Social Distancing Spins – Day 59

By Joel Francis

Charles Mingus – The Clown (1957) Jazz bass legend Charles Mingus’ second album for the Atlantic label was also his second masterpiece in a row. There are only four songs on The Clown, but as with any Mingus release, they leave plenty to unpack. The Clown opens with a Mingus bass solo before the rest of the band joins in on “Haitian Fight Song.” Mingus described the song as a contemporary folk number, but it reminds me of Jimmy Smith’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” the way the song starts simply before the horns swagger into the forefront. “Bee Cee” is a piano-driven blues number. Side two opens with “Reincarnation of a Lovebird,” Mingus’ tribute to Charlie Parker. You can hear different pieces of Parker’s melodies fly past in the song. Mingus revisited this song several times throughout his career. The title track concludes the album. Actor Jean Shepherd – who narrated and co-wrote the film A Christmas Story based on his life – tells the story of a clown who worked hard to please everyone but wasn’t appreciated until after his death. Mingus said the clown was meant to be a stand-in for jazz musicians. There’s a lot going on for an album that lasts a scant 28 minutes, but Mingus always rewards repeated listens.

Buddy Miles Express – Electric Church (1969) Former Electric Flag drummer Buddy Miles got an incredible assist on his second solo album from guitarist Jimi Hendrix. At the time, Hendrix was expanding the Experience to incorporate the players that would become the Gypsy Sun and Rainbows group that performed at Woodstock. Somewhere around this time, Miles was asked to join Hendrix’ new trio Band of Gypsys. Before that, however, Hendrix produced half the songs on Electric Church and played on several cuts as well. Putting aside the long shadow Hendrix casts over this album, Electric Church is a good slice of R&B. The horns on the first cut, “Miss Lady” wouldn’t have been out of place on a Stax release (and place Hendrix’ wah-wah guitar solo in a unique context). Hendrix’ fingerprints are also all over “69 Freedom Song.” The Memphis soul connection is made more explicit on Miles’ cover of Otis Redding’s “Cigarettes and Coffee” and a live version of Isaac Hayes and David Porter’s “Wrap It Up.” Side two kicks off with “Texas,” a slow blues number written with former Electric Flag bandmate Mike Bloomfield. There might not be enough guitar pyrotechnics to entice Hendrix fans to sit through the entire album. Likewise, fans of soul music might be put off by the acidic rock explorations. Somewhere between the two camps, however, Miles was able to carve out a nice little niche.

Van Morrison – A Period of Transition (1977) Van Morrison’s ninth album certainly lives up to the title. The gypsy soul that characterized early albums like Tupelo Honey and Moondance was coming to a close, but the jazzier, lengthier contemplations exemplified on Common One and Beautiful Vision had not yet arrived. Pianist Dr. John plays on every track here and co-produced the album, giving the songs his native New Orleans shuffle, particularly on the swampy opener “You Gotta Make It Through the World.” The single “Joyous Sound” shares a spirit and feel with “Domino.” Elsewhere, “Flamingos Fly” and “Heavy Connection” point to the jazzy, adult contemporary direction Morrison would later take on Avalon Sunset and Poetic Champions Compose in the late 1980s. The intro to “It Feels You Up” sounds like something from Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, but the song remained a concert staple for decades. Of most interest to this Cowtown boy is “The Eternal Kansas City.” A gospel choir carries the meat of the melody while Morrison namechecks Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Jay McShan and other local luminaries. Incidentally, everyone Morrison honors in the verse was still alive at the time, except for saxmen Bird and Lester Young. Morrison must have liked “The Eternal Kansas City” enough to re-record it with Gregory Porter on his 2015 album Duets: Reworking the Catalog. A Period of Transition is far from essential, but dedicated Morrison fans will want this to see how he got from A to B.

Rare Earth – Get Ready (1969) The late 1960s were the time of meandering hard rock epics that encompass an entire album side, like “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.” After transforming the landscape of pop music with their Motor City soul, Motown decided it wanted a slice of this acid rock pie as well. Get Ready contains five other songs, including covers of “Tobacco Road” and Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright,” in addition to the title song, but the 21-minute cut on the second side is clearly the selling point. These types of lengthy, meandering jams aren’t really my thing, but the live audience on the album is eating it up. I don’t think the band is saying anything with the album version that they don’t articulate on the two minute, 50 second single. Then again, I’ve never dropped acid or seen a show at the Fillmore. If you like drum solos or extended organ parts, this is for you. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here with the Temptations.

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice (2017) The prolific Kurt Vile had been releasing laid-back, guitar-centric indie rock albums for nearly a decade when the Australian songwriter Courtney Barnett dropped her debut album. Barnett has a knack for inserting little details into her lyrics that tie her songs together without appearing like she’s trying too hard. In other words, she and Vile shared a laconic approach to songwriting and guitar skills that outpace the songs each write. For their first album together, Barnett and Vile create a level of relaxed comfort where they are able to swap lines like “What time do you usually wake up?/Depends on what time I sleep” (on “Let It Go”) without coming across as lazy or phoning it in. At just nine songs and 45 minutes, Lotta Sea Lice knows not to overstay its welcome. Hopefully we’ll get another collaboration at some point down the road.

Old 97s – Graveyard Whistling (2017) On their previous album, the Texas alt-country quartet turned their amps up and returned to their roots with the raw, profane Most Messed Up. The band appeared to be at a crossroads heading into Graveyard Whistling, their 11th album. While the production is slicker and the songwriting is less self-referential, the 97s are still fully committed to having as good a time tonight as possible and dodging the consequences of it tomorrow. Singer Rhett Miller acknowledges as much on “Bad Luck Charm,” the jig “Irish Whiskey Pretty Girls, the lonesome “Turns Out I’m Trouble” and the bloody “Drinkin’ Song.” Elsewhere, the boys turn theology into a pickup line on “Jesus Loves You” (sample lyric: “He makes wine from water/but I just bought you a beer”), stare into the afterlife with the help of Brandi Carlyle on “Good With God,” and wax nostalgic on “Those Were the Days.” Ultimately, Graveyard Whistling isn’t as essential as Most Messed Up, but it is a very good album from a band with a great run.

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

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.

Keep reading:

Sho’ Nuff: Alaadeen’s blog

Clark Terry’s Last Stand

Remembering Rusty

A tour of KC’s Women in Jazz

Clark Terry’s Last Stand

(Above: A somewhat recent performance of Clark Terry’s signature song, “Mumbles.”)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Perhaps only baseball reveres its heroes of the past as much as jazz. Each year, Stan Musial, Ted Williams or another bygone star is paraded around the field before the All-Star Game. Likewise, the songbooks passed down from Miles, Duke, Satchmo, Monk and others are considered sacrosanct.

Unlike baseball fans, however, jazz traditionalists are loathe to replace their legends with up-and-comers. This makes it frustratingly inconvenient when the links to that halcyon era keep dying.

Fortunately, Clark Terry was up to the task Friday night at the Gem Theater for the American Jazz Museum’s Duke Ellington celebration. The 89-year-old trumpet master played with Ellington for 10 years, led Johnny Carson’s Tonight Show band, and recorded with Oscar Peterson, J.J. Johnson, Thelonious Monk and scores of others throughout his eight-decade career.

Fellow Ellington orchestra alum Barrie Hall, Jr. introduced Terry by reminiscing when he was able to record with his hero on the soundtrack of the “Fabulous Baker Boys.” Stationed in a wheelchair, Terry appears from the backstage recesses of stage right, hidden in the wings.

As the applause built, Terry’s son, standing behind the chair, frantically waves his arms, as if to call the celebration off. The museum’s two-day tribute to Ellington has been building to this moment. Has something gone wrong? Will Terry not be able to appear after all? Killing time, Hall nervously sings a few stanzas of “Do Nothing ‘Till You Hear From Me.”

Clark Terry recieves the American Jazz Museum lifetime achievement award from museum CEO Greg Carroll in Kansas City, Mo. on April 30, 2010.

Finally, Terry emerged, slumped in his chair, wearing a dark suit and white yachting cap reminiscent of Count Basie’s favorite headwear. A clear tube of oxygen runs beneath his nose, resting atop his albino moustache. A trumpet case is tantalizingly set next to Terry’s wheelchair, but it’s obvious he won’t be able to play even before the announcement is made.

As the band, led by Hall, kicks into “Full Moon at Midnight,” Terry rests his hands on the cane that stands between his knees. He takes in the saxophone solo by Ahmed Alaadeen. The esteemed Kansas City jazz fixture is another Ellington alumnus who received the museum’s lifetime achievement award earlier that evening.

When the song ended it was time for Terry to receive his own lifetime achievement award. His son pushes the wheelchair near the podium. As chief executive officer Greg Carroll reads a biography, Terry fiddles with his wristwatch, seemingly unsure of where he is. When the award is presented, he looks at the miniature bust of Charlie Parker in wonder as Carroll holds it up. Terry’s grip is too weak to clutch the statue.

While the camera flashes fade, Carroll looks at Terry and suggests a song. Terry looks so frail It seems an imposition to ask this much, but he graciously accepts the mic that has to be placed in his right hand. The band launches into “Squeeze Me,” one of Terry’s signature numbers with the Ellington orchestra. His warm voice starts out thin and strained, but grows stronger with each verse. The years fall away as he starts scatting the final verse, his left knee rocking up and down.

The applause is still strong when Hall looks at the band and blasts the intro to “Mumbles.” Terry joins right in and his nonsense spoof of blue singers brings laughter from the audience. He’s into it now, rocking back and forth and even backing his chair up so he can look Hall in the face as he supplies fills on his trumpet. Hall and Terry trade riffs back and forth from voice to horn and back like a jazz version of an Abbot and Costello routine.

The audience jumps to its feet with the final note, and a broad smile beams from Terry’s face. Wheelchair or not, it is obvious that when Terry is put onstage and given the mic he still knows exactly what to do. He has no difficulty conjuring smiles and making everyone happy. As his son wheels him offstage, Terry blows kisses and doffs his hat. A few songs later, Terry’s son and a nurse escort him quietly out of the building.

(Below: Clark Terry blows his horn on the Tonight Show in 1980.)

Keep reading:

Review: Sonny Rollins

Review: Oleta Adams

Review: Kind of Blue turns 50

Remembering Gennett Records

Releasing Jazz from Aspic

KC Recalls: The Coon-Sanders Night Hawk Orchestra

Buck O’Neil: Sweet times, sweet sounds at 18th and Vine

Piano Men: Dave Brubeck, Dr. John and the Jacksonville Jazz Festival

Soulsville sings Hitsville

soulsville sings hitsville

By Joel Francis

Rare was the time Berry Gordy would let Motown artists record songs outside of the Hitsville catalog (and its lucrative publishing).  Fortunately, Jim Stewart at Stax did not have the same stipulation. Thanks to the 2007 compilation “Soulsville Sings Hitsville: Stax Sings the Songs of Motown Records” soul fans have at least one direct barometer to use in the never-ending debate of Stax vs. Motown.

Rivalries and arguments aside, “Soulsville Sings Hitsville” is a great 15-song collection that casts many soul nuggets worn out by oldies radio in a new light. Soul fans from either side of the Mason-Dixon line will find a lot to enjoy here. And now for the 15-round battle in the head-to-head match of Stax vs. Motown.

Round 1:  – “Stop! In the Name of Love”

Margie Joseph vs. the Supremes

The Supremes took this song to No. 1 in 1965 and made it one of their defining songs. Margie Joseph adds a lengthy monologue and a completely new arrangement that transforms the song. They lyrics are about the only element these versions share. Although it’s hard to top Holland-Dozier-Holland production, Joseph accomplishes the feat by making the song her own and having an infinitely better singing voice than Diana Ross.

Winner: Stax

Round 2:  – “I Don’t Know Why I Love You”

David Porter vs. Stevie Wonder, the Jackson 5

David Porter made his name as half of the Porter-Isaac Hayes hitmaking machine in the ‘60s before striking out on his own in the ‘70s. His version of “I Don’t Know Why” easily tops the Jackson 5’s reading. Michael Jackson just isn’t old enough to put the necessary grit in his vocals and ends up practically shouting the song. The gold medal here, though, goes to the co-author and original performer Stevie Wonder. Released as a single from his 1968 album “For Once In My Life,” the song peaked at No. 16 on the R&B charts. Wonder’s vocals simmer, building in intensity until they boil over at the 1:40 mark. Wonder sings so hard he’s almost out of breath as the great arrangement continues to build until the only options are to explode out of the speakers or fade out. Faced with potential lawsuits from music lovers, the track ends just under the three-minute mark.

Winner: Motown

Round 3 – “You’ve Got to Earn It”

Staples Singers vs. the Temptations

One of the Staples Singers’ biggest hits, this song is so closely identified with the group that I didn’t even know the Temptations recorded the original. This Smokey Robinson-penned number was released in 1965 on the b-side of “Since I Lost My Baby.” The Tempts version is serviceable, but aside from Eddie Kendricks’ lead vocals isn’t that memorable. The Staples version trumps on every level: Mavis Staples great singing, the spectacular arrangement featuring a signature descending horn line and harmonica, and the soulful playing and support of Pops and Yvonne Staples.

Winner: Stax

Round 4 – “Can I Get a Witness”

Calvin Scott vs. Marvin Gaye

In the NFL, when a play is challenged and the officials go under the hood for review, there must be incontrovertible evidence to overturn the call. So goes it with covers. It is not sufficient to merely equal the original recording, the burden of the cover is to surpass the original. Calvin Scott does a good job putting his twist on one of Marvin Gaye’s earliest hits, but he doesn’t add anything to it either. Take pity on Scott, however – topping Gaye is no small feat.

Winner: Motown

Round 5 – “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)”

Mar-Keys vs. Four Tops

Although some session credits are available, the Mar-Keys kind of became the catch name for whoever was playing with the Memphis Horns. Some of their cuts ended up on Booker T. and the MGs or Isaac Hayes albums, some were added to Bar-Kays releases and others credited to the Mar-Keys themselves. The Mar-Keys’ 1971 version of “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” is one of the numbers that has fallen through the cataloging cracks – Stax historians aren’t really sure who played on it. However, one fact is indisputable: this track rocks. Andrew Horn blows a mad sax solo with enough grit and soul to match Levi Stubbs’ incomparable voice, while the rest of the musicians strip the sheen laid by the Funk Brothers on the original Motown recording. That said, the Four Tops version became one of their defining performances for good reason. The decision here comes down to preference: the dirtier R&B of Stax or the polished soul of Motown. I like ‘em both.

Winner: Push

Round 6 – “Never Can Say Goodbye”

Isaac Hayes vs. Jackson 5

Isaac Hayes and the Jackson 5 both released their interpretations of Clifton Davis’ “Never Can Say Goodbye” in 1971. The results couldn’t be more different. The pain in Hayes’ deep voice pits him as a grown man with life experience against a bunch of talented kids acting their hearts out. In the weeks following the death of Michael Jackson, the J5 performance has become an unofficial tribute to their singer. It’s a fine sentiment, but, as Mos Def would say, this is grown man business. Hayes wins, no contest.

Winner: Stax

Round 7 – “My Cherie Amour”

Billy Eckstein vs. Stevie Wonder

In the 1940s, Billy Eckstein’s orchestra was one of the first large bop combos in jazz, providing an early home for Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. In the ‘50s, Eckstein’s smooth voice influenced up-and-coming soul singers like Sam Cooke and Solomon Burke. Eckstein dabbled in both soul and jazz in the 1960s, even popping up on  a couple Motown LPs. Although his career was pretty much over by the ‘70s, Al Bell was able to coax the legend to cut a few albums for Stax. Unfortunately, Eckstein’s 1970 delivery of “My Cherie Amour” borders on parody and sadly resembles Jim “Gomer Pyle” Nabors’ version of “You Are the Sunshine Of My Life” that may be found on the Golden Throats series.

Winner: Motown

Round 8 – “Oh, Be My Love”

Barbara Lewis vs. Smokey Robinson and the Miracles

Barbara Lewis actually got her start as a teen soul singer in early ‘60s Detroit before finding greater success on Stax. Based on this number, it’s odd that Berry Gordy passed on Lewis at a time when he was seemingly signing every promising young singer in the city. Lewis’ voice is a perfect fit for the Motown sound. Then again, maybe it’s for the best Lewis didn’t join the Motown family. Chances are she would have ended up another in the long line of promising female talents discarded in the wake of Diana Ross. Lewis does a fine job with this interpretation of a 1967 Miracles b-side penned by Smokey Robinson. Unfortunately, the original version could not be located for comparison.

Winner: No decision

Round 9 – “I Hear a Symphony”

Booker T. and the MGs vs. Diana Ross and the Supremes

On paper, this looks like a slam dunk: Remove Ross’ weak vocals and replace it with one of the tightest, funkiest groups of the day. But somehow, the MGs’ performance just doesn’t add up. The melody just doesn’t sound complete coming only from Steve Cropper’s guitar and Booker T. Jones’ organ can’t replicate the fullness of the Funk Brothers playing. The Supremes’ version is definitely more than the sum of its parts, and a testament to the acumen of the Holland-Dozier-Holland team.

Winner: Motown

Round 10 – “Chained”

Mavis Staples vs. Marvin Gaye

Marvin Gaye took a break from cutting duets with Kim Weston and Tammi Terrell to lay down this funky number in 1968. The backing vocals and atmosphere give the track a live feel and the sax break is as close to the Stax sound as Motown gets. Mavis Staples cut her version a year later. She more than holds her own against Gaye’s vocals, and the arrangement is just as energetic. Both versions can pack the dance floor, yet are just different enough to stand on their own. Why choose one performance when you can have both?

Winner: Push

Round 11 – “Ask the Lonely”

John Gary Williams vs. Four Tops

John Gary Williams cut several sides for Stax/Volt as a member of the Mad Lads until he was drafted in 1966. When Williams got out of the military, he wasn’t exactly greeted with open arms. His former group had carried on in his absence, and found Williams’ replacement to be much easier to work with. Stax owner Jim Stewart pressured the group to take Williams back and he recorded with the Lads until 1972. That year, Williams was finally able to go solo. He released only one album, which included covers of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord,” the Spinners and this reading of “Ask the Lonely.” The smooth sax solo that opens this song and Williams’ vocals foreshadow the Quiet Storm movement. Williams arrangement and delivery may have been ahead of it’s time, but it’s not nearly enough to wrestle the title away from Levi Stubbs’ gut-busting performance on the original.

Winner: Motown

Round 12 – “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”

Soul Children vs. Stevie Wonder

The success of “Signed, Sealed and Delivered” – it spent six weeks at No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1970 – gave Stevie Wonder a great deal of leverage when he renegotiated his contract with Motown and gained the artistic control that birthed his spectacular output later in the decade. “Signed” was the first single 20-year-old Wonder produced; his arrangement is so good you can get lost in the various instruments. There isn’t much that can be improved on Wonder’s version and the Soul Children’s slowed-down gospel interpretation falls flat in the face of his triumph.

Winner: Motown

Round 13 – “Someday We’ll Be Together”

Frederick Knight vs. Diana Ross and the Supremes

Diana Ross’ name is coupled with the Supremes on the label of “Someday We’ll Be Together,” technically making it the ensemble’s final No. 1 hit before Ross started her solo career. Peeling back the label and examining the musicians’ chart, however, one can see that the song was actually a dry run for Ross’ solo career. Supremes Mary Wilson and Cindy Birdsong, who replaced founding ‘preme Florence Ballard, are nowhere to be found, but even if they did they probably wouldn’t have been able to help. The song, co-written and produced by Harvey Fuqua, is a mess. The strings are way too syrupy, and the backing vocals are over-performed. Everything on the track is over-produced. Perhaps this was an effort to make Ross’ thin vocals sound more emotionally relevant, but even that is a failure. It does sport a great guitar line, though. Frederick Knight vaults over this ridiculously low bar, but he doesn’t exactly salvage the song. His strings are more restrained, the arrangement slightly more funky and the vocals greatly improved, but the song itself – which predates Fuqua’s time at Motown – is far from memorable.

Winner: Stax

Round 14 – “I Wish It Would Rain”

O.B. Clinton vs. the Temptations

“I Wish It Would Rain” is one of the most devastatingly heartbreaking songs in the Motown catalog. Mourning his lost love, David Ruffin lays his soul bare for all to see. Topping this soul masterpiece would be quite a challenge – so O.B. McClinton didn’t even try. Dubbed the “Chocolate Cowboy,” McClinton was an oddity on the Stax label. His singles only charted on the country charts, with his slower tempo, pedal steel-backed version of “I Wish It Would Rain” peaking at No. 67 in 1973. His is a noble attempt, but the song works better in R&B than it does country.

Winner: Motown

Round 15 – “I Heard It Through the Grapevine”

The Bar-Kays vs. Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips

The wah wah guitar solo that punctures the Bar-Kays’ version of “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” just past the four-minute mark eclipses anything Gordy had imagined at Motown (save Rare Earth) and points Stax down the very odd path of Iron Butterfly and the acid rock of the early ‘70s. This version draws on the spirit of Isaac Hayes’ Oscar-winning “Shaft” and steers close to CCR’s lengthy, jammed-out rendition. I’m not sure if this actually tops the performances Marvin Gaye and Gladys Knight took to No. 1 a little more than a year apart. The versions are so different; it’s comparing apples and oranges. Enjoy them all.

Winner: Push

Final score: Stax 4, Motown 7.

The winner in this (the only) bout is overwhelmingly Motown, but Hitsville has an incumbent’s advantage of making Stax tackle its material. Listening to the Supremes tackle the Emotions, Levi Stubbs sparring with the Otis Redding songbook , the Temptations doing Sam and Dave and Norman Whitfield and Holland-Dozier-Holland applying their touches to Hayes/Porter and MGs arrangements would not only be a fantastic delight, but likely tip in favor of Soulsville. Sadly, we’ll never know. As a consolation prize, we have this compilation to bridge two very different and influential approaches to soul music.

Five Jazz Legends Still Adding to Their Legacies

(Above: The Dave Brubeck Quartet “Take Five” at the Ottawa Jazz Festival.)

By Joel Francis

In a belated post-script to The Daily Record’s series on 15 jazz greats to emerge in the past 20 years, we look at five artists who are still significantly contributing to their legendary status. Although their reputations were cemented generations ago, it would be criminal to overlook their most recent works.

Roy Haynes

At the 2005 Newport Jazz Festival, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, Christian McBride, Joshua Redman and several others all paid tribute to drummer Roy Haynes on the occasion of his 80th birthday. These musicians honored Haynes not only for his resume, which includes stints with Lester Young, Bud Powell, Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan, but because he has allowed the younger artists to grow and learn under his guidance. Haynes has released six albums this decade, starting with “The Roy Haynes Trio,” which recaps his career through new performances, “Birds of a Feather,” a tribute to his former bandleader Charlie Parker, and the strong live set “Whereas.”

Dave Brubeck

One of the most important – and popular – jazz pianists of the post-War era, Dave Brubeck landed on the cover of Time magazine and became a legend with his groundbreaking, yet accessible, work with saxophonist Paul Desmond. Although the 16 years Brubeck and Desmond played together in the Dave Brubeck Quartet form the crux of his catalog, Brubeck has built an impressive resume in the 40-plus years since.

Brubeck’s current quartet, consisting of drummer Randy Jones, bass player Michael Moore and saxophonist/flautist Bobby Militello, may be the best ensemble he’s worked with since his mid-’70s pairing with Gerry Mulligan. Unlike many of his contemporaries, there has never been a Brubeck comeback; there are no lulls or low periods in his catalog. Brubeck has continued to write, record and perform regularly well past his 88th birthday. Of the nearly dozen albums Brubeck has released this decade, three stand out. “The Crossing” kicked off the 21st century with nine strong, new selections, including an ode to longtime drummer “Randy Jones,” Militello’s delightful solo on “Day After Day” and the title song, Brubeck’s interpretation of a chugging ocean liner. Brubeck blends old and new songs on “London Flat, London Sharp,” and the his quartet sizzles on the live album “Park Avenue South,” which mixes standards and favorites with more recent material.

Wayne Shorter

After two years of auditioning other horn players, Wayne Shorter’s saxophone turned out to be the piece missing in Miles Davis second great quintet. An alumni of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Shorter not only filled the spot vacated by John Coltrane, but contributed many key songs to the group’s repertoire. As if that weren’t enough, he was simultaneously cutting magnificent solo albums on Blue Note. Shorter followed his bandleader’s path into fusion, but took a more pop approach in Weather Report, the group he co-founded with keyboardist Joe Zawinul, another Davis alum. Shorter floundered in the days after Weather Report’s demise in the mid-’80s, but his three most recent albums are among the most inspired of his career. After a 12-year absence from recording, Shorter returned with “Footprints Live,” which documents his reinvigorated 2001 tour. He fronted an acoustic band for the first time in over a generation on “Algeria,” which paired Rollins and his “Footprints” rhythm section with Brad Mehldau for several selections. Shorter’s hot streak continued with his most recent album “Beyond the Sound Barrier” and his inspired playing on Herbie Hancock’s Grammy-winning “River: The Joni Sessions.”

McCoy Tyner

More people have probably heard McCoy Tyner than know who he is. The backbone and counterfoil in John Coltrane’s masterful quartet for six years, Tyner’s piano has graced well-known recordings like “My Favorite Things” and “A Love Supreme.” Tyner also put out several stellar albums under his own name on Blue Note and Impulse in the 1960s. No less active today, Tyner collaborated with Bobby Hutcherson for the live album “Land of Giants” and played tenor Joe Lovano and the awesome rhythm section of Christian McBride and Jeff “Tain” Watts for 2007’s  self-titled release. Tyner’s latest album, “Guitars,” was recorded over a two-day span that paired Tyner, Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette with several of six-string luminaries, including John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Marc Ribot, Bela Fleck and Derek Trucks. Uninformed fans should stay away from 2004’s “Illuminations,” however. A dream pairing on paper of Tyner, McBride, Terence Blanchard, Lewis Nash and Gary Bartz, the performances are ruined by a glossy production that smothers the quintet’s interplay and is suitable only for shopping for a sweater at Nordstrom with your mom.

Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins’ legacy includes recordings with Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Max Roach, Bud Powell and Clifford Brown – and that’s just in his first decade of playing. In the half-century since then, Rollins (along with contemporary John Coltrane) established himself as the preeminent post-Bird saxophonist. Although the pace of Rollins’ releases has slowed considerably, what he has put out have only added to his reputation. Recorded in Boston just four days after the Sept. 11 attacks in New York City, “Without A Song” is an emotional listen finding Rollins channeling his conflicted emotions through long solos. “This Is What I Do” continues Rollin’s penchant for transforming b-quality songs into must-listen melodies with the Bing Crosby standard “Sweet Leilani.” Rollins’ most recently release, “Road Songs, Vol. 1” mines the archives for several cherry-picked performances that prove that the passion on “Without A Song” was no fluke.

Keep Reading: 15 Jazz Legends to Emerge in the Last 20 Years

Part One

Part Two

Part Three

KC Recalls: The Coon-Sanders Night Hawk Orchestra

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(Above: Joseph Sanders, left, and Carleton Coon.)

By Joel Francis

The music Carleton Coon and Joseph Sanders made for a dozen years together helped put Kansas City jazz on the map. Their Nighthawk Orchestra may have broken up in 1932, but it’s two bandleaders have been silently reunited for 40 years at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Kansas City.

Coon and Sanders first met at a downtown Kansas City music store in 1918. Tall, handsome and quick-tempered Sanders, was an amateur baseball player on leave from the Army. He was practically the antonym of the pudgy, extroverted Coon. Despite their physical and temperamental differences, both men quickly found they shared a love of jazz and complementary tenor voices.

The following year, when Sanders got out of the Army, the two teamed up, formed a jazz combo and started booking gigs around Kansas City. With Coon handling business, Sanders writing songs and city boss Tom Pendergast ignoring prohibition with his “wide open” bars, clubs and brothels, the Coon-Sanders Novelty Orchestra was soon one of town’s in-demand outfits.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, 1922, the orchestra was booked to play on radio station WDAF. The success of that performance helped launch their weekly show, broadcast from 11:30 p.m. until 12:30 a.m. When the announcer let slip that “anyone who’d stay up this late to hear us would have to be a real night hawk,” thousands of listeners spread across Canada, Mexico and most of the United States let him know that they were proud to be “night hawks.”

Sanders quickly penned a theme song “Night Hawks Blues” and the pair rechristened their ensemble the Coon-Sanders Original Night Hawk Orchestra. In 1924, they recorded for the Victor record label in Chicago and agreed to let burgeoning Chicago promoter Jules Stein book a four-week tour. Stein parlayed his profits from that tour into his own booking company, which he called Music Corporation of America, or MCA.

On the strength of that tour, the Night Hawk Orchestra relocated to Chicago where their performance opening the Balloon Ballroom of the Congress Hotel was broadcast on KYW. Two years later, they moved to the Blackhawk Restaurant where fan Al Capone frequently left $100 tips for the band. On the strength of WGN radio broadcasts and reputation built playing around Chicago (including Capone’s Dells supper club in Morton Grove, Ill.), the Coon-Sanders Orchestra relocated once again in 1931.

Broadcasting weekly from Terrace Room in the Hotel New Yorker on CBS radio, Coon and Sanders found themselves in the same Big Apple circles as Bing Crosby and Guy Lombardo. Coon loved the night life, frequenting the Cotton Club and other Harlem jazz clubs, and making friends with Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington.

Sanders, on the other hand, was less enamored. He longed for the Midwest and made his sentiment plain the final number recorded by the Coon-Sanders Original Night Hawk Orchestra, “I Want to Go Home.”

Unfortunately, circumstances forced the bandleaders’ hands. Popular taste was shifting away from the Caucasian stylings of Coon and Sanders and toward all-black ensembles like the Ellington, Calloway and Kansas City’s Bennie Moten orchestras.

These circumstances, coupled with the Great Depression, forced the Night Hawks back to Chicago in April, 1932, for an engagement at the College Inn. Sander’s delight to be back in familiar territory was tempered when Coon was admitted to the hospital in critical condition. He died a few weeks later from blood poisoning from an abscessed tooth.

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Coon’s 1932 funeral was one of the largest Kansas City had seen. Although his procession carried on for miles, his band’s legacy did not stretch so far. Less than a year after Coon’s death, Sanders dissolved the group and moved to Hollywood to write movie scores. Although Sanders was active in music for the rest of his life, he never regained the popularity he found with the Nighthawk Orchestra. In 1965, he died after having a stroke and was buried about 200 yards sound of his friend, Carleton Coon, at Mt. Moriah Cemetery.

Today, the Coon-Sanders Original Night Hawk Orchestra is a footnote in the Kansas City jazz story that includes big bands lead by Bennie Moten, Count Basie, Andy Kirk and Jay McShann, and soloists like Big Joe Turner, Mary Lou Williams, Walter Page and, of course, Charlie Parker. But Coon and Sander’s early triumphs helped paved the way for all who followed them out of Kansas City.

Ironically, the Night Hawks are most celebrated in Huntington, West Virginia, where the Coon Sanders Nighthawks Fans’ Bash has been held on the weekend after Mother’s Day for 39 years.sanders

A Life Full Of Jazz

By Joel Francis
The Examiner

A smile beams from Rusty Tucker’s face. Conversation has just shifted to jazz, his favorite topic and lifelong passion. Tucker can’t disguise his delight. In fact, he can’t get more than a couple sentences without breaking into laughter or pausing to effuse happiness.

“I met all the people who are great now, when they were just starting out, Little Richard, Ray Charles,” Tucker said. “When I met Ray he was singin’ like Nat King Cole.”

When one of Charles’ musicians was sick, Tucker filled in for a one-night stand in Wichita, Kan.

“He (Ray) always said he was going to drive the first 100 miles,” Tucker said with a laugh. “Several years later when I saw him and went backstage to say hello he told me, ‘I knew I’d seen you before.'”

If stories were touchdown passes, Tucker would be Joe Montana.

“One of the biggest pleasures I had was playing with Dizzy (Gillespie),” Tucker said. “Teddy Stewart, my drummer, used to play with Diz and when Dizzy learned that, he couldn’t believe it. He said, why don’t we do a number together with both bands. So we did ‘A Night In Tunisia.’ The house went wild and I had to play a solo in front of Diz. The people just went crazy.”

Don’t worry, there’s more.

Tucker and Myra Taylor share a laugh at a 2006 jazz symposium at the University of Kansas.

“One night we were at Tootie Mayfair’s club on U.S. 40. Bird (Charlie Parker) was playing on 18th Street, then he was going to meet up with us. We’d had no rehearsal or nothing, and about midnight Bird walks in,” Tucker said. “He said we’ll do things everybody knows like blues, ‘How High the Moon,’ ‘What is This Thing Called Love,’ and ‘Perdido.’

“The blues went all right, but when we did ‘What Is This Thing Called Love,’ our piano player was an accordion player learning piano, see,” said Tucker, interrupting himself.

The apprentice pianist botched a couple chords, drawing Parker’s ire.

“Bird called us together and said it ain’t no sin not to know a tune, but to say you know a tune and not know, you (messed up) those chords,” Parker yelled at the pianist.

Bird sent word out to bring in a new keyboard player, but none were to be found at 1 a.m.

“They got in a big argument and finally Bird just told the piano player, ‘you just lay out.’ ”

Tucker grew up in Birmingham, Ala. where he took trumpet lessons from W.C. Handy Jr. It wasn’t unusual to see the elder Handy, a veteran bluesman and writer of many songs including “St. Louis Blues,” wandering the halls of and speaking to his son’s music school.

“He would always give lectures,” Tucker said. “He told us how to write tunes and get them copyrighted. He said he was getting $30,000 a year off that one tune (“St. Louis Blues”) so to always copyright your tunes.”

One day the Punch Miller Band came to town and announced they were auditioning trumpet players. Tucker tried out and got a job to play with them at the state fair.

“He (Punch) looked like Louis (Armstrong) and played like Louis and said ‘That’s why I can’t make any money,’ ” Tucker said. “I played with them at the state fair then for four or five weeks we’d go around. Then they told me they wanted me to go on the road with them. I was 18 and ran away from home to go with them. They called me ‘school boy.’ ”

He was in love with both the music and several of the dancers.

“I fell in love and ran away. My parents didn’t know where I was,” Tucker said. “I fell in love with a lot of the dancers. That was my problem; that’s why I’ve been married three times.”

Tucker toured with Punch for three years.

“We played the state fair in Sedalia and my first wife got sick,” Tucker said. “She lived in Kansas and her folks were going to come and take her back. I was supposed to meet the show in New Orleans and during the time I was here (in Kansas City) I met The Scamps and other musicians. At that time they were starting shows at the Orchid Room down at 12th and Vine and needed a trumpet player.”

Tucker decided to stay in town and take the Orchid Room gig. That was 1947 or ’48, he can’t remember the exact year, and Tucker has been here ever since. These days he plays most Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the Phoenix Club as a member of either Tim Whitmer’s KC Express or The Scamps, which he joined 25 years ago.

“Sometimes the Scamps play from 4 to 8 Saturday, then I play 9 to 1 with Tim. It’s long but I got used to it,” Tucker said. “The Scamps usually play for an older crowd. We do the Ink Spots and Mills Brothers. Tim does more jazz tunes. When I was on the carnivals with Punch we used to play all day so I’m used to playing long hours.”

Tucker may be a veteran of the KC jazz scene, but he still performs like he has something to prove, said Rudy Massingale, pianist and only original member of the Scamps still performing with the group.

“I think Mr. Tucker is still reaching for his goal,” Massingale said. “It seems like he’s just starting out and has to make a big impression.”

Independence has been Tucker’s home for 30 years now. He lives just off Noland Road with his wife, Diane. His children, daughters DuJuan and Carla, and son Lynn, live in Kansas City.

“It’s quiet and I don’t get any noise,” Tucker said. “Everything is so convenient. We were looking at a place in Vegas but the stores were so far away and there are so many people it’s crowded out there.”

By stretching his talent, Tucker today counts drums and piano among the instruments he can play.

“He’s a good showman,” Massingale said. “The main thing is getting the crowd’s emotions into it and he has that gift.”

Buck O’Neil: Sweet times, sweet sounds at 18th and Vine

Buck O'Neil

Sweet times, sweet sounds at 18th and Vine
An Interview With Buck O’Neil

By Joel Francis

(Note: This 1998 interview was published in 2001 by The Independence Examiner newspaper.)

Q: I’d like to talk about the jazz scene in Kansas City, be cause you talked a little bit about that in your book, and I think that’s an exciting aspect of our town that people may not hear about as much, especially when they think of you. What was Kansas City like in the 1930s and ’40s?

A: Outstanding. See, Kansas City was a wide-open town and all the restaurants would have live music hotels would have live music, bars live music, and so it became easy to get a gig here. So musicians flocked here and played. Kansas City was a town that closed up at 1 o’clock (a.m.), at least the legitimate places. And so the musicians would flock to this area (18th and Vine) and we had a place called the Subway.

All the musicians would come after they got through working and, oh, they would jam all night, have jam sessions, yeah. You wouldn’t be surprised to see Basie there, or Joe Taylor, Georgia Thomas and musicians from all over the country. You would see them down there at this thing jammin’, just having a good time they were having a good time. Or Charlie Parker would drop in, or a blues singer maybe Big Joe Turner, somebody would drop in. All of these things were happening here, just a couple blocks from here; (it was) very alive.

Q: You were obviously a big part of the baseball scene. Why were baseball and jazz so closely linked together?

A: We played the same circuit, man. We’d go to Chicago to play. We’d be playin’ on the South Side and they would visit our ball games and we would go to the jazz joints. It was the same thing, not only there, also in New York City. We would play ball in the afternoon, say Sunday afternoon in New York City, Sunday night go down to Sugar Ray’s, the Apollo we were catchin’ all the acts there or the Baby Grand. All of this live music, it was just jazz. They were playin’ jazz all over. We did this at all of the places we would play. At matinee shows all of the theaters had bands. In Harlem, like I said, we would go to the matinee and maybe we would catch Cab Calloway, see? And we would go from there to Washington, D.C., and the Howard Theater. Maybe Ma Mabley was there and we would catch her, or Duke Ellington, or Fletcher Henderson. Everyplace that we went to play, the jazz people went, too. This was during the days of segregation, so we probably stayed at the same places, and we got to know them and they knew us.

Q: How would you describe the Kansas City style of jazz?

A: Exciting. Different. It was different that New Orleans. And right out of Kansas City, we come up with Charlie Parker, blowin’ notes nobody’d heard before. This is a brand new thing! These were the kind of things you could hear at that Subway. Here come a new dude, come in blowin’ something you hadn’t heard before a different note. Where did this come from? Where did this sound come from? It was a brand new sound.

And the good thing about it was that the musician was telling a story and it was his story to tell. They were playing the same song, but when it was his turn to come up and blow, it was different. And you could see the other musicians listening and coming in, you know. This drummer’s going to change the beat now. He’s got to change that. You could hear it if you’re listening; you could hear the change. This guy’s playin’ “Ain’t Misbehavin'” a little different than the other guy did. He’s puttin’ a little something of him in there. You could listen to a new story. The guy would blow notes, you knew who it was without seeing him, you know what I mean? You knew it was Armstrong. You didn’t have to be in there. You knew it was Ben Webster. You knew all these things. A little jazz. So many things were happening all over the country.

Q: Like what?

A: The music was live and the whole country (was) changing. A top musician would go to, maybe, Paris and when he came back from Paris, this was his style, but he had picked up something else. Or he might go to Egypt Cairo, or something like that. And here was a guy doing something on the bongos that was just different than they were doing in Harlem. You added a little something to what you were doing. You would take a little of this, a little of that.

And the jazz singers (did this with their) different phrasing styles. Like, nobody phrased like Billie Holiday. She could just open her mouth and hey, that’s Billie. You knew because nobody did it like Billie. You could hear the different phrasing and all of it was so clean, so clear.

This is the only thing I have against a lot of the things they play now. It’s hard to understand, because a lot of the words, the way they’re sayin’ them, I don’t get. But they were so clear. Like the tones they were playin’. The tones were so clear, you could hear it, you knew it; you weren’t confused. I like rap. I like to hear rap if the guy is distinct and I can understand what he’s saying. But if he jumbles it all together where I can’t understand it, it ain’t good. This is why music then, anyone who sang it, (sang) a clear note. You could understand it. You like to know what they’re doing and where they’re going from there. They will lead you around through this thing if you listen. Music is a great medium.

Q: What role did Tom Pendergast and his political machine play in the development of jazz in Kansas City?

A: It provided a place for them to play it was a job. It was in that era they had the speakeasy they had everything goin’ on and you had to provide entertainment with it.

Q: So did Pendergast turn a blind eye to it?

A: No. If there was a blind eye, it may have been the government turning a blind eye to Pendergast. There wasn’t anything illegal about jazz, but the things Pendergast was doing could have been illegal.

Q: Did any of Pendergast’s illegal activities help the jazz scene grow?

A: It just may have, because you know you’ve got to entertain the people you’re selling whiskey to, or the people going to gamble. Right now, we’ve got the boats, and gambling is legal. Whereas it wasn’t legal during that day and you had to entertain people. This was good entertainment.

Q: If speakeasies were illegal, how did people know where to go to hear the music?

A: Pendergast was running the city. When you say illegal, if I am the boss of the city and I am running the city this way, it wouldn’t be illegal. What would have been against the law was this: If you were running a club and instead of closing at 1 o’clock, you stayed open ’till 3 o’clock. If you stayed open at 3, you were doing the same things at 3 you were doing at 10, but the law was you had to close at this time. And the places would close, the musicians would come down here and go into that Subway and play and jam. And somebody down there would be doing something illegal, because somebody would be selling some whiskey. A lot of these things were happening before prohibition.

Q: So did Prohibition help the jazz scene?

A: Yeah, sure. Actually it opened it up all over the country. Wherein you had to go just to certain spots before, now you’re (playing) in Manhattan, you’re playing in Times Square. You’re playing now all over the country, even going to universities to play. Before you were playing in speakeasies, but now you’re playing in clubs.

Q: What were some of the hot jazz clubs in Kansas City at that time?

A: The Milton was strictly jazz. They had so many different clubs in Kansas City and … music was everywhere. During that time, just like a band comes to the Starlight and plays now, every weekend it was some band at the Municipal Audi torium. That doesn’t just mean Count Basie or something like that, but Benny Goodman would play; everybody would come. I’ve seen so many wonderful bands down there.

Q: What are some of your favorite bands you’ve seen play there?

A: I like Duke. To really jump I like Lionel Hampton. I was a very good friend of Count Basie; I like Basie. I like Goodman. The Jazz Philharmonic that was the top musicians put together and they traveled all over the country. Oh man, you talk about some music! You’d hear these great artists play. I like Armstrong. They had a girl band called the Sweethearts of Rhythm; they could play. First of all you were going because it was a girl band and you wanted to see them, but they could play.

There was another one called Tiny Davis. She blew that trumpet Louis Armstrong-style; she could play. Bob Burnside played the sax he could play the bell off of that horn! It was the era of the Mills Brothers. They were one of the first singing groups, the Platters and a whole lot of others came behind them.

Q: I couldn’t go too far in this interview without mentioning Satchel Paige.

A: He was an outstanding athlete.

Q: What did Satchel think of the jazz scene?

A: He loved it. He used to play the ukulele. He would play on the bus and we would sing along. Satchel Paige, yeah, we had a lot of fun.

Q: Did Satchel go with you to all the concerts at Municipal?

A: Yes, yes he would go. We all would go as a team. They (jazz musicians) would come out to the ball game in the afternoon and at night we would go down to the jazz concert. That was a couple of musts. If you lived in Kansas City, it was a must on Sunday afternoon to go to the Monarchs and see baseball, and it was a must after that to go to the Municipal Auditorium and hear these bands.

Q: Did they ever bring any of the Monarchs onstage and introduce them as celebrities?

A: Actually they would introduce the teams, because if we were playing the Chicago American Giants here, they would be going too. All of us would be there.

Q: Did both teams sit together?

A: Sometimes.

Q: What did your managers think about the jazz scene?

A: They were there. What do you mean “what did they think,” they were with us! (Laughs).

Q: Did they impose any rules about drinking and things like that?

A: You knew that yourself. You knew you couldn’t drink too much. We were there, but we didn’t drink that much. Everybody drank a little maybe, but you didn’t drink that much because you knew you had to play ball the next day.

Q: I’d like to name off some jazz performers and have you tell me some memories about them. A lot of these we have mentioned already. Let’s start with Bennie Moten.

A: Bennie Moten, that was early. That’s when I first met Count. Count was playin’ with Bennie Moten. A good musician.

Q: Lionel Hampton.

A: I made him first base coach for the Monarchs. It was just for a show. They were playing here that night and I put him in a uniform. His wife said that he kept that uniform and had it on an easel he kept in one room. He would tell everybody about that uniform.

Q: Count Basie.

A: Basie was a Yankee fan, and I’m a Dodger fan, see. And we would bet every year on the Yankees and Dodgers. You know he beat me most of the time, but we had a lot of fun.

Q: Duke Ellington.

A: Duke was sophisticated and clean. Clean music. Like with Lio nel, you wanted to dance, Duke you wanted to listen.

Q: Charlie Parker.

A: Oh, now you got a new step. You could start dancin’ a different way because you got a different beat. Charlie, he used to blow here at that Subway. He’d drop in as a kid, blowin’ that horn, making those new sounds.

Q: How did his death at such a young age affect you?

A: It wasn’t too much of a shock because of the way he was going. You knew the things happening to him, so it wasn’t a shock.

Q: Louis Armstrong.

A: That was music you could listen to, and you could laugh with Louie because Louie had a kind of a laughing horn, you know. When he blew that horn you’d laugh about the different notes he’d play. The thing about it is, you know that handkerchief he had to cover up so nobody was coppin’ those things. Quite a fella. Baseball nut too; he liked baseball.

Q: What was Satchmo’s favorite team?

A: It would be, more or less, the Black Yankees.

Q: What do you think caused the decline in the jazz scene in Kansas City?

A: It’s coming back now, and that’s all over the country. Different listeners are coming and they’re looking for new sounds. This is our last progress in anything and it’s something new, something different.

Q: What does jazz mean to you?

A: It has afforded me a lot of pleasure. I listen to it now and I like all music. There’s something about music. With television, I have to look, but I can do anything I want to do and listen to music. Every once and awhile somebody’s going to hit a note or something and I’m going to stop and listen to what they’re playing. Music can put me to sleep at night or it can wake me up. It’s a soothing thing, but it can be very exciting too.