Monday, March 18, 2013

Ballot Initiative

Could my steadfast belief that Kansas City's jazz scene is undergoing an artistic renaissance be little more than wishful thinking and provincial boosterism? 

The disconcerting results of the 7th Annual Jazz Critics Poll, the most comprehensive and authoritative year-end jazz album listing, continue to stick in my craw.  Dozens of prominent jazz critics cast votes for 421 albums.  Of the projects with Kansas City connections, only Unity Band by Pat Metheny was represented.  It placed #27.  Otherwise, albums released by Kansas City's jazz artists were ignored.

Even the sole participant from the Kansas City area opted not to include any locally-released titles among his ten picks.  (I wasn't included.  My selections are here.)

I'm not suggesting that the titles that received votes aren't worthwhile.  Yet is it really possible that 421 jazz albums are "better" than, say, the latest efforts by Deborah Brown or Matt Otto?   A great deal of the underrepresentation can be attributed to the fact that most albums by Kansas City's jazz artists are self-released.  That liability, combined with the usual group-think and bandwagoning among music critics, might help to explain the omissions. 

Three new albums by Kansas City artists- Tangos For 18th Street by Mark Lowrey, The Freedom of Expression by Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle and Yalniz by Alaturka are simply too good to be ignored. 

If none of these seemingly powerful releases develop grassroots followings and a critical buzz during the next nine months I may be forced to reassess my esteem for the music being created in Kansas City.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...


Do you think the reason none of your albums were picked is because only half of them are really jazz albums? Pat Metheny is not a kansas city artist, so that pick does not even make sense. He is from Lee's Summit, and he left when he was around eighteen years old. I am positive that if you asked him if he was a Kansas city local artist, he would say no.

Pick some jazz albums to get behind in your race for the top Jazz albums of the year. Even of the three that you mentioned in this post, only one of them is a jazz record. Having improvisation does not make music jazz.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid you're just showing your ignorance. Yes, jazz in Kansas City is on the Kansas City. When you and Jazzlark write about how local artists are world class it's just sad. The artistic distance between Matt Otto and Chris Potter, or Mark Lowry and Brad Mehldau, is vast. Yes the scene is drastically improving, but let's not fool ourselves into thinking that the music can compete on a national level. Go to New York for awhile and learn what good really is.

Nigel said...

Good point! For instance, Randy Brecker is a much superior player than guys in the KCJO. The fact that you can't hear the difference clarifies anon's points.

Is he one of the greatest trumpeters of all time as Clint Ashlock I think suggested. No, he might be in the top 30.

Note to readers: a blog does not make you an authority and Happy says so in his disclaimer.


Nigel said...

Oh by the way Clint? How is Kerry Strayer one of the most important figures in Kansas City Jazz history?

Dean Minderman said...

How wide of a release did those recordings get? There's a good chance that many of the critics who voted in that poll, or one of the other ones, may not have even heard any of the albums you mention.
On the one hand, there's more music than ever being "released" - albeit not always in CD form - and lots of competition for peoples' time and attention. On the other hand, local musicians who are putting out their own stuff may not be able to afford to hire a publicist; may lack the skills to do it themselves; or may not even realize they need to publicize a CD release. If you're only reaching local fans and a limited subset of local/regional journalists, critics & DJs, it's harder to get the kind of widespread buzz needed for a record to show up in one of these polls.

Anonymous said...

Oy we go. your worst. -Sam

ryan said...

I'll bite... I think it's a safe bet to consider one of the 30 best trumpeters (in your own admission) to be one of the best of all time.

Also, without hesitation, I would consider Kerry Strayer one of the most important figures in Kansas City jazz. He's been an active musician here for 30 years, his playing, his resume and bio speak for themselves and he's been instrumental in helping the younger generation (myself included) in learning the ropes of this scene. He probably would have told me to ignore you but sometimes I don't listen well.

Anonymous said...

In reference to the second post the geographic locations do not determine what makes a great jazz musician as long as you strive to play with the best! The distance between in ability and musicianship from guys in KC and NY is not that big! Look on the back of the modern albums some of your local musicians are on them in new york! To the first post read what your favorite jazz artist say jazz is i think you will be shocked.

Anonymous said...

More ignorance. Just because Logan Richardson, who by the way hasn't lived in Kansas City for many years now, happens to be having some success does not make my original point any less valid. If I was wrong he might still live here. Shit, if I was wrong Bobby Watson wouldn't have left decades ago.

Kansas City is enjoying a resurgence due to a crop of talented young players who have decided to stick around. But they're sticking around because they couldn't hack it in New York. No shame in that. That's becoming more impossible everyday.

But can we please take off our MidWestern Mediocrity/Wishful Thinking googles and recognize that the scene in KC has the chance to become something special and unique. But that's not going to happen unless the players continue to improve to the point that they make work that can compete at a national level.

That being said, they'll never get that chance without the continued support from the local community.

Anonymous said...

In the end who really cares. What is the top "jazz" album even prove? It proves your the top of the bottom of the music food chain. And what is "jazz"? Just by labeling yourself or associating yourself with "jazz" you lose credibility to the common audience. Humm i wonder why that is? Maybe because jazz left ifs roots of swing and good times and turned into a constant dick measuring contest that was made even worst by implementing it into an academic setting. And trust me academic "jazz" has taking over not only in kc but in NYC as well. The only artist to make national move in "jazz" this year was Robert Glasper, and he won his Grammy under the best R&B album. Which earned him unmeasured respect, where as Pat may have 20 Grammys but them being all in jazz is not even close to being as valuable in the common eye as a Grammy in best r&b record. We need to stop looking a other people and forging a individual path, or else this "jazz" thing will become a school exercise and globally ignored into extentiction

Chris said...

I'd like to set one thing straight for Anon 3/20 3:25. I lived in NYC for 2 years. I had absolutely no trouble working 2-3 nights per week, and had the chance to work with some heavy musicians. I chose to move back to KC because I enjoy the comfortable (cheap) midwest life and the supportive jazz community here. Nobody is denying that the best musicians reside in NYC, but for every heavyweight there is a higher ratio of hacks there than in KC.

I can say with certainty that the reason that recent KC releases have not garnered their due attention was because they were not promoted well or at all. When I released my CD last year, I did all of the promotion on my own. I sent out 110 copies to radio stations and got played on about 20 of them. It truly REQUIRES paying thousands of dollars to hire one of the few jazz promoters in order to get your album even noticed on a bigger level.

Don't fool yourself, KC is on par with other cities that call themselves "Jazz Cities". The problem is that everyone has a boner for all of the young musicians in this town who can play a lot of notes but have no clue how to entertain people.

Seriously, go listen to Everette DeVan or Danny Embrey or Bob Bowman and try to tell me that they are mediocre. Give me a friggin break.

Michael said...

Whole lot of dumbasses on this here thread.

Matt Leifer said...

Anon: 3-18 5:43/3-20 3:25 isn't entirely wrong, but he's not entirely correct, either. Clearly most of you have no idea what you're talking about.

Chuck said...


Why demonize people with opinions. I've been writing about jazz, reviewing cd's for journals, hosting radio shows, a full time jazz musician, recording artist, impresario etc for over twenty years....plugging away advocating for this music.

What is your humble opinion?


Michael said...


You also sign your name next to your opinion. Dig?

--Michael Anderson Shults

Clint Ashlock said...

Opinions are always important to the one who has them.

I was made aware of some negativity thrown my way, so I'll bite. Randy has been a first-call guy in the jazz and studio world for about 40 years. He not only pioneered new ground with one of the most influential fusion groups of all time, but created some new straight-ahead language for trumpet players. He played with a pretty important rock/horn band and has been on a ridiculous number of recordings. Yeah, I think that puts him in the discussion. So would "top 30." But, I mean, I don't keep a master list.

And seriously, if you even have to question Kerry's place in KC jazz history, I humbly opine that you just haven't paid attention. One of the longest-tenured bandleaders in the city's history, a guy who really is the defacto go-to for how to be a professional musician, a monstrously prolific writer and arranger, master craftsman, educator, etc. Oh yeah, who else would you list above him as this city's most influential baritone saxophonist?

Regarding the other business, all I have to say is this: if you don't think Matt Otto is on the highest level, well, I mean... Ok. It's my opinion, and the opinion of jazz musicians far greater than me, that you're completely wrong.

Bob said...

Ben Kynard was a pretty important bari player in our towns history. Just passed away in his 90's. Wrote Red Top and Flying Home. Prolific arranger for Lionel Hampton's big band. His charts infiltrated the books of several name bands. A perfect combination of art and showmanship.

Clint Ashlock said...

Well, of course Ben Kynard is a KC jazz legend, but if we're discussing him, I've always thought of him as a saxophonist. He recorded and performed on alto, tenor and bari. Still, I stand by my assertion that Kerry is one of the most important guys in our city's history. I'm not really sure why it (and everything else in these comments) has to be a debate.

Anonymous said...

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