Sunday, May 31, 2020

A Jerk Judges the Jazzy Jamdemic

I’ve long believed the only people who use the word “jazzy” without irony are either dullards or sardonic jazz-haters.  So I cringed when I learned of Jazzy Jamdemic just a few hours before the first concert in the series transpired at the Gem Theater on Sunday, May 24.  (Why bother informing a Kansas City music journalist and dedicated jazz blogger about the initiative?)

At a reported cost of $75,000, Jazzy Jamdemic consists of free one-hour streams of live concerts on Facebook at 5 p.m. C.S.T. six nights a week through July 3.  The verbiage at American Jazz Walk of Fame’s site notwithstanding, the events stream only at Facebook.

The unfortunate name of Jazzy Jamdemic belies the high quality of the first six episodes. The sound and lighting of the performances are invariably outstanding.  In spite of the off-putting absence of live audiences and the unsettling but welcome use of face masks by musicians, the concerts are excellent showcases for Kansas City artists.  My notes on the first week’s episodes follow.

Bobby Watson- Sunday, May 24
Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, the apparent driving force behind Jazzy Jamdemic, introduced the first concert by suggesting the series will act as a “painkiller.”  The setlist rendered by saxophonist Bobby Watson, pianist Roger Wilder, bassist James Ward and drummer Mike Warren- “Confirmation,” “E.T.A.,” “A Wheel Within a Wheel,” “Soul Eyes,” “Up to the Minute Blues” and “In Case You Missed It”- was indeed a familiar balm for admirers of Kansas City’s most notable jazz practitioner.  Peak viewership: 114.

Molly Hammer- Monday, May 25
A woman suggested “who needs NYC jazz when we have Molly and the ‘guys’!” during Molly Hammer’s triumphant return to the stage.  If by “NYC jazz” the commenter meant “adventurous,” she was right.  Pianist Joe Cartright, bassist Steve Rigazzi and drummer Brian Steever supported the vocalist with appropriately conventional swing.  A hushed cabaret-style rendition of “Listen Here” was easily the best selection.  Peak viewership: 226.

James Ward Band- Tuesday, May 26
The extreme dynamics created by fiery saxophonist Ernest Melton and the harmonious smooth jazz and sublime fusion played by bassist James Ward, keyboardist Angela Ward and drummer Jaylen Ward caused the week’s only sound problems.  Melton’s compulsion to test the textural limits of standards by Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter as his bandmates played it straight was thrilling.  Peak viewership: 58.

Millage Gilbert- Wednesday, May 27
The Kansas City bluesman led a quartet in desultory renditions of blues and soul standards associated with the likes of Bobby “Blue” Bland, Tyrone Davis and Albert King.  Peak viewership: 48.

Pablo Sanhueza and the Kansas City Latin Jazz Orchestra- Thursday, May 28
The nine-piece band played the vibrant form of salsa associated with Eddie Palmieri with infectious enthusiasm and spontaneity.  Peak viewership: 77.

Lisa Henry- Friday, May 29
Lisa Henry reflected the fraught tenor of the times with a set highlighted by a searing reading of “Strange Fruit” and a powerful recitation of Natasha Ria El-Scari’s poem “The Secret Life of Black Mothers.”  Flugelhornist Chalis O’Neal, pianist Everett Freeman, bassist DeAndre Manning and drummer Mike Warren backed the vocalist with exquisite sensitivity.  Peak viewership: 55.

Based on comments and "likes" during the Facebook broadcasts, the majority of the paltry viewership of each stream consisted of the same people every night.  The well-intentioned Cleaver has miscalculated the intrinsic support for jazz in Kansas City for decades.  From historical and artistic perspectives, however, Jazzy Jamdemic is an entirely vital and necessary endeavor.  It’s a shame about the name.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Now's the Time: Mary Lou Williams

Mary Lou Williams established a reputation as a stellar arranger and composer while working in Kansas City in the late 1920s.  Her appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1978 came three years before her death.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Jazzy Jamdemic concert series continues through July 3.

*Ted Panken catches up with Eldar Djangirov for Downbeat.

*Steve Paul checks in with Bobby Watson for KC Studio.

*Patrick Neas promotes the 2020-21 season of the Folly Jazz Series in The Kansas City Star.

*Joe Dimino interviewed Candace Evans, E.E. Pointer and Dan Thomas.

*Tweet o’ the Week: KC Jazz Orchestra- KCJO's annual four-concert series is back and ready to wow you with a season that celebrates Kansas City's most beloved jazz icons. Subscription renewals under way, new subscriptions available beginning June 15! (link)

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 24, 2020

I Voted

I elected to join the Jazz Journalist Association after sitting next to Howard Mandel for much of the Chicago Jazz Festival last year.  Mandel is President and Executive Director of the enterprise dedicated to “the creation and dissemination of accurate, balanced, ethical and informative journalism on all of jazz’s genres.”

I hope my affiliation with the JJA will boost the profile of my ongoing documentation of Kansas City’s jazz scene, and will in some small way contribute to an eventual reestablishment of Kansas City as a vital jazz hub.  The first true benefit I redeemed after paying my dues fee derived from the satisfaction I felt in nominating Kansas City’s Peter Schlamb alongside Joel Ross and Stefan Harris as Mallet Player of the Year in the JJA Jazz Awards.  Even though Schlamb didn’t make the final ballot, I was pleased to give him a little shine.

No musicians based in Kansas City were among the JJA winners, an omission that mirrors the discouraging results of almost every jazz poll of recent years.  I intend to continue to do my part in bringing the work of worthy artists like Schlamb to prominence in the years to come.

(Original image of Joel Ross at the Chicago Jazz Festival in 2019 by Plastic Sax.)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Now's the Time: Coleman Hawkins

Coleman Hawkins was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in 1904. He attended Topeka High School and Washburn University prior to attaining immortality in New York.  The breathlessness of the hokey hipster narrator in the embedded video is understandable.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Lonnie McFadden’s virtual concerts are the subject of a KCUR audio feature.

*Bobby Watson performs and talks about his forthcoming album in a Jazziz “Happy Hour” video.  Watson’s segment begins at the 32:45 mark.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Essential to my wife, so at home- #vinylrecords from my #vinylcollection People into jazz know Kansas City. People in Kansas City know Pete Eye. Pete only put out a couple of records, but they’re really great.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Grading the 2020-21 Season of the Folly Jazz Series

The last concert I attended before the coronavirus lockdown was Luciana Souza’s appearance in the Folly Jazz Series on March 7.  The Kansas City debut of the innovative Brazilian was filled with surprises.  The recently announced 2020-21 bookings in the Folly Jazz Series don’t hold much potential for the thrill of discovery.  Conventional, tried-and-true sounds by touring musicians already familiar to Kansas City audiences dominate the season.  The absence of the centennial tribute to Kansas City’s Charlie Parker- the most important tour of the year- is particularly egregious.

Karrin Allyson
Saturday, October 17
Karrin Allyson rose to fame while living in Kansas City.  Her homecomings are always welcome.  She last performed in the Folly Jazz Series in 2016.
Grade: B

David Benoit
Saturday, December 12
David Benoit’s biography suggests the keyboardist “has reigned supreme as one the founding fathers of contemporary jazz” for decades.  Joined by the son of Mel Tormé, Benoit and his band will revisit his popular 2000 tribute to Vince Guaraldi’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.  The Folly last hosted Benoit’s holiday show in 2015.
Grade: C-

Jeff Lorber
Saturday, January 16
I walked to Line Creek Park in 1977 or 1978 to catch a free Sunday evening concert by a group led by Jeff Lorber.  The fusion band’s saxophonist was a scrawny kid named Kenny G.  Lorber performed at the Gem Theater in 2014.
Grade: C+

Anat Cohen
Friday, February 12
Anat Cohen is an Israeli clarinetist with wide-ranging interests.  She’ll be joined by Vitor Gonçalves, Tal Mashiach and James Shipp, men who helped make her lightly attended 2018 appearance at the Gem Theater extraordinary.
Grade: B+

Paquito D'Rivera Quintet
Saturday, March 20
The Cuban saxophonist and clarinetist Paquito D'Rivera, 71, is a Latin jazz mainstay.  The former member of Irakere is making his first public appearance in Kansas City in recent years.
Grade: B+

Eliane Elias
Friday, April 9
Eliane Elias has repeatedly proven she’s a sublime performer on Kansas City stages.  The Brazilian chanteuse and pianist last appeared at the Folly in 2017.
Grade: B

(Original image of materials from the 2006-2007 season of the Folly Jazz Series by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Now's the Time: Richard Ross

Joe Cartwright recently made the world a better place with his upload of a jubilant 1984 performance by the Richard Ross Trio.  The invaluable footage features the late drummer, vocalist and bandleader, pianist Cartwright and bassist Gerry Leonard tearing into a blues number.  Ruth Rhoden, the co-host of KCUR’s sorely missed program Just Jazz, eggs them on.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*The Folly Theater unveiled the 2020-21 season of the Folly Jazz Series.  The bookings will be soon be evaluated at Plastic Sax.

*Tweet o’ the Week: Community Christian Church- We’re bringing Happy Hour to you, so you can enjoy “live” jazz music from our own Tim Whitmer wherever you’re at! Check out our playlist of Tim’s Happy Hour videos any day of the week. #kcjazz #kansascity #kansascityjazz #kcjazz #livejazz #happyhour

*From a press release: 90.9 The Bridge is thrilled to announce KC Bands Together, a two-night virtual concert celebrating the resilience of the Kansas City community and benefiting the Midwest Music Foundation.  KC Bands Together  will feature nearly 20 local musician performances from 8:30 to approximately 11 p.m. on May 15-16. A one-hour highlight reel will air May 22 at 8:30 p.m. on KCPT with an audio version presented on 90.9 The Bridge.  Performers include Hermon Mehari and Krystle Warren.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Album Review: Leslie Maclean Trio featuring Molly Hammer- Live at Black Dolphin

I didn’t add to the outpouring of grief in the Kansas City music community when the Tank Room closed in 2017.  I sensed something even better was coming to the performance space at 1813 Grand Boulevard.  Black Dolphin didn’t disappoint.

Black Dolphin’s excellent sound, superior service and the gold backdrop behind the stage immediately elevated the room to the top tier of music venues in Kansas City.  While inconsiderate patrons occasionally detract from the live music experience, notable artists including Steve Cardenas, Jerry Hahn and Lonnie McFadden invariably attract attentive listeners at the room next door to Green Lady Lounge.

The members of the audience at Black Dolphin on March 24, 2019, were almost certainly riveted by the Leslie Maclean Trio.  Pianist Maclean, bassist Tim Brewer and drummer Jerry Pollack play the cheerful form of bluesy jazz long favored by Kansas City audiences.  The auspicious vocalist Molly Hammer joins the trio for six of the eight selections on the jaunty Live at Black Dolphin.  

The notes accompanying the new release suggest “these tracks would have been considered mainstream in the 1960s.”  “Let’s Let It Happen,” the strongest of Maclean’s original compositions, evokes the era in which the likes of Eydie Gormé, Jeri Southern and Nancy Wilson were major attractions.  The throwback approach wouldn’t ordinarily appeal to me.  Yet two months into the quarantine, Live at Black Dolphin sounds like a dispatch from heaven.  I’d give most anything to attend a performance by Maclean’s band at the nightclub this evening.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Now's the Time: Melba Liston

Melba Liston was born in Kansas City in 1926.  The embedded clip from 1960 features the trombonist and arranger performing in a big band led by Quincy Jones.  Randy Weston also benefited from Liston’s groundbreaking work.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Confirmation: Weekly News & Notes

*Jeff Harshbarger and Johnny Hamil’s treacherous trip to Paris is documented by KCUR.

*Candace Evans is featured in Johnson County Lifestyle magazine.

*Joe Dimino interviewed A La Mode, B.J. Jansen and Jackie Myers.

*A graphic novel will depict Charlie Parker’s stint in California.  (Via St. Louis Jazz Notes.)

*Tweet o’ the Week: The Folly Theater- We're ecstatic to announce our involvement in Charlie Parker's 100th birthday celebration with Charlie "Bird" Parker 100! with Dan Thomas and the Kansas City All Star Band and almost 20 special guests! Tickets are available Friday!

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

Sunday, May 3, 2020


Kansas City wasn’t among the cities slated to host a Fly Higher: Charlie Parker@100 concert before the pandemic forced the temporary suspension of live music.  It’s not a moot point.

Born 100 years ago in Kansas City, Kansas, Parker had a notoriously contentious relationship with his hometown.  The discord continues 65 years after his death.  Civic leaders and representatives of arts groups tout the area’s connection to the man who transformed music in the 20th century, but their diplomatic words aren’t matched by intrinsic support.

Fly Higher is an all-star band led by saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and drummer Terri Lyne Carrington.  Along with vocalist Charenée Wade, trumpeter Adam O’Farrill, pianist Kris Davis, bassist Larry Grenadier and DJ Kassa Overall, Mahanthappa and Carrington uphold Parker’s revolutionary spirit.  A fearless dedication to Parker’s subversiveness reflects the global acclaim bestowed upon the members of Fly Higher.  Yet they’re personae non gratae in Kansas City.

Willful defiance of convention doesn’t fly in Kansas City.  Only after his innovations were codified and he was safely ensconced in Lincoln Cemetery was Parker embraced as a hometown hero.  My fervent longing for a Fly Higher tour date doesn’t take anything away from the dozens of Kansas City jazz musicians who know Parker’s music inside and out.  But none of them- not even the exemplary Bobby Watson- possess the intrepid recklessness of the band led by Mahanthappa and Carrington.

It’s not too late for jazz power brokers in Kansas City to rectify the mortifying omission.  Concerts in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles and Chicago have been canceled, but dates in Washington D.C, Detroit and several European cities are still on the books.  Is Kansas City really going to further dishonor Parker by snubbing a vital tribute on the hundredth anniversary of his death?

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)