The History of Kansas City Jazz


Herman Maharie in Kansas City

The Jazz Tradition Lives On

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 40 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 south, 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."

KC Jazz & Blues

Ameristar Casino Hotel Kansas City

Designated as the 2012 "Best Casino” by Ingram’s Magazine, the 2011 Kansas City Magazine’s “Best of Kansas City” readers’ poll and 2011 Best Casino in Home in the Northland Magazine’s readers’ poll, Ameristar Casino Hotel Kansas City has become known as one of the largest and most impressive casinos in the country. Ameristar Casino Hotel Kansas City also was awarded Best Steakhouse, Best Buffet, Best Live Poker and Best Tournaments in the 2012 Casino Player Magazine’s “Best of Gaming” awards.

B.B.'s Lawn Side Bar-B-Q

Where barbecue meets the blues in Kansas City! Recently featured on Guy Fieri's Diners, Drive-Ins, Dives and Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations. The Travel Channel picks BB's as one of the Top 5 must-see activities in Kansas City. Open Tue.–Sun. for lunch and dinner. Slow-smoked Kansas City barbecue in BB's 60+ year-old pit, and Louisiana favorites like gumbo, jambalaya and red beans and rice. Plus, BB's serves appetizers, soups and sandwiches -sliced thin, piled high. Check out our full menu.

Argosy Casino Hotel & Spa

You’ve arrived. Discover Las-Vegas style gaming, non-stop entertainment and gourmet dining just minutes from downtown and the Kansas City International Airport. The award winning Four Diamond Argosy Casino Hotel & Spa features spacious accommodations and state-of-the-art amenities. Each guestroom includes an oversized walk-in Italian tiled shower with a waterfall shower head, a 42” HD television and refrigerator. Take advantage of hundreds of slot machines and table games or unwind with a relaxing massage in Kansas City’s only full service spa on a casino property.

Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland

Historic beauty with modern amenities! Welcome to downtown Kansas City’s premier indoor venue for live music and special events. Located downtown in the Power & Light District, the original Midland Theatre opened in 1927 and hosted many well-known artists throughout its history.

Harrah's Casino and Hotel

Harrah’s offers 392 luxurious hotel rooms with 69 suites. The casino offers the best in gaming and entertainment with more than 1,300 slot and video poker machines, 60 table games and the only World Series of Poker room in Kansas City. Property features four restaurants including '37 Steak, Royal Noodle Bar, Winning Streaks and The Buffet. Also, home of the VooDoo Lounge concert venue and nightclub.

Isle of Capri Casino

Looking to live it up in Missouri’s City of Fountains? Isle of Capri Casino® Kansas City is calling your name. The good times are waiting on this riverboat escape just minutes from downtown. Try your luck at any of more than 900 gaming machines or at any of 18 hot tables. Enjoy tasty dining options at your choice of 2 fabulous restaurants on site. It's time to let loose...to play by your own rules...to have fun being you. For more information call 816-855-7777. Hours of Operation Open 24 hours Except for every Wednesday, 5am - 6am. Truck parking is not allowed.

Jazz, A Louisiana Kitchen

Let the good times roll! No swamps, where there is a dixieland band in every bite. Live music every night. We serve great cajun, creole delights. We re-create the sights, sounds and pleasures of New Orleans.

The Blue Room

A swinging jazz nightclub exhibiting authentic artifacts and featuring the finest in both Kansas City's live jazz entertainment and national artists on Mon. and Thu.-Sat. evenings.

The Kill Devil Club

The Kill Devil Club is an adult oasis, downtown. It's Kansas City’s newest hotspot featuring hand crafted cocktails, plates for sharing and live music that moves you. For a full list of upcoming acts check out Facebook.com/KillDevilClubKC or KillDevilClub.com

VooDoo Lounge - Harrah's

VooDoo offers a wealth of diverse programming for your enjoyment including Local/National Touring Concerts, MMA Cage Fighting, DJs, Club, and more!