Sunday, June 16, 2013

Reappraising Jazz in the Woods

It's time to repent.  After thoroughly enjoying myself Friday at Jazz in the Woods, I realized that I need to come clean about my longstanding affection for the festival.

I witnessed the inception of Jazz in the Woods in the 1980s when drummer Vince Bilardo played swing-oriented jazz with locally-based musicians at the east side of the parking lot that now houses Garozzo's on College Boulevard.  As the festival began to shun Kansas City's jazz musicians in favor of more marketable artists, I aimed ridicule and scorn at the organizers of Jazz in the Woods.  Yet I continued to show up every year and never failed to have a good time. 

Friday's presentation was no exception.  Tony DeSare, a hybrid of John Pizzarelli and Michael BublĂ©, interpreted standards by Irving Berlin and Cole Porter in addition to covering songs by Prince, Bruce Springteen and Jerry Lee Lewis.  Alas, he didn't play the Journey song that ignited a storm of incendiary fury at Plastic Sax a couple weeks ago.  Greg Adams and East Bay Soul were fantastic in Adams' third appearance at Jazz in the Woods.  The former member of Tower of Power led a large band through funk and R&B classics like "The World Is a Ghetto" and "What's Going On."

It's worth noting that well over half of the people within 100 feet of the stage were black.  The demographics belie Johnson County's reputation as a bastion of white exclusivity and offers an answer to the oft-asked question about what became of the black audience for jazz.   Factoring in both age and race, the audience of over 5,000 at Friday's event was the most diverse I've encountered in 2013.  Aside from bored teenagers and disgruntled old folks who'd apparently expected to hear the sounds of Stan Kenton, everyone seemed to be wearing a smile.

My favorite jazz albums of 2013 include thorny efforts by the likes of Rudresh Mahanthappa.  I acknowledge that most people don't want to subject themselves to that sort of noise.  In fact, I've come to an even more divisive yet meaningful realization.  Snobbish dismissals of smooth jazz are, at best, elitist.  At worst, such derision contains shades of unintentional racism.  I intend to cleanse myself of this socially acceptable yet unflattering bias. 

After Friday's positive experience, I was looking forward to relaxing to the smooth jazz sounds of Julian Vaughn and Peter White at Jazz in the Woods the following night.  I was crestfallen when the event was rained out.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)


Anonymous said...

What are they paying you?

Gary said...

I don't always "get" Bill Brownlee's choices but he's not "on the take." I used to live near Antioch and 435 and we had a good time attending Jazz in the Woods our first summer in the KC area.

Seth Smith said...

Thanks for coming clean! Feels good doesn't it!

Seth Smith said...

You forgot to mention they made tens of thousands for charity....again...and know the government didn't have to mandate it or control it.

Anonymous said...

I don't think dismissal of smooth jazz is any more racist than dismissal of 101 Strings but everyone has the right to enjoy whatever they enjoy. I find most smooth jazz as painful as I find Cecil Taylor.