Sunday, July 10, 2011

Horace Washington: An Appreciation

Few things are as tedious as nostalgic reveries about the good old days, so I'll get this out of the way quickly. In the '80s, it was not uncommon to find throngs of people- many of them in their twenties- listening to jazz acts including Kevin Mahogany, The City Light Orchestra, Claude "Fiddler" Williams, Priscilla Bowman, Sonny Kenner, B.C.R., Ronnell Bright and The Scamps at any one of over a dozen jazz-oriented nightclubs in Kansas City. Another of the most popular acts at the time was Horace Washington.

Washington specialized in audience-pleasing melodic jazz in the vein of Stanley Turrentine and Grover Washington, Jr. Even though his sound was danceable, it had plenty of substance. I'm not sure why he didn't retain his spot at the top of the local scene, but a lack of an online presence certainly hasn't done him any favors. One of Plastic Sax's 27 readers emailed me last night after he happened across a poorly-attended Washington performance at a new Kansas City establishment. A Google search inspired by Washington's fine playing turned up this new video profile of the musician.

"I think Kansas City jazz has been grossly underrepresented," Washington says in the video. "The true form of Kansas City jazz is dying."

Maybe. Maybe not. But for better or for worse, things ain't what they used to be.


Cb said...

Wow - thanks for sharing this interview, HIB!

[QUOTE]"I think Kansas City jazz has been grossly underrepresented," Washington says in the video. "The true form of Kansas City jazz is dying."

Maybe. Maybe not. But for better or for worse, things ain't what they used to be.[/QUOTE]

Mr. Washington is a great representative of the traditional "old school" Kansas City jazz generation and is connected with lots of the modern history of the 18th & Vine scene. He has always been very professional whenever I have had the opportunity to interact with him as a colleague.

In context, I guess his remark about "true form of Kansas City jazz" is relative if one considers the developmental history of any regional form of jazz. I replace the word "true" with the word "original" and his remark sits more objectively with me. If not, it's like using the words "always" and "never", which rarely are applicable in most any fluid context either.

I am native to Kansas City and my family roots here go back to just after emancipation. I play modern jazz and experimental music, not many standards or jump blues anymore. My music is from the perspective of my generation though, but is still part of Kansas City jazz too.

It is one thing to objectively define a specific era in the history of jazz music which established the "Kansas City style". That is great. However, to seemingly isolate one segment as being the "true form" of the music here somewhat misrepresents the paradigm inherent to our continuing contributions to the art.

For anyone who is alive today to attempt to extoll the virtues of an era that they were not alive to experience, is speculative at best and opinion at worst. None of us were alive back then, so we can only get so close to that music, and still it isn't the genuine article - no matter how much we wish it to be. We have to play our own music, of our own time - just as those folks before us did.

I also agree that Kansas City jazz started the modern movements in dance band jazz music, yes. But, to leave it way back there stylistically would be stagnation. Just the same as if every trumpet player still played like Louis Armstrong did during his "Hot Five" days. We often forget that Bird left Kansas City in order to grow as a musician. I don't think the emerging artists have to do that today though.

In Kansas City jazz, you have to come through the various styles of the blues, rhythm changes and get to know the music from the greats of the old era. But, the goal isn't to stay on those things unless that is your calling to recreate the music from another era. But, those types of markets always shrink and perhaps that is what the gifted Mr. Washington alludes to in his remark in the video.

I don't know...

Peace, Cb

Anonymous said...


Not many young cats are incorporating the blues or blue notes into their solos.

There is alot of teaching going on to young musicians but the mentoring (which is quite different)has slipped.

There are so many great young players but they are also willing to play for peanuts.

Ralph Smythe

Cb said...


I see your point about "incorporating the blues or blue notes into their solos", if that is the qualifier that Mr. Washington was alluding to... Again, I don't know. Folks back in the day called John Coltrane anti-jazz in this type of context too. Louis Armstrong called the music that Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie helped develop "Chinese music" because he felt it was so far removed from "blues and blue notes".

I think we stagnate as an art form and music when we become too conservative in our definitions of what "is" and what "is not" jazz. That's my primary point here.

Indeed, "Kansas City Jazz" has a distinct sound, especially when you talk about the music of the first and second generation swing era artists (McShann, The Scamps, Kenner, and even Alaadeen). It also still has a distinct sound, but is more inclusive of various elements too, when you talk about the younger generations that follow into our modern times - Metheny, Watson, Richardson, Chalk, etc.

[QUOTE]There are so many great young players but they are also willing to play for peanuts.[/QUOTE]

That's a different issue. I agree and wrote a blog about the condition of the live music economy. We also need something like the union used to be toward establishing standards for a living wage. In talking with friends all over the world, it doesn't seem most anyone is making a real living just playing live gigs.

Peace, Cb