Sunday, December 31, 2017


Two of the 137 experts participating in the 2017 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll included Bobby Watson’s Made In America in their year-end best-of lists.  No other project by a Kansas City artist who released an album in 2017- a group that includes local luminaries Hermon Mehari, Matt Otto, Molly Hammer, Steve Lambert, Deborah Brown and Julian Vaughn- was among the 470 releases that received at least one vote.

The previous two years weren’t much better.  Shift, Logan Richardson’s debut on Blue Note Records, placed #46 in 2016.  Pat Metheny’s collaboration with Cuong Vu came in at #57.  In 2015, releases by Eddie Moore and the Outer Circle (#296) and Pat Metheny (#453) were acknowledged.

There are three possible reasons for the snubs in the most comprehensive and least arbitrary annual jazz survey: no Kansas City based jazz aficionados contributed to the poll, Kansas City artists don’t effectively promote their releases and/or the jazz scene in Kansas City isn’t nearly as strong as Plastic Sax asserts.

The first point is easily verifiable.  It’s unfortunate that local observers like Joe Klopus, Larry Kopitnik or (heaven forbid) yours truly don’t have a seat at the table of tastemakers.  The second assertion is less demonstrable.  Watson’s album was released by the New York based Smoke Records label, a reputable association that undoubtedly increased the visibility of Made In America enough to place it at #342.  It’s possible that few critics and tastemakers received copies of the other albums by locally based artists.

The final possibility is the most problematic.  Are Kansas City’s jazz artists really not worthy?  It’s not an issue of style.  While critics tend to favor groundbreaking sounds, plenty of mainstream recordings make the cut.  And the strong showings of musicians from Chicago, Denver, Houston and St. Louis indicate that the rebuff of Kansas City’s jazz scene can’t be entirely chalked up to coastal bias.

Civic boosters regularly repeat the talking point about Kansas City being “one of the four pillars of jazz.”  From the perspective of the music’s authorities, however, the city lags far behind New York, Chicago and New Orleans in 2017.  Here’s to correcting that lowly status in the new year.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 29, 2017

Now's the Time: Matt Kane

Matt Kane, a drummer with longstanding connections to Kansas City, will lead a band of locally based luminaries at Black Dolphin on Friday, December 29.  The Kansas City Jazz Calendar offers details about 20 additional shows on the same evening.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*A frank discussion of the problematic Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival and praise for Marcus Lewis’ Bad and Boujee project were included in a ”The Year in Arts” episode of KCUR’s Central Standard program.

*Deborah Brown spoke to Joe Dimino about the passing of Kevin Mahogany.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Californos- Jim Lower Jazz Orchestra featuring David Basse on vocals - tonight at @Californos Saloon for Jazz Nebula every Tuesday 7pm-10pm!

*From a press release: Lori Tucker is a versatile vocalist whose expressive voice crosses the spectrum of Soul, R&B, Jazz, Blues & Gospel and is a member of the legendary vocal group The Wild Women of Kansas City.  Tom DeMasters is one of KC’s premiere guitar players… 7 p.m. Wednesday, January 3, 2018, performing with Tim Whitmer & The Consort Band, Unity Temple on the Plaza, $7.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Kevin Mahogany, 1958-2017

The nights I spent dancing to an R&B band led by Kevin Mahogany at Kansas City clubs like Jimmy’s Jigger in the 1980s were among the most carefree evenings of my life.  Mahogany’s sultry renditions of Al Green and Marvin Gaye hits were just part of the fun.  The magnanimous singer enjoyed befriending his admirers.  He and I bonded over our mutual admiration of the country star Randy Travis.

The sound of Mahogany’s 1993 debut album Double Rainbow came as a surprise.  R&B was supplanted by a straight-ahead jazz setting that highlighted his burnished voice.  He soon became the leading torchbearer of the male vocal tradition associated with Joe Williams, Jimmy Witherspoon and Johnny Hartman, a space currently occupied by Gregory Porter.  Like many people in Kansas City, I was proud that the hometown heroes Mahogany and Karrin Allyson had attained jazz stardom.

The independent label Enja issued Mahogany’s first four albums.  Warner Brothers released his fifth through eighth recordings.  Pride and Joy, a 2002 return to his R&B roots for the Telarc label, is Mahogany’s final notable statement.  Mahogany’s voice weakened considerably.  Label support and fan enthusiasm dissipated.  He displayed a fraction of his former capacities during a distressing appearance at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival in May.  Mahogany died last week.  He was 59.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Now's the Time: Steve Cardenas

Steve Cardenas will perform with Forest Stewart and Brian Steever at the Green Lady Lounge on Wednesday, December 27.  After leaving Kansas City in the 1990s, the adventurous guitarist played in bands led by jazz luminaries including Paul Motian, Charlie Haden and Steve Swallow.  Cardenas has also released four albums as a leader.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Kansas City Star and KCUR reported on the death of Kevin Mahogany.

*The 2018 edition of the Jazz in the Woods festival has been canceled.  Event organizers blame the setback on “funding restrictions.”

*Stan Kessler was interviewed by Joe Dimino.

*The Kansas City Star provides footage of a “Merry Bassmass” event at the Black Dolphin.

*Michael Pagán, the Music Department Chair at Ottawa University, discusses the institution’s “All-Steinway” designation.

*The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra’s annual holiday concert was previewed in KCUR’s Band of the Week segment.

*Mike Corrigan created a crowd-funding campaign to acquire John Jackson’s saxophone.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Marcus Lewis- Who said Jazz is Dead? #mlbb #brassandboujee

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous- Good choice. John Scott has done so much to invigorate the scene... and despite what some cynics will say, it's not all B3!

*From a press release: World-traveled vocalist Deborah Brown will be the Jan. 28 featured artist as part of the Carlsen Center Presents series at Johnson County Community College… Brown has recorded 16 CD’s under her own name...  Performing with her in Polsky Theatre are… Rod Fleeman, guitar; Joe Cartwright, piano; Ben Leifer, bass; and Michael Warren, drums.

(Original image of the Hermon Mehari Quintet performing at Polsky Theatre on Sunday by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 17, 2017

John Scott: The Plastic Sax Person of the Year

John Scott cracked the elusive code.  Operating a profitable jazz club in Kansas City was beginning to seem like an unattainable pipe dream.  Unlike several intrepid entrepreneurs who opened ill-fated jazz-oriented venues in recent years, the man who oversees Green Lady Lounge isn’t merely surviving.  Scott daringly expanded his unlikely jazz empire in 2017.

In addition to presenting jazz performances on two stages at 1809 Grand Boulevard, Scott launched a trio of ambitious new endeavors in 2017.  Most significantly, he opened Black Dolphin, a venue at 1813 Grand Boulevard.  Scott was also instrumental in motivating Plastic Sax to revive the comprehensive Kansas City Jazz Calendar.  Finally, Scott recently unveiled Green Lady Radio, a streaming service dedicated to further promoting locally based jazz artists.

Scott’s initial victory, however, was identifying the formula for sustaining a popular jazz club in Kansas City: no cover charge, superior service, luxurious cocktails, dim lighting and live music that rewards attentive listening but that can also be treated as background music.

Scott ruffled a few feathers along the way.  Some musicians bristle at his mandates.  Not every artist is willing to wear a coat and tie, take short set breaks or adhere to Scott’s musical parameters.  His infamously salty dismissal of adventurous improvisatory music caused a stir in the jazz community 15 months ago.  (My preference for more abrasive jazz performed in listening rooms has never been a secret.)

This commendation is unlikely to meet with Scott’s approval.  He’s certain to suggest that a musician like Chris Hazelton, Stephen Martin or Molly Hammer is more deserving of the recognition.  Perhaps, but those artists honed their crafts on stages operated by Scott.  His audacious determination and visionary gumption have elevated the entirety of Kansas City’s jazz community.

The previous recipients of Plastic Sax's Person of the Year award are Eddie Moore (2016), Larry Kopitnik (2015), Deborah Brown (2014), Stan Kessler (2013), Doug and Lori Chandler (2012), Jeff Harshbarger (2011), Mark Lowrey (2010) and Hermon Mehari (2009).  Bobby Watson was named the Plastic Sax Person of the Decade in 2009.

(Original image of Green Lady Lounge and Black Dolphin by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Now's the Time: Tatsuya Nakatani

The experimental percussionist Tatsuya Nakatani will make a racket at the 1900 building on Sunday, December 17.  The embedded video indicates that he doesn’t require accompaniment, but Shawn Hansen, Mike Stover and Jeff Harshbarger will be on hand should Nakatani need any assistance.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Green Lady Radio, a free streaming service that showcases Kansas City jazz recordings, is now available.

*Stan Kessler’s new album Skywatcher was recently released.

*A La Mode was featured on television station KMCI.

*The December issue of Jazz Ambassador Magazine includes an article about The Kansas City Jazz Calendar, a joint venture of Plastic Sax and the Green Lady Lounge.

*A blogger included albums by Matt Otto and Bobby Watson and a track by Hermon Mehari and Kevin Johnson in his genre-agnostic year-end lists.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Ryan Heinlein- Ah the holidays, when musicians (for some reason) love to promote their private gigs.

*Comment o’ the Week: Anonymous- Thanks for resurrecting the KC Jazz Calendar. It's really helpful when I'm looking for a show to attend. Do you (or any reader of PS) know where one can find a JAM magazine? It's Dec 12 and I can not find one in any of the usual places.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Top Jazz-Related Stories and Trends of 2017

1. Fest Flop
The Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival was intended to signal the prowess of the American Jazz Museum’s new management structure.  The plan backfired.  The institution was belted with a catastrophic blow to its reputation and finances following the May event.  An inaccurate announcement that Janelle Monáe would be the primary headliner was the first in a series of miscues.  Performances by jazz heavyweights such as Chick Corea (photo), John Scofield, Regina Carter, Brian Blade and Houston Person were sparsely attended.  An odd emphasis on appearances by members of the cast of the television series Empire didn’t pay dividends either.

2. Fest Fallout
Following a torrent of bad publicity that included bounced checks and a weak turnout, the American Jazz Museum laid off staff, tabled its annual concert series at the Gem Theater and ceded control to the Parks Department.

3. Dolphin Dance
The expansion of the Green Lady Lounge jazz complex was the most encouraging development of 2017.  The Black Dolphin, a venue directly to the north of the Green Lady Lounge, is the latest edition to the jazz hub in the heart of the Crossroads District.  The Black Dolphin, the Orion Room and the Green Lady Lounge host more than 20 performances every week.

4. It’s Alive
KC Jazz Alive doubled down on its commitment to the area scene in 2017.  The organization’s covenant to honor the legacy of Charlie Parker included bringing pianist Sullivan Fortner and saxophonist Tivon Pennicott to Kansas City for a series of performances with locally based musicians.

5. Grave Offense
Territorial grandstanding dramatically diminished attendance at the annual Charlie Parker graveside memorial service.  Only four saxophonists participated in the “21-sax salute” at Lincoln Cemetery.

6. Cracks in the Foundation
The 100th anniversary of the founding of the Mutual Musicians Foundation should have been a big deal.  Instead, ongoing turmoil at the historic site tarnished the centennial.

7. I Could Write a Book
The publication of Changing the Tune: The Kansas City Women’s Jazz Festival, 1978-1985 served as a reminder that presenting large scale jazz events in Kansas City is extremely difficult.

8. Cultured
Citing Kansas City’s jazz history, UNESCO added the municipality to its Creative Cities Network.

9. Special Edition
While the lineup of the controversial Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival was loaded with formidable talent, the the year’s most thrilling one-two punch occurred on April 22.  Several dozen jazz aficionados managed to take in a performance of Bill Frisell’s score for The Great Flood at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art before racing to the Gem Theater to hear the adventurous trio of Jack Dejohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison.

10. It’s a Date
The Kansas City Jazz Calendar has been resurrected.  The comprehensive listing is a community service of Plastic Sax and the Green Lady Lounge.

(Photo of the meager audience for the Chick Corea Trio at the Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival by Plastic Sax.)

Friday, December 8, 2017

Now's the Time: Hermon Mehari

Hermon Mehari’s sole headlining appearance of 2017 in the Kansas City area will take place at Polsky Theatre on Sunday, December 17.  The trumpeter is likely to focus on material from his debut solo album Bleu.  The Kansas City Jazz Calendar offers details about more than 150 additional jazz performances between now and then.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Aarik Danielsen previewed Bobby Watson’s concerts in Columbia for The Columbia Daily Tribune.

*Joe Klopus highlighted an upcoming performance by the Spanish Harlem Orchestra for The Kansas City Star.

*Doug Talley was interviewed by Joe Dimino.

*Havilah and Triple Play’s Come Rain or Come Shine album was released in October.

*Chris Burnett compiled a list of the “Top Jazz of 2017”.

*The Glenn Miller Orchestra will perform at Muriel Kauffman Theatre on June 14, 2018.

*Marc Myers’ remembrance of the late guitarist Mundell Lowe includes a compelling anecdote about Charlie Parker.

*A track from Bobby Watson’s Made in America was featured on a “Best of 2017” program on radio station 90.9 The Bridge.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Bill BrownleeThe gracious folks at @909thebridge are allowing me to return to the station this evening. I'll play hip-hop, jazz, gospel, blues and R&B tracks from 6-7 p.m.  #EightOneSixty (link)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Plastic Sax’s Favorite Albums and Performances of 2017

Favorite Albums by Kansas City Based Artists
1. Matt Otto and Ensemble Ibérica- Ibérica (Plastic Sax review)
2. Bobby Watson- Made in America (Plastic Sax review)
3. Hermon Mehari- Bleu (Plastic Sax review)
4. Dino Massa's Kansas City Quintet- Echoes of Europe (review at KCUR)
5. Julian Vaughn- Bona Fide
6. Matt Otto and Andy Ehling- Reunion (Plastic Sax review)
7. Deborah Brown- Kansas City, Here I Come
8. Steve Lambert- Seven Stories (Plastic Sax review)
9. The Matt Cook Collective- Along Those Lines (Plastic Sax review)
10. The Sextet- Blob Castle (Plastic Sax review)

Favorite Albums By Artists From Elsewhere
1. Miguel Zenón- Típico
2. Aruán Ortiz- Cub(an)ism
3. Yelena Eckemoff- Blooming Tall Phlox
4. Rob Luft- Riser
5. Rudresh Mahanthappa and the Indo-Pak Coalition- Agrima
6. Avishai Cohen- Cross My Palm With Silver
7. Tigran Hamasyan- An Ancient Observer
8. Kamasi Washington- Harmony of Difference
9. Ron Miles- I Am a Man
10. Various- The Passion of Charlie Parker (Plastic Sax review)

Favorite Performances by Kansas City Based Artists
1. Marilyn Maye- Quality Hill Playhouse (Plastic Sax review)
2. Matt Otto Trio with Anthony Wilson and Shay Estes- Blue Room
3. Alaturka- Polsky Theatre (Plastic Sax review)
4. Owen/Cox Dance Group and the People’s Liberation Big Band- Polsky Theatre (Plastic Sax review)
5. Gerald Spaits’ Sax & Violins- Westport Coffeehouse
6. The Project H- Black Dolphin
7. Eddie Moore, Dominique Sanders and Zach Morrow- Plaza Art Fair
8. Nate Nall Sextet- Homer’s Coffee House
9. Blair Bryant- The Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival
10. Stan Kessler Quartet- Black Dolphin

Favorite Performances by Artists From Elsewhere
1. Donny McCaslin- Folly Theater (Plastic Sax review)
2. Brian Blade Fellowship- Gem Theater
3. Danilo Pérez’s “Jazz 100”- Yardley Hall (Plastic Sax review)
4. Thundercat- Granada (Plastic Sax review)
5. Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison- Gem Theater (Plastic Sax review)
6. Ramsey Lewis- Gem Theater (review at The Kansas City Star)
7. Greg Tardy Trio- Blue Room (review at The Kansas City Star)
8. Flying Lotus- Midland (Plastic Sax review)
9. John Scofield- Kansas City Jazz & Heritage Festival (review at The Kansas City Star)
10. Victor Wooten Trio- Madrid Theatre (Plastic Sax review)

Plastic Sax conducted similar exercises in 2016 (albums and performances), 2015, 2014 (albums and performances), 2013 (albums and performances), 2012, 2011 and 2010.

(Original image of Thundercat at the Granada by Plastic Sax.)