The Kansas City jazz scene started 2015 in a pretty good place. There were plenty of venues, lots of places to hear music on any given night. There were bands big and small, established artists thriving, and new artists popping out of the woodwork.
At its best, it felt like a lively scene, indeed. At its worst, it felt like a scene on a plateau — things were far from bad, but they weren’t getting better. Sometimes there seemed to be a shortage of innovation or freshness. It was still a very scenic plateau, even if there was no clear way to get to a higher altitude.
Now that 2016 is arriving, let’s survey the landscape and say — what the heck happened?
Those same players are still out there. The same bands big and small, the same masters, the same journeymen. But there seem to be fewer places and opportunities to hear them.
We’ve slid down the hill. And it sure would be nice to be back up on that plateau.
Kansas City lost two of its major jazz clubs in 2015. Problems with the building and the landlord put Take Five out of commission. We fervently hope it’s merely on a “set break” until a new place can be found. That venue is sorely missed.
We also lost the Broadway Jazz Club, to the surprise of pretty much no one. The Broadway had more than its share of business problems, and many of them seemed to be self-inflicted. Still, the room was good for jazz, the sound was wonderful, and there are some good musical memories.
And we lost the alternative-jazz series at the RecordBar, scene of some courageous musical explorations. Hearing the People’s Liberation Big Band there was one of this writer’s very favorite things to do, period.
Fortunately, none of those 2015 losses can be blamed on a lack of audience.
At least there was one gain in 2015, the appearance of jazz at the Art Factory, way out south in Johnson County. Any time you can get jazz presented south of Interstate 435, it’s an achievement.
But the losses continue to hurt.
Perhaps they’ll be offset by further gains in 2016. Maybe (fingers crossed) a return of Take Five at a new site, maybe a surprise or two or three.
Bobby Watson likes to tell his students that if you don’t have a gig, you have to make your own gig. And many musicians around town are very good at making gigs happen in surprising places and ways. We need that right now.
Here’s hoping for surprises — that this de-evolution can be turned into a good evolution soon.
But hoping for gains is never enough. The venues cease to exist, the artists are discouraged from working at their art, without an audience. That’s you.
Maybe more than at any time in the last decade or so, it’s time to renew our commitment to jazz in Kansas City — by being the thriving, growing audience that a thriving, growing scene deserves. By being present as the music is made, by opening our wallets to support the places that present it, and by bringing some friends along for the experience.
No more backsliding. Not in 2016. Not ever.
▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E.18th St., has a saxophone showcase with Mike Herrera, Houston Smith and Ernest Melton at 7 p.m. Monday. Guitarist Max Berry is on at 7 p.m. Thursday. The Sons of Brasil perform at 8:30 p.m. Friday, and bassist James Ward’s band 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; drummer Kevin Frazee’s trio at 9 p.m. Monday; a CD release party for a newcomer to the KC scene, pianist Matt Villinger, at 9 p.m. Tuesday; the New Jazz Order big band at 7 p.m. Wednesday, followed by organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 9 p.m.; saxophonist Brett Jackson’s quartet at 9 p.m. Thursday; pianist Tim Whitmer at 5:30 p.m. Friday, followed by organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 9 p.m. and OJT at 10 p.m.; and another CD release party, for guitarist Matt Hopper, at 6 p.m. Saturday, followed by OJT at 9:30 p.m.
▪ Stride pianist Bram Wijnands is featured on the next installment of the Spirituality and All That Jazz concert series, at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St.
Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751