Why do we remember New York’s fabled Cotton Club?
We don’t remember the night spot of the ’20s and ’30s for its whites-only admission policy or for the layers of racism in the ways its “jungle music” shows were presented. But we can remember the most positive thing that came from the Cotton Club: the amazing music, provided by Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Jimmie Lunceford, Fats Waller and others.
That’s the reason for the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra’s season-opening show, “A Night at the Cotton Club,” to be performed Friday in Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Trumpeter Clint Ashlock and his spirited group of Kansas City’s finest will blow every trace of dust off music from Cotton Club performers including some of those we just named, plus the likes of Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne and Count Basie.
The original Cotton Club made big demands on its performers. New material for shows had to be generated early and often. The effects this had on Ellington’s creativity are well-known, and other writers also contributed a strong flow of good songs. So even if the club’s social legacy isn’t so great, its musical legacy definitely is — and there are so many good songs that an evening of Cotton Club music truly deserves the kind of care that the KCJO will give it.
Let’s not forget the rest of the KCJO series: a holiday-themed show with singer Ann Hampton Callaway on Dec. 8; a “British Invasion” show with music from World War II to the Beatles on Feb. 26; and “From New Orleans to Chicago,” tracing the early times of jazz, on April 29.
Guitarist Larry Carlton made waves in the 1970s with the Crusaders and has continued to brighten every musical endeavor he has been involved with since. You’ve heard him with Joni Mitchell, Bob James, Stanley Clarke and/or Steely Dan, and he has kept an array of solo projects going alongside his collaborations through the decades.
He’s simply a master of his instrument, at home in styles from pop to jazz, and he has been a major contributor to the rise of fusion. Now he’s coming to Kansas City, sharing the bill with soul-jazz flutist Althea Rene in a benefit for the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
The show is at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Gem Theater, 1615 E. 18th St. Tickets are $45; check Ticketmaster.com.
▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., has the Louis Neal Big Band at 7 p.m. Monday. The vocal group Book of Gaia and Ensemble Iberica, one of guitarist Beau Bledsoe’s cross-cultural projects, have a show at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Sons of Brasil are on at 8:30 p.m. Friday, and trumpeter Darryl White’s quartet appears at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.
▪ The Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has the Foundation 627 Big Band at 8:30 p.m. Sunday; guitarist Adam Schlozman’s Earth Trio at 9 p.m. Monday; the Sequel Quartet at 9 p.m. Tuesday; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 9 p.m. Wednesday; the Broadway Jazz Orchestra (it’s a good week to hear a big band) at 6 p.m. Thursday, followed by drummer Kevin Frazee’s trio at 9 p.m.; pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m. Friday, followed by vibraphonist Peter Schlamb’s Electric Tinks at 8:30 p.m. and organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m..; and singer Molly Hammer’s quartet at 6 p.m. Saturday, followed by OJT at 9:30 p.m.
▪ The Broadway Kansas City, 3601 Broadway, has the New Jazz Order big band at 9 p.m. Tuesday and pianist Mark Lowrey at 9 p.m. Friday.
▪ Trombonist Brian Scarborough’s group with guitarist Danny Embrey, tenor saxophonist Matt Otto, bassist Jeff Harshbarger and drummer Brandon Draper performs at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Westport CoffeeHouse Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave.
▪ Bassist Gerald Spaits and pianist Harry Miller give the next free show on the midday jazz series at Johnson County Community College, at noon Tuesday in the Recital Hall in Carlsen Center.
The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra performs “A Night at the Cotton Club” at 8 p.m. Friday at Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets are $20 to $55; call 816-994-7222.