Sunday, December 23, 2018
The Top Jazz-Related Stories and Trends of 2018
1. Exhibit Closed
As the saying has it, this is why we can’t have nice things. Ongoing disarray at the American Jazz Museum has substantially reduced the quality of life for dedicated music enthusiasts in Kansas City. Not only does the institution no longer present an annual outdoor festival or book touring artists at the Gem Theater, the current programming at the museum’s nightclub is comparatively unimaginative.
2. Cracks In the Foundation
The legal travails and infighting at the Mutual Musicians Foundation acts as an ominous cloud over the entire Jazz District. Pass the Tylenol.
3. No News is Bad News
Jazz coverage in Kansas City suffered several big hits in 2018.
Joe Klopus’ longstanding weekly Jazz Town column for The Kansas City Star was discontinued. Metropolis, a publication subsidized by arts organizations, went belly-up. The dedicated Kansas City jazz historian Larry Kopitnik stepped down as editor of Jam magazine. The content and publication schedule of the periodical has suffered accordingly. Plastic Sax is the sole local outlet offering regularly updated commentary and analysis of Kansas City’s jazz scene.
4. The Elephant In the Room
The most pressing issue on Kansas City’s jazz scene is the unabated erosion of support among the general public. A cover charge of more than $10 attached to a jazz gig by an instrumental, improvisation-based Kansas City jazz ensemble not named the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is the equivalent of cement shoes in a mob hit.
5. Wide Open Spaces
A de facto jazz festival took place in Kansas City this year. Almost no one showed up. The city-sponsored Open Spaces festival boasted an extensive jazz component. Yet less than 25 people were present at each of the several free performances I attended. Along with the Roots and Janelle Monaé, the Vijay Iyer Sextet headlined the festival. Less than 75 people paid the $20 cover charge to hear Iyer’s auspicious New York based band.
6. Fists of Fury
Kamasi Washington’s concert at the Truman provided an accounting of precisely how many people in Kansas City will pay to see a jazz show by a touring jazz instrumentalist who isn't appearing under the aegis of an established concert series. Far and away the most popular and critically acclaimed jazz artist of the decade, Washington drew 500 people to the downtown concert venue.
7. If a Jazz Album Was Released in a Forest
Another year passed without any national recognition for a Kansas City artist other than Logan Richardson or Pat Metheny. To the best of my knowledge, not a single album other than Richardson’s Blues People that’s listed on Plastic Sax’s Favorite Kansas City Albums of 2018 revceived notice in a prominent national publication.
8. Glimmers of Hope
It’s not all bad. The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra performed a few dates in Europe with Deborah Brown. The Green Lady Lounge, Kansas City’s most popular jazz club, continues to thrive with a winning formula of offering mainstream jazz without a cover charge. KC Jazz Alive sponsored a residency by saxophonist Tivon Pennicott in a series of performances billed as the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival. The Marcus Lewis Big Band caught the attention of a few local pundits by bringing a pair of rappers into the fold. “Bambu,” a funky track by Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7, racked up more than 200,000 streams on Spotify. The bookings of touring artists at the 1900 Building, Black Dolphin and at various locations used by Take Five Productions partly filled the void created by the retreat of the American Jazz Museum.
9. An Unsung Loss
The death of Luqman Hamza, one of Kansas City’s most respected veteran jazz musicians, was virtually unnoticed.
10. It’s a Date
The Kansas City Jazz Calendar was resurrected in 2018.
(Original image of a jazz performance at the Open Spaces festival by Plastic Sax.)