The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of one of America’s most treasured musical traditions.
Those who are interested in being immersed in jazz’s roots, craftsmanship and history should consider attending the orchestra’s upcoming “Cotton Club Revisited!” Harlem Renaissance retrospective on October 11 at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
The concert is a tribute to Black American Music and the great artists who emerged from the iconic Cotton Club, including Duke Ellington, Lena Horne and Cab Calloway. Legendary saxophonist and composer Benny Golson will join the orchestra for the show.
The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra was founded in 2003 and continues to enthrall audiences with its musicianship and dedication to preserving jazz history. The musicians are led by artistic director Clint Ashlock, a graduate of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Ashlock says the idea for the Harlem Renaissance concert came to him a few years ago, when the orchestra performed music from the legendary Cotton Club.
“That show was very well received,” he says, “So our board wanted to recreate that.”
The October 11 concert will kick off the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra’s 2019-2020 season, which also features a holiday music concert, a gospel show and a tribute to music from Central and South America. The season aims to entertain and inspire Kansas City music lovers.
“We really need to do something more than putting on four concerts a season and be (more than) a band that just plays music,” Ashlock says. “We really want to mature a bit.”
Golson will present four of his original compositions at “Cotton Club Revisited!”
“We have a 90-year old legend in Benny Golson for what may be the last time he will be in Kansas City,” Ashlock says. “He’s still out there gettin’ it. There are no figures larger in jazz today than people like Benny.”
Even though the once whites-only Cotton Club represented a stain on race relations in the history of America, it produced musicians like Ellington, who stayed true to the craft and offered hope to his generation.
“Duke made music that was intimately his,” Ashlock says. “His art emerged out of oppression. As an artist from any time period, it is our duty to make sure that the story is not forgotten.”
This performance continues the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra’s long tradition of telling an important story while highlighting a group of cats that are seasoned and always ready to play.
“It’s Kansas City’s preeminent big band performing classic music that was written by Ellington with brand new arrangements, which is what we always do,” Ashlock says. “We have a cohesive story to present. There’s an arc from the beginning of the concert to the very end.”
The presentation of this vibrant era of Harlem Renaissance jazz on the beautiful stage of the Kauffman Center in Kansas City presents many parallels. Both Harlem and Kansas City had social heydays fueled by jazz music that continues to inspire generations of musicians and fans.
Ashlock and his seasoned ensemble represent the best of what is going on in the Kansas City jazz scene — and proof that the tradition is alive and well.
And as the crowds who flocked to Kansas City’s 18th and Vine during jazz’s heyday proved, the music is best experienced in a live setting.
“The musicianship and the quality control is as high as it gets,” Ashlock says. “This show from the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra is a show that you will not get anywhere else. It’s very uniquely us and Kansas City — and then Benny Golson on top of that.”