It has been said plenty of times, but people in Kansas City weren’t always listening: The most influential musician ever to come from our town was modern-jazz pioneer Charlie Parker. His ideas continue to shake up the world. And his hometown should do more to acknowledge those things.
Fortunately, in recent years KC has begun to rise to the occasion in August, the month of the alto saxophonist’s birth in 1920. This week we begin the fourth annual Charlie Parker Celebration, put together by the group KC Jazz Alive and its partners. It will feature music, discussions, music, a history tour, music, a theater event, a graveside tribute and even more music on stages large and small.
This year’s tribute to the innovator known as Bird will be enlivened by the presence of two artists-in-residence, two young and artistically hungry players on the New York scene: tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, whose uncluttered style is firmly grounded in Parker, and pianist Sullivan Fortner, a lyrical but frisky player. They’ll lead their own group on Thursday, Aug. 17 — the start of the fun — and then will pop up at clubs all over town during the celebration.
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Though the Parker celebration ends Aug. 29, keep in mind that the Parker celebration on planet Earth never really ends. In some way, any time modern jazz is heard, anywhere on the globe, it’s a celebration of Bird’s inventions.
We’ll hear more from Pennicott in this space next week, but for the moment, consider these words spoken the other day by the saxophonist, who was born decades after Parker’s 1955 death: “The more I get into it, the more important Charlie Parker is to me. I like to refer to him as ‘the truth.’ ”
And we need to recognize Parker’s truths. Here’s a rundown of the Parker Celebration events for this week. Check charlieparkercelebration.com for more:
▪ Thursday, Aug. 17: Musicologist Tammy Kernodle of Miami University in Ohio speaks at 6 p.m. at the American Jazz Museum, 1616 E. 18th St. Then, one door down, Pennicott and Fortner get the music started with a show together at the Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., at 7 p.m.
▪ Friday, Aug. 18: When trumpeter, singer and dancer Lonnie McFadden performs at 4:30 p.m. at the Phoenix, 302 W. Eighth St., Pennicott joins in. Then at 7 p.m., when stride pianist Bram Wijnands performs at the Majestic, 913 Broadway, Pennicott also jams along. Later, Fortner jams with the Crossroads Quartet at 9 p.m. at the Black Dolphin, 1813 Grand Blvd.
▪ Saturday, Aug. 19: The Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors hold a barbecue at Theis Park, 47th and Oak streets, at 11 a.m. Then at 12:30 p.m. at the park, there’s a panel discussion, “We Remember Bird.”
At 7 p.m. Saturday, there’s a one-of-a-kind dramatic presentation in which actor, playwright and alto saxophonist Jeff Robinson becomes Parker. He performs “Live Bird” at 7 p.m. at the Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd. Then Pennicott joins organist Chris Hazelton’s group at 9 p.m. at the Green Lady Lounge, while Fortner jams with The Project H next door at the Black Dolphin, also at 9 p.m. Pennicott will stick around to play with tenor saxophonist Stephen Martin’s group at the Green Lady at 10:30 p.m.
▪ The Blue Room also has percussionist Pablo Sanhueza leading the Monday jam at 7 p.m. Aug. 14, and guitarist Max Berry’s group at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18.
▪ The Green Lady Lounge also has singer Kathleen Holeman’s trio at 6 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 13, followed by tenor saxophonist Steven Lambert’s quintet at 10:30 p.m.; guitarist Matt Hopper’s trio at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14, followed by tenor saxophonist Stephen Martin’s organ trio at 10:30 p.m.; Hopper’s Agora band at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15, followed by organist Chris Hazelton’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, followed by saxophonist Todd Wilkinson’s organ trio at 10:30 p.m.; Lovern’s trio at 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, followed by Guitar Elation at 8 p.m. and bassist Gerald Spaits’ quartet at 11:30 p.m.; pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, followed by Lovern’s trio downstairs at 8:30 p.m. and Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m. upstairs; and Holeman at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19, followed by OJT at 6 p.m.
▪ The Black Dolphin also has the group A La Mode at 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14, and Lonnie McFadden’s quartet at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 15.
▪ Tenor saxophonist Brad Gregory plays hard bop in an immaculately arranged septet at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 16, at the Westport CoffeeHouse Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave.
Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751