Find Your Charlie
August 28, 2012
When I was 17 years old my best friend snuck me into my first jazz club, and that was all it took. Not exactly love at first sight – more like at first sound, but it was love just the same. With the choice to love jazz came another to spurn the more en vogue selections of the day. At that, I was officially a weird teenager. Okay, maybe there may have been some inherent strangeness prior to that, but jazz over grunge did not help me blend.
That particular night I had heard Bram Wijnands play his brand of swing-style jazz at the Majestic, one of our more seasoned musical hold-overs from the Paris of the Plains days. For me, the music was perfectly out of place. It would have fit in – played via Victrola – in another time, and that made it even better. It had the same ability to transport me just as easily as any great book does.
Like any teen would, I assumed I had discovered this new musical world and was shocked to find out others knew Kansas City for jazz and not just for the American Royal BBQ.
For the longest time my musical peers would start their stories to me with, "When I was your age…" Lately, I find I am the one reminiscing. I was first attracted to local Kansas City Jazz, before leaping into a broader love for Big Band Swing, but eventually I settled down with Bebop. When I found Bebop, I found Charlie.
Like me, Charlie "Yardbird" Parker was born in Kansas City. August 29th would have marked his 92nd birthday if he had not died much too young from sad circumstances. In fact, he did not see his 35th birthday – a truth that makes me grimace a little less at the promise of my own. Parker was a saxophonist by fame, but he was a lover all instruments that could be called upon to yield his iconic Bebop sound. He (again like me) loved what a piano could do for a dance floor.
So, for his immense talents and our paltry similarities, I remember his birthday each year. I like to celebrate with a fitting evenings' entertainment, but if you’ve ever tried to narrow down the Kansas City offerings, you know it’s no small task.
The affection I feel for this music has never waned, so I have developed a long list of area performers to follow. I’ve been a jazz devotee for 16 years, and I consider it a major point of pride to know so many local artists. Sixteen years later and Bram is still swinging at the Majestic. Mark Montgomery is still grooving at the Phoenix alongside the Dan Doran Band, the Lonnie McFadden Trio, and Tim Whitmer and the KC Express. For every standing favorite, I believe there is always a new talent to find and adore.
My most recent acquisition is the Grand Marquis. Complete with zoot suits, this brass-backed ensemble group and their Kansas City-themed anthems like "Paseo Street Strut," are always in my CD player.
Curious about our music scene? Oh, you should be. If you aren’t ready to run to the corner dive on a whim, I can recommend a very good website to help get you started in your musical pilgrimage. The Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors have a calendar up on their site.
If your curiosity moves beyond that, MCPL has a list of great books detailing our musical heritage. I like, Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop: a History.
If you find your courage and your way to one of our many clubs or festivals, all that’s left is the libation of your choosing and a chair in the back. It’s one of the best parts of our shared history and always worth the trip.