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Jazz tradition lives on

For Immediate Release:
Contact: Derek Klaus , 816-691-3849 ; Alan Carr, 816-691-3829

Goin' to Kansas City
Kansas City is world renowned for its rich jazz and blues legacy. Jazz in Kansas City was born in the 1920s and continues today in clubs and events held throughout the city. More than 20 area nightclubs feature jazz on a regular basis.

The roots of Kansas City jazz are quite varied. Blues singers of the 1920s and ragtime music greatly influenced the music scene. Settings such as dance halls, cabarets and speakeasies fostered the development of this new musical style. In the early days, many jazz groups were smaller dance bands with three to six pieces. By the mid-1920s, the big band became the most common. Territory bands also had an influential development on jazz. Many great musicians got their start in these bands, traveling up to 1,000 miles between jobs.

While jazz began in the 1920s with a bang, it flourished in the 1930s, mainly as a result of political boss Tom Pendergast. During prohibition, he allowed alcohol to flow in Kansas City. As an entertainment center, Kansas City had no equal during these dry times. This "wide-open" town image attracted displaced musicians from everywhere in mid-America. Throughout the Depression, Kansas City bands continued to play while other bands across the nation folded. The city was shielded from the worst of the Depression due to an early form of New Deal-style public works projects that provided jobs, and affluence, that kept the dance-oriented nightlife in town swinging.

Only in Kansas City did jazz continue to flourish. At one time, there were more than 100 night clubs, dance halls and vaudeville houses in Kansas City regularly featuring jazz music. Legends like Count Basie, Andy Kirk, Joe Turner, Hot Lips Page and Jay McShann all played in Kansas City. A saxophone player named Charlie Parker began his ascent to fame here in his hometown in the 1930s.

Kansas City's 12th Street became nationally known for its jazz clubs, gambling parlors and brothels, earning the city the moniker, "The Paris of the Plains." At its height, 12th Street was home to more than 50 jazz clubs. Just six blocks to the north, jazz also flourished at 18th & Vine, which became nationally respected as the epicenter of the city's African-American community.

Another great outcome of Kansas City jazz was the jam session. After performances, musicians would get together to exchange ideas and experiment with new methods of playing. The best local and out of town musicians would take part in these jam sessions that lasted all night and well into the next day. Many downtown clubs were the scene of jam activity as well as the Mutual Musicians Foundation. This union hall, which still stands today as a National Historic Landmark, remains open on weekends for all-night jam sessions.

The Pendergast political machine collapsed after Tom Pendergast was indicted on tax evasion, reform elements took over and nightclubs and cabarets shut down. Jobs for musicians dried up and the bands took to the road. By 1942, with the turmoil of World War II, many of the musicians had been drafted. Finally, by 1944, the great Kansas City jazz era slowed down, but it didn't totally die out. Today, jazz still thrives in Kansas City.

In the history of Kansas City music, blues formed the basic vocabulary for KC-style jazz. The blues originated as a rural Black vocal music with a style improvised to the rhythms of work. That early rhythm evolved and gave birth to the blues, and eventually to Kansas City jazz, a kind of blues that jumps with a jazz sound. In fact, the city's first jazz recording by Bennie Moten in 1923 was "Evil Mama Blues."

Jazz Still Fills the Air
Today, Kansas City's rich jazz and blues legacy is being kept alive in the minds and hearts of residents. The unique KC jazz style and rich sound of the blues, although born decades ago, continue to be heard today in this city of musical heritage. Live jazz can be heard nightly around town at more than 20 area nightclubs that feature jazz on a regular basis. Numerous events are sponsored by Kansas City jazz groups and educational institutions throughout the year. You can also relive the heyday of the era at the American Jazz Museum in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District or the Goin' to Kansas City Plaza at Twelfth Street and Vine.

The American Jazz Museum in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District features four major exhibits of jazz greats Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker. A mixing station allows visitors to create their own mix of sounds. Wee-Bop offers children a chance to learn about the swinging sounds of jazz. Those who want to catch some Kansas City jazz can head to the museum's Blue Room, where Kansas City jazz musicians are on stage four nights a week.

For decades, the Mutual Musicians Foundation, also located in the 18th & Vine District, has been the after-hours meeting place for some of Kansas City's most talented jazz performers. Designated as a National Historic Landmark, all the great jazz musicians from "The Count" to George Benson are familiar with this facility as a place for the camaraderie of a late-night gig.

The City Council of Kansas City, Mo., voted in 2005 to adopt "Goin' to Kansas City," as the city's official song. You can retrace the history of the song's famous intersection at a new park at 12th & Vine streets. The Goin' to Kansas City Plaza at Twelfth Street and Vine is a piano-shaped park with interpretive displays about the area's heyday as an entertainment district when jazz clubs and gambling halls lined 12th Street. Visitors can pose for pictures under a replica of a historic 12th Street & Vine sign. The park will eventually include a sculpture garden with a new sculpture commissioned each year to interpret what "Goin' to Kansas City" means today.

Jazz and Blues Pub Crawls are a favorite activity for many Kansas Citians. Jazz Pub Crawls, sponsored by the Jazz Ambassadors, are fun-filled evenings consisting of shuttle bus transportation between dozens of clubs to sample different jazz offerings. Each year the Kansas City Blues Society hosts the Mardi Gras Club Crawl for a sampling of blues music.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music brings national jazz musicians to the city for clinics and performances throughout the school year. The Jazz Film Archives, the largest and rarest collection of jazz films in the country, is housed at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

For more information on where you can hear live jazz in Kansas City, go to the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors Web site at


Download Related Images

Photo Credit:  Photos Courtesy of the Kansas City Convention & Visitors Association


18th & Vine Historic Jazz District
Caption: The Museums at 18th & Vine include the American Jazz Museum and Negro Leagues Baseball Museum.
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American Jazz Museum, Charlie Parker sax
Caption: The American Jazz Museum tells the story of this American art form with artifacts such as a Charlie Parker saxophone.
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Charlie Parker Memorial
Caption: Titled "Bird Lives," this statue in the historic 18th & Vine Jazz District honors Kansas City native and jazz legend Charlie Parker.
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Kansas City Jazz, sax player
Caption: Live jazz can be heard nightly at clubs around town.
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