Jazz has been used as entertainment music, dance music, background music and intellectual music.
But it has also had an important role as protest music, from the time when it seemed taboo to mix light-skinned and dark-skinned people on the bandstand, through the civil rights era and sometimes even now.
Guitarist Bill Frisell, one of the leading lights on his instrument for about three decades now, is putting a little bit of protest back in his music.
His current group, a jazz/Americana project, features the unrepentant protest songs of Woody Guthrie. And he’s bringing it to the Kansas City area on Friday, a welcome offering on the Harriman-Jewell Series.
Frisell’s note-bending playing has always had an elusive, lonesome quality — a quality in common with giants of American music from Hank Williams to John Coltrane. And it has been natural for Frisell to link his jazz with folk, country, pop and Americana: He has been doing it since the ’80s.
For a show called “Woody Guthrie’s Better World,” he’s bringing his Big Sur Quintet, with violinist Jenny Scheinman, violist Eyvind Kang, cellist Hank Roberts and drummer Rudy Royston. (You might remember Scheinman and Royston from a KC appearance with Ben Allison a few years ago.) The multiple-strings sound is a dramatic departure from just about every other jazz band on the road today. But departing from the norm doesn’t scare Frisell.
Guitar-based events are fairly common around Kansas City, but everything about this one is distinctive. We’ve heard just about every other giant of jazz guitar in person more than we’ve heard from Frisell. So this genre-bending show is bound to be one of the highlights of the year.
The performance is at 8 p.m. Friday at the White Theatre at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Kansas City, 5801 W. 115th St., Overland Park. Tickets are $20 to $40. Information at HJSeries.org.
▪ The American Jazz Museum celebrates women in jazz every March, and this year it’s starting in a big way.
On Thursday, there’s a kickoff event at the Gem Theater, 1615 E. 18th St., with a performance by the Friends University Big Band from Wichita, directed by Lisa Hittle. Then there’s a panel discussion and screening of the film “The Girls in the Band,” exploring the untold stories of women instrumentalists in jazz, at 6 p.m. at the Gem.
The all-woman big band Diva, led by drummer Sherrie Maricle, owns the day Saturday. There’s an open rehearsal of the Metro Jazz Workshop Big Band with Maricle at 9:30 a.m. in the museum’s atrium, followed by a Maricle master class on the tricky art of big-band drumming at 10:30 a.m., also in the atrium. Then there’s a chat session with Maricle at noon.
The full Diva band then performs two shows at the Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., at 8 and 10 p.m. Saturday.
The Blue Room also has singer Lisa Henry in charge of the Monday jam, at 7 p.m. It’s “Divas’ Night Out,” with singers Megan Birdsall and Kelley Gant, at 8:30 p.m. Friday.
▪ It’s time once again for the annual University of Kansas Jazz Festival, capped by two nights of concerts and jams. This year’s guest artists are impressive.
One is veteran tenor saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi, a ravenous improviser who has made waves in the Dave Brubeck Quartet and on his own, and who has also had a big effect as educator and mentor to a lot of players.
The other is trombonist Marshall Gilkes, a player and composer in his 30s who has already gotten lots of notice here and in Europe for his work with the Maria Schneider Jazz Orchestra and an impressive array of other bands.
On Friday and Saturday, about 50 high school, middle school and college jazz ensembles will perform throughout the day in Murphy Hall, and one group each day will be selected to perform on the evening concert. The Friday evening concert features Bergonzi with the KU Jazz Festival All-Star band; Saturday’s show has Gilkes with the KU Jazz Ensemble 1, directed by Dan Gailey.
The shows are at 7:30 p.m. in Woodruff Auditorium at the Kansas Union; tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for seniors and students. Call 785-864-7469.
The music continues in after-hours jams led by tenor saxophonist Matt Otto in the All Seasons Den at the Oread hotel, 1200 Oread Ave. in Lawrence, from 10 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. both nights.
▪ Highlights at the Broadway Jazz Club, 3601 Broadway, include a CD release party for tenor saxophonist Steven Lambert’s new disc, “Steven Lambert Quartet and Trio Live,” at 7 p.m. Thursday; pianist Eddie Moore and his Outer Circle band at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by trumpeter Hermon Mehari at 10:30 p.m.; and singer Kelley Gant at 7 p.m. Saturday, followed by singer-bassist Bryan Hicks and guitarist Rod Fleeman at 10:30 p.m.
▪ Highlights at the Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., include the Foundation 627 Big Band at 8:30 p.m. Sunday; the Schlambert Quartet, with Steven Lambert and vibraphonist Peter Schlamb, at 8:30 p.m. Monday; bassist Bill McKemy’s trio at 9 p.m. Tuesday; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 9 p.m. Wednesday; Schlamb’s trio at 9 p.m. Thursday; the Friends University Big Band directed by Lisa Hittle at 8:30 p.m. Friday, followed by organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m; and singer Julia Haile’s trio at 6 p.m. Saturday followed by OJT at 9:30 p.m.
▪ Take Five Coffee + Bar, at 6601 W. 135th St., Suite A-21 in Overland Park, behind the Von Maur store, has trombonist Marcus Lewis’ band at 8 p.m. Friday and “future-primitive jazz” from BCR at 8 p.m. Saturday.
▪ The Jazz Underground series at the Westport CoffeeHouse Theatre, 4010 Pennsylvania Ave., has tenor saxophonist Matt Otto’s group at 8 p.m. Thursday.
▪ This month’s installment of the Spirituality and All That Jazz concert series is a sax summit featuring Todd Wilkinson, Terry Peffer and Jim Mair with pianist Tim Whitmer’s band. It’s at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Unity Temple on the Plaza, 707 W. 47th St.