Music News & Reviews

Jazz Town: Charlie Parker Celebration honors hometown innovator

The annual Charlie Parker Celebration pays tribute to the pioneering alto sax player with events starting Aug. 18 and running through Aug. 27.
The annual Charlie Parker Celebration pays tribute to the pioneering alto sax player with events starting Aug. 18 and running through Aug. 27. File photo

He wasn’t the kind of hero Kansas City might have wanted. But he’s the hero that Kansas City produced.

Few, if any, from this town have changed anything in the world as profoundly as Charlie Parker changed music. The alto saxophonist discovered new harmonic and rhythmic pathways for jazz, and six decades after his death, none of those pathways seems to be exhausted yet. Other innovators have come along, but every one of them would tell you what they’ve done isn’t possible without Parker, the one we call Bird.

The 96th anniversary of his birth is approaching on Aug. 29, and Kansas City’s embrace of Parker and his legacy remains cautious. But that has been changing the last few years, helped in part by an annual Charlie Parker Celebration, which the group KC Jazz Alive is bringing back for a third time starting Thursday and stretching through Aug. 27.

The celebration includes historical tours, education events and above all, plenty of music. A new element this year is a Tour de Jazz bike ride exploring important sites in Kansas City jazz past and present. There’s even a small-scale theatrical production about Parker.

We’ll take it day by day:

▪ Thursday brings an opening-night reception in the American Jazz Museum’s atrium from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Performer and educator Ron McCurdy will speak on Parker’s life and legacy.

▪ Saturday brings “The Art of the Jam Session,” led by brilliant tenor saxophonist Tivon Pennicott, the festival’s artist-in-residence, whose playing shows the Parker bebop heritage more explicitly than the playing of most present-day instrumentalists. This session, from 9 a.m. to noon in the jazz museum’s atrium, is open to students of all ages.

Saturday also features the Tour de Jazz, a bike ride with elements of music history and African-American history, starting in the 18th and Vine district. The 50-mile ride starts at 3 p.m., the 30-mile ride at 4 p.m. and the 10-mile ride at 5 p.m. It’s $40 to register in advance at, $45 to register at the event.

And the Bird-related events get even better next week. We’ll tell you more then.

Rest assured that every other event listed in this column, even if it isn’t officially part of the Charlie Parker Celebration, could also fairly be described as Bird-related.


▪ It’s time for another live performance-recording session for the “12th Street Jump” radio show, this one featuring saxophonist Todd Wilkinson and music associated with the biggest sax innovator of the 1930s, Lester Young. It’s at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Green Lady Lounge, 1809 Grand Blvd.

▪ The Blue Room, 1600 E. 18th St., has drummer Brian Steever running the Monday jam at 7 p.m. Trumpeter xJ-Will, whom you might know as Joshua Williams from the band Shades of Jade, appears at 7 p.m. Thursday. Pianist Phil DeGreg, a former Kansas Citian who’s now at the center of the music scene in his native Cincinnati, brings a quintet at 8:30 p.m. Friday. Singer Ida McBeth performs at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

▪ The Green Lady Lounge also has singer Eboni Fondren at 6 p.m. Sunday, followed by pianist Andrew Ouellette’s trio at 9:30 p.m.; trumpeter Ryan Thielman’s quartet at 6 p.m. Monday, followed by drummer Todd Strait’s trio at 10:30 p.m.; the band Dojo at 7 p.m. Tuesday, followed by the Sequel Quartet at 10:30 p.m.; organist Ken Lovern’s OJT at 9 p.m. Wednesday; guitarist Matt Hopper’s trio at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, followed by drummer Kevin Frazee’s trio at 9 p.m.; pianist Tim Whitmer’s quartet at 5:30 p.m. Friday, followed by the band Heat Index at 8:30 p.m. and organist Chris Hazelton’s Boogaloo 7 at 10 p.m.; and OJT again at 6 p.m. Saturday, followed by Strait leading a quartet at 9 p.m.

▪ The Art Factory, at 5621 W. 135th St., Suite 2630, in Overland Park’s Prairiefire development, has the Sons of Brasil at 8:30 p.m. Saturday.

Joe Klopus, 816-234-4751