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.)


Unknown said...

So glad you were able to make it! The momentum continues to build for KCYJ. What struck me last night was seeing in the young, exceptional members of Diverse, a clear testimony to the importance of teaching and inspiring new generations of jazz lovers and musicians.

Anonymous said...

There are dozens and dozens of jazz arrangements of todays pop hits. Go to or Marina Music.
Unfortunately a lot of todays music has a very short shelf life. These charts cost money and although Josh Groban's tune "You Raise Me Up" or Norah Jones' "Don't know why" were popular three-five years ago, if they were programmed on a concert this year they would have no impact.

Also, great music offers greater insight at each additional listening. The pop icons you mentioned, after hearing their songs a half a dozen times there really isn't a lot to glean from the music.

Very few people are fans of Count Basie now because they got turned on to Harry Connick Jr. In fact, studies have been done and very few people were inspired to dig deeper into the music after hearing Queen Latifah, Hank Connick or Michael Buble. It's wishful thinking.

By really studying and performing Basie, Ellington, Gil Evans, LM Gottschalk, Brookmeyer, Monk and Bill Evans the quality of your life is enhanced. Just like Beethoven, Mozart and Bach. You can take a Bill Evans recording and listen to a tune several hundred times and gain greater insight into the music. You herar new things every time.

Just because the music is popular at a given time doesn't mean jazz should embrace it.

Qunicy Jones said it best. "Pop Music is a frivilous way to get from day to day".

The American Popular Songbook from the 20'30'40's that make up a substantial body of work in the jazz arena were only a fraction of the songs written at that time.
Several hundred songs remain extant but several thousand expired within a few years.

Happy In Bag said...

Thanks again, Antwaun.

The motivation behind my suggestions isn't to create great works of art, Anon 240. That would come later. I just want to make the music relevant to people under the age of sixty. Kids deserve the consideration of being met halfway. For every Hermon Mehari and Ben Leifer (members of Diverse), there are tens of thousands of musicians in their twenties for whom jazz has absolutely no relevance. You can talk about Gottschalk and Brookmeyer all you like, but only by first acknowledging the Gorillaz and Garth Brooks will any significant traction be gained.

At least that's what I think.

Anonymous said...


How can you not aknowledge Beyonce and Garth Brooks? Its been everywhere you turn. I respect your writing and this blog but I'm not tracking. Can you put it in laymans terms.

Happy In Bag said...

You're misreading me, Anon 320.

I am acknowledging pop superstars like Beyonce and Garth Brooks. That's my point.

Anon 240, however, strongly disagrees.

Anonymous said...

Having the KC Youth Jazz play "jazz" arrangements of Garth Brooks and Beyonce tunes does what and for who? What does it serve? What good comes out of that? Thats what I'm not tracking?

Anonymous said...

There was about 700-800 people at the Folly Theater Friday night for the KCJO. They received an immediate standing ovation after the concert. The sound and lighting were first class as was the still-photo montage that accompanied the Kansas City Suite above the Orchestra. The second half was equally as good.

From my vantage point I counted about 120 high school/college age students in attendance.

Read a review of the Ellington concert. Curious as to how large the audience was at the Gem Theatre. Two great big band events on the same night.
It was a dilemma as Mr. Klopus put it in the paper.

Anonymous said...

There were maybe 175-200 people at the Gem for the Ellington tribute. How is it that an organization funded by taxpayers and many full time employees can get away with those kind of numbers. The seminar with the guy from Rutgers had a handful of people. I read in the advertising that Shawnee Mission East and some band from Canada were supposed to play. Where were they? Where is the accountability?

On another note, I attended a benefit last week at the Gem and the feedback through the sound system was horrendous.

I'd love to hear some other people weigh in.