Kansas City Jazz
Kansas City has to be the heart of musical Missouri -- you find live jazz seven nights a week, and often in the afternoons as well. It's in its history and flows through its heart. And for one magical evening, it was my city, and my music.
We started the evening at the Fairmont Plaza, which is now the Intercontinental Kansas City at the Plaza, located along the banks of Brush Creek in the charming Plaza area. With live jazz seven nights a week, any time is a good time to stop by the Oak Bar, but on weekends when Joe Cartwright (pianist) and his friends play in its wood paneled plushy chaired elegance you just sit back, enjoy a drink and lose yourself in their polished music.
Next, it was dinner at Jardine's, a genuine supper club with good food, reasonable prices, and a changing roster of jazz singers including the beloved Ida McBeth. On the Saturday evening of my visit, Ida was there, belting out songs with a smooth and powerful voice that somehow manages to caress the music, not merely sing it. Old favorites like I Get Misty, Just the Way You Look Tonight and, of course, Going to Kansas City. Her eclectic style include ballads, jazz and blues, show tunes, gospel and old favorites.
The Majestic Steakhouse is in a historic building, originally a saloon and bordello built in 1911 and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The entrance level is a large bar and restaurant with barely a note being played. But go down stairs into the long, narrow lower level and it's filled with the music. On weekends it's often the lively swing jazz of pianist Bram Wijnands. Take a moment to watch his hands roving over the keys in a style known as stride.
Mama Ray & Friends were jamming and enjoying at Phoenix Piano Bar and Grill, and the crowd was loving it. Their joint-rocking music, played with obvious gusto invited us to enjoy it with them in a kind of sing-a-long R&B/jazz session. And I never forgo the chance to blend my off-key singing with a roomful of enthusiastic listener/singers. The place has a real neighborhood feel with people sitting around the piano bar. Mama Ray & Friends is one of the regular groups that appear. It's owned by Tim Whitmer who has his own jazz band, the KC Express. The energy, good vibes and great music made this my favorite place.
This final stop was The Blue Room, named in honor of one of the hottest nightspots during the heyday of the 18th and Vine District. Part 1930s style jazz club it's open four nights a week with a changing lineup of music. But it's also part of the American Jazz Museum with artifacts and memorabilia including a wall of fame with the images of those local musicians that made the Kansas City style. It's a must-visit part of the 18th and Vine Street Historic District, where jazz greats such as Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Big Joe Turner, and hundreds of others defined the sounds in the 1920s through 1940s.
Whether you want to put together your own evening of jazz, or would enjoy an organized jazz tour, the best place for information is JAM: Jazz Ambassadors Magazine or their Jazz Hotline (816-753-JASS/5277). This nonprofit group grew out of the first and only city government jazz commission to preserve the city's jazz history and to revive the local music scene. The KC Jazz Ambassadors, Inc. was organized in the fall of 1984 and since then has provided not only information on where to enjoy jazz in KC, but has helped keep the music scene vibrant, and aided musicians in need.