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.)

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Great points in your post, HIB.

All of the artists in the NPR poll are great and well deserving of such recognition. And the depth of field of truly worldclass talent based in New York City alone is ridiculous. There are dozens and dozens of great players in NYC whom nobody even knows about, or has forgotten about because someone younger has come along to receive public acclaim.

In KC, most of us know who the truly great players are and they are often written about constantly by yourself, Joe Klopus and Larry Kopitnik. So, I don't think lack of inclusion in the "national" best of or top release list necessarily comes from any lack of talent or quality here.

I think it is lack of marketing and promotion being done by the individual artists on a national and international level. Rhetorically, how many people besides a Bobby Watson or an Eddie Moore have engaged publicity campaigns to promote their mentioned albums?

If I didn't read about many of the KC jazz releases on your blog, I would not have known about most of them that were not put out on the ARC label. And, I am part of the "choir" preaching KC jazz constantly...

And, I think the city of KCMO and our various nonprofit arts entities can only do so much. They have generally always done a great job in picking out various artists to showcase periodically, but promoting tourism and promoting jazz are not quite the same lens. You could educate them about the jazz industry in this regard and it would focus their efforts much better, in my opinion, of course. Anything is better than nothing though.

Those various individuals who actually do try to promote the local KC scene often "jump through hoops" getting information from some of our top jazz venues and most of our leading artists.

It's gotten lots better in the 17 years I've been back home in KC, but compared to the artists in the jazz industry, underground and mainstream on the east coast we are not very competitive in that regard.

1. We need several (5-10) truly professional artist management and booking agencies here to work with/career develop the 50 or so artists, who are objectively at a national level talent-wise.

2. We need several (5-10) truly publicists and public relations professionals here to work with/career develop the 50 or so artists, who are objectively at a national level talent-wise.

3. You, Joe and Larry (at least), should also be publishing items in DownBeat, Jazz Times, Jazziz, etc. along with your normal local beats. That would put us on the map big time.

So, that's what is missing here in my opinion. We already have a nationally known jazz label here (ARC).

I would also add that the entire midwest is almost always underrepresented in such things industry-wide because we are lacking said infrastructure. I had a great conversation with the local AFM about this a couple of months ago. The only reason it's getting better is that there are people like you writing about jazz here.

Happy New Year!

All the best, Cb