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.)