Monday, May 31, 2010

On the Corner

It's hard to hate an attractive park. Yet I loathe Paseo Green.

These photos show what's standing at Kansas City's fabled intersection of 12th Street & Vine. Here's a satellite view.

The corner represents much more than a Leiber and Stoller lyric from a Wilbert Harrison hit. It was once one of the world's premier musical destinations.

Here's the text on a plaque at the site:
During the early-1970s, 12th and Vine fell victim to Urban Renewal. Kansas City's Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority leveled most of the neighborhood surrounding 12th and Vine, as part of a city-wide rebuilding effort. In 1977, the Authority realigned the streets to create Paseo Green Park. Unfortunately, the reconfiguration of the streets eliminated the famed intersection of 12th and Vine. Now, with the creation of the Goin' to Kansas City Plaza at Twelfth Street and Vine, the historic corner of 12th and Vine has been restored.

Established in 2005, the grand piano-shaped plaza celebrates the intersection of 12th and Vine and the song "Kansas City." The piano monument base, nestled in the heart of the treble clef at the center of the park, serves as a platform for a featured sculpture that embodies the spirit of 12th and Vine. The park is designed to be a work-in-progress with a new sculpture commissioned every few years. Existing sculptures will then be placed throughout the park creating a sculpture garden. Linking Kansas City's past and future, the Goin' to Kansas City Plaza at Twelfth Street and Vine allows visitors, once again, to be standin' on the corner of Twelfth Street and Vine.
The original "piano monument base" remains the park's sole sculpture. I really don't care about that broken promise. A thousand sculptures couldn't begin to repair the tragic debasement of the celebrated location.

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Now's the Time: Makuza

I have a Fania problem. I just can't lay off the constant stream of reissues from the famed salsa label. My addiction only enhances the appeal of Kansas City's Makuza. While I'm sure members of the band would agree that they're not the equals of Willie Colon and Ruben Blades, they're capable of capturing much of the exuberance associated with the music's top stars. Makuza performs Thursday, May 27, at the Blue Room.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Jason Harper wrote a fascinating account of the demise of the Kansas City Kansas Street Blues Festival. The annual event typically featured a smattering of jazz artists. Here are my notes on last year's festival. I also covered the proceedings in 2008.

*Kevin Mahogany has a new record label of sorts. Mahogany Digital "is... a progressive recording label that seeks to embrace the electronic age." (Tip via St. Louis Jazz Notes.)

*The remarkable story of vocalist Gab Harris is recounted by the Kansas City Kansan.

*KCJazzLark soldiers on with his saga about the creation of the American Jazz Museum.

*Here are details about the Kansas City Memorial Juneteenth Jazz & Arts Festival.

*The Charlotte Street Foundation awarded Brad Cox of the People's Liberation Big Band a grant of $6,500.

*Dean Minderman of St. Louis Jazz Notes is saving me a lot of work by compiling the latest reviews of Pat Metheny's tour.

*Hearne Christopher remembers the late Jose Lima's flirtation with Jardine's.

*"Kansas City, after all, is not the jazz town it once was," writes theater critic Robert Trussell. His observations on the national impact of local theater are interesting.

*A Sons of Brasil concert is streaming at KANU's site. (Tip via Phil Franklin.)

*"I’m from Kansas City. Jazz and blues are as much a part of me (at least in the attitude) as classical is," vocalist Nathan Granner tells an opera blogger.

*A California newspaper featured Megan Birdsall. Here's her latest tour vlog.

*Current Kansas Citian Joel Francis reviews former Kansas Citian Terry Teachout's new book about Louis Armstrong.

*The interactive version of the New York Times feature on Kansas City mentioned in this space last week includes a photo of Diverse performing at the Czar Bar with Les Izmore. Three members of Diverse are currently touring France.

(Original image by Plastic Sax. The R&B band pictured played some Grover Washington, Jr,. at the Troost Avenue Festival on May 22.)

Monday, May 24, 2010

Thriving On a Riff: Jazz's Last Chance

I'm constantly fretting about the future of jazz. It's what jazz fans do. What if Esperanza Spalding isn't "the one"? Is Brad Mehldau the answer? Who's going to be left to listen in forty years?

As has been noted elsewhere, there's no shortage of great new jazz music. But there's an increasingly limited number of people willing to consume it.

In the past ten days I've attended performances by hard rock and metal bands, Americana acts, a folk singer, honky tonk legends, a hip hop collective, an R&B group and a set by four of Kansas City's premier jazz musicians. Guess which event had the smallest audience.

Concerts by Pat Metheny and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra are notable exceptions, but of the 111 individual live performances I've seen so far in 2010, jazz events have been the most pitifully attended. Why?

The answer might lie with my good friend, the appropriately named Concert Chris. He recently traveled to Austin, Chicago and Omaha to see his favorite artists. He's taken in 210 performances in 2010. Yet the otherwise wonderful man has a strong antipathy to jazz.

I'm inclined, consequently, to celebrate this footage. Documenting the second official installment of Mark Lowrey vs. Hip Hop, it was shot and edited by a Concert Chris. Matt Chalk, Brandon Draper, Shay Estes and Hermon Mehari are among the featured jazz musicians. In similar fashion, a gifted photographer normally inclined to shoot popular music also covered the show.

As I've said countless times, jazz's commercial viability won't come from someone reiterating Basie or Ellington. The music of tomorrow sounds less like "Thriving On a Riff" and more like Gang Starr. If jazz has a genuine, audience-supported future, it probably looks and sounds a lot like what went down May 15 at the Record Bar.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Now's the Time: Nicole Mitchell

The praise Joe Klopus heaped on Nicole Mitchell in his most recent column inspired me to track down the Chicago-based musician's startlingly innovative Afrika Rising and Black Unstoppable albums. They're superb. The flautist and composer performs with Dennis Winslett Saturday at the Blue Room.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*"It amuses me that a group as cool as Diverse needed to go to Idaho to get more recognition in Kansas City." That's one of several provocative lines in an excellent post at the site of Black House Improvisors' Collective. They perform Friday at City Center Square.

*A New York Times travel feature about Kansas City calls the town "a former jazz mecca." The Mutual Musicians Foundation merits a mention.

*Flattering words and pictures of Shay Estes and Trio ALL are posted by KCJazzLark.

*Ink also featured Shay Estes.

*Mark Southerland does his thing on Frenchman Street in New Orleans on May 1.

*Two jazz artists are among the nine acts featured at June's Parkville Jazz, Blues & Fine Arts Festival.

*Here's a flier touting a May 21 benefit for the Prairie Village Jazz Festival.

*Mary Lou Wiliams is remembered by Tammy L. Kernodle.

*There's no Kansas City-specific content in Marc Myers' fascinating study of the savvy widows of jazz legends, but the piece merits careful examination by a handful of area women.

*Plastic Sax readers are advised to exercise caution while crossing the street in the Jazz District. I can't afford to lose any of my 17 readers.

*Hank Jones, the great pianist who collaborated with artists ranging from Charlie Parker to Marilyn Monroe, has died.

*From a press release from KCKCC: The Kansas City Jazz Summit is coming in 2011. To be held on the campus of Kansas City Kansas Community College April 28-30, the Summit will feature nightly performances by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and the Kansas City All-Stars, Count Basie jazz competition, adjudication by top jazz professionals and countless workshops... Jim Mair said invitations will be sent to high schools and colleges in the surrounding area of Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and Kansas as well as Mair’s native Manitoba and Saskatchewan Canada. “We want to make this a destination location festival attracting bands from all across the country,” said Mair. “We’re approaching it just like the Kansas Speedway, trying to reach the huge concentration of people living within 500 miles of Kansas City. With the economy the way it is, the days of high school groups going to New Orleans or Los Angeles to compete are gone. The University of Northern Colorado in Greeley has a festival but why drive to Colorado when they could drive half as far or less and come to Kansas City with all it has to offer for less than half the cost because hotels are more affordable here?”

(Original image of a panel session held the morning of April 29, 2010, at The Blue Room by Plastic Sax. From left to right: Greg Carroll, Steve Kraske, Alaadeen, Dan Morgenstern, Barrie Hall and Clark Terry.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

Streaming Kansas City

Like many music fans, I harbor a ghoulish desire to listen to the recordings of recently departed musicians. When I learned that pianist Hank Jones died yesterday, I didn't start filing through the "J" sections of my album and compact disc collection. I turned to Napster instead.

A marketing representative from Napster offered me a complimentary month-long subscription to the streaming music service. She suggested that I might dedicate a post to Napster. I'm pleased to oblige.

Thanks to Napster, I've finally been able to listen to a couple obscure Jay McShann albums I didn't already own. I discovered a late-period Count Basie session I didn't know existed. And I auditioned Megan Birdsall's MBird project.

Here's an incomplete rundown of Kansas City-affiliated jazz recordings available at Napster.

AfterGroove- 1 album; 7 songs

Alaadeen- 4 albums, 29 songs

Karrin Allyson- 12 albums, 167 songs

Count Basie- 113 albums, 1,717 songs
A lot of this is schlocky reissues, but a ton of good stuff is here too.

David Basse- 6 albums, 70 songs
The list of albums includes Leawood: Long & Green.

B.C.R.- 1 album, 10 songs
Speck of Dust from 2004.

Megan Birdsall- 1 album, 11 songs
Little Jazz Bird.

Bloodstone- 8 albums, 93 songs
I realize Bloodstone isn't a jazz act, but soul fans should be advised that the Kansas City group's first three '70s albums are here.

Miles Bonny- 10 albums, 118 songs
Dude makes it happen.

Chris Burnett- 2 albums, 12 songs

Diverse- 1 album, 12 songs
As I've said many times, Diverse is a most unfortunate band name. This fine album can only be found at Napster by entering song titles into its search engine.

Shay Estes- 0 albums, 0 songs

Angela Hagenbach- 1 album, only :30 second samples
It's too bad that just snippets of her new album on Resonance are available.

Kansas City Jazz Orchestra- 2 albums, 29 songs

Andy Kirk- 1 album, 27 songs

Julia Lee- 3 albums, 87 songs

Ida McBeth- 3 albums, 31 songs
Live On the Vine, Special Request and A Gift of Song.

Jay McShann- 16 albums, 210 songs

Will Matthews- 1 album, 9 songs
It's Count On Swingin' from 2009.

Marilyn Maye- 0 albums, 1 song
A major disappointment.

MBird- 1 album, 10 songs
Megan Birdsall's new Americana album is available. I like it.

Mike Metheny- 3 albums, 12 songs
His new release, reviewed at Plastic Sax in April, is not here.

Pat Metheny- 21 albums, 218 songs
Beware- Napster offers just 30-second snippets of Orchestrion. Both Nonesuch and ECM employ this same crummy tactic for many of their releases. Artists and labels need to realize that illegal full album downloads are always just a click away on file-sharing sites. (Not that I know anything about that.)

Matt Otto- 1 album, 8 songs
It's his 2005 album on Origin Records.

Charlie Parker- 82 albums, 1,610 songs
There are dozens of horrendously repackaged titles amid the gold.

Loren Pickford- 3 albums, 29 songs

Logan Richardson- 1 album, 10 songs

The Scamps- 0 albums, 5 songs

The Sons of Brasil- 1 album, 13 songs
It's the 2008 While You Were Out album.

Trio ALL- 0 albums, 0 songs

Krystle Warren- 0 albums, 2 songs
Great talent. Awful management.

Bobby Watson- 8 albums, 92 songs
Also of note- a 29th Street Saxophone Quartet album from 1994 is available.

Marva Whitney- 0 albums, 1 single
Her work with James Brown, including "You Got To Have a Job (If You Don't Work You Can't Eat)," is also available.

Claude "Fidder" Williams- 4 albums, 53 songs
I'd hoped to find his most esoteric titles, but only Williams' two live Arhoolie albums, the fine Bullseye release and a 1977 session for Black and Blue are here.

Mary Lou Williams- 18 albums, 263 songs
Physical copies of Williams' catalog are exceptionally hard to come by, so this is a godsend.

Lester Young- 56 albums, 811 songs
Amid the slipshod collections is The Complete Lester Young Studio Sessions On Verve. Ah, bliss...

There are also countless compilations like The Real Kansas City of the '20s, '30s & 40's.

Napster's annual subscription fee is $60. A month-long subscription is $7. In addition to unlimited streaming, subscribers are entitled to five MP3 downloads per month.

(Original image of antiquated compact discs by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joy

Andy Kirk and his Clouds of Joy were no longer based in Kansas City when this film was made in 1948. Although the likes of Claude "Fiddler" Williams had been gone for years, a Midwestern sensibility stuck to the band's sound like sticky red clay. Elements of Western swing, boogie and jump blues are easily discernible. Even so, it's startling to hear how dramatically Kirk's band had transformed itself. The seminal rock'n'roll number that starts at the 3:30 mark bears almost no resemblance to the Kansas City-based band of 1930 heard on this 78.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*An invaluable ten-minute feature on Claude "Fiddler" Williams was recently uploaded to YouTube by KCJazzLark. The 1990 footage also catches glimpses of the Gem Theater prior to its renovation and the sorely missed City Light jazz venue on Wornall Road.

*Mike Metheny is the subject of an excellent ten-minute podcast.

*The jazz establishment in San Francisco seems to be thriving. A $60 million structure will be built to house SFJazz. (Tip from AZ.)

*"I think she is probably the greatest female jazz player who has ever lived," says Virginia Mayhew of Mary Lou Williams. May 8 marked the centenary of her birth. NPR hosts an impressive compilation of their pieces on the one-time Kansas Citian here. KCJazzLark also recognized the date.

*"That's why jazz is dying," is the second sentence uttered in a video that appears to have been commissioned by the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*Steve Penn notes that the big new sign in the Jazz District is finally being erected.

*A great photo of Clark Terry accepting an award from the American Jazz Museum's Greg Carroll is provided by St. Louis Jazz Notes.

*Shay Estes was among the musicians featured in "The Oil Boiler." Tim Finn has the story.

*Here's the Star's review of Pat Metheny's concert at the Uptown Theater. And here's the positive spin Metheny's record label put on the same review. The author of the Minnesota-based jazz blog Bebopified was similarly confounded by Metheny's performance two days later.

*"Kaycee jazz seems to have faded from the collective consciousness. This station is my small attempt to remind us of what happened in the forgotten fourth cradle of jazz." Listen to "Uncle Milton"'s Live 365 online radio station here.

*The latest blog post from Black House Improvisors Collective features a couple MP3s.

*Musician and blogger Ellery Eskelin dug up an old magazine article featuring Lester Young. It's titled "How To Make a Porkpie Hat."

*The American Jazz Museum would like you to know that they own 1944 footage of the late Lena Horne singing with Teddy Wilson. You can visit them at 18th & Vine or watch the clip here.

*Tony's Kansas City offers one of the best and most accurate descriptions of this site I've encountered: "Plastic Sax has the most interesting reviews of people I've never heard of."

*Add author and blogger Glenn Plaskin to the very long list of Marilyn Maye fans.

*A helpful Plastic Sax reader pointed out that Marilyn Maye once recorded a campaign song for Kansan Bob Dole. It's part of the collection on display in the museum of the Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. The facility is open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 5pm and Sunday from noon to 5pm. Admission is free.

(Original image of Christian McBride and Inside Straight by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Review: The Marilyn Maye Takeover

The girl can't help it.

Slated to play just twenty minutes at the Gem Theater, Marilyn Maye's hour-long set made everything else that transpired at Thursday's event seem like an afterthought.

She's that exceptional.

Accompanied by pianist Billy Stritch, bassist Gerald Spaits and drummer Jim Eklof, the 82-year-old joked and sang for an audience of about 300. Now that Lena Horne has passed, perhaps among living saloon singers only Tony Bennett rivals Maye. Hearing Maye croon "The Song Is You," "Come Rain or Come Shine," "Mountain Greenery," "Blues In the Night" and "You Don't Know Me" was like stepping back in time. The great American songbook will, of course, remain after Maye and Bennett are gone, but the unaffectedly old school way of singing them will have vanished.

Maye is also hilarious. Here are three of her quips from Thursday:
"I met my first husband when I was booked in the Drum Room. I was a singer and he was a dancer. So we danced and sang together."

"We don't always play the exact proper melody. There's other notes to be had."

"Creative people like to drink. I know, because I had three very creative husbands."
Oh, by the way, there was also a film premiere Thursday. The thirty-minute "sneak peak" of Kansas City Jazz & Blues: Past, Present & Future was promising. I trust that the sound, sync and lighting issues will be worked out in the final edit. Talking heads included Greg Carroll, Frank Driggs, Chuck Haddix, Jayne McShann, Roger Nabor, Lindsay Shannon and Bobby Watson. David Basse delivers the money line. Leon Brady also has a memorable quote. Upon its completion the documentary almost certainly will become an essential document of Kansas City's music history.

On most any other night, a moment during Diverse's opening set would have been the highlight. Joined by saxophonist Matt Otto and pianist T.J. Martley, the band was tearing into Charlie Parker's "Now's the Time" when trumpeters Stan Kessler and Lonnie McFadden chimed in from the back of the theater. They strolled down adjoining aisles to join Diverse on stage.

Also of note: Young poet Robert Brown (above) delivered a clever piece, smooth jazz artist Marion Meadows played a solo soprano composition and tribute was paid to the late Ed Fenner. The evening concluded with a blues jam.

Only Maye, however, was capable of representing Kansas City's past, present and future. She accepted an honorary trophy before her masterful performance.

"It's a lifetime achievement award," Maye noted. "But I'm not through."

(Original images by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, May 7, 2010

Now's the Time: Ernie Andrews

"Old Man Jazz" is irredeemably hackneyed. The embedded video is even more cliched. I embrace the song and the video anyway. Eighty-two-year-old vocalist Ernie Andrews fronts the 18th & Vine Big Band Saturday at the Gem Theater. Andrews has spent much of his career in the shadows, but he worked with Jay McShann on the excellent Paris All-Star Blues project in 1989. Bobby Watson's participation in Saturday's concert allows me to give it my unequivocal recommendation.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The logic behind the new sign that will soon be erected at 18th and Paseo is questioned in a KMBZ television report.

*Plastic Sax is scolded by KCJazzLark. I stand by my original essay.

*A November symposium in St. Louis looks interesting. "Commemorating and Preserving Jazz: The Formation of the Jazz Museum" features both Greg Carroll of the American Jazz Museum and Loren Schoenberg of The Jazz Museum in Harlem. (EDIT: this actually happened in 2009. I apologize.)

*There's been no escaping the Sue Vicory media blitz. A few examples follow. Robert Butler previews Vicory's film premiere. David Basse interviewed her on KANU. The local Fox affiliate aired a segment on Vicory that also featured a live performance by Diverse. Jerry Rapp writes about Vicory's project from a film-maker's perspective. Here are details for the May 6 premiere at the Gem Theater.

*Lee Hill Kavanaugh wrote a very nice tribute to the late Pete Eye.

*Rick Hellman spotlights the work of Tommy Ruskin, Stan Kessler and Sam Wisman.

*John Poses composed a thoughtful review of Mike Metheny's latest album.

*"Pagan offers a musical landscape that concentrates on beautiful ballads crafted in a classical tinge," a critic notes of Michael Pagan's new Three of the Ages album.

*The cool kids on Twitter recently brought a 2009 review from the New York Times to my attention. It cites "drummer Kevin Cerovich." I hadn't realized the Kansas City trombonist (and sometime drummer) had worked in Eric Lewis' ELEW project.

*The New York City edition of Megan Birdsall's tour vlog is excellent. I admire MBird's pluck.

*The Star reviewed the American Jazz Museum's tribute to Duke Elllington. The Daily Record also covered the event.

*The Pitch offers text and a set of photos of a party held to honor Alaadeen.

*Calvin Wilson interviewed Pat Metheny for the Post-Dispatch. Metheny and his Orchestrion perform Friday at the Uptown Theater. (Tip via St. Louis Jazz Notes.)

*12th Street Jump returns to its new home at the downtown Marriott this Saturday.

*The six acts performing at this year's Jazzoo benefit include two classic rock bands, an '80s New Wave cover band, a rock group, a blues outfit and jazz man Everette DeVan.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, May 3, 2010

Review: Masters of KC Jazz Benefit at the Madrid Theater

The epiphany struck me in a most unlikely moment.

As a handful of high school kids and gray-haired couples shared the dance floor Sunday at the Madrid Theater, a member of Kansas City Youth Jazz's Reno Band took a painfully mediocre solo during "Kansas City." The kid's pedestrian effort stood out because the majority of the teenagers in the band were exceptionally talented.

"Everybody deserves a chance," founder and musical director Leon Brady later explained while noting that every member of the group took a solo on the Leiber and Stoller staple.

Only then did I come to understand the essence of Kansas City Youth Jazz. It's not just about the attempt to instill a passion for jazz in young musicians. The real value of the organization, I realized, lies with Brady's quiet dignity. His leadership, characterized by an unflagging expectation of excellence, has an enormous impact that transcends the arts.

I attended Sunday's fundraiser as a guest of board member Antwaun Smith. (He and his wife Annie are pictured above. She's also an enthusiastic blogger.)

Students from Jim Mair's jazz program at Kansas City Kansas Community College, an ensemble composed of KC Youth Jazz instructors and Diverse also performed Sunday. David Basse served as the night's master of ceremonies. The music, needless to say, was quite fine.

Before Plastic Sax readers get the impression that I'm recanting my unpopular positions on jazz education, I'll note that I still advocate teaching turntablism and incorporating hip hop and rock elements into programs like KC Youth Jazz. Encouraging students to write jazz arrangements of contemporary hits by Beyonce, Lady Gaga and MGMT will ultimately lead to a genuine appreciation of Count Basie and Charlie Parker.

I suspect that Brady disapproves of such notions. Perhaps the impressive staff he's assembled- they include Chris Burnett, Stan Kessler, Jason Goudeau, Greg Richter and Clarence Smith- are more sympathetic to such ideas. Because Brady won't be around forever, I sincerely hope that Smith and the current faculty can find a way to ensure that Brady's legacy endures.

(Original images of Sunday's event by Plastic Sax.)