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.)

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Ten Most Important Jazz-Related Events and Stories of 2009

Matt Otto set me straight earlier this month. "I think jazz has never been so strong," the saxophonist asserted in an interview. "Not necessarily from an economic point of view, but due to the sheer number of jazz musicians on the planet that increases year after year." The contentious relationship between art and economics riddles this summary of the state of Kansas City jazz in 2009.

1. Jazzy Home Companion. The weekly 12 O'Clock Jump radio broadcast brought fresh energy to the Mutual Musicians Foundation. It's too soon to know if the program is going to get the syndication sought by its organizers, but even if it fails the experiment is a noble one. (The NPR-centric show was nicknamed by Jason Harper.)

2. No Rhythm. No Ribs. The cancelation of the 2009 edition of the Rhythm and Ribs Festival, Kansas City's premier jazz event, was demoralizing. Adding insult to injury, the festival's site has been hacked.

3. Diverse. The rise of Diverse gives Kansas City music fans an energetic young act to rally around. Musically, Diverse is excellent. But they also "get it." The band's DYI PR model proves that energy and enthusiasm can make good things happen.

4. The Majestic. The closing of The Majestic provided a great deal of hand-wringing. Its re-opening has been the source of cautious optimism. The sometime jazz joint doesn't yet have a dedicated new site, but they do engage customers on Twitter. Our fingers are crossed.

5. Fresh faces. Three notable musicians- Jerry Hahn, Matt Otto and Kim Park- either returned to Kansas City or moved here for the first time. And Dixieland fans must be delighted that Lynn Zimmer is now featured several nights a week at the Gaslight Grill.

6. Non-jazz creep. Venues ostensibly dedicated to jazz feature an increasing number of blues, soul, cabaret, folk and rock acts. Well over a quarter of the bookings at Kansas City's three primary jazz clubs don't play jazz. I'm hardly a jazz purist, but I just can't bring myself to list artists who resemble Tori Amos, James Taylor and Eric Clapton on The Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

7. New media. Some get it. Some are being left behind. Real-time Twitter dispatches from artists, clubs and music fans influence where I spend my dollars at least once a week. Meanwhile, savvy artists make their music accessible to fans. Last week, for instance, Chris Burnett gave fans a free MP3. Diverse boasts a national presence thanks less to radio than to podcasts. Not coincidentally, Burnett and Diverse also understand the power of video. Money is no longer an excuse- I saw an off-brand video camera advertised for $25 on Black Friday.

8. Quiet Saturday afternoons. One of my favorite Kansas City traditions ended this year. Saturday afternoon jazz jams are no more. Jardine's ceased hosting the event several months ago. It has yet to be replaced. And no, Mama Ray's blues-rock jam session at BB's Lawnside BBQ doesn't count.

9. Dwindling audience. I keep hearing about great turn-outs for jazz events, but the majority of high-profile jazz shows I attended at the Folly, the Blue Room and Jardine's were poorly attended. A lot of it is attributable to sad attrition. Vince Bilardo, for instance, was a fixture at almost every jazz event. He died in February. Jazz students aside, I have yet to see evidence of a young jazz audience to replace previous generations.

10. Jazz on film. Decades after it was acquired by the city, portions of The John Baker Film Collection are finally on permanent display at The American Jazz Museum.

I wrote similar lists at the conclusion of 2008 and 2007.

(Original image by Plastic Sax. What I wouldn't give to be a 17-year-old member of this pep band...)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Weeping With Webster

Do you cry when you listen to music? I do. It seems Ben Webster did too. He appears to start weeping during Teddy Wilson's solo in this remarkable video. I get it. The Kansas City native would have turned 100 this year. He died in 1973, three years after delivering this riveting performance in Europe.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Jazz Session podcast recently featured Hermon Mehari of Diverse.

*The Star reviewed the Jeff Hamilton Trio's recent appearance at Jardine's. So did Tony's Kansas City.

*Pat Metheny will tour extensively in 2010. He stops at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City on May 7. A book of interviews with Metheny was noted by Joe Klopus last week.

*Coleman Hawkins is remembered in a KC Currents podcast.

*"Bethel campus will be a jazzy place in December." The headline of an article about a forthcoming appearance by Ben Leifer and Ben Markley cracks me up.

*KCJazzLark shares more war stories.

*Here's the week in jazz according to Mark Edelman.

*Anyone know of a Donna King? She claims Kansas City as her hometown in this performance filmed in London. She lists Mama Ray's blues jam among her credits here.

*A feature about Swiss jazz vocalist Beat Kaestli is fascinating. He lived in Higginsville, Missouri, as a high school exchange student.

*Mouth posted a live collaboration with Reach at MySpace. Is it jazz? Not really. Do I like it? Yes I do.

*Johnny Almond of the Mark-Almond band died November 18. My friend BGO noted that Almond lived in the Kansas City area for a while. "The City", his biggest song, contains jazz elements.

*Here's a photo essay of jazz night at YJ's. (Link via Tony's Kansas City.)

*Photographer Dan White has a new exhibit of photos of Kansas CIty jazz artists at a gallery in Michigan. Here's the story.

*Here's the latest missive from the Black House Improvisors' Collective: ... the second Black House Residency is now underway. Once again we are proud of the caliber of musicians we have participating. The collective this session consists of Matt Otto, Chris Burnett, Patrick Ketter, Russell Thorpe, Peter Lawless, Hunter Long, Derek Worthington, Nick Howell, Blake Rayfield, Zach Beeson, and Matt Leifer. This residency will conclude with a performance of original music written by the participants on January 15th as part of the Charlotte Street Foundation's 3rd Friday open studios. Admission is free and the performance will take place at 8:00pm on the 5th floor of City Center Square at 1100 Main.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, November 23, 2009

Bobby Watson: The Plastic Sax Person of the Decade

There's no getting around it. The Kansas City jazz scene has suffered greatly during the past ten years. Don't blame Bobby Watson. Without his vital presence, the decade might have been a complete disaster.

Watson accepted an invitation to become an instructor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2000. As director of jazz studies at UMKC he's overseen the development of dozens if not hundreds of musicians. These young hopefuls have been a fresh and enthusiastic presence both as fans and as performers at Kansas City's jazz venues. All but one member of the exciting new band Diverse, for instance, are proteges of Watson.

His academic endeavors haven't prevented Watson from becoming the most famous Kansas City-based jazz musician. A fiery saxophonist, Watson tours the world and records frequently. In addition to releasing five albums as a leader this decade, he's racked up an extensive list of recent recording credits.

As if all that wasn't enough, the Kansas City, Kansas, native is a tremendously nice guy. Thank you, Bobby, for your invaluable contributions to Kansas City.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Bob Brookmeyer: An Appreciation

Bob Brookmeyer was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1929. Although he turns 80 next month, the trombonist continues to make his presence felt. "We're up to our necks in repertory groups and you can't recreate dead people," Brookmeyer complains in a recent interview. Talk like that makes Plastic Sax swoon with admiration. The embedded video shows Brookmeyer performing about fifty years ago (!) with Gerry Mulligan's groundbreaking band. A true artist, Brookmeyer continues to explore news sounds. This fascinating video shows him working on innovative material with Kenny Wheeler. Happy Birthday, Bob, and keep giving 'em hell.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Majestic Steakhouse has reopened! I'd love to celebrate this great news by integrating their jazz bookings into my Kansas City Jazz Calendar, but the downtown venue's entertainment schedule seems to be a secret.

*Did you know that the Count Basie Orchestra released a new album in August? I didn't either. Here's a new EPK for the project.

*What's wrong with these kids! The 5 Star Jazz Band is a group of teenagers who enjoy performing jazz. They're featured by the Star.

*Angela Hagenbach's new album receives favorable reviews from The Pitch and a blogger.

*UMKC's student newspaper shines its spotlight on the Marr Sound Archives.

*A man by the name of Derek recently left a lengthy and thoughtful comment on a 2007 Plastic Sax post. (The photos I used to illustrated my original point still make me laugh.) Here's one of his better lines about the challenge of post-bop jazz: "It's work trying to figure out why such rhythmic music is so eminently, intentionally undanceable."

*Shay Estes shares "A Case of the Mondays" with the Star.

*Steve Penn checks in with Darryl Terrell.

*Orchestrion, the freaky new Pat Metheny album, will be released on January 26.

*Mark Edelman makes his live jazz picks here.

*Sorely missed friend of the Kansas City jazz scene Lee Ingalls is currently living it up in Seattle. His hysterical (and flattering) review of a Sachal Vasandani show is at his blog.

*Eldar's latest album receives a mixed review at All About Jazz.

*Mike Hendricks's latest column analyzes a dust-up surrounding “We Haz Jazz,” "a salute to African-American culture by the mostly white third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Timber Creek Elementary School in south Overland Park."

*Here's a video highlighting the Kansas City Plaza Rotary Club's 9th annual Jazz Cabaret. The April 2010 event will feature Tim Whitmer and the Wild Women of Kansas City.

*Sue Vicory shot a promotional video for Kansas City Youth Jazz. I've been informed that the organization "is looking for a high school jazz pianist to play in their top jazz band, The Reno Jazz Ensemble on Monday nights from 6 to 7:30 p.m." Interested parties should contact Leon Brady at

*From Jim Mair, Associate Professor of Instrumental Music at Kansas City Kansas Community College: "Drummer Jeff Hamilton and bassist Christoph Luty will work with the KCKCC Jazz Band and Jazz Combo on Wednesday November 18 from 10:00am till noon in the band room at KCKCC. The Jeff Hamilton Trio presented clinics at KCKCC last time they were in Kansas City." The Kansas City Kansan published additional details here. The Kansan also notes the forthcoming fall jazz concert by KCKCC's jazz ensembles. The November 24 event will feature percussionist Scott Prebys. His talents are on display in this video.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, November 16, 2009

Matt Otto: The Plastic Sax Interview

The arrival of Matt Otto on the Kansas City jazz scene is one of the most encouraging developments of 2009. The exciting and accomplished saxophonist has already injected fresh ideas into the sometimes insular jazz community.

Those who have yet to catch him at an area venue are encouraged to take in his gorgeous solo here and his more aggressive solo here. Otto clearly has enormous stylistic range.

Curious about what brought him to Kansas City and what he hopes to accomplish here, I conducted this email interview with Otto last week.

Plastic Sax: When did you move to Kansas City? What brings you here? Do you plan on staying?

Matt Otto: I moved here toward the end of July this year, my wife got a job as a professor at William Jewell so we'll be here for a while.

PS: Your recordings, at least the ones I've heard, definitely lean toward the outside edge of jazz. Is that the style you most prefer?

MO: I love improvising, whether it's free or over standards. I do have one album of completely free music, Q Trio Vol 1. which is all improvised with no agenda or structure. Most other albums I've lead or collaborated on are what I would consider to be fairly “inside” in that they deal with functional harmony and melody, and improving over a structured form.

PS: How have audiences in Kansas City reacted to your music? Do you expect to find sympathetic venues for that sound in Kansas City?

MO: I've only had two gigs of my own since I came to town, both were very well received, in general, I find the audiences to be good, intelligent listeners.

PS: What are your favorite aspects of the Kansas City jazz scene today? What do you wish was different?

MO: The pace of life here is relaxed, which I like. Both NYC and LA are generally very crowded, loud and intense. It's nice to have some space, calm and a pace that allows time for reflection.

PS: I just listened to the new Jan Garbarek album. His approach reminds me of yours. Is he one of your influences? Who are your musical inspirations?

MO: I really love the recordings he did with Keith Jarrett. One thing I like most about Jan is that he is original and doesn't sound like anyone else. My influences on sax aren't original be any means, I listen to all the players that are considered to be great... Bird, Lester, Hawkins, Desmond, Trane, Stitt, Rollins, Getz, Ornette, Lockjaw, Jug, Konitz, Marsh, really, hundreds of players over the years, some more than others. I feel it's an obligation, as a creative improvising musician, to listen to as much music as possible before you're done.

I know you've collaborated with Loren Pickford, the Sons of Brazil and Dave Stephens since you've been in Kansas City. That's a pretty diverse mix. Who else have you been working with?

MO: I've been rehearsing and working a bit with my quartet which includes Mike Warren on drums, Jeff Harshbarger or Ben Leifer on bass, and Gerald Dunn on alto sax. I did a nice gig at Jardine's with Roger Wilder, Brandon Draper and Ben Leifer. I've been playing the Saturday late night set at the Mutual Musicians Foundation each week with Chris Clark, Mike Warren and Tyrone Clark. I've been playing off and on with Brad Cox and the Peoples Liberation Big Band which I'm currently trying to write a piece for. Who else?... Mark Southerland, Sam Wisman, Matt Hopper, Hermon Mehari, Brian Stever, Brad Williams, Gerald Spaits, Rod Fleeman, Angela Hagenbach, Stan Kessler and many others.

PS: Do you see yourself as a leader, a sideman or both?

MO: Definitely both, I write a lot of music and practice a lot of standards.

PS: What went into your decision to make some of your albums available as free downloads?

MO: I just wanted people to be able hear and enjoy the music, without as many economic hurtles to jump over, I knew I'd never make a lot of money playing jazz, it comes with the art form. I get a lot of positive feedback and encouragement and even some donations, all of which help keep me inspired and fed so I can do what I do. I'd rather the music was out in the word than in a box in the back of my closet. I've recently put some Google ads on my blog so that a few cents trickle in every time someone clicks on one they find inciting enough... lol.

PS: Which of your recordings is your favorite?

MO: I like them all for different reasons, if I had to pick one I'd say the Baobab album from the band 3-ish.

PS: It seems that everyone is eager to discuss the state of jazz in 2009. What's your assessment?

MO: I think jazz has never been so strong. Not necessarily from an economic point of view, but due to the sheer number of jazz musicians on the planet that increases year after year. That means better players, more players, more music, more influences and a bigger audience of educated listeners. Of course, without food, water and shelter none of that can happen, so economics is, in a sense, working against art and culture; more artists, less work.

PS: Are you a full-time musician? Is jazz your sole gig? If not, what else do you do?

MO: Just music, I teach private lessons out of my house, other than that it's practice, write, rehearse and gig. (Editorial note: Otto's YouTube channel dedicated to teaching is here.)

PS: You suffer from repetitive strain injurty/carpal tunnel problems. How has that affected your playing? Is it still an issue?

MO: RSI/Carpal Tunnel is a big problem for me, everyday I stretch, exercise, and have to constantly refrain from practicing too much. The technique in my left hand has been dramatically impaired over the years, especially my ring finger. (Editorial note: see Otto's fascinating YouTube channel dedicated to the subject here.)

(Original image of Matt Otto by Plastic Sax.)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Review: The Lionel Loueke Trio

A few of the songs Lionel Loueke performed Thursday at the Blue Room clearly evoked the musician's roots in Benin. Yet they weren't exactly exercises in traditional African roots music. Loueke applied an Auto-Tune-style effect to his vocals. It was funny, surprising and entirely delightful. That's Lionel Loueke in a nutshell.

About fifty people- at least a third of whom were area jazz musicians- witnessed an extraordinary musical dialogue between Loueke, bassist Massimo Biolcati and drummer Ferenc Nemeth.

I told someone at intermission that the intense way Loueke and Nemeth locked eyes for minutes at a time made me slightly uncomfortable. This intimacy, however, allowed the men to interact at an incredibly high level. While their music was serious, the musicians played with a rare sense of humor. Thursday's show was one of the funniest I'd seen all year. Nemeth, in particular, is quite a comedian. He'd occasionally raise his stick as if to bash a drum only to pull back at the last moment.

A trumpet player shot some footage of the show. Suggesting that it's not representative of the trio's performance is misleading. No two selections were alike. General references points in the trio's vast stylistic range included Pat Metheny-style gracefulness, John Scofield-ish funk and a bit of James "Blood" Ulmer-style skronk in addition to the African explorations.

The trio's next gig is in Martinique on December 3. I can't imagine a place I'd rather be that day.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, November 13, 2009

Now's the Time: The Jeff Hamilton Trio

My first exposure to Jeff Hamilton's drumming came via KCUR's weekly Just Jazz radio program. How I miss hearing Ginny and Ruth! While I didn't exactly share the women's taste in jazz, their banter was absolutely hysterical. And it seemed like every third song they played featured Hamilton on drums. His pure swing style perfectly suited the Just Jazz sensibility. He's also the drummer-of-choice for Diana Krall and Barbra Streisand. Here's hoping that Ginny and Ruth are well enough to catch Hamilton at Jardine's on November 18 and 19.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Angela Hagenbach chats with Joe Klopus about her new album.

*KCJazzLark published a scathing editorial titled "Fairness Folly". His stern lecture makes Plastic Sax seem like a comparative pushover.

*James Hart notes the 29th anniversary of the murder of jazz musician Steve Harvey.

*Jason Harper begins a blindfold test on Pandora's Nolan Gasser with vintage Jay McShann.

*Kansas City is represented several times on The Telegraph's new list of the 100 Best Jazz Recordings.

*Sue Vicory has amassed quite a collection of recent and vintage photos of Kansas City jazz and blues musicians at the Facebook account for her forthcoming documentary.

*Steve Penn notes that Lonnie McFadden is in a film project.

*The Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival hits Sedalia, Missouri, June 2-6, 2010.

*I'm loving my Kansas City Jazz Twitter feed. For those who prefer a version that doesn't include Miles Bonny's incessant stream-of-consciousness postings, I recommend KC Jazz Lark's KC Jazz list.

(Original image of sign outside the Drum Room by Plastic Sax. Too bad their online calendar stops at October 31.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Review: The New Vintage Big Band

I expected to see nothing but crusty old men when I stepped inside BB's Lawnside BBQ last Wednesday evening. While a few geezers were among The New Vintage Big Band's members, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the ensemble also includes plenty of young faces. At least one member, in fact, is still in high school.

By my count the ensemble included six trumpets, five saxophones, five trombones, one guitarist, one keyboard player, one bassist and a drummer. They were loud. Very loud. I smiled sympathetically when I spotted one member desperately fiddling with earplugs.

Their diverse repertoire ranged from Stan Kenton to Steely Dan. Boulevard beer and plates of burnt ends were on special. Needless to say, I loved the entire scene.

The New Vintage Big Band returns to BB's on December 2.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Now's the Time: Lionel Loueke

I defy viewers of this video of Lionel Loueke, Massimo Biolcati and Ferenc Nemeth to comment that they wouldn't like to be at The Blue Room on Thursday, November 12, to catch the trio in person. Although I"m not a fan of the percussive effect the celebrated musician makes with his mouth, the concert promises to be one of the most memorable events of 2009.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Here's a bit of welcome news. According to an article in the Star, the Majestic is reopening under new ownership. Jazz, apparently, is still in the mix. "The Sebrees put a 1910 piano in the dining room for live jazz during happy hour. The basement jazz club will be open on Friday and Saturday nights."

*Kim Park has returned. "It is great to be back in Kansas City after spending two years in Nashville," Park writes. "There is a thriving jazz community here, and it is a pleasure to be back." He performs this Saturday afternoon at Jardine's.

*I learned of a major schedule change at the Blue Room through the KCJazzLark blog. The November 5 appearance by Pat Martino has been canceled. It's been replaced by an all-star bill of T.S. Monk, John Faddis and Bobby Watson.

*The Star's Tim Finn profiles The Hearts of Darkness.

*KCUR program KC Currents featured pianist Bram Wijnands.

*A song from Angela Hagenbach's new album is available for free download here.

*Here's the Star's review of Saturday's stunning Afinidad concert at The Folly Theater.

*Guitarist Will Matthews is recognized in Steve Penn's column.

*Mark Edelman's weekly jazz column runs here and here.

*From a CampKC guide to Kansas City nightlife: "My lover and I were urged to leave the Mutual Musicians Foundation for holding hands. Not fun. How we miss bar Natasha, where we could always pay the servers to camp it up and sing 'Defying Gravity' before closing."

*From Gary of AfterGroove: "This has been another good week for us receiving national airplay. For the 2nd week, we made to top 10 for "new adds" and "spincrease", according to We are also on . We have a web radio interview scheduled in December with"

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

I Will Follow

It's as if you're not even trying.

Dear members of Kansas City's jazz community- I respectfully implore you to wake up!

As I watched the Yankees defeat the Phillies last night, I compiled a list of representatives of Kansas City's jazz community on Twitter. The immensely popular social media site rolled out the new "list" tool about ten days ago.

I came up with a pitifully small 30 accounts. Take a look at the Kansas City Jazz Twitter List.

Why should you care? Twitter's new list tool allows the viewer to cut through the noise to see only a particular subset of users. In this case, my list provides a snapshot of the activity that is- or isn't- happening in Kansas City's jazz community.

Twitter isn't anything new. I first mentioned Twitter at Plastic Sax in June of 2008. It's now safe to say that it's not a fad.

Here are two case studies that demonstrate why Twitter matters.

A major jazz concert took place in Kansas City on Saturday. Only about 200 people showed up. Four out of every five seats was empty. And guess what? Neither the venue nor any of the seven musicians featured that night employ Twitter.

Meanwhile, a couple hundred people payed a hefty cover charge at a nearby club for local band The Hearts of Darkness. (The band was featured at Plastic Sax four weeks ago.) Bandleader Les Izmore used his Twitter account (and Facebook) to encourage fans to buy tickets in advance. He posted regularly on the day of the show. His topics ranged from suggesting that fans take naps to complaining that the venue's pre-show music was inappropriate. Sure enough, the gig sold out. Izmore later thanked fans for their support.

While Twitter wasn't the only factor, there's no doubt that it played a role in the choices made by Kansas City's most passionate music fans on Saturday. Still unconvinced? I also created a Kansas City Hip Hop Twitter List as I watched the great CC Sabathia. It contains 105 accounts and scrolls so quickly it reads like a stock ticker.

Love it or loathe it, it's clear that Kansas City's hip hop community demonstrates significantly more energy and enthusiasm than the members of Kansas City's jazz scene.

Is Kansas City a jazz town? It looks more like a hip hop town this morning.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, October 30, 2009

Killer Strayhorn Goes To Luckenbach Texas

Killer Strayhorn has discovered my weak spot. I'm a lifelong fan of the late Waylon Jennings. The Kansas City jazz act's interpretation of "Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love)" is clever, but it can't compare to the master's version. Killer Strayhorn's debut album was reviewed at Plastic Sax last year. Here's hoping they record "Bob Wills Is Still the King" for their next project.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*"Extraordinary... stunning...the real deal," The Guardian raves about the latest release by Plastic Sax lightning rod Krystle Warren. The new album by the former Kansas Citian is not yet available in North America.

*Tony's Kansas City provides a thorough review of Dave Stephens' lastest Jazz Circus performance at Jardine's.

*Diverse creates chaos at Amoeba Records.

*KCJazzLark describes the good time he had catching Megan Birdsall at the Drum Room last weekend.

*Jazz Times reports on the wacky new project by Pat Metheny. And at Metheny's site, five fascinating podcasts were recently posted.

*AfterGroove is making noise on's radio charts and on internet station CitySoundsRadio. The band was also recently featured on KUDL's weekly smooth jazz show.

*Monster Miles Davis headphones have hit the market. A pair can be yours for several hundred dollars. To the best of my knowledge, the Charlie Parker estate hasn't made any similar licensing deals. I'd be interested in knowing if they haven't cashed in out of respect for the legacy of the jazz giant or if those opportunities simply haven't been presented to Parker's heirs.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Every Day I Have the Blues

"Every Day I Have the Blues".

The death of Anne Winter is devastating to hundreds, if not thousands, of members of Kansas City's music community.

More than her efforts as proprietor of Dirt Cheap and Recycled Sounds and her many other endeavors, it's Anne's innately warm and generous spirit that will be most sorely missed.

Anne and I occasionally discussed the business of jazz on vinyl. She lamented that more people didn't contact her about unloading their jazz collections. While she might have done brisk business trading in indie rock, Anne knew that rare jazz material commands top dollar.

Although it's normally anathema to me, during difficult days like these I take solace in reminiscing. Please indulge me.

My love affair with jazz was cemented at Milton's. As a teenager, I'd sip whiskey at the bar and dizzily watch the turntable spin jazz albums. That experience contributed far more to my juvenile delinquency than did all the time I spent sitting in my bedroom listening to Led Zeppelin, Bob Marley and the Sex Pistols.

I began buying jazz recordings in earnest in the early '80s. My primary source was Penny Lane Records on Broadway (now the TWEC-owned Streetside). I took advantage of their three-for-$10 "Nice Price" sales to discover music by the likes of Miles Davis and Weather Report. As a bonus, manic clerk Dwight Frizzell would insist that I buy self-released Sun Ra albums.

I also frequented Classical Westport (now the Thai Place). In keeping with their refined aesthetic, they stocked the ECM catalog. I'd also stop at the late James DeRigne's place. I still find it amusing that he'd play prog rock as Buck Clayton's happy visage looked on from a prominently displayed signed album cover. (Before any readers object, I also shopped at Caper's Corner and the little shop that was located near the present location of Jardine's, but I don't recall that I bought any jazz at those stores.)

The mother lode, of course, was Ron Rooks' Music Exchange. There are countless stories to be told about that eccentric institution- oh, how I miss Dan Conn!- but I'll save those for another time.

I love living in an era when savvy musicians like Matt Otto make their music available as free downloads and most everything is just a click or two away. No amount of downloading, however, can ever replace the time I spent with Anne, Dan, James and Ron.

(Original image of a Scamps LP by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Now's the Time: Lonnie McFadden

Only locals will fully appreciate this informal footage of Lonnie McFadden. It was filmed by one of the most unlikely Kansas Citians imaginable. Jason Nivens, the radio personality best known for his work on 98.9 The Rock, captured a bit of an afternoon session at The Phoenix six months ago. The seasonal sunshine casts an unsettling light on the jazz audience. Organist Everette DeVan watches as pianist Mark Lowrey accompanies McFadden. Outsiders should know that the raucous spirit captured in this footage is pure Kansas City. The versatile entertainer's busy schedule, including his weekly Friday afternoon gig at the Phoenix, is listed here.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*NPR's A Blog Supreme offers this report from the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition: The concert also showcased Kansas City, Mo. bassist and composer Joe Johnson's "Shepherd's Song," the winning work of the Monk Institute's 2009 International Composers Award. Johnson performed the piece accompanied by Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Geoff Keezer (piano) and Carl Allen (drums).

*Joel Francis interviewed Buck O'Neil in 1998 about the Kansas City jazz scene. Here's the transcription.

*Kansas City's most popular blogger remains a fan of Dave Stephen's Jazz Circus. He continues his "countdown" to Friday's show at Jardine's here.

*A San Diego newspaper makes the claim that California is Eldar's true home.

*Here's an interesting report on Washburn's jazz program.

*Bird lives! A London blog continues to obsess over the giant.

*Hearne Christopher notes that a Lonnie McFadden gig at Jardine's last week was based in R&B rather than jazz.

*Hey! Lionel Loueke will be at the Blue Room next month. It's listed on the Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

*Fresh news and videos have been posted at Diverse's compelling site.

* The Star, The Pitch and Joel Francis reviewed Jimmy Cobb's Kind of Blue tribute concert at the Gem Theater.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Review: Black House Improvisors' Collective at City Center Square

That's more like it.

The obtuse but playful sounds that reverberated through the gutted fifth floor of an office building Friday night represented precisely what's been lacking on the Kansas City jazz scene. Inspired amateurs and seasoned professionals came together under the auspices of the Black House Improvisors' Collective to make glorious, jazz-based noise.

A hipster-heavy audience of about 75 attended the ensemble's free debut public performance. Everything they heard was anchored by the exceptional rhythm section of bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Sam Wisman. The presence of trumpeter Stan Kessler added artistic gravitas to the proceedings.

The lighthearted fun wasn't always brilliant but even the failed experiments were delightfully refreshing.

More, please.

Additional details about the ensemble are available in a KCUR feature and at Plastic Sax posts from August 19 and October 6.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)