If you ask 10 jazz drummers who’s the most important drummer alive, it would be safe to bet that at least nine would answer with Jack DeJohnette, who brings his trio to the Gem Theater on Saturday, April 22.
Rest assured that DeJohnette, officially designated an NEA Jazz Master, didn’t get to the top of the ladder simply because pioneers like Max Roach or Elvin Jones have left the planet. He got there by playing great music with great people and never lowering his standards.
His uncluttered style doesn’t depend on flash-and-bash energy. DeJohnette’s power comes from his big-picture musical sensibility and his wide and deep experience, which comes with skills that extend far beyond the drums. He composes well and also has recorded persuasively as a pianist.
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He’s been an important part of some magical moments in jazz history — with the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians in ’60s Chicago, with the great Charles Lloyd quartet of the ’60s, in Miles Davis’ transition from acoustic to electric, in Keith Jarrett’s trio, even some Pat Metheny projects, including the one with free-jazz visionary Ornette Coleman.
And along the way, he’s led some fine bands of his own, including the fondly remembered New Directions and Special Edition.
Currently, he’s leading a compact but unified trio with tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane (son of John and Alice) and bassist Matthew Garrison (son of Jimmy Garrison, who was the bassist in many of John Coltrane’s most important endeavors). They’ve been enriching their sound with electronics — DeJohnette’s big picture keeps getting bigger — and have earned a Grammy nomination. This is the band coming to Kansas City.
If DeJohnette has played in Kansas City at any time in the last 30 years, I missed it. So this show fills an important gap in our town’s jazz offerings.
Guitarist Bill Frisell, a prolific creator whose vision spans jazz and Americana, is another artist who was too long absent from the Kansas City concert stage. But the Harriman-Jewell Series has taken care of that by booking him in 2015 and 2016 — and now, get ready for the 2017 edition.
This time, Frisell is presenting his mixed-media Great Flood Project. Musically, it’s a very promising quartet with (at last report) cornetist Ron Miles, bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen. The other big element is “The Great Flood,” a film on the 1927 Mississippi River disaster by Bill Morrison.
They’ll be seen and heard at 5 p.m. Saturday, April 22, in Atkins Auditorium at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Tickets are $40 to $20; check HJSeries.org.
Big-band goes modern
The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra mines a different part of the jazz tradition for its next concert, called “’Round About Midnight: The Music of Miles Davis and John Coltrane.”
They were a well-contrasted pair, the trumpeter who said much with very few notes and the tenor saxophonist who made his points with torrents of sound. Together in the late ’50s, they took the music around a corner or two, beyond bebop and cool and into the harmonic stratosphere.
They made a rich body of music that’s still fertile ground for today’s improvisers. That’s the cue that trumpeter-leader Clint Ashlock and the big band are taking up in their show, which happens at 8 p.m. Friday, April 21, in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $60-$25. Go to KCJazzOrchestra.net or call 816-994-7222.
▪ April 25 is the centennial of Ella Fitzgerald’s birth, and the American Jazz Museum can’t let that go by unnoticed. In tribute, the museum’s Blue Room club (at 1600 E. 18th St.) presents the band The Unusual Suspects, led by sax man Todd Wilkinson, at 8:30 p.m. Friday, April 21, and the band Eclipse performs with singer Lisa Henry at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22. The Blue Room also has a jam led by tenor saxophonist Stephen Martin at 7 p.m. Monday, April 17. Pianist Roger Wilder’s group performs at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 20.
▪ Tenor saxophonist Michael Eaton is back in town this week with some ambitious music. With his Individuation Quartet and special Kansas City guests, he’s playing John Coltrane’s “Ascension” and an original work co-written with guitarist Seth Davis, “Second Nature.” That’s at 9 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, at The Brick, 1737 McGee St. And the Individuation Quartet performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, at the Westport CoffeeHouse Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave.
▪ The Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has trumpeter Stan Kessler’s Organ Quartet at 6 p.m. Sunday, April 16, followed by tenor saxophonist Steve Lambert’s quintet at 10:30 p.m.; singer Molly Hammer at noon Monday, April 17, followed by guitarist Matt Hopper’s trio at 6 p.m. and Kessler’s Crossroads Quartet at 10:30 p.m.; Hopper’s Agora band at 6 p.m. Tuesday, April 18, followed by a quartet with bassist Gerald Spaits and reed man Charles Perkins at 10:30 p.m.; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 19, followed by saxophonist Ernest Melton’s quartet at 10:30 p.m.; the group Guitar Elation at 6 p.m. Thursday, April 20, followed by Stephen Martin, keyboardist Matt Villinger and drummer Todd Strait at 10:30 p.m.; singer Kathleen Holeman at 2 p.m. Friday, April 21, followed by pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m., New York drummer Pete Zimmer’s quartet downstairs at 8:30 p.m. and organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m. upstairs; and guitarists Danny Embrey and Rod Fleeman at 2:30 p.m. Saturday, April 22, followed by OJT at 6 p.m., Martin, Villinger and Strait again at 9 p.m. downstairs and Zimmer’s group again at 10:30 p.m. upstairs.
▪ Californos, at 4124 Pennsylvania Ave., will be presenting singer David Basse with drummer Jim Lower’s big band weekly. Shows are at 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Tuesdays starting April 25. A $20 donation is recommended. And don’t forget the weekly jam with pianist Eddie Moore and friends, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays.
Joe Klopus: 816-234-4751