Monday, December 31, 2012

Doug and Lori Chandler: The Plastic Sax People of the Year

Two of the most valuable people on Kansas City's jazz scene are amateur musicians.  Doug Chandler plays drums.  Lori Chandler is a bass guitar student.  Yet the couple's musical talents have nothing to do with the crucial contribution they've made to the area's live music landscape. The co-owners of Take Five Coffee + Bar are Plastic Sax's 2012 people of the year.

As several conventional jazz venues have shuttered or shifted formats, the Chandlers have provided an increasingly ambitious refuge for the music at Take Five.  The couple spoke to Plastic Sax at their home earlier this month about their experiences since opening Take Five on January 2, 2010.

"It started out as just a coffee shop," Doug said.  "We didn't set out to do music." 

Take Five was the site of a fundraiser designed to help finance the European trip of jazz act Diverse in early 2010.  Shortly afterwards guitarist Ron Carlson contacted the Chandlers about the possibility of booking additional jazz performances.  Other musicians, including Stan Kessler, were soon added to the mix. 

A jazz venue was born.

"We started taking what was in our business plans for marketing and using that money to pay bands," Lori said.

"We make our money five dollars at a time," Doug added.  "The rest of the business is very important to us but the jazz sets us apart."

The unconventional strategy isn't without risk.

"Some nights it works amazingly well.  Other nights it doesn't," Lori said. "To a certain extent that's how we gauge who is going to come back.  To come back you have to be someone we're really passionate about or make money for us."

Musicians have learned to respect Take Five in spite of its suburban location in southern Johnson County.

"Every time a musician plays there for the first time I have to imagine what's going through their head is, 'I'm going out to Leawood and I'm going to play in a coffee shop'," Lori suggests.  "They get out there and they have a crowd and that crowd is hanging on every note.  And all of a sudden it's cool.  But it takes getting over that 'coffee shop in Leawood' thing."

Audiences have also been remarkably receptive.

"There's something about the intimacy," Doug explained.  "The overall concept of Take Five is we try to make it like your satellite living room.  It's as comfortable as going into your own front room but you don't have to do the dishes. You can be your own host in our place.  That intimacy carries over when we set a band in a corner of the room and someone like Clint Ashlock is blowing his trumpet right in front of a twelve-year-old kid in a comfy chair.  The kid is mesmerized by what Clint's doing.  Parents realize that's something you can't get anywhere else.  They can have a glass of wine yet not feel like they're going into a bar." 

The room's excellent acoustics enhance the experience.

"We got super lucky," Lori noted.  "The one thing I would change about the room is the damn pole."

The unfortunate placement of a structural beam seems to be one of the few barriers between Take Five and the area's musicians.

"We look at the musicians like family.  We want to be a place where they will try out things that won't try out somewhere else," Doug said.  "They're partners.  We want them to do well and they want us to do well."

Lori is philosophical about the relationship.

"We appreciate the music.  We will continue to book music that we really like and people that we really like and push the limits," she said.  "We're not just a venue.   We care about the musicians and the people that come to see them.  I just want to be part of the jazz community."

The previous Plastic Sax people of the year are Jeff Harshbarger in 2011, Mark Lowrey in 2010 and Hermon Mehari in 2009.

(Image supplied by Doug and Lori Chandler.)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Now's the Time: Mardra and Reggie Thomas

The recent deaths of Kansas City's Marva Whitney and St. Louis' Fontella Bass serve as a solemn reminder that we shouldn't take our divas for granted.  The world also lost Etta James, Whitney Houston and Donna Summer in 2012.  Mardra Thomas will sing at the Blue Room on New Year's Eve. She'll be accompanied by pianist Reggie Thomas, guitarist Will Matthews, saxophonist Bobby Watson, bassist Nick Jost  and drummer Marty Morrison.  (Anyone seeking something more low-key and significantly less pricey might consider the duo of Miles Bonny and Eddie Moore at the new Green Lady Lounge.)

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Kristin Shafel Omiccioli interviewed Kerry Strayer of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.

*Robert Trussell reviewed Saturday's performance by the Owen/Cox Dance Group.

*The Black House Improvisors' Collective unveiled the roster for its forthcoming season.

*Bob McWilliams of KANU lists his top twelve albums of 2012.

*A blogger surveys the life of Charlie Parker.

*Clint Ashlock updated his SoundCloud account.

*12th Street Jump presents a new episode of "Blues In the News."

*A deranged man ranted about Eddie Moore and Logan Richardson after presenting tracks by Mark Lowrey and Michael Pagan on KCUR's Up To Date last Friday.

*Tweet o' the Week: paulgerni- Last night I listened to, and danced to, the New Vintage Big Band, an excellent 18-pc band in the true Kansas City jazz tradition.

*Comment o' the Week: Gary- Had the privilege to hear Harshberger playing Snuff Jazz Saturday night at Take Five. I'm going to be spending a lot more Saturday nights there for sure.

*From a press release: A Musical Night of TV Theme Songs & Movie Classics.  Take a trip down memory lane with those old familiar songs of hit movies and television series. Hosted by Jim Mair, and the incredible songbook and talent of Dan Deluca on piano, the Consort Band will take you on a journey of memories through music... Wednesday, January 2, 2013. 7:00 p.m. Unity Temple on the Plaza, Tickets at the door only - $7.00

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Ghost of Christmas Present

Am I Ebenezer Scrooge?  My good friend KCJazzLark seems to think so.  In a clever new post titled "A KC Jazz Christmas Carol, Part 1," he refutes this site's year-end recap with surgical precision. 

I stand by my assertions regarding the diminishing audience for jazz, but KCJazzLark's eloquent take-down suggests that I may be failing to adequately share my enthusiasm for the music.  Fortunately, I need only go back a few hours for a vivid reminder of why I continue to espouse the ongoing vitality of the music being played on Kansas City's jazz scene.

A performance last night at the RecordBar was almost as good as anything I'd heard in all of 2012.  Brilliant saxophonist and composer Matt Otto led a band featuring visiting trumpeter Dave Scott, bassist Jeff Harshbarger and drummer Ryan Lee.  The quartet played some next-level stuff that continually astounded me.

Lee has never sounded better.  I recall giving him a hard time a few years ago for occasionally overplaying.  That's all behind him.  He and Jeff Harshbarger, Plastic Sax's 2011 Person of the Year, were endlessly creative.  I would have been happy to hear just the two of them play as a duo all night.  Yet Otto and Scott were similarly inspired.  The compelling new material Otto wrote for the gig enhanced the quiet power of his band.

I know KCJazzLark shares my passion for these musicians.  I also know that both of us will continue spreading the good news about these essential sounds in the new year.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Now's the Time: The People's Liberation Big Band's The Nutcracker and the Mouse King

Even jaded people who've endured enough versions of the Nutcracker to last several lifetimes and music-centric people who are reluctant to attend the ballet will marvel at the embedded video.  The sound of the People's Liberation Big Band of Greater Kansas City and the visuals provided by the Owen/Cox Dance Group are spectacular.  The sole Kansas City performance of 2012 takes place at the Folly Theater on Saturday, December 22.  Advisory- as of Friday afternoon, about 150 seats remained unsold at the 1,050-seat venue.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Five locally-released albums are recommended by KCJazzLark.

*Downbeat offers a report on the First China Jazz Education Festival in Shanghai.  Clint Ashlock was among the participants.

*Grand Marquis is in the news for the whistle-blowing role its members played in an animal abuse scandal.

*Nextbop offers a preview of the Next Collective's forthcoming project featuring Logan Richardson.

*Chris Burnett recently updated his Tumblr.

*Tweet o' the Week: John Hilderbrand- Chris Botti is the best selling instrumental artist in America since 2004. That’s what my press release about his Blue Note residency says.

*Comment o' the Week: Jim Mair- Perhaps #12… The Kansas City Jazz Summit (last week of April) band and combo enrollment doubled for year number two. Our Kansas City Jazz Heritage big band competition sign ups went up 33%. The top two bands playing exclusively the music of Basie had a playoff format and the audience members were able to TEXT their vote for the winning band. The texting was worth 35% of there score. This is a first for a competitive jazz festival anywhere. One of our guitar students received a full ride to attend the Pat Metheny Guitar camp last summer. Good things happening in KCK! We are just scratching the surface. KCKCC is the place to be!!

*From Take Five Coffee + Bar: It's our great pleasure to present a series of performances by bassist, composer and bon vivant Jeff Harshbarger in January and February at Take Five Coffee + Bar. Jeff performs with some of the most inventive musical groups in the country, and he'll bring a sampling of them for four performances in the intimate surroundings of what has become one of the Kansas City area's favorite listening rooms… So we're turning over four straight Saturday nights at Take Five to showcase the many faces of Jeff Harshbarger…
  • Saturday, January 19 - 10:30pm to 12:30am: Alaturka- Join us for the official JCCC Jazz Winterlude After Party hosted by Alaturka. Jeff Harshbarger (bass), Brandon Draper (drums/percussion), Rich Wheeler (sax) and Beau Bledsoe (guitar) bring you Turkish jazz, and oh, how they bring it. Help us celebrate Kansas City's amazing jazz community. Mistura Fina with Shay Estes will play the earlier set, 8pm to 10pm.
  • Saturday, January 27 - 8pm to 10pm: Snuff Jazz with Brian Haas- As if somehow the madness of Snuff Jazz weren't exciting enough on its own, on this night they add the frenetic energy of Brian Haas, whose piano drives Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and the Dead Kenny Gs. We're only kind of sure the roof won't come down.
  • Saturday, February 2 - 8pm to 10pm: Sequel- This ferocious trio will play two sets of funk jazz by Medeski, Martin and Wood. It's Ken Lovern on keys and Brian Steever on drums joining Harshbarger for extended explorations into the deepest grooves.
  • Saturday, February 9 - 8pm to 10pm: Jeff Harshbarger Quartet- Rich Wheeler on sax, Roger Wilder on piano, Mike Warren on drums. Serious jazz.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, December 17, 2012

The Top Jazz-Related Stories and Trends of 2012

1. Gone for good.
In the early months of 2012 it was still possible to believe that Jardine's, the busiest and most popular jazz club in Kansas City, would somehow be revived.  It didn't happen.

2. Jazz fans abhor a vacuum
The launch of the Kill Devil Club and a sudden plethora of impressive bookings at Take Five Coffee + Bar have helped to take some of the sting out of the loss of Jardine's. 

3. D.I.Y.
Joe Klopus, jazz columnist for The Kansas City Star, noted the trend of jazz musicians booking shows at non-traditional venues.  The dwindling number of actual jazz clubs has compelled many musicians to take matters into their own hands.  Jazz in the Weeds, Tim Whitmer's monthly "Spirituality and All That Jazz" series and the Live at the Hollywood Theater series in Leavenworth are among these ambitious ventures.  Dozens of smaller-scale events are also taking place at art galleries, restaurants, private clubs and on city sidewalks. (Update- see Jim Mair's comment on KCKCC's new Jazz by the Lake series. I simply forgot to mention it.)

4. Things ain't what they used to be.
A Plastic Sax reader regularly commends the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, Tim Whitmer's "Spirituality and All That Jazz" series and the annul Jazz Carol Fest at Community Church for drawing audiences that range from 250 to 1,500.  He's right to point out those successes.  What he doesn't mention is that the overwhelming majority of the audiences for those shows are in their sixties and seventies.  The turnout for concerts by international stars like Vijay Iyer and Kansas City's progressive jazz musicians is often disconcertingly dismal.

5. This will go on your permanent record.
The ongoing audience attrition is belied by the encouraging number of new recordings.  Here's a partial list of artists who released albums in 2012- the Brian Baggett Trio, Deborah Brown, the Chris Hazelton Trio, Hearts of Darkness, the KC Sound Collective, Killer Strayhorn, Kevin Mahogany with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, T.J. Martley, Pat Metheny, Matt Otto, the Owen/Cox Dance Ensemble, Michael Pagan, Passport and the Project H.

6. R.I.P.
The great Ben Kynard, best known as the composer of "Red Top," died in July.  He was 92.  The death of Bill Caldwell rocked the jazz community in March.  He was 49.

7. Quiet as it's kept.
Bobby Watson was everywhere.  And that's a very good thing.   Watson was a headliner at Live at the Hollywood Theater, was featured at Celebration at the Station with the Kansas City Symphony and served as a guest artist at a concert by the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra,  He also sat in on gigs by artists ranging from Delfeayo Marsalis to Karrin Allyson.  His presence is always welcome.

8. Bravo.
The forward-thinking bookings of programmers at the American Jazz Museum included Gary Burton/Chick Corea and Eric Harland at the Jammin' At the Gem series in addition to many noteworthy artists at the Blue Room.  The museum also made the Rhythm & Ribs Jazz and Blues Festival work under challenging storm-related circumstances.  The 2012-13 season of the Folly Theater's jazz series includes Anat Cohen, Kenny Garrett and Vijay Iyer.  The Prairie Village Jazz Festival and Johnson County's Jazz Winterlude also enhanced the quality of life of area jazz fans.

9. New digs.
The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra's new home at Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts represents a luxurious achievement for the Kansas City jazz establishment.

10. Empty talk.
Bobby Watson performed at the New American City conference at the Kauffman Center a few weeks ago.  That's as it should be.  Yet prominent displays of lip service can't compensate for the overwhelming indifference the vast majority of the area's populace have for Kansas City's jazz heritage and current artistic renaissance.  A final example- less than a dozen people attended this year's annual service at Charlie Parker's grave at Lincoln Cemetery.  The unsustainable trend must change.

I conducted a similar exercise in 2011.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Now's the Time: Shades of Jade

Inspired by Robert Glasper and Sean Jones, Shades of Jade is at the vanguard of the burgeoning youth movement on Kansas City's jazz scene. I've seen the quartet perform at the Brick, the Mutual Musicians Foundation, the main stage at the Plaza Art Fair and at a fashionable boutique in recent months.  In each instance, the quartet adeptly tailored its approach to the demands of the setting.  Shades of Jade are certain to excel in a  8:30 p.m. performance on Friday, December 14, at Take Five Coffee + Bar.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Pat Metheny's Unity Band was nominated for a Grammy Award in the category of Best Jazz Instrumental Album.

*A blogger compares Eddie Moore to "other great young and contemporary Houston-bred jazz pianists like Jason Moran and Robert Glasper."  Moore uploaded a track from his forthcoming album to SoundCloud.

*Opportunities for aspiring musicians abound at the Black House Improvisors' Collective.

*The eightieth anniversary of an important recording session by Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra is noted by KCJazzLark.

*A new set of videos documenting a recent KC Youth Jazz performance is impressive.

*Here's another video of a 12th Street Jump "Blues In the News" segment.

*Kristin Shafel Omiccioli reviewed Marilyn Maye's appearance with the Heartland Men's Chorus at the Folly Theater and Project Trio's concert at Polsky Theatre.

*Here a clip of jazz students at Kansas City Kansas Community College playing a Stan Kessler arrangement of "We Three Kings".

*Side By Side, the new album by "antique pop" duo Victor & Penny, was recently released.

*Joe Dimino interviewed Gary Smulyan. 

*Frequent Kansas City visitor Rob Scheps is featured on Marvin "Bugalu" Smith's new album Majestic.

*Comment o' the Week: Anonymous- Thank god we have the Betty Carter jazz program to show us the way. I never realized that playing "All the Things You Are" really well was a solid business model.

*Tweet o' the Week: KCJazzOrch- The new KCJO/Kevin Mahogany Christmas CD is available for download: Itunes, Muve, Rdio, Deezer, Rhapsody, Amazon MP3, Spotify, &Google Play.

*From a press release issued by Take Five Coffee + Bar: Take Five Coffee + Bar brings you a packed calendar of stellar music this month from Kansas City and beyond… Friday, December 14, 8pm- Shades of Jade (and a barista competition!)… Saturday, December 15, 8pm- Snuff Jazz… Friday, December 21, 8pm- Matt Chalk with Diverse… Saturday, December 22, 8pm- Mandy Nousain and her Trio… Friday, December 28, 8pm- Parallax… Saturday, December 29, 8pm- Drew Williams Quartet… Friday, January 4, 8pm- The KC Sound Collective.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Plastic Sax's Top Albums and Concerts of 2012

Attentive jazz aficionados in Kansas City had the luxury of sifting through an outpouring of quality and quantity in 2012.  So many exceptional recordings were released by locally-based artists that I'm obliged to offer two lists of albums this year.  These rankings, of course, are merely a reflection my personal taste.

1. Vijay Iyer Trio- Folly Theater
2. People's Liberation Big Band- RecordBar
3. Pat Metheny's Unity Band- Folly Theater
4. Matt Otto Quartet- Westport Coffeehouse
5. Vanguard Jazz Orchestra- Folly Theater
6. Parallax- Take Five Coffee
7. Bobby Watson with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra- Unity on the Plaza
8. Delfeayo Marsalis- Blue Room
9. McFadden Brothers- Gem Theater
10. Shades of Jade- The Brick

Kansas City Albums
1. Pat Metheny- Unity Band
2. Project H- Become Light
3. Deborah Brown- All Too Soon
4. T.J. Martley- Meditations
5. Matt Otto- Broken Waltz
6. Killer Strayhorn- One Begins to Wonder
7. Various- Music for Owen/Cox Dance Group, Vol. 1
8. Michael Pagán- Keyboard Christmas
9. Hearts of Darkness- Shelf Life
10. Chris Hazelton- Peregrination

Jazz Albums From Elsewhere
1. Christian Scott- Christian aTunde Adjuah
2. Lionel Loueke- Heritage
3. Esbjörn Svensson Trio- 301
4. Neneh Cherry & the Thing- The Cherry Thing
5. Robert Glasper- Black Radio
6. Vijay Iyer Trio- Accelerando
7. Charles Gayle Trio- Streets
8. Branford Marsalis Quartet- Four MFs Playin' Tunes
9. Tord Gustavsen Quartet- The Well
10. Floratone- Floratone II

Previous annual listings were published here and here.

(The photo of a dumbfounded doofus watching Ryan Lee perform with Parallax at Take Five Coffee + Bar was submitted by Stan Kessler.)

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Now's the Time: Project Trio

In the spirit of the season, here's Project Trio's take on a familiar Tchaikovsky theme.  When the trio performs at Polsky Theatre on Friday, December 7, they're almost certain to air out their version of the late Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk".

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Hearne Christopher provides another extensive recap of the Jardine's saga.

*Brad Cox participates in a brief Q-and-A with The Kansas City Star.

*Mark Lowrey reinterprets the Republic Tigers' "Buildings and Mountains" on his forthcoming album.

*Tommy Johnson Jr.'s connection to Lawrence's jazz scene is examined by The Lawrence Journal-World.  (Via Offstage.)

*One of Marilyn Maye's recent performances with the Heartland Men's Chorus was reviewed by Paul Wilson. (Via Offstage.)

*Victor & Penny are featured in this week's new episode of 12th Street Jump.

*Is a blogger battle brewing?  KCJazzLark once again takes exception to a Plastic Sax post.

*The Marshall Democrat-News reports on plans for next year's Bob James Jazz Festival.

*Matt Otto has made two sets of tracks available as free downloads.

*The man known as Phonologotron has completely revamped his blog.

*Analogue Productions of Salina, Kansas, continues to delight audiophile jazz fans.  Here's a  clip touting new reissues of classic titles on the Prestige label.

*Tweet o' the Week: MayorSlyJames- Saw jazz Harpist Lori Andrews at Blue Room tonight. She couldn't get over how friendly folks in KC are. PROUD OF YOU KC!!

*Comment o' the Week: Michael- The day that music critics call me a "musician's musician" will be a career highlight for me.

*The Kansas City Jazz Calendar has been updated.

*From a press release: “Better to be lucky than smart” was a learning experience passed down from his father to local jazz and blues guitarist Tom DeMasters, as was DeMasters Insurance, LLC in Westport that Tom took over in 1983.  The CD Release Party for Better to Be Lucky will be December 10 from 7-10 p.m. at the Phoenix, 302 W. 8th St. in KCMO (no cover). Tom’s second CD features some of Kansas City’s finest, including internationally-recognized guitarist and KC transplant Jerry Hahn, Tim Whitmer, Wild Women Millie Edwards and Lori Tucker, Rick Huyett, Wayne Hawkins, Ray DeMarchi, Allen Fishell, Andy Hambleton, Bob Jolley, Mike Moreland and Joe Pruessner.

*Rob Scheps reports that he's booked the following dates for a band he'll co-lead with Jerry Dodgion: Thurs April 4- WestChase Grille; Fri. Apr. 5- Lucky Brewgrille; Sun. Apr. 7- House Concert; Wed. Apr. 10- Ottawa University; Thurs. Apr. 11- 12th St. Jump Recording Session; Thurs. Apr. 11- Take Five Coffee Bar; Fri. Apr. 12- Lucky Brewgrille; Fri. Apr 12- Blue Room; Sat. Apr. 13- Lucky Brewgrille with Ron Carlson.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, December 3, 2012

Review: Kevin Mahogany and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra's The Christmas Album and Michael Pagán's Keyboard Christmas

Two new albums by artists deeply embedded in the Kansas City jazz scene feature entirely different treatments of Christmas music.  Keyboard Christmas by Michael Pagán is a refined solo piano album.  The Christmas Album by Kevin Mahogany and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is a lush set of big band swing.

Anyone familiar with both Mahogany and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra will immediately recognize that the pairing should result in splendid music.  Mahogany, perhaps the most significant male jazz vocalist from Kansas City since Big Joe Turner, is featured on half of The Christmas Album's 14 tracks.  Mahogany's lustrous voice is ideally suited for seasonal material like "I'll Be Home For Christmas."  Yet it's the instrumental selections that stand out.  An evocatively arranged version of "O Come, O Come, Emanuel" is my favorite track.  (Full disclosure- I played an incidental role in the creation of the album.)

Where Mahogany and The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra conform to expectations for holiday music, Pagán approaches the task from a less conventional angle on Keyboard Christmas.  The project's generic title and album art are misleading.  The album isn't an obvious rehash of familiar material.  It more closely resembles a jazz piano album that happens to contain seasonal material than a holiday album by a jazz pianist. 

Pagán sets the adventurous tone on the opening track by merging "So What" with "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."  I was so stunned by the pairing that I was compelled to ask Pagán if the concept was original.  He confirmed that the idea is his.  I expect Pagán's stroke of genius to be quickly adopted by musicians all over the world.  The rest of the album is similarly enchanting.  Pagán demonstrates his classical chops on "Good King Wencelas" while an elegant blues-tinged take on "Coventry Carol" evokes Kenny Barron.

While I'm glad to own a copy of The Christmas Album, only a Keyboard Christmas will be added to the small stack of holiday albums that are part of my perennial rotation. 

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)