Sunday, August 13, 2017

18th and Vine

There was an editorial in the Kansas City Star on August 12, 2017 about the poor turnout at the Jazz and Heritage Festival over Memorial Day weekend here in KC this year.

The festival took place in the historic 18th & Vine district of KC. Kansas City has a rich history of jazz. I read somewhere that KC was one of the "cradles of Jazz." One of the most iconic and influential jazz musicians of all time, Charlie Parker, was born in KC and created bebop here before moving on to New York. Many years ago, my friend Joe, a jazz bassist, and I made a trek to his grave site here in KC. Count Basie played here in KC too. Jazz is part of this great city's fabric.
I have written about my love pf jazz in this blog many times...most recently telling about the first time I heard Miles Davis...who also played in KC....
Kansas City has been plagued and paralyzed by the scourge of racism throughout it's history, as have many cities. Several attempts have been made, and are still underway, to redevelop and return this "cradle of jazz history' to its former glory. I frequently run through and around the 18th and Vine area and have never felt unsafe. Some people assert that many in the white community view this area of KC as unsafe and dangerous. That may be true, sadly. But I don't feel that way. And I don't think the Jazz Festival failed to live up to expectations because of race or geography. I think it failed because of Jazz.

If anyone can relate to loving a fading or dying form of music in our popular culture, its a classical music aficionado such as myself. Classical music has been at the bottom of the heap longer than I have been alive in terms of sales and market share. That's one of the reasons I started writing this fight try and open peoples ears and hearts to the vast beauty and exhilaration classical music offers.  But believe it or not, jazz recently surpassed classical as the least popular music-genre:

The failure of this year's Jazz and Heritage Festival in the 18th and Vine District is based on this sad fact in my opinion. People just don't know or care enough about jazz enough to turn out in the numbers necessary to generate a profit for such an event. If Garth Brooks, Jay-Z, Adele, Drake, or Beyonce were performing at the Gem Theater in the Jazz District, I believe they would sell-out. People from all over the KC-metro area would go there without batting an eye.

The District is pinning its hopes on a dying art. Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole and hundreds more are not known or appreciated by today's America in enough of a meaningful way to support a major music festival. Chick Corea, one of this year's headliners, is an amazing pianist. His album "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" (1968) is a true masterpiece.I just texted both of my kids and asked them if they had ever heard of Chick Corea....and no surprise, neither of them had. But when I asked them if Drake was going to be performing at 18th and Vine if they would be afraid to go there, they said "hell no."

The Kansas City Airport has pictures of Kansas City Jazz history throughout the terminal. Black and white photos. Old. These are days gone by. And for most Americans (not me) this is a musical form gone by too. That's the problem.

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