group. Diverse's self-titled debut album is quite impressive. And their live performances are even better. Mehari also gigs as a member of the trio Tri-Dimensional and frequently sits in with other acts.

There's no telling what 2010 has in store for Kansas City's jazz scene. Knowing that Mehari will play a part in it, however, makes the outlook for the new year seem that much brighter.

(Photo courtesy of UMKC.)

Friday, December 25, 2009

A Bob Bowman Christmas

What a band! Bob Bowman, Roger Wilder, Dave Chael, Bryan Hicks, Rod Fleeman and Brandon Draper perform "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen." (Tip on the video from Lee Ingalls.)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*A fascinating new interview with Chris Burnett is provided by Black House Improvisor's Collective.

*KCJazzLark gets a few solid jabs in at Plastic Sax in an otherwise excellent essay. Don't miss his incredible photos, either., He celebrates the forthcoming "Jazz Winterlude" at JCCC and expresses disappointment in The Majestic in another post.

*Derek Donovan reviews the new Shay Estes album.

*Eldar was featured at the NPR-sponsored "Jazz Piano Christmas." It streams here.

*Selections from Mark Lowrey's recent tribute to Radiohead are at YouTube. I recommend starting with the rendition of "Knives Out." Amazing! (Tip via Tim Finn.)

*The American Jazz Museum's public improvements request form is quite interesting.

*The Pitch uncovered an old KANU fundraising album. Hearing Dick Wright's voice again is a real treat.

*Lee Ingalls, the sorely missed Kansas City jazz advocate, is caught crooning here.

*Doug Tatum of the Folly Theater noted that Heather Masse of the Wailin' Jennys will be performing with Mark O'Connor on January 23.

*The Star reviewed a recent Ken Peplowski concert.

*An all-star cast of 35 jazz musicians performs Wednesday, December 23, at Jardine's.

*Dean C. Minderman of St. Louis Jazz Notes provides a tidy synopsis of the year in jazz at the Riverfront Times.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Man Bites Dog: Jazz Trounces Hip Hop

I attended two shows at The Record Bar last week. The first was a Monday jazz matinee. The second was a hip hop blowout on Saturday night.

One of the shows felt stale and was poorly attended. The other crackled with the expectant energy that can only be attained with the presence of an enthusiastic crowd.

And it's not what you might think. The jazz gig crushed the hip hop show in both audience size and artistry.

Diverse may be the darlings of Plastic Sax and other observers of the Kansas City jazz scene, but a Monday show with a ten dollar cover at a rock-oriented club is not exactly a sure-fire recipe for success. A youthful crowd of about 100 showed up for Diverse's dynamic show. Joined by exciting saxophonist Logan Richardson, the band offered a riveting hard bop performance.

The two revelations of the night, at least for me, were the hip hop-informed drumming of Ryan Lee and the clever colorings added by keyboardist John Brewer. The perpetually surprised look Brewer favors reflects his startling improvisational approach. His concepts steer the group safely away from any hint of fogeyism. I had to leave during the second set. I trust the final thirty minutes were even better.

Fans of Soul Providers are also attractive. There just weren't very many of them on hand Saturday. Even though the hip hop collective is firmly established on the scene, only about 60 fans paid five dollars to see them.

Young Storm (pictured below), Reach, Dutch Newman and Hozey-T were among the night's featured entertainers. While none were less than good, only Les Izmore was great. He's not the best MC in the collective, but his artistic vision is more compelling than that of his colleagues. While others fall back on cliches, Izmore embraces his experimental streak.

The Soul Providers would benefit from mixing it up at their next event. May I suggest a collaboration with Diverse?

(Original images of Diverse with Logan Richardson and Young Storm of the Soul Providers by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

Charlie Parker's White Christmas

Charlie Parker seemingly didn't take any days off. He would have been forgiven for coasting on a rendition of a relatively recent Irving Berlin song on a Christmas morning broadcast in 1948. Instead, his solo beginning at 0:50 and ending at 2:13 is a masterwork. Even his quote of "Jingle Bells" fits perfectly into the brilliant effort. Parker is joined by Kenny Dorham, Al Haig, Tommy Potter and Max Roach.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Valuable information about the American Jazz Museum and the Mutual Musicians Foundation is provided by Steve Penn. (Can any Plastic Sax readers offer additional insights into the reference to the album collection from Milton's?)

*The Phoenix might be remodeled according to Hearne Christopher.

*Ken Peplowski's tribute to Benny Goodman is previewed by The Kansas City Jewish Chronicle. The show is at the Folly Theater on December 18.

*AfterGroove has an impressive new promotional video.

*A Diverse gig is reviewed at a senior citizen's blog. Awesome.

*Sue Vicory has announced that her Kansas City jazz and blues documentary will have its official premiere on May 6.

*Ten live performance videos by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra were recently uploaded at YouTube.

*Tony of Tony's Kansas City continues his Dave Stephens coverage here and here. Hearne Christopher chimes in here.

*Between Kevin Mahogany, Mark Pender and the Hatchlings, the Cherokee Jazz & Blues Festival in Iowa has strong ties to Kansas City.

*Mouth may or may not be a jazz band, but they sure work hard to promote their gigs. "Everything that you wish that the jazz bands had- they've got it," a reggae musician says of Mouth in this promotional video for their Funk & Reggae Dance Summit at the Beaumont Club on December 18.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Ten Best Jazz Shows of 2009

Here's a list of my ten favorite live jazz performances of the year. If you think you think you saw ten better jazz gigs in Kansas City, well, you may be right. I encourage you to post your picks as comments.

1. Esperanza Spalding- The Folly Theater
She's an intriguing jazz bassist today. She'll be a household name by 2019.

2. The People's Liberation Big Band- The Pistol Social Club
I'm down for almost everything this collective does, but their scoring of The Battleship Potemkin blew my mind.

3. Steve Coleman- The Blue Room
So out it was in.

4. Karrin Allyson- Jardine's
She's become a master.

5. Afinidad- The Folly Theater
A fresh approach.

6. The Blue Note 7- The Gem Theater
The all-stars were astounding.

7. Tony Bennett- The Midland Theater
The legend was backed by a jazz band.

8. Logan Richardson- Jardine's

9. The Hearts of Darkness- Crosstown Station
I wrote that the ensemble conveys "the spirit, if not the sound, of Kansas City's heyday."

10.Black House Improvisors' Collective- City Center Plaza
Fun, exciting and unrestrained.

(Original image of drummers Jeff Hamilton and Tommy Ruskin by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Future of Jazz Isn't In Jazz

The future of jazz isn't in jazz.

That's why experiments like Mark Lowrey's December 12 tribute to Radiohead are so vital. Here's Tim Finn's fascinating discussion with Lowrey about the project.

I'm not a particularly rabid Radiohead fan. My ears perk up instead when hip hop DJs are replaced by jazz rhythm sections. (I expounded on that concept in a Lowrey-related essay four months ago. (That's Lowrey and his "With Drums" ensemble in the embedded video.)

Because I'm lucky enough to experience a wide range of live music several nights a week, I'm in a unique position to know just how shockingly small and pitfully passive the audience for jazz has become. If the most steadfast advocates of jazz could see what I see they'd realize just how severely the jazz audience has atrophied. The vast majority of entire generations of music fans have been lost.

Don't take my word for it. Just look at NPR's listener selections for the year in music. These are precisely the same sort of elite music aficionados who would have been extolling the merits of Chet Baker, David Brubeck, Miles Davis and Herbie Mann fifty years ago. Not only isn't a jazz title among their picks (unless you want to count Norah Jones' new rock-ish album at #28), the music isn't even on their radar. (Terry Teachout, of course, made a similar point in a controversial editorial earlier this year.)

I take no pleasure in making these observations, especially since I believe the music is undergoing an artistic renaissance. And I love my Jay McShann collection even more than I admire the latest sounds from the likes of Joe Lovano. But these sublime pleasures aren't shared by many.

The crisis- and yes, it is a crisis- can only be addressed by concepts like Lowrey's. I'm not suggesting that Lowrey's gig is going to save jazz. It might not even be any good. But it's a good idea. And jazz can use a lot more of those right now.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The proposed giant sign in the Jazz District clears another hurdle. This parody of the signage is neither helpful nor funny. (Latter tip via Tony's Kansas City.)

*Shay Estes checks in with Joe Klopus. The vocalist was also featured on KCUR. (Latter tip via KCJazzLark.)

*Diverse's December 14 gig at The Record Bar will be broadcast live at Ustream.

*Ann Spivak previews the Owen/Cox Dance Group's holiday collaboration with The People's Liberation Big Band.

*The American Jazz Museum is dragged into the post-Buck O'Neil controversy at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.

*KCJazzLark goes positive.

*Tony's Kansas City is quite the Dave Stephens fanboy.

*Ida McBeth is given the once over by KC Confidential.

*Sound samples from the forthcoming Pat Metheny album were briefly posted at Nonesuch's site. The sonics weren't nearly as weird as I had expected. It sounds more or less like "normal" Metheny.

*A very helpful schedule for January's Jazz Winterlude is posted at JCCC's site. The accompanying complete list of performers is also compelling. From a press release: Jazz Winterlude consists of two full days of jazz and a Sunday brunch. Musicians are all local. Festival-goers will hear styles from Dixieland to contemporary and everything in between — swing, big band, bebop and vocal jazz. “Kansas City has a huge cache of wonderful musicians who deserve to be heard by a wide audience in a concert setting,” said Doreen Maronde, festival organizer.

*Jim Mair of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra on the ensemble's "The Best of the Big Bands" January 9 concert at Yardley Hall: (The concert will feature) superb manuscript arrangements of the finest Big Band Jazz ever written. The music of Woody Herman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Gerald Wilson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Lionel Hampton, Bob Brookmeyer, Rob McConnell, Gil Evans. Maynard Ferguson, Thad Jones and others will be performed with precision and soul by 18 of Kansas City’s premier jazz musicians.

*From David Basse: If you’re looking for a way to jazz up your holiday spirit, join KPR for a night of holiday standards with a jazzy beat at the Liberty Hall-iday Boogie. Bring your mistletoe and dancing shoes. Kansas Public Radio will present David Basse, OJT and special guests Pearl McDonald, Nedra Dixon and Kim Park in concert Saturday, Dec. 12, 8 p.m., at Liberty Hall in Lawrence.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, December 7, 2009

Review: Jazz Carol Fest 2009

The unrepentantly silly but absolutely delightful lighting of Jurgen Welge's drums near the beginning of the 14th annual Jazz Community Carol Fest filled this curmudgeon with glee Sunday. The capacity audience of about 900 at Community Christian Church treated the two dozen participating musicians like royalty. In turn, they performed with panache.

Here are the moments I most enjoyed:

*The clever arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" referenced Chick Corea's "Spain." Violist Marvin Gruenbaum's playing on the piece was also spectacular.

*Stan Kessler's sensitive playing on "I'll Be Home For Christmas" was masterful.

*Pearl Thuston-Brown delivered a brief but magisterial "Go Tell It On the Mountain." What a treat!

*James Albright's goofy turn on "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" captured the spirit of the season.

*The slinky treatment given to "Do You Hear What I Hear?" was downright scandalous.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 4, 2009

Pat Metheny Stars In Category 47

Category 47 is The Recording Academy's listing for "Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group."

Along with Gary Burton, Steve Swallow and Antonio Sanchez, Lee's Summit native Pat Metheny has been nominated for a Grammy Award for the 2009 album Quartet Live. The four men are seen in the embedded video.

Even better is the painfully awkward start to this interview at the same Italian festival. Metheny's flabbergasted expression at the 0:15 mark is priceless.

Metheny has previously won 17 Grammy Awards in ten different categories, so it's relatively old hat for him. Here's the complete list of this year's nominees.

It's also worth noting that Sanchez performed at the Folly Theater on Halloween with Edward Simon's Afinidad and that one of his competitors for this year's nomination is Allen Toussaint, who appears at the Folly on January 8.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*I stumbled across this hidden gem at the Phoenix's site while dutifully adding dates to the Kansas City Jazz Calendar: The Roberto Magris Quintet featuring Albert "Tootie" Heath, Logan Richardson, Elisa Pruett and Brandon Lee will perform at the club on December 13. Here's a related video featuring the Italian pianist. Shh- it's a secret.

*The Rhythm Lounge was "temporarily" closed according to this report.

*KCJazzLark turns out to be quite a photographer. Here are his shots of Megan Birdsall, Bob Bowman and Paul Smith.

*Horace Washington and Garland Smith tell stories at KCUR.

*A local television station catches up with Oleta Adams. (Link via Tony's Kansas City.)

*Have you seen the The Jazz Baroness? The character of Charlie Parker is disparaged in the documentary. Here's a trailer of sorts.

*Steve Penn reports on efforts to assist Lucky Wesley of the Scamps.

*Pete Dulin previewed a performance by Malachy Papers and Mike Dillon.

*Eldar is featured at NPR.

*A Bob Brookmeyer gig in New York is previewed by an interesting interview. Here's another piece about his December 2 concert.

*This is promising: The Owen/Cox Dance Group and The People's Liberation Big Band present The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, December 11-13, at the H&R Block City Stage Theater in Union Station. Details are here.

*The "grand opening event" of the exhibit Jam Session: America's Jazz Ambassadors Embrace the World is December 3 at the American Jazz Museum. From the museum's site: Join us in the Changing Gallery from 6:00- 8:00 pm. Admission is free- suggested donation of $10 to support education programs at the American Jazz Museum. Kicking off our series of public programs and free concerts supporting (t)his exhibit is Jazz as an Instrument for Cultural Diplomacy American Ambassador Kenton Keith will be accompanied by American Jazz Museum Chief Executive Officer, Greg Carroll and world renowned jazz vocalist, Deborah Brown for an inspiring discussion exploring the history, present and future of jazz as an instrument for cultural diplomacy. To RSVP contact Glenn North.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)