Kansas City Highlights: Jazz and Blues

March 16, 2010

By Jenny Holm

JazzThis post is the second in a series exploring all that Kansas City, Missouri (the location of NAFSA’s 2010 Annual Conference & Expo) has to offer. Thanks to Michael Hernandez of Park University and the 2010 Local Arrangements Team for this contribution. Add your own Kansas City live music recommendations and club reviews as comments!

"While New Orleans was the birthplace of jazz, America's music grew up in Kansas City."

As this quote from a popular Kansas City tourism Web site attests, the city and its musicians played a major role in the development of this uniquely American musical form. Jazz and its close relative, the blues, remain central to Kansas City's identity today.

Kansas City's own style of jazz developed during the 1930s and marked the transition from the structured big band style to the improvisational style of bebop. This hard-swinging, bluesy transition style was bracketed by Count Basie, who in 1929 signed with the Bennie Moten's Kansas City Orchestra, and Kansas City native Charlie Parker, who ushered in the bebop style in the 1940s. The city's jazz clubs were concentrated in the 18th and Vine neighborhood, the cultural center of the area's African-American community. The American Jazz Museum opened in this district in 1997 with a mission of celebrating Kansas City's jazz heritage.

(Enjoy a catered reception and tour of American Jazz Museum and the adjacent Negro Leagues Baseball Museum on Wednesday, June 2. Learn more and register at www.nafsa.org/ac10cultural.)

Venues to hear live jazz within walking distance or a short cab ride away from the Kansas City Convention Center include The Phoenix Jazz Club, The Majestic Steakhouse, Jardine’s Restaurant and Jazz Club, and The Blue Room (adjacent to the American Jazz Museum). Click on this link for more options: http://www.jazzkc.org/clubs.html.

Although Kansas City is known primarily for its distinctive jazz style, the city has also played an important role in the history and perseverance of the blues. Kansas City entered into blues history in the1940s when local musicians Pete Johnson and Big Joe Turner were recording a style of music called jump blues, which later provided the foundation for rhythm and blues and, eventually, rock and roll. Jazz legend Charlie Parker dabbled in the blues in the late 1940s with his release of "Now's the Time," a bebop number that incorporated the familiar blues pentatonic scale and blue notes.

The Kansas City blues scene produced notable artists Jay McShann, Sonny Kenner, Little Hatch, and Cotton Candy, and the blues was very popular in small nightclubs and after-hours jam sessions.

Blues clubs within a short cab ride from the Kansas City Convention Center and NAFSA hotels include Knuckleheads Roadhouse, B.B.’s Lawnside BBQ, and Crosstown Station. Click on this link for more options: http://www.kcbluessociety.com/blues_clubs.html.

If you’ve been to one of these venues or have your own recommendations to share, leave a comment and let your fellow NAFSAns know your opinion.


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