Getting Schooled on Kansas City Jazz

Being from St. Louis, I'm of course a huge fan of classic blues music.  I spent several years working in the Soulard area, a place known for hosting some of the top blues musicians from all over the U.S.  Some of my best memories are of listening to Pennsylvania Slim and watching the legend Tommy Bankhead perform the best blues I have ever heard  all while hooked up to an oxygen tank, before he passed away in 2000.  When he died, there was an enormous wake held (New Orleans style) in the streets of Soulard, with people playing music, holding up large banners with pictures of Tommy and his band played as well.   (Here is a link if you want to learn more about this wonderful musician! Tommy Bankhead and the Blues Eldorados )


So, I move to Kansas City and  here I am in the city of jazz, and I had to do a little studying up on that, because, well, I love music! I was not disappointed in what I discoverd.  My two trips to The Blue Room to see jazz performed were eye opening and incredibly fun.  I was lucky to catch some well known local musicians performing, and I became a new fan.  


Jazz music has been a part of Kansas City since the 1930s, when black musicians like Count Basie and Charlie Parker added a special something to the Kansas City jazz scene. Characterized by a unique style, Kansas City jazz is known by a smooth sound, frequent riffs and extended solos. Kansas City had no liquor laws and no closing hours in the 1930's, so often musicians would jam throughout the night after playing in the clubs.

The city later earned the nickname "The Paris of the Plains," in reference to the over 100 clubs and speakeasy's operating at the time. Areas like 18th and Vine and 12th Street were filled with jazz clubs and nationally known musicians. Joe Turner, Ben Webster and William Page all performed at these clubs and became the developers of the Kansas City style jazz.


Today, people can still attend all night jam sessions at the Mutual Musicians Foundation, housed in a historic landmark. The Gem Theater, once a movie house, is now a performing arts venue that hosts "Jamming at the Gem," a jazz concert series. Everyone goes to the Blue Room to hear not only the best jazz in Kansas City, but new experimental jazz as well. Sit at a table, and notice that under the glass are treasures from jazz history such as sheet music and reeds. The walls are also a history display, with pictures from the past. Voted one of the Top 100 Jazz clubs in the world, the Blue Room never ceases to entertain.

The Blue Room is part of The American Jazz Museum. The American Jazz Museum pays homage to the past players in Kansas City Jazz, with a Charlie Parker Memorial and a John Baker film collection.  I took a very good tour once through the museum, they offer them daily.  The museum also features educational programs and memorabilia. The Studio next door allows players to experiment with jazz sounds and styles.


Jazz is heard today at places like The Broadway Jazz Club,  offering both old school and new experimental jazz. The Phoenix Jazz Club has live jazz and blues five nights a week with top local acts. The Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors host jazz events all over the Kansas City area, and promote jazz education as well. Of course there is the very popular and classic Majestic, one of the fancier jazz clubs in town.

New city, new music, it's all good!! 


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