‘Hey Kansas City!’ live jazz delights crowd at KCI Airport

Southwest Airlines Flight No. 5581 arrived right on schedule Friday to deliver its unwitting passengers to a new blast of Kansas City pride in Kansas City International Airport’s Terminal B.

A piercing high trumpet brought the arrivals from Austin, Texas, to a stop there at their baggage claim.

With a full jazz band behind him, the trumpeter snatched up a microphone, and sang:

“Hey Kansas City! Kansas City here I come…”

These onlookers got to be the first audience watching a new partnership between the airport and the Kansas City Jazz Museum that intends to show just how entertaining Kansas City can be.

If this was a test audience, this is what the Kansas City Jazz Museum’s executive director, Cheptoo Kositany-Buckner, wanted to see.

The crowd gathered around in a wide swath, many raising their cellphones to video the show.

“Kansas City’s jazz is the most authentic,” Kositany-Buckner said. “It’s so important to showcase it … so when people talk about Kansas City, they’ll say, ‘They have it going over there.’ 

For this kickoff event, the museum and the airport went all-out, bringing together a full Blue Room All-Stars band with the McFadden Brothers at the front.

The plan is to put live musicians on stage at the baggage claim in Terminal B in the afternoons on heavy traffic days — Sundays, Mondays and Fridays — to get visitors’ Kansas City experience off to a melodious start and inspire more to try out out the city’s historic 18th and Vine District.

These were Austin travelers — hailing from the Texas city that calls itself the concert capital of the world — so this was a tough crowd.

“I think it’s wonderful,” Austin native Kerry Hall shouted over the music. She had just recorded some of the show, and, she said, “I just texted (her Kansas City hosts), ‘Look what a welcome we got at the KC airport!’ 

Austin has live music at its airport, she said. And many of the supporters of the new Kansas City shows are aware of that, as well as the live music played in airports in Nashville, Tenn.; New Orleans; Charlotte, N.C. …

U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, on hand for the show, said it was when he came upon live jazz at a Washington, D.C., airport a year ago that he knew Kansas City had to get in the game.

He said he was thinking, “You people don’t have the right to welcome me with jazz! This (here in Kansas City) is the only place where it is legitimate. This is ours!

The crowd lingered, rapt as Lonnie McFadden and his trumpet gave way to Ronnie McFadden and his saxophone, then Jason Goudeau on trombone, Gerald Dunn on alto sax, and then Amber Underwood on flute — tossing jazz back and forth the way Third District City Councilman Jermaine Reed said only Kansas City can.

“It’s long overdue,” Reed said. “This is the start of something big. Wherever you go, from the skyways of KCI to every corner of the city, jazz in Kansas City is alive and well.”

Upcoming performers will include the Angela Ward Trio, the Charles Williams Trio, John Paul Drum, Stan Kessler, Everett Freeman, Eddie Moore and Kenny Glover.

They will be performing at those peak hours at a point in the airport where between 1,500 to 1,700 people will pass through, said Justin Meyer, the deputy director of the Kansas City Aviation Department.

The baggage claim area is the perfect location, because people aren’t rushed and they tend to linger, he said.

The shows are scheduled through April, and the plan is to carry it on beyond that, Kositany-Buckner said. The museum is pursuing grants and seeking other support to help with this expansion of the kind of live music the museum already brings to venues like the Blue Room and the Gem Theater.

The shows mean not only to entice visitors but build pride in Kansas City natives, she said.

Kansas City stands as one of the four pillars of jazz — with New York, Chicago and New Orleans — creating “a true American art form,” she said.

And of those pillars, she said, Kansas City was known for swing and stunning improvisation and Charlie “Bird” Parker and Count Basie.

Here, now, it is the McFadden Brothers, after a long set of jazz, showing off in a tap-dancing play-off in the midst of a Gershwin “I Got Rhythm” extravaganza, Lonnie tapping, then Ronnie, then Lonnie again, and so on, until Lonnie told the audience, “that’s it.”

Then one last time at the mic, singing, “…Who could ask for anything more.”