Sunday, July 30, 2017

"Let Jazz Be Gone"

I was reminded of the parable of the blind men and the elephant as I listened to a talk radio segment that’s archived with the appropriately convoluted title “How Do We Bring Back the Life of Jazz Back to KC?”   Each of the on-air personalities and all of the commentators held entirely different conceptions of jazz.

The program’s hosts understand less about the music than I know about Farsi verb conjugations.  Even so, the uninformed commentary of the Glenn Beck wanna-bes was a reality check for members of the isolated Kansas City jazz community.  Inspired by an editorial in the The Kansas City Star that lambasted the American Jazz Museum’s financial travails related to the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival in May, the DJs framed the discussion with a pair of cogent questions: “How important is the American Jazz Museum to Kansas City?” and “Is Kansas City still a jazz town?”

Definitive conclusions weren’t reached, partly because no two contributors shared the same definition of jazz.  A caller admitted that his wife recently complained when he listened to Miles Davis in their home.  A sincere UMKC student referenced her jazz textbooks. Another man incorrectly insisted that “Kansas City artists are playing” the Newport Jazz Festival.  One caller mourned the loss of 106.5 The City, a smooth jazz station that flipped to a country format in 2003.

“This town supports three country radio stations because there’s an audience for it,” a host replied.  “I don’t think the genre is suffering because there’s no radio, I think there’s no radio because there’s no fans.”  She also stumbled into the truth when she wondered why the pop star and actress Brandy was the primary headliner of the festival: “If you have to go outside of jazz to get your headliner, to me there’s a problem with the genre.”  Her partner drove the point home by revealing that he was unfamiliar with Bobby Watson, John Scofield and Chick Corea, the festival’s top jazz bookings.

A crusty caller named Kelly seemed to speak for the hosts and the majority of their listeners: “The day of jazz is over.  We know who Bob Seger is… but who is Duke Ellington?  Let jazz be gone.”

(Original image of Karrin Allyson and Houston Person performing at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, July 28, 2017

Now's the Time: The Floozies

A typical Kansas City jazz booster might be overjoyed to hear that a largely instrumental, rhythm-oriented, locally based band regularly compels more than 1,000 party-minded people in their twenties to pay $20 to attend its concerts.  Rather than performing jazz, however, The Floozies play electro-funk that appeals to the grandchildren of people who listened to Dave Brubeck and Stan Kenton.  The duo headlines a concert at Crossroads KC on Saturday, July 28.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*An editorial published by The Kansas City Star suggested that tthe American Jazz Museum’s financial travails are a “mighty embarrassment.”  The slow drip of bad news is documented by The Kansas City Star and KCUR.

*The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra has announced its 2017-18 season.

*Joe Klopus unveiled the Folly Theater’s forthcoming season in his latest column.

*Eboni Fondren’s contribution to the Fringe Festival was reviewed by Anthony Rodgers.

*Clint Ashlock was featured in an article about full-time musicians.

*Marc Myers unearthed an obscure 1959 album by the Kansas City trombonist Arch Martin.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Bill Brownlee- Bird’s complicated relationship with Kansas City is examined on “The Passion of Charlie Parker.” My album review

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous- Thanks to Bobby Watson for a cool listening list. I loved reading his comments about why he liked these artists.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Album Review: The Passion of Charlie Parker

F#ck you, Kansas City.
I paid dues, Kansas City.
I ain’t gonna pay them no more.
Outta here, Kansas City.
I want to let you know that it was wrong, 
How you all treated your son.
Such a penny ante city to be from.

Kansas City’s civic boosters and jazz pollyannas won’t care for “So Long (Exodus to New York City),” a scathing track on The Passion of Charlie Parker.  The fascinating new song cycle includes Jeffrey Wright’s portrayal of a disgusted Parker bidding adieu to his hometown.

Producer Larry Klein has suggested that he and his collaborators “created a musical play that... follows the narrative arc of (Parker’s) life” by adding new lyrics and intriguing arrangements to familiar Parker compositions.  Although he’s best known as an actor, Wright is even more memorable than star vocalists including Kurt Elling, Melody Gardot, Madeleine Peyroux and Gregory Porter on The Passion of Charlie Parker.

The singers’ names appear on the cover of the album, but the real star of the project is saxophonist Donny McCaslin.  As he demonstrated at the Folly Theater in April, McCaslin has an adventurous spirit that evokes Parker’s innovations.  The most compelling selections of The Passion of Charlie Parker recall Blackstar, McCaslin’s celebrated collaboration with David Bowie.

In the guise of Parker, Wright tells unimaginative Kansas Citians that “your expectations fall short of my intentions, motherf#ckers.” He was right. Accordingly, The Passion of Charlie Parker is likely to surpass even the most auspicious assumptions of sympathetic listeners in Kansas City.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Now's the Time: Aaron Hedenstrom

The Green Lady Lounge will provide an opportunity for neglected jazz fans hankering for fresh sounds to snap out of their summer doldrums on Saturday, July 29. The Minnesota based saxophonist Aaron Hedenstrom will perform material from the new album The Living Room Sessions from 10:30 p.m.-2:30 a.m.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Black Dolphin, a space that will serve as an auxiliary wing of the Green Lady Lounge, opened Saturday, July 15, with a performance by the Project H.

*The Green Lady Lounge is ranked #37 on Yelp’s list of the Top 50 Music Venues In The U.S.

*Bobby Watson listed a few of his favorite recordings by “unsung New York masters” for JazzTimes.

*A loquacious lunatic occasionally references Kansas City’s jazz scene in a rambling discussion.

*Tweet o’ the Week: American Jazz Museum- Field trip to Copenhagen, anyone? Why Copenhagen is Becoming the Jazz Capital of the World

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous- Thanks for the 411 about the Bix museum! Also, love that you said kerfluffle.

*From a press release: Community Christian Church presents Tim Whitmer’s July Jazz Jam 7: Jump, Jive, ‘n Wail.  Join Tim Whitmer and friends on Sunday, July 30 at 7pm for a sizzling, swinging 90-minute stomp through some of the most fun and upbeat music ever written!  This toe-tapping, finger-snapping concert will feature some of the area’s most dynamic performers and entertainers, including the amazing talents of singers The Wild Women of Kansas City (Millie Edwards, Lori Tucker, & Geneva Price), saxophonist extraordinaire Jim Mair, violinist Marvin Gruenbaum, guitarist Rod Fleeman, pianist Tim Whitmer, and the award-winning JJJ rhythm section of James Albright and Jurgen Welge.

*From KC Jazz Alive: Experience the evolution of jazz from ragtime to bebop as KC Jazz Alive presents Kansas City musicians alongside tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott… and pianist Sullivan Fortner... This exciting, new component of the Charlie Parker Celebration will take you on a thrilling journey through the classics you know and love.  “The Jazz Experience: Rhythm Changes,” Saturday, August 28, at the Folly Theater.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 16, 2017


A moment I’d long anticipated transpired last week when I took someone who recently turned 21 to the Green Lady Lounge for the first time.  I knew he’d be impressed by the setting.  Sure enough, the ornate decor, superb service and intimate atmosphere pleased him.  The young man isn’t a jazz fan, but he shares my reverence for music.  He was horrified when heedless patrons talked over the band.  With only a slight tinge of sorrow, I explained that the customer-is-always-right dynamic and the absence of a cover charge has helped make the Green Lady Lounge the preeminent destination for jazz in Kansas City.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Now's the Time: Matt Otto

Ibérica, Matt Otto’s rapturously gorgeous collaboration with Ensemble Ibérica, will almost certainly be the most artistically rewarding album released by a Kansas City based artist in 2017.  Reunion, a new recording Otto made with Andy Ehling, is similarly rewarding.  Otto returns to the Blue Room on Monday, July 17.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Laura Spencer’s examination of the American Jazz Museum’s recent woes for KCUR has instigated hand-wringing throughout the global jazz community.  The Kansas City Star’s Lynn Horsley reported on details of the budgetary shortfall.  Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner of the American Jazz Museum addressed the glitches related to the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival in an informal video interview with The Kansas City Star.  A television report on the kerfuffle offers a different perspective.

*Bobby Watson discussed his latest album with Steve Kraske.

*Blair Bryant was featured on KCUR’s Band of the Week segment.

*Jazz Artistry Now is Chris Burnett’s latest internet endeavor.  He was recently interviewed by Joe Dimino.

*Tweet o’ the Week: The Independent- Formerly known as Hope & All That Jazz, join @hopehouse at the inaugural Believe gala on August 5th.

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous- "... somewhat stodgy format?" Ah man - I was enjoying your otherwise positive review until you slipped that one in. Why?

*From a press release: The long-planned Bix Beiderbecke Museum and Archive opens to the public on Monday, July 24, 2017, in its new home at the River Music Experience in Bix’s hometown of Davenport, Iowa… Visitors can see original instruments played by Bix, including the only piano Bix owned.  The museum takes the visitor chronologically through the life of Bix Beiderbecke.  His music is featured throughout the museum, along with videos, interactive displays, and photos, many shown for the first time.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Album Review: Steven Lambert- Seven Stories

A Plastic Sax review of a 2011 performance by Steve Lambert suggested that the young Kansas City saxophonist evoked past masters like Johnny Griffin, Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and John Coltrane.  Lambert’s new album Seven Stories confirms that early assessment.

Lambert’s aggressive attack, muscular tone and defiantly old-school approach have become more pronounced in the intervening years. Aside from the electric bass on “Mente de Corazon,” few elements of Seven Stories would have sounded out of place on the 1959 recording Bags & Trane.  As with the classic release by Milt Jackson and John Coltrane, the selections on Seven Stories consist of rounds of solos following the statement of a theme.

The energetic playing of Lambert, vibraphonist Peter Schlamb, pianist Andrew Ouellette, bassists Ben Leifer and Dominique Sanders and drummer Brad Williams counteracts the somewhat stodgy format. Lambert’s thrilling soloing on the rousing “Bells of War” would be capable of bringing audiences to their feet at the Green Lady Lounge or the Mutual Musicians Foundation, forums in which the stirring music of Lambert and his cohorts is best experienced.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Now's the Time: DJ Shadow

Josh Davis, the producer and turntablist who works as DJ Shadow, isn’t a jazz artist, but his performance at the Madrid Theatre on Monday, July 10, will be informed by the spirit of the music.  His 2007 show at the VooDoo included a couple explicit references to Kansas City’s jazz heritage.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*KCUR reported on the American Jazz Museum’s “cash flow issue.”

*Two albums created by or featuring locally based musicians have recently been released: the Kansas-Nebraska Act’s Music for Small Jazz Ensemble and Steve Lambert’s Seven Stories.

*Steve Penn will discuss his book Last Call: The History of Kansas City’s the Coda Jazz Fund, at the Central Library on Wednesday, July 12.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Marcus Lewis- What's going on tonight KC? lol

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Fest Fault Lines

The Kansas City Star chastised the American Jazz Museum for bouncing checks and a fashioning a financial shortfall related to the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival.  The editorial insists that “the size of the city’s bailout is an outrage.”

One locally based musician responded to the piece by suggesting in a social media post that musicians should organize their own festival.  I’m all for the initiative.  That said, I was one of about 25 people who attended the man’s set at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival in May.  While bounced checks are impossible to defend, I commend festival organizers for including dozens of locally based artists on an impressive lineup that featured stars like John Scofield and Chick Corea.

Unfortunately, sets by Kansas City artists confirmed my primary concern about the local jazz scene: a lot of outstanding music goes largely unheard.  While The Pitch’s month-late recap  takes a dig at my accounts of the festival for The Kansas City Star, the paucity of listeners at the three-day event was so glaring that it couldn’t be ignored.  KCUR, the only other outlet to offer an analysis of the festival, also noted the “non-existent crowds” for many Kansas City based artists.

As musicians consider organizing a festival of their own, I hope they also work toward expanding their core base of support.  In the meantime, there’s nothing preventing fans from creating their own self-curated jazz festivals by bar-hopping between the Green Lady Lounge, Black Dolphin, the Blue Room and other Kansas City venues.

(Original image of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra performing at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival by Plastic Sax.)