Friday, February 28, 2014

Now's the Time: Laila Biali

Diana Krall isn't the only prominent jazz-based female vocalist, pianist, songwriter and bandleader from Canada.  Laila Biali covers Alberta-born Joni Mitchell's "Woodstock" in the embedded video.  Biali will be joined by Greg Carroll, the CEO of the American Jazz Museum, at the Blue Room on Saturday, March 1. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*From Eddie Moore: We the musicians of the Kansas City jazz scene both members and non members of the Mutual Musicians Foundation (MMF) are issuing a boycott of this organization. Over the years the MMF has blatantly disrespected the musicians community at large along with the failure to follow the structure of the By- Laws. Their actions have gone unanswered and this will not be tolerated any longer. On February 19th an official meeting was called where only one board member was present (secretary), the organization as a whole refused to meet with us and open their doors to help resolve this matter.  We are asking that ALL Patrons of the arts and musicians to stop supporting this organization and their functions until this issue is resolved out of respect to the musicians who give their talents and knowledge to the historic organization.  For more information email:

*KC Jazz Lark pays tribute to the ailing Everette DeVan.

*The latest installment of the Hermon Mehari video series featured at Plastic Sax on February 17 is a duet with Andrew Ouellette on "If I Were a Bell."

*The Robert Glasper Experiment will perform with Ledesi at the Midland theater on May 13.

*The Pitch reports on Everette DeVan's health issues.

*Hunter Long was interviewed by Calli Parker.

*Here's a new episode of 12th Street Jump's "Blues In the News".

*Tweet o' the Week: - Oh the Bill- Everette DeVan Benefit - TapDance: (video)

*Comment o' the Week: Sam- I'm gigging and can't be there tonight, but the Horizon show (with this exact lineup) at the Blue Room about ten years ago is still one of my favorite performances ever. The place was buzzing before, during and after.

*From a press release: The University of Kansas School of Music proudly presents the 37th Annual KU Jazz Festival concerts at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, March 7 and Saturday, March 8 in Woodruff Auditorium at the Kansas Union. This year’s concerts feature special guest artists Jaleel Shaw, saxophone (March 7) and Dave Douglas, trumpet (March 8). Both concert events are open to the public… Both Shaw and Douglas will be featured on new arrangements of their compositions written for the occasion by KU Jazz Studies students and faculty, including works by 2013 DownBeat Student Music Award winners David von Kampen and Clint Ashlock…. Following the main stage concerts at Woodruff Auditorium in the Kansas Union, the music will continue with the KU Jazz Festival After Hours Jazz Sessions, held at the All Seasons Den at The Oread Hotel, from 10:00 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. both evenings. These jazz sessions will feature performances by the Matt Otto Quartet.

*From Rob Scheps: Drummers- There is a great opportunity coming. New York drummer Eliot Zigmund will do a clinic in KC..... On Sunday April 6,  from 2 pm - 4:30 pm, The Rob Scheps/ Eliot Zigmund 4tet (with Roger Wilder & Bob Bowman), will do a concert/ clinic in Kansas City. The venue is being confirmed and will be announced  soon.  But the date and time are firm.. The 4tet will play; Eliot will speak about his career and the drums; and those who wish will get to play with the band, and can receive advice and critique from Eliot.... a jazz master class situation.

*From a press release: Award-winning Canadian vocalist and pianist Laila Biali will be gracing the stage at the American Jazz Museum on March 1… Described as “an exciting and unique talent” by Sting, Laila is a genre-bending performer known for intertwining pop, rock, classical, soul, and jazz into truly remarkable arrangements… Kicking off in Kansas City, she is joined by vibraphonist Greg Carroll, the CEO of the American Jazz Museum in Kansas City as well as an award-winning jazz performer and educator!

(Original image of a monitor at the National World War I Museum at Liberty Memorial by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, February 24, 2014

Folk Jazz

I spotted a lone tuba amid the hundreds of fiddles, banjos and guitars I saw on stages and in the hallways at the Folk Alliance Conference at the Westin Crown Center on Saturday.  Brass instruments were a rarity at the four-day event that attracted a reported 3,000 people to Kansas City. 

With 11 official stages and countless spontaneous jam sessions, the absence of a designated jazz-themed forum was disheartening.  The addition of the music associated with Kansas City would have been a nice component of what seemed to be an entirely successful event.

The proposal isn't all that strange.  Locally-based jazz musician Matt Otto refers to his music as "folk-jazz".  And Béla Fleck is just one of thousands of jazz-minded musicians who have emerged from the world of progressive bluegrass.  Beau Bledsoe of Alaturka gets it.  I saw him taking in a performance by the Turkish-born oud master Ismail Hakki Fencioglu at the expansive festival.

Kansas City will host the conference for the next few years.  I fully expect enterprising jazz musicians and promoters to explore the possibilities of an artistically fruitful association with the locally-based Folk Alliance.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Now's the Time: Bobby Watson's Horizon

What a blast from the past!  Trumpeter Roy Hargrove and pianist Benny Green look like children in the embedded footage from 1988.  They're not in the version of Horizon that's performing Friday, February 21, at the Blue Room.  Bassist Curtis Lundy won't be there either.  Bandleader Bobby Watson and drummer Victor Lewis will be joined by trumpeter Terrell Stafford, pianist Edward Simon and bassist Essiet Essiet in the latest edition of Horizon.  There will be more prominent mainstream jazz talent on the stage of the Blue Room on Friday than in the entire lineups of some festivals.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Joe Klopus' column includes a preview of the return of Bobby Watson's Horizon to the Blue Room on Friday and a notification about the benefit for Everette DeVan at the Broadway Jazz Club on Monday.  The Pitch also recommends Watson's gig.

*Here's the trailer for a documentary about the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

*KC Jazz Lark posted his photos of the second day of January's Jazz Winterlude festival.

*Tweet o' the Week: Nonesuch Records- @PatMetheny Unity Group's "Kin (←→)" Debuts at #1 on @Billboard Jazz Chart (link) (photo)

*Comment o' the Week: Cb- The Najee event did indeed sell out @520 people. That's two in a row - sell outs (Poncho Sanchez in September and Najee in February) for Jammin' at the Gem series concerts. We are going for three in a row with the Newport all-star concert that includes Karrin Allyson among the luminaries featured (see latest JAM cover)… Najee is more a musician than an artist who is branding the smooth jazz lifestyle. The cat can flat out play with most anybody in jazz…

*From a press release: The Vivacious Vocals of Lori Tucker performing with Tim Whitmer & The Consort Band, Wednesday, March 5, 2014, 7 p.m., Unity Temple on the Plaza. Lori Tucker is a versatile vocalist and entrepreneur.  Lori’s expressive vocals have enabled her to hold long-term engagements in many of Kansas City’s finest venues. In addition to Rhythm & Blues, Jazz and Blues she’s also widely recognized in the Gospel arena...

*From Broadway Jazz Club via Dionne Jeroue: Kansas City renowned keyboardist Everette DeVan had a stroke this past week and there will be a benefit to help with expenses at the Broadway Jazz Club on Monday, February 24, 2014, from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m.  Hosting the benefit will be Dionne Jeroue and her band and co-host Eboni Fondren.  Performing: 7-8 p.m.- Dionne Jeroue, featuring Ryan Howard, Danny Rojas, Matt Hopper, Ian Corbett.  8-9 p.m.- "Mama" Ray featuring Allen Monroe, Don Glaza, Jay Eudaly, Kent Means, Monte Musa. 9-10 p.m.- Chris Hazelton. 10-11 p.m.- Mark Lowrey.  Special guests: Mille Edwards, Lori Tucker, Eboni Fondren, Kelley Gant, Molly Hammer, Shay Estes, Misha Roberts, J Love, Dave Rizer, Eddie Charles, Monique Danielle, Miguel DeLeon, Jay Rogers, Myles Gorham, Rod Fleeman, Kim Sivils, Ryan Thielman, Alex Abramowitz, Dewey Rucker, Paul Gomez, Clint Dodson, David Basse, Craig Smith, Lawrence Jackson, Butch Smith, Christy Meinhardt, Havilah Brewer, B. Scott Nelson, Greg Meise, Tim Whitmer.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Video Restores the Jazz Star

I've consistently implored locally-based jazz musicians to document themselves on video.  It's only fair, consequently that I commend a man who is doing just that. 

Hermon Mehari, Plastic Sax's 2009 Person of the Year, has always been a savvy self-promoter.  His new video series further demonstrates his acumen. 

Mehari duets with bassist Karl McComas-Reichl on a brief rendition of "Darn That Dream" at the Majestic in the embedded footage.  Shot before or after the venue's business hours, the video features two camera angles and crisp sound. 

The popular #‎jamoftheweek meme is commendable, but the extra effort made by Mehari demonstrates his serious commitment to his career and to the music he loves.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Now's the Time: Najee

I've seen some of the most legendary figures in jazz perform to hundreds of empty seats at the Gem Theater.  Najee's appearance at the historic venue on Saturday, February 15, however, is a virtual sellout.  There's no shortage of fans of Najee's funk-infused version of smooth jazz.  Saturday's concert will include a tribute to the late Ahmad Alaadeen.  Joe Klopus spoke with Najee in advance of the concert.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*An "Everette DeVan Jazz Benefit" will be held Monday, February 24, at Broadway Jazz Club.  Dionne Jeroue initiated a related fundraising campaign on behalf of the ailing organist.

*Kevin Whitehead reviewed Frank Wess' posthumous Magic 201 for NPR's "Fresh Air."

*Hunter Long of Black House Collective is interviewed by Drew Williams of the Wing Walker Music podcast.

*The first night of January's Jazz Winterlude festival is documented in photos by KC Jazz Lark.

*Bobby Watson was interviewed in advance of his appearance at the Portland Jazz Festival.

*The National Portrait Gallery suggests that Lester Young was the first "cool" American.

*Guitarist Brian Baggett created an infomercial for his instructional DVD.

*T.J. Martley created a video transcription of a Herbie Hancock solo.

*Magnet offers an MP3 of a track from the Mike Dillon Band's forthcoming album.

*The Kansas City Star published a story about the Marr Sound Archives.

*Dean Minderman of St. Louis Jazz Notes recognizes the passing of Richard McDonnell, the founder of the MaxJazz label.

*Tweet o' the Week: Green Lady Lounge- Mon Feb 24th we'll be closed 2 better focus the KC "Jazz Love-Laser" on Everette DeVan's benefit party ~ 7pm-1am Broadway Jazz Cub.

*Comment o' the Week: Cb- Genius. One of my personal favorite. musicians. ever.

*From Tim Whitmer: Community Christian Church... is pleased to host the inaugural presentation of the very first Big Band Boogie Bash, with Tim Whitmer presenting the one and only Vine Street Rumble Jazz Orchestra, as they honor the legacy of Kansas City’s “Golden Era” of world renowned Jazz, on Sunday, March 2, 2014, at 4:00 p.m.  The Vine Street Rumble performs exclusively the same exciting music that made Kansas City “the” place to be in the 1930’s, 40’s and beyond… Tickets are $10 (prior to the concert), $15 (at the door)...

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Album Review: Pat Metheny Unity Group- Kin

Listening to Kin, the new album by the Pat Metheny Unity Group, is like watching a brilliant chess grandmaster play a flawless game of checkers.  It's terrifically entertaining, but you know that the genius is capable of much more.

Arguably the most important musician or composer to emerge from the Kansas City area since Charlie Parker, Pat Metheny has been on an astounding creative streak in recent years.  Yet Kin is a retrenchment of Metheny's previously established ideas. 

Many longtime fans will welcome the return to familiar territory.  Much of Kin recalls the expansive vistas associated with popular Pat Metheny Group albums like Offramp.  Needless to say, the playing of the all-star band is beyond reproach.  Bandleader Metheny, saxophonist Chris Potter, multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez are impeccable.

My sense of disappointment stems from the relative lack of innovation as well as with Kin's occasional grandiloquence.  Rousing tracks like "Rise Up" will almost certainly thrill me at the Topeka Performing Arts Center on March 8, but the studio versions seem bombastic. 

Having acquired the album less than a week ago, it's possible that I've yet to appreciate the 70-minute recording's subtleties.  For instance, a staccato pattern that resembles the theme music for a futuristic news program on the opening track may be repeated throughout the album. 

My reservations aren't intended to dissuade potential listeners.  Kin may the least essential album Pat Metheny has made in years, but it's also one of his most immediately enjoyable recordings.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, February 7, 2014

Now's the Time: Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle

Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle helm the weekly jam session at the Blue Room on Monday, February 10.  The band is captured in the embedded video playing outdoors last summer, an ambrosial notion that currently seems entirely foreign.  The band's The Freedom of Expression was one of the most notable albums released by Kansas City-based musicians in 2013.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Pitch reports that Take Five Coffee + Bar is moving to a larger space in Johnson County in a few months.  (See Take Five's full press release below.)

*Opera Philadelphia is producing an opera based on the life of Charlie Parker.  Here's a brief report in The New York Times.

*Bobby Watson, Willard Jenkins and Bret Primack discuss Watson's Check Cashing Day album in a 50-minute video chat.

*KC Jazz Lark makes a happy return to the Broadway Jazz Club.

*Project H created a Kickstarter campaign to finance its third album.

*Hermon Mehari posted a video of a performance of "Night and Day."

*Magician Tommy Terrific will perform magic tricks "inspired by" Louis Armstrong during four performances at branches of the Kansas City Public Library this week.

*Lisa Engelken was interviewed by Joe Dimino of Neon Jazz.

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

*A gig led by Peter Schlamb is touted by The Pitch

*The Pat Metheny Unity Group's Kin was released this week.

*Here are details on Kansas City Kansas Community College's forthcoming trip to the Havana Jazz Festival.  Friends and sponsors are invited to join the ensemble.

*Tweet o' the Week: Meghan Flavin- @VisitKC Broadway Jazz Club is open and has good live music.

*Comment o' the Week: Mike Metheny- I'll tell you one thing from the '60s Stan DOES remember: our time together in the trumpet section of the KC Youth Symphony in 19 sixty (cough). He was an excellent trumpet player back then, as he is now. Bravo, Stanton. Well deserved.

*From Jim Mair: Jazz by the Lake at Kansas City Kansas Community College.  All dates are noon to 1 p.m. at the Conference Center.  Thursday February 6- Mike Ning Trio "tribute to Bill Evans" with James Albright and Victor Perelmuter. Thursday March 6- Society Red with Brett Jackson and Ryan Thielman playing the music of Dexter Gordon.  Thursday April 3- Passport.  Thursday May 8- KCKCC Big Band and Combos (outdoors).

*From Take Five Coffee + Bar: Our new home at 135th and Metcalf in Overland Park will have more room for live music and a full kitchen for an expanded menu, with all the comfort, intimacy and great coffee drinks our friends have come to expect over the past four years.  Take Five Coffee + Bar is delighted to announce its plans to move to a new location this summer. After four years of growth and metamorphosis that saw a small suburban coffee shop become one of the Kansas City area's premier destinations for live jazz, Take Five will close at 151st and Nall sometime in late June or early July and reopen in a new space at Corbin Park shopping center at 135th between Metcalf and Lamar in Overland Park, Kan.  "We had clearly outgrown our existing space. Most evenings when we have music we quickly run out of places to sit. With a larger space and a stage we'll be able to host more music lovers and also feature some of the larger ensembles we've never been able to fit into the corner of our little coffee shop," said owner Lori Chandler.  Chandler is determined to preserve the intimacy and comfort for which Take Five has become known. Working with Kansas City Repertory Theater chief sound engineer John Story, as well as Corbin Park architect Jeff DeGasperi, Take Five's new home at the park will be built from the ground up with careful attention to live sound and intimate spaces as well as comfortable seating for eating, meeting and spending time with friends.  The focus on excellent hand-crafted coffee drinks and teas from Kansas City's own Broadway Coffee Roasters and Hugo Tea will naturally continue, as well as desserts from Golden Boy Pies. The expansion to a full kitchen will allow Take Five to offer an expanded menu of breakfast items, sandwiches and more throughout the day. Tracy Allen of Brewed Behavior is helping with the design of the complete coffee shop experience.  "We are thrilled to be joining businesses such as Sprouts Farmer's Market, Brew Top Pub & Patio, Firebirds Wood Fired Grill as well as Von Maur, Life Time Fitness, Scheels All Sports and all the other businesses at Corbin Park, where we hope to play an important role in creating a great destination for people throughout the city," Chandler said.  We look forward to welcoming you to our new home. Details on our house warming will come your way as we get closer to the date.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Stan Kessler: The Plastic Sax Person of the Year

Stan Kessler has been one of Kansas City's most prominent jazz musicians for decades.  He performs in a variety of settings several nights a week.  When he's not on the bandstand, Kessler can often be spotted in the audience at jazz shows.

His ensembles include the forward-thinking Parallax, the Sons of Brasil and the new quartet Crossfire.

Partly because the outgoing trumpeter, composer, educator and bandleader rarely hesitates to proffer his strong opinions, an interview accompanies the coronation of Kessler as the 2013 Plastic Sax Person of the Year. 

Which do you consider more exciting- rubbing shoulders with numerous jazz legends when you first hit Kansas City's jazz scene or today's environment, an era in which impressive young musicians are bountiful?
I highly respected the KC jazz legends and was impressed and inspired by them. Without them I wouldn't be the player I am today. However, I'd have to say that I am even more excited and inspired by the recent crop of amazing young players. There are so many of them and they are simply astounding. They are so mature and developed for their age, or any age for that matter. They are blessed with talent and and have gleaned much from the current jazz education machine, something guys my age never had the pleasure of experiencing. These young cats are constantly kicking my ass, which is a good thing. It's highly motivating!

You're exceptionally outspoken.  You don't hesitate to share your opinions on a variety of subjects.  Has your candor ever hindered your professional career?  And if so, do you care?
I've always been outspoken, and I have some strong opinions that I choose to share. They are just my opinions, nothing more, based on my experiences. I try to be truthful, which I'm sure occasionally ruffles some feathers. I try to be tactful, but don't always succeed. It may have hindered my career, but I'm not aware of it, which is usually the case. My intention is never to harm, but when I see injustice, oppression or hypocrisy, I feel compelled. It's also true that sometimes I wish I'd kept my damn mouth shut, a feeling probably shared by many. I don't care if someone disagrees with me, I love a good discussion or debate. The problem arises when people take things personally or too seriously. It seems to me that people have gotten so thin skinned. It used to be that you could have an argument with someone with an opposing view, agree to disagree and part friends. What I really care about is being misunderstood. For example, I often get heated responses from a Facebook post that is intended to just get people thinking about something. I also enjoy being the devil's advocate just to stimulate a discussion. A mutual friend of ours told me to be careful when you put sarcasm in print, people may not know your tongue is in your cheek. That's so true! Those who really know me get me.

An enormous gap in knowledge often separates a casual listener in a jazz club and a serious musician.  Is it frustrating knowing that if you quote, say, Clifford Brown in a solo that it's likely that only your band mates will get the reference?
Not at all, it's really for the musicians anyway. But it is especially gratifying when someone in the audience laughs and is hip enough to catch it.

What's your greatest musical moment on stage- not necessarily your biggest audience or your most prestigious gig but a time when you felt you'd achieved something particularly extraordinary?
There are so many, I've been at this for 45 years. I truly feel that there are moments on any given gig when I feel transported to a heavenly place, when I think to myself "This is why I do this." At those times, I feel that I've been part of something extraordinary. There have been concerts or festivals where I've felt that the band had the listeners in the palms of our hands.  The first time The Sons of Brasil did Jazz In June in Omaha it was particularly thrilling. There were 7000 people there, as far as the eye could see, and they were really with us. The first gig Parallax played at Take Five Coffee Bar was amazing. You were there!  Another one that sticks out in my mind was when I was in the Wichita State Jazz Ensemble and we won the UMKC big band competition. The prize was a spot in the KC Jazz Fest at Municipal Aud., where my parents had been taking me to see the event since I was ten. Finally, during the WSU jazz festival, I got to meet, hang and do a plunger duet with Clark Terry at the closing concert. I though my heart would burst.

You were a central figure in the drama swirling around the closure of Jardine's in 2012.  Is there anything you'd like to clarify to set the record straight or do you prefer to let bygones be bygones?
I moved on from that long ago. I love Beena and I'm happy that she has landed on her feet and is once again thriving. It was such an tragic and heart breaking chain of events, especially for her. For the most part, I'd rather not revisit it. However, I would like to clear up a couple of things. Somewhere along the line, our local gossip monger stated that I was responsible for a boycott of the club, which is bullshit. His claim was based on supposition and erroneous information that he could not back up. I simply informed my friends, some of which asked me about it directly, on what had happened and they made up their own minds as to what to do. Most of them chose to not play. There was also a picket line organized by my son and the other ex-employees which I had nothing to do with. He even called me beforehand and asked me if I was comfortable with it and would it adversely affect my career. I told him to follow his heart and do what he thought was right and disregard me.

Do you work in a variety of settings out of economic necessity or are your many ensembles essential outlets for your creative interests?
It's both. I want to stay busy and each group has its place(s) in various venues. I love playing with lots of different people and try to put groups together with personnel that reflect the direction I want the music to go. And, I am open to any interest that keeps me relevant and nurtures my endless creative desires. I never want to just stand still.

The Broadway Jazz Cafe just opened.  What's the right number of jazz clubs for Kansas City?
100. Seriously, I am always concerned about that. Right now, there is a nice equilibrium between the number of venues, musicians and fans. I hope it continues and that everyone can prosper. This town is not so big and there's a limited amount of disposable income out there that everyone is competing for. Things are pretty stable right now, but it's a house of cards. If one club closes it throws everything off. If too many players move here, the scene get saturated and it gets even tougher to stay working. The older players understand this because they've experienced the ebb and flow of the biz for many years. They also have families, substantial bills and mortgages. I hope that some of the younger cats will catch on to the idea of balance, think of their future and act accordingly.

If you had the power to make a single change to Kansas City's jazz scene, what would it be?
I would wish that the city and the venues would spend a lot more money promoting the scene, getting the people out. Unfortunately, they are scuffling financially like everyone else, running on budgets that are minimal and making little profit. It's fallen on the musicians to carry the load, with Facebook, mailing lists, etc. This needs to change soon, but the economy has to get back on its feet.

You choose to work with a lot of young musicians.  What do you hear in them and how do they influence your music?
I hear brilliance, courage and passion. It's contagious. They delight and inspire me, each of them having such individual and unique voices. They are all such great people and players. I want to be involved with them as long as they will have me.

What do you hope to achieve with your new quartet?
I want to break some new ground, personally and musically. I want to be challenged and make good new music with these vibrant musicians. I want to move the audience on an emotional level. And, of course. I want to entertain.

Which is more important in a jazz musician- technical proficiency or imagination and inspiration?
Oh by far, imagination and inspiration. Chops are so overrated and not the point. Playing fast, high and loud does not equate to playing musically. Miles proved that. You only need enough proficiency to pull off your ideas, what you hear. It just so happens that jazz players need a lot of chops because the music demands it. I'd much rather hear two notes that have feeling than 100 regurgitated by a button pusher. I want to hear originality, especially in songwriting. It's not an easy thing to do, having a unique voice in the world.

What's going on with your hair?  (I like it.)
I don't remember the 60's, so I'm reliving it. Actually, I just need a change. Another change will come soon, the long hair is a pain in the ass. It is, however, keeping my head and neck warm! I'm so relieved that you like it, I was worried.

The previous Plastic Sax people of the year are Doug and Lori Chandler (2012), Jeff Harshbarger (2011), Mark Lowrey (2010) and Hermon Mehari (2009).  Bobby Watson was named the Plastic Person Person of the Decade in 2009.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)