This isn't just a local problem, of course, but it weighs more on the hearts of Kansas Citians because we're proud of our city's place in jazz history and we're self-consciously complacent about the fact that right now we have nothing but a past when it comes to jazz. (And judging by this week's KC Strip, we're having a hard time preserving even that.)
The good news is that two musicians have a plan for change, beginning with a night of live music and art at the Blue Room at 18th Street and Vine from 7 to 11 p.m. Thursday.
Neither of these guys are what you would picture when thinking of jazz boosters. For one thing, they're both young and cool. Only one of them is a trained jazz musician, a pianist. The other is a well-known DJ and hip-hop producer who also plays a little trumpet.
You've probably heard of the latter, Miles Bonny, the bearded cat who crafts the funky, soulful and often jazz-influenced beats in the hip-hop group SoundsGood. His father, Francis Bonny, is a professional trumpeter who plays Broadway musicals and used to gig regularly in New York nightclubs. Miles grew up on jazz, living in Teaneck, New Jersey, studying to play the horn like his dad. It wasn't until he came to Lawrence for college that he began producing hip-hop.
His new partner is John Brewer, a 26-year-old local firefighter who has a bachelor's degree from Loyola University in New Orleans and a master's from the University of New Orleans, both in jazz piano performance. Lately, in addition to subbing in area Latin and jazz combos, Brewer has been jamming at clubs with DJ Oz McGuire and his brother, Joe McGuire (who sports the alias Pleasuremaker), helping the exotic siblings take live and prerecorded music to produce funky, anything-goes, Afro-Latin-flavored dance parties.
Unlike most jazz torch bearers, Bonny and Brewer don't bemoan the fact that most people under 40 will never choose a chill evening of jazz standards, however masterfully performed, over a raucous dance club or a rock concert. These guys understand. They're practically kids themselves, and they love the beat as much as they love jazz.
Brewer discovered Bonny on a visit to Hip-Hop and Hot Wings one Sunday night at the Peanut downtown, where Bonny regularly spins upstairs.
"They have a tight-knit community of young people, especially women," Brewer says of the hip-hop crowd. "There's not a lot of women in the jazz community, which has always shocked me. Who likes to play for a bunch of dudes?"
Besides the ladies, Brewer has also taken note of the artists and B-boys participating in the weekly hip-hop club night. Starting with the show on Thursday which, by the way, is free and open to all ages he aims to create a similar atmosphere at the Blue Room through live painting and drawing, video and spoken word. Between modern jazz sets by Brewer's trio (which includes his dad, Tim Brewer, on bass), Miles Bonny will kick out beats to keep things fresh and, ideally, lure people from the hip-hop scene.
Whether anyone comes is not Bonny's biggest concern. He would still make music if he lost both arms in a tragic lawn-mowing accident. And if you go to his MySpace page (/milesbonny), you can hear the industrious bastard sing R&B-style on some new tracks.
"Nothing I really do is because I know people will show up," he says.
Still, it would be a shame if area music fans didn't support him and Brewer at the Blue Room. The crowd at Hip-Hop and Hot Wings is notoriously insular. If the music's not old-school East Coast hip-hop or conscious underground rap or if DJ and promoter Sike Style isn't somehow involved, either in person or through his Style Network Cru chances are they aren't interested. This attitude has allowed their community to grow and become strong in recent years, but now it's time for some outreach.
To his credit, Sike routinely works with the Urban Culture Project to unite hip-hop and local art through Third Friday events downtown. Moving the beats away from the gallery scene and from the 21-and-over Peanut and pitching a tent at 18th and Vine would be the perfect way to provide a forum in which jazz, art and hip-hop could all get play. It would be a forum just about anyone would feel comfortable attending and bringing their kids to.
None of this is to say that everyone has to care about Kansas City jazz. Nor do I mean to discredit the efforts of exciting jazz experimenters such as Mark Southerland or groovin' stalwarts like Everette DeVan. But as long as we're living in a city known for its rich jazz history, wouldn't it be nice if we became known for something new? Calling All Young Demons Two locals one a keyboardist, one a hip-hop producer join forces to shake up the withered local jazz scene.