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.)