Not all that many years ago, a giant walked among us. Jay McShann seemed a friendly, approachable fellow with a ready laugh and a warm handshake. But when he sat at that piano, watch out.
There was no one better at making blues-drenched jazz spill from a piano, with a rolling right hand and a ferocious left. McShann didn’t sound quite like anyone else, and no one else sounded remotely like him. And he was so good at the bluesy sound that people didn’t realize how much other music was at his command.
He left the planet in 2006 after a good, long run. The centennial of his birth is Tuesday, and the McShann family has put together a celebration concert to be Saturday at the Gem Theater in the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District.
A McShann celebration is best done with plenty of friends and admirers. So alto saxophonist Bobby Watson is putting together a band, full of the best musicians in town, for the occasion. Pianist Joe Cartwright and singers Lisa Henry, Lester “Duck” Warner and David Basse also are on the bill.
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And there’s a musical guest of honor, pianist Benny Green. He’s in his early 50s now, but he’s known that he wanted to play jazz since childhood. He played hard bop with Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, and he picked up some things as a protege of Oscar Peterson. But just as with McShann, something bluesy always seems to come through his hands.
Green knows that the streak of deep blues that runs through modern jazz comes from Count Basie, Jay McShann and that strange saxophone innovator from McShann’s old band, Charlie Parker. And Green wants everything to be funky, the way McShann always played it.
McShann friend and admirer Chuck Haddix will talk about his music in historical context. And there will be an exhibition of McShann memorabilia in the Gem Theater’s mezzanine gallery.
The McShann centennial bash is at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Gem, 1615 E. 18th St. Tickets are $20. Check ticketmaster.com.
▪ Pianist Roger Wilder’s quartet plays the next edition of the Kansas City Jazz Vespers, at 6 p.m. Sunday at the First Baptist Church of Kansas City, 100 W. Red Bridge Road. It’s free.
▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., has a jam session led by drummer Tyree Johnson and his Groove 101 band at 7 p.m. Monday. The band Shades of Jade appears at 7 p.m. Thursday. Bassist Tyrone Clark and his True Dig band play at 8:30 p.m. Friday, and singer Ida McBeth takes charge 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; percussionist John Kizilarmut’s trio at 9 p.m. Monday; the group Dojo at 8 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.; guitarist Matt Hopper’s trio at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, followed by saxophonist Brett Jackson’s quartet at 9 p.m.; 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 OJT again at 6 p.m. Saturday.
▪ The American Jazz Museum is presenting a free workshop on an eternally important set of issues for anyone who wants to play or sing jazz. “A Matter of Time,” dealing with groove and time-keeping, will be presented by two groove experts, trumpeter Stan Kessler and drummer Todd Strait, at 2 p.m. Saturday in the Blue Room.
▪ Trumpeter Hermon Mehari’s group appears at 8 p.m. Friday at the Art Factory, 5621 W. 135th St., Suite 2630, in Overland Park’s PrairieFire development.
Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751