Musicians Kansas City – The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra performs Lady Be Good in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.
Jazz and Kansas City have been linked for more than half a century, but some believe the art form has lost its luster over time, especially for younger listeners. That’s why the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra embraces education and performance to shape the next generation.
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On the small, dimly lit stage of one of Kansas City’s oldest jazz venues, songwriter, producer and jazz singer Lee Langston sings to a packed house.
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For more than two decades, fans and artists alike have been gathering in Phoenix every Friday night. There, Langston housed them on the first floor of an old hotel in the Garment District, covering funk, pop, R&B and jazz hits.
Langston said he remains a staple of the local jazz scene thanks to his passion for mentoring the next generation of musicians.
“I made sure to provide a platform for other musicians, singers or artists,” he says, “and give them a place to come every week and hone their skills.”
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That commitment means Langston sometimes shares the stage with musicians he’s “been involved with since he was a kid.”
Jazz vocalist Lee Langston and KCJO’s Riff Generation pianist Desmond Mason perform live at the Phoenix Jazz Club in downtown Kansas City.
Langston had the advantage of being a jazz musician from Kansas City. But many others did not become famous until they left the city, and some became famous in the world faster than they got closer to home. It includes celebrities such as Hermon Meharry, Logan Richardson and Oleta Adams.
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“Eric Lynn is (another) artist who moved here,” Langston said. It brought me joy to see him say, “When they were writing some things about him a few years ago, there were people like Lee Langston paving the way.”
So Langston and others partnered with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra to leave the region or make it big elsewhere. To help nurture the next generation of musicians, the ensemble hosts a program of master classes, quarterly workshops and other clinics.
Friday’s concert called “Future” is part of this work. It will pair Langston with the orchestra’s 18-piece big band, giving students from the Kansas City Kansas Kansas community and Soundwave Academy the opportunity to play alongside the pros.
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“Kansas City and the Jazz, you know what I mean?” Langston said. “To say you’re from Kansas City, even if you say the word ‘jazz,’ people get it right away — if not, they have to sit down and do a little research.”
Jazz Orchestra executive director Leah Petrie is one of the architects of the concert, one of the organization’s many educational efforts.
One such program was inspired by childhood memories at Boone Elementary School, when Kansas City jazz legend Sonny Kenner came to perform at the convention.
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“I was probably 7 or 8 and I thought it was the coolest thing,” Petrie said. “The funny thing is, he never left me.
The Kansas City Jazz Orchestra Trio plays at Ewing Marion Kaufman High School. From left: Jason Godeau, trombone; Charles Williams, piano; James Albright, bass.
“We do triples, they play at lunchtime and generally there is no cost to the schools. “The kids just loved it and the teachers said they had a great afternoon afterwards,” she said.
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“My goal is to teach the kids of Kansas City in a fun way what jazz really is — I don’t care if anybody knows it or if anybody imitates it,” Petrie added.
This weekend, some of Alice Bell’s students will perform at the orchestra’s inaugural event in one of the city’s glitziest venues.
“It’s an amazing experience,” said the Soundwave Academy founder. “Being in the Kauffman Center and performing with the singers — which we don’t get to do very often — it’s a lot of new and exciting things for the students.
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The non-profit organization Bell offers six-week courses in ear training, music theory and chamber music. As of 2019, they have formed a youth-led ensemble of classically trained and contemporary musicians from across the city.
“We have 12 string players, two saxophonists and a pianist,” he said, some of whom are mentored by members of the orchestra.
Soundwave students at Immanuel Lutheran Church’s 2022 spring concert. In the background are Soundwave Academy founders and instructors Alyssa Bell (left) and Ezgi Karakus (right).
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“I’m excited to have this relationship with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra and help give kids that opportunity,” Bell said. “Having these experts on a more human level with these kids makes it easier to connect with them and makes their dreams seem more attainable.”
Bell acknowledges that not every student in the nonprofit’s program will end up in music, but that’s not the only goal, he said.
“They weren’t necessarily trying to produce conservatory-level musicians,” he said. “They’re just trying to help these kids get out there and go to college and have a safe place to use their minds.”
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If a few of these young people can carve out jazz careers in Kansas City, the art form could have a bright future in one of its hometowns.
As a reporter on race and culture, I want to give nuance and context to the political, cultural and sociological issues that divide us. After ten years as an engineer in the US Navy and traveling to four continents and many island nations, I try to show the many similarities that humanity has rather than the differences that we imagine. lbrooksiv@.Kansas City vocalist Deborah Brown performed at Polish Radio Szczecin in 2015 with Polish tenor saxophonist Sylvester Ostrowski.
Kansas City likes to boast about its international recognition for jazz music. Thursday’s performance at the Gem Theater provides some evidence.
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“Our musicians are all over the world. We’re known for our musicians,” said singer Deborah Brown, a Kansas City native and one of the founders of Jazz Sister City, a collaboration of musicians from Kansas City, Missouri, and Szczecin, Poland.
Kansas City already has civic ties to 13 sister cities around the world, but this is the first purely musical connection that isn’t connected to City Hall.
Thursday’s performance featured Brown, Polish tenor saxophonist Sylvester Ostrowski and the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. Alto saxophonist Bobby Watson is the special guest, and David Basse is the host.
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Other special guests: 14 delegates from Poland join the Kansas City delegation to officially announce the new Sisterhood of Jazz organization.
Brown’s career has spanned the globe, performing with jazz greats. He has a home in Kansas City and serves as a musical and cultural ambassador between Kansas City and Europe.
Over the past few years, he says, “I’ve been focusing on getting a lot of Kansas City artists to visit these venues across the ocean.”
Kansas City Symphony
He invited international touring artists Watson and fellow singer Kevin Mahogany to perform with him in Europe (Mahogany died in December 2017) and mentored young aspiring musicians internationally, including trumpeter Herman Meharry and drummer Ryan Lee.
Conversely, he encouraged European musicians like Bram Weinands and Jürgen Welge to make their homes and careers in Kansas City decades earlier.
He also worked and performed with Ostrowski, Szczecin’s cultural attaché, for about four years. He appeared on Brown’s latest album and played with the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra while in Europe.
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“(Ostrovsky) worked tirelessly to bring great music to his city and expand its reach globally,” wrote Clint Ashlock, artistic director of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.
“It’s a very strong bond,” Brown said of the connection between Kansas City and Szczecin.
In 2016, Ostrowski led the Polish delegation in Kansas City. The entourage interviewed Kansas City officials such as Mayor Sly James, visited famous jazz venues, and recorded Kansas City performers at venues such as the Blue Room at 18th and Water District.
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Chepto Kositani-Buckner, former director of the American Jazz Museum, has been involved in the project since last year, making three trips to Poland to develop the project. Kositani-Buckner resigned from the jazz museum in late April after a consultant’s report prompted the Kansas City Council to call for new leadership and direction at the financially troubled museum. Also in April, Cozitani-Buckner filed to incorporate the Missouri Jazz Sister Cities as a nonprofit organization; The Polish press writes that he will fully devote himself to the Jazz Sister Cities project. (Cositani-Baker did not immediately respond to his request
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