The proposed changes to liquor license restrictions in the 18th & Vine Jazz District are not about “turning 18th and Vine into a drinking destination,” as Dave Helling wrote in his Feb. 21 commentary, “As losses mount, are taverns the answer at 18th and Vine?”
The intent is to add more music — more jazz venues, not “taverns” for drinking.
Since it is the 18th & Vine Jazz District, the expectation of visitors is that there will be a fair number of venues playing jazz. But as of now, there are only four venues that host music. The Bayou on the Vine (which is fairly new) and the award-winning Blue Room at the American Jazz Museum regularly have live jazz.
The National Historic Landmark Mutual Musician’s Foundation on Highland is open after-hours two nights a week. And the former Musician’s Union 627 is world renowned.
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I’ve watched kids from Norway in uniforms going inside to jam at midnight so they can say they’ve played the Foundation in Kansas City. The Juke House on 18th Street is more of an R&B and blues venue. However, they’ve been known to get jazzy, too.
In the greater Kansas City area, there are approximately 181 world-class jazz musicians paying taxes and raising families. There are probably that many more up and coming. They are faculty at our area high schools, colleges, and universities. They teach youth through private classes and community foundations.
Internationally acclaimed jazz musicians went through music programs in the Kansas City area, and they record music here along with other international greats. Many of them hold second (and third) jobs so they can stay here and play jazz. A fair number of them are entrepreneurs who successfully supplement their income so they can continue to play jazz here. (Jazz wages here aren’t great.)
We even build first-rate musical instruments here. Kansas City’s own Mike Corrigan, the “Horn Doctor,” built a custom horn that was played in Justin Timberlake’s band at this year’s Super Bowl halftime show — and at two other Super Bowl shows as well.
The greater Kansas City area has approximately 39 entertainment venues that feature live jazz, and 14 that feature the blues. Almost all of them also serve liquor and most also serve food.
Currently, there are groups spending dedicated hours to analyzing ways to help the 18th & Vine Jazz District enjoy the success seen in other jazz communities around the world. Successful jazz tourism would go a long way toward bringing incremental dollars into this area for the betterment of the city.
Kansas City is one of the four cornerstones of American jazz. Yet we continually fail to leverage that exclusive identity. Please don’t ignore efforts to realize the potential of a successful jazz market.
And please don’t insult the jazz masters who are the heart and soul of our continuing jazz legacy by calling the jazz clubs where they play “taverns.”
Share Valleau is a Kansas City writer, sociologist and brand marketer. She is former director of marketing, publicity and promotions for the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors.