Jazz abhors a vacuum. At least it seemed that way throughout the third annual Prairie Village Jazz Festival on Saturday night.
As observers of the earlier acts left, others swiftly took their prime locations, moving closer to the stage to take advantage of the evening’s stellar lineup. Right up through the last act, the crowd at Harmon Park was appreciative and responsive, enjoying the congenial and casual atmosphere of the event.
Organizers of the festival (which was devastated last year when a sudden rainstorm destroyed the stage) couldn’t have asked for better weather. The air turned chill once the sun set, but those prepared for the temperature drop were rewarded with memorable performances of world-class musicians.
The Kansas City jazz community was well represented, with David Basse serving as the festival’s emcee and performances from the divergently hip and locally based groups of Diverse, the Rich Wheeler Quartet and the Mike Metheny Quartet. Singer Megan Birdsall, whose effervescent quirkiness always generates a smile, played the sundown set.
The park was filled to capacity when saxophonist Bobby Watson and his sidemen took the stage. Watson, who played with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and is currently the director of jazz studies at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, displayed his signature sound, with a tone as rich and smooth as mousse and technique to match.
Captivating in their own right were pianist Richard Johnson, bassist Curtis Lundy and drummer Mike Warren. Johnson played exquisitely, Warren received a torrent of applause for his solo on “Wheel Within a Wheel,” and Lundy’s opening lines of “Lemoncello” happily brought to mind Mediterranean breezes and sips of citrus.
Singer and pianist Karrin Allyson was the final act of the night. She performed with bassist Gerald Spaits, guitarist Rod Fleeman, drummer Todd Strait and saxophonist Bob Sheppard.
Her set was primarily somber and laidback, with a smattering of blues and bossa nova tunes, as though she was in a smoky backroom club instead of under the clear, clean skies of Kansas. She did, however, bring out a few cheerier songs as the evening progressed.
Allyson invited bassist Bob Bowman on stage for “’Round Midnight.” He completely owned the tune and stole the show right then. They finished the festival with Watson on a fun and upbeat “Well, You Needn’t.”
The family-friendly event was ripe for multigenerational enjoyment. In fact, the feeling of kinship extended to the stage, where Watson opened his set with two tunes inspired by family members — his “Karita” and John Coltrane’s “Cousin Mary” — and Birdsall dedicated the song “Skylark” to her mother.