The 18th and Vine area’s redevelopment, slow and not always steady, has sparked plenty of disagreements. Maybe a new project there is something tangible that everybody can agree on.
The Jazz District Renaissance Corp. is creating an American Jazz Walk of Fame, to be unveiled in the district next month. It begins with six inductees, and the organizers hope to start a tradition of adding to the walk annually. The induction, on Aug. 23, will be capped by a world-class concert at the Gem Theater featuring two big bands, the Count Basie Orchestra (approaching its 80th birthday) and a band led by local jazz tribal chief Bobby Watson.
The six inductees will be honored with their names on 30-inch bronze medallions to be installed in the sidewalks on 18th Street between Vine Street and Highland Avenue. Generous donors have helped to pay for the medallions and the concert; the city of Kansas City is donating the work to install the medallions.
The first honorees form a list of indisputable giants. There are four from the past:
Count Basie, the bandleader who took the raw materials of swing and somehow made them both rawer and more refined. His hard-blowing band kicked the door open for modern jazz.
Charlie Parker, pathfinder of modern jazz, alto saxophone soloist supreme, and probably the single most influential musician to come from Kansas City.
Mary Lou Williams, pianist and composer who shook up the male-dominated music of the 1930s and kept on top of all the jazz styles that developed afterward, rare for a musician of any generation.
Jay McShann, the man from Muskogee, Okla., who could play anything he wanted to on the piano — and when he played the blues, there was no room for competitors.
And there are two who are still actively contributing to what music can and will be:
Pat Metheny, who’s been at the top of the guitar world since the 1970s, and who’s still expanding his music with a contagious enthusiasm. (He’s bringing his new band to town July 26.)
Bobby Watson, alto saxophonist, composer and leader of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance jazz studies, who’s done much more than simply keep the jazz flame burning. He’s made it glow more brightly.
Admittedly, the whole project is a small step for the Historic 18th & Vine Jazz District. And it’s taken many months to get this far. But it’s the beginning of something that will give the district a little more character and ambiance.
Add some more medallions, and after a few years, the American Jazz Walk of Fame should become an attraction in itself. Can’t complain about that.
Tickets for that Aug. 23 concert, which starts at 7 p.m., are $25 and can be ordered at Ticketmaster or at the Gem box office, 816-474-6262.
Speaking of 18th and Vine, the American Jazz Museum is receiving a grant of more than $130,000 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services to hire a registrar to improve accessibility to its collections, and to create internships focused on collections and education.
The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., has bassist Tyrone Clark’s group at 7 p.m. Thursday and neo-soul singer Lee Langston at 8:30 p.m. Friday. The Blue Room welcomes two of the top players on the St. Louis jazz scene, drummer Montez Coleman (formerly with that Bobby Watson guy) and veteran tenor saxophonist Willie Akins, at 8:30 p.m. Saturday. The Jazz Disciples are in charge of the Monday jam at 7 p.m.
The Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd., has organist Everette DeVan at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, followed by the group B Vibe at 9 p.m.; pianist Tim Whitmer at 5:30 p.m. Friday, followed by organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m.; pianist Eddie Moore and his Outer Circle band at 6 p.m. Saturday, followed by organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 10 p.m.; DeVan’s quartet at 4 p.m. Sunday, followed by the Foundation 627 Big Band at 8 p.m.; bassist Karl McComas-Reichl’s group at 8 p.m. Monday; DeVan at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, followed by drummer Todd Strait’s trio at 9 p.m.; and OJT again at 9 p.m. Wednesday.
Highlights at the Broadway Jazz Club, 3609 Broadway, include happy hour with singer and pianist Candace Evans at 4:30 p.m. Friday, followed by singer Kelley Gant at 7 p.m.; singer Shay Estes at 7 p.m. Saturday; brunch with pianist Mark Lowrey and his trio at 11 a.m. Sunday; and singer Millie Edwards at 6 p.m. Wednesday.
Take Five Coffee + Bar, 5336 W. 151st St. in Leawood, has Miguel “Mambo” DeLeon and Carte Blanc at 8 p.m. Friday and a sort-of reunion of the Westport Art Ensemble at 8 p.m. Saturday, this one with the original rhythm section, bassist Gerald Spaits, pianist Roger Wilder and drummer Todd Strait, plus the second sax player to join the band, Dave Chael.
Drummer Sam Johnson Jr., once a big contributor to our hometown scene, is ill and using a wheelchair. So next week, singer Millie Edwards turns her regular appearance at the Phoenix, 302 W. Eighth St., into a benefit for Johnson. It’s at 7 p.m. Monday; a $10 donation is suggested.