Kansas City Youth Jazz Band and Leon Brady

December 22, 2008

Leon Brady’s Kansas City Youth Jazz Band

Walking into the Kansas City Youth Jazz Band studios on a Satruday morning, th eactivity is surprising, the energy level awfully hgih for a Saturday morning, Leon Brady is in the main room, rehearsing a group of middle schoolers.  Brady has the quiet presence, and is able to get a desired result with a glance or a glare.  Read more

Mary Lou Williams (Mary Elfrieda Scruggs) Quotes

July 15, 2008

 Mary Lou Williams (Mary Elfrieda Scruggs) Quotes

One way and another I was having a ball – playing gigs, jamming and listening to fine musicians. Then came a crisis at home. My stepfather fell sick, and it meant I had to support the family.

He explained how ridiculous the clowning was, and there and then I decided to settle down and play seriously.

Within a few hours I had them off, was about ready to play the shows. That night I opened, and during the week Harris was over to the house to talk my mother into letting me leave home.

I have been tied up with music for about as long as I can remember. By the time I was four I was picking out little tunes my mother played on the reed organ in the living-room.

Now it happened he was known as a professional gambler, and he sometimes took me with him at nights – to bring him luck, he said.

Offers for me to play dances, society parties, even churches, were now coming in regularly. For most dates I was paid the sum of one dollar per hour, and they always tipped me at the end of the night.

Quite a few musicians came to our house. And my ma took me to hear many more, hoping to encourage in me a love of music. But she wouldn’t consent to my having music lessons, for she feared I might end up as she had done – unable to play except from paper.

When Seymour saw me seated at the piano at that first rehearsal, he shouted: ‘What’s that kid doing here? Call your piano player and let’s get started.’

Mary Lou Williams the Left Handed Piano Player Dominates Kansas City Jazz

July 15, 2008

Mary Lou WilliamsMary Elfrieda Scruggs was born on May 8, 1910.  After arriving in Kansas City, she met and married John Williams, a skilled saxophone and clarinet player.  Her reputation Read more

Jay “Hootie” McShann Jazz Pianist Who Helped Create Kansas City’s Sound

July 15, 2008

jay-mcshann.jpgJay McShann, born in Muskogee, Oklahoma, on January 12, 1916, was a veteran pianist closely identified with the Kansas City sound of jazz and blues.  He relocated to Kansas City in 1936 and organized his first big band by 1939, the Jay McShann Orchestra.  He was rediscovered in 1969 and began touring regionally and nationally.  As an elder statesman of jazz, McShann maintained a vibrant career for more than 70 years.  He died on December 7, 2006.

Jay “Hootie” McShann played with fellow pianist and bandleader Count Basie who together  established what came to be known as the Kansas City sound: blues rooted jazz driven by swinging horns laid over a powerful but relaxed rhythmic pulse.

One of the piano men he heard and would be influenced by was Earl “Fatha” Hines whose live broadcasts from Chicago’s Grand Terrace Hotel he would listen to. By 15, he was working with saxophonist Don Byas and other groups across the Southwest.

While traveling to Omaha in 1936, his bus stopped for two hours in Kansas City. McShann walked into a club, heard the music and never left. Within two days, he found work. He absorbed the energetic, blues-drenched style of Pete Johnson and other boogie-woogie masters, and in a city filled with now legendary musicians McShann established himself as a leading pianist and bandleader.

In 1937, he heard saxophonist Charlie Parker playing in a way that he had never heard.  Charlie was 17 years old at the time. 

Traveling to New York’s Savoy Ballroom in February of 1942 they did a stellar performance that was broadcast live, gaining them a huge audience in the process. Just as they seemed poised to take its place among the Swing era’s elite, WWII and the Petrillo Recording Ban put an end to the group’s rise to the top. As all commercial recording was to come to a halt in August of 1942 the Jay McShann big band made its last recordings on July 2nd. McShann himself was drafted in 1943 and served in the Army during part of World War II. After being discharged he settled in Los Angeles, where he started working with singer Jimmy Witherspoon. Between 1945 and 1950 they found success with a string of R&B flavored recordings like “Money’s Getting’ Cheaper”, “Shipyard Woman Blues”, and the huge hit in ’49 “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”. Sometime in 1950, McShann returned to Kansas City, where he owned a trash-hauling business and limousine service for a few years. Although out of the limelight he never strayed far from music. In December of 1957 he teamed once again with Witherspoon on a date for RCA Victor, after which he spent many years in relative obscurity.

His career picked up momentum once again following a successful European tour in 1969, and for the rest of his life Jay McShann either working solo or leading ensembles of various sizes, handling the vocals himself, performed and recorded frequently, both in the United States and overseas.There was a constant period of production that went from the ’70’s ’80’s ’90’s and amazingly into this century. His records sold very well, and he garnered fame and fortune with a new market of younger listeners.

In 1996 he teamed up with guitarist/producer Duke Robillard for “Hootie’s Jumpin’ Blues” following this with another great record in 1999, “Still Jumpin’ the Blues”, featuring Robillard and Maria Muldaur. They are both on the Stony Plain label.

He appears in “The Last of the Blue Devils,” a 1980 film about Kansas City jazz.  He was featured in a documentary about his life in 1978 and his 2003 recording, “Goin’ to Kansas City,” was nominated for a Grammy Award. He appeared in Ken Burns’s 10-part jazz series in 2000 and in a 2003 documentary on the blues directed by Clint Eastwood.

Jay McShann will always be identified with that swinging Kansas City jump blues sound he helped to define. He was fortunate in having had the health, fortitude, and longevity to have enjoyed the benefits reaped after a life long dedication to music. Jay McShann died Dec. 7, 2006 in Kansas City at the age of 90. 

Jay “Hootie” McShann left a mark in Kansas City as a memorable pianist and formed the Kansas City jazz and blues sound.

Kansas City’s Blue Room Makes You Relive History and Experience History at the Same Time

July 14, 2008

The Blue Room on 18th and VineThe Blue Room captures the spirit of Kansas City.  Jazz is apart of Kansas City’s history.  But places like the Blue Room help you experience the history and make history at the same time.  The Blue Room is apart of the American Jazz Museum and located on 18th and Vine. 

Although I have lived in Missouri and Kansas most of my life, it wasn’t until moving to Kansas City that I just saw how deep jazz runs through the veins of Kansas City and her citizens.  Jazz is the blood of Kansas City.  I know this because I was attended the annual Black Chamber of Commerce ball held in the Fall of 2006.  The Who’s Who of Black Kansas City was there.  I sat in awe at the hundreds of Black and successful business people.  They didn’t even know how special they were, to me, a child of smaller communities who had never seen a Black judge, Black lawyer, Black gas station owner, Black Marketing firm owner, Black newspaper publisher, etc.

A jazz song played while we were waiting for everyone to be seated.  And everyone’s heads started bobbing and I saw the beautiful women and their men wearing tuxes.  Mentally, it took me back to a time when it was not uncommon for black men and black women to dress this way and attend such events.  I knew right then I was reliving history and I was apart of history at the same time. 

I soon visited the Blue Room for a night out.  I went alone heading down to 18th and Vine.  I parked nearby on a side street and walked towards the Blue Room.  Speakers are outside, so you can hear the piano playing as you approach.  In fact, you could mosey on down the street and window peak into the businesses and still hear the sultry jazz music. 

But I went in and was surprised by the atmosphere.  Classy men and women, black, white, asian, hispanic sat inside.  They looked, I nodded and took my seat at the bar.  This is my kind of place.  Non somking and relaxing.  You can’t go wrong with the Blue Room.

The Blue Room in Kansas City, Missouri
The Blue Room is located at 1600 E. 18th Street, Kansas City, MO. Phone number: 816.474.2929.
Part of the AMerican Jazz Museum by day, the Blue Room transforms into a working jazz club at night. Top local and national musicians take the stage four nights a week in this nonsmoking venue.

Count Basie Quotes

January 20, 2008

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Count Basie

“I was always willing to say, “Let’s see what happens,” when something came up that looked like it might help me get a little closer to where I wanted to be . . .”

Count Basie 

“I decided that I would be one of the biggest new names; and I actually had some little fancy business cards printed up to announce it, “Count Basie. Beware, the Count is Here.”” Count Basie 

“Contrary to several conflicting stories, I got the name “Count” right in Kansas City in 1936 while at the Reno Club. I was known as Bill Basie at that time. One night, while we were broadcasting, the announcer called me to the microphone for those usual few words of introduction. He commented that Bill Basie was a rather ordinary name, and further that there were a couple of well-known bandleaders named Earl Hines and Duke Ellington. Then he said, `Bill, I think I’ll call you Count Basie from now on. Is that all right with you?’ I thought he was kidding, shrugged my shoulders and replied, `OK.'” Count Basie 

“Of course, there are a lot of ways you can treat the blues, but it will still be the blues.” Count Basie  

“Well, if you find a note tonight that sounds good, play the same damn note every night!” Count Basie 

“I, of course, wanted to play real jazz. When we played pop tunes, and naturally we had to, I wanted those pops to kick! Not loud and fast, understand, but smoothly and with a definite punch.” Count Basie 

“If you play a tune and a person don’t tap their feet, don’t play the tune.” Count Basie “It’s the way you play that makes it . . . Play like you play. Play like you think, and then you got it, if you’re going to get it. And whatever you get, that’s you, so that’s your story.” Count Basie

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