Sunday, October 29, 2017

Book Review: Changing the Tune: The Kansas City Women's Jazz Festival, 1976-1985

Public indifference. Misunderstandings between musicians and promoters.  Meager audiences.  A lack of institutional support.  Sound like this summer’s ill-fated Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival?  Changing the Tune: The Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival, 1978-1985, published by the University of North Texas Press in March, demonstrates that the problems that plagued the American Jazz Museum’s festival in May aren’t anything new.

Carolyn Glenn Brewer’s fascinating 308-page account explores a nearly forgotten chapter of Kansas City’s jazz history.  Carol Comer and Dianne Gregg, the primary organizers of the groundbreaking event, valiantly fought an uphill battle to present musicians including Mary Lou Williams, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Nancy Wilson, Carla Bley and Joanne Brackeen.  While never fully embraced by the international jazz community or by the general public in Kansas City, the festival achieved many hard-won successes.

Although Brewer’s text is occasionally impeded with unnecessary details- trivia about tedious topics like the high school band directors should have been relegated to the footnotes- she successfully chronicles the trials and tribulations associated with presenting a jazz festival in Kansas City.  (She also provides thoughtful insights into the prejudices faced by women in jazz.)

Every locally based jazz fan will relish the stories about the salad days of veteran Kansas City musicians like Mike Ning, Arny Young and Paul Smith as well as references to bygone venues including the Signboard.  Accounts of the misbehavior of a handful of stars are also salaciously entertaining.

Changing the Tune: The Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival, 1978-1985 doesn’t merely affirm that history tends to repeat itself.  The book demonstrates that for a large-scale jazz festival to succeed in Kansas City- even if for just a handful of years- it must be a labor of love for a coterie of smart, wholly-committed true believers.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Now's the Time: Lee Ritenour and Patrice Rushen

According to a note posted at Lee Ritenour’s site, Patrice Rushen will perform with the accomplished guitarist at the Folly Theater on Saturday, Oct. 28.  The keyboardist and one-time R&B hitmaker shines in the embedded video.  Smooth jazz not your thing?  More than three dozen alternatives for the weekend are listed at the Kansas City Jazz Calendar.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Kansas City Jazz Calendar has been resurrected.  The new, improved version of the comprehensive calendar is a community service of Plastic Sax and the Green Lady Lounge.  It’s designed to be shared.  Submissions may be made to williamwbrownlee(at)

*The American Jazz Museum’s financial woes spurred new rounds of wrangling in recent days.  The Kansas City Star, KCUR and KSHB reported on a proposed takeover by the Kansas City Parks & Recreation Department.  The Pitch discovered that the institution paid $18,000 to fly Jon Batiste to Kansas City in April. 

*Lee Ritenour’s concert at the Folly Theater was previewed by Joe Klopus.

*Krystle Warren and Chalis O’Neal were interviewed by Joe Dimino.

*Chuck Haddix was featured on the radio program “Here and Now.”

*Tweet o’ the Week: Nikki Clark- We need to SUPPORT the museum to keep the doors open. I don't want to see the city taking over all the businesses on 18th Vine.

*From a press release: Tim Whitmer has been the gracious host and resident pianist since the inception of the Spirituality & All That Jazz program in 1994… Joining him in the celebration will be vocalist and trombonist Kathleen Holeman holding court with founding members of The Consort Band, Jurgen Welge & James Albright, and other party guests including Carl Bender. 7 p.m. Wednesday, November 1, 2017, Unity Temple on the Plaza. $7

*From a press release: ARC recording artist Christopher Burnett and his Quartet will be performing at least once per month on a Friday or Saturday at The Black Dolphin in Kansas City beginning in January 2018… The Black Dolphin is the newest, and the third stage to be featured as part of the Green Lady Lounge.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, October 23, 2017

Review: The Owen/Cox Dance Group with the People's Liberation Big Band at Polsky Theatre

Brad Cox described the sculptures of Linda Lighton as “a little bit provocative” in his opening remarks at the second and final performance of “In the Rompus Room” at Polsky Theatre on Sunday.  A similar sense of provocation infused the daring collaboration between the Owen/Cox Dance Group and the People’s Liberation Big Band.

The first half of the program played to the considerable strengths of both ensembles.  Owen’s choreography for seven athletic dancers echoed the lavish exuberance of a Busby Berkeley musical.  Portions of the extended suite “In the Rompus Room” resembled the love child of an impassioned tryst between George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and the jazz standard “Caravan.”

The People’s Liberation Big Band expanded the possibilities of Kansas City’s big band tradition with “In the Rompus Room,” but Cox’s “Letterbox” was a comparatively delicate art-pop song cycle.  While portions of the composition were worthy of Stephen Sondheim, the storyline was indecipherable.  No matter.

The murkiness of the narrative was offset by inviting elements including the ravishing harmonies of vocalists Calvin Arsenia and Shay Estes and imaginative choreography that effectively conveyed jubilance, melancholy and desire.  Enhanced by suggestive mood lighting and superb sound, the production was a beguiling union of music and dance.

(Original image of a Linda Lighton sculpture by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Now's the Time: Greg Osby

Greg Osby, one of the most prominent jazz artists of the 1990s, will perform with the Ben Markley Quartet at Black Dolphin on Friday, October 20.  Banned in New York and Inner Circle and among the albums the saxophonist recorded for Blue Note Records that are often cited as modern-day classics.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Arnold Young’s Live at Westport Coffee House Theater was released on October 5.

*”007”, a new song by Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle, is available at iTunes.

*Marilyn Maye begins a seven-performance residency at Quality Hill Playhouse on November 1.

*Scott Yanow reviewed Bobby Watson’s Made in America for Chris Burnett’s new site.

*The municipal government of Kansas City created a brief promotional video about the “Legacy Plays On” exhibition at the American Jazz Museum.

*My detractors are encouraged to consider my statement of purpose regarding criticism of locally based artists.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Rick Hellman- Bucking for @HappyInBag Tweet O' the Week; Creighton Organization knocking 'em out @theshipkc (photo)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Monday, October 16, 2017

Concert Review: Hudson at Yardley Hall

Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield sang ragged harmonies on the chorus of a swinging rendition of the Band’s “Up On Cripple Creek” at Yardley Hall on Sunday.  The moment might have the most delightful surprise in a concert filled with unexpected pleasures.

The legendary drummer and iconic guitarist were joined by keyboardist John Medeski, a leading light of the jam-band community, and Larry Grenadier, a first-call bassist for the likes of Pat Metheny.  Scofield explained that the group is named  Hudson because “we all live in the Hudson River Valley” before he added that much of the their repertoire consists of “covers... associated with that region.”

A couple seated near me was among the quarter of the audience of about 500 who bailed before the conclusion of the nearly two-hour concert.  They were repelled by the free jazz dissonance in a profound instrumental interpretation of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.”  They probably should have stayed- no two selections on the nine-song set list were alike. 

The eclectic concert also included the sort of old-school organ jazz that wouldn’t have sounded out of place at the Green Lady Lounge, the propulsive funk of Medeski, Martin & Wood’s good-time collaborations with Scofield and groovy renditions of classic rock songs.  The show was enhanced by the most immaculate sound field of any jazz concert in the Kansas City area in recent memory. 

DeJohnette laughed at himself when he dropped a drumstick on the final beat of the encore. It was the only misstep in an otherwise flawless concert.

Set list: Wait Until Tomorrow, Hudson, El Swing, Castles Made of Sand, Up On Cripple Creek, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Dirty Ground, Tony Then Jack (my best guess), Woodstock

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Now's the Time: Hudson

Kansas City's jazz community is well-versed in the concept of feast or famine.  2017 is a time of plenty.  On Sunday, jazz titans Jack DeJohnette and John Scofield will make their second area appearances of the year.  Along with John Medeski and Larry Grenadier, they’ll perform in the quartet Hudson at the Carlsen Center.  DeJohnette’s trio was featured in a Jazz at the Gem concert in April.  (Plastic Sax reviewed the concert).  Scofield was a headliner at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival in May.  (The Kansas City Star reviewed the event.)  Let’s eat.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Joe Klopus previewed Hudson’s concert at the Carlsen Center for The Kansas City Star.

*Marcus Lewis chatted with Glenn North on KCUR’s Central Standard program.

*The Sextet was named KCUR’s Band of the Week.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Marc Horner- Enjoying a wonderful evening at the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra at the Kauffman Center; Helzberg Hall

*From a press release: Owen/Cox Dance Group is delivering on its mission of presenting exciting new music and dance collaborations by presenting In the Rompus Room with The People’s Liberation Big Band, October 21-22.  The Kansas City based dance company Owen/Cox Dance Group and The People’s Liberation Big Band… will once again join forces for two world premiere dance works. In the Rompus Room and Letterbox will feature original choreography by Jennifer Owen to music by Brad Cox, P. Alonzo Conway, Matt Otto, and Nick Howell… The program will also feature vocalists Calvin Arsenia and Shay Estes. October 21, 2017 at 8 PM and October 22, 2017 at 2 PM, The Polsky Theatre, JCCC.

*From a press release: Kansas City-based Arts Professional, Conn-Selmer Saxophone Artist and Clinician, ARC Recording Artist and Educator Christopher Burnett has accepted a position with Leavenworth High School as a teaching assistant. Mr. Burnett joins the staff of Dr. Jared Prost as an assistant band director where he assists the program by teaching woodwinds and jazz band.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Album Review: Molly Hammer- Out of This World

Readers of The Pitch recently named Molly Hammer the “Best Jazz Artist” in Kansas City.  (Mark Lowrey, Alex Abramovitz, Bobby Watson and Logan Richardson placed two through five.)  It’s not a knock on Hammer to suggest that the results are ludicrous, partly because Kansas City is home to the accomplished vocalists Deborah Brown and Marilyn Maye.

Hammer’s debut album Out of This World confirms that she’s at her best working as a torch singer rather than in a jazz setting.  Her thoughtful approach on the cabaret songs “Never Will I Marry,” “Detour Head” and “Listen Here” rivals the work of elite vocalists like Brown and Maye.  Most of the other selections don’t emphasize Hammer’s incisive voice and lyrical sensitivity that are her core strengths.

The fine playing of saxophonist Brad Gregory, pianist Joe Cartwright, bassist Steve Rigazzi and drummer Todd Strait can't redeem the shopworn “Doodlin’” or “At Last.”  Novelties like “TV is the Thing This Year” and “Pig Foot Pete” are cutesy rather than quaint.  Hammer possesses the talent to fashion an exemplary album.  Out of This World isn’t it.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, October 6, 2017

Now's the Time: Angela Hagenbach

Angela Hagenbach will perform at Village Presbyterian Church at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 6. Admission is free. The strength of the vocalist’s appearance at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival and in the embedded video reveal that Hagenbach sounds better than ever in 2017.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Dennis Winslett and Sonie Joi Thompson-Ruffin aired their grievances about recent events at the American Jazz Museum in a Black Art in America podcast.

*A television station reported on the partnership between the Folly Jazz Series and the Kansas City Art Institute.

*The Kansas City jazz enthusiast Tom Wells is the subject of a lengthy interview at All About Jazz.

*Molly Hammer was interviewed for a second time by Joe Dimino.

*The Little Big Band was featured in The Martin City Telegraph.

*The Topeka Capital-Journal previewed the Downtown Jazz & Food Truck Festival.

*From Steve Kraske’s wish list: I’d figure out a way to make people like jazz. Many of you wonder why I like it. I can’t figure out why you don’t.

*Smoke Sessions Records created a new promotional video for Bobby Watson’s Made in America album.

*Tweet o’ the Week: ¡ɜɿoɾɪɹℲ- Pat Metheny on Super Audio Compact Disc direct from a Denon DCD-1500SE through a pair of MDR-7506s at Tower Records. What is life???

*From Marcus Lewis: The Marcus Lewis Big Band is joining forces with Kansas City emcees Kemet The Phantom and Kadesh Flow to combine big band with hip-hop in a show titled Brass & Boujee. Arranger and Trombonist Marcus Lewis will present big band arrangements of Kemet and Kadesh's original material, as well as full jazz band versions of songs such as Kendrick Lamar's "Alright" and Bruno Mars' "24K Magic". Friday, October 6, at Ruins Pub.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Album Review: The Sextet- Blob Castle

“Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?”  The inspired treatment the Kansas City jazz band the Sextet and guest vocalist Calvin Arsenia apply to “Colors of the Wind” reflects their eagerness to use a full musical palette on the energetic new album Blob Castle

Robert Castillo, the bassist and leader of the Sextet, told Plastic Sax that “I get chills with every listen” to the imaginative treatment of the Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz composition.  The remainder of Blob Castle is certain to inspire similarly enthusiastic responses from adventurous listeners. 

Acting as a splendid introduction to lesser known area talents including the trumpeter Teddy Krulewich, trombonist Trevor Turla and the saxophonist Max Levy, the kaleidoscopic album includes conventional post-bop, groove-oriented soul-jazz and splashes of free improvisation.  Unconventional song titles like “#notmypresident” and “Gluten Free Water” are indicative of the Sextet’s inspired approach.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)