A Black Friday blowout

(Above: Jazz pianist Mark Lowrey teamed up with local musicians for the second installment of the Mark Lowrey vs. Hip Hop series.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Mark Lowrey sits behind a grand piano, contemplating using a Thelonious Monk number as an introduction to the rapper Common’s song “Thelonious.” As his fingers coax a signature Monk melody from the keys, bass player Dominique Sanders and drummer Ryan Lee nod in approval.

“I thought it was really obvious at first,” Lowrey admits. “But sometimes obvious is good.”

Two days before Thanksgiving, Lowrey and his rhythm section are sorting through ideas, sketching a musical landscape. They are joined by singer Schelli Tolliver and MCs Les Izmore and Reach. The final vision – a bridging of jazz and hip hop, structured and improvised – will be displayed tonight at Crosstown Station. The Black Friday ensemble takes the stage at 10 p.m. Cover is $10.

“We’ll be doing a mix of originals and covers,” says trumpet player Hermon Mehari, who will also be participating. “We’re playing tribute to some of the great hip hop artists of our time like Talib Kweli, A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla. Additionally, Reach and Les will both do some originals.”

After a few trials, the Monk number “I Mean You” has been successfully married to “Thelonious.” On “The Light,” another Common song, the band suddenly drops into Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature” right after the lyric “It’s kinda fresh you listen to more than hip hop.”

KC MCs Les Izmore (left) and Reach salute Charlie Parker inside the Mutual Musicians Foundation.

“When Les and Diverse played this (‘The Light’) earlier this year they did ‘Unforgettable’ in that spot,” Lowrey says. “Everybody liked that, but we didn’t want to use the same thing. We were tossing out ideas, and someone suggested Michael Jackson.”

That same process informed the playlist. Everyone presented the songs they wanted to do, and the set was culled from what worked and how the band’s reactions. When Reach takes the mic for Notorious B.I.G.’s “Big Poppa” he intersperses short bursts of freestyle around the original lyrics. A later run through of Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got” reveals an energy only hinted at on the Top 10 single. As Reach commands the imaginary crowd to wave their arms, Lee goes berserk on his drum kit.

“These shows have a different energy than Hearts of Darkness,” Izmore says of the local Afrobeat group he fronts. “With those shows you’re always trying to keep people dancing and keep the energy high. Here you can chill out and listen.”

Rehearsals will soon move to Crosstown Station, but for tonight the Mutual Musicians Foundation is home. The hallowed hall on Highland, home to Hootie and Bird, Count Basie and Big Joe Turner. The spirit of innovation those musicians introduced to the world via Kansas City is very much on display in the current sextet. Some may scoff that jazz and hip hop may seem to exist on disparate planets, but their orbits collide surprisingly often.

“I grew up on jazz, John Coltrane, Stan Getz, Ella Fitzgerald,” Reach says. “She (Ella) very much influenced my delivery and the way I play with cadences.”

Lowrey first toyed with combining rap and hip hop when he invited local MC Kartoon to sit in with his group a couple years ago. Both artists enjoyed the experience and Kartoon put Lowrey in touch with other vocalists in the KC hip hop scene.

“Hip hop has always been influenced by jazz,” Reach says. “Now, because the younger jazz musicians have grown up with hip hop, we are seeing it influence jazz. It’s kind of come full circle.”

In the past year, Lowrey has hosted several Mark Lowrey vs. Hip Hop concerts. The shows are basic, but explosive. Lowrey and drummer Brandon Draper create free jazz textures, as MCs and musicians alike improvise over the ever-changing structure.

“Our arrangements for this show are based in the tradition of jazz where you play the melody, then improvise over the chords before coming back to the head (melody),” Lowrey says. “The only difference is that we’re adding MCs in the mix with the horns.”

At another jazz/hip hop mash-up last February, Izmore and Diverse, a local jazz quartet that includes Mehari and Lee, celebrated the 10th anniversary of Common’s album “Like Water For Chocolate” by rearranging and performing the record in its entirety. The night ended with an encore of the Charlie Parker song “Diverse.”

“I’ve never seen a crowd of non-jazz fans so into the music,” Mehari says. “It’s the perfect example of what we want to do. Bring people in with hip hop and music they want to hear, then take them on a journey to new sounds. Once we’ve earned their trust, they’ll follow us anywhere.”

Keep reading:

KC’s MCs throw down this weekend

Jazz, hip hop collide to celebrate landmark album

Open wide for Mouth

Fourth of July – “Before Our Hearts Explode”

 (Above:  The video for “Self Sabotage” off the Lawrence band Fourth of July’s sophomore album.)

By Joel Francis
Ink magazine

Fourth of July  singer Brendan Hangauer appears on the cover of the Lawrence-based, indie quintet’s sophomore album seated next to a pretty blonde. Although she’s looking at him and leaning in, his arms are crossed and eyes stare straight ahead. The pair may be close in proximity, but they seem miles apart emotionally.

This is often how it goes in the closing stages of a relationship, when the pair faces loneliness and, of course, vast tracts of time to flip the whole scenario over and endlessly analyze.

These are the times that Hangauer, his brothers Patrick and Kelly, and Brian and Brendan Costello — another pair of siblings — relive on Before Our Hearts Explode. Breaking up, as the saying goes, may be hard to do, but it has rarely sounded like this much fun.

The album opens with “Friend of a Friend,” the story of an ex-girlfriend’s rebound lover. Driven by acoustic guitar and organ and powered by a nimble  electric guitar, it’s too bouncy to be bitter. The track sets the template for the next 40 minutes: an intimate survey of love’s rubble,  via jangly guitars and slacker vocals. It’s Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks filtered through Camper Van Beethoven.

It’s also a ruse, albeit an effective one. Hangauer is broken and hurt but refuses to let his guard down. For every telling lyric such as “Don’t be so sure of things/not even wedding rings” or “you know you ruined us/when you slept with that little slut” there are a plethora of la-la-la or ooh-ooh-ooh choruses to mask the betrayal.

The facade breaks in only a couple places. “Song for Meghan,” the first ballad, arrives midway through the record. Hangauer’s unvarnished craving for an absent love resonates in Adrianne Verhoeven’s lovely vocal countermelody.

This is followed by “Moving On,” a song as caustic and cynical as anything by Elvis Costello. It also has a sweet undercurrent as Hangauer recalls brighter days. The same trumpet that amplified Hangauer’s longing on “Song for Meghan” now cuts through the track like a ray of sunlight forcing its way into a dark room through a crack in the shades.

Before Our Hearts Explode succeeds at having it both ways — a breakup record that provides the perfect accompaniment for playing Frisbee. Like all relationships it is never black and white. The good times are tucked alongside the most painful.

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Review: Alejandro Escovedo

(Above: Alejandro Escovedo and his Sensitive Boys revisit “Chelsea Hotel ’78” at the Record Bar on August 28, 2010.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Before playing a note, Alejandro Escovedo apologized for letting five years elapse since their last show in Kansas City. That show featured Escovedo’s True Believers band mate Jon Dee Graham, a string quartet and ended with Mott the Hoople covers around two a.m.

Saturday’s sold-out show at the Record Bar was a little more restrained in contrast, but no less potent. The strings were gone, and Graham was replaced by other True Believer, drummer Hector Munoz. He was part of a lean, four-piece band that knew how to wring maximum emotion from Escovedo’s songs. The 90-minute  show also ended at a more respectable time – just 30 minutes into the next day – with a Rolling Stones cover.

Escovedo’s songwriting holds more facets than a jewel, encompassing classical, country, Mexican, punk and classic rock. He displayed several of those sides, especially on the gorgeous instrumental “Fort Worth Blues” and the south of the border flavored “Rosalie.” Mostly, though, the quartet modulated between two modes – full-throttle rock and poignant acoustic ballads. Songs like “This Bed Is Getting Crowded” and “Tender Heart” were too mature to be straight-up punk, but they weren’t far off. It was invigorating to watch the 49-year-old songwriter rip into his material with such raw passion.

Ten years ago, Escovedo played a benefit show at the City Market for Jim Strahm. A big influence on the Kansas City music scene, Strahm sold a lot of musicians their first instrument, booked them their first gigs or joined them onstage. Sadly, Strahm did not survive his bout with cancer – Saturday would have been his 50th birthday. Fittingly, Escovedo dedicated the show to his friend, which added extra juice to the opening song, “Always a Friend.”

While the electric numbers were delivered with a fury that barely allowed anyone, band or audience, to catch their breath, the ballads were given ample space to breath. An incredible reading of “Sister Lost Soul” was delivered at half its album tempo and felt almost like a prayer. It was followed by “Down in the Bowery” and a story about Escovedo’s 18-year-old son who once called his father’s music “old music for old people.” Built on the generations’ shared love of the Ramones, it included the line “I hope you live long enough to forget half the stuff that they taught you.”

Regardless of style or tempo, one element was consistent: the intricate, interplay between Escovedo’s rhythm guitar and David Pulkingham’s tasteful leads. Some of their best moments included the solo over the stomping bass-and-drums introduction to “Street Songs,” “Fort Worth Blue” and “Rosalie” and “Real as an Animal.”

“Castanets” was one of a handful of the night’s songs that wasn’t pulled from Escovedo’s two most recent releases. Banned from setlists for a while after Escovedo learned it was a favorite of former president George W. Bush, it had the crowd dancing and joining in on the infectious chorus of “I like it better when she walks away.”

After performing a new song, Escovedo closed the night sans guitar on a lengthy cover of “Beast of Burden.” With a trio of fans onstage providing backing vocals or percussion, Escovedo worked the crowd like, take your pick, an exuberant wedding singer or fevered rock and roll evangelist. By the end, everyone was converted.

Setlist: Always a Friend; This Bed Is Getting Crowded; Anchor; Street Songs; Tender Heart; Fort Worth Blue; Sister Lost Soul; Down in the Bowery; Rosalie; Chelsea Hotel ’78; Castanets; Real as an Animal. Encore: Sensitive Boys; Lucky Day (new song); Beast of Burden (Rolling Stones cover).

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thePhantom – “Bohemian Seduction Grooves”

By Joel Francis
Ink Magazine

“Seduction” is the key word in the thesis-length title of thePhantom’s new EP, Bohemian Seductive Grooves for the Gay Soul. But thePhantom, aka Kansas City rapper/producer Kemet Coleman, would rather have you in his head than in his bed.

The five-track release is thePhantom’s attempt to translate the urban theory he’s been soaking up as a student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City into urban beats and rhymes. Dropouts needn’t worry. The vibe is more relaxed than the last day of school, with wordplay more effortless than a third-grade spelling test.

The low-key production on opening track “Midnight Seduction” sets the mood. ThePhantom’s words are set against a wash of synthesizers perfect for that late-night comedown when the energy starts to fade but sleep is still a long way off. “Downtown,” the second cut, bumps the tempo, but the rest of the album plays like lost tracks from a chill-out compilation.

ThePhantom says his master plan is to unite Kansas City’s diverse citizenry on the dance floor, a place where both blue-collar and artisans are equally comfortable. Of course if that effort creates a gathering of eligible women, thePhantom’s fine with that, too. On “Just Right” he makes the case for romance without stooping to the crass cliches common to the genre.

On December’s Destroy and Rebuild, thePhantom had an entire album to present his titular concept. Padded with a five-minute instrumental, the EP’s 22 minutes are ample time for thePhantom to gather his bohemians and gay souls, but not long enough to keep them on the dance floor. The result feels more like an outline than the conclusion. Sadly, that’s exactly what this is. ThePhantom has announced this EP will be his final project. Even so, he leaves behind a body of work worth further study.

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Steddy P and DJ Mahf – “While You Were Sleeping”

KC’s MCs throw down this weekend

Jazz, hip hop collide to celebrate landmark album

Remembering Alaadeen

(Above: Ahmad Alaadeen plays for Charlie Parker at a 2008 graveside memorial service.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

I grew up in a musical household where classical was the genre of choice. Consequently, I was left to discover everything else on my own.

NPR was my gateway to jazz. The car my parents let me drive in high school didn’t have much that worked (including heat or air conditioning, which ensured I wouldn’t venture too far from home). The radio, however, was fine. On evening drives I switched between KCUR and KANU, both of which had long blocks of jazz into the night.

I couldn’t tell you who was playing at any given moment. If the song didn’t reach me, or the announcers started talking too much I’d hit the button for the other station. Although I didn’t know Mingus from Monk, I did know that this stuff was a heck of a lot better than hearing the same Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and Metallica songs for the millionth time on commercial rock stations.

The other jazz fact I knew all too well was that everyone I had heard of was no longer living. Like the classical music my parents enjoyed, the genre was confined to corpses, their legacies entombed with Beethoven and Armstrong.

Ahmad Alaadeen was my entry into jazz as a living art form. My sister told me a “guy who played with Billie Holliday” was having a concert in a church near Paseo and Linwood. I convinced a couple of friends to make the trek with me, and we were all blown away. I can’t remember what he played, but I know he played in a trio and the drummer had the tiniest kit I had ever seen. At most he had four pieces, but he did more with those than any of the rock drummers with mega-kits I had seen.

After that show I started paying more attention to jazz shows around town. School prevented me from attending most, but I made it a point to see who had played and check out their music from the library. I also started paying more attention to Kansas City’s role in jazz history. As I did, I realized many of the roads led back to Jay McShann (then still living) and the horn players whom he gave his first jobs: Charlie Parker and Alaadeen. (Both men also shared the same saxophone teacher, Leo Davis.)

It seems strange to say, but I had almost forgotten about that Alaadeen performance until I saw him receive the American Jazz Museum Lifetime Achievement Award last May at the Gem Theater. Clark Terry received the same award that night and, deservedly, most of the attention. Terry, however, only sang two songs and did not play. Alaadeen was right there on the front row of the orchestra, horn in his mouth, blowing several solos during the evening’s tribute to Duke Ellington.

A couple days later, Alaadeen’s neighborhood threw a celebration in his honor. I was able to convince one of my friends who saw Alaadeen with me over a decade before to join our party. As we congratulated Alaadeen on the award, I reminded my friend of that show.

Alaadeen didn’t play that night. He seemed content to sit in his lawn chair, greet fans and take in the neighborhood funk band. We had hoped he would play, but weren’t too disappointed – there would be other opportunities.

None of us could have predicted that in a little more than three months Alaadeen would be gone. Next to the frail Terry on the stage of the Gem, he seemed immortal. Shortly after that weekend he was hospitalized for nearly two weeks. News of his cancer only emerged a few weeks ago before his passing.

In hindsight, this award came at the right time. It was the final show of the 2009-2010 Jammin’ at the Gem series. Who knew he wouldn’t live to see the opening of the next season?

When Alaadeen received another award to honor his work as an educator at the neighborhood party he seemed overwhelmed by the weekend. He stood silently at the mic for a few moments, as if recording everything in his mind. Finally, he spoke.

“I’m at a loss for words,” he admitted. Then he paused. “I will never forget this.”

Me neither.

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Sho’ Nuff: Alaadeen’s blog

Clark Terry’s Last Stand

Remembering Rusty

A tour of KC’s Women in Jazz

Steddy P and DJ Mahf – “While You Were Sleeping”

By Joel Francis
Ink Magazine

Steddy P takes care of his fans. Since Steddy’s debut album in 2008, fans have never had to wait more than a few months between new offerings. This month Steddy dropped the While You Were Sleeping EP/mixtape to keep fans happy until the emergence of his next full-length album. But While You Were Sleeping is more than a stopgap release. Six new cuts show Steddy’s recent activity in the studio. But more fun is the second part of the album: 13 tracks from the back catalog, remixed by DJ Mahf.

Mahf, who oversaw Steddy’s 2009 album, Style Like Mind, clearly had a blast marrying “Kenneth Arnold” to the “Super Mario Bros.” video game soundtrack. “Miss Your Coffee Table,” one of the few odes to the fairer sex on the mixtape, incorporates both Q-Tip of A Tribe Called Quest and LL Cool J’s “I Need Love.” Other tracks pay tribute to early Kanye West, Jay-Z, DJ Shadow and the Nappy Roots. That Steddy’s original verses stand up against such recognizable backgrounds is a testament to his clever wordplay and intricate delivery.

At times Steddy’s delivery recalls that of Blackalicious’ Gift of Gab. Steddy does a good job of changing textures when necessary, and recruits great guests such as Ces Cru, Mathias and Jbomb to further vary the vocal patterns. Steddy’s best performance across the 19 tracks comes early. “BARS (Loser’s Club Remix)” is Steddy’s answer to repeated invitations to freestyle battles. After calling out so-called Midwestern rappers who quickly vacate to the coasts he revs into double time. It’s not quite Twista-fast, but impressive nonetheless.

Although they appear first, the new tracks almost seem secondary. Steddy comes strong out of the chute on “Enough” and “Bars,” but the production falters on “Steddy Persistence Pt. II,” the third cut. Each song is handled by separate producers. The tracks don’t flow together well, and the quality fluctuates.

On “No Doz” Steddy uses a violent slasher/horror film metaphor to establish his lyrical dominance. His words are threatening, but try as it might, the chintzy synthesizer loop can’t be considered sinister. A similarly vanilla loop is featured in “And It’s Like That,” which manages to include a shout-out to Steddy’s former home turf of Mizzou, to KU and even to the UMKC Roos.

The final new song, “WindOverHead,” is the most successful. The production includes hints of the ambient and industrial, as well as snippets of saxophone and opera over an understated piano melody. Steddy shines across this landscape, calling out Tech N9ne and Mac Lethal and marking his IndyGround territory.

Despite a few minor missteps, While You Were Sleeping is a nice place for longtime fans to regroup and experience Steddy’s catalog in a different light. Newcomers will find the album a handy place to catch up. Best of all, it’s free.

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Jay-Z – “The Blueprint 3″

A Shooting Star finds home with the Young Dubliners

(Above: “Nobody’s getting any money for this one.” The Young Dubliners bring a little bit of Ireland to the CBS Early Show in 2007.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

The first thing Chas Waltz does when he returns to Kansas City is check in with friends and family then head straight over to Gates BBQ for a slab of ribs. Waltz has been living in Los Angeles for nearly 20 years, but hasn’t forgotten the great tastes of his hometown.

As the violin player in Shooting Star, Waltz was part of one of the first major rock bands emerge of Kansas City. From 1977 to 1987, Shooting Star rubbed elbows with ZZ Top, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Jefferson Starship, Kansas and Journey.  They helped put the local music scene on the radar of the powerful coastal labels.

“Whenever people learned we were from Kansas City they always kind of perked up, especially people on the coasts,” Waltz said. “People knew our town from the legendary reggae group the Blue Riddim Band, who were big at the time, but we were the first rock band. It made people take notice.”

After the demise of Shooting Star in the late ‘80s, Waltz relocated to Los Angeles. His violin skills inadvertently put him at the heart of the burgeoning Irish rock scene. The success of U2 and the Pogues had brought a new generation of Irish songwriters to America.

“Shortly after I moved to Los Angeles I hooked up with a friend of mine who was a producer out there, but grew up in Springfield, Mo.,” Waltz said. “He introduced me to that world, and particularly to Dave King, who would later form the group Flogging Molly. I joined his band, which got me into the whole scene. Through that I met the Dubliners.”

Above: The Young Dubliners play tonight at Davy's Uptown Rambler's Club. Show starts at 8 and tickets are $12. Visit http://www.daveysuptown.com/ for more information.

The Dubliners were informal group centered around Dublin natives Keith Roberts and Paul O’Toole who started tweaking and recording their favorite songs from back home. When Roberts and O’Toole lost their fiddle player In the mid-‘90s, they asked Waltz to join their band, now known as the Young Dubliners.

“I didn’t know any of this music when I started out. I was a rock and roll guy,” Waltz said. “But through the festivals we’ve been booked to play, I’ve gotten to learn from a lot of the best fiddle players from Scotland and Ireland.”

Waltz was present for the band’s first full-length album, 1995’s “Reach,” but was gone by the time the second record materialized.

“I was in the band for three years, left to front another band and was back in 2001,” Waltz said. “The timing was right. The band I was in wasn’t working out. Our bass player was also from Kansas City, and he wanted to go back and start a family. That was Norm Dahlor, who now plays with the Elders.”

When Waltz returned, the Dubliners’ lineup finally stabilized. O’Toole had left around the same time as Waltz, but the current crop of players has stayed together, more or less, until today.

“Touring is hard work and not everyone is cut out for it,” Young Dubliners founder Keith Roberts said. “It took a while to find the right mix of people, but the band we have today is the best group I’ve worked with.”

The past 10 years have taken the quintet around the world several times, performing at both Irish and rock festivals and opening for Jethro Tull and Jonny Lang. In 2006, Roberts hastily assembled the band to record a quick follow-up to their biggest record to date, “Real World.” The resulting album, “With All Due Respect,” a baker’s dozen of their favorite Irish songs, has surpassed everything else in their catalog.

“We did that in 17 days,” Roberts said. “The beauty of that album is that we didn’t have much time to over (mess) with it. It was like in our bar band days.

“No matter where we play, we’ll sell as many copies of that album as the new one,” Roberts continued. “It’s timeless. We might do it again.”

It might be a while before that happens, though. The band is feeling the itch to write some more original songs to complement “Saints and Sinners,” the all-new album that followed “Respect.”

“I’m looking forward to getting some new material going,” Waltz said. “I’m writing all the time and I have a lot of stuff wanting to be finished. I can’t wait to hear what the guys will do with it.”

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Review: Flogging Molly

Kansas City Rocks Out

Go green with Stiff Little Fingers

Remembering Rusty

Rusty Tucker pounds the skins with Alaadeen (saxophone) and Jay McShann (piano) at a 2005 Gem Theater performance.

Rusty Tucker was a fixture of the Kansas City jazz scene for more than 50 years. He could be found playing his trumpet with others or sitting behind a drum kit for the Scamps.

Tucker died almost four years ago, but I was priviledged to speak with him in his Independence, Mo. home in 2002 when I was a reporter for The Examiner. Here is Rusty’s story.

A Life Full Of Jazz

KC Recalls: Johnny Cash at Leavenworth prison

(Above: The Man in Black tells the story of “A Boy Named Sue” at San Quentin in 1969.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary has held some notorious figures during its storied history. Former heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, Kansas City political boss Tom Pendergast, disgraced quarterback Michael Vick and Robert Stroud, later known as the “Bird Man of Alcatraz.”

Forty years ago, one of the most famous men on the planet entered Leavenworth prison voluntarily: Johnny Cash. Cash was at the peak of his powers in 1970. Two earlier prison albums, recorded at San Quentin and Folsom, had not only re-established Cash’s reputation, but earned him a television show on ABC. The Man in Black was beamed into nearly four million homes each week and selling out big venues, such as Madison Square Garden.

Cash shuffled into Leavenworth between taping two episodes of his show, a month after playing the White House and 10 days before performing at a Billy Graham Crusade in Knoxville, Tenn. A series of thunderstorms and tornado warnings threatened to sabotage Cash’s penitentiary appearance, but the weather relented.

Inmate Albert Nussbaum recalled Cash’s visit in an essay included in the book “Ring of Fire: The Johnny Cash Reader.”

A pensive Cash in Folsom Prison, 1968.

“When the notice appeared on cell house bulletin boards – and even before, when rumors started to circulate – a tension began to build,” Nussbaum wrote. “Cash was going to arrive on a Friday afternoon. The prison factory was going to close. Anyone who wanted to see the show could.”

A makeshift stage was erected in the prison exercise yard; wooden bleachers for the prisoners were set up in the infield of the prison’s baseball diamond. The day’s schedule is unclear. Nussbaum reports the bleachers started filling up at 10 a.m. even though Cash wasn’t expected to arrive until 2 p.m. The Leavenworth Times reported he played in the morning.

Whatever the order, this much is clear: Cash’s entourage played three institutions that day. The troupe performed at Kansas State Penitentiary and Kansas Women’s Industrial Reformatory in Lansing either immediately before, or after playing Leavenworth. The night before, they performed at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo.

The show opened with the standard brief opening sets from Carl Perkins, the Statler Brothers and the Carter Family. When Cash finally took the stage he told the 1,200-strong crowd “This is the same show we did for President Nixon, but we’re going to try a little harder here.”

The weather had backed off enough to allow the concert to be held outside, but it still wrecked havoc with Cash’s band, particularly the dresses worn by the backing singers. Strong gusts kept sending skirts skyward, so the Carter sisters banded closely around Robbie Harden, who was having the most trouble.

The prisoners, of course, delighted in any glimpse of female flesh they could gather. After a particularly strong stream of cheers and whistles Cash egged the prisoners on and goaded his singer. “They’re talking to you, Robbie,” he needled.

Cash also teased the audience.

“My mother told me when I was a little boy, be the best you can be at whatever you do,” Cash said. “If you’re going to be a baker, bake the best bread in town. If you’re going to pick cotton, pick more than any other man in the county … and if you’re going to rob banks, hit First National.”

During “Folsom Prison Blues” Nussbaum reported that Cash switched the song’s locale to Leavenworth.

“When he reached the words ‘I ain’t seen the sunshine since I don’t know when’ we who hadn’t seen the horizon in years were able to identify with the tone and mood of the song,” he wrote. “It captured our own feelings so exactly that our roar of approval completely drowned out the music.”

The cascade of hits and emotions – including “A Boy Named Sue,” “The Prison Song” and “Peace in the Valley” – combined with Cash’s physique and all-black attire made the legend seem larger than life to Nussbaum.

“It wasn’t his size or his costume that captured and held everyone’s attention – it was the look on his face and the sound in his voice,” Nussbaum wrote. “Cash is real. He has a bad cough and smokes too much. So did most of us who had come to see him. He has a look of suffering caused by a hard life and years of one-night stands in forgettable places. We all had pasts we didn’t like to think about either.”

After the show, Cash ambled over to the boundary near where the prisoners were corralled, shaking hands and signing autographs.

Cash was playing before a paying audience the previous night in Kansas City, but no less thrilling. Jerry Kohler covered the show for the Kansas City Star.

“A cross-section of Middle America … packed the auditorium to hear Johnny Cash tell it like it is,” Kohler wrote. “He didn’t disappoint.”

According to Kohler, high points included “Walk the Line,” “Jackson” and “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.” Kohler also mentioned the Statler Brothers’ reading of “How Great Thou Art” and the two songs featuring Mother Maybelle Carter on lead vocals, “Wildwood Flower” and “Black Mountain Rag.”

The joyous evening ended with the best news of the night when Cash announced his TV show had been renewed for another season.

“We’ll try to keep it honest and down to earth,” Cash said of the upcoming season. Whether in prison, on tour or over the air there was no other way the Man in Black would do it.

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A tour of KC’s Women in Jazz

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Janet Kuemmerlein has been interested in jazz even longer than she has been making art. Growing up in Detroit, she had to take two buses to reach her arts-focused high school downtown. While there, members of the Modern Jazz Quartet might stop by and ask to borrow instruments from the school. She also made sure to take in concerts by Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Stan Kenton … well, you get the picture.

After high school, Kuemmerlein was invited to study at the Cranbrook Academy of Art. Upon graduation she moved to Chicago, where she met her husband. Work assignments finally landed the couple and their four children in Kansas City, Mo. in 1960.

Kuemmerlien started in painting and sculpture. When she found the chemicals toxic around young children she moved to fabric. Her fabric works are on display across the country in government and office buildings, libraries and hotels, churches and synagogues.

Jazz and art didn’t intersect until Kuemmerlien was asked to contribute to the Johnson County Community College art auction in 2000. Her painting of Miles Davis was purchased by a local attorney and later given to the American Jazz Museum. Last month, Kuemmerlien unveiled her latest project, a series of 11 portraits commissioned by the AJM for their Women in Jazz celebration.

The paintings are on display in the gallery off the museum lobby from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sundays, until the end of May. There is no charge to view the exhibit.

Kuemmerlien was kind enough to take The Daily Record on a tour of the exhibit and speak about each piece.

Oleta Adams

Oleta Adams – “We actually talked on the phone quite a bit beforehand because she was out of town so much. I wanted to showcase her hands because they’re such an expressive part of her performance. She and her husband are delightful people. God she is funny. She’s just adorable.”

Karrin Allyson

Karrin Allyson – “I made this from a concert photo. When I told her I was doing this she said ‘don’t paint any lines (on my face),’ but she doesn’t have any. She’s too young. She was in town recently, but I don’t know if she’s seen this or not.”

Queen Bey

Queen Bey – “Queen lives in California now, but when we were putting the exhibit together the museum told me she absolutely had to be in it. They supplied me with some photos and this is what I came up with. Although she isn’t in Kansas City any more, Queen Bey has been around for a long time and was an important figure to our jazz and blues scene.”

Deborah Brown

Deborah Brown – “Deborah spends a lot of time in Japan and Amsterdam. It was tricky to schedule the photo shoot, but we finally found a time and she came into my studio. She’s just a wonderful woman. I wanted the large circle in the background to reflect her career in Japan.”

Pearl Thurston Brown

Pearl Thurston Brown – “I did this partly from a photo she gave me, and partly from a photo session in her home. She’s as beautiful as she ever was. Although the painting portrays her at a younger age, she’d make a great portrait today as well.”

Carol Comer

Carol Comer – “Carol is a personal friend of mine. I took her face from one photo, then went to her house and took a bunch of photos of her hands. I made up the trumpet player. Carol teaches many of the other vocalists in this series.”

Angela Hagenbach

Angela Hagenbach – “This is the first one I did. I got photos of her at Jardine’s one night before her set. I was so excited, because I got terrific pictures, except she’s so tall and I’m so short I would accidentally cut the top of her head off. She’s just a beautiful women – and great singer, too.”

Lisa Henry

Lisa Henry – “This is one of the first ones I made. Again, I went to her house to take pictures. I knew she loved red roses, so I made those the background, then took photos of her at the Blue Room. She has such feel and phrasing. I think she’s a wonderful artist.”

Marilyn Maye

Marilyn Maye – “I painted this from photos Marilyn sent me and from album covers. Marilyn lives in New York, but she’s certainly a Kansas City legend. I tried to capture her longevity with the painting. She’s such a dynamo. Johnny Carson referred to her as a singer’s singer. She was his favorite singer.”

Julie Turner

Julie Turner – “I went to her house and photographed her. I used actual jewels to give textual interest to the painting and to have a little fun.”

The Wild Women of Kansas City

Wild Women of Kansas City – “I met with Geneva Price before I did any of the paintings, because she was working on an oral history of women jazz artists. For the painting, I used several group photos and then created a composite. I picked the best poses from each photo.”

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Review: Oleta Adams