The movers and shakers of KC’s signature sound
By Lysa Allman-Baldwin
At the peak of Kansas City’s jazz heyday in the 1920s and 1930s, some of history’s greatest Jazz icons—folks like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Mary Lou Williams and Count Bassie, just to name a few—could be heard in many of the more than 200 music venues dotted around town.
Today, residents and visitors alike can still find and enjoy a wealth of multifaceted artists whose unique melodic stylings are keeping jazz hot in Kansas City.
One of the most well–known of these talented artists is world-renown saxophonist, composer, arranger, educator and Kansas City native son Bobby Watson. In addition to appearing at venues such as The Blue Room and the Gem Theater, both in the 18th & Vine Historic Jazz District, Watson shares his artistic excellence as director of jazz studies at the University of Missouri–Kansas City Conservatory of Music, where he sometimes performs alongside is up-and-coming student performers.
Another multi–talented Kansas City performer is the legendary Lonnie McFadden. Whether appearing solo, or with his brother, Ronnie McFadden, as the McFadden Brothers, his unique jazz sound—voice and trumpet—can be heard at local venues including The Phoenix Jazz Club and the Intercontinental Kansas City, in addition to Sullivan’s Steakhouse and Plaza III – The Steakhouse.
Smooth and sultry songstress Eboni Fondren has enjoyed a very large following of listeners for many years. She performs both solo, as well as with The Eboni Fondren Trio, at popular places including Chaz on The Plaza and The Phoenix Jazz Club.
Shades of Jade
An up-and-coming hot act described as “true–to–heart jazz” is Shades of Jade. Performing at The Blue Room, this six–person ensemble directed by nationally acclaimed musician, composer, trumpeter and bandleader Joshua Williams, electrifies audiences with their musical depth, experiences, influences and passion for the jazz genre.
shadesofjademusic.com Photo by Silas Cook
Appearing at Chaz on The Plaza, among other venues, Candace Evans is one of the Midwest’s most popular and versatile musicians. Fans love Evans for her unique twists on everything from jazz standards to pop, Latin, and soulful ballads.
Another legend in her own right is Ida McBeth. This consummate song-stylist regularly regales throngs of adoring jazz devotees at the Gem Theater as well as The Blue Room with her electric renditions of well–known jazz and blues standards, R&B, pop–style ballads and gospel.
Internationally acclaimed trumpet player, composer, producer and Thelonious Monk Jazz Competition semifinalist Hermon Mehari is fast becoming a Kansas City jazz favorite. As both a solo artist, and with the Herman Mehari Trio, he can be heard at The Majestic Restaurant.
The Green Lady Lounge and P.S. Speakeast inside of the Hotel Phillips are just a few places to enjoy the seductive, wide-ranging vocals of Molly Hammer. Using her niche in jazz songbooks, Hammer whole-heartedly embodies some of the most definitive jazz and blues tunes reminiscent of those heard in many of Kansas City’s many Prohibition–era speakeasies back in the day.
Twice chosen as a U.S. Cultural Jazz Ambassador, Angela Hagenbach is an acclaimed jazz vocalist and songwriter. Devoted fans from around the metropolitan area arrive in droves at some of the city’s great listening rooms, like PS Speakeasy inside of the Hotel Phillips, to savor her classical interpretations of timeless jazz standards and Latin jazz.
From the early 1920s to the modern era, Kanas City jazz is still as vibrant as ever.
Kanas City’s Distinctive Sound
To learn more about the past, present and future of jazz in the city, check out the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors, the American Jazz Museum or the Marr Sound Archives located at UMKC.