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Homeward Sounds

People might be singing "Goin' to Kansas City" in the 21st century, too.

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The word relocation conjures unpleasant episodes in American history -- the kidnapping of slaves from Africa, the Trail of Tears, the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

When Anita Dixon, president of the Mid-America Multicultural Travel and Tourism Network, uses the R word, she has less grim times on her mind, namely Kansas City's banner years in the 1930s and 1940s as the jazz capital of America, when thousands came to Kansas City to enjoy an economic and cultural boom as the rest of the country recovered from the Great Depression.

According to Dixon, jazz giants such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald noticed Kansas City's prosperity and took up part-time residences around the 18th and Vine area.

"That was Kansas City's contribution to the world: jazz," Dixon says. "If you say '18th and Vine,' people are going to think Kansas City and jazz."

Yeah, we've heard that before. But those days are long gone, right?

Maybe not.

Dixon hopes to revive Kansas City's culture capital by wooing musicians away from the prohibitively expensive coasts with promises of affordable housing and first-time-home-buyer programs in the 12th Street district.

"It costs an awful lot to live on the coasts, especially if you're a musician. Especially if you're a jazz musician," Dixon says. "If you spend $150,000 on a home in Los Angeles, that wouldn't even get you a shack."

Dixon's first recruit, alto saxophonist Bobby Bryant, told her that, by moving from Los Angeles to Kansas City, he can finally afford to live -- and play -- again. Before he makes the big move, Bryant, whose first-ever gig was playing with Quincy Jones at age 16, takes part in the Coming to Kansas City artist reception Thursday, performing with a few of his soon-to-be neighbors after a presentation about the relocation project.

If others follow Bryant's example, Kansas City's relationship to jazz may thrive again -- outside of a museum, no less.

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