For as long as I can remember, I have always known about the Mutual Musicians Foundation (MMF). Its reputation to those underage makes it appear to be a secret society, especially since it’s only open in the wee hours – 1-6 a.m., Fridays and Saturdays only.
But in some instances, I guess it was a secret society in the early 1920’s for colored musicians. The Colored Musicians Union or Local 627 was founded in 1917. In 1970, MMF was turned into a fraternal organization to keep the building and the rest of its assets. Apparently they were being given away to universities, museums, etc.
Before segregation, Local 627 was one of the only African-American musician’s union affiliated with the American Federation of Musicians and operated as a social center, engagement clearinghouse and vehicle for grievances against unfair booking practices.
The Foundation is an integral part of jazz history and KC’s black history. KC’s creation of swing jazz in America, positioned KC with other cities like New Orleans, Chicago, and New York in the iconic creation of jazz.
May 4, 1930 - Group shot of union members standing in front of their new home at 1835 Highland.
Jazz greats like Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Jay McShann, Lester Young, Big Joe Turner, and Mary Lou Williams have all played at MMF, which bred numerous big bands and a multitude of soloists who revolutionized American jazz. Everyone who’s anyone has played here, further cementing KC as a jazz town.
But only in recent years has the MMF become kid friendly. Now, my six-year-old son and eight-year-old daughter can participate with other youth ages 5-18 in their own jam session through the Young Jazz Masters Program. The only requirement is that the young person must supply his/her own instrument. The weekly lessons are free, yes free, and the band holds concerts several times a year.
Young Jazz Masters runs year long, but in the summer, MMF holds a jazz summer camp for youth too! Students are introduced to basic music fundamentals, history of jazz and the instruments and learn about stage management. The four-week summer jazz camp started in 2007 and was funded by Jay McShann.
After rehearsals, the youth can walk through the building and see who’s played at MMF. The walls are filled with photos of jazz greats, which show the legacy of KC jazz.
The baton is being passed to our youth and KC’s rich jazz legacy will continue through the generations!
MMF is a gem that adults and youth can enjoy, which to me is pretty jazzy!
Thank you to Anita Dixon who provided me with ample information and a tour. For more information on MMF go to www.thefoundationjamson.org