During the nineteen twenties and nineteen thirties, Kansas City was known as a major center for wheat and cattle. The city’s stockyards drew cattlemen and other big spenders from all over the Midwest.
When they got there they found more than just grain and cows. They found a wide-open town featuring a nightlife scene ignoring the prohibition laws and prospering in spite of the great Depression.
A columnist referred to it as “The Paris of the Plains.” Over a hundred venues featuring every kind of entertainment imaginable as well as gambling, prostitution and every kind of vice.
It was an endless party from dusk till dawn that was all made possible because of an organized crime syndicate operating under the infamous political boss Tom Pendergast.
This unique set of circumstances created ideal working conditions for the young musicians who flocked to Kansas City to take advantage of the seemingly unlimited jobs in the cabarets, speakeasies, taverns, dance halls, saloons, BBQ joints and nightclubs.
After hours the young jazz musicians honed their craft at one of the dozens of jam sessions that happened all over the nightlife district.
Many a name band sideman coming through town, eager to show up the locals at these after hours sessions were routinely sent away with their tails between their legs by the then unknown Kansas City jazzmen (and women).
This went on for a decade and a half, night after night, completely under the radar and unknown outside the local jazz community. But it was this unique atmosphere, unequaled before or since, that spawned many of the greatest jazz musicians of all time including Count Basie, Pete Johnson, Mary Lou Williams, Lester Young, Ben Webster, Herschal Evans, Joe Turner, Jimmy Rushing, Andy Kirk, Walter Page, Jo Jones, Julia Lee, Buster Smith, Charlie Parker and dozens more.